Category Archives: In Remembrance

Our tribute to warfare historian, Dr Clare Makepeace PhD, Honorary Research Fellow Birkbeck College, who died on 3rd April 2019, aged 40

By Dr Bernice Archer PhD & Meg Parkes MPhil
Clare Makepeace

In 2007 Clare Makepeace was working towards a Masters’ degree at Birkbeck University London, studying “Cultural History of War”, a course run by Professor Joanna Bourke. Having completed her MA, Clare went on to do a PhD, her thesis focused on the cultural history of British prisoners of war (POWs) in Europe during World War II. She later refined the thesis which then became her ground-breaking book “Captives of War British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War”, published by Cambridge University Press (CUP) in November 2017. You can watch an interview with Clare here:

Cambridge University Press – Academic. (2017). He rarely spoke of what he went through.’ What was life really like for British POWs in WW2?. [Online Video]. 6 December 2017. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bSO2y-ROhA

In an article published in October 2017 on the Cambridge University Press history blog, “fifteeneightyfour”, Clare explained the reason for writing her book:  

“It was something my grandfather said, back in 2008, that inspired me to write “Captives of War. British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War”. Towards the end of his life he opened up a little more about his time as a POW, and I started to encourage him to write his memoir. One day he said ‘Why would I record my story? It would just be one long tale of humiliation.’

At that moment, I realised the way he saw his experience and how I saw it differed vastly. I admired my grandfather for what he had endured and survived. He, meanwhile, was ashamed. I wanted to understand his point of view: how it felt to be a POW and how these men made sense of the experience”.

SOURCE: fifteeneightyfour (Academic Perspectives from CUP). 26 October 2017. ‘He rarely spoke of what he went through.’ Author Clare Makepeace reveals how her grandfather inspired her new book, ‘Captives of War’. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cambridgeblog.org/2017/10/he-rarely-spoke-of-what-he-went-through-author-clare-makepeace-reveals-how-her-grandfather-inspired-her-new-book-captives-of-war/

Realising there was a much wider story, Clare began researching a more global view of wartime captivity, including those POWs captured in the Far East during the Second World War. Sadly, she did not live long enough to complete that important work.

Her interest in Far East captivity had first been kindled at a conference at Cambridge University in 2009 when she met Bernice Archer and Meg Parkes. In August 2015, during the lead up to VJ70 commemorations, Clare and Meg co-authored an article entitled, “VJ Day: Surviving the horrors of Japan’s WW2 camps”. This featured in the BBC online magazine on VJ Day. Writing about her love of history Clare said:

“The thing I love most about writing history is that it is unique. By that I mean each historian has their own interpretation of the past, which no one else can replicate. The history they write is a product of academic rigour as well as their own character. That second component doesn’t make history fictitious. It makes it relevant. Through being written by historians living in the present, history speaks to today’s concerns. Historians shine light on possible future paths we might take from here, by illuminating those we took in the past.”

SOURCE: BBC News. 2015. VJ Day: Surviving the horrors of Japan’s WW2 camps. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33931660.

By re-visiting Captives of War, we reflect on the importance and relevance of Clare’s work, which not only gives an insight into her love of writing history, but also her extensive and rigorous historical research. Her character and humanity is evident, as she sought to bring a unique interpretation and understanding of how the POWs made sense of their captivity.

While acknowledging and celebrating her contribution to the understanding of the effects of captivity in warfare, here we consider Clare’s much broader view of history and the important role of historians in shining a light on the “possible future paths we might take from here”.  “History” she said, “speaks to today’s concerns”. It is that final sentence that resonates with today’s challenges and which Clare’s husband, Richard Stokoe (lecturer at the University of South Wales on Planning for disasters and civil contingencies and on strategic leadership) and author Professor Bourke, addressed last year in an article entitled, “We can learn a lot in Coronovirus Lockdown from Prisoners of War “.

Published on-line in “Huffington Post” (18April 2020) during the first UK Lockdown, they reference Clare’s work in highlighting the parallels between C-19 Lockdown and POW captivity. While not comparing “what we are going through to what wartime PoWs suffered. That would belittle their years of deprivation…” they nevertheless stressed that, “the government must start planning now for the coming wave of mental health issues, otherwise we risk opening up a new front in the battle to reduce coronavirus suffering in the long term”.  

