Tag Archives: VJ Day

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.

On VJ Day, 73: the preciousness of tiny things

Chair of RFHG, Dr Lizzie Oliver, reflects on a year in which the lessons of history have offered a humbling reminder…

October 1945, Bangalore, India. Patrick Thomas Rorke sat writing an extended version of the words that he had spoken to his fellow POWs for the past three and a half years. They were words of patience and love from a man who had seen his compatriots severely beaten and killed before him. They were words of stoicism and forgiveness penned by a chaplain who had sold his vestments in order to buy fruit for the starving, sick men around him. Most humbling of all, they were words of hope and optimism, and of lessons learned during the bleakest of times.

‘Not many could live in the bad days, unless he had the support of friends…We learnt to give and to share and to lend without stint…What generosity and unselfishness was to be found in captivity; what patient and dogged care for those who were sick; what loyalty and comradeship and support for those whose circumstances were broken and bad’.
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

Less than one month before his writing, Rorke had been liberated from Pakanbaroe, the base camp of the Sumatra Railway on which he had been held captive alongside nearly 5,000 Allied POWs and 100,000 romusha.

POWs Sumatra Railway
Former POWs walking along the Sumatra Railway, September 1945. State Library of Victoria.

The railway was completed on 15 August 1945, the same day that Japan surrendered: this year sees the 73rd anniversary of its completion, and of the liberation of those held captive cross Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War.

‘To have to wait, sustained by no real news, disappointed by the deceitfulness of rumours, on and on, week after week, month after month, for the great day. No one ever doubted that it would arrive; but when?’
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

The anniversary of the Japanese surrender is always a poignant day for the communities of people who follow the work of RFHG. Many of us are the family members of those held captive. Many have undertaken painstaking research to find out the smallest details of a relative’s captivity, and have followed fascinating archival threads that help us to understand the why, who or how of this difficult history. As a result, we carry with us the stories that we have heard and read, and we hold fast to our aim of sharing them where we can, and as widely as we can.

After spending the last seven years reading and writing about the Sumatra Railway, and as the granddaughter of a man held captive on the line, perhaps it is inevitable that I  look from time to time to the histories of the camps not just to tell a story to others, but for a source of my own strength.

‘When one has lived so, for three and half years, and kept one’s soul and retained the ability to joke and smile, one feels that life holds no terrors any more. We’ve managed to survive this: we’ll cope with anything now’.
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

Many of you know that at the start of 2018 I found myself in hospital, rather suddenly and unexpectedly, having broken my spine. The months since have been painful and frustrating, and there has been a lot of waiting to feel stronger and to be able to move easier. Plans have been put on hold as the precarity of life was brought starkly into focus.

And yet, I was lucky too. Exceptionally so. And all that waiting meant that I was forced to stop, completely, and appreciate what Rorke would call ‘the preciousness of tiny things’ – the memory of which he and his campmates came to treasure so much.

‘When a man has lost all that makes our life pleasant…he discovers for the first time, probably, the preciousness of tiny things… to sit on a chair and eat at a table from a plate; to walk in real shoes…to have paper to write on and a book to read…
We learnt the secret of contentment not merely by what we lost, but also by what was left to us: real and profound and lasting things that once we took for granted’.
Patrick Rorke (1947),The Wisdom of Adversity.

For all the stories of bruality that can be told about captivity, out of the horror and cruelty grew survival and resilience. The first contributors to our guest blog series have shown just how diverse the connections between history and memory can be: from Mary Munro’s pilgrimage to Hong Kong, to Meg Parkes’ FEPOW art study; Clare Makepeace cycling part of the route of the Sandakan Death March to Louise Reynolds exploring the transgenerational impact of these histories on FEPOW families.

They all remind us that there is much yet to learn from histories of Far Eastern captivity, as we remember VJ Day and those for whom we still tell these stories.

