Tag Archives: Java

Trouble in the Works

By Sears Eldredge

Meanwhile, problems with performer burnout and/or dissatisfaction with a particular format and content were beginning to be heard among divisional concert party entertainers, as had happened in the 18th Division’s “The Optimists.” (See Captive Performers, Chapter 1). Intense discussions about the need to change their production format and rethink their individual roles within the company had been taking place for a while in the A.I.F. Concert Party. Some in the group “wanted to branch out in new directions,” recalled Jack Boardman, “straight singers [wanted to become] comedians, musicians [wanted to become] actors and actors [wanted to become] musicians.”[i] To accomplish these changes would require, some believed, a change in their leadership.   

The reason why John Wood was drafted into responsibility for artistic/programming/etc. was that some performers thought Val [Mack’s] style was too old-fashioned and that an experienced “new broom” was required. Others disagreed and preferred the status quo. In the end Val continued as O.C. for discipline [Administration] and the John Wood style of show started. Less vaudeville/burlesque/music hall and more revue/drama/musical comedy. There was no visible animosity between them as a result of the change.[ii]

And since the orchestra had increased in size to fourteen members and had started giving musical concerts on Sunday evenings on its own in McNeilly’s Y.M.C.A Hut in the Convalescent Depot, it was decided that it should be administered separately. Sgt. Bill Middleton, their Musical Conductor, was given this responsibility.[iii]

When the Australian concert party reached full strength, it would have forty-three members: nineteen actors/singer/specialty acts, seventeen musicians, and a permanent staff of seven (see below).[1] 

The playing time of their shows in the Gordon’s Gymnasium had now stretched to eighty-five minutes, instead of the earlier fifty. Realizing the importance of this venue to their future plans, they sought permission, which was granted, to transform the gymnasium into a permanent indoor theatre space. 

Alterations to the Gordon’s Gymnasium were almost complete when their grand plans for a permanent theatre had to be scuttled. Some of the working parties that had been stationed in and around Singapore began to be transferred back into Changi, and their re-appearance, along with an influx of thousands of POWs from Java, caused an acute housing shortage making it necessary to use the gymnasium for their accommodation. The concert party was given twenty-four hours to move out all their staging and equipment.[iv]

Playbill for August ‘42.

August opened with “The P.O.W. WOWS” performing “Ringside Laughter” at their Rice Bowl Theatre and on tour. The 4th item on their bill, “Dickey-Bird” must have been a heads-up to the audience that they were about to receive coded news about the progress of the war from their secret radio.[2] The St. George Players continued touring with Macbeth.

Back in the India Lines, Wilkinson was finding it increasingly difficult to both direct rehearsals of I Killed the Count and play the leading role, so Major Frederick Bradshaw, who had just been brought up from Singapore and had been a professional West End actor, took over as director.[v]  

A new show, Windmill Variety No. 1, opened at The New Windmill Theatre on 17 August, which was headlined by Padre Foster-Haigh’s Male Voice Choir, the 18th Div. Signals String Band, and Fergus Anckorn performing several of his conjuring tricks.            

Elsewhere in Changi, the P.O.W. WOWS had produced their 11th tour show which starred John Wood (on loan from the “The A.I.F. Concert Party”) and were ready to open their 12th edition which contained the song, “Changi Blues.” Another play, The Dream, was running in the Command Area, and the “Changi Celebrity Artists” continued their tours. To complicate matters, there was another outbreak of diphtheria in the camp which caused two deaths and put nearly two hundred men in the hospital. Fear of an epidemic spread throughout Changi.[vi]

[1] Orchestra: Herbert Almond (Clarinet), Ray Arnell (Saxophone, Violin), Ernest Banks (Banjo and Saxophone), Eric Beattie (Violin), John Boardman (Piano and Arrangements), Fred Brightfield (Drums and Effects), Ron Caple (Drummer and Comedian),  John Garrett (Guitar),  Jack Geoghegan (Guitar, Variety Artist, Leader Swing Band), David Goodwin (Saxophone and Arrangements), Keith Harris (Piano and Arrangements), Tom Hoffman (Cornet), Leslie Jacques (Trumpet), Bill Middleton (Musical Director), Fred Stringer (Trumpet, Piano), Ray Tullipan (Song Writer, Cellist), and Ernest Warne (Trumpet, Electrician).

