Tag Archives: Singapore

Mortality and liberation in Palembang

By Michiel Schwartzenberg

The unilateral cease-fire on 15 August should have resulted in an immediate improvement of the plight of the PoW. The Japanese had been ordered to do so. However, in some places the conditions had deteriorated to such an extent that the dying continued before the situation was brought under control.

The predicament at Palembang

RAPWI team ‘Blunt’ entered its assigned camp at Palembang, Sumatra on 4 September and four days later reported: ‘908 PoW, 272 hospitalized and 249 died of malnutrition and illness’. According to a message 10 September the situation had not improved: ‘British 470, hospital 150. Many dying. Civilian men, women and children. Need urgent medical relief air supplies.’ Another two days later SEAC HQ in Ceylon received a request from Palembang for a medical team immediately because  ‘Doctors here are as weak as patients and cannot cope. Medical supplies […] urgently required. Immediate evacuation of sick essential; 50 by air and 200 by sea’. Even Lord Bevin (Minister of Foreign Affairs) in London was worried (message 12 September): ‘Almost complete absence of information about Java and Sumatra in contrast to voluminous publicity about other areas is causing alarm…. There is in fact ground for concern since deaths actually reported by Japanese through International Committee Red Cross in Geneva are much higher in proportion than anywhere else in the Far East.’

The actual situation can be gauged by reading two post war reports by senior British PoW: Wing Commander W.R. Wills-Sandford (https://www.cofepow.org.uk/armed-forces-stories-list/japanese-treatment-of-raf) and Surgeon-Lieutenant J.G. Reed (not available online). Reeds statistics clearly show the mortality to 21 August:

Camp strengthAug date#date#
26 May in camp1.15913*152
15 Sept in camp89923167
15-20 Sept hosp air evac24036176
46184
1945 monthly mortality rate51192
Jan369206
Feb677**213
March5Week 135Week 330
April186221
May2294233
June44102240
July99115252
Aug109125261
Sept 1-2010135270
total299146280
Week 233291
302
*Cease fire311
** rations increaseWeek 411

Dr. Reeds analysis of the sharp increase in mortality is equally clear: ‘a policy of starvation’ as he called it. On 27 May 1945 the rationing was cut by the Japanese (measured in grams of rice):

dutyheavylightnone / ill
from500300250
to400250150
average given300225200
21 Aug550550550

Even these rations were not met; one week only 233 gr was issued. On 21 August, a week after the cease fire, the rations increased. Dr Reed noted that before 27 May the main cause of death was disease (dysentery); after 27 May it was starvation. He also noted that the starvation due to the 27 May decease became apparent in 6 weeks; whereas the recovery from 21 August was immediate. Dr Reed allowed for the psychological factor of liberation and the increase in morale: “The general effect of being able to put a man off duty and tell him to lie back and absorb his 500g of rice per day had to be seen to be believed.”

Air Supply by the RAPWI

Before the arrival of the RAPWI teams, the RAF dropped supplies to all known camps in South East Asia. This operation to supply the camps by air was called ‘MASTIFF B’ and started with Red Cross supplies of a general nature. As the RAPWI teams entered the camps they would take stock of the material needs and place orders with RAPWI Main Control on Ceylon. RAPWI Main Control would make an assessment of all the requests of all the camps in SEAC and the availability of supplies and aircraft and allot them accordingly. There were 4 categories of supplies and 2 kinds of packing: containers and packs. For Palembang the supplies were delivered:

SuppliesRed CrossClothingMedicalFoodPersonnel
datecontpackcontpackcontcontpack
31-aug116
1-sep36
11-sep7113
12-sep11101031910
13-sepCapt Mockler RAMC parachute
15-sep1110
16-sep1119
17-sep129
22-sep22020
23-sep1110
total2259112358162
in Kg5.3102.96181011.59920.680 total

The chart shows that the after the initial Red Cross supply droppings, the supply ceased until the RAPWI team Blunt managed to place orders mainly for food and medicine as well as an additional medical team.

Evacuation to Singapore

Following the advent of RAPWI team Blunt the situation improved and after 12 September things happened quickly:

12 live broadcast of surrender ceremony in Singapore shared with PoW  

13 Medical team lead by Dr. Mockler[1] arrived (by parachute) from Ceylon

14 Japanese finally cooperated: they were helpful in giving supplies of food and

clothing. “Their attitude has lately been correct” as RAPWI team Blunt put it.

