Category Archives: News

New Book: Captive Fathers, Captive Children

“Captive Fathers, Captive Children: Legacies of the War in the Far East”

By Dr Terry Smyth

Defeated and disorientated in the heat and humidity of Java, my father, Edwin Smyth, was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army. It was the spring of 1942, and he was to spend the next three and a half years as a prisoner of war, including three years in Japan enslaved as a coal miner. Until his death in 1995 he remained greatly troubled by his memories, and his traumatic wartime experiences had a profound effect on me and on the wider family.

While a young child, I also often felt ‘defeated and disorientated’, by the atmosphere in the home. As the years rolled on, I continued to wonder why seven decades after the war so many of us remained fascinated by our fathers’ experiences of captivity and why we invested countless hours and days researching the facts and attending remembrance events. I was desperate to know how my childhood experiences compared with those of other sons and daughters of Far East POWs, and in what ways our memories of childhood had shaped our later lives. (Some questions don’t go away do they, even after decades and decades?)

After retiring from full-time employment in 2003, I began to read through my father’s papers. This reading, together with burgeoning online resources, were the triggers for my wife and I to travel to Japan in 2010 where we were able to visit the site of my father’s incarceration (Hiroshima 6b camp, near Mine City). At that point, I had to make a decision: either I would have to commit to taking this research further, or accept that I had gone as far as I could.

Faced with this fork in the road, curiosity won the day, and I decided to tackle the question head on. In October 2013, I started a full time PhD in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex, graduating in the summer of 2017 just days after my 70th birthday.

During my research, I had contact with almost one hundred children of FEPOWs from all corners of the British Isles (and a few overseas), and undertook lengthy interviews with forty. As expected, these conversations were wide-ranging, challenging and emotionally demanding, made more so by the fact that they covered several decades of lived experience. Without exception, each interview offered new insights and fresh understandings, and I am exceedingly grateful to every participant for their trust and openness.

In June 2020, I signed a book contract with Bloomsbury Academic, one of the UK’s leading publishers. The book is part of their ‘New Directions in Social and Cultural History’ series, and sets out the results of my research into the life time consequences of having a FEPOW father. It aims to show how memory and trauma became ‘worked into’ the psychic, social and cultural lives of the children, how individual lives are touched by global events. Every family was affected in one way or another by the father’s FEPOW trauma, and I have not shied away from discussing and analysing the more troubling aspects of the children’s experiences, my own included. Taken together, these examples provide incontrovertible evidence of the incredible strength, resilience and courage of the participants in this research.

Cover: “Captive Fathers, Captive Children:
Legacies of the War in the Far East”

The seven chapters that comprise ‘Captive Fathers, Captive Children’ are as follows:

  1. Life in captivity
  2. Bringing war into the home
  3. Remembering and commemorating
  4. Finding meaning in memories
  5. Home as a site of remembrance
  6. The search for military family histories
  7. Place and pilgrimage

Sir Tim Hitchens, British Ambassador to Japan from 2012 to 2017, was kind enough to write the Foreword.

Although the book has been published by Bloomsbury Academic, wherever possible I have written it to appeal to a wider audience, most importantly the families of FEPOWs, as well as to those scholars and others interested in methodology, intergenerational trauma, and the legacies of war more generally.

To date, the book has been published in digital and hardback versions, and the paperback will appear in July 2023. You can find further details on the Bloomsbury website.


Dr Terry Smyth is a Community Fellow in the Department of History at the Univeristy of Essex. You can view his profile here.

Registration open for the 2023 Researching FEPOW History Conference


Registration for the 2023 Researching FEPOW History Conference is now open!

We advise early booking as places are limited, please see the notes below (or those attached to the registration form) for further details.

We hope to see many of you in Liverpool 10-11 June 2023!

All the best,
RFHG

IMPORTANT NOTES


Planning to put on this next conference has had its challenges!

As seasoned delegates will know, RFHG run the conferences on a shoestring; we are all volunteers and rely on delegate fees to underpin all but the venue costs. We are indebted to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine for its continuing support.

