Tag Archives: Thailand

Des Bettany – POW Artist

By Keith Bettany

Gunners – Unknown Mates (Des on far right).
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

My dad, Des Bettany, after seeing action in Europe in WW2 was evacuated from Dunkirk and posted to North Malaya. He was eventually imprisoned by the Japanese at various prisons camps on Singapore Island with some 100,000 other prisoners of war (POW’s) . You may well ask, how did he make it through all of this? Well, he painted to keep his sanity. 

Clumsy Gunner On A 25 Pounder.
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

From out of the misery, starvation, exploitation and brutality that resulted in so much loss of life and injury (physical and mental) a series of artworks that helped Des and his mates survive the ordeal has now come to light in a family collection. This artwork of his service life before and after the Capitulation of Singapore is a range of fascinating illustrations, done often with humour by Des himself.

Sketchbook Confiscated – Des Bettany’s confrontation with Major General Saito
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

However, while painting to keep his head, he nearly lost it, as he was also painting political cartoons of the Japanese and hiding these. They were found and after some quick talking and who knows what else occurred, Des was warned by Major Col Saito, if he ever painted like this again, he would get a short haircut (be beheaded). We are sure he was punished but he, like so many other ex POW’s chose not to share the horrors they went through with others. I guess in telling of the horrors, they just relive them again. 

‘Jap Guard’, Changi Gaol (March 1945).
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

This new website has been put together by us, Des’ family, as a tribute and to help raise awareness of what the POWs went through, as seen through the eyes of one man, Des Bettany. It also give a rare insight on how others kept ‘sane’ by looking forward to such things as: The Changi University; The Library; The Theatre and Musical Programs; Changi Industries; working to help mates by making rubber souls for boots or limbs for amputees; getting up to mischief: sabotaging their own work; or partaking in their Faith. 

Filling Moulds.
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

After 70 years in a cupboard, at last, this artwork is available to all who have access to the internet. Now that has been ‘liberated’ all the artwork can be viewed at www.changipowart.com

‘Say, Where’s The B…. Cookhouse?’ Towner Road POW Camp
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

A brief 4 minute video summarizing dad’s work can be viewed, go to www.changipowart.com/videos click on the ‘Channel 7 Today Tonight Program’.

Malayan Tragedy.
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

Please share this site so the message gets out to many of what these men went through and some of the strategies they employed to keep sane and to survive. We also honour & remember those who didn’t make the journey back home.

‘H’ Force Leaving Selerang Barracks Square (May 1943)
Image courtesy of Keith Bettany.

Des Bettany’s artwork, including some of his theatre programme covers are heavily featured as part of our Rice and Shine series.

The “Speedo”

By Sears Eldredge

Meanwhile, over a thousand miles away in Thailand and Burma, the POWs building the railway were entering the “Speedo Period”—the desperate push by the Japanese engineers to get the railway completed to the new earlier deadline set by Tokyo. During this period, the POWs would work extended hours and seven days a week without adequate food or medical supplies. Corporal punishment was harsh and frequent. As a consequence, sickness and death increased at an alarming rate, so urgent calls went out to Singapore for more POW workers.

On 20 March, massive evacuations from Changi began. “D” Force, which contained 2,750 British and 2,250 Australians—”fit men for heavy manual labour in a malarial climate”—was the first to leave for Up Country destinations. “There were emotional scenes,” recalled Murray Griffin, “as the parties moved out with the concert party band playing ‘Now is the Hour’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’.”[i]

A week later, “E” Force, consisting of troops from the Southern Area and the A.I.F., was sent to Kuching, Borneo. 500 Australians were then sent on to Sandakan on the other side of the island (see future blog on Borneo).  

