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).

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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”.

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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.

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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.

First real news after 3 years – POWs 23

Some time at the end of April 1945, Phyllis, with the dossier of information and photos of Barry’s men, interviewed a Sergeant Smith, from the Royal Signals. Smith had been a prisoner of the Japanese and was rescued after the sinking of the transport ship Hokofu Maru. He knew Barry and other men from 27 Line Section. In her notebook Phyllis  scribbled entries for each man who Smith remembered having seen. For example:

Appleton. Saw him in June ’44. Excellent condition. Down ? Tech. Party due for Japan but hadn’t left [‘Japan party’ are the groups of men selected to be shipped to Japan]. Worked with Smith as Cook after completion of railway in Tamarkan hospital camp. One /or 2 attacks/malaria but survived them well, often spoke of his children and wife.

Bridge

Jim Bridge

Bridge. Died 1943??

Canning. Tropical ulcers on leg in Thailand sanatorium. April 1944. Ulcers healed unable to straighten his leg. Very clean. Mentioned wife & mother. Health otherwise O.K.

Canning

Hugh Canning

Dawson. Seen end Jan 44. Condition pretty fair. No party for Japan then.

Signalman William Dawson

Signalman William Dawson

Douglas. June 44. Sick in 1943 but recovered. Worked in Japan cookhouses as servant which gave him extra. Mentioned both wife and son. Kept out of trouble.

Jack Earnshaw

Jack Earnshaw

Earnshaw. 1944 June. Health quite good. Mentioned fiancée a lot. (sister?) Packed up on railway in 1943 August. No party for Japan.

Farrell

Henry Farrell

Farrell Plumber? Friend of Walls? Last seen June 44. Health fair. Trouble with asthma. Kept bright & cheery. In hospital October 43. Down for new San. (?) Looked after by Thai Red X.

Garrod 43. Last August 1943 Condition quite good – bright & cheery. Not due for Japan. Mentioned wife.

Graham June 44. Quite good health. Pelagera [pellagra – lack of vitamin B3] – but recovered by June 44. No party for Japan.

Harrison. Early 44. Quite well.

Jennings June 44. Quite well. Not on railway.

Reginald Jennings

Reginald Jennings

(In September 1943 The War Office had written to Mrs Jennings to say that her son, Reginald, had died of beri beri malaria on 18.7.43. Scepticism had long since set in among the relatives and she had still sent a photo and information about her son to Phyllis for the dossier. The War Office had been right and Smith must have thinking of another Jennings.)

Charlie Johnstone

Charlie Johnstone

Johnston. June 44. Might be sent on draft to Japan. Always speaking of his wife and children. Well & cheerful. Knew Barry. Kept going very well.

Jones. June 44. Working in hospital dispensary. 2 camp. Not changed – keeps well.

Kittwood Last seen early 44. Very seriously ill – malaria.

McDonald June 44. Good health. Worked on railway 10 months – Then hospital orderly in Tamarkan camp. In original 27 Line in France.

Neil McDonald

Neil McDonald

Parker. Same cargo boat for Japan. Probably killed.

Russell June 44. In quite good health – quite cheery. Always speaking of wife & 2 boys.

Walls  Speaks of wife and son. June 44. Well and cheerful. Pretty good health.

The Railway Man

Yesterday I went to see the film of The Railway Man (Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Hiroyuki Sanada). Last night I re-read the book on which it is based that came from my father’s shelves.

DSCN4650The film was a moving depiction of a man finding redemption late in life, through the love of a woman who helped him to confront his traumas and finally to meet and even make friends with one of the men responsible for his traumas. It is ‘based on’ rather than an exact version of the true story.

The film also does two important things:

It renews my shame, as a UK citizen, at being even distantly connected to inhumanity of Guantanamo Bay and what the American military are still doing there. We have in the last twelve years thrown away the right to condemn any other nation for treating people inhumanely.

It gives me hope that people have the capacity to forgive their enemies, if they can only meet and talk.

