In honour of the D-Day commemorations, Martin Percival writes…
The 6th June 2019 sees the 75th anniversary of D Day. The focus, quite rightly, is on Europe. What’s interesting though is to understand when and how the news was received by the POWs in the Far East and the impact it had upon their morale.
My father, Frank Percival, was captured in Singapore in February 1942 and was a member of one of the early work parties that headed up country to Thailand in June that year.
Upon returning home in October 1945, contrary to Army orders, the story of his captivity was published in the local newspapers in North West London – the Willesden Chronicle and the Kilburn Times. He told me when I was a teenager that as a young man, before he joined the Army in 1939, he had aspirations to be a journalist. I have often wondered if this piece, written on the ship home, was an attempt at fulfilling his career aspirations.This piece was re-published in full with some additional photographs on Ron Taylor’s excellent Far Eastern Heroes website – see below:
The piece reveals that the news about D Day was already circulating in Thailand as early as 9th June 1944 – just 3 days after the allied invasion of France. Although not mentioned in my father’s article, the news was received via ‘canaries’ – secret radios hidden in mess tins and other items to help to disguise them. If found the men held responsible by the Japanese risked death by beheading. The section on D Day and receiving news on the progress of the war from outside is as follows:
‘Most prison camps possessed excellent news facilities. In the camp in which I was interned in 1944 we knew full details of “D” Day on 9th June. Towards the end however things deteriorated, mainly as a result of the frequent searches carried out by the Japanese. But this was compensated for, in some measure, by the leaflets which occasionally came into our possession printed in Burmese, Chinese, Japanese and Siamese. We ware easily able to follow the course of the War from these, aided by excellent sketch maps printed on their reverse sides.’
My father told me that these communications were an incredible boost to morale – and that especially the news on D Day helped the POWs to believe that maybe there was now an end insight.
Georgina Banks is researching the experiences of her Great Aunt Dorothy Elmes and is looking for any information on the Radji Beach Massacre. She writes for RFHG’s blog about her project….
My Great Aunt Dorothy Gwendoline Howard Elmes; NFX 70526, 2/10 AGH Hospital, commonly known as Bud or Buddy, was killed in the infamous Radji Beach Massacre in East Sumatra, Indonesia, on 16th February 1942.
When day broke on Radji Beach, there were around one hundred people who had washed ashore from the Vyner Brooke and the Pulo Soegi, over the last two days, fleeing Singapore: women and children, civilians, sailors, Australian Army Nurses and military personnel, including British servicemen. These ships had been bombed by the Japanese in the Banka Strait – or bomb alley as it was now dubbed. Since there were so many injured amongst them on the beach, they made the unanimous decision to hand themselves in to the Japanese. They made a big Red Cross on the beach and placed their faith in the Geneva Convention. A group of women and children departed to surrender and Sub-Lt. Bill Sedgeman (British) led the mission to get help for the wounded.
When they returned a few hours later, with around twenty Japanese soldiers led by Captain Orita Masaru, it was quickly noticed they had no stretchers with them. The Japanese split them into three groups: two of men and the other of nurses. One at a time, the two groups of men were marched around the headland, blindfolded, bayoneted and shot.
They then came back from around the headland to deal with the nurses. Twenty-two Australian Army Nurses, including my Great Aunt Bud and one civilian woman Mrs Betteridge, were lined up on Radji Beach, facing the horizon, marched into the sea and machine gunned from behind. One woman, Vivian Bullwinkel, survived, due to her height, as the bullets missed her vital organs. She ‘came to’ in the water and crawled into the jungle where she met Private Kinsley (British), a stretcher case, who had been bayoneted where he lay but was still alive. Vivian survived both the massacre and the internment camps on Banka Island and lived to testify at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Kinsley died in the mens’ camp.
Two other men survived both the massacre and the internment camps when they made a break for it in the water and feigned death: Eric German, an American Brewer and Ernest Stoker Lloyd, a British Sailor.
I am writing a book about my Great Aunt Bud, which includes a dramatised account of her last 48 hours, her letters written home from Singapore and my contemporary narrative retracing her footsteps, filling in the gaps and reflecting on the event two generations later.
