The 7th International FEPOW History Conference
Liverpool, UK 5 – 7 June 2020
What you need to know:
Co-hosted by the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), our next conference will take place during the 75th anniversary year of liberation in conjunction with LSTM’s Art of Survival exhibition.
An exciting line-up of speakers already confirmed, including acclaimed history writers, historians, novelists, photographers, museums, libraries and archives.
Places will be limited — be ready for booking to open in Spring 2019!
Eric Lomax’s book, ‘The Railway Man’, records his terrible experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war. The book inspired the film of the same name starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jeremy Irvine. Charmaine McMeekin is Eric’s daughter and she will speak movingly about living with the painful legacy of her father’s experiences and her own journey to find peace and reconciliation with him. Charmaine was a nurse and midwife, she is now a counsellor and psychotherapist in Edinburgh.
Captain Clarkson Blackater was also captured by the Japanese in 1942 and sent to work on the notorious Burma -Thai Railway. The secret diary he kept during his ordeal became the basis of his book ‘Gods Without Reason’. His daughter, Phyllida, and grandson, Piers Bowser, will use extracts from his book, along with private letters and poems to reveal how his faith and his love for his family sustained him through his dark days in captivity.
To mark the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Thai-Burma railway, Professor Geoff Gill writes for RFHG about the railway’s construction and its post-war legacy.
On the 17th October 1943 the Thai-Burma railway was completed, when lines from Thailand and Burma finally met at Konkoita in the remote jungles of up-country Thailand. The railway was 415Km (259miles) long and linked existing rail networks in Thailand (at Nong Pladuk) and Burma (at Thanbyuzayat). It crossed inhospitable jungle terrain and an elevation of almost 1000 feet. The line was constructed to aid troop and equipment movements to Burma, with a view to invasion of the Indian sub-continent. By the time it was completed however, the tide of the Second World War was turning and, effectively, the railway was not used for its original purpose (instead it was used to transport equipment and military supplies, not troops, until early 1945).
Completion of the railway was undoubtedly a major feat of engineering, but it came at a cost. The labour force consisted of approximately 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) – most British – as well as at least 150,000 forced labourers (romusha). All of those in working parties suffered overwork, harsh treatment, under-nutrition, and exposure to serious tropical diseases (notably malaria, dysentery, beriberi, tropical ulcers and cholera). POW medical officers and medical orderlies did a remarkable job in meeting these medical challenges, despite severe shortages of drugs and medical equipment.
The overall mortality of POWs on the Thai-Burma railway was just over 20% – tragic, but without the amazingly innovative work of the doctors and others it could have been much more. This is shown by the mortality rates of romusha (at least 50%) – largely related to their lack of regimental organisation or medical support.
After the war, survivors of the Thai-Burma railway faced continuing problems, and many suffered relapses of malaria and dysentery, long-term effects of malnutrition, intestinal worm infections, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) was the leading centre looking after British ex-POWs affected by these problems. Patients at LSTM included Stanley Pavillard, who was a charismatic and much-respected medical officer on the railway, and who wrote a unique record of his experiences, Bamboo Doctor.
A great supporter of LSTM in the post-war years (and later LSTM President) was the ex-Far East POW Phillip Toosey, who was the Commanding Officer at Tamarkan Camp and involved with building the real “Bridge over the River Kwai”. The illustration below shows this bridge under construction – the photograph was taken by an Imperial Japanese Army officer who was an amateur photographer.
17th October 2018 marks 75 years since the railway; completion. It is in many ways a regrettable anniversary, but it also reminds us of the bravery of men under extreme adversity, and the ability of many to survive against the odds. The medical aftermath has also taught us much about the long-term effects of exposure to tropical disease and under-nutrition.
Geoff has reecently co-authored with Meg Parkes two books focusing on the POW experience: Burma Railway Medicine: Disease, Death and Survival on the Thai-Burma Railway, 1942 – 1945, and Captive Memories: Starvation, Disease, Survival. Both are published by Palatine.
10 October 2018, would have been Jack Bridger Chalker’s 100th birthday. Widely known as the “Burma railway artist”, he is famed and remembered for his remarkable depictions of captivity under the Japanese during the Second World War: a vivid and uncompromising documentary of disease, death and survival thanks to remarkable ingenuity, in camps along the Thai-Burma Railway. Meg Parkes and Geoff Gill write for RFHG about a remarkable man and his enduring legacy.
Jack Bridger Chalker: 10 October 1918 – 15 November 2014
Born in 1918 in London, Jack was educated at Dulwich College and later Goldsmith’s where he studied graphics and art. Awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, this was deferred due to the outbreak of war in 1939. He volunteered, joining the Territorials’ 260 Battery 118th Field Regiment Royal Artillery. In October 1941 Jack’s unit was posted to Singapore, sailing from Liverpool on the Orcades. Stopping briefly in India, his ship docked in Singapore on 29 January, just 17 days before the garrison faced a humiliating surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942.
