Tag Archives: History

Cycling the Sandakan death march – Dr Clare Makepeace

Dr Clare Makepeace writes for RFHG about her moving eleven-day SpiceRoads/TKY Adventure Tours cycling trip in the north of Borneo, on which she mountain biked part of the Sandakan death march and visited memorials to the prisoners of war (POWs) who died there in the final year of the Second World War.

Sandakan march track
Part of the Sandakan death march track as seen today. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

The fate of the hundreds of Australian and British prisoners held at Sandakan, on the east coast of the Malaysian part of Borneo island, is one of less well-known episodes of captivity in Southeast Asia, despite being the most fateful. Their death rate was 99.99%, the highest suffered by any group of prisoners held by the Japanese.

In 1942 and 1943, 2,700 POWs were transferred to Sandakan to construct a military airport. Initially, conditions were similar to other camps: work was tough, discipline tight, but food was relatively plentiful. Gradually, however, rations were reduced and physical abuse increased.

From early 1945, fearing Allied invasion, the Japanese forced over one thousand of the prisoners on three marches westwards to the town of Ranau, 260km away. The conditions endured were atrocious. Already skeletal and suffering from diseases such as beri-beri and tropical ulcers, the prisoners were given no medical assistance, little food and often wore just a loin cloth. The Japanese were also under orders to execute anyone who could not keep up.

Approximately 500 POWs died on these marches, the rest perished in camps at Sandakan and Ranau, succumbing to starvation, illness or exposure, or were murdered in cold blood. Of 2,434 POWs imprisoned at Sandakan in January 1945, just six of them – all Australians who had escaped into the jungle – survived.

Cycle
Navigating the Sandakan death march track. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

I always find it incredible to visit sites of such significant history; to feel, in some tiny way, the conditions these men endured. It is immensely humbling. I found it challenging enough to bike down a single-track dirt lane, push my heavy mountain bike through numerous river crossings, cycle in saturating humidity and under the intense heat of a tropical sun. This, of course, was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what those POWs faced. I would like to say that having been there, I can better imagine what they went through, but I can’t. Perhaps that is testament to the extremities of human endurance they experienced; so far from our lives today that it is impossible to envisage in the slightest, even when one is stood on the same physical spot.

Until recently, little had been known about the Sandakan death march. That all changed in 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, when the route of the march was first mapped out.

I was inspired by how extensively it is now being memorialised in Borneo. Our trip included an overnight stay at Sabah Tea Plantation. The march passed through this area and the Plantation strongly identifies with this history. It carries two memorials to the prisoners and the accommodation also commemorates them. I stayed the night in ‘Lofty Hodges cottage’, named after the Sergeant who helped rescue four of the Australian escapees. We also visited two other memorials. One at Ranau, occupying the site of the camp of the survivors of the first march; another in the town of Kundasang. Kundasang war memorial contains two gardens dedicated to the British and Australians, as well as a roll of honour.

Roll of honour - Jundasang
The roll of honour at Kundasang War Memorial. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

The location for the list of the dead seemed highly fitting. Placed high above Kundasang valley and taking in a breathtaking panoramic view, there was a serenity and majesty to this space.  It was absolutely the memorial these men deserved.

Yet, once I came to read through the roll of honour, that tranquillity was shattered, as I became aware of one final horrendous feature of this atrocity. As I glanced through the alphabetical list, I noticed that beside the names of S. O. Bexton and T. Bexton were the words ‘These two were brothers’. Then I saw an F. A. and an F. R. Burchnall, with an additional note: ‘These two were father and son’. As I read on, I counted seven more pairs of brothers, one pair of twins and then, alongside the initials that shared the ‘Dorizzi’ surname, the horrifying sentence ‘These three were brothers’.

Kundasang brothers
‘These three were brothers’. Kundasang War Memorial. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

The younger two Dorizzi brothers died on the same day – 11 February 1945. It appears they were shot at Sandakan when they applauded the allied bombing of the airstrip. Their elder brother was killed on the march. Could war get any crueller than that?

Dr Clare Makepeace’s debut book is Captives of War. British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – FEPOW DOCUMENTARY ART STUDY

We’re thrilled to introduce the first in a series of exclusive blogs for RFHG by Meg Parkes, previewing the artwork of previously unrecognised British military artists (both amateurs and trained).

These men took enormous risks to record and keep hidden their documenting of conditions and life in and around POW camps across south east Asia and the Far East during WWII.  Since 2012 this artwork – identifying the artists and locating and interpreting their work – has been the main focus of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s Far East POW (FEPOW) documentary art study. In addition to the six recognised British military documentary artists held captive in the Far East (i.e. Searle, Chalker, Meninsky, Rawlings, Thrale and Old), the study has uncovered artwork by over 40 more previously unrecognised FEPOW artists. Largely held in private collections, mostly by the descendants of the artists, much has remained unseen by the public.

LSTM in partnership with the Univeristy of Liverpool, is staging an exhibition to showcase these artists and their work. Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum will host the show, opening on Saturday 19 October 2019 and running through till mid-June 2020, the 75th anniversary year of the ending of WWII and Far East captivity. LSTM first became involved in the care and treatment of returned FEPOW in late 1945. It has stayed involved ever since.