The film is only a brief window on a relationship in trouble and the torture Eric Lomax underwent during interrogation. What the film does not, cannot, do is give the full long-term picture of what Eric Lomax and thousands of other men suffered as Far East POWs and the suffering consequently visited on their families when they returned. After lengthy torture, Eric spent a year or more in unimaginable squalor and imposed silence in Outram gaol. After release, first in India, he met the ignorance and indifference to his their sufferings that blighted these men’s lives – a lady volunteer who suggested that since they had been POWs during most of the fighting, they must now be anxious to ‘do their bit’. In England, so much had changed. Eric’s mother had died in 1942 and his father had remarried. People had suffered and were not keen to revisit, let alone deal with, something that was over and done with.

The book, not surprisingly, tells a more profound, detailed and informative story. There are many tributes to the book. Ian Jack of The Guardian writes: ‘This beautiful, awkward book tells the story of a fine and awkward man.’

Finding big errors

This is a thank you to the whole business of blogging. A few posts ago, I wrote about Barry in the Japanese POW camp, Chungkai, in Thailand in 1943 and 1944. I mentioned the Thai merchant Boon Pong, and because of your interest in this amazing hero, I did a little research and added a post about him. In the course of that research I discovered an error in the book I have put together using letters and memoirs of that period.

Barry was in his eighties when he wrote about his time as a prisoner. He was in Chungkai camp from July/August 1943 to February 1945. He remembered in detail (far, far greater than anything I have posted) working for the surgeon Marcowitz as he carried out amputations on those men with incurable tropical ulcers. But he remembered this period as the end of 1944, beginning of 1945. Marcowitz left Chungkai in January 1944. It is over the previous Christmas period that Barry worked for him.

I have had to move several chunks of text around, all with some tricky knock-on effects on the rest of the story. But I am so grateful to have discovered this. So thank you everyone.

A little spring cheer to say thank you, a marigold is still blooming in the vegetable garden (and I have been squashing greenfly on the new rose growth today).

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The most cheering pre-spring sight I know – winter aconites springing up all over. Sorry it’s not a great picture, but they really are unfurling in every corner of the garden.

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Boon Pong – and other forgotten heroes

Tucked into one of the books on Barry’s shelves about Far East POWs was a little photocopied leaflet of 1998, being re-issued for ‘X’mas 2000’. It starts:

I am one of the persons who had seen the event about the railway construction from Kanchanaburi to Myanmar during World War II when I was 19 years old, 1941. As a saleswoman at Khao Chon Kai (Chungkai) War-prisoner Camp.

page 1 of Lulu's story

page 1 of Lulu’s story

Her name was Lulu Na Wanglan and she tells her story, explaining that even after 50 years, ‘I dreamed of those war-prisoners before I started to wright.’. She supplied prisoners until she had ‘no more capital to trade or sale goods.’ At this point she was given some money, probably by the local underground, to continue supplying prisoners. She was suspected of spying by the Japanese and warned by Mr Bunpong (Boon Pong) in time to escape. The prisoners thought she had been shot (confusing her with a brave French spy, ‘Lulu’ who had been killed by the Japanese) and they missed her. After the war UNO staff painted Lulu on their vehicles. Prisoners remember her in their memoirs.

Boon Pong (Boonpong Sirivejjabhandu) was a Thai trader whose sympathies were aroused by the state of the prisoners. In early 1943 he became the interface between the V organisation and the prisoners. The ‘V’ organisation was run by an interned British man, Gairdner, with a free Thai wife, Millie, and many free business connections. Many others were involved and as the prisoners’ conditions worsened they raised large sums of money on loan. Millie was among the those who dared to risk passing money and drugs directly to prisoners via the many POW lorry drivers.

Boon Pong Sirivejjabhandu

Boon Pong Sirivejjabhandu

The upriver camps had almost no supplies of medicine and very little food, especially higher up-river where barges could not go. Conditions became dire beyond imagining and their only source of relief was the money and drugs that Boon Pong managed to get to them, acting always as a legitimate trader. He also obtained and supplied ‘Canary Seed’ (radio batteries), if the Japanese had discovered this he would have been tortured and killed. There were other traders, but his prices were lowest. He worked the length of the river, but after the railway was complete and the men poured down-stream in vast numbers to the big base ‘hospital’ camps, his role became even more crucial in saving lives with supplies of food and medicines and even violin strings.

