October 11, 2013

Singapore

One major tragedy for East Anglia during the Second World War was the capture of Singapore by the Japanese.  Just a week or so before it’s fall the Territorial Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment were transported by ship from Britain to Singapore in a vain attempt to boost it’s defences, in particular the 5th Battalion which was recruited from Bury St. Edmunds and the surrounding districts, including Brandon.
The fall of Singapore would become Britain’s largest ever defeat in modern warfare. For the men caught up in the Far East their ordeal was just beginning.  There would be horrors and hardships to endure for almost 4 years.  They would be the lucky ones, many would not survive.

For those relatives and wives at home there would be intense worry and not helped by constant rumours of the atrocities filtering through.  Then there were the counter-rumours giving stories of how well the men were being treated.   Every month came a new list of men missing or confirmed as a P.O.W. Many who were listed as missing would later be re-classified as a P.O.W. or presumed dead.  Although the fall of Singapore was in early 1942 many relatives would hear nothing for over a year, some even had to wait until 1944.  A few would never know what happened to their loved ones, just a cold letter saying they were killed in action.

1942

PRESS REPORTS – These messages were printed in the Bury Free Press:

“An officer of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders escaped and a friend of our’s has just seen him. He says the prisoners in Singapore are well treated on the whole and that the Japanese General in charge of them is a Christian churchman – a Roman Catholic – who was educated at Oxford … I do think the fact that the Christian General is in charge, with English education, does make an enormous difference to our anxiety and I hope will find strong hope in it.”

In June, from Cambridge another letter:

“I have good news to give you. I had a letter from Ted Furse’s mother this week. She has had word from the father of a man who escaped 12 days after the fall of Singapore that the prisoners were being well treated up to the day he left and that all were at work repairing the damage that had been done. It is a blessing that they have got something to pass the time. How will they each react to this captivity I do not know and we must just hope for the best. It is very comforting in the meantime to have this news.”

And the Mayoress of Bury St. Edmunds wrote an invitation to all relatives of those missing in the Bury Free Press:

“We should like, through your paper, to invite the next-of-kin of the 5th Battalion Suffolk Regiment to come to a meeting at the Athenæum on Friday 26th June at 3 o’clock when it is hoped we may be able to meet all those who have relatives in the Battalion.

I am writing as the Chairman of a small welfare committee, which was approved before the Battalion left England. We are anxious to be of assistance in any way possible.”

February 1943

THE MAYORESS OF BURY ST. EDMUNDS WROTE:

“I am anxious to give all assistance to Service families affected by this decision, and, therefore, and would be glad if any relative who would like their letters typed would send their names to me at the Mayor’s Parlour, Borough Offices, Bury St. Edmunds.

I would also like to have the names of anyone who would volunteer to help civilians in this work.”

MARCH 1943

CONFLICTING STORIES –  Mrs. Blackhouse, the wife of Brigadier E.H.W. Blackhouse, P.O.W. in the Far East after his capture in Singapore, quoted some of the many letters received from P.O.Ws in the Far East.  In a speech to the patrons at the Odeon cinema in Bury St. Edmunds and in response to questions asked by families if their parcels were in fact reaching the men.
“We have a Red Cross parcel every week, so the sun still shines.”
“Believe me, the Red Cross parcels are life-savers.”

LETTERS TO P.O.W.s – Instructions of how to contact the P.O.W.s were given, although the vast majority of the letters and parcels would never get to their intended recipients, instead they were either hoarded in huts by the Japanese guards and only discovered after the war, or just lost or destroyed.
How to address letters for Japanese-Occupied Territories.  Provisional arrangements ahead of a deal with the Japanese to forward mail.
The letters and postcards should bear the words, “Prisoner Of War Post” in the top left-hand corner and no postage be prepaid.
For Prisoners Of War the address should be in the following form:-

NAVY: For Officers, rank; name (In block letters); R.N. (R.N.R. or R.N.V.R.); name of ship;
For ratings; rating, initials; name (In block letters); official number; name of ship;
ARMY: For Officers; rank; initials; name (In block letters); name of Regiment or Corps; locality where serving or last heard of;
For other ranks; personal number; rank; initials; name (In block letters); name of Regiment or Corps; locality where serving or last heard of;
AIR FORCE: For Officers; rank; initials; name (In block letters); R.A.F.; locality where serving or last heard of;
For Airmen; personal number; rank; initials; name (In block letters); R.A.F.; locality where serving or last heard of;
Local Defence Forces: Name (In block letters); preceded by initials; name of unit; Hong Kong (or Malaya) followed by:
British Prisoner of War, c/o Prisoner of War Information Bureau, Tokyo.
For Civilians: The letters and postcards should bear the words “Prisoner of War Post”, and the form of address should be:
Name (In block letters), followed by the last known address, Malaya (or Burma, Hong Kong, China, etc.)
Name and address of sender should appear on the back of the envelope.
Only letters and postcards may be posted. Parcels and packets will not be forwarded.
No one should write more than once a week.

