Q. Thank you, Victor, for taking part in the project, could I ask you if you could give me your name, age, branch of service that you served in, and your rank, please.
My name is Victor Cole. I was serving with the 9th regiment of the, the artillery in Singapore which has 15inch guns, coastal defence. I was taken prisoner of war in February 1942 and I'm now aged 90.
Q. And could I ask what rank you were?
For a lot of the time out in Singapore I was a gunner, and I was transferred to the Military Police as a civilian - wore what they called civilian clothes, did what was called defence security police and we went on to the boats in Singapore, finding these people who were anti-sabotage. Quite a bit of it about in those days.
And then, because I was doing that, I had a rank, when I was referred back to the - when the whole thing collapsed, everything began to get a bit naughty - and what we did then, we went back to the unit and I reverted to the rank of gunner.
Q. Thank you. And was that with the Royal Artillery?
Royal Artillery, yes
Q. Could you tell me please, where, when and how were you captured?
We blew our guns up, er, about six days before the Japs actually arrived on the island, and, subsequently we became independent infantry. And we went into Singapore, which is 13 miles from Changi and, I was asked if.., we were asked if we could, if anybody could drive, because all vehicles that were driven - the RASC, ambulances and lorries and so forth - they were eventually told to go back to their families so they weren't in the British Army anymore and then they wanted volunteers to drive ambulances. And I went along the Bukit Timah Road to pick up wounded. The wounded that I picked up, I think I did about four trips along the Bukit Timah Road, which is past the, um, the golf course and, the Singapore race course and the Ford, they had a vehicle, a vehicle assembly plant along there. And of course, at that time along the road was being bombed as well, big anti-personnel bombs, it was a bit frightening. And the last, the last consignment of people I brought back were the dead. And I said the Sergeant, where can I take them?
There were about 20 soldiers dead in the ambulance, and I just stacked them up. And he said, ‘Take 'em to the mortuary at the general hospital in Singapore.’ When I got to the mortuary, it was absolute chaos, y' couldn't get anywhere near the mortuary, there were bodies all over the grass; there was a, digger there digging a huge pit in front of the hospital, the hospital building there, and there were hundreds of bodies in there being sprayed with lime or what-av-you. But, we managed, we coped, and then I was in Singapore then for about four or five months, and we were eventually we were sent up on to the railway.
Q. So when you say you were in Singapore, where you in Changi?
Q. Right... So the Japanese arrived on the island, and were you very quickly rounded up?
Oh yes, very much so. I can... I can tell you all sorts of things appertaining to that, but I don't think it's very interesting...
I tried to escape on numerous occasions and some of the lads who got out of Changi to get food, they, they were shot, you might as well put their names on my wrist there – Hunter, Jefferson, McCann - they're from my regiment, well I thought, that's it, no more escaping. But I was eventually caught and we were sent to a place about 400 yards away from Changi prison, to a compound which was occupied by the Hong Kong Singapore... the Hong Kong regiment. They were Sikhs and they knocked us about. They went over to the Japanese. And then eventually, after about three weeks there, we came back to our own unit in Changi and then we were sent up on the railway. We left these iron trucks, cattle trucks, at a place called Alor Star [more likely Ban Pong in Thailand]. And from there, from Alostar, which is on the border between Malaya and Siam, which it was then, we built the railway, all the way through, 250 miles.
Q So were you some of the first POW to go up to the railway?
Virtually, yes, yes we were.
Q So would that have been within a few weeks, of you being in Changi?
Early summertime '42?
Q Right... who was in charge of your particular unit, your group of men? Who was... was this somebody that you knew?
We were separated from our officers – I don't want to go into what the officers did and what the officers didn't do, but you were very much on your own, I'm afraid.
But, of course being out there for three and a half years before, I knew a little bit about the language and you got acclimatised, which is very important. And we survived. A lot of the people who came out on the 18th Divi, they were the first casualties. They died.
That's interesting. So, you had been out there and had, as you say, acclimatised to conditions...
Yer, but what worried me was the fact that if you were a little person you haven't got a lot to lose, but if you're a 15/16stone person who's a rugby player, y'know, you're in dead trouble and, nearly all the big lads in my regiment were the first to go. This was... a lack of this, that and the other, food and dysentery, typhoid and so on. Beri-beri.
