Far East POWs – reflections

It is some time since I posted about the men I have been writing about who were Far East POWs (and their wives and families). The MS is currently being read by an historian so I planned to take a break. Nevertheless I have been thinking about the men rather a lot. In the past few weeks I have been labouring against the clock to clear the ground for a new fence where mature trees once stood (https://greenwritingroom.com/2014/03/14/). I have also been trying to make a level base for a greenhouse (a task I have never done before).


In the course of these endeavours I have been very tired, very hungry and slightly injured. Then I contracted a feverish cold, and the weather became strangely hot for April. With each of these sensations I couldn’t help remembering the accounts of the extreme versions the prisoners suffered on the railway. I tried to imagine how it would feel to be sicker or to have no rest, or food. As I stamped down the earth on my greenhouse base-to-be, I found myself repeating the phrase my father had remembered from his days when they were building the embankment on which to lay the tracks on the Thailand-Burma Railroad.

 At the end of each days work we marched up and down on the newly placed earth stamping it down firmly. I remember the Japanese engineers shouting “Orr men stepping very hardly”.


It sounds perverse to say that I also enjoyed myself, I actually like labour, something I suspect I have learnt from my father. Anyway the fence (done by professionals in contrast to my DIY)) is now up.


I can now get on with the rest. There is still rather a lot of earth to move, rather a lot of sand to lay as a base and all that lovely marble (purchased for another purpose several years ago) to go on top. In the meantime I have managed a few hours of editing on the POW MS. The men are not forgotten.

13 thoughts on “Far East POWs – reflections

  1. Hilary, What a lot of hard work you did putting up that beautiful fence and I can see that there’s still work to be done. Repeating the phrase you father said reminded me of a mantra. It’s a lovely way to work.
    I hope all goes really well with your manuscript and that soon you’ll find a publisher for it. 🙂

  2. I pressed the tweet button. I am sure those men won’t ever be forgotten. The trunk and roots of the old tree look formidable. Did you get a chainsaw to cut through them or did you just use the bush-saw? Either way, you did a great job. Well done and bravo!

    • I realise that my post (now edited) implied that I actually put up the fence. Sadly no, the men who did it have skills and tools that I can only dream about. The preparation work, yes, and you are right, it is so relaxing.

      • LOL… I just had a fence put up. No way was I going to tackle the project. Then I saw yours, and I thought, wow, maybe I should have. Now I don’t have to feel guilty.:) –Curt

  3. I think such work is therapeutic and rewarding. Who was it who said, “Work? I love it. I could watch it all day.” Or something like that. I often watch the gardener doing the heavy work then I wander round afterwards and prune a twig here, a dead head there and feel I have achieved great things. I wonder how I would have coped under true hardship. My father was a great DIY man but I have not inherited his talents. He would put up the fence himself, skills learned through necessity and lack of cash. He was in the war and served on HMS Spiteful, a submarine. He never talked about it much. I sometimes wonder where he went and what he saw. It is good the men are not forgotten.

    • My father’s nickname as a POW was ‘Makeshift’ because he would make anything that was needed, so we were bought up with this principle in mind. I have experienced very little true hardship. I think we have been a lucky generation compared to our parents. I had a quick look for Spiteful on the Internet. She was bombing Japanese vessels in 1944, while my father was a prisoner. She apparently did very long tours of duty – tough for the men on a submarine.

      • I think I have one photo of dad on the sub, Hilary. He took me round a decommissioned one once, at Gosport. He was 6′ tall and I was once 6′ 4″. I think life below was tough for tall people!

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