Between 18-26 April, “F” Force made up of British and Australian troops, which included Padre Foster-Haig and members of his musical group (inc. the pianist/symphony orchestra conductor, Renison and the singers, Aubrey King and George Wall, etc.), were sent to northern Thailand (see Chapter 2, “Jungle Shows Thailand” in my online book for a more detailed account of the fate of this group).[ii]

On 25 April 1943, “G” Force (various groups) was sent to Japan where there was also a huge labor shortage.[iii]

Then, with still urgent calls for more workers for the railway, “H” Force, made up of British and Australian POWs “with as many officers as possible with bridge-building and road-making experience” was sent to Thailand between 5-17 May.[iv] Among these troops would be the artist Ronald Searle, the female impersonator Michael Curtis, the actor/director Capt. Wilkinson,[1] and cartoonist George Sprod—and, in a break with precedence, two performers from the A.I.F. Concert Party: the singer, Doug Mathers and the ventriloquist, Tom Hussey.

On 15 May, “J” Force went off. Speculation was that they were headed for Japan.[v]

When these deployments were complete, the number of POWs left in Changi had changed dramatically:

Changi Camp, in February 1942, had held approximately 52,000 prisoners of war. By the end of May 1943, however, most of them had departed and were working for the Japanese in Burma, Thailand, Borneo, and Japan, those remaining in Changi numbered only 5550 officers and men.[vi]

And many of those POWs were either in hospital or in convalescent wards so unable to fulfill camp duties.[vii]


[1] That Wilkinson is on “H” Force seems indisputable. In my online book, I mistakenly placed him on “F” Force.


[i] Griffin, 28.

[ii] Nelson, 87.

[iii] Nelson, 25.

[iv] Nelson, 5-17 May.

[v] Nelson, 94.

[vi] Penfold, Bayliss and Crispin. Galleghan’s Greyhounds, 320.

[vii] Ibid.

First Massive Troop Departures

By Sears Eldredge

In the last week of October, all of the British POWs from Fortress Signals in the Southern Area, as well as many from the 18th Division, started to be sent to Thailand to work on the railway. Huxtable . . .

. . . was glad to hear from [Denis] East that the theatrical and concert group to which he belongs are not to be moved with the rest of the 18th Division. By some means or other, exemption for them had been obtained from the Japanese, so the Windmill Theatre will be able to carry on although it expects to be moved inside our wire.[i]

But this wasn’t exactly true. Foster-Haig lost half of his choir and Fergus Anckorn and other entertainers from “The Optimists” were included on these drafts. Who wasn’t included was East’s own group, “The Changi Celebrity Artists.” By the first week in November, all the 18th Division drafts and all of the Singapore Fortress troops, including their concert party, “The Mumming Bees,” had been sent Up Country (see Chapter 1 of my online book for more details).

Playbill for November ‘42.

On November 3rd, the “A.I.F. Concert Party” mounted their first original revue with a book: a piece called, Hotel Swindellem. The plot follows two characters through various misadventures at the Hotel (which lived up to its name).

Although the Australians had been spared from sending any troops in these recent drafts, their concert party’s’ Variety Show two weeks later contained another Slim De Grey original song, “They’ve Taken My Old Pal Away,” which verbalized what many of the POWs in Changi felt about being separated from mates they had served with for a long time (only the first and final verses are given here):

They’ve taken my old pal away,

Somewhere over the sea.

Now [sic. Then?] we were so happy and gay,

But now life seems empty to me.

Now everything seems to have changed.

Like sunshine that turns into rain.

We were together in trouble,

In fun a good double,

But they’ve taken my old pal away.[ii]


[i] Huxtable, 89-90.

[ii] De Grey, “Changi Souvenir Song Album,” n.p.

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

Sharing Research REALLY helps! Collaboration on the ‘Flying Kampong’

By Meg Parkes, in collaboration with Michiel Schwartzenberg and Keith Andrews

Fourteen years’ ago, I began recording interviews with Far East prisoner of war (FEPOW) veterans for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). Sixty-seven interviews later, during lockdown centenarian FEPOW Bert Warne accepted an invitation to be interviewed.

I spoke to Bert, who lives in Southampton, via Zoom In early November 2020. Interviewing anyone of such a great age is a privilege. However, when relying on technology, it’s not without its challenges. Bert’s voice is strong, and he speaks quickly with a broad Hampshire accent, which when coupled with a fractional time delay initially led to some confusion. Regrettably, worried that he could not hear me, I ended up shouting at him!

