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    Hacksaw Ridge and an article about the RAMC and conscientious objectors in WWI from Blind Veterans UK Review.


    Watching trailers for Hacksaw Ridge I was reminded of two men whom I have met through my work as editor of Blind Veterans UK Review magazine. The first was a man, recently deceased, who came to the charity in his 90s suffering from age related sight loss. He was veteran of the Second World War, and like Desmond Doss he refused to carry weapons. He chose bomb disposal. The second is someone that I did not meet, as he was the father of Albert Southerden, a blind veteran who came to the charity with age related sight loss. As I interviewed Albert about his experiences fighting in France in WWII he told me of his father Harold, who had served in the RAMC during the First World War.

    Speaking of his late father Albert said: “He was a conscientious objector, which could be taken as an admission of cowardice, but he simply didn’t want to take a life. He wanted to serve his country, but not to take the life of a fellow man. That’s why he joined the RAMC and he would go unarmed into No Man’s Land to treat the wounded. I think he showed extreme courage in his conviction and in his actions.”

    Not to piggyback on Hacksaw Ridge I have placed an article below that was written by GJ Haines about the RAMC and conscientious objectors during WWI for a past edition of the Review.

    The cloud of poison gas was advancing silently but relentlessly towards Harold Southerden of the Royal Army Medical Corps as he tended to the wounded soldier laying on the mud of Ypres as the fighting raged around them. Harold had been trained for moments like this, the whistles and shouts to put on the gas masks were all around him, mixed with the scream of his patient. He had heard and seen what gas could do, the blinding, the choking. He had even heard of one man who had lost all his skin due to the corrosive effects of the vapour. He knew that he had one choice though as the cloud rolled closer. He took the mask off his face and placed it on his patient. He was here to save lives, not to take them. The cloud embraced Harold.

    Harold Southerden was a man of conviction and principle. He had not joined the army through the normal channels but as a conscientious objector.

    Harold was one of over 16,000 (the exact figure varies from 16,000 — 16,600) conscientious objectors who refused to take up arms although the government ordered them to do so. The Military Service Act had been given Royal Assent on the 27th January 1916 and it came into effect from the 2nd March 1916.

    Men aged between 18 – 41 were expected to enlist when called and join the army. The Act when first enacted did not apply to married men, those widowed with children to look after, the clergy, those working in a reserved occupation and those serving in the Royal Navy. Within three months the act had been altered and now extended to apply to those men who were married. By 1918 the Military Service Act now applied to men aged 18 – 51.

    Before the Military Service Act came into law there had been demands from pacifist organisations, such as the No-Conscription Fellowship which was founded in 1914 and campaigned that there should be an exemption clause to enable those whose beliefs on moral or religious grounds to be exempted from military service. A clause was put into place and posters were displayed that advertised that you could apply by 2nd March 1916 to have your case heard by a Military Service tribunal.

    The government recognised three categories of men who conscientiously objected, ‘Absolutists’ men who were opposed to war and did not wish to take

    part in any activity that may in some regard aid the war effort. ‘Alternativists,’ men who were willing to work but not under military control and ‘Non-Combatants,’ men who were willing to join the army but would not bear arms against another. It was this category to which Harold Southerden belonged.

    Three thousand and four hundred men accepted a call up into the Non-Combatant Corps or the Royal Army Medical Corps. The Non-Combatant Corps was set up in March 1916 and was part of the army. The C.O.s were ranked as army privates, wore army uniforms and were subject to army discipline. They did not carry weapons. Their duties mostly focused on labouring work, including building, loading and unloading but not handling munitions. The press called the Corps the ‘No Courage Corps’ or the Royal Army Medical Corps. Those who were sent by tribunal to the Non-Combatant Corps and refused to wear the army uniform were subject to army court-martial. Some 5,970 C. O.s were court-martialled and sent to prison, usually sentenced to hard labour. The last C.O. was released from prison in 1919.

    Those, like Harold, who joined the RAMC, agreed to face the dangers of war, but were vehemently opposed to carrying a weapon. They were in the frontline as the opening of this poem ‘The RAMC,’ by Cpl W. Atkins of the A. Coy, 1/8th Worcs published in ‘The Southern Cross’ in 1917 testifies to:

    We carry no rifle, bayonet nor bomb,

    But follow behind in the rear

    Of the steel fringed line that surges along

    With a ringing British cheer.

    Through the tangled wire of the blown-in trench,

    Spite of shrapnel or bursting shell,

    We make for the spots-Khaki-clad helpless blots-

    That mark where our front rank fell.

    We are the men who carry them back,

    The wounded, the dying and dead.

    It’s “Halt!” “Dressing here” – “Come, buck-up, old dear.”

    You’re all right for “Blighty” so be good of good cheer -

    Turn him gently, now bandage his head.”

    The “stretcher-bearers” doing their bit,

    Of V. C.s not many they score,

    Yet are earned every day in a quiet sort of way

    By the “Royal Army Medical Corps.”

    The RAMC lost 470 Officers and 3,669 other ranks were killed in action or died of wounds in the First World War. During the war their men were awarded many medals for valour including 3,002 Military Medals, 395 Distinguished Conduct Medals, 1,484 Military Crosses, 499 Distinguished Conduct Medals and seven Victoria Crosses.

    The popular press dubbed the C.O.s as cowardly. Pressure was placed on men to join up and those who did not were seen as being outside of society. This pressure was not just enforced by the eyes and pointing finger of Lord Kitchener on the recruiting posters. The Order of the White Feather was established in the United Kingdom to present men in the street with white feathers as a symbol of cowardice. Baroness Orczy (who wrote the Scarlet Pimpernel) took this act a step further and established a Women of England’s Active Service League. The membership of this league gave a solemn pledge never to be seen in public with a man who had refused to fight. The Government were eventually forced to issue men who were working on war work on the home front a badge to show that they were indeed doing their bit.

    Those who chose not to take up arms but agreed to join the RAMC were anything but cowardly. Conscientious Objectors featured in the RAMC roll of honour. Like Harold Southerden they saw their role as saving lives and thought nothing of putting their own lives at risk to achieve this. Ernest Gregory of the 1/3 West Riding Field Ambulance was one of the recipients of the 3,002 Military medals won by the RAMC during the war. He served as a stretcher bearer and won his medal at Passchendaele. This was for bravery in the field for bringing in the wounded while under fire and wading up to his armpits in shell holes full of mud. A photo of Gregory shows him posing in his uniform, his belt is of an unusual military design, it has no ammunition pouches. His Conscience would not allow him to carry any. Like Harold Southerden he was a conscientious objector.

    Gary Haines is an archivist by profession, and has worked with a diverse range of organisations from The Mercers’ Company to the Whitechapel Gallery. He is also a researcher and writer, both fiction and non-fiction. He has had two books published on the history of the East End, the place of his birth, Images of London: Bethnal Green, The History Press, 2002 and Bow & Bromley-By-Bow, The History Press, 2008 and is a regular contributor to the East London History Society newsletter and has also been published in Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association. Gary has a great passion for learning and for telling the stories of those whose history is never told. He is now into the second year of his PhD with the History of Art and Screen Media Department at Birkbeck College. The subject of his research is ‘The Visual and Cultural Representation of the Sightless British Soldier, 1915 -1939’. He has a long association with Blind Veterans UK and worked in 2008 as a Collections & Archives Assistant. Gary recently gave a paper at the ‘Commemorating the Disabled Soldier’ at an international conference held in Ypres and a journal article based on this talk will be published by the Journal of Great War Studies in 2014.

    Hacksaw Ridge is released in the UK on January 27, 2017.




    Postcard from France. By Catherine Goodier.

    1st July 1916. ‘I’m well. Things are going ok and I’ll write as soon as I can’.

    Those are the last words that 20431 Pte Arthur G Sillence, 11th Battalion The Suffolk Regiment wrote to his beloved wife, their son and two daughters. In the precious final hours of his life, hours before the piercing call from the whistle announced zero hour and men poured from their trenches and the Battle of the Somme commenced, he thought not of himself, but to reassure his family. He found a place to write a postcard home, a postcard from the trenches — a postcard that arrived after his death.

    As his young widow read it she ran her finger over every letter as she called him to mind, as she hoped that it was all a mistake and that he was not dead. That one day he would come home to her and to their children. That he’d walk through the door and put his kitbag down. Her hopes were fruitless; he did not return. He was with the majority in the great beyond, one of the 19,240 men who were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, men who on memorials are proclaimed as the Glorious Dead. Pte Sillence, soldier, husband, father. A man who was loved. A man who was mourned. A man who is remembered.

    That postcard is a physical reminder of the men, who like Pte Sillence, were in France to fight in the war to end all wars, the Great War for Civilisation. That postcard, now faded by age, as he was not allowed to fade, has been passed down through generations of his family. On 1st July 2016, one hundred years to the day that Pte Sillence died in action, 24454595 Sgt Stephen Richards, late of The Queen’s Regiment brought the postcard to those former battlefields as he attended the Centenary Ceremony of Remembrance at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. As he stood where his great grandfather once stood it was in a landscape unrecognisable from that which Pte Sillence would have known. Today it is a place where people find great solace as they trace their relative’s name on the memorial and walk in the surrounding rich green countryside. It is a place of peace, a place for reflection.

    Many of you will know Stephen Richards who has worked as a driver at the Brighton centre for more than two years. Or you may have attended the Intro Week dinners that he runs at the centre. On 1st July 2016 he was in France to represent his great grandfather Pte Sillence, Blind Veterans UK and the soldiers who were blinded on the Somme, the First World War blinded veterans.

    Recalling the moving historic occasion Stephen said: “The atmosphere was charged and as I stood there on the anniversary of a centenary since the balloon went up and the first day of the Battle of the Somme began, I thought of my great grandfather. I was with blind veteran Richard Haynes and beside us was a French lady whose grandfather had been killed on the Somme. Everyone there shared a common link, we had all lost relatives during the First World War. I’ve been to the Somme battlefields before and to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, but it was a special honour to be there one hundred years to the day that the Somme Offensive began, and young men like my great grandfather went over the top and into battle.

