The Education section of the website is designed primarily for use by teachers and pupils who wish to learn more about the experiences of British forces held in captivity in the Far East during the Second World War.
The website has been created by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) as a home for its FEPOW Oral History Project.
This study, run in partnership with the Imperial War Museum’s Sound Archive in London, is based on interviews with 62 FEPOW recorded from 2007 to 2009. These men, all in their late 80s and 90s, shared memories of their experiences in captivity in the Far East. LSTM wishes to make these interviews accessible to the wider public. Read more about this project here.
Education Pilot Study
The information and resources in this section have come from a two-year pilot study currently being conducted by LSTM in partnership with Pensby High School for Girls in Wirral, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The school has over 800 pupils aged from 11 to 18 and is a specialist Business, Enterprise and Science College.
This Education project is looking at ways in which material from the FEPOW Oral History archive can be integrated into a range of subjects across the secondary curriculum. At Pensby, pupils in different year groups have been introduced to FEPOW history through a variety of activities in the following subjects: Science, Art, Design Technology, History, English, Drama, Ethics, Media, ICT and Music.
The topic has been introduced to year groups in a variety of different ways, using themes such as "Bamboo" or "Survival" and medical history. Two 6th Form students attended a unique FEPOW medical history meeting in Liverpool hosted by LSTM, at which eight FEPOW met with doctors, scientists, historians and researchers to discuss their experiences in captivity and the aftermath. They later contributed to the project by giving a presentation to younger pupils based on what they had learnt from the meeting.
Whole year group activities have included a FEPOW History Study day, which included guest speaker, 92 year old FEPOW, Fergus Anckorn, a veteran of the Thailand-Burma Railway camps.
There have been visits to the Imperial War Museum North at Salford Quays as well as cross-curricular project work, for example, an Art and Creative Writing day at the University of Liverpool's Botanical Gardens at Ness in South Wirral, themed around bamboo.
LSTM and FEPOW
LSTM has been concerned with the health of FEPOW since early 1946. Research conducted by staff at the Tropical School over the past six decades, both scientific and historical, relates to the experiences of British servicemen. For more detailed information about this work click here.
FEPOW History Facts
- more than 50,000 British servicemen (Army, Navy and Royal Air Force) were captured by the Japanese across South East Asia, between December 1941 and March 1942
- most FEPOW spent over three and a half years in captivity in camps in jungles, towns, cities and on coral islands across South East Asia
- FEPOW were used as a slave labour force by the Japanese
- approximately 25% of FEPOW died as a result of disease, malnutrition, neglect and brutality (in contrast to under 5% of British deaths in European captivity)
NB There were also thousands of civilians - men, women and children (known as internees) -British and other nationalities, taken into captivity across the region
- thousands of FEPOW were transported by sea between countries under appalling conditions as a slave labour force for large scale industrial projects
- Transport ships like the one depicted in the illustration on the right were tramp steamers. These became known as a “hellships” due to the appalling conditions on board which FEPOW describe as being like the slave ship transports of 200 years earlier
- The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. Over 37,500 British FEPOW were gradually liberated by the Allies and they slowly returned to Britain during the autumn of that year
- Some of these men came to the attention of the medical staff of LSTM early on, in particular those who had returned to homes across the north of England (several regiments captured in the Far East had been drawn from the northeast of England, Lancashire, Manchester, and Scotland)
- During captivity FEPOW suffered from tropical infections such as malaria, dysentery and dengue fever. The majority of POW suffered from the effects of prolonged malnutrition – vitamin deficiency diseases like beriberi and pellagra, due to neglect as a result of poor nutrition
- A record of the conditions only exists thanks to men with artistic talents, such as this drawing by Lt Stanley Gimson, who took huge personal risks to record the squalor and degradation of their day to day existence
- Repeated epidemics of infectious diseases, such as diphtheria and cholera, ran their course largely untreated by the Japanese, resulting in a high death toll. Tropical ulcers on body and limbs, caused by the lack of basic treatment for infected wounds, also wreaked havoc on weakened and emaciated bodies. Such conditions led to remarkable feats of ingenuity and inventiveness in medicine, food and hygiene. This watercolour below, which was painted by Private Jack Chalker, shows how bamboo was used to create medical equipment to treat tropical ulcers – this is a saline irrigation apparatus made by using old tin cans, bits of stethoscope tubing, bamboo and twine
- LSTM had the expertise to treat these men. Never before had such a large number of European men been subjected to myriad tropical infections and survived to return home. FEPOW patients presented LSTM scientists and clinicians with a unique opportunity to learn. They conducted rigorous scientific research over many years, which ultimately led to improved diagnostic testing and treatment. This research still informs the treatment of returning troops from service overseas
- In more recent years, as the number of FEPOW patients has diminished, LSTM has shifted the focus of investigation into history. Several research projects have been undertaken studying FEPOW experiences in depth
Why is FEPOW History not more widely known?