The mental stresses of POW captivity were indeed a concern for Clare, but she also expressed her anger and annoyance with:

“a society that seemed uninterested in the experiences of POWs and much more interested in those who had ‘heroically’ escaped”.

These comments raise a number of questions about how Clare may have viewed society’s interest in the lived experience of C-19. Would she, for example, have wanted to highlight the experiences of all members of society affected by the pandemic, not just the “heroes”?

Would her focus have been on those stuck at home and unable to ‘heroically escape’; those who want to get back to their jobs (like the soldiers who wanted to get back to their fighting roles), and who look forward to being able to resume normal life? Would their stories be considered part of the ‘bleaker story’, of which she wrote:

“…one of guilt, isolation, wasted time, failure to unite in adversity and of mental strains from which no prisoner could escape?”

Reflecting on Chapter 3 of Captives of War, Clare writes about the ‘less admirable’ ways prisoners coped:

“British POWs did not collectively unite around two of the most significant hardships of imprisonment; length of time in captivity and shortage of food”.

Would she have drawn parallels between the “soldiers who were ready to steal, be involved in rackets,” and the selfish stockpiling by some of the general public during the first lockdown? How might Clare have considered,

“the stress and the shallow and perfunctory nature of social (military) comraderie”.

in the context of today’s pandemic world, with the impact on masculinity and the rise of domestic violence?

Sadly, we will never know what Clare’s view would have been on these C-19 issues. But we do know from her writing that her cultural history lens would have focused on the important, the relevant, and the particular, and would have pointed a way forward.

As mentioned earlier, through her analysis of the ways in which POWs experienced and made sense of their captivity, Clare encourages present and future historians of wartime captivity to “shine a light on possible future paths we might take from here”.  Of her conclusions she writes:

“Some of these [conclusions] might give historians pause to consider the experience of captivity in other wars or spheres of incarceration in slightly different terms from how it has so far been conceived.

“…one area ripe for research is how POW experience has been remembered by post-war society, why it has been remembered in such a way and what effect that remembrance had on society, families and, most importantly, the veterans themselves”.

She ends with:

”…We still know so little about the long-term effects of captivity on former POWs and how society helped or hindered them. In the contemporary era, when warfare is being commemorated to an unprecedented degree, it seems particularly important research, if we are to fully support both those who served in the past and who do so in the present”.

Clare’s message to present and future historians is to look beyond the “heroic” and to consider how captivity/lockdown is experienced in real terms by the “ordinary”, the “non-heroes”.  She urges them to consider how and why the “non heroes” are remembered by society in a particular way, and what effect that has had on them and their families. How can Clare’s research be applied to today’s incarceration of society in a pandemic lockdown?

In challenging times society is fed “heroic” stories by the media, in newspapers, books, news bulletins, TV programmes and films: from 100-year-old Sir Tom Moore stepping out to help the NHS to 11-year-old Max Woosey camping out for a year in aid of a local hospice; exercise gurus on TV, 8pm clapping for front line workers, praise for doctors, nurses and the scientists. ALL of course worthy of praise, and as Clare would have said, ‘soldier hero ideal’ (those POWs who escaped were heroic, those that didn’t were not worthy of interest’). But what about those ‘ordinary’ people stuck at home unable to ‘escape’?

Applying and continuing her approach to understanding the immediate and the long-term effects of incarceration, would be a fitting and lasting tribute to Clare and those whose stories she has told.


Clare was a contributor to our blog, you can read her work through the links below:

Remembering our friend, FEPOW Bob Hucklesby

Bob Hucklesby
3rd January 1921 – 26th February 2021

The Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) first met FEPOW Bob Hucklesby in October 2011 when, as President of the National FEPOW Fellowship Welfare Remembrance Association (NFFWRA), he led the group’s visit to Liverpool. There they joined over 600 people gathered for the unveiling of RFHG’s first Repatriation Memorial on Liverpool’s Pier Head.

Unveiling of Liverpool’s Repatriation Memorial on the Pier Head, 15 October 2011

From then on Bob became a keen advocate for, and supporter of, RFHG’s efforts to establish the second Repatriation Memorial at Town Quay Park in French Street, facing the waterfront in Southampton. What drove Bob’s need to help was a vow he had made nearly 70 years earlier never to forget the friends he left buried in a foreign land, their young lives needlessly cut short. He wanted to ensure that we and future generations never forgot them either.