Q. So, with your move up to Thailand, presumably then you moved from camp to camp as the railway progressed?
We had to build, as we progressed up the railway, you had to build, a camp: cut down bamboo for the uprights - y'know what the places are like. Every camp you built, and then I think it was about two kilometres either side of the camp - that side and then that side - and when that was finished, then you moved on to somewhere else, wherever somewhere else might be.
Q. Now, I don't know about the railway very much at all, so I'm very grateful to you for explaining this in some detail. So, you say, when you arrived at an area you had to first of all build your camp?
Q. And they were built as temporary structures? because you weren't going to be in them very long?
And of course, the roof is attap, the roofs are.
Q. What is attap?
Atap it's the fronds of the, um, the banana trees.
I see, so leaves, right.
The leaves, right, and you fold them over a stick and then you lay them on the top. Quite good, actually.
I understand. I can picture it from seeing pictures.
Q. Approximately how many of you were in these camps? did it vary or were you in the same group as you progressed?
I would think on average there were somewhere round about 7-800 people per camp.
Q. And what were conditions like, did they vary considerably?
Very, very much so, very much. You were lucky if you were by a river, 'cos if you hadn't got any soap or anything like that - I had a beard down here actually, couldn't shave, I'd nothing to shave with - and, if you were near a river you could go in the river and have a wash and then go back. But, if you weren't anywhere near a river you, you stank to high heaven.
Q. And you mentioned before about illnesses, can you tell me something of the illnesses that you personally suffered from? What conditions did you have?
I had, I didn't have beri-beri, I had dysentery very badly and dysentery that... I forget, what it was, amoebic dysentery or what, but it... you go to the toilet 30 – 40 times a day. It's very, very draining. And I used to see m' hip bones sticking out and I'd wonder how much longer I'd last. It's very traumatic.
I should think it is.
Of course, there in some of the camps there's hardly any food in and, er, we had to eat grass and things like that. I was very envious of some of the, the Siamese who were drafted into the Dutch army, they're pretty good catching, catching with an elastic band, catching birds. Dip the bird in boiling water, put a stick through it and you got about half an ounce of meat out of it. Protein y'see.
Q. Yes. And the Japanese, did they eat better than you or were they...?
Oh, yer, they did, much better. The Japanese don't eat offal - heart, lungs, liver, kidneys - they don't eat that. So, that if there was a pig come into the camp, the Japs had the best part of it and the rest went into stew which we had, which was... which was greasy water, virtually.
Q. What length of time did you work each day, when did work start?
Well, you were... you start work just after daybreak, six o'clock, and you don't come back till six o'clock at night. That's twelve hours, by the time you've walked there and done your bit on the railway line and walked back again, you are shattered.
Q. Did you get any rest days?
Er, Thursday, you had a rest - I beg your pardon, that was in the Army - you had a rest day on a Sunday... But, it was so barbaric in as much as, if they wanted a certain number of people on the railwayline and there were so many people that were sick - even amputation people - they wanted them out on the railwayline. The medical officers would say, “I'm sorry you can't take these people”, and the next thing the medical officer gets knocked about. Where our officers were, I don't know, I never saw them from that day to this. There's only one man who came from Liverpool, a Major Rowson,[Thomas Johnson Rowson] he used to give money to the surgeons to buy this, that, whatever was... one of the things that was very important was, was marmite. If you were sick in a ward there, used to give you a spoonful of marmite. Which... it helps.
Q. Can you tell me something of the type of work that you did as a POW?
Well, in some places you were breaking into rock; in other places you were knocking trees down. And, putting holes in the tree, to put a tree to go into to make a bridge. In other, in other places you were, you were... digging holes, which is a metre square and a metre down; three people, - used to work in threes - and if you're sick with malaria the other two blokes have got to do your job, and it;s very traumatic. If you don't do it, don't do this metre a day or whatever, you get knocked about.
Q. Did you suffer personal injury?
Oh, I suffered... I don't tell my children this, but I suffered on numerous occasions 'cos I was, a little bit bold, I thought to m'self if I don't get some food I shall, shan't see this thing through. Because, when you are a prisoner of war y' don't know how y' gonna be the Americans are doing this, that and the other; “It won't be very long now”, the medical people say. “The Yanks have done this, and the Yanks have done the other; we'll be released in two weeks”, sort of thing, just to keep your moral up, y'see. But, it never happened and it was three and a half years. And when some Americans came down on a parachute, into our camp, everybody cried, it was awful. Three days after that we got onto these Nissan lorries and taken into Bangkok, and we flew from Bangkok to Rangoon. From Rangoon we came home on a boat called the Corfu. That was just a few
of us; some went to Australia, some went to India, some even flew to America.