1943

GOVERNMENT PRESS STATEMENTS –  A statement from a War Office official, printed in a January 1943 edition of the Bury Free Press.

“It is understood that some 10,000 P.O.Ws are now interned in Japan, 5,000 in Korea and 5,000 in Formosa. It is believed that about half of those P.O.Ws are American and the other half are United Kingdom, Canadian and Australian.

The Protecting Power has received permission to visit certain camps in this area, and also in Hong Kong and Shanghai but no reports of these visits have yet been received.

The International Red Cross Committee’s delegate in Tokio has visited three P.O.W. camps of which two are at Yokohama and one at Shishagana. Conditions in these camps appear from his telegraphic reports to be comparatively satisfactory. The standard of living to which our P.O.Ws have had to adapt themselves is that of the Japanese troops.

The food consists largely of rice, though some bread is issued and fair quantities of vegetables and fish. The meat ration is extremely small.

A number of prisoners are suffering from tropical diseases contracted in the area from which they have been moved. The most serious are treated in Japanese military hospitals. Other cases are tended by British doctors in camp infirmaries. Medical treatment is handicapped by a lack of medicaments, which appears to be general throughout the Far East. Considerable quantities of medicaments were, however, sent to the Far East by the Allied Red Cross Societies on the last diplomatic exchange, and some of these supplies have been distributed.

P.O.Ws in Japan are employed in factories and in the docks of Japanese ports.

They work for eight hours a day.”

MAYORESS OF BURY ST EDMUNDS WROTE: 

“I am anxious to give all assistance to Service families affected by this decision, and, therefore, and would be glad if any relative who would like their letters typed would send their names to me at the Mayor’s Parlour, Borough Offices, Bury St. Edmunds.

I would also like to have the names of anyone who would volunteer to help civilians in this work.”

AUGUST 1943

MAYOR’S FUND – The Bury St Edmunds Mayor led West Fund for the Prisoners Of War held by the Japanese, stood at £17,029 9s 11d and the money was raised by various events such as, whist drives, dances, concerts, fetes, house to house collections. Of this total £2 15s 10d was raised by Brandon.

A 1943 GOVERNMENT STATEMENT ON THE FAR EASTERNS P.O.Ws – 

  1. Notification of the men’s names. The P.O.Ws are first listed by the enemy government, then the list is forwarded to the Swiss Government and then to the International Red Cross Committee at Geneva, they then pass the details on to the British Government in London. The Japanese have so far not given full lists.
  2. Conditions. The Swiss representatives should have been allowed to visit the camps under the Prisoner Of War Convention, but since the war in the Far East the Japanese has informed these representatives that they would not be allowed to visit.
  3. The Japanese are not allowing ships carrying food and medicines to enter waters under their control.

“On all these matters, and many others, representatives and proposals at the request of His Majesty’s Government have been made to Japan by the Swiss Government. Everything possible is being done to lessen the anxiety caused through lack of news and to provide for the welfare of our people in Japanese hands.”

October 1943

PRISONERS OF WAR RELATIVES MEETING – There will be a Meeting of Relatives and Friends of the Prisoners of War at THE ATHENAEUM, BURY ST. EDMUNDS.  Tuesday, Oct. 12th, 1943, at 3 p.m.   Chairman: HIS WORSHIP THE MAYOR.   Speaker: Mr. S. G. King  (Far Eastern Section British Red Cross Prisoners of War Department)

Although Mr. King’s talk is mainly intended for relatives and friends of ALL Prisoners of War, those who have relatives in the Far East will be very welcome at this meeting.

There was a very large gathering at The Atheneum for this meeting.  Mr. King said that the Japanese had provided 30,000 names of men captured but 22,000 were still unaccounted for. Not one single letter or card sent to Malaya since January, 1943, had been received and because of the strict rationing in Japan many of the food parcels were not getting to the men either. But he emphasised,

“… there has not up the present day been a single authenticated case of atrocities against the Prisoners of War in any camp or civil internment camp in the Far East. Rumours must not be listened to. I think you will agree that the position could be worse and I hope your minds will be a little easier.”

He added that the prisoners were keeping pigs and poultry and were working for pay of between 1½d to 6d a day. He added that he was also sure that the men were aware of the war situation.  After the speeches were over, relatives swamped Mr. King asking him questions.

RED CROSS –  Between October ’42 and February ’43 the Red Cross sent 5,700 tons of clothing to the Far East. It was not the fault of the Red Cross, they stated, if the packages were not reaching the men, as the Japanese were unable to provide the ships to transport them.

