|Dad's troopship, the Empress
of Asia, was bombed and sunk by the Japanese in the Sundai Straits between Java and
Sumatra. He was rescued by an Australian sloop the 'Yarra' and taken to Singapore.
Following capitulation and the fall of Singapore, Dad became a Prisoner-of-War (P.O.W.)
and was interned in Changi Gaol by the Japanese. As far as his family knew he was simply
"missing" and did not learn of his P.O.W. status for over 18 months.
He was then sent up country from Nakon Paton to Non Pladuk, Banpong, Tamuang,
Kanchanaburi, Tamakan, Chunkai and Takanun, some 120miles.
He was put to work on the 'Bridge over the River Kwai' (or more correctly, the Tamakan
Bridge) and the notorious Burma/Siam railway, known as 'The Death Railway', where it is
said that for every railway sleeper laid a P.O.W. died.
He often travelled in cramped, oven-hot steel railway cattle carriages, shared with
acutely sick and dying colleagues and surrounded by vomit and excrement. For the most part
he marched through jungle in either ankle-deep mud and monsoon rains or under the tropical
sun, with no shoes or clothes for protection except for a 'Jap Happy' (resembling a G
He, like so many of his fellow P.O.W.'s suffered severe malnutrition, impossible workloads
and working hours, tropical leg ulcers (for some this resulted in amputation, often
without anaesthetic, as the Japs kept such Red Cross supplies which were meant for the
P.O.W.'s for themselves) malaria, dysentry, cholera. beri-beri and incessant and
systematic beatings and torture from petulant Jap guards.
The more psychopathic Jap guards had developed a technique whereby they could work
themselves up into a maniacal frenzy and then would think nothing of unleashing a
ferocious attack with whatever came to hand on a P.O.W. for some trivial and often
On one occasion a fellow P.O.W. gave Dad a piece of canvas, which had previously been used
as a groundsheet, to give him at least some protection whilst sleeping out in the open
under monsoon rains.
This piece of canvas was identified by a paranoid Jap
|guard as a piece of Jap Army
tent and claimed it had been deliberately destroyed by P.O.W.'s. For his crime Dad was
made to stand to attention unprotected in the tropical sun outside a guard hut. He was
made to move into the sun each time he found himself in the shade. During this time he
received repeated beatings with each successive guard change until the Jap Commandant
decided the 'debt' had been repaid.
On another occasion Dad was given what had become the commonplace task of filling in a
mass grave. He noticed that one P.O.W. in the grave was still alive, Dad jumped in and
carried the man to the edge of the grave. The Jap Guard screamed "you or him",
laughed hysterically and then smashed the butt of his rifle into the side of Dad's head.
Dad consequently lost the sight of his right eye. Dare to defend yourself and you would be
either beaten to death or beheaded.
Throughout all this Dad retained his dignity and spirit. He was one of the lucky ones
(everything is relative) as, unlike most of his pals, he survived.
Upon returning home he was skeletal and had recurrent nightmares of the hell he had been
through. No routine counselling in those days and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder hadn't
been 'invented'. Dad just had to get on with his life and, typical of the man, he was very
successful at this too.
Later in life he suffered many 'mini strokes' and on two occasions broke his back
following collapses. He was diagnosed as having Cerebral Atrophy and Osteoporosis. He
spent the last eight years of his life bedridden, unable to speak, eat or move.
All this was attributed to his P.O.W. experiences. Somehow, he retained a wonderful sense
of humour and laughed in the face of such terrible adversity.
Dad died at home on 14th September 2001 aged 82. He was the most courageous person I have
ever known. He was also my best friend.
Oh, and for the benefit of the forty something lame-brain referred to on page 5 of Issue
no 3 of @ Sheringham, he didn't have a wrinkle in his face!
Terry Loudwell, Woodland Rise West.