Q. Just taking you back now to when you told me about the illness and the dysentery that you had suffered. Did you suffer from malaria?
Oh, I had it every fortnight. Shaking like a leaf, y'know. And all you got to do then is to, used to get a spoonful of quinine and wrap it up in a leaf, 'cos it's terrible stuff to take some people who'd lost their sense of smell and lost their sense of taste, they didn't take any notice, they used to just swig it down with whatever. And, but I used to wrap it up with a leaf and put it down my throat and drinks some water. You were lucky to get quinine...
Q. That's what I was going to ask, did, what sort of treatment did you... did you have doctors in your camp? did you have POW doctors?
We, er, we had, various members of the medical corps, the RAMC, and in many cases you didn't have an officer – I'm talking about a medical officer now – who took charge of the huts, was a sergeant. And, when you come to... when you come to the situation whereby a man, who was an officer in the dental corps, and all his training was taking peoples' teeth out, and when he's made a prisoner of war and he has to saw peoples' legs off, you can imagine the situation. It was, of course, if you were a doctor, the last thing you want to do is to take my leg off because by the time you take it off, I'm too weak to withstand the operation so I die anyway. You're in this catch 22 situation and it's very difficult.
Q. Did the POW doctors have much in the way of equipment, or drugs, to treat you with?
Nothing at all. Very, very little, very little.
Q. Did anyone ever get taken to hospital, or was that...?
There was no such a thing as hospital.
So they didn't, you just stayed on the railway and survived or didn't?
Q. Can you tell me something about your general experiences, your wider experiences as a POW, relationships with other POW?
Er, I was very friendly with my Paymaster who was a Lance Bombadier, a full Bombadier - two stripes - a Gerry Holden, and he's dead now, most of them are dead anyway, I've been to their funerals. The last funeral was Tommy Callaghan in Warrington, and he had a very, very nice girl
and she wanted to get married, and he wouldn't get married because he said, I don't feel well enough... He worked in Liverpool for the Northern Aluminium Company. He'd got quite a good job but he'd lost a lot of things, he went in for this ECG [sic], electric treatment in Birmingham, didn't do any good to him. And eventually he went back to Warrington and he came down to - I had a pub in those days - and he got no, couldn't smell and he couldn't taste, and,he had a meal with us, and I said, “Did you enjoy your meal, Tom?” He said “Alright”, and that was his way of expressing himself, he couldn't say, “Well it tastes ever so nice”, because he couldn't taste it. And one day, this girl he had, bought him a nice watch, and I says, “That's a nice watch you got there, Tom”. He says, “Do you want it, you can have it”. That was Tom. But, I helped him along, if you don't help each other you just wouldn't survive. You just would not survive.
Q. And what about, you said you didn't see officers, were there not officers?
Never saw any of our officers from the day we went up on to the railway line to the day we were released. This is true.
Q. Were they in different camps?
Oh, they were miles away. 'Cos they were paid, the officers were. Officers and men are two different things. They might be officers, but they're not gentlemen.
Q. And what about other nationalities of POW that you were with?
We were with a few Dutch people...
How did you get along with the Dutch?
We had we had two or three Americans with us, who came off a boat called, pause... can't remember, anyway there was a cruiser that was sunk, and they were eventually became prisoners of war and the came up on the railway line with us.
Q. Wouldn't have been the Houston?
The Houston, yes.
Because there were some American artillerymen that were being transported, some of them went to Java and then came up...
Yer, Gerry Holden, my pal in the Army, he escaped Singapore and went over to Java and he was only in Java for about three weeks and they were taken prisoner of war there. And it transpired, that before they arrived on the island about 20 nurses arrived in a boat and they were shot up on the water. They were just mowed down. Why you have to do that, I've never known.
Q. And this friend of yours, Gerry Holden, did he stay in Java or did he go...
No, he came, they were shifted back from Java to Singapore, and eventually I caught up with him about two years afterwards...
On the railway?