While we are all now learning to live with COVID-19, and with a further vaccine rollout this autumn, we still cannot be certain that something may arise to restrict plans once again. Therefore, in the event of another COVID-19 threat next year we must comply with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s safeguarding guidelines within School during periods of rising or high infection rates (such as mask wearing and social distancing).

FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED

This means that initially we have limited guaranteed places to the first 55 people for whom we receive completed delegate forms, together with deposits. When guest speakers and the RFHG team are added, we reach the school’s maximum number of persons allowed in the lecture theatre under the 2-metre social distancing rules.

However, we sincerely hope that by Spring next year we will be able to invite another 30 or more from the waiting list to join the conference. We appreciate your understanding. We will inform all those who register if they have a confirmed place or are on the waiting list.

NB previous delegates had priority booking (from 1 September) so don’t delay booking to avoid disappointment! If we do not reach our break-even by 1 November, regrettably we will have to cancel the conference.

Queries? Get in touch via email: researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com, or to mike.parkes@talktalk.net, or by telephone – 0151 632 2017. We aim to respond to queries within five working days.

Been to an RFHG Conference before?

If you have previously attended an RFHG conference, and are interested in joining us in 2023, you can now request access to early registration for a place next year.

Simply fill out the form below, we’ll double check that you are eligible for early access, and then we’ll send you the registration form as soon as we can!

Please note early registration is only open for those subscribed to our mailing list, or who have previously attended a conference. Full registration will open on 1st October 2022.

Registration is now open for everyone. Please visit https://fepowhistory.com/conferences/2023-conference/ to find out more on how to register.

New Book: Tigers in Captivity

By Ken Hewitt

Tigers in Captivity

The 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment in the Malaya Campaign and as Far East Prisoners of War 1941-1945.

by Ken Hewitt

Ken’s research into his father’s military career with the Leicestershire Regiment started in 2006 and quickly led to an interest in all 936 men of the 1st Battalion who fought in the Malaya Campaign, many of whom became Far East prisoners of war under the Japanese.

In 2015, to commemorate VJ70, he presented his research findings to an audience of 100 FEPOWs, descendants, Regimental veterans and other interested parties. Following the talk, he was strongly encouraged to document his findings more formally and now, seven years later after further research, writing and re-writing, sorting of photographs and creation of charts and maps, his book, Tigers in Captivity, is finally published.

The book starts with the Battalion’s move from India to Malaya in early 1941 and continues with the defensive actions and withdrawal, from Jitra in the north to Singapore in the south over a 55-day period following the Japanese invasion of Malaya in December 1941. It describes the early encounters with the enemy, the chaotic withdrawal from Jitra and the amalgamation with the 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment to form the British Battalion.  The subsequent defensive actions of the British Battalion at Kampar, Batang Berjuntai and Batu Pahat and on Singapore Island are all addressed. It continues with the eventual surrender of Singapore, the so called “Impregnable Fortress”. Those who are known to have escaped the island around this time are identified and, where known, their ultimate fate recorded.

Nearly 700 men of the battalion were now prisoners of war and Tigers in Captivity goes on to describe the movements of the captives around the Far East – the work parties in Singapore, the transfers of men to Japan and other Far East countries and the exodus to Thailand to build the infamous death railway. Even after the railway was completed the horrors continued with malnutrition, illness and disease, hard labour, brutality and ‘hellship’ transfers to Japan. Liberation finally arrived in August 1945 and the book addresses the repatriation of these now ex-POWs and the post war situation in which they found themselves.

Of the 354 men of the 1st Btn Leicestershire Regiment who were killed in action or who died as prisoners of war, 196 (more than half) have no known grave and are remembered on the Singapore Memorial, Kranji War Cemetery.

Every man who was killed in action, or who died as a prisoner of war, is remembered by name at the appropriate point in the text and specific information on the circumstances of his death and grave location is given.

Summary Charts present the statistics of the Malaya Campaign and the subsequent captivity. Movement Tables list the men in each of the POW movement parties and an A-Z listing of all 936 men summarises their fate and movements during this period. An extensive bibliography lists the sources of information and provides readers with a signpost to further relevant reading.

