MPhil, Honary Research Fellow, LSTM
Together with Mike Parkes, Jonathan Moffatt and Julie Summers I helped to establish the Researching FEPOW History research conferences back in 2005. We have hosted them roughly every two or three years. Initially we met at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) and more recently at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM).Our aim is to bring together a wide range of speakers and delegates to share knowledge, research and experiences.
My FEPOW research interests led me to work with Emeritus Professor Geoff Gill at LSTM to conduct an oral history study with FEPOW veterans. Most recently we have conducted a 7-year investigation of contemporaneous and previously unseen FEPOW artwork.
How did you become interested in FEPOW history?
My interest was sparked by getting to know my father’s FEPOW diaries when I was in my late teens. He had survived captivity in Java and Japan. I subsequently transcribed the diaries and after his death felt an overwhelming need to share what he had written about and sketched (as a draughtsman rather than an artist). In 2002 and 2003 I self-published the diaries in two books.
I enjoy sharing what I have learned, especially the oral history interviews and artwork research.
Work outside RFHG
I was proud to be awarded an Honorary Research Fellowship by LSTM in 2014. The investigation into FEPOW unseen artwork created during captivity was part-funded by the Wellcome Trust who provided a grant to enable me to travel around the UK and to Singapore and Jakarta in 2013. Our investigation quickly grew until we had identified and located the work of 69 British FEPOW artists. Thanks to further grant funding from the Lottery’s Heritage Fund, several trusts and many individuals, and to our partnership with the Victoria Gallery & Museum (VG&M) in Liverpool, we staged the “Secret Art of Survival” exhibition which opened in late October 2019. It was due to run until mid-June 2020 but closed after just four months due to the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, during that brief time over 12,500 people visited the exhibition, many leaving comments and appreciation for having been introduced to this extraordinary and until now, largely unknown canon of war art. LSTM’s FEPOW projects including the art investigation are recorded at www.captivememories.org.uk
External orgnisations / memberships
I am a member of both the Java FEPOW 1942 Club and COFEPOW.
I self-published my father’s diaries in two parts: “Notify Alec Rattray…” (2002) and “… A. A. Duncan is OK” (2003).
I have co-authored with Geoff Gill: Captive Memories, Far East prisoners of war and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (2015 & 2016) and Burma Railway Medicine, Disease, Death and Survival on the Thai-Burma Railway, 1942-1945. For our third book, Captive Artists, the unseen art of British Far East prisoners of war (2019), we collaborated with Jenny Wood, retired senior art curator at the Imperial War Museums in London. All three books were published by Palatine Books.
In sharing what we know about FEPOW history, however little that may seem to the individual, can reap such rewards. Our mantra at the conferences is “to share what you know and to revisit one’s sources in the light of any new information.”
It is up to us, the descendants of FEPOW and those who understand the depth of this history, to ensure that it is not forgotten.