15 new hospital was put in operation

19 Palembang visited by Lady Mountbatten which was ‘extremely popular’

15 – 20 all 240 ill PoW evacuated by Dakota to Singapore

21 – 25 evacuation of the 600 British by Dakota to Singapore

PO 1027.002 PAKANBARU, SUMATRA, 1945-09-17. RAAF FLIGHT TO EVACUATE PRISONERS OF WAR (POWS) OF THE JAPANESE TO SINGAPORE. THE FIRST GROUP OF POWS ARE ON STRETCHERS AT THE AIRSTRIP.
PO 0444.193 LIBERATED ALLIED AND AUSTRALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR FROM PALEMBANG, SUMATRA, RELATE THEIR EXPERIENCE TO A BRITISH WAR CORRESPONDENT IN SINGAPORE. (no date)

Medical evacuation of PoW from Pakan Baroe to     Interview of PoW from Singapore, 17 September. Pakan Baroe, Sumatra   Palembang in Singapore[2] is not Palembang, but the scene was similar.

019382 Sumatra. 1945. Imprisoned Australian troops released in Sumatra shown carrying the food containers used to transport food to the prisoners. The food was almost inedible. Left to right: Sergeant F. Brown of Adelaide, SA; Private (Pte) L. Bett of Launceston, Tas; Pte P. Renson of Southport, Tas; Pte G. Spencer of Bracknell, Tas; Pte J. Rose of Ulverstone, Tas; C. Bell of Melbourne, Vic; and C. Foster of Adelaide, SA.
019383 Singapore? September 1945. Lady Mountbatten speaking to Australian prisoners of war (POWs) who had been liberated from the Japanese POW camp in Sumatra. They had been poorly fed and badly treated.

Two pictures of Lady Mountbattens tour on Sumatra 15-19 September, camp not known.

Conclusion

The Japanese should never have mistreated their PoW and put their heath and lives in peril. Throughout the war and in all camps the treatment had been brutal and negligent. But Palembang may have been one of the few camps genuinely in acute danger of mass starvation for whom the Japanese cease fire came in just time. It did not, however, result in an immediate improvement of the situation; this only occurred a week later when the rations increased. The advent of the RAPWI team Blunt on 4 September lead to improvements, although it took yet another week (11 September) before the RAF started delivering the supplies that were desired. But the end was in sight; the evacuation of the ill PoW commenced 15 September and after completion is was the turn of the healthy to leave.

One cannot undo the past, but one can count the possible difference made by compliance by the Japanese to the terms of the Allies and a much sooner arrival of the British RAPWI teams on Sumatra.

Thirty-nine lives.


[1] Captain J. Mockler is one of the few RAPWI-personnel that died in active duty. On 5 November Mockler (IAMC) and J.W. Smith (RAA) were supervising the evacuation of RAPWI at Benkulen, Sumatra. They were attacked and Smith was wounded. Mockler died and was buried in Palembang; he now rests in Jakarta.

[2] The AWM description is problematic. There weren’t any Australians in Palembang and the men seem very emaciated despite having had food and rest for a month.

Liberation of Sime Road Camp Singapore – Freddy’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Changi/Sime Road camps, Singapore

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Freddy Bloom, young woman recently married to military doctor in Singapore before Allies surrendered. Freddy interned in Changi/ Sime Road while husband Philip was interned in Changi POW camp.

(source:  Freddy Bloom: Dear Philip – A Diary of Captivity Changi 1942-45, Epilogue to a diary). (The Bodley Head Ltd.) Used with kind permission of Ginny Kanka.

There never was an official notice that our war was over. Peace trickled in gradually. Some of our ‘hosts’ faded away. Those who stayed rarely appeared and one or two actually tried to ingratiate themselves with us. Red Cross stores were released. Letters that were held up were distributed. Then one beautiful day a small squad of super-men in red berets came to the camp. They were some of Mountbatten’s commandos. Each seemed ten feet tall, tanned, bursting with strength and unlike anything we had seen in years…….

We were told to stay where we were but this did not suit me. So one day in the last week of August Katherine (her friend) and I put on our best dresses that we had saved for just such an occasion. We crawled under the wire and out of the camp.

With studied ‘sang froid’ as if it was the most natural thing in the world we hailed a taxi and told him to drive us to Changi POW camp.