 

© Lizzie Oliver, 2018

HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and Far East POWs

First contact between HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and Far East POWs
August 1945 – Tokyo

To mark the VJ Day 70 events we are reproducing the following extract taken from Prince Philip’s speech at the May 1974 National Federation of FEPOW Clubs and Associations 23rd national conference held in Blackpool. This was later published in the June/July 1974 issue of ‘FEPOW Forum’, the official magazine of the London FEPOW Club.
Reasons for Survival
Luck plays a very big part in ordinary life, but in war the element of luck is literally VITAL. Since I was invited to attend this reunion, I have been looking into the appalling story of POWs in the Far East and I can only say that I blessed my luck that I was not one of them.
I was fortunate enough, during a visit to Thailand some years ago, to see the famous bridge and I took the opportunity to lay a wreath at the camp cemetery, now beautifully looked after by the Imperial War Graves Commission.
I believe that many people assume that the POWs in the Far East were kept either in Singapore or in Siam. In fact, at the end of the war, prisoners were found in Rangoon, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Siam, Saigon, Borneo, Macassar, Hong Kong, Formosa, Korea, Manchuria and Japan. So far as the British were concerned the major concentrations were 7,000 in Singapore, 13,000 in Siam, 9,000 in Japan and 2,300 in Saigon.
It seems to be one of the peculiarities of human existence that there is always a good side and a bad side to everything we do. In war this contrast becomes even more marked as it brings out both the best and worst in people. This is so brilliantly illustrated by the comradeship and self-sacrifice of the Prisoners of War and the inhuman brutality of those who held them captive in the Far East.
My only personal contact with Prisoners of War in the Far East was when I was serving on the destroyer ‘HMS Whelp’ in the British Pacific Fleet. In August 1945 we found ourselves part of the escort for the flagships of the American and British Pacific Fleets on our way to Japan immediately after her capitulation. The two battleships, ‘Duke of York’ and ‘Missouri’ escorted by four US and two British destroyers, approached the Japanese coast and with considerable caution anchored for the night in Sagami Bay at the entrance of Tokyo Harbour. Suddenly, just before dusk, there was a lot of activity amongst the guard boats and later on we learned that two swimmers had been picked up. It then turned out that two Royal Marine POWs, who had escaped from their camp near Tokyo the day before, were walking along the coast when they saw, to their considerable astonishment, a fleet of Allied Ships and promptly decided swim off and join them. We felt this was a splendid welcome and we sailed to Tokyo, determined to get all of the other prisoners out as soon as possible.
Owing to one thing and another, the evacuation of prisoners could not get started quite as quickly as we would have liked but within a few days the two British destroyers were ferrying released POWs from the shore to some escort carriers which had been made ready to receive them. In spite of the surrender ceremonies, it was this job of providing the first step to freedom of these prisoners that made me realise that the war was over at last. It was a moving experience. Many of the ex-prisoners happened to be sailors and as we gave them the usual cups of tea in the wardroom and the messes, we just sat in silence as we thought what this moment must have meant to them and many guests and hosts were quite unashamed to shed a tear.
Next year it will be 30 years since your captivity came to an end. All of you suffered in one way or another and many of you are now getting on in years. I believe the nation has a very special responsibility for your welfare in old age. I am quite sure that the Far East Prisoners of War Association will see to it that no-one in sickness, old age or distress will ever be forgotten or neglected.

VJ Day – Newcastle

VJ Day 70th Anniversary – Newcastle

On 15 august The Royal British Legion will be holding a service in Newcastle at the Burma Star Memorial: Everyone  in the area is invited to attend. There will be a buffet 1030hrs at Jesmond RBL  Post Code E2 3EX. Please Telephone 01912810736 for details.

VJ-Day in London

Queen and Royal Family set to mark 70th anniversary of VJ-Day in London:

The 70th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day will be commemorated by the Royal Family on Saturday 15th August as The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, will attend a service at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square.

On the same day, the Prince of Wales will be accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall as they attend a Drumhead Service and wreath laying ceremony on Horse Guards Parade followed by a reception in the grounds of Westminster Abbey.

See Royal Central  for full details