Entertainers: Russell Braddon (Thought Transference), Wally Dains (Specialty Dancer), Ted Druitt (Ballet and “Glamour”), Slim de Grey (Variety Artist and Song Writer), Stan “Judy” Garland (Specialty Dancer and “Glamour”), Leslie Greener (Actor, Writer and Critic), Douglas Mathers (Baritone), Val Mack (Vaudeville, Producer, and Comedian),  Bernard McCaffrey (Baritone), John Nibbs (Singer), Doug Peart (Actor and Variety Artist), Bob Picken (Comic Artist), Syd Piddington (Stage Director and Magician), “Happy Harry” Smith (The “Funny Man”), Keith Stevens (Variety Artist, Writer), Jack Smith (Comedian), Charles Wiggins (Variety Artist, “Glamour”) Frank Wood (Singer, Actor, Variety Artist), and John Wood (Producer and Star Artist).              

Staff: Clarry Barker (Electrician), Bert Gailbraith (Tailor), Ted Rigby (Stage Carpenter), Bill Sullivan (Seating Supervisor), Robert Mutton (House Manager), Clifford Whitelocke (Publicity), and Bert Gay West (Décor). [Piddington, “Changi Souvenir Song Album,” privately printed, n.d.]

[2]Whether there was more than one secret radio receiver in the camp is difficult to tell from the documents. They did not have a transmitter.

[i] Piddington, “On With The Show” in A.I.F. Changi Souvenir Song Album, n.p.

[ii] Boardman, J. Letter, 23 Aug. 03.

[iii] Stewart, Report, 3.

[iv] Piddington, “On . . . . ,” n.p.

[v] Wilkinson. Diary. 27 August ’42.

[vi] Nelson, 39.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22

Nine lives and two tins

By Mike Appleton

To have almost no possessions except for the rags one stood up in, must have been a truly harrowing experience. This I believe explains the two tins shown below, which were with my father, Johnnie – Sgt J. G. Appleton 27 Sqdn RAF (pre-capture briefly attached to RAF HQ Communications Team) – throughout his time as a POW in Sumatra, as he moved from one jungle camp to the next. The fact that he brought them home and kept them all his life speaks volumes about their significance.

The discoloured tin held tobacco and matches. There were still shreds of tobacco in it when I was young. It also held a wad of occupation money. The Gold Flake tin held a Japanese toothbrush, with its bristles stained bright red from using tree bark as toothpaste (this has gone missing), some letters and his Japanese ID badge. On the right is his RAF insignia and on the left another badge which I don’t recognise, can anyone tell me what this is?

My father John Griffith Appleton (1917 – 2009) served in the RAF for 32 years (1935 -1967). During WW2 he was first stationed in India before flying down to Malaya. As the Japanese invaded from the north, he fled from one bombed-out airfield to the next and then, in a hazardous rush, to Singapore. During the invasion of the Island he was a key member of a team that, up to the last moment, kept open the communications links to India and Java.

On the night of 13 Feb 1941 Johnnie was ordered to leave with his team. They boarded the S.S Tien Kwang bound for they knew not where, and being exhausted, fell asleep on the deck. The next morning, they woke to the sound of low flying aircraft starting their bombing run and within moments the ship was holed, listing and there were many casualties. Another ship nearby the SS Kuala suffered a similar fate. Following the order to abandon ship, Johnnie managed to swim towards Pulau Pompong Island and being unhurt assisted in helping the wounded and disposing of the dead.

After several days and a hair-raising journey in a junk, he landed in the mouth of the Indragiri River on the East coast of Sumatra. There was then an arduous traverse of Sumatra to the West coast and Padang where it was hoped they would be taken off by a Naval ship. No ship arrived and instead they simply waited in limbo and trepidation for the arrival of the Imperial Japanese Army.