At Changi gates the man on duty, whose mouth had opened in disbelief when we appeared, controlled himself long enough to tell us the hospital was at the end of the avenue.

The long walk became memorable. Men in shorts were working or lounging everywhere. As we made our way, first one and then another would come up to us, look hard and then shake our hands saying ‘First white women in three and a half years’.

The first time it was touching. The second and third time just a little less so. After we had shaken hands for the umpteenth time it was hard to control our mirth. Each said exactly the same words in exactly the same way. We knew we must not let them down. Since we ‘were’ the first white women in three and a half years we had to behave appropriately but it was difficult to assess just what appropriate was. Not giggles for sure.

Now there I was standing at the end of Philip’s camp bed…. then he came in and put his arms round me. I buried my head in his chest and sobbed all over him……….

Liberation of Sime Road Camp Singapore – Mary’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Changi/Sime Road camps, Singapore

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Mary Thomas a young woman in Changi/Sime Road Camps Singapore

Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer and excerpt from her book (In the Shadow of the Rising Sun. Maruzen Asia 1983). Used with kind permission of Mary’s niece Margaret Thomas.

On the evening of 15th August 1945 an extraordinary rumour began to circulate in the camp. It concerned the collapse of Japan and some unheard-of catastrophe. We dared not trust the rumours, we had heard too many. However, the food fatigue brought our breakfast, not rice gruel this time but fried cakes of rice with a V for Victory stamped on each one… At the meeting in the afternoon we heard that Japan had actually surrendered and that there was a new weapon, the atom bomb, by which the surrender had been won. But inexpressibly relieved and delighted as we were to hear of victory at last, we could not help having a sense of awe and horror at the means of winning.

As the days went by our position remained ambiguous. The Japanese were obviously in an uncertain frame of mind but still in control of the camp.

We learned later that though Japan had capitulated General Itagaki, commanding in Malaya, had not decided whether to join in the surrender or to continue fighting on his own.

This continued for a fortnight. We only knew what his decision was when four British paratroops, Red Devils in berets and battledress suddenly appeared in camp.

The last ten days in the camp were so crowded with events and new sensations that they were almost exhausting. Visitors flocked into the camp. First there were POWs from Changi and other military camps. We had plenty of food chocolate distributed by the Red Cross and British sailors and bread baked by the cooks of H.M.S.Sussex and sent to the camp every day.

We had proper soap again, flannels, toothbrushes and combs. It was like recovering from an illness and having a perpetual Christmas party.

On the afternoon of 11 September we went to the Thanksgiving service at St Andrews Cathedral. That evening two friends and I had our first civilised meal for more than three and a half years, in the officers’ Mess of the Punjabi Regiment…. It was a wonderful evening partly from the sheer pleasure and excitement of actually dining out like civilised people again.

The evening after the surrender ceremony Lord Louis Mountbatten visited the camp to explain the difficulties which had delayed repatriation.

On Tuesday 18th September I left the camp with twenty – two other women and three children to go on board the Nieuw Holland. The journey home, our first real encounter with the outside word, was something which could never be forgotten.

We landed at Liverpool on 16th October in a fog

It took a long time after repatriation for a sort of amazement at people’s gentle manners and kindly ways to pass off. We marvelled at the way Britons had been hideously bombed and rationed and had borne for 6 exhausting years the burden of a tremendous war. We felt we had come back to a very wonderful nation.

Liberation of Sime Road Camp Singapore – Daphne and Jennifer’s Stories

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Changi/Sime Road camps, Singapore

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Daphne Davidson a young mother in Changi and Sime Road internment camps

(Collected by the British Red Cross Museum)

It was not until 18th  August 1945 that the peace rumours could not be ignored.

On 28th liberator planes flew over the camp and dropped leaflets and on 30th the British parachutists arrived. Strangely enough my memories of the last days are clouded in a haze of happiness. I knew my husband was alive – so many wives were mourning for those who would never come back. The Burma Death railway took a hateful toll of our fighting men.

My husband and baby and I left Singapore for England, freedom and feeding. What the future held we did not know – it was enough to be together again.

Jennifer’s story

(Jennifer Martin, nee Davidson, Daphne’s daughter a young baby in Changi and Sime Road)

I remember playing in the garden of the Raffles Hotel where we were lodged while families were reunited and messages sent to relatives in the U.K. We were very fortunate my father had spent many months suffering the deprivation and disease while working on the Burmese Death railway but he was alive and came back to us. So many husbands and fathers did not return.