The main purpose of the book is to enable descendants of these men to develop a better understanding of the Malaya Campaign and the period of captivity which their relative experienced. Not only is Tigers in Captivity the definitive historical record of the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment during this period, it provides a tangible ‘family’ memorial not only to the men who died at the time but also to those who survived and are no longer with us.

We will remember them.

Copies of the book are available at a cost of  £25 + postage and packaging directly from the author, Ken Hewitt at kenhewitt@ntlworld.com   or the publisher at www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop

For further information visit:   www.tigersincaptivity.co.uk.

NEW BOOK: POW ON THE SUMATRA RAILWAY

My name is Christine Bridges and John Geoffrey Lee, (Geoff) is my dad and I promised him, before he died on 22nd of June 2002, that I would get his book published. Finally, from the 30th of June 2022 his amazing story can now be told. 

Geoff joined the RAF on his 20th birthday on 26th June 1941 and trained as ground crew. In November 1941 with his unit, he boarded the Empress of Asia in Liverpool, but no one knew where they were headed. Travelling south, Christmas was spent in Durban and then they were transferred to another ship and onto Egypt. They were then chasing the Blenheim planes which were being flown to the Far East. Eventually Geoff and his compatriots found themselves in Java after being chased from Sumatra by the invading Japanese. In March 1942 the men capitulated to the Japanese, after they over ran Java. Geoff was posted as a deserter to his family back in Nottingham. 

For the next two years Geoff was transported around prison camps, somehow surviving four hell ship journeys from Java to Ambon, Ambon back to Java, Java to Changi. From Changi he was transported on a river steamer which blew up. Already suffering from malnutrition, malaria and many other diseases, Geoff and a few survivors were washed ashore twenty-four hours later and recaptured on the island of Sumatra. They were then sent to the Sumatra Railway. Here they were treated as slaves to build a railway across the equator, in appalling jungle conditions with the loss of many lives. Forced to carry heavy rails, man handle train engines, work in searing heat and a flooded river, only scant amounts of food, no medical equipment, bouts of malaria, and extreme cruelty and brutality from the guards – how anyone survived is a miracle. The railway was finished on the 18th of August 1945, and it was common knowledge that all the prisoners were to be executed, although the prisoners didn’t know what the date was. On the 19th all the guards had fled. Geoff was liberated on 20th September 1945 weighing only 6 stone and with a badly infected foot from a bayonet stabbing inflicted by a guard. 

Geoff arrived home on the 16th of December 1945 and was sent to hospital at RAF Cosford. Almost straight away, when asked where he’d been in the war, no one believed him. They said there was no such place as the Sumatra Railway and he must have been on the Burma Railway, but this was completed before the Sumatra Railway had started and it was 2000 miles away from Sumatra. They were also told not to talk about their experiences, so he didn’t. He also had to make notes about all that he remembered while at Cosford.

He eventually recovered, although he suffered from Malaria all his life, and just got on with life. Eventually in the 1970’s he started to talk and tried to find out about the Sumatra Railway. He had his paybook (below) which said he’d been in Sumatra, but still no one had heard of it despite contacting the Imperial War Museum, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the MOD. The letters and many photos are shown in his book.      

Way before computers, he managed to contact three other people who had been on the railway. One in Australia, one in New Zealand and one in Holland. They also were not being believed. As no one believed him, he decided to do something about it and in 1980 he went out to Singapore by Concorde and onto Sumatra, and with the help of the Caltex Oil Company, he found engines in the jungle villages. With the evidence he obtained, he submitted it to the IWM, CWGC and MOD but it was in the mid 1980’s before they acknowledged that he was in fact correct. He received many apologies especially from the FEPOW community as many did not believe him and this also meant a lot more men came forward who had been on the Sumatra Railway. Geoff decided to write a book, using his notes written at Cosford. This took him five years to write on a typewriter with two fingers. When he began to send out articles to newspapers and publishers, they were returned as ‘Just another Burma Railway story’. His book is so much about bravery, grit and determination, not only to survive but to prove that he was right all along, and he has shown the world what has been woefully under reported. 

Geoff died in 2002 just before his 81st birthday and I can finally say to my dad, I’ve fulfilled my promise to you.


