Tag Archives: History

On VJ Day 74: Letters between the generations

On the 74th anniversary of VJ Day, Ashley Prime writes for RFHG about his father, Lance Corporal Ashley Prime – a former prisoner of war in Singapore and Thailand – whose moving post-war letters have been published open access for all to read.

Ashley Prime
Lance Corporal Ashley Prime. Courtesy of Ashley Prime

I had of course always known that my father had been a Japanese Prisoner of War. I grew up with that always in our minds in our home, but it was never really seen as a negative. It was just there, and from my childhood, I recall kindly former colleagues of his visiting our home. They were always kind and I never felt any anger in the way they were. At least to me as a small child. 

Later in life, I was living in West Germany in my early twenties, and whilst back in London on holiday, I asked my father about the war and his experiences. He said he hadn’t really ever talked to me about it but did want to rectify that. We didn’t discuss anything further, but it was at that point that I started to receive a series of handwritten letters on A4 paper, over a period of around 18 months. He had been meticulous in keeping as many of the original documents as he had, including the postcards he had sent my mother, the only letter he had received from her and his record card. All in support of his letters.

And he wrote and wrote and wrote. Sadly he died in 1983 before he was able to complete his life story. He had written up to the mid 1950s and had therefore covered the fall of Singapore, captivity and liberation.

Ashley Prime’s letters can be accessed here: Ashley Prime: Calcutta to Singapore

 What did I take from the letters? And how did it change my view of my father? Firstly, there was throughout his letters a lack of anger, a lack of bitterness, with a pragmatic acceptance of his fate.  He said that ‘you will be back’ – the parting words from his wife – and ‘another life experience’ kept him going. 

 He had already said to me that forgiveness was one of the most difficult things to do. But holding on to bitterness eats us all away from the inside and doesn’t allow us to move on. And I think he did that with his captors, with the evidence of him giving them cigarettes, refraining from beating them and pitying them at the end of the war when the Japanese themselves became captives.

 And that is how I remember him. He was always kind, thoughtful, loving and caring. I rarely, if ever, saw him angry and he never raised his voice to me. I miss him today in 2019 as much as I do when he was here. 

 

All words © Ashley Prime, 2019.

26 June 1944: the sinking of the Harugiku Maru

To mark its anniversary, Dr Lizzie Oliver writes about the first of two sinkings of POW transport ships en route to the Sumatra Railway…

Seventy-five years ago today, 26 June 1944, a large contingent of Allied prisoners of war who had been designated to work on the Sumatra Railway were shipwrecked following ‘friendly fire’ by the British submarine HMS Truculent.

At the time, the former S.S. Van Waerwijk – renamed the Harugiku Maru by the Japanese – was being used to transport supplies from one side of the island of Sumatra to the other. What those aboard HMS Truculent didn’t know at the time, was that the ‘supplies’ being transported also included 730 Allied prisoners of war crammed down into the hold.

‘They had approximately 2’6” by 5’6”…in which to sit or lie with such kit as they possessed. There were no port-holes open on either side…There was such a congestion that the last 50 prisoners were literally beaten in the holds with sticks’. [Captain James Gordon Gordon, Royal Artillery]

Conditions during the voyage were exceptionally difficult, with meagre food and the only breaks up on deck permitted after the ship had been sailing for at least 18 hours. After much remonstration with their guards, groups of 25 men were able to go up for some fresh air every 15 minutes.

At 2pm on the 26th, two torpedoes hit the side of the ship. She sank within minutes; 180 POWs were killed, along with half of the 50 Japanese also on board.

After several hours in the water, the POWs were picked up and taken to River Valley Road Camp in Singapore. Here they would stay for three weeks until they were transported straight back to Sumatra. This time, they would find their intended destination: the jungle camps and exhausting labour of railway construction.