Two years after the Liverpool unveiling, on Sunday 27 October 2013, Bob was among the FEPOW veterans at the Service of Dedication at St Michael’s Church in Southampton. Following the service, the congregation walked down to Town Quay Park overlooking Southampton Water where the Repatriation Memorial was unveiled. Back at St Michael’s the veterans chatted to the RAF and Army cadets who served as the Honour Guard for the day.

Bob forged links with St John’s Church of England Primary School, situated next to Town Quay Park. Each November since 2013, on or around 18th, Bob joined civic dignitaries, children and teachers from the school and volunteers from Friends of Town Quay Park at the memorial for a brief Remembrance Service. It was on 18November 1945 that Bob landed back in Southampton on board an Italian hospital ship, Principessa Giovanna.

In November 2014 at NFFWRA’s Llandudno reunion weekend, Meg interviewed Bob for the FEPOW oral history project. At the end Bob said:

I’m grateful to be alive. I’m grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to serve others and I’m grateful it gave me the experience to know that everyone should be respected… I’m very keen that those we left behind in the Far East, in a totally foreign culture, and having served to the best of their ability, that they’re never forgotten”.

Robert “Bob” Frank Hucklesby was born and brought up in Lowestoft in Suffolk. He served as a sapper in the Royal Engineers, was taken prisoner of war at Singapore and survived captivity in Thailand.

Post-war and once his health had recovered, Bob trained as an engineer working near Manchester, before settling back in Suffolk where in 1950 he served briefly as Secretary of the Ipswich FEPOW Club. In 1951 he moved the family to Poole in Dorset to take up a job in Town Planning and soon after joined the Bournemouth, Poole and District FEPOW club, serving in various roles on the committee including Welfare. Caring for people mattered to Bob. In 1996 he was appointed Trustee of the FEPOW Central Welfare Fund and the Far East POW and Internee Fund, helping to ensure that FEPOW would always be able to look after their own.

We have lost a good friend. Bob may be gone but he will not be forgotten.

Bob, at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, during the FEPOW Parade, 15 August 2015 (©M.Parkes)

Bob wrote a brief history of the National Federation of FEPOW Clubs and Associations (NFFCA), including the annual FEPOW Federation conference, together with a summary of his various roles with NFFCA over the years. You can view this by clicking the link below.

Alicia Anckorn’s Creative Writing about her Grandfather, Fergus Anckorn

by Alicia Anckorn

My grandfather Fergus Anckorn returned home to England on 9th November 1945, after three years of captivity in the Far East. When I was growing up, he often told me of his experiences as a FEPOW, and would conjure vivid imagery as he spoke – such was his command of language and his storytelling ability. After my grandfather’s passing in 2018, I found that writing about him was a good way to deal with my grief. Below are two such pieces – a poem about memory and homecoming, and a story about my grandfather’s many encounters with Death. He was a very special man, and I am proud to share his incredible story and help preserve the memory of his extraordinary life.

Alicia with her grandfather

My grandfather passed away in 2018 at the age of 99. He was a prisoner of war of the Japanese, but also a talented magician, who used his talent with sleight of hand to help himself and his comrades survive in the camp. He was not a religious man, and although those who heard his life story would often suggest that a divine power was protecting him, he shunned this notion. For him, a benevolent God would not have left his friends to die, and he could not imagine why he would have been chosen to survive in their place. In 2016, part of his incredible life story was included in the final, winning act of a young magician and soldier on Britain’s Got Talent. I have an enduring memory of my grandfather standing onstage surrounded by the Household Cavalry with his medals glinting under the lights. I am lucky enough to be able to watch that moment over and over again; thanks to his numerous appearances on television and radio I will never find myself struggling to remember the sound of his voice, and how he would laugh when people gasped in amazement at his conjuring tricks and the astonishing tales of his wartime experience.

I had a very close relationship with my grandfather, and he instilled in me a love of stories and language. He was always adamant that when he died, his body was to be left to medical science. I am fascinated by the idea of so much history contained in the body of one person. The institution which received his body noted that with his donation, he would continue on as a silent teacher. His body and mind, each with their own constellation of scars, have now both served as testimony to the horrors of war, the power of forgiveness and utter embracement of being alive.