    “It was awe inspiring as there were thousands of people, but there was a great stillness as family members stood and read letters that had been written at the Somme. Letters just like the one I carried with me. I was very proud to be there to represent my great grandfather as his name is on the Thiepval Memorial. That’s what moved me. That I was his great grandson and I was in the area where he last saw the world. God Bless Him. It bought a tear to the eye to be honest. I’m very proud of my great grandfather and he follows me everywhere I go. It was a great honour to be there in a place that is special to me, and is special to our charity as it welcomed the soldiers who were blinded on its bloody battlefields. It was one of many honours in my work with Blind Veterans UK, a very special charity, and a very special place to work.”

    Pte Arthur G Sillence, 11th Battalion The Suffolk Regiment  with his wife and their children.

    Pte Arthur G Sillence, 11th Battalion The Suffolk Regiment with his wife and their children.

    1st July 2016 Thiepval. Stephen Richards, left, with blind veteran Richard Haines on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

    1st July 2016 Thiepval. Stephen Richards, left, with blind veteran Richard Haines on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

    Richard Davies’ Dunkirk.

    Richard Davies died on 24th November 2015 before we were able to publish this account of his time serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France. This is published for Richard and with the agreement of his daughter Glynnis. A kind and caring man this story reflects the brutality of war as Richard became hardened to death, even the death of his close friends as they swam from the beaches of Dunkirk. He never forgot them and would often speak of his friends and the senseless loss of life. Richard served in the Royal Army Service Corps from 1939 to 1946 in France and North Africa leaving as a Quartermaster Sergeant.

    In 1939 at the age of 17 Richard joined the Territorial Army with a friend and went to camp for what he thought would only be a fortnight. However, on the last day their route march was cut short and they were taken back to the camp where they stood to attention as an Officer informed them that war had been declared and they were no longer Territorial’s, but full Army men and they wouldn’t be going home that day. Richard’s first thought was that he’d lost his place in the Royal Navy and that he was in the Army and couldn’t get out of it.

    Speaking about that time Richard recalled: “We did some training, but not a lot, and by November 1939 we sailed for France. We were untrained territorial’s, teenagers with no idea of the reality of war. We landed in France where we spent our first night sleeping on a dirt floor in one of the dockside buildings.

    “One afternoon the Sergeant asked if anyone could ride a motorbike and I put my hand up before he’d finished talking. He told me to get on the bike. I’d never ridden one before, but I thought if I kept in the same gear he wouldn’t know. He said I’d do and that’s when I became a dispatch rider. It was an awful winter in France with snow and ice everywhere and we were to move some 300 miles to Northern France. It took three days as we travelled by day and slept on route in sheds at night. We eventually moved up to the Belgium border and started carrying troops further into Belgium to meet the Germans. We were stationed about 1½ miles from the forest next to the Maginot line. The Government that sent us to war decided that the Germans had no chance of coming through that forest, but of course they did. They came through the forest and they smashed the French and Belgium Armies. We were isolated with no cover at all.

    “My first encounter with the war was travelling along a B Road when I thought there was something wrong ahead of us. I stopped the convoy and travelled ahead where I found five blood soaked bodies, three women and two children, lying in the road. I avoided looking at their faces as I gently dragged the bodies of the women on to the grass verge. I picked the children up and put them in the arms of the women. I got back on my motorbike to return to my convoy and cried until I reached my destination. That was my first encounter with the war.

    “When the war started in earnest we were faced with 300 or 400 tanks coming at us and dive bombers. Within a couple of days we realised that the British Army in France faced the finest military force the world had ever seen. We were sent there with a rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition. We didn’t have one tank, plane or artillery. How can you stop a few hundred tanks with a rifle? This is where we started our retreat. I don’t think anyone in the country knew why we retreated. It’s impossible for any Army to face the Germans with just a rifle. We were sent to our deaths, not to war. All we could do was go back, back and back.

    “On another occasion as I took the troops back and forth I was instructed to go back a quarter of a mile. It was approaching dusk as I turned into a field to stand the lorries down. The field was flat before going into a sharp incline and you couldn’t see the top of the field. When I got off my bike I went for a walk as I would be fairly sore from the knees up. Half way up the incline I heard voices and wondered who could be in the field at this time. I carried on up until I reached the flat part where I could see the hedge and the outline against the sky and saw that the field was full of tanks, and knew that as we didn’t have any they were German tanks.

    “I ran down the field as fast as I could to stop our lads lighting a fire to mash up. They had lit a fire but we soon extinguished it when I told them of the German tanks. I instructed the first driver to go down the road for half a mile and stay on the main road and wait until my return. I turned and went back to the front line to tell the Captain there was a Squadron of German tanks behind him. I left it at that and carried on down to the convoy and waited there for further instructions.

    “That is what we were doing all the time. There were tanks everywhere. You could hardly move a mile before you ran into them. It wasn’t very pleasant I suppose, but we did what we could to get by and it was very difficult with the tanks and the planes. We didn’t stand a cat in hells chance as we were battered day in and day out. It was a case of trying to live and save our lives rather than attack an enemy, which would have been impossible as we didn’t have the equipment.

    “One afternoon as we sat on a grass verge the Sergeant came to us and said ‘I’m going to tell you something which you may not understand but I’ll explain it clearly. If any man here wants to leave this unit and go wherever he wants to go, he’s at liberty to do so. There will be no punishment. You can go where you want and do what you want.’ He went on to say that a Welsh company a quarter of a mile away were fighting a retreat and if we weren’t around when they reached us they would be very disappointed, but we were at liberty to leave.

    “There were 35 or 40 of us and no-one moved, we all stayed where we were. He left and came back 10 minutes later and said ‘I’m going to tell you something else which you’ll understand. It’s every man for himself. You are no longer in the British Army. You are now civilians and you can go where you want, do what you want and say what you want. If you go to the main road it will take you to Dunkirk where there will be ships to take you back to England’.

    “We didn’t know what to say or what to do. We were in a foreign country that the Army had taken us to and if we were no longer in the Army where the hell should we go and what should we do? So we all ambled off in groups of two and three towards where we thought the main road could be. We found it, and we also found that the road was completely blocked with traffic. Apparently anyone who took a vehicle on to the Dunkirk road was to smash it so that the Germans couldn’t use it. The signpost told us Dunkirk was seven miles away and all we could see was smashed vehicles all the way to Dunkirk.

    “In the fields beside the Dunkirk road there were no walking paths so most of the time we had to clamber over the traffic as best we could. It took us a long, long, long time and most had trouble getting through that road, but we did eventually reach Dunkirk, and when we did, it was on fire. There were flames everywhere. We managed to get through at least half of the city and onto a big square where there were no raging fires as there were no buildings on the square. I was with two of my mates when I spotted a jeep further down the square that had tin cans on the floor and as we had no food I went to investigate. They were small tins of mixed fruit and I loaded myself with as many as I could carry and took them back to my two mates and we divided the tins between us. We stayed in the square for some time before we eventually managed to get through Dunkirk and on to the beach.

    “The sight that met us was shocking. The beach was stacked with hundreds of soldiers, soldiers stacked under a soldier, under a soldier, under a soldier, all along the length of the beach and hundreds more soldiers standing.

    “My first thought was, I’m not going up there, it’s right in the middle, it’s wide open and there’s no defence of any sort. The Captain called us and said ‘Fall in here lads.’ I said ‘No thanks we’ll find our own place’. We went further up the sand towards the road. On the sand side of the road there were no houses. The other side of the road was lined with hotels and they were all on fire. We settled down in the sand and we built three short trenches to give us some cover and we buried our tins of fruit in the sand and we stayed there. The Pier at Dunkirk was very long and by the bridge was an ambulance and a Destroyer. We heard an Officer shout ‘The next man to stand on this boat I will shoot!’ They eventually pulled off the pier around mid afternoon and as they started to move out to sea the Germans decided to blow them to pieces.

    “All we could see was two ships going down, 500 or 600 men going down with the ships. All we thought was — why didn’t the silly buggers wait until it was dark. Nothing to do with the 600 soldiers who had gone, that’s how hardened we had become. Day after day we lay in our trenches and listened to the screams of soldiers as they were hit by bullets, and the screams of the soldiers as they were blown to pieces. The Luftwaffe was over those beaches every minute of the day firing and bombing. There were no ships to take us to England. After a period of seven or eight days I decided quite coolly, quite calmly, that I would commit suicide. I could no longer stay in this awful space and listen to the screams. We would be blown to pieces, shot to pieces or taken prisoner of war. I didn’t want any of that.

    “I decided quite calmly to take my own life. I was only 18½ years old. I told my two mates my intention and that I was quite serious about it as I could no longer stand to be there and listen to the screams. The following morning as I sat and smoked a fag I saw a small sail boat come round the end of the pier. It pulled away from the pier for a distance and it stopped. I watched it for a quarter of an hour and as I knew a little about ships from my home town of Swansea decided he was shell fishing and that he’d be there for a couple of hours. I decided to swim out to that boat, and if I didn’t reach it I would sink, and that was my way out. I said to my two mates ‘I’m going to swim for that ship. I don’t want you to come with me as it’s too dangerous. If I don’t reach it I’ll drown, but I’d rather accept that than what I’m facing here’.

    “The reason I decided to commit suicide was not because I was afraid of the Germans. What shattered me was sitting on the beach for eight days listening to the thud of bullets as they entered bodies and then the screams after the thuds from the bullets and there was nothing we could do about it. That’s what got to me and why I decided to swim out.

    “I removed my boots, put them around my neck, entered the water and started to swim. I swam for a while and then floated and looked back for my two mates who were both in the water as they swam behind me. I had a bit of a smile to myself. I was a strong swimmer as I lived only 10 minutes from the beaches in Swansea and swam a lot, but never for any distance, it was always just mucking about in the sea. I turned back and started to swim again and each time I looked back they seemed to get further and further away, and at one point I was floating and watching them. There were no waves as the sea was calm apart from small ripples. As I watched them swim a dive bomber came over and blew them to pieces with machine gun fire and that was the end of my two mates.