I would be very grateful for any assistance with my research.
I am looking for:
Anyone still alive who was on the Vyner Brooke that I could talk to. I have spoken to Ralph Armstrong author of “Short Cruise on the Vyner Brooke”.
Anyone alive from the women’s camps. They were moved around a bit from Muntok to Palembang and then to Belalau. All of the surviving Australian Army nurses have now died – so it would be someone who was a child at the time.
Any related documents, personal papers or diaries. I have seen the official statements for the War Crimes Tribunal in The Archives in Australia of anyone who witnessed either the aftermath of the massacre (by washing ashore later, or by being out at sea and viewing it at a distance). I have also been in contact with Stoker Lloyd’s granddaughters and they have nothing further
Documents related to the Japanese soldiers – any accounts from their perspective. They were two companies of the 229th Regiment of the 38th Division of the Japanese Army under Major-General Tanaka (the same Division that took St Stephens Hospital in Hong Kong and raped and killed British and Chinese nurses). There have always been rumours the nurses were violated prior but there is no definitive evidence I have seen. If it exists then I would like to see this.
Anyone who knew the nurses when they were stationed in Singapore.
Making and marking memory: widening perspectives on Far East captivity
5 – 7 June 2020, Liverpool
Co-hosted by the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), our 7th international conference will focus on the stories and creativity that sustained prisoners, internees and forced labourers throughout captivity. We will also look at the made, recorded and preserved memories that subsequent generations have drawn upon in their own responses to this rich and moving history. In doing so, we will look for different perspectives and new voices to shed light on all that is yet to learn about – and from – the experiences of captivity, internment and forced labour across Southeast Asia and the Far East.
Taking place during the 75th anniversary year of liberation, and in conjunction with LSTM’s Art of Survival exhibition, the conference will encourage delegates to think of the objects, poems, artworks, and stories that resonated with prisoners and enabled their narratives to endure for many decades post-war.
Located at The Liner Hotel and LSTM buildings in the beautiful city of Liverpool, speakers already confirmed include: award-winning novelist Mark Dapin, acclaimed history writer Damien Lewis, representatives from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, British Red Cross, Imperial War Musem, the WarGen history project plus many more family researchers, academics, photographers and writers.
BOOK YOUR PLACE!
Spaces are limited, and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The registration form can be downloaded here: ConferenceBookingForm2020. The form includes details on fees, a special discount code at The Liner for conference delegates. Please return your forms and deposits (by 30 June 2019 please) to the address on the registration form.
To coincide with the publication of her latest article in History Today, Dr Clare Makepeace writes for RFHG about her moving research into POW war graves in Thailand.
A few years ago, I visited Kanchanaburi and Chungkai war cemeteries in Thailand, which lie approximately 80 miles north-west of Bangkok. The cemeteries contain the bodies of thousands of POWs who died while constructing the Thai-Burma railway. I was backpacking around Asia at the time and, in between immersing myself in the continent’s wonderful food and culture, I was visiting every historical site I could reach. While staying in Kanchanaburi, I also went to the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre. I still regard the latter as the best museum I have ever visited.
Visiting the war cemeteries was a profoundly moving experience. I had gone to war cemeteries in the past, but this was something different. I think part of the difference was due to my physical surroundings. The cemeteries felt like surreal enclaves. Their beautifully-tended green lawns and the peace and serenity that reigned within them contrasted starkly with Bangkok’s cacophony and concrete, from which I had recently emerged. Another reason for the difference was that, unlike in other war cemeteries, I could picture quite vividly the circumstances in which these men perished, that is while in captivity, while being forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway and, in all likelihood, from one or a combination of five diseases. Dysentery, malaria, tropical ulcers, cholera and malnutrition were the main killers. Knowing the conditions and causes from which most of these men died somehow made them more human, more tangible and more real.