Like thirty-seven of the previous interviewees, Bert was captured in Singapore and later sent to Thailand. Every interviewee has a unique story to tell, Bert mentioned something about the railway that I’d not heard before:

Well then what happened was, when we went from that camp [Konkoita] we didn’t go back on the barge and what we done we used to travel, when we built that railway you could only go so far on what you call a steam locomotive. The thing is they’re heavy see, they’re a terrific the weight you see. So if you’d have gone up country and put a steam train on, it’d have fell through you see, ‘cos it was green see [referring to the wood used to build it]. So, what the Japs did do, which I thought was quite a good idea, their diesel trucks, their lorries, what they done they converted the wheels from the trucks to go on the railway, you see. So, what we used when we were on the railway, when you talk about people being transported on the railway, they weren’t transported with steam locomotives, they were transported by lorries.

Puzzled, I emailed members of the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) to see if anyone had heard about these truck trains. Without delay our Dutch research colleague Michiel Schwartzenberg, emailed:

“He is talking about the ‘Flying Kampong’ a diesel lorry adapted for railroad usage.

The diesel-powered lorries were very practical, and to the Westerners a novelty. The Japanese had to devise something that could move heavy goods along the railway, as there was no road or a dependable river…. There was another advantage as a lorry can move short distances. A steam train has to develop pressure, power and then can move long distances. Obviously, a train can move much heavier loads, but on the railway this was restricted to 10 boxcars”.

Michiel sent these photographs:

Archive photograph of a Flying Kampong at work in Thailand during captivity – Australia War Memorial Reference P000761.043
Archive photograph of a Flying Kampong at work in Thailand during captivity – Australia War Memorial Reference P000406.016

Keith Andrews also responded:

“They were certainly used in some sections of the Railway. Capable of pulling four of the specially built wagons they were excellent for transporting maintenance parties or Japanese troops. They had been used by track laying groups and were in use until the end of the war. I will see what else I can dig up”.

(NB Bert had mentioned that the trucks could only go about 40 miles before they needed diesel).

And he contacted Terry Manttan the manager of the Thailand Burma Railway Centre in Kanchanaburi, who added:

“The converted lorries (truck-trains or “flying kampongs”) were mostly used for short to medium distance movements of working groups of PoWs as they were much more versatile and more readily available for such a function”.

If anyone has any further information about the Flying Kampongs do please share.

Thailand In The Second World War

By Ray Withnall, Author

My research may be summarised as a discourse that examines Thailand’s transition from the 1932 coup d’état through subsequent turbulent years leading up to the Japanese accessing its territory at the start of the south-east Asia War. It follows Thailand’s role during the war and culminates with the outcome of end-of-war peace treaties. It is divided into five parts.

The first part briefly considers the years before the 1932 coup to show how the aspirations of successive monarchs established relationships with the West, particularly Great Britain and France. This takes into account the conclusions of gifted and talented Thai students who were studying in Europe and wanted to change Thailand’s monarchy from ruling with absolute power to one in which the monarch was governed by a constitution. The events prior to the coup d’état are studied.

The second part examines the period from the coup up to December 1941 when Japanese military forces entered Thailand. Difficulties between the civilian and military factions of government arose as army officer Pibul Songkhram became prime minister at the end of 1938. Nationalistic policies dominated his domestic agenda, and the international landscape evolved as diplomatic relations with Great Britain and the United States were tested against a background of increasing influence from the Japanese. The atmosphere intensified following a brief military conflict with France over a border dispute between Thailand and French Indochina.

The third part looks at the events leading to the Thai government permitting Japanese military access into its territory as it advanced towards Malaya and Burma at the start of the south-east Asia war. This was a crucial period during which Thailand abandoned its policy of neutrality and became a Japanese ally. The military and diplomatic response from the Western allies to Japan’s advance is closely examined with emphasis on Great Britain’s response to Thailand’s predicament and its corresponding attempt to defend Malaya.

Image of a Thai World War 2 propaganda poster from the Royal Thai Air force museum in Bangkok, the Thai wording on the poster translates as follows:

“We are at war with the English. England is not a friend of Asia. Together with the Japanese army we are fighting against the English. England has put pressure on Thailand for a long time. Japan wants Thailand to prosper more and more and more.”

Image & translation courtesy of Ray Withnall.