POW on the Sumatra Railway by Geoffrey Lee and edited by Christine and Eddie Bridges is available now.

FEPOW Projects in the Works

By Charlie Inglefield

I am currently working on two FEPOW projects which may be of interest to this community.

The first is a documentary concept to mark the 80th anniversary of the completion of the Thai-Burma Railway in October 2023. We had the honour of interviewing a UK FEPOW in February and we hope to have more news on that in the coming weeks and months.

The second project is a book to also mark the 80th anniversary next year and would be primarily based on a final voices theme. If approved, this book would be based on the voices of FEPOWs that have not been previously heard (i.e. not been published outside of family and friends). I have had the privilege of interviewing families of POWs around the world over these last 18 months and reading extracts and accounts about this remarkable generation. 

My grandfather was a FEPOW, Captain Gilbert Inglefield, who I did not know that well and subsequently as I got older I wanted to learn more about – so there is a personal attachment to this. It is an obvious point to be made but one which I feel is important to the point of this book and that is there are so few FEPOWs still with us and that number is sadly diminishing week in, week out. Whilst all but a few are still with us, they remain the last human link to these extraordinary set of events that took place in Asia-Pacific between 1941-45. 

I am looking to speak with families/descendants of FEPOWs who may have written summaries and accounts from their fathers/grandfathers – which have not been previously published outside of family and friends. The point of this is to potentially allow families who through their fathers/grandfathers can perhaps teach future generations about this specific piece of WWII history.

I am based in Boston but can happily chat to suit UK hours, if there is anyone who may be interested. 


To contact Charlie please email researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com with details, and include permission for your email and contact details to be forwarded on to him.

Save The Date!

10 – 11 June 2023

for the long-awaited Researching FEPOW History Conference (postponed 2020)

and hosted by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM)

Once again, this is an in-person event and places will be limited.

Registration opens

1 October and closes 30 November 2022.

Further details to follow in September – visit https://fepowhistory.com/ , or join our mailing list, for updates.

To assist planning, please email mike.parkes@talktalk.net now if you are intending to register (non-binding). Please help to spread the word.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Deferred RFHG 2020 Liverpool conference

It is with regret that due to the comparatively high infection rates and the resulting uncertainties, we have reached the decision that we are unable to stage the conference, originally planned for 2020, in 2022.

We have explored the potential for running an online conference, but have concluded that whilst technically this may be possible, we would lose many of the benefits of hosting the conference. We know from the feedback that we have had from our delegates over the past 15 years that we have been organising conferences, that the strength in what we do is to bring like-minded people together to meet others with similar (or not) research interests. Delegates are used to open access to the range of experts who agree to share their knowledge at the conferences, all within a convivial social setting. We simply cannot replicate this aspect of the conference virtually for our community.

The good news is that the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have agreed to us deferring the conference until June 2023. This means that it would fall within the school’s 125th anniversary year. This would inevitably help us to reach a wider audience than previously. We will let you know in due course how to register your interest for this event.

We may need to make some alterations to the original proposed conference programme to reflect any changes to speakers and any travel restrictions that we may need to consider. We also hope to be able to accept contributions from remote speakers via online platforms. We would like to hear from anyone who has any ideas for potential topics, either new or revisited, for the programme. We have also previously had some interest in the possibility of us holding a smaller online event during the coming year. If there is sufficient interest, we would like to hear from those of you who would like to join an event like this remotely later in 2021. Please click here to share your thoughts on this. 

We thank you for your continued interest and also your patience during these challenging times.

Best wishes,

Martin Percival,
Chair of the Researching FEPOW History Group

Header image credit: Rodhullandemu via  Wikimedia Commons, the author of this image is in no way affiliated with RFHG.

Bert Warne to get freedom of the city of Southampton

Bert Warne, now 102, was taken prisoner of war in 1942 and was forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway.

He is being given freedom of the city, the highest honour the city council can give, because of his “commitment to ensuring that those who served in the Far East theatre of war are remembered”.

You can read more about how he received the honour in a special ceremony on 24th January 2022 through the Southampton City Council website here.

Bert and his experiences also featured in our post about sharing research which you can read here.