‘We walked…with our few worldly possessions – a sack or haversack, with a spoon and a dish, water bottle, a photo or two to remind us of loved ones at home, a toothbrush and razor blade which lasted me for 3 ½ years… We were to build a railway line…and the technical staff who were to supervise its construction, had already built a similar one in the north. We knew nothing of the Burma-Thailand line, nor that this one would be 220 kilometres long, and cross over the equator. So we toiled from daylight…until after dark, seven days a week’. [Allan Angus Munro, RAF; IWM ]

To read more, the paperback edition of Prisoners of the Sumatra Railway is available now. You can order it with a 10% discount via Bloomsbury here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/prisoners-of-the-sumatra-railway-9781350118904/

Image: Wrecksite.eu

Special FEPOW Descendants’ Weekend – 16, 17, 18 November 2019

The SECRET ART OF SURVIVAL exhibition

25 October 2019 – 20 June 2020

Victoria Gallery & Museum (VG&M), Ashton Street, Liverpool L69 3DR

 SATURDAY 16thVG&M: FEPOW Focus Day 10.30am – 3.30pm

A FREE programme of activities focused on FEPOW family histories including:

·       Short talks ·       Practical workshop on looking after artworks
·       Exhibition tours ·       Sharing memories and stories
·       Archive and documentary films ·       Digital archiving of stories, artwork and artefacts

Please note this is a drop-in session and activities will be repeated throughout the day.

 

SUNDAY 17th noonFEPOW Remembrance Service, Liverpool Parish Church (near the waterfront)

Special FEPOW Evening at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (RLPO) Hall, Hope Street, L1 9BP

Doors Open 6.30pm, 7pm start

  • Welcome presentations, then in memory of all Far East captives, the RLPO Youth Choir perform the Vocal Orchestra arrangement of Dvorak’s Largo, created in 1943 by and for the Women of Palembang Internment Camp
  • Feature film – Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie, Tom Conti and Ryuichi Sakamoto

The booking line for the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Hall (RLPO) is now open – https://www.liverpoolphil.com/whats-on/film/merry-christmas-mr-lawrence/3459 Tickets must be booked with RLPO, either online or by telephone: 0151 709 3789, there are no reserved seats.

MONDAY 18th10–1pm VG&M: private guided viewings of the Secret Art of Survival exhibition – regrettably these are now fully booked.

NB- VG&M is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am – 5pm

 IMPORTANT

Please register your interest now, fepow.project@lstmed.ac.uk stating which events you wish to attend.

Accommodation: The Liner Hotel (www.theliner.co.uk) in Lord Nelson Street (to the right of Lime Street Station) is offering special room rates for FEPOW exhibition visitors, subject to dates and availability. To book direct, call direct on 0151 709 7050 (the lower rates will only be available when calling direct) and quote FEPOW Art.

D-Day

In honour of the D-Day commemorations, Martin Percival writes…

The 6th June 2019 sees the 75th anniversary of D Day. The focus, quite rightly, is on Europe. What’s interesting though is to understand when and how the news was received by the POWs in the Far East and the impact it had upon their morale.

My father, Frank Percival, was captured in Singapore in February 1942 and was a member of one of the early work parties that headed up country to Thailand in June that year.

Upon returning home in October 1945, contrary to Army orders, the story of his captivity was published in the local newspapers in North West London – the Willesden Chronicle and the Kilburn Times. He told me when I was a teenager that as a young man, before he joined the Army in 1939, he had aspirations to be a journalist. I have often wondered if this piece, written on the ship home, was an attempt at fulfilling his career aspirations.This piece was re-published  in full with some additional photographs on Ron Taylor’s excellent Far Eastern Heroes website – see below:

http://www.far-eastern-heroes.org.uk/Your_Gods_Stronger_Than_Ours/

The piece reveals that the news about D Day was already circulating in Thailand as early as 9th June 1944 – just 3 days after the allied invasion of France. Although not mentioned in my father’s article, the news was received via ‘canaries’ – secret radios hidden in mess tins and other items to help to disguise them. If found the men held responsible by the Japanese risked death by beheading. The section on D Day and receiving news on the progress of the war from outside is as follows:

‘Most prison camps possessed excellent news facilities. In the camp in which I was interned in 1944 we knew full details of “D” Day on 9th June. Towards the end however things deteriorated, mainly as a result of the frequent searches carried out by the Japanese. But this was compensated for, in some measure, by the leaflets which occasionally came into our possession printed in Burmese, Chinese, Japanese and Siamese. We ware easily able to follow the course of the War from these, aided by excellent sketch maps printed on their reverse sides.’