The fourth part studies Thailand’s role throughout the War. Attention is given to the broadening rift between the military and civilian factions of the government as Japan’s idealistic promises caused frustration and economic chaos. Thailand declared war on Great Britain and the United States. The Seri Thai resistance movement was organised by Pridi Banomyong. He made contact with Great Britain and the United States and convinced them that the Seri Thai could become a credible fighting force in the defeating Japan in Thailand. Prime minister Pibul lost domestic popularity through eccentric attempts to westernise Thai society. He realised Japan was losing the war and disassociated himself from them but lost his position to a new government that supported the allies. During this period thousands of Japanese Prisoners of War and civilian Romusha were sent to Thailand to construct the Thai-Bura railway. The response from the Thai government and the attitude of its people to the treatment and cruelty dispensed by the Japanese towards these men is examined.

The final section considers Thailand’s post-war agreements with the British, American and French and concludes with a summary of Thailand’s achievements as it looks towards its future.

The research draws on published books by respected historians, documented personal accounts and theses that are available in the public domain and records from the National Archives Kew.

“Living with My Absent Father”

By Toby Norways, Senior Lecturer for Scriptwriting at the University of Bedfordshire and PhD Candidate in English (Creative Writing) at Newman University, Birmingham.

Toby Norways passed the viva for his PhD English (Creative Writing) in March 2020 and is currently finishing his thesis ‘corrections’ required before graduation. He has been researching his FEPOW father William ‘Bill’ Norways (1918-86) since 2015. His research took him to Singapore, Thailand, and to Japan where he met the family of one of his father’s camp guards. Toby’s thesis includes a 70,000-word creative manuscript Living with my absent father, a memoir of his father, and a corresponding 20,000-word critical commentary of the creative work.

Bill Norways was a commercial artist prior to World War II, before enlisting in the 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment. He was taken prisoner in Singapore when the allied forces surrendered to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. In May 1943, he was transported to Thailand to be used as slave labour on the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway. Bill suffered great hardship but survived the war. He rarely talked of his experiences.

Close-up of an illustration drawn from memory while in captivity, by Cpl Norways (© courtesy the Norways family)

Toby’s research begins with a study of the artefacts his father assembled from the Far East (including the above illustration). The collection includes Bill’s original artwork and photographs from the prison camps in Singapore and Thailand. Amongst these items are a series of post-war letters. They reveal the unlikely friendship between Bill in Cornwall and one of his former prison guards in Japan, Kameo Yamanaka. He disapproved of Japanese hostility. During Bill’s captivity in Singapore, Yamanaka would share his food rations and supply Bill with pencils so he could continue to draw. The two men expressed a wish that their families would remain friends, but the correspondence ends with Bill’s death in 1986.

The memoir has three plot strands: Toby’s research journey to discover a father he scarcely knew; his father’s history as a prisoner of war; and a Bildungsroman, as Toby comes to terms with the absence, then the death of his father. Alongside these storylines, a correspondence between two opposing soldiers is gradually revealed as Toby travels to Japan to track down the family of the Japanese guard.

Toby Norways with the Yamanaka family, 2015. A poem written by Bill Norways is engraved on the Yamanaka family shrine (© courtesy the Norways family)

On completion of his PhD in 2021, Toby hopes to publish both the memoir of his father and an illustrated book containing the 200+ photos, paintings and sketches that his father Bill managed to bring home from the Far East.

Toby’s research and Bill’s artwork have been featured twice in the Guardian newspaper. Toby’s research journey is described here.

Bill’s artwork is featured in the Guardian gallery found here.

Rangoon Agreement, 26-28 August

By Michiel Schwartzenberg

The Japanese unilateral cease fire on 15 august caught the South East Asia Command (SEAC) unprepared. The next day President Truman issued “General Order Number 1’ setting out the immediate aims for the allies. General MacArthur,  who had been appointed as Supreme Commander Allies Pacific (SCAP) issued an order that no allied units may move into Japanese held territories or engage in conferences with the Japanese until after the formal surrender, which was expected to be signed on 28 August (subsequently became 2 September). Despite these orders Mountbatten commanded his counterpart, Field Marshal Terauchi (also a cousin to his sovereign) of Southern Command, to send a delegation to Rangoon to sign a preliminary agreement before the Tokyo surrender.