    “I had become so brutalised by then that at the time it didn’t bother me, tough luck. I just turned and resumed swimming. And eventually I did get to that little boat and I grabbed it with all my strength. There were two Frenchmen on it, that was all, and they pulled me into the boat and dragged me on to the deck. I lay there gasping for breath. I heard them shouting and lifted my head as a Destroyer came towards us and they shouted at it to stop. I got the two Frenchmen to understand that I wanted to stand up to let the personnel in the Destroyer see my uniform. It stopped, dropped a rope ladder over the side that I climbed up and was given a cup of tea as we sailed home to England.

    “In my opinion the Government of the time should have been declared war criminals as they sent men to their deaths, not to war. Men who had no means to defend themselves. How can you stop hundreds of tanks with rifles? And that’s how we retreated in France. We had to. We had no option but to keep going back, going back and struggling to keep alive. The Government sent untrained Territorial’s with a rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition. The films you see with actors portraying the soldiers as they return from Dunkirk and show them waving to everyone are pure fiction not fact. We were exhausted. No one waved. Not one single man.

    “When I got back to England we went on to the North East coast to cover the potential invasion. Nothing did happen, but on the way back into town I met a nurse who worked at Rampton State Institution and I saw her every night for about a month. She didn’t like working there as it was a bad place to be so she joined the WAAF and was posted to Cardiff, but we kept seeing each other.

    “After a while I was issued with overseas kit, shorts, pith helmet, puttees and it looked as though I was going to a hot place which meant I wouldn’t be home for a while. I phoned my girlfriend in Cardiff and asked her to go to my aunt’s in Swansea. She arrived there on the Wednesday and I arrived the following day. By then I was a Sergeant as I’d been promoted for my work in France. I told my girlfriend that if we married she would have another week’s allowance, which was the equivalent of her pay, and that if I went overseas it would be a bigger allowance. I asked her what she thought and she said — let’s get married then.

    “I went to get a wedding license as we intended to marry on the Saturday morning, but found that we were too young and would need our parents with us. I managed to get over the need for our parents’ consent by changing the dates of our births on our identity cards to make us over 21. We married on Saturday morning and she went back to Cardiff and I went to Glasgow. That was in 1941.

    “I was posted to North Africa for five years. We were married for one day and I came home in 1946. She died on what would have been our 65th wedding anniversary. So we didn’t do bad considering we’d only been married for one day before we parted for five years.

    “I want to say about our lads retreat in France — don’t take any notice of what you see in the films or on television. The true story of our retreat is that we were unarmed soldiers fighting the finest military force the world had ever seen. I’ve never had the courage to go back to Dunkirk and have often wondered with all the horrors one went through in France and on the beaches of Dunkirk, and in North Africa and in Burma, why we should be given medals to remind us of such horrors. I did six and a half years in the Forces and don’t have a medal and don’t want any medals. I don’t want to be reminded of that hell.

    “Life can be cruel and so many have their horrific experiences of war. The ones I feel for are the Far East Prisoners of War as they went through absolute hell.

    “I am grateful for my family and to Blind Veterans UK. I enjoy the Llandudno centre, and it was something so different to do the zip wire when my daughter Glynnis and I stayed there. Everyone is so kind and it’s a very special place.”

    It’s a family affair!

    ron-daviesRon Davies is one of our blind RAF veterans who served from September 1945 until being discharged in April 1948. He received his initial training at RAF Greenham Common, and was later sent to RAF Colerne, near Chippenham.

    After completing his National Service he returned to teaching, a career he had qualified for shortly before being called up. It was in the 1970’s his eyesight became a problem and he discovered he needed glasses, but a couple of years later it had worsened and he was prescribed eye-drops to prevent further deterioration.

    As a child, Ron knew of us when we were St Dunstan’s. His father, Arthur, was one of our blind veterans, “My dad was blinded during the First World War, and that’s when I first met up with St Dunstan’s. They were wonderfully supportive of my family and my dad.”

    Arthur Davies was born in April 1887, and enlisted in to the 12 Yorkshire Regiment on 18 January 1915. He was discharged as a Private on 17 March 1916.

    He was admitted to St Dunstan’s Lodge in December 1917 for training. It wasn’t long before he met our founder, Sir Arthur Pearson, a blind man himself, who gave him a Braille watch and discussed his future with him.

    mat-makingWhile in the lodge, Arthur passed a typewriting test and received a first class certificate in mat-making. In 1920, Arthur returned to his hometown of South Bank, Middlesbrough and opened a general shop the same year.

    However, two years later his health deteriorated so he stopped working, but his wife continued to run the shop and raise a family of six children.

    Ron recalls regular visits from our Welfare Officer, “One of the reps visited every quarter to see how we were all doing. My mum was left with six children and my dad had become absolutely bedridden with rheumatic fever. The entire time I knew dad he was in bed.”

    Arthur Davies passed away on 6 August 1938 when Ron was just 12 years old.

    Now, 78 years later Ron is supported by the same organisation as his father. Ron started receiving support in the summer of 2015 after his wife read a leaflet about our work at the local optician’s. He went on a training course at our centre in Sheffield, “I was despairing a little because I couldn’t read properly. I went to Sheffield and I experienced this CCTV thing. I was fascinated to see how it enlarged the print. To my amazement I was offered one! I also have a gadget that fits on a beaker so I don’t spill over the top, which I was doing regularly. Additionally, I was given a watch that actually talks the time.”

    The mobile phone Ron was given is one of his favourite items, “It has four letters on, and each one calls a different number. My two daughters, my wife and a local taxi firm. It’s incredibly useful to have.”

    Ron was given a cane, he explains: “It helps people see me even if I don’t see them too well. Most people respond to this and just move out of the way, or ask me if I need help. People will get up and offer me my seat on the bus too. It’s a pleasant experience to see that you still matter to most people.”

    While Ron has been with us, we invited him to the Queens’ 90th birthday celebrations on the Mall. He remembered the weather on the day, “It started pouring down, but Blind Veterans UK had ponchos for us all. The staff were really looking after us, it was wonderful. When it was time to leave, one of the staff led us out through the busy crowd with my wife in a wheelchair and summoned a taxi for us. This shows the kind of care I receive from Blind Veterans UK.

    “I have nothing but praise and admiration for the work you’ve done and continue to do.”

    Bill Griffiths MBE. St Dunstaner, FEPOW, and a great man.

    As the Second World War raged Blind Veterans UK, then called St Dunstan’s, Review carried the following article in its Review magazine with regard to Japanese Prisoners of War:

    St Dunstan’s has taken immediate septs to endeavour to obtain an early repatriation of blinded prisoners of war who have been in Japanese camps.

    Through the good offices of the British Red Cross, we have information of four such cases, one of whom has, in addition, lost both hands.

    We now know that one man is safe at Singapore and two others are safe in New South Wales en route for home. They are being looked after by the New South Wales War-blinded Welfare Committee, and our St Dunstaner, Captain Gilbert Nobbs, tells us that they are in good health and spirits.

    Unfortunately there is as yet no further news of the handless man who, when we last heard, was at a camp in Java.

    That man who had been blinded and in addition lost both hands was Bill Griffiths, a Leading Aircraftsman in the Royal Air Force who had been taken prisoner in Java in 1942. He was forced by the guards to remove some camoflage netting that they believed was booby trapped. In the resulting explosion Bill was blinded and lost both hands. Sir Edward Dunlop, better known to the Far East Prisoners of War as ‘Weary’ was then Commander of the improvised Allied General Hospital in Bandoeng. He recalled Bill’s arrival there:

    ‘His eyes were shattered in the wreck of his face, his hands blown away, one leg with a severe compound fracture; he was peppered everywhere with embedded fragments, and was exsanguinated and shocked.’

    Sir Edward decided to treat Bill, despite the opinion of a nurse that it would be kinder to let him die. Not long after this he had to save Bill from the Japanese, as he describes in his War Diaries published in 1987:

    ‘On 17th April 1942 the increasing harshness of the Japanese flared to extreme brutality. Capt. Nakazawa demanded the immediate break-up of the hospital with most of the patients to go to prison along with those medical staff no longer needed for the few remaining. All were required to move at once. In order to dissuade, I conducted him with his guard to demonstrate the serious illness of many patients. First amongst these was LAC Bill Griffiths. Capt Nakazowa motioned to the bayonets of his guard. There was a tense moment as I interposed by body before Griffiths and glared at Nakazawa.’

    Weary Dunlop’s account is typically modest and to the point. Another prisoner who witnessed the incident describes it more dramatically. ‘The Japanese guard raised his rifle with its stubby fixed bayonet, and putting ‘one up the spout’ for luck, prepared to lunge. Weary Dunlop placed himself in the way saying, “If you are going to do that, you must go through me first.”

    Having survived that, Bill Griffiths lived through three more years of cruelty and neglect, despite his double handicap. In his autobiography Blind to Misfortune (Pen & Sword) he recalled his feelings in August 1945 after the surrender of the Japanese:

    ‘We didn’t feel much different and there weren’t many signs of excitement or hilarity amongst any of us. I suppose our resistance was low, and we simply didn’t have the emotional energy to respond to the change in our fortunes. I know I wanted to be alone to take it in. I went back to my bed and lay there while my mind tried to focus on the future. Somewhere within me I knew that, during these years as a prisoner, I had been in a sense sheltered from reality. In our fenced in world I had round me friends who were basically all in the same boat with me, and were only too willing to help when help was needed. The truth of it was I was scared stiff and the closer the unknown future loomed, the worse it looked.’

    However, Bill received some small encouragement through a telegram from St Dunstan’s (now Blind Veterans UK). It was sent at the suggestion of our then Chairman Ian Fraser and it read:

    ‘I lost my sight and hands while serving with the 8th Army in North Africa. Having a wonderful time at St Dunstan’s, learning to type and play the trombone, listening to radio etc. Lots of friends here. Look forward to meeting (signed) David Bell.

    And Bill Griffiths did come to St Dunstan’s, and like David Bell he too had a wonderful time and went on to lead a wonderful life.

    In 2005 Bill wrote the following article for the BBC People’s War website. The article was transcribed by his wife Alice.