My father told me that these communications were an incredible boost to morale – and that especially the news on D Day helped the POWs to believe that maybe there was now an end insight.

Connie Suverkropp: Dutch Civilian Internee

Dr Bernice Archer writes…

It is with great sadness that I report the death of Connie Suverkropp.

019_FEPOW_HI_RES-3517
Connie (right) speaking with Bernice at the RFHG conference in 2015. Photo courtesy of LSTM/Brian Roberts © 2015

Some of you may remember Connie and her sister Else attending the RFHG conference in Liverpool in 2015 where Connie told her story of internment by the Japanese in Java during the Second World War.

Connie was just twelve years old when she was interned with her two younger sisters, Else aged 5 and Kathy aged 2, in Tjihapit Camp and Struiswijk Prison in Java. Her two older brothers (aged 14 and 15) were interned with the men in Tjikudapateuh. Their mother, suffering from T.B. was interned in a Japanese hospital. She died just after the end of the war. Their father died in 1943 on the Burma Railway. Her grandfather died in Ambarawa Camp and her grandmother in Bloemenkamp.

So Connie became a mother to these two younger sisters who she struggled courageously to care for and educate while at the same time, as she was no longer considered a child by the Japanese, she had to work in the camps.

Connie Suverkropp 1948
Kathy, Connie and Else (from left to right) in 1948. Courtesy of the Suverkropp family.
Connie Suverkropp 2015
Kathy, Connie and Else (from left to right) in 2015. Photo courtesy of Netherlands War Graves Foundation/Rob Gieling © 2015

Thanks to Connie’s efforts all three sisters survived the gruelling time in the camps, both Else and Kathy survive her and her spirit, strength and courage live on in them and in her children and grandchildren and her wider family.

Throughout her adult life Connie was determined both to honour the memory of her parents who she missed so much and also to ensure that this dreadful part of Dutch history would not be forgotten.  Her efforts were recognised on 14 November 2007 when she was awarded the  Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau.The statement made by mayor E.C. Bakker of Hilversum, in Museum Bronbeek (Arnhem) at the occasion of her decoration said: (a précis translation from Dutch to English by Connie’s brother-in-law Derk HilleRisLambers )

For many years of work Mrs Suverkropp focused on an accounting of history that reflects, and does justice to, the experience of the Dutch in the occupied Dutch East Indies during World War 2 – a history which she lived and remembers herself, and which dramatically affected her own family, and which has formed her as a person.

Connie has contributed by serving in the board of the “Foundation Guest Lecturers on WW-2, South-East Asia” (Stichting Gastdocenten WO II Werkgroep Zuid-Oost Azië). The Foundation offers guest lectures on history in schools in the Netherlands.

She made a special effort to get Dutch-Indonesian historic facts integrated into the curriculum History of the Netherlands in secondary schools: through special projects with the Royal Tropical Institute, and exhibits in the educational museum Museon. She also gave lectures on the subject in schools in Japan.

Connie was active in the Film Foundation Japanese Occupation of DEI.

With her activities she helped open the eyes of many Dutch students to this special part of history, Dutch history, of the Dutch East Indies. She has served the Dutch Indonesian community through her efforts to prevent their history from being swept under the rug, and forgotten.

 

The Bangka Island Massacre

Georgina Banks is researching the experiences of her Great Aunt Dorothy Elmes and is looking for any information on the Radji Beach Massacre. She writes for RFHG’s blog about her project….

dorothy-elmes
Dorothy Elmes, © Georgina Banks

My Great Aunt Dorothy Gwendoline Howard Elmes; NFX 70526, 2/10 AGH Hospital, commonly known as Bud or Buddy, was killed in the infamous Radji Beach Massacre in East Sumatra, Indonesia, on 16th February 1942.

When day broke on Radji Beach, there were around one hundred people who had washed ashore from the Vyner Brooke and the Pulo Soegi, over the last two days, fleeing Singapore: women and children, civilians, sailors, Australian Army Nurses and military personnel, including British servicemen. These ships had been bombed by the Japanese in the Banka Strait – or bomb alley as it was now dubbed. Since there were so many injured amongst them on the beach, they made the unanimous decision to hand themselves in to the Japanese. They made a big Red Cross on the beach and placed their faith in the Geneva Convention. A group of women and children departed to surrender and Sub-Lt. Bill Sedgeman (British) led the mission to get help for the wounded.

