2 LOYALS’ COLLECTION: LANCASHIRE INFANTRY MUSEUM FULLWOOD BARRACKS, PRESTON
By Jane Davies, Curator of the Lancashire Infantry Museum
I have worked at the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston for 15 years. The Museum houses a wonderful collection, full of interesting objects and archival material; from an account describing the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo to letters back home from the Front during WW1, we hold everything that you can think of.
My favourite collection, without a doubt, is that of the 2nd Battalion, The Loyal Regiment dating from WW2. The Battalion was present at Singapore on the 15th February 1942 when the island fell to the Japanese. Over three years of incarceration began, first of all at Changi prisoner of war camp and then later on (for the majority of the Battalion) in Keijo, Korea.
I first ‘discovered’ the collection when I came across a bound ‘book’ called “Nor Iron Bars”. Looking inside, the ‘book’ was remarkable. It was full of magazines compiled by the Battalion’s Officers whilst being held as POWs. Written on any scrap of paper they could find, mainly old Naval message pads and paper from Red Cross parcels, a series of magazines were produced containing humorous drawings, poems, educational lectures and essays about the Officer’s situation. Photographs were also attached including ones of the men erecting defenses on Singapore before the Japanese invaded and also photographs of activities within the camp in Keijo itself. These included photographs of camp shows, the vegetable patch and the funeral of a POW attended by Japanese Officials.
I found these photographs quite extraordinary and at odds to what I knew about other Japanese POW camps. These photographs of men from the Battalion seeming to enjoy themselves were so different to what I had read about the men from 18th Recce (previously the 5th Battalion, The Loyal Regiment) and their experience as POWs on the Thai-Burma Railway. Further digging about the camp at Keijo was required and, after seeing those photographs it was no surprise to find that the Japanese treated Keijo as a ‘show camp’. A camp that would be held up as a beacon of good treatment.
The fact that Keijo was a ‘show camp’ should not distract from the harsh conditions that 2 Loyals lived under. Second Lieutenant Pigott was caught exchanging an old shirt with a Korean for a small loaf of bread. His punishment was to spend the remainder of his time as a POW in the civil prison, without heating and in winter, a nightly 40 degrees of frost. Near the end Lieutenant Piggot re-joined the camp, but only lasted a few days. He died on the 29th August 1945.
The danger of being caught with the magazine was summed up by Brigadier Elrington ‘If they were caught with the magazine their punishment would have been terrible. Production of it was punishable by torture and death’ – ‘ these pages were surreptitiously produced, passed from hand to hand and eventually smuggled out of captivity, in spite of the grave risks involved; indeed this constant fear of secrecy added spice to our enjoyment and each successive edition of Nor Iron Bars gave a fresh fillip to our morale.’
For the duration of the war the copies of the magazines were kept in a safe place, hidden from the view of the camp guards. In 1947 the magazines were bound together and presented as an album to the museum where it is on display now.