    I was stationed with the RAF at Kalong Airport, Singapore in February 1942. The Japanese Air Force bombed the airport rendering it unserviceable. Singapore fell to the Japanese on February 14th, 1942. We left Singapore on February 13th, on the troop ship Empire Star. We were bombed, many were killed and the ship caught fire. We landed in Surabaya, Java three days later, hoping to establish a base, but roads and rails were bombed and we became stranded in the village of Tasic Malay. Two hundred RAF men were stranded in the mountains of Garoet, I and three others drove to Garoet in an effort to save them, but we were soon surrounded by Japanese soldiers and became Prisoners of War.

    Within a few days we were ordered to remove camouflaged booby traps. We had to do this or be bayoneted by the Japanese soldiers, who stood well out of the way. In the process of this task, I was blown up, lost my eyes, both my hands and shattered my leg. Fortunately a convoy of POWs being moved by the Japanese risked their lives and stopped to pick me up and take me to an emergency hospital on March 16th 1942. Then I found myself in Bandoeng at a school that had been hastily made into a hospital by the Australian Surgeon Colonel Dunlop, later Sir Edward Dunlop. He saved my life on the operating table, and shortly afterwards a Japanese soldier tried to push his bayonet through me, but this famous Australian Surgeon Sir Edward Dunlop stood between me and the bayonet, saying the bayonet would have to go through him before it went through me. I believe this soldier just stamped off. Sir Edward is affectionately known as ‘Weary’, and he remained a lifelong friend until his death in 1995. I was his guest in Melbourne on numerous occasions, and he was ours in Blackpool. For many weeks I had pain in my arms, in the early days I was given a little morphine, which only lasted a week or so, so I had to stick it out. At the same time the POW doctors worked on my leg, thankfully they saved it, but it took a long time before I could walk. Everyone, including the doctors as POWs, had their own health problems, including dysentery, malaria, beri beri, fever and ulcers. I also endured some of these, but my fellow prisoners and POW doctors did all they could to keep me occupied. One doctor set me up with a pestle and mortar crushing herbs and leaves in an effort to make medicines. Another had me take secret messages to other parts of camp. I always did my exercises and tried to keep fit. I talked to many professional people, and if I had been in a better physical and mental condition, I would have been well educated.

    My fellow prisoners helped me to survive; they looked after my daily requirements. The Japanese did not help at all. They just carried on with brutality. One colleague made me a gadget that held a spoon enabling me to scoop up the rice. That was all we got to eat, sometimes mixed with a mysterious substance. Another made me a tin gauntlet that held a stick for me to walk about when safe from Japanese guards. Like my POW friends I was underweight. At the end of the war I weighed five and a half stone.

    On August 15th 1945 the Japanese surrendered. We could not leave the camp because the Indonesians began to fight to regain their territory from the Dutch. Anyone white was assumed to be Dutch and was shot. Consequently we didn’t arrive home until November at the Liverpool docks, where the dock workers were on strike! Taken to Gosford hospital, home to Blackburn, then to St Dunstan’s.

    The FEPOW Prayerby Cpl. Arthur E. Ogden and Victor Merrett (Fepows).

    And we that are left grow old with the years

    Remembering the heartache, the pain and the tears

    Hoping and praying that never again

    Man will sink to such sorrow and shame.

    The price that was paid we will always remember

    Every day, every month, not just in November.

    Of course Bill had to learn much more when he came to St Dunstan’s in 1946. He learned to typewrite using probes on his gauntlets on an adapted typewriter. Other adaptations designed by Norman French, our Research Engineer, helped Bill in daily life. After training Bill went back to Blackburn to start his own road haulage business in the family tradition. His typewriter and specially adapted telephone enabled him to run his business until the nationalisation of road transport brought in regulations that put him out of business

    Bill kept up his interest in sport competing regularly in St Dunstan’s events, putting the shot, sling ball, swimming, walking racing and sprinting among others. Despite his modesty in saying he would never win prizes, in 1969 Bill was named Disabled Sportsman of the Year by the Sports Writer Association of Great Britain. This was one of the honours Bill earned.

    In 1972 to his great surprise he was the subject of TV’s ‘This is Your Life’ with reunions with Sir Edward Dunlop and Mickey de Jonge, the doctor and nurse who had saved his life in those terrible days as a FEPOW. Sir Edward’s part has already been described in Bill’s article, Nurse de Jonge treated and comforted him in the first days after he reached hospital and before the Japanese captured staff and patients.

    In 1977 he was made M.B.E. ‘for services to the community’. An honour so thoroughly earned by the steadfast man so many were privileged to know and call their friend.

    If you know a veteran who is eligible to join Blind Veterans UK please call our Membership department on 0800 389 7979. Or visit. www.noonealone.org.uk


    Recollections of a Bamboo Doctor. Dr Stanley Pavillard.

    Below are the recollections of Dr Stanley Pavillard MBE that featured in Blind Veterans UK August 1995 Review to mark the 50th Anniversary of VJ Day.

    Dr Stanley Pavillard, who joined Blind Veterans UK, then St Dunstan’s, in 1994 describes the uphill struggle of being a doctor on the River Kwai.

    ‘Sometimes we gave them an injection of plain water, making believe it was emetine, or whatever else was needed but not available. In the last stages one had a task like that of comforting a frightened child.

    St Dunstaner, the name at the name for members of Blind Veterans UK, Dr Stanley Septimus Pavillard is recalling conditions in a Prisoner of War Camp at Wampo in Thailand during the Second World War. As Medical Officer of the 1st SSVF, he was captured during the Fall of Singapore. The kind of deception he describes became a depressive necessity in the harsh and futile environment perpetrated by the Nippon forces.

    ‘We had to carry the burden and responsibility of easing, so far as we could, the misery and terror of those who were not going to recover,’ he says.

    ‘Since we never had enough drugs to treat everybody properly, we were constantly faced withthe most appalling decisions. Drugs were withheld as a matter of course until life depended upon their use, but then we had to decide who was to have them. On these occasions I gave preference to married men, especially those with children, though I often knew that some personal friend of mine would have to die in consequence of this decision.;

    Those consequences, however inevitable, have left their mark on Dr Pavillard.

    ‘I think I did right,’ he adds with an edge of uncertainty. ‘God alone knows how hard it was to decide such a matter.

    ‘I had one man, a sergeant major in the SSVF, a big burly fellow of tremendous personality and a tower of strength in the battalion. He went down with diphtheria, which caused paralysis in his throat, so that whenever he tried to swallow fluid it regurgitated up his nose. Then the nerve type of beri-beri attacked his left foot; I have never seen a man so full of the desire to live, and all I could do was to sit beside him and hold his hand until he calmed down and in the end died quite quietly.

    ‘Episodes of this kind left one completely washed out, and unable to control one’s emotion. In the long course of our captivity the repeated experiences of such suffering ceased to affect one of violently, leaving only a feeling of weariness and old age.;

    In this bleak environment, necessity became very much the mother on invention. Success often came from last ditch measures which in more sanitary conditions would not have been given the vaguest of considerations. Make shift blood transfusions were just one example of this kind of improvised treatment.

    ‘A private soldier of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, ‘Snuffy’ Craig, was going downhill rapidly, suffering from malaria, amoebic dysentery, beri-beri and extreme anaemia, and not responding at all to treatment,’ continues Dr Pavillard.

    ‘I called on several other doctors, and we all agreed that there was nothing more that we could do for Snuffy. We knew a blood transfusion would help, but we have no apparatus to carry it out and citrate to stop blood from clotting; moreover the men in the camp were so bunged up with malaria that their blood would probably do the patient more harm than good.

    ‘It was a depressing situation. Poor Snuffy was in constant pain, moaning all the time, and I decided that at any rate he should die in peace, and started regular morphia injections. After a while, when it was obvious that he was on the way out and that I could do no harm, I decided to attempt a blood transfusion in spite of everything.

    ‘I asked for volunteers and got plenty of them; I could only use group ‘O’ men since I did not know Snuffy’s blood group. As I had no citrate the only feasible method was the direct one: needles were fixed in a donor’s arm and in Snuffy’s arm, and the body of a syringe was filled from the one needle and emptied into the other. We had two syringes and kept up a continuous flow; the patient improved a good deal, and I repeated the blood transfusions during the next three days.’

    This desperate move saved Snuffy’s life, but another problem arose. The patient had become addicted to the regular application of morphia. ‘He made hell unless he had injections at regular intervals. I had to wean him off it very carefully.’

    Surgery that is taken for granted in civilised situations also took on a very harrowing dimension. ‘It always surprised me that so many men recovered after operations performed in such primitive conditions on patients in such very poor health. We only operated as a last resort, which meant that those who came under the knife — under the cut throat razor, rather — were already suffering from malaria, gross malnutrition, and varying degrees of avitaminosis, particularly beri-beri and pellagra. Many of them had acute or chronic bacillary and amoebic dysentery as well, not to mention big tropical ulcers.’

    Two cases stand high in Pavillard’s memory. ‘Captain Richardson asked me to see a member of his battalion who was exhibiting all the symptoms of acute appendicitis. I agreed with this diagnosis; we kept the patient under close observation and made preparations to operate in case it became necessary.

    ‘There was no operating theatre, so we built a crude table out of bamboo in the MI room. By way of surgical equipment we had three pairs of artery forceps, one rusty pair of scissors and some equally rusty surgical needles; also some gut and one large bottle of chloroform. What we had not got was a knife: my attempts to buy one in Kamburi had failed.

    ‘Time passed and it became evident that we would have to operate. At the last minute I remembered that one of our volunteer officers, Major Corke, was the proud possessor of a cut throat razor, which I borrowed. We sterilised our few instruments by boiling them in a four gallon kerosene tin, and we boiled bits of towel and old shirts to act as dressings.

    ‘I scrubbed up as bes I could and dipped my hands in a weak solution of lysol mixed with boiled water. The Japanese Medical Officer from Trsau was on a visit to Wampo at the time, but he refused to help: he laughed in a silly nervous way and said he would just watch. Daddy Richardson gave the anaesthetic and when the patient was out he handed over to Pinky Riley and scrubbed up to help me.

    ‘Then we started. The cut throat razor was extremely sharp and I had to be very careful not to go too deep: it would have been very easy to go straight into the peritoneal cavity and injure the bowel.