After initial imprisonment at the vast Changi POW camp, he moved first to Havelock Road camp to work on the docks, before being sent north to Thailand arriving at Ban Pong on 19 October. Marched 160 kilometres north through raw jungle to Konyu River camp, Jack worked on the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway. Here the combination of disease, malnutrition and working like slaves meant mortality was high. A near-fatal bout of sickness had Jack moved south, first to Tarsau and then on to the larger POW “hospital” camp at Chungkai at the southern end of the railway.
During an interview in 2007, Jack recalled that early on in Changi he had drawn pictures of sexy ladies for his comrades for whatever the going currency was. But soon he was producing depictions of imprisonment in and around Singapore, including examples of Japanese brutality. On the railway he expanded this work to include the beautiful things that surrounded them – breath-taking scenery, exotic flora and abundant wildlife – as well as details of camp life. Later, at the base hospital camps, he concentrated on recording the medical problems and the improvised equipment used for treatments. In addition he also filled notebooks with anatomical studies. All this work was done at great risk as any form of record-keeping was strictly forbidden by the Japanese.
It was at Chungkai that Jack worked closely with the Australian surgeon Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop and, after the Japanese official surrender in September 1945, he was invited by Dunlop to remain for a while in Bangkok, acting as war artist for the Australian Army HQ. There he completed and added to his collection of drawings and paintings, some of which were used in subsequent war crime tribunals as well as in medical journals in Australia.
On return to England Jack took up his scholarship at the Royal College of Art. There followed a highly successful career, including posts as Director of Art at Cheltenham Ladies College, Principal of Falmouth College of Art, and later a similar position at the West of England College of Art in Bristol. He retired in 1974.
After the war, Jack did not involve himself with the Far East POW community and for many years his artwork from captivity was largely unknown in Britain. In the early 1980s, Dr Geoff Gill at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) noticed some of Jack’s drawings illustrating a 1946 paper, published by Dunlop in the Australian Medical Journal. These were attributed to “Gunner Chalker” and for some time it was assumed that the works were by an Australian. However, eventually Jack was tracked down to his studio in rural Somerset.
Jack visited LSTM where he underwent tropical disease screening. He brought photographic copies of his railway art collection, which he presented to the School. His links and friendships with staff in Liverpool continued throughout the rest of his life.
Jack’s reputation as a POW artist grew and he published his epic book, Burma Railway Artist, in 1994 with a revised and expanded edition in 2007 (Burma Railway – Images of War). Though remembered mainly for the illustrations, Jack’s text in both books was a perceptive and detailed reflection of POW life and conditions. Tim Mercer, who published the 2007 volume, said: “Jack was one of the most special people I have ever met. No bitterness, no regrets and he even said he would not have missed his time as a prisoner of war for anything…Cheers Jack..!”
Jack was married twice and had three children. Those who knew him remember a delightfully modest and unassuming man. He held no bitterness for what he had experienced, and even said that he had benefitted enormously because of “all the wonderful people I met”.
Jack Chalker died on 15 November 2014, aged 96. Previously unseen examples of his artwork from captivity will be included in next year’s Far East POW Secret Art of Survival exhibition organised by LSTM and held at Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum, opening on 19 October 2019.
A new biography of Dr Bill Frankland is published in October 2018. Author Paul Watkins writes for RFHG about Frankland’s remarkable life.
The Toss of a Coin
On 28 November 1941, QSMV Dominion Monarch arrived at Singapore at the end of a two-month voyage from Liverpool. On board were 35 doctors from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), a number of Army nurses and 1700 men of the Royal Artillery. The RAMC group included 29-year-old Captain A. W. ‘Bill’ Frankland. He had qualified from St Mary’s Hospital in 1938 and had joined the Army two days before the declaration of war, in September 1939.
The plan for the RAMC contingent was to form a General Hospital at Johor Bahru. However, four days after landing this changed and their fate was unclear. Bill Frankland, along with another new arrival, Captain R. L. Parkinson RAMC, was summoned to a meeting with a senior officer. There were two positions to be filled: one at Tanglin Military Hospital, working primarily in VD and dermatology, and the other as an anaesthetist in the newly opened Alexandra Military Hospital, a facility which Bill later described as ‘like Buckingham Palace’. Bill’s preference was Tanglin, as was Captain Parkinson’s; neither relished the prospect of administering anaesthetics. The senior officer broke the stalemate in a time-honoured way. A coin was spun: ‘You call, Frankland’ was the instruction. ‘Heads, Sir’. It was. Bill was sent to Tanglin and Captain Parkinson to Alexandra Military Hospital.
Four days later Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour, Singapore and Hong Kong. Over the ensuing months Tanglin came under heavy attack. During this time Bill treated many allied casualties and was also responsible for treating a small number of Japanese casualties taken prisoner. In addition he served as ‘prisoner’s friend’ to Captain Patrick Heenan, the ‘Traitor of Singapore’, who had been found guilty of treason.
