I am Dr. Bernice Archer. My PhD research focused on the British, Dutch and American men women and children (Western civilians) who were interned by the Japanese in the Far East during World War II. My first introduction to the RFHG was speaking about my research at RFHG the early conferences at the Arboretum in Staffordshire. Following that I attended and presented at various RFHG conferences in Liverpool. In around 2016/17 I was delighted to be invited to join the RFHG team. I took up the role of conference secretary in 2017, a post I have enjoyed and held since then
How did you become interested in FEPOW history?
I became interested in civilian internment in the F.E. when I was preparing my special study for my History BA in Bristol. I was aware that my neighbour had been interned in Stanley Camp Hong Kong during the war and I persuaded her to let me interview her about her experiences. That led to my realisation of how little I knew about that part of the Second World War. Further research revealed that there was so much material about the various battles in the F.E. and also a great deal about the experiences of military POWs, but little about the experiences of the civilian internees. Having completed my BA I decided to further my research under a PhD umbrella at Essex University. During the 1990s I travelled around the U.K., visited Hong Kong and Singapore, explored and examined archives, read diaries and also had the privilege of interviewing a number of British, Dutch and American men and women and children who had been interned in a variety of camps across the F.E.. Many had never told their stories before and I owe them a debt of gratitude for sharing their often emotional and moving stories with me. Subsequently some became my dear friends.
I remain very interested in the ‘alternative’ ways the Far .Eastern internees tell their stories e.g. embroidery, art work,(drawings, paintings, sketches) their poems and music.
Work outside RFHG
There is still a great deal that can be and needs to be explored into the civilian internment experience but owing to family commitments my time is limited. But I am more than happy to share and encourage research by new and younger researchers. I fear that as this group of civilian internees age and pass away their stories, diaries and other treasured items may not be recognized as valuable by their families and maybe thrown away. I already know of one valuable item being found in a jumble sale in Bristol. So I would encourage any family who had family members interned in the F.E. during the Second World War to seek advice from museums and RFHG researchers, me included, before disposing of any large or small artefacts, diaries, drawings and or embroideries.
While I was working at the British empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol ( now defunct) I curated part of the 2001 temporary exhibition. My part focused on civilian internment in the Far East.
In 2004 my book The Internment of Western Civilians Under the Japanese 1941-45 – a Patchwork of Internment.was published in hard back by RoutledgeCurzon and in soft back by H.K.University Press in 2007.
I have also published papers on the Changi Quilts and other embroideries created by the women in various internment camps, and have presented at a number papers on different aspects of civilian internment at various conferences related to the war in the F.E.