For the next three and a half years Johnnie was in a total of 10 camps in Sumatra, with progressively harsher regimes and ever-increasing levels of privation as the war progressed. The culmination of the experience was a year building the railway linking Sumatra’s east and west coast ports. This line was forged through virgin jungle with basic hand tools, in adverse climatic and disease-ridden conditions. The irony was that the track was completed shortly before the Japanese capitulated and was never really used thereafter. It is now in ruins and reclaimed by the jungle.

In 1999/2000 Johnnie compiled a detailed memoir describing his and fellow prisoners’ hardship and ill treatment. What is remarkable on reading his account, is not just that he survived, but that he did so with no lasting physical impairment and outwardly no mental issues. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did relate stories and describe events, in particular about living in the jungle and the various wild animals encountered – and eaten! His explanation for survival seemed to involve using the hard work and squalid conditions as a challenge. He had the determination that however bad he felt he must rise and work hard all day.

At one point a Japanese camp commander called him out from a daily parade and, instead of beheading him for some minor misdemeanour, which was my father’s expectation, awarded him a tin of sugar, a reward for having worked 100 days without a break. Other contributory factors he offered were, the responsibility undertaken for looking after the RAF contingent, prior experience of living in Asia, an extensive inoculation programme when he was being trained pre-war and, being a boy scout!

Towards the end of the war it is clear from his account that survival was very much in the balance as the effort to overcome extreme beriberi and starvation became overwhelming. The descriptions of the excitement experienced as SOE operatives literally dropped out of the trees and liberated the camp, is thrilling to read. It does also appear that the RAF, within the knowledge parameters of the day, re- PTSD etc., did do much to ease him back into fully operational service as a ‘regular’, and promoted him several ranks to make up for lost time and in recognition of the responsibility he had taken on in the camps organising his RAF colleagues.

For many years post-war Johnnie played a role in his local FEPOW branch and acted as treasurer.

Johnnie Appleton, carrying a FEPOW Federation wreath, Manchester Cathedral, late 1990s (©courtesy M. Appleton)

Stitched Up… A Little Piece of History

Marking the 79th anniversary of the Fall of the Netherlands East Indies, Meg Parkes shares what her father called “his little piece of history”
Fig.1 first of five typed pages setting out the Dutch capitulation ©M.Parkes
All five pages of the original Dutch notice of surrender are reproduced in Meg’s book, “Notify Alec Rattray…”, the first part of her father’s diaries.

In the early 1990s while I was transcribing his diaries, my dad told me the story behind this  document and its important place in Second World War history. It is the first of five pages of the official order to surrender the Dutch East Indies. The order was issued on 8 March 1942 by General Ter Poorten Commander-in-Chief of Dutch Forces. It is believed to be the only copy in existence, thanks to the squirreling tendencies of my father Captain Andrew Atholl Duncan A&SH.

Dad served briefly as senior cipher officer in British Headquarters in Java. On 15 January 1942 General Wavell moved GHQ from Singapore (where Dad had been one of four cipher officers) to the village of Lembang just north of the regional city of Bandoeng in the Central Highlands, to bolster Dutch defences against the imminent Japanese invasion.

On 25 February, Wavell was recalled to India taking with him two of HQ’s senior cipher officers. Left behind to serve the newly appointed commander, Major General H. D. W. Sitwell, were Lieutenants Duncan and Campion[i]. Dad was then promoted to captain by Sitwell

On Sunday 1 March the Japanese assault on Java began. At 4a.m. on 7 March the British secretly abandoned HQ, omitting to inform the Dutch Liaison Officer Capt. Barron Mackay. He turned up for duty next morning to find British HQ in disarray and no sign of where the staff had gone[ii]. The British trekked into the mountains to the south eventually assembling at the Santosa tea plantation. Dad briefly acted as A.D.C to Sitwell at talks with Ter Poorten’s HQ regarding Sitwell’s plan to wage guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. However, the Dutch would not countenance the plan.