    ‘There was very little fat between the skin and the muscles almost at once. I grasped it with forceps and very carefully opened it with the razor, using the handles of two bent spoons as retractors. Gently moving the coils of intestine, I found an ugly gangrenous appendix, looking as if it might burst at any moment. This was carefully removed and we buried the stump with a purse string suture in the caecum and then closed the peritoneum, sutured the muscles, and finally closed the wound with linen stitches.

    ‘The patient was in a very unhealthy condition, having suffered like the rest of us from malaria, dysentery and malnutrition; we had operated under very unsanitary conditions, and it was a matter for great astonishment and relief that the wound did not go septic.’

    The second case of appendicities, in December 1942 did not go so well.

    ‘The patient had developed very severe malaria and dysentery, and the appendix turned out to be a nasty retrocoecal one; but we were better organised than we were last time. I used the same cut throat razor and was struck again by the absence of fat on the patient’s tissues; he operation took place at 11pm by the light of two rather smoky hurricane lamps, a small torch with very tired batteries, and some candles. We used a solution of lysol as an antiseptic.

    ‘He did very well until the sixth day, but then he developed a typical though rather severe malarial rigor. This was followed by the usual sweating and high fever and early next morning he had a severe rectal haemorrhage and died in spite of my administration of intravenous salines.’

    Not all complaints elicited sympathy, some invoked a rather lewd snigger.

    ‘For some while men had been reporting sick, complaining of an unbearable itch in the scrotum,’ explains Dr Pavillard.

    ‘This distressing complaint got worse and worse and spread all over the camp. At first we doctors thought, mistakenly, that some kind of fungus infection like that responsible for Dhobi’s Itch was the cause of what, in clinical terminology, we called Red Balls.

    ‘We tried every sort of treatment: Whitfield’s ointment, tincture of iodine, Vlemick’s solution, each one guaranteed to make the recipient do a spectacular war dance. It was a grand unforgettable sight during the evening sick parades to see 500 or a thousand naked PoWs leaping up and down fanning themselves after receiving the treatment.

    ‘The whole camp, including the Japanese, used to turn out to see the show. But the tables were turned, and the Japanese guards themselves started to get the disease: one of them, a Korean, came and asked for the treatment and earned himself an appropriate nickname which stuck to him throughout his captivity.’

    Laughter was short lived however, because this compaint, a form of scrotal dermatitis due to vitamin deficiency could take a serious turn, involving diptheria and even death in many cases.

    Cholera was another plaque that descended on the FEPOWs. Within two days, nearly 200 cases occurred within the camp. Perversely, malaria seemed to clear up among cholera victims.

    As an aid to combating this disease, Pavillard built a makeshift water distillation plant.

    ‘The distilled water was required to form the basis of a saline solution to be adminstered intravenously. The treatment of cholera is aimed in general at the immediate replacement of body fluids lost by vomitime and diarrohoea, so that the body never becomes dehydrated but remains able to function.

    ‘I managed to save many lives in this way, pouring anything up to eight or 10 patients veins every 24 hours. But there were various dangerous complications: muscular cramps and more seriously, complete kidney failure or beri-beri. Both of these very often proved fatal.’

    A shortage of food lay at the core of these troubles. ‘It made us very weak and apathetic,’ says Pavillard. ‘We also became constipated in a spectacular fashion. For most of us, the period between bowel movements settled down at 10 or 12 days; later on in Siam I met a man who swore he had not used the lavatory for 29 days.’

    That said the prevalance of dysentery proved a blessing and a curse.

    On the plus side it allowed a degree of revenge to be inflicted on the Japanese guards. Pavillard explains: ‘It became necessary to devote a good deal of time to the business of fixing Japanese guards: not only for the sport of it or for revenge, but in some cases to save the lives of PoWs who were being victimised.

    ‘One splendid technique depended upon the fact that the Japanese tood great pride in their horsy protruding teeth. The game was to express vast admiration for the teeth of some specially vicious specimen, and to tell him that we had among us a dentist who could not only report teeth but could also polish them until they sparkled like diamonds. The bait was usually swallowed whole, and later on, by appointment, one of us would be at work polishing and shining away, a probe would be dipped unobtrusively in a nice fresh hot specimen of bacillary and amoebic dysentery, and stroked with the gentlest friendliest way against his tongue.

    ‘Within two or three days the man so treated went down with acute bacillary dysentery, and 10 or 30 days later this developed into the amoebic variety, so that he wuld be sent to the Japanese base hospital down the river and pass out of our lives for a period which might be anything between two to six months.’

    Eventually, the war in the East came to an end with Japan capitulating after the atom bomb was deployed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ‘I cannot get it out of my head that if it had not been for these weapons we would all have died there,’ sayd Pavillard.

    However, the end was not that clean cut as Pavillard recalls. The Red Cross arranged his evacuation to Rangoon, appointing him medical escort to 11 FEPOWs who, it transpired, had been driven insane by their experiences.

    ‘During the years of captivity, we had all felt vaguely that a victorious conclusion to the war would mean the sudden and total end of all the misery and disaster which we saw every day,’ he says. ‘But men who had been released from captivity were still dying in large numbers and my fellow passengers on this flight were sobering reminders that a war goes on inflicting casualties and causing suffering for a long time after the guns have stopped firing.’

    After a brief stay in London Dr Pavillard returned to Las Palmas where he practised medicine for many years. Like many of the blind veterans the deprivation of the Prisoner of War camp caught up with him and eroded his eyesight and in (year) he became a resident at our centre in Brighton.

    THE FEPOW PRAYER by Cpl. Arthur E. Ogden and Victor Merrett (Fepows).

    And we that are left grow old with the years,

    Remembering the heartache, the pain and the tears,

    Hoping and praying that never again,

    Man will sink to such sorrow and shame.

    The price that was paid we will always remember,

    Every day, every month, not just in November.

    We Shall Remember Them.

    Blind Veterans UK believes that no one who has served in the Armed Forces should have to battle blindness alone. If you, or someone you know if eligible to join our charity please telephone freephone: 0800 389 7979 or visit www.noonealone.org.uk


    Reasons to Wonder! By Sid ‘Badgie’ Hoyle.


    As we continue to commemorate the 71th Anniversary of VJ Day we bring you an article by Sid ‘Badgie’ Hoyle, a late member of Blind Veterans UK and a FEPOW who writes of the worst year of his life — 1943.


    ‘Referring to strange and mysterious events, I recall 1943 easily the worst year of my life. Serving in the 85th Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery, I was a Prisoner of War, handed over to the Japanese at Singapore in February 1942, sent to slave on the murderous Burma-Siam Railway. After day in and day out cuttings, felling huge trees, building high bankings and bridges for 12 to 16 hours a day in the terrible heat of the sun (120°F in the shade) on a handful of rice and greens of a kind.


    ‘Covered in jungle sores, ringworm and ulcers men were dropping with malaria, beriberi and sheer fatigue, there were no medical supplies at all.


    ‘Every day there was death, and only bug ridden bamboo slats to res our sore and weary bodies on at night, along with vicious guards handing out beatings at the slightest mishap.


    ‘We were now 211 kilometres up the line, as after 10 months of slogging and moving from one camp to another, the monsoons broke and along came cholera with it. Our starved bodies made us vulnerable to any disease that was going. Of thte 450 or so of us over 200 gallant men died in this hell hold by the name of Takanun.


    ‘After the cholera subsided a Japanese doctor arrived from somewhere, sorted about 50 of us out who he thought looked like the worst and sent them 150 kilometres down the line to a so called hospital camp called Kanchanburi. I was very lucky to be one of the 50. The journey down is another story, yet it was a very sad time for me, my very close friend Alwyn Barry was lying sick and too ill to move, we had been together since the outbreak of war in 1939. We were like brothers, there was no chance to say goodbye, the sorrow of it all was intense for both of us.


    ‘The 50 of us arrived at the hospital camp, some more dead than alive. The day after we all arrived I collapsed outside the hut. I was carried away to a sick hut where I lay in a kind of coma. I was paralysed, I could not move my arms, legs or head. I just lay there staring upwards. I could not eat or swallow anything.


    ‘I lay there for days, no-one knew what the hell was wrong with me. I can remember someone trying to ge rice down my throat and someone saying “The Padre is here to see you Sid.”


    ‘I could not see his face, my eyesight had deteriorated badly (never to be normal again). I did not realise then that I was at death’s door. I was told afterwards that I was not expected to see the next day. I was isolated from the others, I’m not surprised at that. The rice sack I had under and over me was crawling with lice. I had no clothes only a G string.


    ‘I must have passed out, the next thing I knew I was on the floor of the hut. The fall from the bamboo slats had opened my bowels and whatever was wrong with me must have come out with the mess. I was put back on my bed by the orderlies and I found my senses returning. I could move my limbs, although I was far too weak to do anything with them, so the night I was supposed to die I came back to life.


    ‘How? A paralysed skeleton of a man who had not moved a limb for two weeks, too weak to lift a finger, managed to roll over two or three times and crash onto the floor, and the most amazing thing of all, bash open his bowels, forcing out the killer that was inside him, as if prodded by an invisible surgeon.


    ‘Some almighty power had taken a hand here, but I did not realise it at the time, I was too shocked at the sight of my body, skin and bone. I was thin when I arrived here but now I was just a bloddy bag of bones. I could not sit up without assistance. I was weeks learning to walk and help myself. My body was crying out for foods and all that was available was a cup of wet rice and greens three times a day. It was a terrible, painful period that I shall never forget.


    ‘I was moved into a workers hut after I had gathered enough strength to get about as the hospital huts here were full of sick and dying men, many in a far worse condition than I was at the time. The Cemetery next to the camp already had over 3,000 British and Australian soldiers buried there, or what was left of them.

    ‘The grave that was dug for me was occupied by some unfortunate man who did not have a miracle to work for him, and I have never stopped counting my blessings for the wonderful thing that happened to me.


    ‘In this workers hut were men like myself, recovering from illness. We were not much more than strangers to each other and the work we were given to do was very heavy for men in our condition, loading sacks of rice onto trains for up country, but we had bigger rice rations at meal time, which was something.