If my grandfather held anything sacred, it was the power of the written word, and the ability that stories have to transport us to different times and places. He gifted to me my first Terry Pratchett book, offering up a world of magic to which it seemed that my grandfather had always been privy. In Terry Pratchetts Discworld, Death is given a character and personified. Death is not cruel or malicious, but simply an entity trying to do a good job. My grandfather had many brushes with mortality during the war, from being blown up and nearly losing his right hand in the Battle of Singapore, to being one of only a few survivors of the infamous Alexandra Hospital Massacre. Towards the end of his life, I joked with him that Death would be out of breath from trying to catch up with him for so long, an idea which he laughed at and seemed to relish. Many people have commented before that he cheated Death, but I prefer to think of it it as an old, enduring friendship.

Fergus Anckorn, 1918-2018

22/03/18, 01:08am

Fergus awoke to a figure standing by his bed. The room was black as an inkwell, but he recognised the figure looming in the darkness.
MR FERGUS ANCKORN, BORN ON THE TENTH OF DECEMBER, NINETEEN-EIGHTEEN?
Ah yes, there it was. The words appeared in Fergus’ head rather than through his ears. It was nice not to need his hearing aids.
“Yes, but I suspect you already knew that, didn’t you?” Fergus sat up in his bed. He suddenly felt as though a weight had been lifted from his entire being. The figure projected a noise which reminded Fergus of a soft, far away rumble of thunder on an August afternoon. The figure may or may not have been trying to laugh.
I CERTAINLY DID, MR ANCKORN. THE NAME THING IS MORE OF A FORMALITY, TO BE HONEST. IF I APPEAR WITH NO INTRODUCTION, PEOPLE SEEM TO GET SPOOKED.
Fergus regarded the figure, without noticing he didn’t need to reach for his glasses to see. It looked much the same as the last time he had seen it – tall, draped in a hooded cloak which was so black it seemed to call to you to fall into its abyss. As before, the cloak seemed to ripple as though touched gently by an underwater current. Below the hood was utter darkness, but two ice-blue sparks held Fergus’ gaze.
“Scared? Of you?” Fergus asked. “That’s ridiculous, when I go, I’m not going to be frightened at all. It’ll be just another Tuesday as far as I’m concerned.”
WELL… YES. THAT’S THE THING, MR ANCKORN. I BELIEVE TODAY IS A THURSDAY.

“Oh. Today’s the day, is it?”
YES, MR ANCKORN. EXCUSE ME, I’M NOT VERY USED TO THIS. PEOPLE DON’T USUALLY HAVE MULTIPLE APPOINTMENTS WITH ME.
“No, I suppose they don’t! It has been a while now, hasn’t it? And I think you can call me Fergus now we’ve known each for so long.”
THAT’S TRUE ENOUGH. I THOUGHT I HAD YOU BACK IN 1942.

Fergus remembered. He remembered being a young man, clammy with terror in the drivers seat of a sweltering lorry, surrounded by explosions and gunfire. He could see himself curled up inside the shuddering metal leviathan when reality split open with a white-hot flash of light. He remembered a nebula of pain radiating from his right hand – and in the abject torrent of smog and dirt and blood, a presence, which regarded him for a moment and seemed to fade into the chaos. That was the first time.

The second time came shortly afterwards, in a hospital heaving with the wounded, where the walls seemed to crack under the weight of the tremendous suffering. Fergus was lying on a stretcher, ether-dizzy, drifting from consciousness to nothingness and back again. Then, through the thickness of sleep he heard the rough staccato of shouted orders and the sickly sound of blades invading flesh. Poor Mum,he whispered to himself as he tried in vain to stop the anguished screams of soldiers, doctors and nurses from reaching his ears. With Heraclean effort, Fergus dragged his head under his pillow and awaited his final visitor. Suddenly, he felt a slight pressure on his right hand, and blood erupted from the wound. It was as though his stitches had been loosened by the brush of ghostly fingertips.

NOT YET, MR ANCKORN, came a voice echoing inside his head.
WE WILL SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN.
The words rang in Fergusmind as he lost his grip on consciousness and fell back into the deep black trench of slumber. A Japanese soldier walked by the bed and saw a still, covered body, red blood advancing on the white sheet like the Imperial flag. Death had already visited here.