  1. Andrew Atholl Duncan

Andrew Atholl Duncan was born in 1918 in St Andrews, Scotland. He studied mechanical engineering at St Andrews university and was proficient in technical drawing. As a member of the university’s Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) he took a commission in the Highland Light Infantry at the outbreak of war. While serving in the British Expeditionary Force in northern France he transferred to 6th Btn Argyll &Sutherland Highlanders (A&SH) and was drafted east in January 1941 to join 2nd Btn A&SH, part of Singapore’s garrison force. He joined HQ staff, trained in ciphers and was transferred to Java under General Wavell to set up British HQ in mid-January 1942. He was promoted in the field to captain shortly before fall of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI).

Captured in late March 1942 he was held at Tandjong Priok transit camp, on the dockside north of Batavia (now Jakarta) in Java, for the first eight months of captivity before being shipped to Japan to work in the coalmining camps in southern Honshu. Later he was transferred to Zentsuji and finally Miyata, a Dutch camp under a harsh regime in the mountains due north of Nagasaki.

He secretly kept diaries throughout his captivity and also made several pencil sketches of the interior and exterior of huts at Zentsuji, as well as detailed plans of three of the four camps he was in, drawn to scale and complete with compass bearings.

View from my bedspace, Zentsuji, 1944 Capt A A Duncan.jpg

 

‘From My Bedspace’, interior of hut at Zentsuji POW camp, Shikoku Island, Japan 1944, pencil sketch by Capt. A.A. Duncan (© Duncan collection)

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Plan of Tandjong Priok camp drawn 1942-1943 by Capt. A.A. Duncan (© Duncan collection)

His pencil sketches and camp plans show an eye for detail. The sketches reveal a good understanding of perspective and give a clear insight as to living conditions in the camp he spent the longest time in (Zentsuji). He kept his diaries and artwork hidden throughout captivity in a false bottom and inside lining of a Dutch kitbag he had acquired.

Following his repatriation in autumn 1945, Atholl Duncan decided not to complete his engineering studies but instead switched courses to study medicine, qualifying in 1950 and becoming a GP in Wirral in 1951. He said his decision to study medicine was in part due to the extraordinary work he witnessed doctors and medical staff doing in camp.

Through much of his post-war life he spoke little of his experiences, taking just a few close friends into his confidence over time. He did not join a FEPOW club. Neither did he ever keep diaries, or draw for pleasure; both had served a purpose.

His diaries were published after his death. Atholl Duncan is one of the “unrecognised” artists whose work will feature in the Liverpool exhibition.

 

FEPOW Workshop Report

 

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In March 2018, we held our first one day workshop. The atmosphere was relaxed, inclusive and reflected the mix of speakers and delegates who had a range of interests – to escapes from camp through to the transgenerational effects of the captive experience.

A short report summarising each talk on the day is available to downoad here.

We’ve received a lot of really positive feedback about the workshop, and we’re pleased that the format worked well for everybody involved.  We are making plans to organise the next one, so do keep an eye out for future news.

 

 

 

 

WarGen – Your Help is Needed to Record Stories from WW2

WarGen

WarGen is a small team with big ambitions. Founded by Dan Snow and James Holland, WarGen is creating a crowd-sourced online repository of oral-history from the people who lived through World War 2 – and they are asking for help.

Here is the precise moment War Gen was formed in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vhoRgNJZXo.

Since then, more than 100 interviews have been recorded but they need more.

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If you can help, email: shane@wargen.org to help.

“Pilgrimage to the Far East” – Paul Murray, 10 March

An illustrated talk by Paul Murray on his experiences in October as he follows the daily diary entries of his father’s secret Prisoner of War love letters written to Paul’s mother from the camps in Singapore and Japan, Feb 1942 to Sep 1945.

Saturday 10th March 2018, 7.30 p.m.

The Pavilion, St. Peter’s High School,

Stroud Road, Gloucester, GL4 ODD

ADMISSION FREE

Light refreshments will be provided by the School’s P.F.A.

Voluntary donations to the P.F.A. and Philomusica

 

 

 

Workshop, Leeds 2018: The Future of FEPOW Research – Call for Papers

RFHG are delighted to be co-organising a one-day workshop, to be held at the University of Leeds on 19 March 2018. We really interested to hear from potential speakers – particularly anybody working in ‘new’ or understudied geographies and themes related to the experience (or memory) of captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War.

 

Future Memories: Where next for Far East Prisoner of War studies?

19 March 2018

University of Leeds

in partnership with Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG)

CALL FOR PAPERS

Drawing on the broad theme of captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East, this one-day symposium aims to be a ‘seed’ event for larger projects planned to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day (2020).

Proposals are invited for 15-minute papers covering, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • New perspectives, including transgenerational memory, perpetration, reconciliation, marginalised or ‘secret’/‘forgotten’ histories, influence of the Far Eastern experience on subsequent POWs in Korea and Vietnam
  • Geographies and communities, including lesser-known geographies of captivity, military POWs, romushas, civilian internees, ‘comfort’ women
  • Impact and engagement, including educational initiatives, exhibitions or memorial work, the role of third-sector organisations in developing impact,
  • Making and marking memory, through life-writing, fictional depictions of Far Eastern captivity, creative responses, transnational connections

Submission

Please submit 250-word abstracts plus a 50-word biography to Emily Sharp (futurememories2018@gmail.com) by 4 February 2018. We will notify you of acceptance by 15 February at the latest.

Postgraduate and early career bursaries

To support the work of early career researchers in the field, a limited number of bursaries will be available from RFHG to contribute towards the travel expenses of PGR/ECR speakers. Please note in your submission if you would like to be considered for a bursary, and why you think you should be offered one.

For all enquiries, please contact: futurememories2018@gmail.com

You can also download the Call for Papers here.