They are prisoners; they are safe – POWs 10

For Phyllis, and the other relatives in England of the men who vanished in Singapore on 15 February 1942, their greatest fear was that their men had died or been wounded in the fighting. The best news they could hope to hear was that they were prisoners. They might be bored or hungry, but they would be safe from death until the end of the war. In addition they could be sent comforts, they would be able to communicate (when the authorities had sorted a route out) and all would eventually be well. So Barry’s father wrote to him:

“I know that you will understand how important it is in spite of the many difficulties of being a prisoner to try and keep fit in mind and body. I hope you will try and find some special interest. You have a real gift for languages try if possible to keep up your French and Malay to learn to write in Arabic characters, and if possible also to learn to speak Japanese. Also learning good verse will be a help and writing and composing yourself. Also if possible work with your hands. I’m afraid that as yet we cannot send you any parcels but perhaps you can get some books in Singapore.”

Relatives have no information about those who have already died. Relatives of these men would go on writing into the blue, waiting and hoping, sometimes as long as three years. The War Office struggled to get reliable data, from any source. Sometimes relatives heard before they did. One wife wrote to Phyllis on 5 January 1943:

“I have had no official news of my husband, but a friend of his, serving in the Middle East, sent me an airgraph, telling me my husband was a prisoner, he wrote as though I had already heard the news, so each day I hope the good news will arrive, and as soon as it does I will let you know.”

The situation never improved. On the 5th of November 1945 nearly three months after the end of the war in the Far East, one of the mothers wrote to Phyllis:

“I am sorry to trouble you, but I wonder if you could try & find out any information about my son, we have not heard a word about him, & as they are nearly all home, makes us wonder if anything has happened to him.”

February 15 1942 – Singapore – POWs 4

On the 8th December 1941 [Pearl Harbour] Barry wrote to his wife Phyllis:

Darling Wife, very darling wife just now. War declared this am. You will have read all      about it in the papers. Bombs on S’pore, landing in Kelantan. All safe so far…

27 Line Section continued to put up communications lines in Malaya for anyone who asked, but found themselves slowly retreating down to the Island of Singapore and eventually, in February 1942, to the city itself. The bombing was continuous but, as signalmen, they worked on through it. While most of them received only minor injuries, one unlucky man, installing a field cable on an airfield, was wounded and died in Singapore. The oil stores and dumps of raw latex were on fire, the reservoir pipeline had been breached, and over a million unarmed civilians were being bombed daily. Singapore fell.

Barry remembers:

Fighting actually stopped on the 15th February 1942. I remember it very clearly as I was up the top of a telephone pole trying to regulate and terminate a new section of open wire, while meantime a brief air raid was going on at ground level. This consisted of the usual small high explosive fragmentation bombs, which killed people and broke shop windows but did little heavy damage except for holes in the road. The bombing and shelling suddenly stopped and one of my NCOs [Non-Comissioned Officers] on the ground shouted, “I think the war is over”. And so it was.