Fergus remembered the cruel assault of tropical heat and how the night would descend on the prisoners like an ambush. He remembered the ever-present background whine of hunger, like a badly-tuned wireless. He would perform magic tricks for his comrades in an effort to raise morale, in an attempt to forget that they felt like shadows of the men who had been captured. Every day another of his comrades fell, surrendering their lives to the heat, the starvation, the disease, and the brutality of their captors. Fergus felt himself vanishing in the wild indifference of the rainforest. He remembered standing in a line with other prisoners, a screaming guard in his face and a knife baring its teeth at his throat, when out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a hooded figure…

Time stopped.
The figure was now facing Fergus dead-on.
Is this it now?asked Fergus, as his lungs wrenched in breath after breath, his body drenched in sweat and dirt.
IT CERTAINLY SEEMS THAT WAY, DOESNT IT, MR ANCKORN, came the reply from under the midnight-black hood.
Look at me,said Fergus, gesturing to his own skeletal frame, If you fancy a holiday, I could bloody well take over for you.
I’
M AFRAID IT DOESNT QUITE WORK LIKE THAT, the figure responded.
Youve been here for a long time now,said Fergus. “I’ve seen you. You took my friends.
I KNOW. ITS ALL PART OF THE JOB, MR ANCKORN.
Oh yes? Well. Let me show you what I do for a living. If you can tell me how its done, Ill go with you. What do you say to that?
The figure seemed to think for a moment.
WELL… I SUPPOSE I COULD PUSH BACK MY NEXT APPOINTMENT. IT TAKES A WHILE TO GET TO POLAND FROM HERE ANYWAY.
The livid guard and the other prisoners were still trapped in a single moment of fury and desperate fear. Fergus was not afraid.

Very good,said Fergus, the echo of a grin on his face as he undid the canvas strap on his wrist, which held a minuscule photograph of himself next to a bespectacled young woman with a broad smile.
Now,Fergus held the figure’s gaze. “Watch my hands very carefully…

Fergus let out a laugh which carried across the room from his bed.
”Oh yes, I got you there, didn’t I? Did you ever try to work out how I’d done it?”
SOMETHING TO DO WITH A RUBBER BAND?
“Well, I’m certainly not going to tell you now. But I ought to thank you. Your loss of that bet gave me seventy-five more years.”
I HAVE SINCE UPDATED THE RULES TO DISALLOW WAGERS OR CONJURING TRICKS OF ANY KIND.
Fergus grinned. He had never been a man to bow to authority. His reputation for audacity had led to some quite precarious situations during his time in the Royal Artillery. Anckorn, are you giving me a funny look? No sir, youve got one, but I didnt give it you. It was worth the punishment to see his friends laugh. And then there was that night in the camp when he was performing magic for the commandant, when he had worked out that if he made food items disappear and reappear, the guards wouldn’t eat anything he had touched. Of course – the prisoners were vermin to their captors. A tin of fish here, a couple of bananas there… it was enough to feed himself for a week, maybe even two. Then he’d got ambitious, and wanted to help his comrades, so he had come up with a plan. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that particular plan had led to a fifty-egg omelette and a narrow escape from a nasty beheading. Fergus could have sworn he’d seen a shadowy form in the corner of the tent that day, too…
REMINISCING, ARE YOU, FERGUS?
“A little. You and I have run into each other so often. It’s rather strange that this is the last time.” ALL THINGS MUST COME TO AN END.
“Yes, of course. That’s something of which I am certain.”

DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY YOU SURVIVED? ALL THOSE CLOSE CALLS? IT’S BASICALLY THE NUMBER ONE QUESTION I GET WHEN IT COMES TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD NEAR-ME EXPERIENCES.
Fergus shook his head and shot back, “No. What does it matter? I don’t think about yesterday – nothing can change yesterday, it’s history. Don’t think about tomorrow – you might not wake up in the morning. When I woke up each morning in the camp, I would think to myself, I must get through today, whatever happens. Now I’m about to head off into the next world. I’m a little surprised that there is a next world, but I’m ready. There’s no point wasting time wondering about why I got to this moment. I’ve had the most wonderful happy life, since those days. I just want to keep moving forward, whatever that might mean now.”
THAT’S… INTERESTING, said Death, putting a cadaverous hand underneath the hood in what may or may not have been an attempt to scratch its chin (if there was a chin under there at all).
I THINK YOU’RE THE FIRST PERSON TO TURN THAT OFFER DOWN.
“I wouldn’t feel bad about it,” Fergus replied considerately. “There’s a first time for everything.” YOU’RE RIGHT, said Death. I’M LEARNING NEW THINGS ABOUT YOU HUMANS ALL THE TIME.