In a story by Brian Brown of the Royal Signals in Beyond the Bamboo Screen (ed. Tom McGowran) he quotes another POW saying the Boon Pong’s wife swam their camp moat at night with medical aid round her neck. The effect on morale of the efforts by this family were incalculable.

Australian Surgeon and POW, Colonel Weary Dunlop, kept a diary. 25 October 1943 reads: The hospital today obtained some most useful drugs and money *. The footnote reads: By grace of that magnificent man, Boon Pong. His entry 30 December 1943, A Valuable supply of drugs and 3,000 ticals [this was due to the wonderful services of Boon Pong, the river trader]. And so on.

In the aftermath of the war in September 1945, Boon Pong was shot outside his shop in Kanchanaburi in front of his wife and father. Julie Summers in her book about Colonel Toosey, The Colonel of Tamarkan writes:

A British officer, …Captain Newall heard the shots and rushed to the scene. ‘He had been shot through his neck and left arm and he had also been shot clean through the back. There was a large hole in his chest where the bullet emerged and spent itself. He looked up at me. “Thai police kill me.” That was all he said.’

A British medical team gave him blood transfusions and operated on his wounds and, amazingly, he eventually recovered. In 1947, Colonel Toosey heard that Boon Pong, now running a bus company, had got into financial difficulties.

Bangkok

Bangkok

Toosey asked fellow prisoners to contribute and they raised £38,000. Boon Pong’s company became successful and his sons now run it. He received the MBE in 1948. He is popularly supposed to have been awarded the George medal*, but Clifford Kinvig in The River Kwai Railway, says there is no official record of this.

Boon Pong and ex POW in his shop after the war

Boon Pong and ex POW in his shop after the war

He died in January 1982 and in 1988 The Weary Dunlop Boon Pong Fellowship (http://www.surgeons.org/member-services/scholarships-awards-lectures-prizes/international-scholarships/weary-dunlop-boon-pong-exchange-fellowship/) – an Australian exchange fellowship for Thai surgeons, was set up.

Boon Pong is remembered in many memoirs and I have only given a rather scrambled outline here of his contribution to humanity. I apologise for any errors.

*Edit 21/7/20 The only award Boon Pong actually received was ‘the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, a rare and most prestigious decoration. He was also made an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau by the Dutch’. Thank you Nick Metcalfe http://www.nickmetcalfe.co.uk for this information.

Hospital Orderly, Chungkai – POWs 22

As often happened in the course of 1943 and 1944, the theatre in Chungkai Camp was shut down for a period, because a production had offended the prison guards. During one of these periods Barry remembers:

With the closure of the theatre, I rejoined the group of volunteer orderlies in the ulcer ward and here met Dr Jacob Markowitz for the first time. For some months more and more men with large infected ulcers had been arriving at Chungkai from up-river camps.

Chungkai unloading the sick2

These ulcers were nearly all in the legs and were caused by scratches from the thorny bamboo, which like most wounds in the jungle soon became infected and ulcerated. The doctors decided that when an ulcer patient had a life expectation of not more than a fortnight then the limb would be amputated.

The doctors had a supply of Dental Cocaine and this was used as a spinal anaesthetic, very suitable for leg amputations. As I worked up and down the ward with the other volunteers, cleaning and dressing the ulcers we would regularly be asked “Will it be my turn soon?” Most of the men were anxious to be freed from the misery and pain of an ever-growing ulcer, and were prepared, even anxious, to undergo the risk and pain of an operation.

Chungkai ulcer ward

I worked for a short time as a member of Dr Markowitz’s team. My job was to tend a small fire under a cut-down paraffin can in which the instruments were boiled. We had, as I recall, two scalpels, a bone saw, and several retractors made from table forks. The operating theatre was in the open, without a roof as it was the dry season.

The area was surrounded by screens of rice sacks on bamboo frames. My job was to keep the fire going and to fish out the instruments with homemade bamboo tongs and to lay them on a piece of sterile cloth on a small bamboo side table.