    ‘After work one night I was laid on my bamboo bed, about a 3ft wide space for each of us. I was wide awake in the pitch black darkness of the hut, there was no such thing as lights. I was thinking of home and good  food and the fact that I had just discovered that my 21st birthday had just passed me by whilst I was in the sick hut. I was suddenly startled by a voice loud and clear, “Badgie!” I sat stright up and called out “Who is it?”


    ‘There was no reply except a guy across saying “Get to bloody sleep!” No-one in that hut knew me by that name, it was a nickname my close comrades called me by and there were none in this hut. I was mystified, I could not explain it to anyone, it troubled me for days after.


    ‘A few weeks later a group of men came down from the Chunkai base camp. One man was from my Regiment, he told me there had been many deaths of men who  had been brought down the railway in terrible condition and that my friend Alwyn Barry was one of them. I was devastated. I was choked with grief, my morale was dented, but there was no time to dwell on it in this bloddy hell. I lay on my bed that night thinking how I promised his parents I would look after him, when suddenly I remembered the night in the workers hut. Alwyn’s death was just about the same time as the voice that called out to me “Badgie” that night. This connection has been with me ever since. I was sent back up the Railway for more punishment a few weeks later.


    ‘It was whilst in a certain hut one night after work that to entertain ourselves different men would give a talk on their work in civilian life, by the light of a boot polish tin with oil and a piece of string stuck in it. A certain Australian gave a talk one night, as a Government warden working with the Aboriginal people. He spoke: “I was with a tribe of Aboriginal people on evening with my interpreter. They were enjoying a festival, when suddenly one of the elders stood up and shouted out and everything went to an uncanny silence. I asked my interpreter what was happening, he said the elder had just stopped the rejoicing as a mark of respect. He says that the Chief Abula has just died, his spirit had just passed over the camp. I was dumbfounded.


    “Well, how far away were the Abula tribe?” I asked (the interpreter). He said about 200 miles. “Ridiculous” I said, (the interpreter) but the interpreter was adamant that I would find the elder was right. I made a note of the date and vowed I would investigate. Six weeks later I found the Abula tribe and to my absolute amazement their Chief Abula had died the same day as I had recorded.”


    ‘After hearing this, it rekindled my belief that the voice that called out to me that night in the working hut was that of my pal Alwyn Barry. I am convinced it could not be anything else.


    ‘This is the first time I have ever told anyone about these experiences. I have lived with them for 52 years and I shall die with them. There must be others who had strange experiences, but there are none luckier than I.


    ‘This is a very brief and true story of certain events that took place in 1943 without any exaggeration. It was far worse than I could ever describe. There are 10,000 British and Australian glorious dead buried at the foot of this murderous bloody railway. But for the mysterious and powerful forces we do not understand there would have been many more.


    ‘May they Rest in Peace.’


    And may Sid ‘Badgie’ Hoyle be at peace and reunited with Alwyn Barry.


    If you know someone who could be eligible to join Blind Veterans UK please call our Membership team on 0800 389 7979. Or visit No One Alone


    Syd Tavender remembers his fellow Far East Prisoners of War.

    In a green corner of England Syd Tavender was photographed standing beside a 30 foot section of railway line, its bumpers and iron tracks laced with messages, crosses and wreathes. They are the physical remnants that have been placed in memory of the thousands of Far East Prisoners of War who were forced to work on the Burma to Thailand Railway during WWII. The notorious Railway of Death.

    Syd, who worked on the railway from 1942, knows that the 30 foot piece of track is also laced with the unseen sorrow, sweat, fear and blood of the thousands of men who were forced to endure such horrific labour at the hands of their cruel captors.

    Syd was one of the lucky ones, he survived, and today the blind veteran is Chairman of Blind Veterans UK Ex-PoW group.

    As a teenager he moved to India with his father, who worked as a British diplomat. After ‘miserably failing’ exams for the diplomatic core, he joined the Colonial Police in India before joining Gurkha Training School. In 1942 he was captured in Malaya by the Japanese while fighting with the Gurkhas at the Battle of Slim River. He spent three and a half years working on the Burma to Thailand railway along with 30,000 other British PoWs. Syd was also used as labour to build Changi airport for the Japanese.

    He was released in 1945, weighing just 5st 3lb. He says the experience was something that few survivors wish to remember. Syd said: “If there was a party of Japanese PoWs, no one would speak of their experience. If people knew what we went through, they would understand. As prisoners there was no end in sight for us. The beating with bamboo sticks was continual. The worst experience was when typhoid hit the camp.

    “The only way to get rid of it was to burn the dead. The boys were dying in their hundreds. The Japanese would light a huge bonfire. Two of us would grab the shoulders and feet of a dead man and swing him on to the flames. The heat would make the bodies rise up and I swear it was like they were staring at us.”

    After his return he was haunted by his memories. “The fires were the one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind. I used to have violent nightmares for years after I came home,” he said.

    After the war he moved to Palestine with the police as a Colonial Officer, moving on to Burma and then Kuala Lumpur, still as a policeman. He was there for 30 years before returning to England.

    In 2001, he finally received £10,000 compensation for his ordeal. But he vowed to fight on for an apology from the Japanese government.

    Syd became a member of Blind Veterans UK nine years ago when he lost much of his sight as a result of age-related macular degeneration. Syd said: “It is an honour to be Chairman of the Ex-Prisoner of War group and to attend the annual Prisoner of War Reunion. Nothing can compare to the support Blind Veterans UK has given me.”

    e thousands of Far East Prisoners of War who were forced to work on the Burma to Thailand Railway during WWII. The notorious Railway of Death.

    Syd, who worked on the railway from 1942, knows that the 30 foot piece of track is also laced with the unseen sorrow, sweat, fear and blood of the thousands of men who were forced to endure such horrific labour at the hands of their cruel captors.

    Syd was one of the lucky ones, he survived, and today the blind veteran is Chairman of Blind Veterans UK Ex-PoW group.

    As a teenager he moved to India with his father, who worked as a British diplomat. After ‘miserably failing’ exams for the diplomatic core, he joined the Colonial Police in India before joining Gurkha Training School. In 1942 he was captured in Malaya by the Japanese while fighting with the Gurkhas at the Battle of Slim River. He spent three and a half years working on the Burma to Thailand railway along with 30,000 other British PoWs. Syd was also used as labour to build Changi airport for the Japanese.

    He was released in 1945, weighing just 5st 3lb. He says the experience was something that few survivors wish to remember. Syd said: “If there was a party of Japanese PoWs, no one would speak of their experience. If people knew what we went through, they would understand. As prisoners there was no end in sight for us. The beating with bamboo sticks was continual. The worst experience was when typhoid hit the camp.

    “The only way to get rid of it was to burn the dead. The boys were dying in their hundreds. The Japanese would light a huge bonfire. Two of us would grab the shoulders and feet of a dead man and swing him on to the flames. The heat would make the bodies rise up and I swear it was like they were staring at us.”

    After his return he was haunted by his memories. “The fires were the one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind. I used to have violent nightmares for years after I came home,” he said.

    After the war he moved to Palestine with the police as a Colonial Officer, moving on to Burma and then Kuala Lumpur, still as a policeman. He was there for 30 years before returning to England.

    In 2001, he finally received £10,000 compensation for his ordeal. But he vowed to fight on for an apology from the Japanese government.

    Syd became a member of Blind Veterans UK nine years ago when he lost much of his sight as a result of age-related macular degeneration. Syd said: “It is an honour to be Chairman of the Ex-Prisoner of War group and to attend the annual Prisoner of War Reunion. Nothing can compare to the support Blind Veterans UK has given me.”


    If you know a veteran with sight loss who could be eligible to join Blind Veterans UK they can call our Membership Department on freephone: 0800 389 7979. Or visit http://bit.ly/1BlJ4JD

    Recollections of the Burma to Siam Railway. We bring you an article penned by the late Alf Lockhart, blind veteran, FEPOW, friend.

    This article was written by Alf Lockhart, one of the first members of Blind Veterans UK I had the great pleasure to meet when I joined the charity in 2010. Alf’s article was published in the March and April 1988 editions of the Review to mark the 45th Anniversary of the completion of the Burma-Siam Railway, as he was one of the FEPOWs to work on the Railway.

    Alf came to Blind Veterans UK in 1946 as he developed retrobulbar neuritis, as a result of malnutrition whilst working on the Railway.

    A skilled cabinet maker before the war he tried to work as the cabinet maker after the war but was turned down for work as his sight was not good enough to complete the more intricate work. That was until he went to a family firm of cabinet makers who were Jewish and was told. “We would be honoured for you to join us. You can do what you can see to do, and anything you can’t see to do, someone else will complete and we will pay you the same rate as everyone else. You were fighting for us and it is right that we now look after you.”

    Recollections of the Burma-Siam Railway. By Alf Lockhart.

    I worked on building the raily from the start in November 1942 until its completion (in my section) in July 1943. The duration of this time was spent at Kanu, a most nororious campy, which I left in August 1943. After a period of convalescence at Tamarkan and Chung-Kai, the remainder of my time in Siam was spent on the maintenance of the railroad. Although my recollections deal in the main with my own experiences, they are very general and could apply to almost any working camp along the railway.

    Disease was a major factor, and malaria and dysentry were to be the cause of many, many deaths of the prisoners of war. Malnutrition was another killer. This was more insidious than the more easily recognised illnesses and was a contributory cause in all deaths. I was one of the very few who did not contract dysentry at all, and did not get malaria until January 1945. My good fortunte in remaining free of malaria and dysentry meant that I was continuously on a working party, even though I was suffering the effects of malnutrition. Consequently, by the time the railway was finished in July/August 1943 I was, as they say, but a shadow of my former self.

    The beginning.

    We arrived in Banpong after about a week’s train journey from Singapore. We had been told that the Red Cross were arranging everything in Siam so we were rather surprised to find only a few attap huts and sheds available for our accommodation. However, the rations were reasonable according to Japanese standards, and we were told Banpong was only a transit camp, and that our premanent camps were up country. Very good camps, with running water, we were told. The running water proved to be only too true.