However, I was moved most by the personal inscriptions carried on each man’s headstone. These inscriptions ensured I was not just scrolling through reams of names, ranks and ages, but that I was seeing individual after individual, and grieving family after grieving family. I was seeing a son who would never take up his place at the dinner table again when I read ‘He sits no more at familiar tables of home, he sleeps beyond England’s foam’. Or, when I looked at the inscription ‘Secret tears often flow; what it meant to lose you no one will ever know’, I saw bereaved parents, whose stoicism was hiding an untellable loss.
I decided there and then that one day I would write about these epitaphs. I felt there was a powerful story to be told: about how the bereaved in the Second World War made sense of losing a loved one in such horrific circumstances.
In 2017, I spent a couple of months reading the inscription on every single headstone belonging to the 6,609 men from the British armed forced who are buried at Kanchanaburi war cemetery, Chungkai war cemetery and Thanbyuzayat war cemetery. Thanbyuzayat lies just over the border in Myanmar. It contains the graves of those who lost their lives along the northern section of the line.
When I read these thousands of inscriptions, some stood out for their tenderness, others for their intimacy, some for their anger and a few for their appalling stories of parental loss. I dug deeper behind the names and inscriptions, to unearth what I could about the life of each of these prisoners. Beyond these individual stories, when I looked at the epitaphs as a whole, I was able to draw some broad conclusions about how people made sense of their bereavement in the Second World War.
My research has just been published in this month’s edition of History Today. I’m delighted to see it in print but, if truth be told, I’m also feeling some trepidation. When we write history, we have to be as accurate and informative as we can. That’s a given. But the more I know about what prisoners of war went through and the more I understand the trials they faced, the more I hope I write about them with the respect and sensitivity I think they deserve. I feel an increasing sense of responsibility not to let their memory down. Today I feel that obligation more than ever. I’m not sure if that attachment to my subject makes me a good or a bad historian. I think I’ll let you decide. If you read my article, perhaps you can let me know.
10 October 2018, would have been Jack Bridger Chalker’s 100th birthday. Widely known as the “Burma railway artist”, he is famed and remembered for his remarkable depictions of captivity under the Japanese during the Second World War: a vivid and uncompromising documentary of disease, death and survival thanks to remarkable ingenuity, in camps along the Thai-Burma Railway. Meg Parkes and Geoff Gill write for RFHG about a remarkable man and his enduring legacy.
Jack Bridger Chalker: 10 October 1918 – 15 November 2014
Born in 1918 in London, Jack was educated at Dulwich College and later Goldsmith’s where he studied graphics and art. Awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, this was deferred due to the outbreak of war in 1939. He volunteered, joining the Territorials’ 260 Battery 118th Field Regiment Royal Artillery. In October 1941 Jack’s unit was posted to Singapore, sailing from Liverpool on the Orcades. Stopping briefly in India, his ship docked in Singapore on 29 January, just 17 days before the garrison faced a humiliating surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942.
After initial imprisonment at the vast Changi POW camp, he moved first to Havelock Road camp to work on the docks, before being sent north to Thailand arriving at Ban Pong on 19 October. Marched 160 kilometres north through raw jungle to Konyu River camp, Jack worked on the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway. Here the combination of disease, malnutrition and working like slaves meant mortality was high. A near-fatal bout of sickness had Jack moved south, first to Tarsau and then on to the larger POW “hospital” camp at Chungkai at the southern end of the railway.
During an interview in 2007, Jack recalled that early on in Changi he had drawn pictures of sexy ladies for his comrades for whatever the going currency was. But soon he was producing depictions of imprisonment in and around Singapore, including examples of Japanese brutality. On the railway he expanded this work to include the beautiful things that surrounded them – breath-taking scenery, exotic flora and abundant wildlife – as well as details of camp life. Later, at the base hospital camps, he concentrated on recording the medical problems and the improvised equipment used for treatments. In addition he also filled notebooks with anatomical studies. All this work was done at great risk as any form of record-keeping was strictly forbidden by the Japanese.
It was at Chungkai that Jack worked closely with the Australian surgeon Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop and, after the Japanese official surrender in September 1945, he was invited by Dunlop to remain for a while in Bangkok, acting as war artist for the Australian Army HQ. There he completed and added to his collection of drawings and paintings, some of which were used in subsequent war crime tribunals as well as in medical journals in Australia.