There were no comforting pre-med drugs, so the patient was immediately rolled onto one side and one of Markowitz’s assistants inserted the needle into his spine and injected a suitable dose of cocaine. Marco usually had one or two doctors assisting him. When tests showed that the anaesthesia was satisfactory a very tight tourniquet was placed around the patients upper thigh or groin and the operation proceeded.

I believe about 80% of patients survived these operations, a great advance on certain death in a fortnight. Many of the ulcer patients would have preferred death to a continued endurance of their miserable condition.

Ulcer patient, Chungkai

Extremely debilitated British soldier – amputation and multiple diseases, Chungkai. Recovered (Old)

There were no painkillers and the next few days must have been agonising after the anaesthetic had worn off. These patients, referred to as the “Amputs”, lived all together in a separate hut and no doubt comforted one another. By the end of the War most of the survivors were getting about on some sort of bamboo prosthesis.

Goods for these and other operations were supplied very secretly by Mr. Phi Boon Pong, a Siamese merchant and barge trader.

Boon Pong and other members of his family were crucial in the delivery of life-saving supplies through the underground to some of the camps. Many, many prisoners owe their lives to him.

Boon Pong Sirivejjaphand

Boon Pong Sirivejjaphand

Christmas 1944, Chungkai camp – POWs 21

Barry and several of the remaining men of 27 Line Section were still In Chungkai Camp at the end of 1944. Barry was still involved with the theatre at this time. He recalls:

Towards Christmas 1944 I was back in the theatre with Leo Britt’s company… At Christmas itself with the help of Gibby Inglefield, who had been a choral scholar at St. John’s Cambridge, the stage carpenters built a set of choir stalls, which were set diagonally on the stage and lit from the front so that they seemed to disappear into the darkness of a chapel. On the night, one night only, the choir was placed in these stalls hidden behind a mosquito netting gauze curtain. A radio announcer with a microphone in his hand stood alone in front of the curtain and told the audience that a radio broadcast of carols from King’s College [Barry’s old college] would now be presented. The gauze curtain was raised just like a pantomime transformation scene and disclosed a group of choristers in white surplices lit up by our two Tilly lamps and little oil lamps disguised as candles, in a row of stalls which really did appear to stretch away into a dark interior. Members of the audience told me that the illusion of the interior of a College chapel had been very convincing and nostalgic.

All the men, captives and captors, never mind their religion or lack of it, were profoundly moved by this.

Two tricky reads

These two books, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and Sandakan A Conspiracy of Silence by Lynette Ramsay Silver, are both important, admirable, interesting to read and yet painful in different ways.

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit to the Goon Squad came with starry recommendations from many sources. The writing is sharp, uncomfortably realistic and funny. It tracks forwards and backwards through the individual lives of a group of people who all have connections with each other. For me, the milieu – the American music and celebrity scene from the 1960s to some terrifying future – is strange and alien.DSCN4543 - Version 2 So, as a reader I felt a bit of an outsider peering through the bars in a zoo. Only occasionally could I empathise with the characters.

This distance vanishes with the graphic section (flow charts, not comic strips) of the book (set in the year 202-). This is a child’s diary and also a brilliant description of day-to-day family life with an autistic sibling. I loved this, it is 3D writing at its best, it has the concentration of poetry, but an almost sculptural structure.

Did I enjoy this book? Not really, but I am immensely glad I read it.

Lynette Ramsay Silver’s Sandarkan, A Conspiracy of Silence (4th Edition), I bought for research purposes. It is the story of the death by disease, malnutrition, brutality and outright murder of 2428 POWs in Borneo during WWII and the failure of Allied plans to effect any rescue. The majority of the men, 1787, were Australian, but the among the 641 British were four young men from Barry’s 27 Line Section. DSCN4542 - Version 2There was a total of six survivors, all Australian. This book is a monument to the memory of these men and to painstaking research. Every name, every known detail of the men, their lives, their deaths, the recovery of bodies and possessions littering inaccessible jungle areas and their burial, has been uncovered and recorded.

