James Harston Pennock, Aircraftman 1st Class in the RAF Marine Services was captured at sea off the coast of Singapore in February 1942. He spent the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp in Palembang, Sumatra.
Whilst a prisoner he drew (alongside fellow captured artists Rex Spencer and Bill Bourke) as well as carved pipes. James and Rex would also carve the names of those that passed away in the camp onto crosses. In a letter long after the war, and in a reference to carving onto the crosses, Rex wrote the “we just couldn’t keep up with the number dying”.
Although he rarely talked about his experiences in the camp, in a brief note he wrote years later he stated that “drawing saved his sanity”. His daughter, Anita Toscani, has kindly shared some of these drawings that he created whilst a POW with us so that more people may be able to see his artwork.
Anita would love to find out more about her father’s story, if anyone has any resources that could help, or recognises anyone in the Jame’s drawings below, please let us know.
All drawings by James Harston Pennock and kindly used with the permission of Anita Toscani.
My dad, Des Bettany, after seeing action in Europe in WW2 was evacuated from Dunkirk and posted to North Malaya. He was eventually imprisoned by the Japanese at various prisons camps on Singapore Island with some 100,000 other prisoners of war (POW’s) . You may well ask, how did he make it through all of this? Well, he painted to keep his sanity.
From out of the misery, starvation, exploitation and brutality that resulted in so much loss of life and injury (physical and mental) a series of artworks that helped Des and his mates survive the ordeal has now come to light in a family collection. This artwork of his service life before and after the Capitulation of Singapore is a range of fascinating illustrations, done often with humour by Des himself.
However, while painting to keep his head, he nearly lost it, as he was also painting political cartoons of the Japanese and hiding these. They were found and after some quick talking and who knows what else occurred, Des was warned by Major Col Saito, if he ever painted like this again, he would get a short haircut (be beheaded). We are sure he was punished but he, like so many other ex POW’s chose not to share the horrors they went through with others. I guess in telling of the horrors, they just relive them again.
This new website has been put together by us, Des’ family, as a tribute and to help raise awareness of what the POWs went through, as seen through the eyes of one man, Des Bettany. It also give a rare insight on how others kept ‘sane’ by looking forward to such things as: The Changi University; The Library; The Theatre and Musical Programs; Changi Industries; working to help mates by making rubber souls for boots or limbs for amputees; getting up to mischief: sabotaging their own work; or partaking in their Faith.
After 70 years in a cupboard, at last, this artwork is available to all who have access to the internet. Now that has been ‘liberated’ all the artwork can be viewed at www.changipowart.com
A brief 4 minute video summarizing dad’s work can be viewed, go to www.changipowart.com/videos click on the ‘Channel 7 Today Tonight Program’.
Please share this site so the message gets out to many of what these men went through and some of the strategies they employed to keep sane and to survive. We also honour & remember those who didn’t make the journey back home.
Des Bettany’s artwork, including some of his theatre programme covers are heavily featured as part of our Rice and Shine series.
Jackie Sutherland, author of Doctor Behind the Wire: The Diaries if POW, Captain Jack Ennis, Singapore, 1942-1945, writes about how she uncovered the identity of who sketched her father as a POW in Singapore.
The answer was there all the time!
The search began in an attempt to find out more about the artist who sketched my late father, Captain Jack Ennis, while a POW in Singapore. No more was known other than the signature ‘F.J. White’.
Reading through lists of FEPOW gave several possible identities but then, quite by chance, as I leafed through papers on my desk, the sunlight caught a tiny reflection on the back of the sketch. Graphite – pencil – on the dull brown paper, a page from a photograph album.
There, in my father’s small spidery writing, he had noted ‘Drawn by “Willie” White in January 1944 at Selerang after a hockey match’.
This was a name I had come across while transcribing my father’s diaries – but it had never occurred to me that ‘Willie’ might be a nickname. Sadly, my father had also recorded Willie’s death (from illness) in May later that same year.
Following the trail from the Commonwealth War Graves Commision website, I was able to find out more about this remarkable artist. F. John White (nickname ‘Willie’), a trained commercial artist, had enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters (Nottingham and Derbyshire Regiment) and with the 1/5th Battalion, was captured in Singapore. During his time as a POW he was very involved in theatre productions, designing posters and scenery as well as acting.
To quote from my father’s diary (on a production of Aladdin) ‘Young (John) Willie White of our Mess made up as a wonderful princess, very, very pretty girl. Steve Campbell sent up a bouquet of flowers after.’
‘Willie’ John White must have drawn many portraits. As Capt G K Marshall wrote in his Changi Diaries.’
‘25th January 1944. Had a sunbathe on the roof and later sat for Willie while he did a portrait of me. He finished it by lunchtime and made a very good job of it, the best I have seen him do.’
Willie White’s portrait of my father was only recognized 75 years after VJ Day, which makes me think how many more portraits and sketches of our relatives are waiting to be discovered?
