Category Archives: Events

On VJ Day, 73: the preciousness of tiny things

Chair of RFHG, Dr Lizzie Oliver, reflects on a year in which the lessons of history have offered a humbling reminder…

October 1945, Bangalore, India. Patrick Thomas Rorke sat writing an extended version of the words that he had spoken to his fellow POWs for the past three and a half years. They were words of patience and love from a man who had seen his compatriots severely beaten and killed before him. They were words of stoicism and forgiveness penned by a chaplain who had sold his vestments in order to buy fruit for the starving, sick men around him. Most humbling of all, they were words of hope and optimism, and of lessons learned during the bleakest of times.

‘Not many could live in the bad days, unless he had the support of friends…We learnt to give and to share and to lend without stint…What generosity and unselfishness was to be found in captivity; what patient and dogged care for those who were sick; what loyalty and comradeship and support for those whose circumstances were broken and bad’.
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

Less than one month before his writing, Rorke had been liberated from Pakanbaroe, the base camp of the Sumatra Railway on which he had been held captive alongside nearly 5,000 Allied POWs and 100,000 romusha.

POWs Sumatra Railway
Former POWs walking along the Sumatra Railway, September 1945. State Library of Victoria.

The railway was completed on 15 August 1945, the same day that Japan surrendered: this year sees the 73rd anniversary of its completion, and of the liberation of those held captive cross Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War.

‘To have to wait, sustained by no real news, disappointed by the deceitfulness of rumours, on and on, week after week, month after month, for the great day. No one ever doubted that it would arrive; but when?’
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

The anniversary of the Japanese surrender is always a poignant day for the communities of people who follow the work of RFHG. Many of us are the family members of those held captive. Many have undertaken painstaking research to find out the smallest details of a relative’s captivity, and have followed fascinating archival threads that help us to understand the why, who or how of this difficult history. As a result, we carry with us the stories that we have heard and read, and we hold fast to our aim of sharing them where we can, and as widely as we can.

After spending the last seven years reading and writing about the Sumatra Railway, and as the granddaughter of a man held captive on the line, perhaps it is inevitable that I  look from time to time to the histories of the camps not just to tell a story to others, but for a source of my own strength.

‘When one has lived so, for three and half years, and kept one’s soul and retained the ability to joke and smile, one feels that life holds no terrors any more. We’ve managed to survive this: we’ll cope with anything now’.
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

Many of you know that at the start of 2018 I found myself in hospital, rather suddenly and unexpectedly, having broken my spine. The months since have been painful and frustrating, and there has been a lot of waiting to feel stronger and to be able to move easier. Plans have been put on hold as the precarity of life was brought starkly into focus.

And yet, I was lucky too. Exceptionally so. And all that waiting meant that I was forced to stop, completely, and appreciate what Rorke would call ‘the preciousness of tiny things’ – the memory of which he and his campmates came to treasure so much.

‘When a man has lost all that makes our life pleasant…he discovers for the first time, probably, the preciousness of tiny things… to sit on a chair and eat at a table from a plate; to walk in real shoes…to have paper to write on and a book to read…
We learnt the secret of contentment not merely by what we lost, but also by what was left to us: real and profound and lasting things that once we took for granted’.
Patrick Rorke (1947),The Wisdom of Adversity.

For all the stories of bruality that can be told about captivity, out of the horror and cruelty grew survival and resilience. The first contributors to our guest blog series have shown just how diverse the connections between history and memory can be: from Mary Munro’s pilgrimage to Hong Kong, to Meg Parkes’ FEPOW art study; Clare Makepeace cycling part of the route of the Sandakan Death March to Louise Reynolds exploring the transgenerational impact of these histories on FEPOW families.

They all remind us that there is much yet to learn from histories of Far Eastern captivity, as we remember VJ Day and those for whom we still tell these stories.

 

© Lizzie Oliver, 2018

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – FEPOW DOCUMENTARY ART STUDY

We’re thrilled to introduce the first in a series of exclusive blogs for RFHG by Meg Parkes, previewing the artwork of previously unrecognised British military artists (both amateurs and trained).

These men took enormous risks to record and keep hidden their documenting of conditions and life in and around POW camps across south east Asia and the Far East during WWII.  Since 2012 this artwork – identifying the artists and locating and interpreting their work – has been the main focus of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s Far East POW (FEPOW) documentary art study. In addition to the six recognised British military documentary artists held captive in the Far East (i.e. Searle, Chalker, Meninsky, Rawlings, Thrale and Old), the study has uncovered artwork by over 40 more previously unrecognised FEPOW artists. Largely held in private collections, mostly by the descendants of the artists, much has remained unseen by the public.

LSTM in partnership with the Univeristy of Liverpool, is staging an exhibition to showcase these artists and their work. Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum will host the show, opening on Saturday 19 October 2019 and running through till mid-June 2020, the 75th anniversary year of the ending of WWII and Far East captivity. LSTM first became involved in the care and treatment of returned FEPOW in late 1945. It has stayed involved ever since.

  1. Andrew Atholl Duncan

Andrew Atholl Duncan was born in 1918 in St Andrews, Scotland. He studied mechanical engineering at St Andrews university and was proficient in technical drawing. As a member of the university’s Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) he took a commission in the Highland Light Infantry at the outbreak of war. While serving in the British Expeditionary Force in northern France he transferred to 6th Btn Argyll &Sutherland Highlanders (A&SH) and was drafted east in January 1941 to join 2nd Btn A&SH, part of Singapore’s garrison force. He joined HQ staff, trained in ciphers and was transferred to Java under General Wavell to set up British HQ in mid-January 1942. He was promoted in the field to captain shortly before fall of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI).