Since the end of World War Two, FEPOW stood apart from other war veterans, in that they largely chose to remain silent about their experiences. There was not the same public interest in their story: few personal accounts were published in the first thirty years post-war and most popular films were about the war in Europe.
There are many hypotheses for this silence.
A significant number of FEPOW interviewed for the Oral History project described their "collective sense of shame at being a defeated force." They had been young, in their prime and ready to fight for their country when they, and thousands of other troops, disembarked in the Far East. Almost immediately they were told to lay down their weapons and walk into prisoner of war camps.
Perhaps war historians are not motivated to investigate "defeat" in the same way that they do "victory"? Defeat holds little honour for survivors. Those in the Far East had little opportunity to make daring escapes unlike their European counterparts. At the end of the war, those held in European prisoner of war camps were liberated by conquering forces that had driven back the enemy in hard, bitter and relentless battles.
There were also relentless battles in the Far East. But it was one defining factor that brought the war there to its swift end: FEPOW owe their liberation to the dropping of two atomic bombs. In the post-war years, the growing and noisy debate about the validity of using such weapons must surely have overshadowed many FEPOW who may have wanted, or needed, to talk?
Furthermore, many FEPOW interviewed for the project recalled being told not to talk about their experiences, by the repatriating authorities in late 1945. This advice was meant to prevent them from being overwhelmed by the relatives of those who had died in the Far East. Other FEPOW felt an unwillingness to share harrowing memories with close family. Some simply expressed their desire to leave the past behind.
In later life it became very apparent to FEPOW that there was little public interest in their experience. In the early 1980s the country had commemorated, for the first time, anniversaries associated with World War Two. The culmination of the 40th anniversary events, in August 1985, saw the FEPOW story virtually ignored in comparison to the attention given just months earlier to the European theatre of war, the tales of captivity, escapes and victory.
FEPOW realised that "their story" could not be told unless they chose to share it.
At about the same time, researchers at LSTM were coming to the end of almost two decades of screening FEPOW as part of their Tropical Disease Investigations (TDIs) and the associated medical research programme. From the 1990s and into the 21st century, LSTM has shifted the focus of enquiry to FEPOW history and experiences and several research projects have been undertaken, two of the most recent being:
FEPOW Oral History Project – in partnership with the Imperial War Museum's (IWM) Sound Archive, London
In 2007 LSTM initiated an Oral History Project to find and interview up to fifty FEPOW. Within two years sixty-two Far East veterans had been interviewed. These men, all now in their late 80s or 90s, represent the fast-dwindling number of FEPOW survivors. Through these interviews these elderly gentlemen have shared not only memories of their experiences but also their unique long-term perspective.
FEPOW History Education Project – in partnership with Pensby High School for Girls
In 2009 the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded LSTM a grant to enable the oral history interviews to be used in a secondary education pilot study. A two-year project run by LSTM, in partnership with Pensby High School for Girls in Wirral, commenced in November 2009, introducing aspects of FEPOW history in subjects across the curriculum. Pensby High School for Girls is a Business & Enterprise and Science Specialist College of over 811 pupils.
What follows in this section are the results of this pilot study. FEPOW history has been introduced across the curriculum and year groups in a series of workshops and projects using first hand accounts, either oral history interviews or visits by veterans to talk to the pupils. NB audio clip extracts from the FEPOW oral history archive and these visits are available to view or listen to here.
Information given here has been designed to be shared with other schools, colleges, other learning institutions worldwide who may also like to introduce pupils or students to this history, and the lessons for life that it contains. It is also being made available and promoted to professional historians and researchers and to members of the public with an interest in FEPOW history research.
View Maurice Naylor, former FEPOW in camps in Singapore and Thailand, giving the FEPOW Address at the 2010 Researching FEPOW History conference (RFHC), on Saturday 9 October (external link to the RFHC website).