On return to England Jack took up his scholarship at the Royal College of Art. There followed a highly successful career, including posts as Director of Art at Cheltenham Ladies College, Principal of Falmouth College of Art, and later a similar position at the West of England College of Art in Bristol. He retired in 1974.
After the war, Jack did not involve himself with the Far East POW community and for many years his artwork from captivity was largely unknown in Britain. In the early 1980s, Dr Geoff Gill at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) noticed some of Jack’s drawings illustrating a 1946 paper, published by Dunlop in the Australian Medical Journal. These were attributed to “Gunner Chalker” and for some time it was assumed that the works were by an Australian. However, eventually Jack was tracked down to his studio in rural Somerset.
Jack visited LSTM where he underwent tropical disease screening. He brought photographic copies of his railway art collection, which he presented to the School. His links and friendships with staff in Liverpool continued throughout the rest of his life.
Jack’s reputation as a POW artist grew and he published his epic book, Burma Railway Artist, in 1994 with a revised and expanded edition in 2007 (Burma Railway – Images of War). Though remembered mainly for the illustrations, Jack’s text in both books was a perceptive and detailed reflection of POW life and conditions. Tim Mercer, who published the 2007 volume, said: “Jack was one of the most special people I have ever met. No bitterness, no regrets and he even said he would not have missed his time as a prisoner of war for anything…Cheers Jack..!”
Jack was married twice and had three children. Those who knew him remember a delightfully modest and unassuming man. He held no bitterness for what he had experienced, and even said that he had benefitted enormously because of “all the wonderful people I met”.
Jack Chalker died on 15 November 2014, aged 96. Previously unseen examples of his artwork from captivity will be included in next year’s Far East POW Secret Art of Survival exhibition organised by LSTM and held at Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum, opening on 19 October 2019.
In our latest guest blog, Louise Reynolds talks to us about her new research project looking at how the experiences of captivity across the Far East has affected subsequent generations. If you would like to be involved with Louise’s project, her contact details at the end of this blog.
Harry Stogden’s pocket watch
This precious pocket watch is one of the very few items that Bernard Stogden owns, which belonged to his father, Staff Sergeant Harry Stogden, RAOC. Harry was a FEPOW who tragically died in September 1945 on the boat on the way home. He had carefully etched the details into the cover of the watch: it was purchased in Cape Town in December 1941, just one month before the allies surrendered in Singapore. Bernard says: “I wonder how he managed to hide it from the Japanese?” Then he says: “I was only 4 years old when he went to war. I have gone through life without a father. I missed him then and I still miss him now.”
As the child of a FEPOW myself (Padre Eric Cordingly) I feel there’s an area of our research which has been somewhat neglected, which is how the experiences of the FEPOWs impacted on their families: the wives, children and grandchildren, and how it still echoes down through the generations today.
Some, like Bernard, grew up without a father, and others had frightening and negative experiences because the men were so traumatised by what they’d been through. Other families were inspired to find out more about their relative and undertake extensive research which has been of benefit to the whole FEPOW community. Some had fathers who wrote diaries and a lucky few have discovered bagfuls of treasures which survived the war and were put away in cupboards to be found years later.
Jeremy Stacy’s father, Eric, was a chartered architect in civilian life and when he was a prisoner he helped to design some of the little chapels they built in Changi, Singapore, and up-country, beside the Thai-Burma Railway. He made some beautiful paintings of them, one of which Jeremy is holding in this photo: St George’s “in the Poultry”, close to the chicken runs in the officers’ area and within the Changi gaol walls.
That’s why I’m getting this project together. I feel it is helpful for us to recognise that, as children, we have all been affected in some way or another. The men returned home and many were told to keep silent, or their stories were neglected or ignored. That’s why so many of us have struggled to share their histories with a wider audience.
I’m trying to document the various ways in which the impact of the FEPOWs’ experiences affected their families and to understand how difficult it can be for later generations. It’s not an academic study: it’s a chance for us to tell our stories.