During the early hours of the next day, Dad was on duty when the order to surrender came from General Ter Poorten. A long message set out the terms of surrender the Dutch had accepted from the Japanese. What must it have felt like for him to write the words, “Raise white flag as sign of surrender”? Once decoded, the handwritten copy was passed to the stenographer for typing, Dad instructing him to “shove in a carbon”. The typescript filled five RAF message forms which were taken to the general who was sleeping. Sitwell, having read the message, responded with, “No reply, Duncan”.

Amid the chaos and confusion that followed the surrender Dad had the forethought to keep the carbon copies of the surrender document and at some point prior to captivity they were neatly folded and stitched into the lining of Dad’s glengarry. There they stayed undetected during the next eight months in Java and for the subsequent years in Japan.

Capt Duncan’s glengarry

Keeping hold of this important historic record had mattered greatly to Dad and I came to believe it was talismanic. Dad and these records were intrinsically linked; each helped the other to survive and much later to tell their Far Eastern Second World War stories.

[i] Diary of Lt Desmond Campion, private collection

[ii] Report by Dutch Liaison Officer Capt R.A. Baron Mackay KNIL, IWM Documents https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030008098

‘The Borneo Graveyard 1941–1945’

By John Tulloch

Borneo, the land of the head hunter, was a WW2 graveyard for POWs, internees, locals, Javanese and Japanese.

The narrative follows the raising of five air defence regiments in 1939, their deployment to South East Asia in late 1942, their short campaign in the Netherlands East Indies and eventual captivity as POWs in Java and then North Borneo.

This book portrays the horrific story of Borneo during the Japanese occupation of 1941-1945. Thousands of Australian, British, Dutch and Indian POWs, internees, locals of Borneo and Javanese perished in Borneo during this period.

The Borneo Graveyard 1941-1945, by John S. M. Tulloch

Allied POWs, who were sent to various POW camps in British and Dutch Borneo, were to die of maltreatment, malnutrition or execution. Many were forced to walk Death Marches in the jungle with a horrifying conclusion. Internees were held in internment camps and suffered dreadfully. The local populace suffered; torture, executions and massacres occurred and malnutrition was endemic. At great personal sacrifice they helped the POWs and internees. The secretive Z Force gathered intelligence and trained local guerrilla fighters. In 1945, the Australian military engaged in bitter fighting to liberate Borneo.

This book closes with the convalescence of survivors at Labuan, followed by the repatriation of British POWs and internees, and the dreadful wall of silence experienced by so many on returning to the United Kingdom.

This book is a tribute to the strength of character and bravery of those who endured the Japanese occupation.

The author, John Tulloch, served for eight years in the New Zealand Army including a 12 month Tour of Duty in Vietnam (68/69). He served 30 years in the British Army and then 12 years in the MOD Civil Service. For 21 years he was a visiting instructor on the Jungle Warfare Instructors Course in Brunei. He has trekked and climbed extensively in Sabah and Sarawak and has an extensive knowledge of the area. He has written articles and given talks on Vietnam and Borneo. This is his first book. He was honoured with the MBE in 2003.

Additional Information:

ISBN 978-983-3987-65-8                   Format: Hardback

Dimensions: 26x20x3 cm                   Pages: 472

Published: March 2020                       Cost: £25 plus p&p.

Contact and sole distributor: johnsmtulloch@gmail.com

For more information about the book and author please see the below flyer:

Liberation of camps in Dutch East Indies – Paula’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Java

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Paula Kogel a young German woman married to a Dutch man and interned with her two young sons in Tjideng, Batavia (now Jakarta)

From ‘The House at Ampasiet’ (British publication by Matador). Used with kind permission from Lore Ridings, Paula’s daughter.

August 1945: One day (no date given) at around ten in the morning we were summoned to roll call on the main square….A Japanese officer stood on a small stage so that he could oversee us all and we were forced to look at him…There was no longer an aura of power emanating from him, more loss of spirit,… finally he started to talk. It was clear he found it difficult.

“Ladies, we have to tell you that Nippon has been forced to capitulate. The capitulation came after a new type of bomb was dropped on my country which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims. You are now free.”