    After a couple of days at Banpolg, we moved on the Kanjanburi. Not the town, but a camp alongside the river. We stayed there two days, preparatory to making our way to what was to be our working camp. Also, for so many British Servicemen it was to be a journey to their last resting place.

    The journey to the alloted camps was made either on foot or by barge, or by a combination of both. In this instance the journey was made entirely by barge. By now however, rumours were circulating about our destination. Was it to be a camp run under the supervision of the Red Cross, or was it to be a Labour Camp?

    Already there was talk of our having to build a railway. However, we left Kanjanburi with mixed feelings, but without any rations. We were told we would get a meal at the next stop. We did. Five days later, at Tarso.

    The meals were made up of rice and an extremely watery soup: about a pint measure of boiled rice and a 1/4 pint of soup. This fare was the general norm during 1942 and 1943 and 1945. October/November is the tail end of the rainy season in Siam, and we arrived at Tarso in the middle of the night during a tropical rainstorm. Tarso, which was supposed to be the base camp, consisted of a group of half finished huts — the usual bamboo and attap type. As we stood in the mud at Tarso, rainsoaked and wretched, we began to realise the devil we didn’t know in Siam was likely to turn out far worse than the devil we had left behind in Singapore. It also began to sink in that the railway rumour was due to become a fact.

    We left Tarso again in the barges to make our way up river to Kanu. There was a bit of light relief on the way. On the second night of the journey (it took three days to reach Kanu), the subaltern who was in our barge declared that the Colonel had instructed the junior officers to see that the other ranks were kept cheerful, if necessary, by entertaining them.

    ‘If he thinks I am a bloody chorus girl who can sing and dance to you, then he is bloody well mistaken,’ he said. ‘But what I can do,’ he added, ‘is to recite a rather bawdy poem called Eskimo Nell.’ This he did, to great acclaim from the men. ‘That is my complete repertorie,’ he said when he had finished. ‘You will have to make it last until we reach our destination.’


    We arrived at Kanu in the evening, and found there was already a working party in residence. This party was known as E Bn, and were mostly men of the Suffolk Regiment. Our party was known as W Bn and comprised a very mixed group of Naval, Army and RAF personnel. E Bn having been at Kanu for a month, already had some huts built. This proved a great boon to us as it rained constantly for the first two or three weeks — in fact it did not stop raining until the start of the dry season in December. However, tropical storms or not, we had to start work from the first day: some on camp building, and others on jungle clearing in prepreation for the railway.

    The Camp Commandant was a very nasty piece of work indeed. His name was Lt Isuki, but he was always referred to as the ‘Kanu Kid’. He issued orders saying all PoWs must salute the Japanese Officers, and also the Japanese and Korean guards.

    This order we completely ignored. We never ever saluted any Japanese at Kanu, and only if commanded to do so by a British officer anywhere else. I do not think this was the reason the Kanu Kid kept us on short rations, he was just an arrogant, bullying swine who was probably selling our rations to the Thais.

    Kanu must be a very unhealthy spot. Almost as soon as we arrived, men started to go down with malaria and dysentry. Our two MOs, Major O’Driscoll and Capt McNally, were hopelessly overworked by they performed admirably in the circumstances, and also gave us lectures on health care in general. What little medicine was available was withheld by the infamous Kanu Kid, thus aggravating an already critical situation.

    The doctors therefore, tried to get the more severe cases sent down river to the base camp at Tarso. Tarso by this time had developed considerably, and was now the headquarters of 4 Group, of which we were part. This system of evacuating the very sick was to become a feature in the working camps along the railway.

    Another odd fact which emerged concerned the officers. They never seemed to die. They weren’t all old soldiers. I cannot recall an officer dying at Kanu, or indeed anywhere else, in the railway camps in Siam. This may have been connected to the ‘local purchase’ system. Commissioned Officers, it appears, are given preferential treatment.

    They are given pay, and are allowed to use that pay to obtain ‘comforts’. They received this pay whether they worked or not, or if they were sick or not. Other ranks only received pay, and an exceedingly small amount at that, if they were part of a working party. If we were sick, we received no pay, and our rations, already at starvation levels, were reduced still further. From any pay which was received, either from the Officers Allotmen or from the other ranks’ earnings, the Senior British Officer imposed a tax of 10%.

    This money was used to buy food locally to supplement the needs of the people in hospital. Although local purchase was not freely available at Kanu, there was some, and the Officers, whose purchasing was at least 100 times that of the men, had a distinct advantage in the survival stakes. Still they do say ‘rank has its privilege’. I being a Private, received my full lack of privilege.

    By this time E and W Bns were joined by J Bn. There were members of the FMSVF and SSVF — Volunteer Forces from the Malay States and the Straits Settlements, comprising mainly rubber planters and other businessmen. All British, of course. We continued working from down to dusk, clearing the jungle to make a path for the railway. By now sickness was taking its toll. Men were dying. One or two, at first, but gradually and relentlessly, the death toll mounted. Because of the alarming increase in the death rate the MO and SBO made representations to both the Kanu Kid and the Japanese officer who was an engineer i/c of our section of the railway.

    The engineer officer while agreeing that the matter was serious, said that his only concern was to get sufficient labour to build the railway. If the other ranks died off, then we would use Officers. ‘In any case,’ he added, ‘I have authority only on the railway. Lt Isuki is the officer responsible for administration of prisones of war.’

    Lt Isuki, as usual, ignored their protestations and things went down from bad to worse. Under such conditions the role of the doctor became increasingly important, and both Major O’Driscoll and Capt McNally were in perpetual conflict with the Kanu Kid in their endeavours to obtain more food and medical supplies.

    In January 1943, we were joined at Kanu by a party of Australians. Among their number were two men who became quite well-known and were highly respected by everyone who was fortunate enough to know them. They were Colonel Dunlop and Major Moon. Both officers were brilliant surgeons, and Colonel Dunlop also had the quality of leadership and authority, which he exercised whenever possible, to improve the lot of the prisoners of war. Although there were plenty of officers floating about, it was only the Medical Officers who had any bearing or significance on the life of the other ranks. That is the reason why only doctors are mentioned.

    It was about February or March 1943 when the Japanese discovered, or so it was said, that the Kanu workforce was building their section of the railway in the wrong place. Apparently, our section was not in line with the rest of the railway. This meant that all the work which had been done during the last three months, had been fruitless, and that time would need to be made up. This heralded the start of the notorious ‘Speedo’. The Speedo time was a most traumatic experience for everybody. Even the officers.

    Because of the new line of the railway, we had to move camp. We moved from Kanu Riverside and set up, or rather built a new camp at the top of a nearby hill. This became known as Upper Kanu, or more commonly, as K1. During the ensuing months, the Japanese made ever increasing demands for more workers. The sick were increasing in number, the death rate was mounting and the Japanese were getting more behind schedule. And very soon it started raining again. By this time most men had malaria several times, whilst others were going down with dysentry, perhaps for the third or fourth time. Everyone showed signs of malnutrition, but no extra food or medical supplies were forthcoming.

    Wet season.

    With the start of the wet season, everything worsened. Men who were ill with malaria or dysentery were taken to work by the Japanese, despite all the efforts of the MOs. Many of these men collapsed while working, and had to be carried back to camp on stretchers. The only compassion shown by the Japanese to these unfortunate men, was to allow us to put them in the shade until it was time to return to camp for the night. It is small wonder that so many men died. All the day long the Japanese would be running about, shouting ‘Speedo, Speedo,’ at the same time giving all and sundry a whack with their bamboo metre rods. This had very very little effoct on productions though, everybody was either unable or unwilling to respond, and just plodden along at the usual slow rate.

    By now, it was April. Colonel Dunlop and his party had gone to set up camp at Hyntok, a site about five or six miles upriver of Kanu. Another camp was set up at Tampi, roughly the same distance down river. This camp was manned by a group known as F Force. Between K1 and Tampi, a small working camp was set up — this was K2. Between K1 and Hyntok another camp called K3 came into being.

    K3 was a bad camp, even by Kanu standards. No huts, only leaking tents, the whole of the area was a sea of mud about 12 inches deep, and the work was very hard going. It involved making holes: some, one metre and some, two metres deep. These holes were then stuffed with dynamite, blasted, and then all the debris had to be cleared. This work took a heavy toll. The object of this task was to blast a cutting through solid rock. This cutting, when it was eventually finished, was about half a mile long and about 100 feet high at its highest point.

    By May, the camp at K3 was taken over by Australians. These were the 2/10th, 2/15th and the Anti-tank. The few remaining British stayed on and carried on as usual.

    Malaria, dysentry, and now beri-beri were rife and still taking a heavy toll. At K3 the British were so depleted that it could not muster enough fit men to make a funeral detail for one of our men. In such cases we called on the Australians.

    All through the summer the rain continued to pour down. An outbreak of cholera at Tonchan quickly spread to Kanu. There was not much that we could do about cholera. In such conditions as we were living, one is either lucky or one is not.

    Doubtless because of the mud, yet another insidious scourge put in an appearance. This was the tropical ulcer. These are terrible things. They can eat the flesh at an alarming rate, and can even attack the bone. Constance vigilance was needed to protect these ulcers from blowflies. These flies seemed to lay their eggs in the wound, or even the dressing which covered it as they flew past, and the next day the ulcer would be full of maggots. It was not unusual to see a man picking out the maggots with a pair of tweezers made from bamboo.

    By the end of July 1943 the railway had reached Kanu. With the arrival of the railway, most of the survivors of E, W and J Bns were sent down river either to hospital camps or to other types of rest camps, to enable us to regain some strength. Thus the latter quarter of 1943 was spent in camps along the lower reaches of the river. In these camps food was fairly, and according to jungle camp standards, plentiful.

    At Tamarkan I came across Major Moon, one of the Australian MOs from Kan Riverside. He was doing sterling work in the Surgical Ward. He saved many a man’s leg with his skill in healing tropical ulcers. Unfortunately, many were too far goine and amputation was the only answer, if the man’s life was to be saved. Not that this was always successful. Most men were at death’s door when they were sent to such camps.