AWM SUK 14675 Rangoon, Burma. C. 1945-08. The Japanese surrender envoys being escorted to the interrogation tent after landing at Mingaladon airfield, Rangoon.

The delegation arrived on 26 August and it immediately became clear the Japanese would agree to any proposal. They revealed that Tokyo had ordered Southern Command to care for the PoW and assist the British in any way in this regard. Unprepared for this degree of cooperation the British delegation asked Mountbatten for instructions. The second item concerned the acceptance of relief teams in the PoW camps. Eventually the Rangoon Agreement would contain 11 articles concerning the PoW.[1]

The British spied on the envoys; so they knew from an intercepted message (26 August) that the envoys sent instructions regarding the PoW to their HQ, including the advice that the air supply of the camps might commence on 26 August. Indeed, the degree of trust was so great that Mountbatten ordered the existence of the Force 136 units in Thailand to be revealed.[2]

SE 4594 1945-08-28 In the Throne Room, Government House, Rangoon, which was used for the surrender negotiations, Lieutenant General Takazo Numata with Lieutenant Colonel Morio Tomura (left) and Rear Admiral Kaigye Chudo (right) faces the Allied commanders (front row, l to r): Brigadier E G Gibbons, Captain F S Habecker, Major General Feng Yee, Mr M E Dening, Rear Admiral W R Patterson, Lieutenant General Browning, Air Marshal Sounders, Major General Denning, Brigadier M S K Maunsell, Air Vice Marshal A T Cole and Captain J P H Perks. In the rear row, seated to General Browning’s left is Lieutenant General Sir Montagu Stopford.

To his commanders Mountbatten wrote that the Rangoon ‘document was in effect but not in name an instrument of surrender covering SEAC area. Although to comply with instructions I received from SCAP not to sign any surrender papers before the Tokyo event, the document has been called a local agreement.’


[1] 1. Disclose location of all camps

2. Provide numbers, nationalities and sex of all PoW and CI in the camps

3.Withdraw guards and hand over control to senior Allied officer in the camp

4. Provide (armed) parties or arms to the camps. Armed parties under control senior Allied officer in the camp.

5.Be personally responsible for safety of all PoW (despite the senior Allied officer)

6. Remain personally responsible for provision of food, clothing and medicine

7. Assist any Allied personnel

8. Provide numbers, nationalities and sex of all PoW and CI outside the camps, in their area, and remain responsible for them

9. Disclose airfields close to the camps

10. Ensure all records are handed over intact

11. Notify the senior Allied officer in the camp of the Japanese surrender

[2] Apparently General Slim (ALFSEA) feared for their safety; so SACSEA ordered the Japanese be told the untruth that the Force 136 agents had parachuted recently with the sole purpose of RAPWI.

Thailand: 25 August 1945

By Michiel Schwartzenberg

On 25 August 1945 RAF 681 Squadron flew a reconnaissance sortie in the Kanchanaburi area and over Bangkok. Subsequently the Photo Interpretation (PI) by 347 Squadron commented on the pictures: ‘Kanchanaburi and Wanhkhani area: large number of prisoners waving at aircraft. Union Jacks displayed in the camps and prisoners “showing great signs of excitement”. Actions of prisoners indicate no supervision or restraint by Japs. Dakotas could drop supplies. Pinpoints easy to find.’[1]

AWM SEA 0063 Alipore, Calcutta, India. 1944-12-28. Framed between two huge aerial cameras, Warrant Officer M. (Bluey) George, RAAF of Gunnedah, NSW (in cockpit), of No. 681 (Spitfire) Squadron RAF, talks to a member of his ground crew before taking off on a reconnaissance sortie. Half the pilots in No. 681 Squadron RAF, a Spitfire photographic reconnaissance squadron operating over Burma and Thailand are members of the RAF. They fly deep into enemy territory to bring back photographs which enable future targets to be selected and damage done by bomber attacks to be assessed.