On the railway, yes. And eventually, what happened, most... I got separated from my regiment - 7th Heavies – separated; the rest of my regiment went back on the railway, down the railway line to Singapore, to go on these boats back to - this is 19... the back end of 1943 – and they were torpedoed by the American submarines, so, I'm virtually one of the very, very few people of my regiment who are still alive today. I've been to all of... I've been down to the Barbican in London, to prisoner of war reunion down there, and I looked all over everywhere, can't find any of them. And, er, when I've been to this Doxford Hall, the, the compere he gave out over the microphone, “Is there anybody here from the 7th Heavy regiment”. There must be 3,000 people there.
Q. Repatriation. You said that before that a lot of your colleagues, friends, comrades went back down to Singapore and then were shipped out from there in late '43, you stayed in Thailand, or in Burma?
I stayed in Burma, yer,
No, no, not in Burma, in Thailand. Never got into Burma. We didn't know anything what was happening the other side in Burma, because apparently, the same situation was there.
Q. So, what was the name of the camp that you got furthest north in?
Concreta [sic… Konkoita].
Q. Is that quite close to the Burmese border?
Not far away.
Right, but you never got into Burma?
Q. So, what did you stay behind to do then if the others were being drafted down, was there maintenance work to do, or did you stay up in that part of Thailand...
No, we, they wanted volun... not volunteers, the wanted... they picked out all the best physically
adaptable to go into this camp and, and there was a camp called Konkoita and we were only there for about three weeks and that was the end, the balloon was up, finished, caput, gone...
Q. So when did you get to hear that the war was over, what was that...
'45. August '45.
Q. And what happened, can you remember being told that?
Oh yes, we heard rumours - we're talking about the two bombs that were dropped in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but we didn't know what had happened. We found out eventually that the Americans, the Allies and Japan, had come to 'an honourable agreement', which was nothing of the sort, it was to save face, face saver. And the attitude of the average Japanese soldier was such that, he didn't want to know, 'cos they didn't tell them what had happened in Japan, they didn't realise themselves that it was unconditional surrender because it was, something that was not in their nature to, y'know, to capitulate. This is why they had... didn't have any respect for us because, er, we just packed up as a garrison; reasons for it, obviously...
Q. Yes. So, what happened then, once you heard that the war was over? How long did you wait to be liberated?
...About ten days, at the most, by the time that we got back from Konkoita down to Bangkok.
Q. You said before that some Americans had parachuted in, was this at this time?
Yes, there were two Americans that came in on parachutes. What we did with these parachutes was, 'cos they're made of silk in those days, made of Terylene these days, and my wife, when we eventually got married, I brought this parachute silk home, and she made a jumper suit for my eldest son. Y'couldn't wear it out.
Q. Extraordinary. And these two Americans that were parachuted in, were they paving the way for supplies to come in?
Yer, yep. They came in in what they called Dakotas, DC47, but there was no... they were just the workhorse for the RAF or the Army, or whatever, or whoever was using them. And we came out on a Dakota, and don't forget they were doing a ferry service all over the Far East these planes were, and they were badly in need of a, er, a service what-av-you. And I'm looking round for an officer who was in charge of these aeroplanes. And, it was a sergeant, and he said, “Look, I can only take 18 of you – we were all skin and bone – because the engines, the power of the engines was down. And I want you to all get up in the wings and when we can get up in the air”, he said, “you can spread y'selves out round the back, round the plane”. There were no seats in, all you could do is lie on the floor. Anyway, we eventually came into Rangoon and it was a sight for sore eyes, was Rangoon: mile after mile of tanks, mile after mile of what-av-you, equipment, you've never seen so much equipment in all your life. I thought then well no wonder the Japs packed up. But, personally, we were billeted in wooden huts before we went to the docks, to the docks to be...
Yes, in Rangoon, that is. And the first people we saw was some English nurses, and I never felt so embarrassed in all m' life, I felt so embarrassed in their company... terrible.
Q. What about food? How did you cope with rations, suddenly? Presumably they dropped supplies in, when you were up country?
No, we didn't. No, no supplies dropped in at all, the only food we got was when we got into Rangoon and then, course you've got doctors there and nutritionists, and we could only have so much food...
So they were controlling that?
Controlling that, yes. Somebody in Singapore, apparently, he was given a tin of bully beef and it almost killed him. He got something solid, that your constitution wasn't used to and he almost died, used a stomach pump on him. You had to be careful. When we were on this boat called the Corfu, been on this boat for about a fortnight, and I'm looking out to sea and I could not understand that I'd been a prisoner of war for three and a half years. It seemed like a bad dream, it just, pause...
