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.
Among the 80,000 British and Commonwealth prisoners who surrendered to the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in February 1942 were around 600 officers and men of the 2nd Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, most of whom would spend the great majority of the next three and a half years in Korea’s Number One Prisoner-of War Camp at Seoul (renamed Keijo following the 1910 Japanese annexation). One of them was my father, 2nd Lt. Paddy Given-Wilson, who, together with two other Loyals officers, Capt. John Turner and Lt Tom Henling Wade, decided shortly after their capture, in order to ‘occupy a few idle minds’, to write and circulate a camp magazine which they called Nor Iron Bars. Fourteen issues were produced over the next three and a half years, totalling 516 pages. Great care was taken to conceal them, and despite snooping guards and frequent searches the Japanese never discovered the magazine. Had they done so, severe punishment would certainly have followed. When the war ended, therefore, it was brought back to Preston, where it was bound and displayed in the Lancashire Infantry Museum at Fulwood Barracks, where it is still kept.
Nor Iron Bars is an extraordinary but barely-known illustration of life in one of Japan’s more obscure POW camps. Not just a story, but, literally, an illustration. Every issue contained between twenty and forty drawings, cartoons (often deeply subversive) and even paintings, many of them done by extremely talented artists such as Capt. Donald Teale, the magazine’s ‘resident’ artist. And if the artwork was subversive, so too are the poems, plays and topical, often very humorous articles about camp life which made up the majority of the contributions. All these have been woven together with diaries, letters, war crimes trial transcripts and other documents to re-create the story of life at Keijo in You Must Endure, which is published by Carnegie Press, Lancaster, in October 2021.
There is no doubt that, relatively speaking, Keijo was one of the better places to be a prisoner of the Japanese between 1942 and 1945. Yet even here brutality, medical neglect and gnawing hunger were everyday events. Beatings and incarceration in the guardroom for days at a time, regardless of the fearsome Korean winter or the almost unbearable summer heat, were routine. So inadequate was the food that most of the prisoners lost a quarter or more of their body weight. In such circumstances, a camp magazine which combined humour with news, story-telling and wistful memories of better days, did much to lift spirits at the time and now provides fascinating insights into the resilience and resourcefulness of brave men experiencing the grim reality of Japanese captivity.
You must endure: the Lancashire Loyals in Japanese Captivity, 1942–1945 by Chris Given-Wilson is £9.99 and is available NOW with a 10% discount direct from the publishers on 01524 840111, or by visiting http://www.carnegiepublishing.com, and in selected booksellers.