I’ve already completed several interviews, and I’m looking for more. If there is anyone who would like to talk about their father, grandfather, uncle or other relative, and how his experiences in the Far East affected them and their families, please do contact me.
I’m aiming to have all the research completed by Christmas 2018 so please get in touch as early as you can. You can reach Louise directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in the contact form and we would be happy to forward your message to her.
Dr Clare Makepeace writes for RFHG about her moving eleven-day SpiceRoads/TKY Adventure Tours cycling trip in the north of Borneo, on which she mountain biked part of the Sandakan death march and visited memorials to the prisoners of war (POWs) who died there in the final year of the Second World War.
The fate of the hundreds of Australian and British prisoners held at Sandakan, on the east coast of the Malaysian part of Borneo island, is one of less well-known episodes of captivity in Southeast Asia, despite being the most fateful. Their death rate was 99.99%, the highest suffered by any group of prisoners held by the Japanese.
In 1942 and 1943, 2,700 POWs were transferred to Sandakan to construct a military airport. Initially, conditions were similar to other camps: work was tough, discipline tight, but food was relatively plentiful. Gradually, however, rations were reduced and physical abuse increased.
From early 1945, fearing Allied invasion, the Japanese forced over one thousand of the prisoners on three marches westwards to the town of Ranau, 260km away. The conditions endured were atrocious. Already skeletal and suffering from diseases such as beri-beri and tropical ulcers, the prisoners were given no medical assistance, little food and often wore just a loin cloth. The Japanese were also under orders to execute anyone who could not keep up.
Approximately 500 POWs died on these marches, the rest perished in camps at Sandakan and Ranau, succumbing to starvation, illness or exposure, or were murdered in cold blood. Of 2,434 POWs imprisoned at Sandakan in January 1945, just six of them – all Australians who had escaped into the jungle – survived.
I always find it incredible to visit sites of such significant history; to feel, in some tiny way, the conditions these men endured. It is immensely humbling. I found it challenging enough to bike down a single-track dirt lane, push my heavy mountain bike through numerous river crossings, cycle in saturating humidity and under the intense heat of a tropical sun. This, of course, was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what those POWs faced. I would like to say that having been there, I can better imagine what they went through, but I can’t. Perhaps that is testament to the extremities of human endurance they experienced; so far from our lives today that it is impossible to envisage in the slightest, even when one is stood on the same physical spot.
Until recently, little had been known about the Sandakan death march. That all changed in 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, when the route of the march was first mapped out.
I was inspired by how extensively it is now being memorialised in Borneo. Our trip included an overnight stay at Sabah Tea Plantation. The march passed through this area and the Plantation strongly identifies with this history. It carries two memorials to the prisoners and the accommodation also commemorates them. I stayed the night in ‘Lofty Hodges cottage’, named after the Sergeant who helped rescue four of the Australian escapees. We also visited two other memorials. One at Ranau, occupying the site of the camp of the survivors of the first march; another in the town of Kundasang. Kundasang war memorial contains two gardens dedicated to the British and Australians, as well as a roll of honour.
The location for the list of the dead seemed highly fitting. Placed high above Kundasang valley and taking in a breathtaking panoramic view, there was a serenity and majesty to this space. It was absolutely the memorial these men deserved.
Yet, once I came to read through the roll of honour, that tranquillity was shattered, as I became aware of one final horrendous feature of this atrocity. As I glanced through the alphabetical list, I noticed that beside the names of S. O. Bexton and T. Bexton were the words ‘These two were brothers’. Then I saw an F. A. and an F. R. Burchnall, with an additional note: ‘These two were father and son’. As I read on, I counted seven more pairs of brothers, one pair of twins and then, alongside the initials that shared the ‘Dorizzi’ surname, the horrifying sentence ‘These three were brothers’.
The younger two Dorizzi brothers died on the same day – 11 February 1945. It appears they were shot at Sandakan when they applauded the allied bombing of the airstrip. Their elder brother was killed on the march. Could war get any crueller than that?