Q. Did you have any form of help or support from medical people whilst you were on that voyage? Did they have any psychological help...?
I personally didn't need any kind of medical support, I was, y'know, really walking wounded because I got a big bandage round my knee. I got a busted knee, and what I did, what we did then was we got bark off a tree, and we tied this round, and I was walking about with a stiff knee for weeks.
Q. Did the bark act a splint, that's how you did it, you splinted it?
Yes, that's right. It's a case of make do and mend, whatever...
Q. Did you know what you weighed at the end of your captivity?
Seven stone, when I got into Rangoon.
Seven stone. And you had been what in...?
14 stone. I'd been the captain of the water polo team in Singapore.
Q. Halved your weight. So, how long had it been... you sailed back on the Corfu, and that brought you from Rangoon to...?
Through the Suez, or...?
Through the Suez, yer.
So, how long would that voyage have lasted?
Q. Do you think that helped you, having a sea voyage?
Oh yes. It was a way of recuperation, y'see. And we were 24 hours out of Southampton and the captain of the ship gave an announcement over the ship's transmission, tannoy, and he said, “I've been in touch with Customs and Excise and they've allowed you... they're not going to search you; you're allowed to bring in whatever you like”. Everybody was standing outside the barber's shop, so they can fill their valises with cigarettes.
Q. So, when you docked at Southampton, was there a reception committee?
I know Southampton because I used to go from Portsmouth to Southampton. And we got on this railway station and of course what there is on the railway stations were these Red Caps. Y'know, “Go on...” sort of, and I thought I'm not going to be bulldozed around by you people, I've had enough of it for all these years. And, er, I said to one of the porters, I said, “Where's this train going?” and says, “It's going to Birmingham”, and I said that'll do me. So, I got on the train. A Red Cap tried to stop me getting on the train... because everybody was being diverted to London first, then distributed from there, y'see. I got out of the train and and got a taxi to my mother's house. End of story.
So you stayed on that train, you weren't put off it by this red cap?
Q. Did your mother know that you were coming home?
No, no I didn't, not at all.
Had you had any correspondence from her?
No correspondence at all... my mother nearly fainted on the doorstep. Knocked on the door of mother's house... pause
Q. Did she not know you were alive?
No, you have... you had postcards. These are printed postcards: I am well, or I am not well and you delete the line which is applicable to you. And I thought what's the good of this postcard, I could fill this, could say I'm well, I'm eating well, and all the rest of it; I could be dead next week, or in a month's time. And you've sent this postcard off, and, er, people live in false hopes then, don't they? So, I didn't bother. What we did then - true - I soaked the postcard in some water and I got about four leaves off it... pause...
So it served a purpose, you could smoke it?
Yer. And the last 25 years I haven't smoked.
And so your mother had no idea that you were coming. I'm not surprised she nearly fainted.
Yer, it was a shock. I had it, pause... they both broke down y'know.
Q. Did you come from a large family?
There was myself and my brother. My brother - there's 14 years difference between myself and my brother - and when I left he was like that, when I came home he was like that, and he just couldn't understand it. You can't understand it. Then when my grandmother, when I went to see my grandmother, who was a headmistress in Birmingham, she, I found that she'd bent, her spine had bent a little bit and she was a very intelligent woman - I took more notice of her than I did my own mother - but I went to see my grandmother on numerous occasions while I was home, y'know, and she had a stoppage of the bowels and she wouldn't take this, prescription, y'see, and I was in the, the bedroom with her one day and this doctor, Dr Coulter from Solihull, they’d been... she'd been on his, on his.... his books for 35 years there, first name terms and he said, “You know Sarah, you'll have to keep on with these senna pods”, and she said, “Y'mention senna pods to me” she said “and I'll change me doctor!”, and she's nearly 94. Very y'know... You'd have seen my grandmother you'd have taken to her like, y'know, brilliant she was.
Q. Your mum lived in Birmingham?
Is that where you grew up?
Yes. No. I didn't grow up there, I grew up in Edgbaston. I went to a boys' school in Edgbaston, this, Birmingham Grammar ... dialect... “y awl roight”...
