In 1943 while Barry and the men of 27 Line Section are sweating and starving on the Thailand Burma railway, Barry’s wife Phyllis is juggling her responsibilities. She is living at home with her parents, she has two-year old Robin and her mother (demanding and increasingly an invalid) to look after. She wants to move out of her parents home, but can’t unless she finds a job, and she needs one in which she can continue to look after Robin. She has heard nothing from Barry for over a year:
Dear darling, if I didn’t have to type this, which makes one stop to think what one is saying, and was not therefore very conscious of the censor, I could write you a real letter tonight. It is 11p.m. and I have been re-reading all the letters you have sent me since you left England. It has somehow brought you much nearer to me for a while…
Then there is her correspondence with the wives, mothers, fiancées and grandparents of Barry’s men. Phyllis heard that Barry was a prisoner in October 1942, 8 months after he disappeared. She wrote to the relatives over Christmas, replies like this came back:
By June 1943 some more relatives hear, more than a year after silence fell, that their men are prisoners.
Dear Mrs Baker, I am now able to tell you that my husband Dvr. E. Parker 2587178 has been reported a Prisoner of War in “Tai Camps”. I received notification of this from Army Records Office on 6.5.43.
I am very thrilled, but sorry to say that none of the other Glossop Girls have heard any news as yet, but there are great hopes.
I will take this opportunity of thanking you with all my heart Mrs Baker for your unceasing comfort through those long weary hours of suspense.
My very kindest regards & wishes for your husband’s speedy return. Yours Sincerely. Marjorie Parker.
Phyllis writes to them and then to Barry:
Darling, I’m probably going to get a wigging from Mother, but I just must sit down and finish this letter to you. I have had letters from four more next-of-kin of the men in your section to say their men are POWs… I can’t type up in my room, as they can hear me, and it’s not worth having a row with Mother… (They get so worried at the time I get into bed as it is. With lots of sympathy for me, they can’t fully appreciate how much I dislike going to bed). But all day and every day I am thinking of you, either all the many many happy memories we have, or hopes for the future…
The news of bad treatment of Far Eastern POWs is beginning to trickle through. All the relatives are worrying, Phyllis writes:
Always now I think of the past, and only realise with my mind, not with my emotions, that you must inevitably have changed a lot. Only my darling please don’t let anything you have or are suffering take away that light touch that was so essentially part of you. It was that which comes back to me almost more than anything else when thinking of that mad summer, and our two years engagement… This letter is going all wrong. Partly I know that Mother and Daddy are waiting for me to come upstairs, and though my heart and mind are just full of you…
There is no way for relatives to know, but some of their letters do eventually arrive, a year or so after they are written. Barry keeps them on a piece of string held with a bamboo toggle. All except one are still readable today. The one below is from Barry’s mother, Barbara.
How can it feel still so devastatingly poignant after all those years? Thank you Hilary for bringing this to our attention.
I’ve been reading these letters and researching the whole story for three years now, but when I first came across them it was very gulp-making. What keeps knocking me sideways is that all these people were younger than my daughters are now.
Hi Hilary, this was a very moving piece. However do you manage to piece these things together and complete your research. I have taken a lot from your blog and that of pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com/ and you have both helped understand the reality of the war and what the people who were involved in it went through.
Thank you so much
Thank you Charlotte. The WWII generation lived through such difficult times and kept amazing records, often they were incredibly young as they coped with such things. I feel the least we can do is remember, learn and say thank you to them.
So true, keep up the great work 🙂
So touching- and “thank you” seems far too little.
Good to hear from a ‘Phyllis’ they are rare these days.