My research has made me familiar with the worst deprivations, diseases, brutalities and appalling working conditions of Far East POWs in WWII. So as I started reading about the Sandakan POWs, the early years of their incarceration, though grim, seemed better than for POWs on the Thailand-Burma Railroad. From late 1944 onwards, however, their lives grew unspeakably awful and death inevitable. Large numbers of the men were marched in groups across impossible territory until they fell out and either died or were despatched by their guards. Others were starved to death, massacred in Sandakan or even killed by allied bombing.

The book is even more painful to read because, with hindsight, we know that all their attempts to survive were futile. The ones who died early on were the lucky ones. Even worse is the knowledge that rescue attempts, planned but cancelled, could have been successful.

I am in awe of the monumental task undertaken by Lynette Ramsay Silver and very grateful to her for the scope of her grim, but I hope rewarding, research. For me it has been necessary, but anguished, reading.

Phyllis and the War Office – POWs 20

Page of Dossier for War Office

Page of Dossier for War Office

In September 1944 the Hofoku Maru (http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?59634), one of infamous Japanese transport ships (hellships), suffered aerial bombardment from the Allies. Among some 150 prisoners rescued, about 60 were British POWs from Thailand, including men from the Royal Corps of Signals. Interest in their accounts was intense. The War Office planned to debrief each survivor to try to ascertain the fates of the 40,000 British troops missing in the Far East.

Phyllis, thinking about Barry’s men, contacted the War Office. She realised the immensity of their task in finding out about the thousands of missing men from the few rescued individuals. With the help of Queenie, the wife of Lieutenant Robert Garrod, she decided to compile a dossier with personal details and if possible photographs of the men in 27 Line Section for use in the debriefing sessions. She wrote to relatives the replies flooded in.

Dear Mrs Baker,… it does certainly help to know that someone is personally doing their best for us. … Your heart must ache many a time like mine and we can only pray for strength to bear it. I am enclosing a snap of my husband [George] taken in Malaya soon after they arrived there, I have marked my man with a cross. He is of average height about 5’5” and of a slim build. His hair is medium brown and blue eyes. The only prominent feature is his nose, which is rather big.

In civilian life my husband was employed at John Walton’s Bleach-works, a firm which belongs to Tootal, Broadhurst, Lee, Co. Ltd., but which always goes under that name. His dept at that time was Anti-Crease, you will remember Tootals Products are famed for their crease resisting properties, that was a part of his job, treating the material to be crease resisting.

(George had already died on the Railway, probably of dysentery, on 8 August 1943)

Dear Madam I am writing on behalf of my sister Mrs Bamford as her and her husband is no scolar and I have to do all the writing for them, now in regards to her son William Bamford which is a prisoner his Mother had a card from him last July 1944 to say he was alright working with pay … as far as we know he had no nick name just Willie he did not speak very clear the last time we seen him but he had false teeth before he went oversea but we did not have the pleasure of seeing him with them in before he went away, … now I do hope and trust you may be able to send his mother some good news concerning her son as he is their only child and they are just living for their boy.

(Willie had already died of septicaemia from a tropical ulcer in Tha Khanun on 30 September 1943. Willie was, according to another POW, a: ‘Good kid, 100% well liked by everybody. Died quickly’.)

Sometimes the information was lost in an outpouring from desperate relatives.

Dear Madam,    In the first place I am not very good at letter writing, so I must ask you to excuse me if this is badly written…

He is my Grandson and I brought him up from a Baby having lost his mother and father. and unfortunately I lost my Husband so I was forced to put him and his brother into the National Childrens Home and he had just finished serving his time at the printing Trade, when he was called up. so I don’t think I have seen him for about 3 1/2 years. in the first place he was sent to Malaya, and no doubt you know what happened their, when the Japanese got their. So having received that card at Exmas it is a little bit assuring don’t you think so, although they are such a long time before they reach you, one never knows as they are not dated, as their is a person who lives close by me, and I believe her Husband is in Siam well he wrote her a card in May and she has only just received it. But I must tell you that I send him a Japanese P.C. one a fortnight and I address it as this. A.H. Newton 2361041. Signalman, British. P.OW. Sandaka. Borneo, and I also have to put my address, but of course whether he receives them or not that is another matter, but it is not for want of trying for I do my best. and occasionally I write to the Red Cross in fact I sent to them at Christmas asking them to put a message of 10 words through for me so you see I am not backward in doing all I possibly can to try and let him hear from me.