Q. Can you tell me in those first weeks that you were back home, how did you cope? Did you find it difficult?
I don't know how to answer that question, it's, it’s very difficult, you take life as it comes and, I eventually went to Oswestry where we were demobbed. Got a Martin Henry's suit, what y call a Martin Henry suit and a trilby hat and from there I spent about a fortnight convalescence in Whitwick Hall, Wolverhampton. And from there I came back home again, and I think I had about 280 quid and my father said, “I friend of mine is selling his business and a lorry” so I said “Well, I'll buy it”. And from then on I became a haulage contractor and I had about half a dozen lorries at one time.
So that got you focused on building for the future?
How did you feel, socially, with friends or relatives, did you feel... did you have any barriers because of where you'd come from, what you'd been through? Were people curious, or did they not ask?
Er, no. basically, they did not. They were pleased to see you and a lot of people used to ask what I call facetious questions, “What was it like?” And you don't really want to talk about it anyway, because they don't understand. Y'see, you go and see a piece like the Bridge over the River Kwai and it takes two and a half hours. You can't condense into two and a half hours three and a half years of misery to enact. It's impossible.
Q. With your new-found focus, with a business and a direction, did you... did that help you? Did you feel that was the only...?
Oh yes. Nobody, as a man or a woman, you're quite happy when you can get up in the morning and go to work. It's like me, I haven't got a job today and the days... they are a long time. When you're out of the house for so many hours a day, then your day is occupied and you're quite happy then.
I love work. I'd work seven days a week for all my life, sort of thing, and eventually, I wasn't getting what I thought was my reward from the hours I did as a haulage contractor so – and my wife used to do all the paperwork for me - so I said “well let's pack it up”. So we packed it up and we bought a pub, in Tamworth.
Q. In the post-war years, you've described how busy you were with work, did you have any difficulties with, people, family, friends or did you simply block out the past and look forward?
I think, I think you'll find that I blocked out the past every day... it was wonderful to be in your family circle again. Eventually I got married, I went to this place in Birmingham called the Queensbury Club, which were a lot of ex-servicemen there, lots in full uniform, Navy, Army and Air Force. We got talking to these girls in the RAF and we arranged meetings and so on and eventually, you'll laugh when I tell you this, my aunt, my aunt was very influential in the church in Shirley. And I said to her, I said, “Do you think you could ask the vicar of Shirley, Billings... Billing, Billings, if I can borrow his car?”. He had a little Ford car. So, I borrowed this car, picked the girl up - only knew her Christian name, didn't know her surname - you'd think you'd know, and, and we were coming up her street from the Queensbury Club and a policeman stepped out and stopped me. He says, “Is this your car?” I said “No”, I said, “belongs to the vicar of Shirley.” He says, “Phew... don't believe that”. Took the key out, makes a phone call. Came back to me and says, “I'm terribly sorry, sir”, and gave me the key, and before that he said, “Who's that with you?” I said, “It's Gwen.” He says, “What's her other name?” and I said, “I don't know”. And the thing is “What's the number of the car?” so I said, “I don't know”. The things I didn't know that night, I felt so embarrassed.
That's a good one!
If you'd been sitting on the back seat of the car, you'd probably been killing yourself.
Q. Tell me, the Queensbury Club, was that for ex-servicemen?
So, did you find that was a place you naturally migrated to?
Yes, indeed. It's very important that is. Socially...
Q. Did you get any support or assistance from organisations like the British Legion, or...
Is that because you didn't seek it?
When you've got a family, you don't need it, y'see, the British Legion. And what annoyed me was the fact that I went to the Corps [Corporation] to get this licence - there's A Licences, B Licences and C Licences – the C Licence is your own goods, a B Licence is you're restricted with anybody's goods within a certain area, but an A Licence you can go from Land's End to John o'Groats, y'see. That's the situation in those days. And I applied for a B Licence for 15-mile radius of Birmingham and I had about half a dozen contractors objecting. And that really annoyed me. I think to m'self, these blokes been sitting in England, doing government work and I've been a prisoner of war, all I'm trying to do is earn a living. I eventually got the licence,but...
Q. You said that you found the association through the club as important to you...
Yes, very much.
Did you, was that, the same as or different group to the FEPOW clubs? Did you join FEPOW clubs/FEPOW Association. Was that later on?
Later on, yer, I joined the FEPOW club when I... where was I?... when I left the pub, actually. It was here in Tamworth.
Has that been important?