On 11 February 1942, with Japanese troops no more than 500 metres away, Bill evacuated the hospital to the Victoria Theatre in Singapore City. Two days later, on Black Friday, he assisted British nurses, who had assembled at Singapore Cricket Club, to make their way to Keppel Harbour. He oversaw their passage onto small vessels which took them to the waiting SS Kuala. This was the last group of nurses to leave Singapore; many having worked at Alexandra Military Hospital. Reaching the gangway of Kuala they were greeted by Australian deserters armed with rifles, who allowed the nurses to board but told Bill that he could not. His reply was simple: ‘I do not intend to, I have plenty of work to be done back on land’.
Saturday 14 February stands out as one of the darkest days in the history of Singapore. On that day, Japanese troops surrounded Alexandra Military Hospital, and despite Red Cross flags being draped over the building, proceeded to attack. On seeing the situation unfolding Lieutenant W.F.J. Weston RAMC, walked out of the hospital towards the advancing troops, waving a large sheet as a white flag. He was immediately bayoneted and killed; he was 27 years old. His headstone poignantly reads ‘Greater love hath no man than this.’ Soon the Japanese entered the hospital creating unimaginable mayhem. Anaesthetised patients were bayoneted them as they lay on operating tables. Medical staff were also attacked. Captain T. B. Smiley, a surgeon with the RAMC, was bayoneted in the chest, but the blade was deflected by his cigarette case (a gift from his fiancée). Nearby, Captain Parkinson was anaesthetising Corporal Holden – both were killed.
Few patients survived the massacre and overall, more than 200 men lost their lives. Had it not been for the toss of coin in late 1941, Captain Bill Frankland would most certainly have been one of them.
Now aged 106, the biography of Dr Bill Frankland is to be published on 16 October. Entitled ‘From Hell Island to Hay Fever’, it details the remarkable and long life of Britain’s oldest doctor. It describes several occasions when Bill Frankland has been next to death, both in war and peace. The book provides unique insight into the remarkable medical career of a man who survived incarceration by the Japanese, worked for Sir Alexander Fleming, developed the pollen count and treated Saddam Hussein – it will be of interest to many and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.
Kevin Noles is starting the second year of a part-time DPhil at New College, University of Oxford, researching Indian PoWs of the Japanese. Below, he writes about his research into this little-known aspect of captivity.
A notable gap in the research on Prisoners-of-War of the Japanese, is the fate of the large numbers of Indian troops of the British Indian Army who were captured alongside British and Australian troops, largely at the fall of Singapore. The total number of Indian prisoners captured during the Malayan campaign was 67,000, a figure greater than the number of British and Australian prisoners combined. While the experiences of Indian prisoners were often similar to their European counterparts, a striking difference is that some switched allegiance and fought alongside the Japanese under the banner of Indian Nationalism, in a force called the Indian National Army (INA). It is this aspect that has received the bulk of the attention from historians thus far. In contrast, the scope of my research covers all Indian prisoners of the Japanese: those who served alongside the Japanese, and the majority who did not.
The research itself is still in its early stages, although it is clear that there are a number of relevant archives in Britain, India, Australia and elsewhere, some of which have only recently become available. Because of concerns regarding the INA, British Military Intelligence took a keen interest in their activities and in the process generated a considerable number of reports. These also sometimes contain information on Indian prisoners who had not joined the force. In addition, there were over one hundred post-war war-crimes trials of Japanese personnel, charged with the murder and abuse of Indian prisoners, and these also represent a rich seam of material. Although the number of memoirs is limited, not least because many of the Indian troops were illiterate, the archival sources now available provide a significant opportunity for new research.
One of the challenges of the project will be giving due weight to the full range of experiences of Indian prisoners. The ten thousand sent in labour gangs to the Southwest Pacific suffered some of the worst conditions and consequently suffered some of the highest death rates. Amongst them were the men of the Hyderabad State Infantry seen in the photograph at the start of this post. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Ishaq, the men of this unit had refused to the join the INA and were sent to the area to work as forced labour. Despite his new uniform the strain of Ishaq’s time in captivity is evident. The Japanese deployed Indian labour gangs throughout Southeast Asia, and such employment was the dominant experience for most Indian prisoners.
A category of Indian prisoner experience that has received little attention is that of those men who served with the Japanese, but were not members of the INA. This includes those who were commanded directly by Japanese officers, such as some Anti-Aircraft and Motor Transport personnel, as well as those commanded by Indian officers, such as the Changi Guard who were used to guard British and Australian prisoners. From a British perspective the Changi Guard represents one of the most notorious episodes involving Indian troops, not least because the Guard was used to execute British and Australian prisoners on at least one occasion. Understanding how such units operated is an important part of the overall picture.
Then there is the INA itself. Although it is probably the best-known aspect of Indian prisoner experience, it is over twenty years since a major work was published on the subject. The current project will not try and reproduce another general account of the INA military campaigns in Burma, but instead will focus on its propaganda and intelligence work on the front line and elsewhere.
Finally, one aspect of the research that has proved difficult relates to my wish to make contact with former Indian prisoners and their families. This is partly to learn more about the prisoners themselves, but also to explore how their captivity impacted their families, both during the war, and afterwards.
If anyone has knowledge of former Indian prisoners or their families please get in touch, as Kevin would very much like to make contact with them.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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?