Soon we were on the ‘Monowai’ the first ship to leave for home. I remember staring in wonder at the cabin we were given and the sheets, smooth, clean and white on the bunks. At Port Said we docked and were taken to a large hanger with long tables covered in clothes and all the things we would need provided by the Red Cross. Everything from underwear to winter coats for men, women and children of all sizes. We were all kitted out for the winter weather ahead.

Liverpool on October 11th 1945, then the train to Edinburgh to meet my grandmother and aunt Rena, the delights of Scottish food, a house and garden, shops, Christmas, snow and snowballs.

FEPOW Artwork

2 LOYALS’ COLLECTION: LANCASHIRE INFANTRY MUSEUM FULLWOOD BARRACKS, PRESTON

By Jane Davies, Curator of the Lancashire Infantry Museum

I have worked at the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston for 15 years.  The Museum houses a wonderful collection, full of interesting objects and archival material; from an account describing the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo to letters back home from the Front during WW1, we hold everything that you can think of.

My favourite collection, without a doubt, is that of the 2nd Battalion, The Loyal Regiment dating from WW2. The Battalion was present at Singapore on the 15th February 1942 when the island fell to the Japanese. Over three years of incarceration began, first of all at Changi prisoner of war camp and then later on (for the majority of the Battalion) in Keijo, Korea.

I first ‘discovered’ the collection when I came across a bound ‘book’ called “Nor Iron Bars”.  Looking inside, the ‘book’ was remarkable.  It was full of magazines compiled by the Battalion’s Officers whilst being held as POWs.  Written on any scrap of paper they could find, mainly old Naval message pads and paper from Red Cross parcels, a series of magazines were produced containing humorous drawings, poems, educational lectures and essays about the Officer’s situation.  Photographs were also attached including ones of the men erecting defenses on Singapore before the Japanese invaded and also photographs of activities within the camp in Keijo itself.  These included photographs of camp shows, the vegetable patch and the funeral of a POW attended by Japanese Officials.

I found these photographs quite extraordinary and at odds to what I knew about other Japanese POW camps. These photographs of men from the Battalion seeming to enjoy themselves were so different to what I had read about the men from 18th Recce (previously the 5th Battalion, The Loyal Regiment) and their experience as POWs on the Thai-Burma Railway.  Further digging about the camp at Keijo was required and, after seeing those photographs it was no surprise to find that the Japanese treated Keijo as a ‘show camp’.  A camp that would be held up as a beacon of good treatment.

The fact that Keijo was a ‘show camp’ should not distract from the harsh conditions that 2 Loyals lived under.  Second Lieutenant Pigott was caught exchanging an old shirt with a Korean for a small loaf of bread.  His punishment was to spend the remainder of his time as a POW in the civil prison, without heating and in winter, a nightly 40 degrees of frost. Near the end Lieutenant Piggot re-joined the camp, but only lasted a few days.  He died on the 29th August 1945.

The danger of being caught with the magazine was summed up by Brigadier Elrington ‘If they were caught with the magazine their punishment would have been terrible. Production of it was punishable by torture and death’ – ‘ these pages were surreptitiously produced, passed from hand to hand and eventually smuggled out of captivity, in spite of the grave risks involved; indeed this constant fear of secrecy added spice to our enjoyment and each successive edition of Nor Iron Bars gave a fresh fillip to our morale.’

For the duration of the war the copies of the magazines were kept in a safe place, hidden from the view of the camp guards.  In 1947 the magazines were bound together and presented as an album to the museum where it is on display now.

VJ Day Remembered

VJ Day Remembered by Sue Blackman, the daughter of Colonel Cecil Hunt. Sue shares what she remembers of her father’s homecoming in late 1945.

My father, Colonel Cecil Hunt, a staff officer in the Malaya Command, was taken prisoner by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942.  He had arrived on the island only eleven weeks earlier and had been promoted to full colonel on 3 January.

News of the Japanese surrender, and their consequent freedom, reached the prisoners on 17 August 1945.  It was an enormous task to bring all the prisoners home from the Far East. The sick were flown out, but for most of the others, it was the autumn of that year before they arrived on home ground.

At 11 am on the morning of 5 November 1945 the liner Queen Elizabeth drew into Southampton docks. Although our parents had each written diaries they had no need to record this day in writing, so I shall tell what I know about it.  I was nine years old, and my brother Tim was fourteen.