“Right, well, we ought to get on with it, then.” Fergus stepped out of his bed with ease. Behind the spectral figure, a black door had appeared as if from nowhere. It swung open to reveal what looked like crisp English woods after a light rainfall. Death stood beside him.
EXCUSE THE DOG HAIR ON THE CLOAK. WORD GOT AROUND THAT YOU WERE ARRIVING AND SEVERAL OF OUR CANINE INHABITANTS BECAME QUITE EXCITED. ALSO, A WOMAN SAID SOMETHING ABOUT A WATERING CAN? I DON’T GET HALF THE THINGS YOU PEOPLE SAY TO EACH OTHER THESE DAYS.

Fergus glanced at the time-worn photograph sitting on the dresser by his bed. A plump woman wearing round spectacles and a floral dress stood in a garden in a bout of joyful laughter, a labrador with a shining black coat sitting dutifully at her feet, both frozen in a monochromatic sliver of time and space. “They’re waiting for me, are they? Oh, excellent. Well, it looks like I shall have a wonderful time.” He gestured at the door with a hand wrinkled like the pages of a well-worn book. Permanent bruises had blossomed like sakura under the skin, a map of enemy strikes, but his hand was strong and did not tremble now. “Do I just walk straight through?”

YES, FERGUS. IT’S BEEN A PLEASURE TO SEE YOU AGAIN AFTER ALL THIS TIME.
Fergus nodded at the figure, rose from his bed, and took a step through the door without faltering. A twig snapped on the damp grass underfoot. It was warm, with a slight breeze, and the clouds were sailing lazily across the sky. He looked over to Death, still standing in the room, which seemed to be getting smaller and smaller as he looked on. Death seemed to be gazing at something, a photograph on the wall, a skeletal hand outstretched to touch the tip of the glass frame.
AH YES, said Death. I THOUGHT YOU WERE GREAT ON BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT.



i think of you

the stories you told me

the place and time a dimension and a continent away,

with nothing to anchor them to here and now but

your voice

and my small brain

buzzing with words and questions  

it happened, you said.

you got through that day. and the next and the next

those three years are still out there somewhere

where you lost them

curled up on the forest floor

drenched in tropical rain, blistered from the sinful heat

crusted black with old blood  

in your memory –

the smell of iron

and sepia-toned dust from the roads shaped by

your feather-light footprints

the sun bearing down on you, an inescapable commandant

the railroad stretching before you,

a cruel and toothy grin.  

you took solace in the dark

the damp cold nights of england welcomed you home in silence

they did not judge

or try to understand

as the streetlamps softly lit your way

as you drew in each grateful breath

and exhaled wisps of gunmetal.  

now we sit together

and you tell me how it was

the years between us as wide as a river

and your stories a bridge to cross them.

Poem by Alicia Anckorn

Tribute to Ron Bridge

Sadly we report the death of Ronald William ‘Ron’ Bridge MBE AFC FRAeS FRIN.

Ron, who was well known to many of the FEPOW and Civilian Internee community, was born in Tianjin’s British Concession, China in 1934. He passed away peacefully at home in Sussex, U.K. on 27th September 2020 aged 86.

When on 8th December 1941 the Japanese Army took control of the Tianjin’s British Concession, 8-year-old Ron, his parents and baby brother spent almost a year under ‘house arrest’, curfews and moves to different hotels by the Japanese. In March 1943 the family, including his maternal grandparents were moved with hundreds of others to Weihsien in the Shandong province. Weihsin Civilian Assembly Centre was a former American Presbyterian mission where they had established a school, seminary and hospital. But by 1943 it was “a scene of destruction and despair. Japanese had taken over the residences at their headquarters the rest of the compound had suffered from looting and neglect and a motley collection of run down buildings where about 1500 of us were stuffed like sardines” (David Michell: A Boy’s War, Overseas Missionary Fellowship 1988, p.62-3).

In these ‘run down buildings’ Ron, his baby brother and his parents struggled with the primitive conditions for the following two and a half years.

Liberation came on 17th August 1945, Ron writes, “… suddenly a large American aircraft appeared from the sky and out of the rear dropped seven parachutes. We ran down the sloping road and through the gate, the guards made no attempt to stop us. As we approached the paratroopers emerged from six foot high kaoliang with guns at waist height. When they realised that they were being approached by schoolboys, women crying and gangly thin men they relaxed….One of my friends grabbed a parachute and we passed the silk around. Anyone got a knife. A knife appeared and the panels of the parachute were soon mutilated and our heroes asked to sign before they disappeared into camp. The good natured soldiers obliged us…I got all seven signatures. Seventy years later I still have it and the names of the Duck team.”  (Ron Bridge; No Soap, Less School. Chillies Oast Publishing, 2019, p.147-150).