Captured in late March 1942 he was held at Tandjong Priok transit camp, on the dockside north of Batavia (now Jakarta) in Java, for the first eight months of captivity before being shipped to Japan to work in the coalmining camps in southern Honshu. Later he was transferred to Zentsuji and finally Miyata, a Dutch camp under a harsh regime in the mountains due north of Nagasaki.

He secretly kept diaries throughout his captivity and also made several pencil sketches of the interior and exterior of huts at Zentsuji, as well as detailed plans of three of the four camps he was in, drawn to scale and complete with compass bearings.

View from my bedspace, Zentsuji, 1944 Capt A A Duncan.jpg

 

‘From My Bedspace’, interior of hut at Zentsuji POW camp, Shikoku Island, Japan 1944, pencil sketch by Capt. A.A. Duncan (© Duncan collection)

 TP

Plan of Tandjong Priok camp drawn 1942-1943 by Capt. A.A. Duncan (© Duncan collection)

His pencil sketches and camp plans show an eye for detail. The sketches reveal a good understanding of perspective and give a clear insight as to living conditions in the camp he spent the longest time in (Zentsuji). He kept his diaries and artwork hidden throughout captivity in a false bottom and inside lining of a Dutch kitbag he had acquired.

Following his repatriation in autumn 1945, Atholl Duncan decided not to complete his engineering studies but instead switched courses to study medicine, qualifying in 1950 and becoming a GP in Wirral in 1951. He said his decision to study medicine was in part due to the extraordinary work he witnessed doctors and medical staff doing in camp.

Through much of his post-war life he spoke little of his experiences, taking just a few close friends into his confidence over time. He did not join a FEPOW club. Neither did he ever keep diaries, or draw for pleasure; both had served a purpose.

His diaries were published after his death. Atholl Duncan is one of the “unrecognised” artists whose work will feature in the Liverpool exhibition.

 

FEPOW Workshop Report

 

FM

In March 2018, we held our first one day workshop. The atmosphere was relaxed, inclusive and reflected the mix of speakers and delegates who had a range of interests – to escapes from camp through to the transgenerational effects of the captive experience.

A short report summarising each talk on the day is available to downoad here.

We’ve received a lot of really positive feedback about the workshop, and we’re pleased that the format worked well for everybody involved.  We are making plans to organise the next one, so do keep an eye out for future news.

 

 

 

 

The Secret Art of Survival Survey

The Secret Art of Survival: the hidden documentary artwork of WWII Far East captivity.

LSTM will be working with Far East prisoner of war (FEPOW) community groups, schools and local communities to stage a fascinating exhibition of hidden artworks at the Victoria Gallery & Museum. With the help of additional funding the project is also planned to deliver an extensive education and public engagement programme.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this via a quick survey that will help us to shape the project further.

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/SecretArtofSurvival 

Featured image by ex-FEPOW Jack Chalker.

Changi Concert Party: AWM Talk

Free public talk

Australian War Memorial

Thursday 15 February, 12 pm
Research Centre Reading Room

https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/events/changi-concert-party

After the fall of Singapore in February 1942, many Australians were imprisoned in the Changi prisoner of war camp. Within a few days the Changi Concert Party was formed. During their imprisonment, the men of the concert party staged hundreds of performances, each with a detailed, vibrant program. Join a curator from the Research Centre to learn more about these programs, the concerts they advertised, and the men who made them.

Image: Concert Party, Changi Camp, 1942. Murray Griffin. Courtesy of AWM ART24467.

“Pilgrimage to the Far East” – Paul Murray, 10 March

An illustrated talk by Paul Murray on his experiences in October as he follows the daily diary entries of his father’s secret Prisoner of War love letters written to Paul’s mother from the camps in Singapore and Japan, Feb 1942 to Sep 1945.

Saturday 10th March 2018, 7.30 p.m.

The Pavilion, St. Peter’s High School,

Stroud Road, Gloucester, GL4 ODD

ADMISSION FREE

Light refreshments will be provided by the School’s P.F.A.

Voluntary donations to the P.F.A. and Philomusica

 

 

 

Workshop, Leeds 2018: The Future of FEPOW Research – Call for Papers

RFHG are delighted to be co-organising a one-day workshop, to be held at the University of Leeds on 19 March 2018. We really interested to hear from potential speakers – particularly anybody working in ‘new’ or understudied geographies and themes related to the experience (or memory) of captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War.

 

Future Memories: Where next for Far East Prisoner of War studies?

19 March 2018

University of Leeds

in partnership with Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG)

CALL FOR PAPERS

Drawing on the broad theme of captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East, this one-day symposium aims to be a ‘seed’ event for larger projects planned to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day (2020).

Proposals are invited for 15-minute papers covering, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • New perspectives, including transgenerational memory, perpetration, reconciliation, marginalised or ‘secret’/‘forgotten’ histories, influence of the Far Eastern experience on subsequent POWs in Korea and Vietnam
  • Geographies and communities, including lesser-known geographies of captivity, military POWs, romushas, civilian internees, ‘comfort’ women
  • Impact and engagement, including educational initiatives, exhibitions or memorial work, the role of third-sector organisations in developing impact,
  • Making and marking memory, through life-writing, fictional depictions of Far Eastern captivity, creative responses, transnational connections

Submission

Please submit 250-word abstracts plus a 50-word biography to Emily Sharp (futurememories2018@gmail.com) by 4 February 2018. We will notify you of acceptance by 15 February at the latest.

Postgraduate and early career bursaries

To support the work of early career researchers in the field, a limited number of bursaries will be available from RFHG to contribute towards the travel expenses of PGR/ECR speakers. Please note in your submission if you would like to be considered for a bursary, and why you think you should be offered one.

For all enquiries, please contact: futurememories2018@gmail.com

You can also download the Call for Papers here.