An enormous crowd had gathered at the dockside, and as Dad anxiously scanned the sea of excited faces, a colleague drew his attention to a small figure waving madly at him just below.  Our mother had been taken to meet the ship by our uncle, Stuart Bedells, a naval officer who had managed to gain entry for her in front of the official reception area.  And there she was, he told us, so young, just as he had remembered her.

Not all wives had remained faithful to their prisoner husbands.  A few had not, and the sadness of those homecomings can only be imagined. For our parents, the love story never faltered. Granny had thoughtfully booked a hotel room for them to spend some time together before the excitement of the family reunion. Tim remembers feeling surprised by this delay, as the journey to Granny’s house in Southsea was so short, and he had expected them to come straight home.  Understanding came later.

Tim and I had been taken out of school to join Granny and Auntie Nell at Granny’s house.  Here we all had our instructions: Tim was posted on the windowsill as a lookout, and as soon as we heard the doorbell Auntie Nell and I were to run in the opposite direction to the old wind-up gramophone in the breakfast room, to put on the George Formby song for the troops “Bless ‘em All”.  This inspired planning allowed Granny precedence and relieved Dad from facing an overwhelming crowd on the doorstep.

Dad had hoped that he would not be a stranger to his children.  He need not have worried.  His photograph had been on permanent view at our temporary home Mill Cottage in the Forest of Dean, with a sprig of lucky white heather in its frame.  We had written letters, and even though many did not reach him, he was much in our thoughts.  I would often say in all innocence to our mother, “Won’t it be nice when Daddy comes home!” And I wonder to this day how she managed to answer without a catch in her voice. We had waited for this day – I shall never forget the sound of that important doorbell.  If there was hugging and kissing I don’t remember it, but he seemed to say all the right things to us.  Admiring my cherished teddy bear was an instant winner with me.  All I remember of the rest of that day is my jaw aching from smiling so continuously from ear to ear.

I fancy he looked thin and a little yellow. Later in photographs, one could see the strain in his face, but it didn’t last. On the sea voyage, he had already gained some strength and the ability to take normal food.  In his diary, he had expressed the hope that he and Mum could take a holiday, just the two of them.  There would be time for this.  Meanwhile, they made the best possible decision which was to return to Mill Cottage for the seven weeks until Christmas.  Here they could share the peace and quiet, the beauty of the forest, and produce of farm and orchard, and the incomparable view down over the Severn’s horseshoe bend that had been such a solace to our mother.  As Tim and I came home for the Christmas holidays we all assembled once again at Granny’s house for the very memorable Christmas of 1945.

In my prayers for many years afterwards were the words “Thank you, God, for letting Daddy come home”.

Much later, in November 2010 and again in 2013 with his son Geoff, Tim flew out to Taiwan for memorial services organised by the Taiwan Prisoner of War Camps Memorial Society. Here they joined with other relatives in dedicating memorial plaques at the various prison campsites. At one of the camp services, Tim offered his own prayer “For those who were left behind”.

Also, in 2013 I attended the memorial service to those British prisoners who were brought home to Southampton in 1945.  Arranged by the group devoted to honouring the memory of the Far East Prisoners of War, the Repatriation Memorial in Town Quay Park is especially dedicated to those British prisoners who survived, and lists the 28 ships in which they were brought home.

Sue Blackwell 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

Jack Chalker’s Centenary

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.

Chalker - working men cropped
Working Men © J.B.Chalker

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.

chalker - old
This exquisite 3” by 2” miniature watercolour, painted by Jack’s great friend and fellow artist Ashley Old, was done quickly, in secret and kept hidden.  It shows the aftermath of Jack’s near-fatal encounter with a Korean guard who spotted him sketching while in the sick hut at Konyu camp. Courtesy J. Chalker © Bartholomew family

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 and weary
Jack with “Weary” Dunlop, Somerset, 1980s © A.Chalker

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.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Adrian Chalker and Tim Mercer for their help in compiling this tribute. Title image: Jack Bridger Chalker, 2010 © Parkes LSTM

 

From Hell Island to Hay Fever: The Life of Dr Bill Frankland

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.

Bill Frankland
Captain A.W. ‘Bill’ Frankland. Courtesy of Paul Watkins.

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.

Frankland blue plaque
The blue plaque outside Alexandra Hospital, Singapore. Courtesy of Paul Watkins.

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.