On 17th October 1945, two months to the day after they were ‘liberated’ Ron and family left the camp and flew back to Tianjin. There was a brief repatriation to England in 1946 and then the family returned to China. Ron, aged 17 finally arrived to settle in England in July 1951 where he joined ICI. At the age of 18 he joined the RAF and, much later, worked for various civilian air lines including British Airways. During his career he was awarded the Air Force Cross, various Directorships and Fellowships, including the Freedom of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots and the Freedom of the City of London.

Ron’s recollections of life in China, internment and his later career are vividly recounted in his autobiography: (Ron Bridge; No Soap, Less School. Chillies Oast Publishing, 2019.)  

But for the FEPOW and Civilian Internee families Ron will be remembered for his Chairmanship of ABCIFER, the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region.

ABCIFER was founded in 1994 with the aim of seeking compensation for the suffering of civilian internees in the Far East during W.W.II. Keith Martin was the first Chairman, Ron took over chairmanship in 1999. This period and his tenacious support and fight for compensation is modestly covered in just one paragraph at the end of his memoirs. But in truth it was a long and hard battle that went on for years with both Ron and Keith spending many hours in the Public Records Office going through files and finding the evidence to support the claim.

In 1995, with the help of British lawyer Martin Day, ABCIFER and the Centre for Internees Rights, Inc. (CFIR), the main American group for civilians, joined forces with groups from Australia and New Zealand to file a lawsuit against the Japanese government for compensation for the ill-treatment they had received in the camps. Their claim for $20,000 dollars each is based on compensation paid to American Japanese interned by the Americans during the Second World War.

In 1999 Royal British Legion took up the request for a special gratuity for POWs of the Japanese. Towards the end of 2000 Lewis Moonie, British Defence Minister, told MPs that the surviving Britons who were held captive by the Japanese and the widows of those who had since died were to receive an ex gratia payment of £10,000 each. Moonie claimed that this was a “debt of honour” owed to civilian, forces and merchant navy captives.

But just six months later, after thousands of applications had been made and paid, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) who were now administrating the scheme, clarified the criteria for payment.  It was no longer sufficient to hold a British passport and to have been interned to qualify for compensation. Now it was essential for claimants to have a proven “blood-link

Although he was not personally affected by this Ron was “appalled that those internees who were British Passport holders but due to being Jewish, coloured born in Ireland or women who had obtained British nationality by marriage prior to 1941, were excluded from the ex gratia payment of £10,000 implemented by Tony Blair.” (Ron Bridge.p. 215.)

Hence Ron continued his campaign and with the help of ABCIFER’s solicitors he was able to “get four QCs to act pro bono and with additional support from 300 Members of parliament, to defeat the MOD in the High Court” (Ron Bridge p.215) It was a long fight. It was not until 2006 that compensation was paid.

We are sure that those who received the original ex gratia payment and those who fell into the excluded category and their families feel a huge debt of gratitude for Ron’s tenacity, drive and his endless campaigning for which he was quite rightly appointed an MBE in 2007.

But that was not the end. Ron’s energy, enthusiasm and commitment to maintaining and helping preserve the history of POW and Civilian Internment in the Far East during World War II continued. He created a most comprehensive data base of civilian internees and POWs and was most definitely the ‘go to person’ for those seeking detailed information about internees. 

Ron’s passing is a huge loss to all those who knew him. But, a copy of his database is now available for all to view at St Michael, Cornhill. (St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, London EC3V 9DS)

Remembering Maurice Naylor CBE

20 December 1920- 30 September 2020

(Header image shows Maurice delivering the FEPOW Address at the 2010 conference)

On 2 June 1973, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, William Maurice Naylor was awarded the CBE for Services to the NHS. At the time Maurice was Chief Executive of Trent Regional Health Authority one of only four regions in England. It was the pinnacle of an administrative career that had begun in the late 1930s. Having grown up in Hazel Grove in Cheshire, Maurice worked for Manchester Corporation at the Town Hall in Albert Square. While there, he studied for a degree in Administration at Manchester University. When war came, Maurice was initially in a reserved occupation but once his Call Up papers arrived, he joined the 135th Field Regiment Royal Artillery.