1944

LORD IRONSIDE –  In July, at a meeting in the Athenæum, Bury St. Edmunds, Lord Ironside said this about the letters and parcels being sent to the POWS in Japanese hands …

“I believe myself that many of the things we send our prisoners in Japanese hands get there far easier than do their letters that come back from them. There are no interpreters and the enemy is very suspicious. Letters from home are a great influence to our prisoners of war wherever they are. Keep up your letters. We will see that these precious parcels, which are a gift through the Red Cross, are kept going, reminding the recipients of the old country. Put the spirit of old England into your letters.”

He also said that the men had been given

“… a practically impossible task when they had been asked to fight in a temperature that they were not used to, especially after a long sea journey. The Japanese had almost won the battle by the time they arrived and then they were just passed into Japanese captivity.”

SEPTEMBER 1945

NAMES OF P.O.Ws – The Bury Free Press reported that the following men were listed as Prisoners Of War and had been held captive by the Japanese during the war, but were now safe. Some were in India and others in Australia.

  • William Kent, 2nd son of Mr and Mrs Kent, Fishponds, Brandon.
  • Gunner E Stebbing, husband of Mrs E Stebbing, The Ram Hotel.
  • Sergeant R Caward, husband of Mrs R Caward, High Lodge, Brandon.
  • Private F Royal, Cambs Regiment, son of Mr and Mrs R Royal, 155 Thetford Road.
  • Corporal H Lockwood, husband of Mrs H Lockwood, 100 Thetford Road.

The following has been confirmed as dying as a P.O.W.

  • Henry Kent, elder son of Mr and Mrs Kent, Fishponds, Brandon.

DECEMBER 1945

REUNION –  On Friday 5th December the Bury Free Press included this invitation from the 5th Battalion Suffolk Regiment to those men in the battalion who were held as Japanese P.O.Ws.


5th Battalion


The Suffolk Regiment


A reunion will be held in the Corn Exchange, Bury St. Edmunds, at 7pm on Saturday December 29th, 1945.  All ranks who have served with the Battalion since May, 1939 are invited.  Tickets (5s) may be obtained on written application to the Hon. Sec. Major P.N. Fletcher, 5th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment, 77a College Lane, Bury St. Edmunds.  These must be applied for by the 15th December 1945.


BRANDON’S MIA – KIA (Dated by the year relatives were informed they were missing, prisoner or killed.)

1942
James H. Malt, Lance Corporal, Royal Engineers, Missing – Parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Malt, lived at, Bury Road.
Sidney Glaister, Private, Cambridgeshire Regiment, Missing – Parents, Mr. and Mrs. A Glaister, lived at White Horse Street in Town Street.
Henry Kent, Sapper, Royal Engineers, Missing – Parents, Mr. and Mrs. S. Kent, lived at Fishponds.

1943
K. L. Adams, Private, Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiment, POW – Wife, Mrs. E. Adams, lived at Thetford Road.
Douglas Ashley, Sapper, Royal Engineers, POW – Wife, Mrs. L. Ashley, lived at The Rookery, Town Street.
Albert Branch, Sapper, Royal Engineers, POW – Mother, Mrs. F. Branch, lived at Thetford Road. Mrs. Branch also had another son reported as missing at this time, and also two nephews serving in India.
W. A. Coppin, Private, Norfolk Regiment, POW – Wife, Mrs. W. Coppin, lived at London Road.
Albert Carter, Private, R.A.M.C., POW – Parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. Carter, lived at London Road.
George Keys, Sapper, Royal Engineers, POW – Mother-in-law, Mrs. F. Branch, lived at Thetford Road. Sapper Keys was reported missing in Feb. 1942 and in April of the same year his wife died at the West Suffolk Hospital leaving a six year old son.
C. Branch, Sergeant, Royal Engineers, POW – Wife, Mrs. M. E. Branch, lived at Thetford Road.
Sidney Glaister, Private, Cambridgeshire Regiment, POW – Father, Mr A Glaister, lived at White Horse Street.
V. Jones, Private, Cambridgeshire Regiment, POW – Wife, Mrs. Jones, lived at Manor Road.
B. Catchpole, Private, POW – Lived at London Road
A. Palmer, Sapper, Royal Engineers, POW – Wife, Mrs. A. Palmer, lived at Thetford Road.
Charles Ashley, Lance Corporal, POW – Wife, Mrs. C. W. Ashley, lived at Laundry Cottages, Santon Downham.
H. Winter, Private, Royal Norfolks, POW – Lived at Town Street.

1944
H. Croxall, Private, POW – Wife, Mrs. H. Croxall, lived at Crown Street.
Reginald Ridgeon, Private, Cambridgeshire Regiment POW – Mother, Mrs. M. Ridgeon of George Street.
F. Royal, Private, Cambridgeshire Regiment, POW – Parents, Mr. & Mrs. R. Royal, of Thetford Road.
Branch, Sergeant, POW – Wife, Mrs. Branch, lived at Thetford Road.