Also on Saturday 25 August, Mr. P.F. Kuhn Regnier was in Tamuan and began his diary. At 2:30 in the afternoon a fighter was spotted and the PoW ran out and displayed a British flag outside the camp. ‘We’d been expecting some of our planes over for the past few days, as we’d heard wireless broadcasts that supplies would soon be dropped over PoW camps. Everyone raised a mighty cheer and waved frantically at the plane, which acknowledged our waves by a wobbling of its wings from side to side. At the next flypast the pilot opened the canopy and waved. Our feelings then were difficult to describe. He was the first free Allied man that we’d seen over 3,5 years. He then went away […] to do his stuff over the Kanburi Officers camp. Well, we now know that our friends know for certain just where we are, and that we can expect to see the bigger boys coming over during the next few days to drop us much needed and looked forward to supplies by parachute. Everyone in the camp feels 100% happier. It is slowly sinking in that we really are free, and that in a few weeks more we shall be as other men, and shall be out of this dreadful country and such terrible memories once and for all. On that happy day when we shall see old England again.’[2]

One may assume that Mr. Kuhn Regnier was one of the prisoners ‘showing great signs of excitement’; but his wish came true. The mission confirmed to South East Asia Command that the Japanese would abide by the Rangoon Agreement. Later that day “Goldfish”, the codeword for commencing of liberation of the PoW camps, was passed to all the MASTIFF-teams. From 28 august the MASTIFF teams entered the camps and from 1 September the camps were supplied by the RAF.


[1] WO 203/5194 (140) & HS 1/326 (3) Adv 347 SQ PI Section to SACSEA, 25 Aug 1945

[2] Lid Hart GB0099 KCLMA Kuhn-Regnier, Diary

Post VJ Day 1945 – Returning home from Thailand and Burma

By Martin Percival

My father, Frank Percival, was called up in December 1939. He was 21 years old. After initial Army training at Seaton Barracks in Plymouth, he was posted to Bradford before heading to Gourock in Scotland to embark on 30th September 1941 on the troop ship ‘Empress of Canada‘. The troops onboard thought they were heading to North Africa – in fact they were enroute for Singapore, disembarking on 28th November 1941. After the short lived Malayan campaign, along with 80,000 plus other Allied military personnel, he was captured in Singapore by the Japanese on 15th February 1942. 

Frank Percival, September 1945. (Courtesy of Martin Percival)

The next 3.5 years saw my father engaged in railway and bridge construction work in Thailand and Burma and by the summer of 1945 aerodrome construction work for the Japanese. Soon after his return home from the war in November 1945 the story of his experiences was published by the local newspaper where he lived in North West London – the Willesden Chronicle and Kilburn Times. This was very unusual. The military had made it clear that they didn’t really want the men returning home to talk about their experiences. My father died in December 1982 and I only discovered the newspaper cutting when I was moving house in 2004. I was both delighted and sad to read it. The whole piece can be found here; https://www.far-eastern-heroes.org.uk/Your_Gods_Stronger_Than_Ours/

Here’s an extract from the article on what he had to say about the period from VJ Day up to his arrival back in the UK: 

“On the night of August 15th 1945. all the Japanese in our camp were drunk. We thought nothing of this, as it was a fairly frequent occurrence. The working party for the aerodrome paraded for work as usual at 8 a.m. on the morning of the 16th, but no Japanese sentries came to take them to work. At 10.30 a.m. the Japanese Commandant made an announcement to the effect that he was going away for a few days and upon his return hoped to have some very good news for us. In the meantime outside working parties would cease. The camp immediately went mad with joy and few slept that night.

On the afternoon of August 20th, a British parachutist major arrived in the camp, gave us details of the cessation of hostilities, said that he and a number of colleagues had been in Siam for some months and arrangements were under way to get us out of Siam as quickly  as possible. He advised us to ignore the Japanese as at that time there were less than 1,000 Allied troops in the country and there were over 100,000 Japanese yet to be disarmed.

The majority took this wise counsel, being loath to prejudice their chances of recovery after having endured so many hardships. Siamese gendarmerie replaced the Japanese guards in the prisoner-of-war camps, and were placed there only for the protection of the ex-prisoners.