There's nobody there in the club, that I know, really. Nobody that I... Y'see, what used to happen in the Australian Army, a lot of people used to they used to enlist in a certain area, so they knew each other before they actually joined the ANZACs, as they call them. And there's officers were from the same area and of course, their comradeship, the Aussies, their comradeship on the railway line with us was far better than ours were. Far better, they helped each other, very much so. And, I, because a lot of them were backswoodmen, they were a lot better at chopping trees down. While we were... you'd be there all morning on a saw, like this, all morning because they'd be half a dozen people round the tree to get round it. Big trees out there. Mostly teak.
Q. One final question, what do you feel about the growing interest in the FEPOW story?
I think that for people like my son, they're really taking a lot of interest. My son got divorced some years ago, 12 years ago, and he's living with another girl and they don't want to get married, they like it like it is. If it ain't broke don't go try mending it situation…
Q. You say your son has been interested. Did you find it difficult to open up and share things with him?
He's Geoffrey, he's not too bad Geoffrey, he's got a lot of love for his father. But the other son I was living with, down in Essex, he couldn't care less, nothing affects him...
So, as far as your family's concerned, you have one son who has taken a real interest in trying to understand and have you found it, over the years you've perhaps talked with him, have you found that process difficult. Or, has it been quite therapeutic?
I would say, on balance, it's very, very therapeutic. He's taken me up to Doxford Hall.
Q. Can you tell me a little about Doxford Hall, what goes on up there?
Well, there is a husband and wife and they've got these huge buildings, it's a beautiful building by the way, tremendous grounds, and the organisation which they put into these prisoner of war meetings, is something to be, they even get these, these two helicopters, the Air Sea Rescue, delivering fish and chips to 3,000 people, can you really imagine, y'know... The first time I went, the helicopter was flying about, oh, so the helicopter... they got lower and lower and lower, and they landed on a field.... the next thing there was all these staff there, they've got... he musts engage about a couple of hundred staff to look after us...
Is this for the benefit of Far Eastern prisoners of war?
So that must be quite a gathering...
Oh, it's a wonderful gathering. And there's a band there, there's so much, so much... it's amazing, it
really is, and they had a, on one occasion they had a couple of hundred children and they gave them a small yew tree, and somebody designed a maze, and they planted these little tiny trees, amazing. And the trees are up here now,
And, all the children, they're talking the empty plates away from the, you would not believe what goes on up there.
Can you stop that... [went to fetch literature].
...My son said to me would you like to go on the River Kwai, to have a holiday, I said no thank you. So, he said would you like to go to Singapore. So, I said yes, I wouldn't mind that. So, we went to Singapore and we spent four days in Singapore, three days in Malacca and three more days in Kuala Lumpur. And when we got to Singapore, I said I'd love to go to Changi. We went to Changi village, I don't recognise the place. We're talking a period of 60 years... and even Raffles Hotel in Singapore, it was on a road that was facing the sea between this line of buildings - Raffles Hotel, Supreme Law Courts and Victoria Memorial Hall there was a huge expanse of grass – the Padang - which was used at the time for the searchlights and tattoos, y'see. Well, that's all gone, you've got another row of buildings and a road and hotels at the back.... (showing photographs). That's when I was out there with him,
Which year was this?
Three, four years ago…
And that's Raffles Hotel.
Is that much as it looked in the days that you were there?
Yes. But we were not allowed to go in the Raffles Hotel. Only officers.
So, I thought to m'self, if they didn't want me as a reasonable individual in His Majesty's Service, I'm not going in now. David said, “Oh come on, let's have a drink”. I said, no, I'm not going…
You said you'd been out in Singapore for three and a half years prior to...
That's right. I was six and a half years out there.
So, you'd been there from 1938?
You'd gone out there with the regiment?
No, we didn't. We went out there with contingents.
What does that mean?
A few soldiers here, and a few soldiers there. A few sailors. Some of them were sailors that were on the ship that eventually went to Hong Kong. These are replacements. So many go home and then you get replacements.
So, you had joined the Army pre-war?
As a career?
They sent you out Far East in 1937.
The funny thing was there's a notice on the noticeboard there, and people who wanted to volunteer for this, that and the other. I thought, a nice posting in Bermuda. So, I put my name down for Bermuda and I finished up in Singapore... [ends]
Interviewed: April 2007
Transcribed: April 2007