Surviving the Death Railway – to be published

Surviving the Death Railway: A POW’s Memoirs and Letters from Home

To my intense joy and relief the military publishers Pen & Sword and will be launching this title in June/July 2016.

For six years I have been researching and editing a story using a unique collection of letters and a memoir. The letters between my parents, Barry and Phyllis, and my father’s memoir of life as a Japanese POW tell a chronological story of a young couple during World War Two – these are special, but not, perhaps, unique.

What is unique is another collection of letters and a dossier. Phyllis spent the war looking after her baby son AND trying to look after the relatives of the men in Barry’s Royal Signals Unit, 27 Line Section. There were 68 men under Barry’s captaincy and Phyllis had addresses for many of the wives, mothers and fiancées. She sent circular and individual letters, at first to keep up spirits, later to co-ordinate information, and towards the end of the war to create a simple dossier of the men to help identification by rescued POWs at the War Office. To do this she gathered information about each man.

If it is of any help my son was a jolly natured chap, with wavy hair and a gap between his front teeth.

Although there was nothing outstanding in his appearance… he had a tattoo done on his right forearm, it began at the wrist, and went almost to the elbow. It was the figure of a highlander in full national costume…

These letters are heart-breaking and heartwarming and give and insight into the lives of ordinary people coping with the wall of silence that came down with the Fall of Singapore on February 1942.

Barry memoirs record, without  bitterness or bravado, what the lives of the men were like during those years.Wampo pc1He helped to build the Wampo viaduct, he nearly died, he became a chorus girl and he assisted at amputations. After giving blood he remembers a happy encounter with one of the men from his Unit:

“Sir, yesterday I had some of your blood, and last night I dreamt about a woman for the first time since capitulation!”

This story records the two streams of life in Britain and the Far East. What I find so moving is that year after year these relatives wrote into the blue. Although some received a few multiple-choice field cards; no one, as far as I know, ever received an answer to a letter in three and a half years.

Please forgive me, but for the next two months I will only be a very rare visitor to your blogs.  I am already deep in the final editing of the manuscript, gaining permissions for the ninety odd illustrations and preparing them and the maps for publication.

 

71 thoughts on “Surviving the Death Railway – to be published

  1. This is also movie stuff Hilary…
    Remember my comment made two years ago about the first scene of the movie with soldiers along the pier awaiting for embarkation.

  2. This is such great news, Hilary. I am so pleased for you. You will be a busy girl and what great parents Phyllis and Barry were (are). A great job you are doing ,I am sure many P.O.W soldiers are smiling now.. You did not forget.

  3. That’s wonderful, HIlary! It really struck me about the unanswered letters for three years. And we can get so whingey if our emails are not answered immediately! What a different world it was and what faith those families had.

  4. That’s so great, Hilary. This has been, still is, a wonderful, valuable project, and I’m so happy for you. I shall miss you (my new “virtual” friend across the seas) but look forward to your triumphant return to the blogosphere with plenty of tales of reader appreciation to share!

  5. What a triumph…for you as the daughter of these remarkable people, and for you, the writer. Good luck getting through the grunt paper work. I am very much looking forward to reading the published product!

    • Thank you. I hope it has come together. It has been a very different kind of project for me. Most of the work has been assembly, research and trying to make some kind of chronological order to a story where true dating is sparse.

  6. What Cynthia said, Hilary – and many big fat hugs as well ! You’re both admirable women (and your books are with me at all times). All the success you receive is merited beyond description, in my opinion. FORZA HILARY CUSTANCE GREEN !!!!

  7. What a wonderful thing! – to have those resources at hand and be able to make something from them to share the story with others.

  8. I’M excited to hear that it is actually being published! I will look forward to reading this (these) story(ries). Congratulations!

    I think I may have mentioned my father was shot down over Burma, the only survivor of his plane, and managed to avoid capture and walk out over months. A story I often think I should piece together. It was only later I my life, after hearing all the POW stories, that I realized how very lucky he was. (And only occurring to me now: I might never have been born.)

    • Yes, I remember reading about your father. He did well to avoid capture, there was a high price available to locals for turning in the enemy. Living in the jungle was incredibly difficult, he must have had intelligence and stamina.

  9. I’m sure this will be a great read, and all the more poignant because it features your own parents. It’s amazing that people kept on writing for months, and even years, into a void like that. Would anyone have the patience for that nowadays? I don’t know that I would. What a wonderful project to have got stuck into, I have no doubt you’ll make a first class job of it and I look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks, I do hope it will be a good read. I have done my best to edit it into a coherent story, but the material is very complex (letters, memoirs, linking passages) and none of the dates match up. So letters, if they arrive at all, arrive in a different order from when they were written, and so on.

      • That sounds like a huge, and potentially overwhelming, job. It will be a great achievement to get it all into print in a coherent manner. I’m convinced you’ll do a terrific job on it though.

    • Thanks, you are right, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. The book is written and accepted as is, but it is the kind of research that never ends and you don’t want to get it wrong. I am sure the editors at the publishers will flag up any problems… once I get it to them.

      • That’s one of the bonuses of having an editor, rather than having to carry the full weight of that responsibility yourself. Knowing when to stop can be very difficult when research keeps leading you down different alleyways, but hopefully you’ll reach a point where you feel somehow satisfied that it’s reached a natural end. It’s a great relief when that happens.

  10. Wow, Hilary, I had no idea that this was such a personal story for you and your family. One of my grandfathers was also in the Pacific theater, but was never a POW. In just these few anecdotes above, you have already carved out a moving and heartbreaking space that reminds us, once again, of the human beings behind war efforts. I can’t wait to see your book next year. Many congratulations!

  11. Hilary, what superb news! I am so, so happy for you. Indeed, fruit from a tree planted over 70 years ago. May we always know of bravery and survival in the war that had no boundaries on humanity. Best of luck to you! Get to work!!! ☺

  12. Super news, so happy for you ☺️. My Grandad is a real history buff so I’d love to get this book for him.
    I just finished Borderline, it was great to have time to sit and focus just on reading, I thoroughly enjoyed the developments and really felt for the very individual characters. Vicky in particular really made me think as my cousins both had Hunters Syndrome and died as teenagers, my Aunt has been nominated for the Pride Of Britain award this year for her fundraising to try to improve the chances for future generations. I loved the setting too, Slovenia is beautiful. Mums reading it now ☺️.
    Best wishes
    Charlotte

    • Thanks for the encouragement. It is nearly there, though pledging to do two versions with the letters unabridged and other changes in a private family printing is stretching me somewhat. Party in 4 weeks time and official release on 30 June.

      • It’s probably a good thing you are doing them concurrently, else it would be hard to keep up the motivation to do the family version afterwards. You will be glad you did the unabridged work, though. A work to be proud of, that’s for sure.

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