Maurice was a great friend to the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG). He attended his first conference, held at the National Memorial Arboretum, in 2008. In 2010 Maurice was among the eight former FEPOW and three Civilian Internees, invited as guests of the third conference at which he was asked to give the FEPOW Address. Composed and with a straight face, he began by thanking the RFHG for inviting him to open the Conservative conference! It brought the house down.

Click here to see a recording of Maurice’s address on YouTube

His address focused on his liberation and repatriation from captivity in 1945. He spoke about arriving back in Liverpool and the difficulties of adjusting once back home. He recalled that it was not until 1981, and recently retired, that he went back to Thailand for the first time, visiting the bridge over the River Kwai and the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Kanchanaburi:

“I decided then that I owed it to those who had died, and their families, for the story of those years to become better known. I started to give talks to organisations like Probus and Rotary in and around South Yorkshire.

He continued:

I came to the 2008 Conference to find out more and was overwhelmed by the welcome that I and my fellow FEPOWs received. There are not many of us left now to tell the tale and soon there will be none.

It is gratifying and comforting to know that there are younger people still around, able and willing to give their time and energy to researching and recording the history of FEPOWs and civilian Internees and passing it on to future generations”.

Click here to read the full transcript of Maurice’s address.

In 2009 Maurice was interviewed for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s FEPOW oral history study. Softly spoken and with a trace of his Mancunian roots, his interview radiates a calm authority, his answers clear and considered. Every word counted.

His administrative training was to come in useful when, in 1943 at Tamarkan Camp in Thailand, he offered to assist the Senior British Officer, Lt Col. Philip Toosey, who was also Commanding Officer of 135th Field Regiment. At interview, Maurice recalled the occasion:

“I approached Colonel Toosey on the parade ground on one occasion, “I’ve got a degree in administration, I can do clerical work without any problems, if you want any assistance in the camp office let me know.” And he said Alright… A few weeks later he and Major David Boyle came charging into the hut I was in and Toosey said, “There he is, that’s the one, come with me.” So, I went to the camp office… they wanted me to take over from [Sergeant Neave who was sick] …It was against my principles really to get too involved with the Japanese, the lower profile you could keep the better really…”

Having sailed from Liverpool in November 1941 he arrived back there in early November 1945 almost five years to the day, on board the SS Orbita. He recalled it vividly, and his struggle to regain his balance once home:

“I got the train from Liverpool to Manchester and then got the bus to Hazel Grove and walked down the lane and my Dad came and met me half-way down, that was it… [initially] I reacted very badly. I was not able to communicate with people. I couldn’t stand the triviality of conversation. I would sit down to breakfast with my parents then I’d have to go upstairs and go to my bedroom. It must have been hard for them …I think the psychological effect of being a prisoner was much greater than the physical effects, as far as I was concerned at any rate …I’ve never discovered whether it was out of consideration for me, or because it was they didn’t want to know, but nobody ever asked questions about it. And I never said anything.  And it was as though everybody wanted to forget about it… “.

On 15 October 2011, a brilliantly sunny autumn day, in front of a crowd of 650 gathered on the Pier Head overlooking the River Mersey, Maurice unveiled the first of the RFH Group’s two Repatriation Memorial stone plaques. The day before, he had met former Liverpool merchant seaman, Stan Buchanan, who as a 20-year-old had served as Deck Steward on board the SS Orbita, on its return voyage from Rangoon.





Maurice with Stan Buchanan, in front of the Liver Building 14 October 2011

In an interview for The Guardian at the time, Maurice said:

“It is 66 years since we arrived back in this great port of Liverpool to the sound of ships sirens and the cheers of multitudes of onlookers and well-wishers… [This] is a memorial, too, to the girlfriends, spouses, parents and grandparents who had to put up with us and our idiosyncrasies. And we must remember those many thousands of our fellow prisoners who, sadly, died during their captivity in atrocious conditions. Their families continue to suffer too, and their sacrifice should never be forgotten”.

Two years’ later, Maurice travelled to Southampton for the unveiling of the second Repatriation Memorial. At the Service of Dedication, he gave this reading from Philippians 4, verses 10-13:

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Maurice died on 30 September aged 99. The Researching FEPOW History Group has lost a great friend.