Although other books have featured Jack and Elizabeth Ennis, this is the first complete account of their story – from meeting in up-country Malaya (the rain forest, the orchids) – to their marriage in Singapore just days before it fell to the Japanese, and then through the long separation of internment.
Published here for the first time, Jack’s diaries record the daily struggles against disease, injuries and malnutrition and also the support and camaraderie of friends. enjoyment of concerts, lectures, and sports, Ever observant, he records details of wildlife.
The inspiration for the ‘Changi Quilts’, the story of the Girl Guide quilt (now in the Imperial War Museum) is told in words by Elizabeth, written after the war.
Elizabeth’s former employer, Robert Heatlie Scott, distinguished Far East diplomat, was also POW in Changi, much of the time in solitary confinement or under interrogation by the Japanese.
The individual experiences of these three persons are dramatic enough – together they combine in an amazing story of courage, love and life-long friendship.
You can pre-order Jackie’s book through the Pen and Sword website here.
By Toby Norways, Senior Lecturer for Scriptwriting at the University of Bedfordshire and PhD Candidate in English (Creative Writing) at Newman University, Birmingham.
Toby Norways passed the viva for his PhD English (Creative Writing) in March 2020 and is currently finishing his thesis ‘corrections’ required before graduation. He has been researching his FEPOW father William ‘Bill’ Norways (1918-86) since 2015. His research took him to Singapore, Thailand, and to Japan where he met the family of one of his father’s camp guards. Toby’s thesis includes a 70,000-word creative manuscript Living with my absent father, a memoir of his father, and a corresponding 20,000-word critical commentary of the creative work.
Bill Norways was a commercial artist prior to World War II, before enlisting in the 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment. He was taken prisoner in Singapore when the allied forces surrendered to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. In May 1943, he was transported to Thailand to be used as slave labour on the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway. Bill suffered great hardship but survived the war. He rarely talked of his experiences.
Toby’s research begins with a study of the artefacts his father assembled from the Far East (including the above illustration). The collection includes Bill’s original artwork and photographs from the prison camps in Singapore and Thailand. Amongst these items are a series of post-war letters. They reveal the unlikely friendship between Bill in Cornwall and one of his former prison guards in Japan, Kameo Yamanaka. He disapproved of Japanese hostility. During Bill’s captivity in Singapore, Yamanaka would share his food rations and supply Bill with pencils so he could continue to draw. The two men expressed a wish that their families would remain friends, but the correspondence ends with Bill’s death in 1986.
The memoir has three plot strands: Toby’s research journey to discover a father he scarcely knew; his father’s history as a prisoner of war; and a Bildungsroman, as Toby comes to terms with the absence, then the death of his father. Alongside these storylines, a correspondence between two opposing soldiers is gradually revealed as Toby travels to Japan to track down the family of the Japanese guard.
On completion of his PhD in 2021, Toby hopes to publish both the memoir of his father and an illustrated book containing the 200+ photos, paintings and sketches that his father Bill managed to bring home from the Far East.
Toby’s research and Bill’s artwork have been featured twice in the Guardian newspaper. Toby’s research journey is described here.
Bill’s artwork is featured in the Guardian gallery found here.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of VJ Day and the end of World War II, RFHG Conference delegate and visual artist Sally Grumbridge has created a video. In it she talks about how her father’s experiences as a Far East Prisoner of War (FEPOW) in Singapore and Thailand inspired her to make a series of paintings and prints telling his story.
Photos (courtesy of Sally Grumbridge) show : Sally’s father, Bombardier George Porter (135th RA); a page from George’s journal detailing some of the camps he was in; a page from George’s journal that state “Aug 15th War Ends”.
To mark VJ Day75, and as a legacy of the highly successful Secret Art of Survival art exhibition in Liverpool, hosted and curated by our partners Victoria Gallery & Museum, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is re-launching it’s Far East prisoner of war (FEPOW) research website – www.captivememories.org.uk.
As you will see from the attached flyer the exhibition was accompanied by a new book – Captive Artists, the unseen art of British Far East prisoners of war (to order a copy visit the website).
As well as more unseen FEPOW artwork and stories revealed by the exhibition and book, the website now includes:
A virtual tour of the “Secret Art of Survival” exhibition, with enhanced information about many of the previously unknown artists and their artwork
NEW! Downloadable resources for teachers and families:
Teacher’s resources featuring FEPOW artwork and histories and designed as an aid to explore FEPOW history with a range of Year Groups
Family resources, interactive and craft based activities to do with younger members of the family to introduce a FEPOW relative
In addition, there is a link to the Secret Art of Lockdown, the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum’s creative arts project marking VJ Day75 commemorations. It features digital images of artwork submitted by members of the public on the theme of connecting people to friends and family who they have not seen for many months.
Secret Art of Survival was funded by players of the National Lottery, Trusts, FEPOW groups and individual donors.