We stood there a crowd of shabby looking women and children…We stayed silent. Nobody cheered, nobody moved. The terrible second world war had ended – but nobody had a Dutch flag. And nobody celebrated the liberation.

Life slowly came towards us, to greet us with a smile.

Liberation of camps in Dutch East Indies – Ernest’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Java

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Ernest Hillen a young Dutch boy in Camp Makasar Java with his mother. His brother was in another camp with his father.

(Taken from: Ernest Hillen, The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java. Viking. 1994 )

Things were happening fast, the camp gate was wide open and left so. When a group of English officers first marched into Makasar some women bowed to them until they were told to stop. My father walked through the camp gate one afternoon. We had not seen him for three and a half years. He was not a big man… “Jongeetje, let your mother and me talk” he said in a low tone. But no-one called me Jongetje “little boy” any more; old little boy maybe.

Liberation of camps in Dutch East Indies – Jan’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Java

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Jan van Dulm was interned aged 8 initially in Bloemencamp, Tjihapit with mother, older sister and two younger brothers and later in Ambarrawa 7 Boys’ camp Indonesia. (Java)

(Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer)

At the end we had to stay in camp for weeks/months because I was not allowed to go to my mother. It was dangerous as there was rioting outside the camps and the Indonesians were stealing from the camps.

I think it was 14th September before he went to find his mother. On my first day back my brother got asthma and my mother sent me to find a woman to help, but I did not know which woman or where. I thought my brother was dying.

We were all looking forward to that day but when that day appeared it was disappointing.

Dik and Jan:

Don’t forget we had been away 9 months, a year and we were mature in our minds and we come home and mother and father treat us like babies. They treated us as they had left us a couple of years prior –That was the clash –the next day we had the mutual understanding and that was SILENCE.

Liberation of camps in Dutch East Indies – Connie’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Java

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Connie Suverkropp in camp at aged 11 years in several camps in Java with her two younger sisters.

Both her parents had died in different camps during the war. Her brothers were in the men’s camps and they survived.

(Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer)

It was difficult to adapt when we got back to Holland because I had no education for 2-3 years. I was 2 -3 years older than the other school mates but in thinking and feeling I was an old woman – looking like a girl but thinking like a woman. My classmates were 2-3 years younger in Holland and I thought them very childish.

Liberation of camps in Dutch East Indies – Bert’s story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Java

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Bert Singlelenberg. Dutch boy interned with his young brother at the age of 10 years in Boys camps Ambarawa 6 and 8 Java

(Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer)

After no contact with either of his parents who were in two different camps,

We only heard about the capitulation on 23rd August 1945 but in between things were happening. We got extra food and boys were coming to our camp from the ‘working camp’. The Japanese were nervous. Then the Japanese went away. We were ‘trading’ with the Indonesians – it was chaos. I managed to trade for a chicken and some eggs and wanted to take them to my mother. I knew the camp but not which barracks she was in. I found her. She was ill and my younger brother was ill in the camp hospital. He was 6-years-old and could not walk. I started from that time looking after my mother; working in the kitchen baking bread, washing clothes and I had to slaughter chickens – that is what we were doing all the time. I had also been dealing with the dead bodies in the boys and old men’s camp.

In September 1946 my father came to Ambarawa. It was difficult to start again; I was a boy when my father left so I was still in his eyes a small boy. But of course, in the first year after liberation we had to stay in the camp because of the Indonesian uprising and we had to help defend the camp against them – so we were ‘militarized’. And then when my father came I did not know him. He recognized me. Then he started up a cigarette and I asked ‘can I have one’. And he said “you are smoking that is not good…..”and when we were a family again he tried to tell me what to do.”

And well I had been looking after my mother and my younger brothers and tried to survive all these years  – this before he was moved to the boys camp – and then there was somebody who was going to tell me what I should do – that was so difficult for him and me.

When we got back to Holland we were separated again because my father did not have a house. So my brother and I went to an aunt and my parents and two younger brothers went to my grandfather’s house. That went on for almost a year. And I had missed three years of school so one had to work hard to get back to normal life. But my parents never talked about camp and never asked how it was for me and what I did in the Boys’ camp.