When they returned a few hours later, with around twenty Japanese soldiers led by Captain Orita Masaru, it was quickly noticed they had no stretchers with them. The Japanese split them into three groups: two of men and the other of nurses. One at a time, the two groups of men were marched around the headland, blindfolded, bayoneted and shot.

They then came back from around the headland to deal with the nurses. Twenty-two Australian Army Nurses, including my Great Aunt Bud and one civilian woman Mrs Betteridge, were lined up on Radji Beach, facing the horizon, marched into the sea and machine gunned from behind. One woman, Vivian Bullwinkel, survived, due to her height, as the bullets missed her vital organs. She ‘came to’ in the water and crawled into the jungle where she met Private Kinsley (British), a stretcher case, who had been bayoneted where he lay but was still alive. Vivian survived both the massacre and the internment camps on Banka Island and lived to testify at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Kinsley died in the mens’ camp.

Two other men survived both the massacre and the internment camps when they made a break for it in the water and feigned death: Eric German, an American Brewer and Ernest Stoker Lloyd, a British Sailor.

I am writing a book about my Great Aunt Bud, which includes a dramatised account of her last 48 hours, her letters written home from Singapore and my contemporary narrative retracing her footsteps, filling in the gaps and reflecting on the event two generations later.

I would be very grateful for any assistance with my research.

I am looking for:

  • Anyone still alive who was on the Vyner Brooke that I could talk to. I have spoken to Ralph Armstrong author of “Short Cruise on the Vyner Brooke”.
  • Anyone alive from the women’s camps. They were moved around a bit from Muntok to Palembang and then to Belalau. All of the surviving Australian Army nurses have now died – so it would be someone who was a child at the time.
  • Any related documents, personal papers or diaries. I have seen the official statements for the War Crimes Tribunal in The Archives in Australia of anyone who witnessed either the aftermath of the massacre (by washing ashore later, or by being out at sea and viewing it at a distance). I have also been in contact with Stoker Lloyd’s granddaughters and they have nothing further
  • Documents related to the Japanese soldiers – any accounts from their perspective. They were two companies of the 229th Regiment of the 38th Division of the Japanese Army under Major-General Tanaka (the same Division that took St Stephens Hospital in Hong Kong and raped and killed British and Chinese nurses). There have always been rumours the nurses were violated prior but there is no definitive evidence I have seen. If it exists then I would like to see this.
  • Anyone who knew the nurses when they were stationed in Singapore.

If you have any information, please email Georgina at: gbanks01@optusnet.com.au

 

THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL FEPOW HISTORY CONFERENCE – Registration Open

Making and marking memory: widening perspectives on Far East captivity

5 – 7 June 2020, Liverpool

Co-hosted by the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), our 7th international conference will focus on the stories and creativity that sustained prisoners, internees and forced labourers throughout captivity. We will also look at the made, recorded and preserved memories that subsequent generations have drawn upon in their own responses to this rich and moving history. In doing so, we will look for different perspectives and new voices to shed light on all that is yet to learn about – and from – the experiences of captivity, internment and forced labour across Southeast Asia and the Far East.

Taking place during the 75th anniversary year of liberation, and in conjunction with LSTM’s Art of Survival exhibition, the conference will encourage delegates to think of the objects, poems, artworks, and stories that resonated with prisoners and enabled their narratives to endure for many decades post-war.

Located at The Liner Hotel and LSTM buildings in the beautiful city of Liverpool, speakers already confirmed include: award-winning novelist Mark Dapin, acclaimed history writer Damien Lewis, representatives from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, British Red Cross, Imperial War Musem, the WarGen history project plus many more family researchers, academics, photographers and writers.

BOOK YOUR PLACE!

Spaces are limited, and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The registration form can be downloaded here: ConferenceBookingForm2020.  The form includes details on fees, a special discount code at The Liner for conference delegates. Please return your forms and deposits as soon as possible to the address on the registration form, or to researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com.

Hope to see you there!