I am every so sorry for the Relatives and friends of all those poor fellows that were on that Ship In fact for all those who are going through such a terrible time in this bitter cold weather, it is Heartacheing when you think of it all. not only our poor fellows but all of them, that has been done to Death, I sometimes wonder why God lets such things happen, although we have been bombed out of our home, that is nothing compared to what they are going through. I am sorry to say that I only have one Photo of my Grandson and that I cannot spare, but I have one that was taken at the Home if you would care to see that. Well I think I have told you all I know, and I wish I knew more, but I do hope what I have said is correct so I will just go on living in hopes and trust in God and pray that we may come together in not so long a time so wishing you all success in your most trying work…

Phyllis extracted all the information from the letters and made a page for each man (including many not on 27 Line Section). Finally, on 12 January 1945, Phyllis went to the War Office and handed in her dossier to a Mr Rogers. He did not know this at the time, but he was going to hear a lot more of Phyllis between now and late 1945.

More pages from the dossier.

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Chorus Girl – POWs 19

In Chungkai camp over the period late 1944 to early 1945 there were some highlights in the POWs lives, in particular the theatre provided not only distraction but some lifelong happy memories. Barry remembers:

In the summer of 1944, one of the Dutch POWs started a concert party and built a small stage. I was co-opted into the early productions as a stage carpenter and odd job man. Later on a fine new theatre for plays was built and used by several different groups of producers. As a small slim, handsome young man and a good dancer, my true potential as a chorus girl and romantic actress were eventually recognised. Most of the shows were mixed variety concerts with a line of chorus girls.

Cast includes Bob Garrod & Barry (Custance Baker)

Cast includes Bob Garrod & Barry (Custance Baker)

Leo Britt, a Corporal in the RASC, put on a number of straight plays in which I had minor parts. Leo was very strict with us ‘girls’. Report to the theatre after first rice and from then on wear skirts and high heels to become used to moving like a woman. Some of us became anxious that we might possibly be becoming ‘too too’ girlish, and to prevent this we kept a stock of barbells and weight bars (bamboo and logs) behind the stage, which we could lift from time to time as an assurance that our manly muscles were still there.

The parts for the plays were either copied out from books, which we happened to have in the camp, or more often written down by someone who knew the play well from having acted in it or produced it before the war. In my best scene (in Hay Fever), twisting around on a very hard bamboo sofa with the host, I was often worried that our kisses might cause giggles or rude comment, but we got away with it and the host, Leo himself, once whispered to me, “They’re taking it OK, do it just once more”. So we did, and the Japs who came every night and sat in the front row just loved it.

A small part with Dickie Lucas, the main leading lady at the time in a Café Colette show has given me my best-loved anecdote. We did a dance routine to the tune of “Yam” a popular song of the thirties. We danced separately and then as a pair, finally in the chorus line. When walking back to my hut after the show I overheard two soldiers, one of whom I knew, discussing the show. “Those two fucking tarts, they were more like real fucking tarts than any fucking tarts I’ve ever met”. My best theatre crit.

Other members of Barry’s original unit, 27 Line Section, who fetched up in Chungkai, were also stars of the stage. His lieutenant Bob Garrod acted in a very successful production of “Night Must Fall” in June 1944.

Night Must Fall  Chungkai Theatre

Night Must Fall Chungkai Theatre

Meanwhile another member of the unit, Reg Hannam, was still on the railway driving lorries on maintenance work and in spite of this also performing regularly. His son (also Reg Hannam) found concert programmes for shows in Brankassi Camp at 208 km up the line. There was clearly a flourishing cabaret act in which Hannam and his friends performed to entertain their mates.

Reg Hannam in Love Thais

Reg Hannam in Love Thais

It is difficult to overestimate the morale-boosting effects of theatrical performances. The enthusiasm and dedication of those who performed were crucial to the survival of many of their fellow POWs. How much these events mattered can be seen by the fact that such fragile mementoes were preserved.

The cast of Love Thais

The cast of Love Thais