Extracts from the diary notes of Captain A.A. Duncan A&SH: Miyata coalmining camp, Kyushu Japan, August 1945

By Meg Parkes
Captain Duncan, Motoyama POW camp, Japan, January 1943 (courtesy M. Parkes)

This is the first of two posts taken from the diaries of my father, Captain Andrew Atholl Duncan, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. He kept a diary throughout captivity in Java and Japan, written in pen in nine notebooks: pocketbooks, school exercise books and homemade notebooks bound with mosquito netting glued in place with tapioca paste. It started with him documenting his short lived and unsuccessful bid to escape from Java and continued throughout the next three years in prisoner of war camps.

We pick up the diary at the end of January 1945 while he was still at Zentsuji officers’ propaganda camp on the Island of Shikoku, Japan:

Jan 21st – 30th 1945

“Very little real news over this period except that an oven has been erected in the galley, grindstones put up in the canteen, so our long hoped-for bread looks like becoming a reality. The only snag is that officers have to grind the grain and I am hoping that this will not be the thin end of the wedge for getting us to work. Picture of the week – A very senior member of H.M. Navy seated by the window whipping “cream” in a cup with a look of rapt concentration on his face!!!!  Most of us have a very healthy crop of chilblains on our hands and feet – I am no exception – and it is positive agony to wash clothes these days in the icy water at the washracks, with a northwest wind straight off the frozen wastes of Siberia whistling about ones ears. As a result of this, I have taken to shaving indoors but even then, with no hot water available, it is still a highly unpleasant and painful procedure. Ye Gods, but we do miss the simple comforts of life.

The siren has still been sounding both night and day, the latest drill for us when it sounds off in the evening being “Go to bed.”

Fig.1 Benjo hut (or latrines) with washracks to the left, sketched by Capt. Duncan, Zentsuji Officers’ POW Camp, Shikoku Island Japan, 1944 (courtesy M. Parkes)

That entry on 30th January 1945 was to be his last in the diary he had kept since the 8 March 1942. (Coincidentally, although he did not know it at the time, he would marry his beloved Elizabeth exactly one year later to the day). The sketch (Fig.1) was one of three that he did while at Zentsuji, where at times the regime was not too strict, and he was permitted to study. He used this as a cover for writing the diary and documenting the camp in sketches and detailed camp plans. The sketch was one of over a hundred pieces of artwork featured in the “Secret Art of Survival” exhibition in Liverpool (www.captivememories.org.uk) .

His reason for not writing in the diary again is explained in the notes he subsequently made at his third and final camp in Japan, Miyata, on the island of Kyushu. Here the regime was brutal and dangerous and there was no possibility of writing or sketching anything. The following passage comes at the start of 10 pages of handwritten notes, started on 15th August during his final few weeks in Japan:

“The following paragraphs were added to the diary after I had been released, to bridge the gap between the date I had to cease entries and the cessation of hostilities on August 15th, 1945.

The reason for this gap was that the Japs tightened up their supervision of us and as diaries were strictly forbidden and confiscated if found, I had to conceal the manuscripts by sewing them into the lining of clothes, under false bottoms in my packs etc.

The officers’ propaganda camp at Zentsuji was disbanded in June [1945] the various nationalities represented in the camp being sent to different areas in Japan.  The Australians were sent in two groups to the north of Tokyo, the Americans to the Osaka area, the Dutch to Nagoya, while the British were divided into two parties – one to the west coast of Honshu Island administered from Tokyo, the other party which I was in, going to Kyushu Island under the Fukuoka administration, to Miyata Camp.

Miyata Coalmining camp, Kyushu

The extract continues:

“Our new camp at Miyata was termed a work camp – and was very aptly named – for the other ranks were required to work down coalmines, while the officers were forced to work on agricultural projects ranging from clearing land and constructing padi fields to planting rice and vegetables.