We moved down to Bangkok by rail on August 31st and were given wonderful receptions by the Siamese people at every station en route. We departed from Bangkok the following day by Dakota aircraft for Rangoon, and it was not until we were actually on the planes that we felt ourselves out of the clutches of the Japanese.

Our new-found elation was dimmed, however, by the memory for many hundreds of our friends left behind in Siam. They would never again see the shores of England as a result of the bestial treatment meted out to them by their Japanese captors.”

Unlike some of his peers, my father didn’t hate the Japanese. He felt that was pointless. However he never forgot his war time experiences. The war had held a number of lifetime firsts for him. His first time leaving the UK was onboard the ‘Empress of Canada‘ troopship on 30th September 1941 and his first time on a plane was on the Dakota that airlifted him from Bangkok to Rangoon on 1st September 1945. From Rangoon he headed home on 21st September on the troopship Orduna, arriving in Liverpool on 19th October via Colombo and Port Said. Like many returning home the news that greeted him was not all good. His father had died in August 1944 – the letters sent informing him of this sad news eventually caught up with him many months after getting home. Family members have told me that he didn’t talk about his war time experiences during the 1940s and 50s. However by the 1970s and 80s a lot of time had passed and he would talk about his war time experiences to my brother and I. I suspect he found it therapeutic. I am very glad that he did talk.

A Prisoner’s Diary

By Ray Withnall

February 1945. We arrive in Ubon north-east Thailand and ordered to build an airstrip for the Japanese. We’ve been prisoners for 3 long barbaric years.

June. Work on the airstrip is going well. Not too demanding. Local Thais tell us the war in Europe is over.

July. A plane flew over the camp and dropped leaflets with news the allies invaded Japan. Is that really true? The guards are on edge. Next day when we’re ordered to dig trenches across the airstrip. Is it to stop our planes from landing, or have we dug our graves? We’re anxious.

Early August. The Japanese tell us we don’t need to work but they’re as confused as us. Some are friendly, all of them less demanding. Something is in the air.

15 August. Today we saw the guards in a panic burning papers. Rumours that the war is over spread through the camp.

18 August. We’ve been uneasy for the last 2 days. RSM McTavish ordered everyone onto the parade ground.  We were called to attention and Major Chida Sotomatsu, the camp commandant, made an announcement. It was translated:

‘The Greater East Asia war has ended. You must carry on as you have been for some time until your own people come and take you over. I, as camp commandant, wish to thank you all for the good work you have done for me in the group. Higher officials have given out certain orders and it is my wish that you all adhere to these orders in a soldierly manner. I am still responsible for you all until I can hand you over to your own people. Outside work will cease as from tomorrow. Inside work as far as the I.J.A. are concerned is also finished, but work will have to carry on as before for your own benefit. Do your work as exercise. Those of you who are fit must keep fit. Those who are sick must do their utmost to get fit as soon as possible.’

We are free!

24 August. We were stunned at first. We are free but stay in the camp. Local Thais generously bring us food and drink. They’re organising entertainment for us; cinema, dancing, sports, even horse racing. The Thai army spoke to RSM McTavish, but they couldn’t tell him when we will be leaving.

25 August. Colonel Toosey arrived this evening. We gave him a tremendous reception. He said he had been worried about us, but relaxed when he saw us in good shape.

27 August. British officer Major Smiley arrived early this morning. He tells us he’s been in Thailand since May training the Seri Thai resistance. When the Japanese surrendered, he came straight to Ubon. He stayed undercover in case of Japanese revenge attacks. His radio operator contacted HQ to requisition supplies. We need decent clothes. The Thais send in more food.

28 August. Colonel Toosey sent the 20 sick men back to Bangkok with the 4 Americans. No news of our departure. We are organising football with the local Ubon team. We now have a radio and listen to the BBC. We go into Ubon but back before curfew.

22 September. It’s been five frustrating weeks waiting to go home. But we are now on the move. The Australians and 250 of the British have gone. The rest of us go in 2 days. Feeling sorry for the hundreds of Dutch who can’t go home because of fighting in the Dutch East Indies.

(The Dutch are trained in firearms and tactics in anticipation of fighting the insurgents. They eventually leave Thailand in February 1946.)