Map of Fukuoka district POW camps in northern Kyushu. Miyata is ringed (courtesy Mansell.com)

“We left camp at 6.30 a.m. and did not return till 6p.m. and although we received a slightly increased ration of rice to that which was issued to us at Zentsuji, we were far worse off due to the heavy manual labour. The rules and regulations at this camp were very strict and woe betide anyone who stepped out of line, for savage beatings and torture were applied on the slightest provocation. Daily, we saw Allied aircraft passing overhead and on one occasion two Mustang fighters hedge-hopped over us about 50 feet up while the bombers that they were escorting sailed overhead completely unmolested.

On August 9th, while out working we heard the sirens sounding and not long after heard a long, drawn-out rumble. We looked at each other and smiled discreetly thinking that some nearby target had caught a packet. It had! However, it was not nearby, but about 60 miles away as the crow flies, for that rumble was the death knell of Nagasaki – the explosion of the 2nd Atomic bomb.

That evening, the Japs were obviously very perturbed about something and, to ease their pent-up feelings, decided to take it out of the British officers. We were lined up on the parade ground after evening roll call in two files, given a haranguing by the Jap duty N.C.O. – a sadistic swine by the name of Kurihara – who ended up by telling us about the British misdeeds in India and that he was going to show us what a Jap N.C.O. could do to British officers.

For the next forty minutes we had to stand at attention with our arms stretched above our heads while guards, armed with 2” x 4” timbers prowled up and down the files, viciously beating anyone who moved.

At the end of that time, we were ordered to assume the prone position and the real beating commenced. Every prisoner present was savagely beaten by 2” x 4” timbers, swung as hard as the guards could do it, the end of the spine and the kidney region being the favourite target areas. If anyone passed out a bucket of water was thrown over him to bring him round and the beating restarted.

Due to malnutrition, all of us had hardly any covering over our bones, so that it was small wonder that it was days before we could bear to touch the afflicted regions.”

Among the British officers who were also present that night were Flight/Lieutenant John Fletcher-Cooke RAFVR and army padre Captain Rupert Godfrey. Both described this incident in their respective memoirs: Fletcher-Cooke’s The Emperor’s Guest (1971) and Godfrey’s The Years the Locusts Have Eaten (2003).

His notes continue, describing the tense days leading up to 15th August and then the long wait for liberation from the camp five weeks later. During this time, he and his friend Lt Bill Balfour RE a fellow Scot, from Perth, made excursions to neighbouring camps, the village and the town of Fukuoka. In the photograph below they are seen with the Korean dentist and his family in the village of Miyata. By this time my father’s weight, regularly and meticulously recorded in one of the notebooks, had dropped to a little over six and a half stone. He looks gaunt and hollow-eyed but poised, with just the slightest hint of a smile.

Capt. Duncan seated on the left, Lt Bill Balfour right, with the Korean dentist and his family standing behind, Miyata September 1945 (courtesy M. Parkes)


On 20 September, the occupants of Miyata POW camp left by train for Nagasaki.


The feature film “Unbroken”, about US airman Louis Zamperini’s life and Far East POW experiences, is the only film that I’ve seen to come close to portraying what my father documented so vividly in his diaries, namely the appalling conditions and harsh winters in camps in Japan. It is an area of Far East captivity that is still little-known. In addition to Fletcher-Cooke and Padre Godfrey’s memoirs, Keith Mitchell’s book, Forty-two Months in Durance Vile, also depicts the harsh conditions endured by some of the several thousand British FEPOW sent to camps in Japan. Medical Officer, Major Frank Murray RAMC was one of those featured in Mitchell’s book and a new website shares Major Murray’s story: https://www.thebelfastdoctor.info/

Thanks to Mansell.com for the enormous amount of information that is available to anyone researching FEPOW history, and in particular the camps in Japan.

In my second blog post I share more of his notes, his long journey home and how he settled back into civilian life. I self-published his diaries in two parts: “Notify Alec Rattray…” in 2002 and “…A.A. Duncan is OK” 2003. Writing the books kindled a need to understand, and to research further the history of Far East prisoner of war captivity. That need continues.