    On the journey down to Tamarkan, I passed the much talked about bridges at Wampo and Tamarkan. Although Tamarkan Bridge is the one depicted when the Bridge Over the River Kwai is talked about by pundits, it has very little to do with the British PoWs. In fact, this bridge was originally over a river in Sumatra. It was dismantled there by the Japanese, and brought to Thailand along with a large number of the Dutch. The bridge that became the folklore of the railway was the bridge at Wampo.

    Wampo Bridge is actually a viaduct. It runs around a cliff which forms the bank of the river at this point. It is several hundred yards long, about 200 – 300 feet above the river, as far as I can recall, and is a most ramshackle, Heath Robinson looking construction. I have been over both bridges a number of times, but Wampo Bridge always made my hair stand on end.

    In December 1943, the railway was at last completed. There was a general regrouping of the various PoW groups, which by this time had become intermingled. All 4 Group personnel in the area of Chung-Kai were brought together and encamped there until such time as the new 4 Group base was established, at a place named Tamuan.

    Several months were spent at Chung-Kai. The food was good and plentiful in this camp, but the huts were old and absolutely lousy. I don’t mean lousy rotten, I mean lousy with lice and bed bugs. Fortunately, in the 4 Group intake was Colonel Dunlop — the Colonel I mentioned earlier at Kanu Riverside. He was most unhappy about the state of the hospital which, although it had doctors in charge, was almost completely staffed by volunteer helpers, mostly untrained albeit willing. Colonel Dunlop first collected all the RAMC and RAAMC personnel who were in the camp and put them to work as nursing orderlies.

    He then decided to get rid of all the vermin from the hospital wards. This he did by organising working parties to disinfect the hospital. Everything that could be boiled, was boiled. This got rid of the lice. The next job was the bamboo slats on which we slept. Many fires were built, and the slats were passed through the flames until all bed bugs had been destroyed. After disinfecting the hospital, he then set about the ‘messing’ system at Chung-Kai. He organised a diet which suited the needs of patients suffering from various ailments. Where all this extra food came from, I do not know. But with Colonel Dunlop in command, it certainly went to the ones most in need.

    In May 1944 the camp at Tamuan was ready, and 4 Group established itself there. This was a clean camp, not in the jungle but on the plains. Those who had recurring illness such as amoebic dysentery and/or malaria still had relapses, but on the whole the MOs were able to cope.

    During the next 12 months, large parties of men were taken from Tamuan and sent to Japan. We were to learn later that a number of transports which had carried these men were sunk by Allied submarines. What a sad thought — to have survived the Railway of Death, only to be drowned — and by our own forces at that.

    We who remained in Siam, were put to work keeping the railway in repair. Work parties were sent up and down the line, wherever the need arose. The biggest problem was the encroaching jungle. We were not greatly troubled by the RAF except at Non Pladuk, where a large number of men were killed or injured.

    When the end of the war came, I was in a hospital camp at Nikom Paton. In this camp were all ranks of British, Australian and Dutch prisoners of war. The first camp orders put up by the British Camp Commandant, read as follows:

    All British personnel below the rank of Sergeant will parade at 0630 hours tomorrow for PT. Only leg amputees are excused from this parade.

    What a profound thought. After more than three years of being worked to the point of exhaustion, all our Officers could do for us, was to organise a PT parade.

    Alf Lockhart led a full life and after the death of his wife Elsie he moved into Blind Veterans UK centre in Brighton where he lived until his death in December 2011. He is still missed by all who knew him.

    If you know a veteran with sight loss who could be eligible to join Blind Veterans UK please contact our Membership Department on freephone: 0800 389 7979. Or you can visit http://bit.ly/1BlJ4JD

    Blind veteran Kenneth Hill, former Far East Prisoner of War speaks of 1942 to 1945. By Catherine Goodier.

    Sitting with Kenneth and Brenda Hill in their charming canal side cottage it is difficult to imagine a more perfect setting, as canal boats chug past in the sun, and the only sound comes from birds as they fly overhead and the gentle bleat of sheep in the neighbouring fields. It is a perfect pastoral scene, one that brings to mind the words of Keats and Wordsworth.

    I am there to ask Kenneth about a time that is far removed from the life he and Brenda have built over 68 years of married life. Before we start, Kenneth removes a smooth metal strip from his back trouser pocket. Just three inches in length and two inches in width, carved into it are seven numbers below Japanese script. It is Kenneth’s name, rank and number. Although it weighs almost nothing, it is a heavy reminder of the years from 1942 to 1945 when he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese. As part of F Force, who with H Force were the last parties to leave Singapore, he has carried it in the back pocket of his trousers for more than 70 years.

    An apprentice electrician before the war, he joined the TA 8th Army Field Workshop with his eldest brother Geoffrey in June 1939. Both received their call up papers in August that year. As Kenneth was only 18 at the time he was sent to The Royal Army Ordnance Corps’s 4th Division Anti Aircraft Workshop to work on ack-ack guns in Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Dudley. He then moved to a heavy ack-ack unit as an electrician. His brother went to France, to Dunkirk. Kenneth later moved to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

    Kenneth said: “At the end of 1941 my unit left England to go to Basra to protect engineers who were building a railway up into Russia. As we sailed towards Basra our ship was rerouted to Singapore to look after the guns that were already there. In Singapore we set up a workshop in an engineering factory. We had to search for food as it was in short supply and there wasn’t any clean water as the Japanese had turned the water supply off. Looking for food one day I found a wet box, I looked inside and it was full of tins of bully beef. The tins were rusty but the meat inside was perfect. I took the whole lot back to the workshop and we had a great meal. Although we were at war and we had

    little food and water, before we were made prisoners of war (PoWs) I had a lovely life in Singapore. I was a Corporal and I had my own servant who would bring me a cup of tea and shave me in the morning, and do my washing.

    “When Lieutenant General Arthur Percival surrendered on 15th February 1942 we were given instructions to smash the machines in the workshop. There was a crane in one bay and we had to take the stops off and run the crane along the track. We also had to get rid of our rifles. There was a canal near the workshop that we drove the lorries into and then set fire to them. They burnt for ages, but it meant the Japanese couldn’t use them.

    “On the day we were made PoWs we had to parade and line the main road while the Japanese marched in. We were then moved up to Changi Gaol. Some went into Barracks, and some like me were initially under canvas before they moved us into some old shops that we slept in; the shops were made of sheets of corrugated iron. My first working party at Changi Goal was to level the runway there. I was then sent back to Singapore with a different working party.

    “I remember that back in Singapore one canal was full of bodies of Chinese men and women and horses and pigs – all slain and thrown into the canal. The Australians were given the job to clean the canal and remove the bodies. The Japanese showed us a shelf with five severed heads on it – they told us that is what happened to looters. There was a severed head on a pole on every street corner to deter looters.

    “One of the first jobs we were given by the Japanese was to collect the cars, which took us up into Malaya. That was before working on the Railway. Everything was easier than working on the Railway. I would drive a lorry and tow five cars at a time. We would take them on to a field and the Japanese would have them done up. We would always search the cars and one day one of our chaps found a Bakelite hand grenade, I don’t think he realised what it was. At the time I was at the back of a lorry and he threw the grenade and it landed beside me and went off. It caught my eye and the Japanese took me to the Japanese doctor who treated my eye and told me it would be OK. We were in a working party of three with one Japanese guard. Our guard had fought in China for 10 years and he suffered from terrible rheumatism and would seize up. When that happened we would have to push his joints back into place. If the Japanese had seen us doing that to him, even though we were helping him, they would have shot us. Some of the Japanese were good to us though.

    “My next working party was on the Railway. I was a lucky man really as we had to march from Changi Goal to Kamburi, which was the base camp for the railway. When my friend, Vic Morrell, and I reached Kamburi we were taken sick. We were given a day to recover. We went back the next morning and they gave me a further day to recover, but not my friend. He had to walk for 250 miles to the Burma border. I stayed at Kamburi for another week as I had to wait for a working party. When I did get up to the railway it was to a little place called Nike. I asked about my friend and they told me that he had died after he contracted cholera. That was a terrible blow.

     “Our working party was responsible for keeping the road open. As it was the monsoon season the lorries would get stuck in the mud and we would use elephants to pull the lorries up. We would cut trees down and place them in the road for the lorries to drive over. That was when I lost the hearing in one ear as we had to carry the tree trunks and lay them in the road. I was holding one end of a tree trunk when the man holding the other end dropped it. The trunk bounced and whacked me in the ear, perforating my ear drum.

    “It’s well documented that there was a lot of cholera in the camps and that we had to burn the bodies of those who had died as the Japanese were scared that if they buried the bodies the infection would seep into the water supply.”

    There was one time when Kenneth could have been shot for escaping from the camp, but his life was saved by a Japanese guard.

     “I had to drive the ration wagon to pick up supplies for the camp. There was a Japanese guard with me and when the truck wouldn’t start after we had loaded the supplies he told me to go and fetch a mechanic while he guarded the truck. As I walked in search of a mechanic an MP cycled by. He thought I had escaped from the camp and took me to the MP station where I was questioned for almost a day. I told them what had happened but they wouldn’t believe me. I really thought they were going to shoot me. Thankfully the Japanese guard found me and told them what had happened. They released me and I went back to the camp. That guard saved my life.

    “The brutality of the Japanese guards is well known and they would use the dreaded speedo, a bamboo stick that they would hit people with as they yelled speedo, speedo to make them work faster. I was lucky as I was young

    and fit and although I was quite skeletal at the end, I remained healthy and that kept me safe from the speedo.

     “I experienced Japanese brutality when we were wrongly accused of stealing sugar. A Japanese guard slapped my face a number of times with his wet hand. Later they took us out into a field at night and we were told we would have to stay there until we confessed. We didn’t as we hadn’t taken anything. The Malayan PoWs were also there and one of them said he’d seen one of the Chinese prisoners go into the caravan where the sugar was kept. They found him and they tied him to the back of a lorry and drove him around the field. Of course they got faster and faster and he was dragged around the field until long after his death.

    “Much has been said about the diet of those of us who worked on the Railway. We got up in the dark and came back in the dark. On Sunday morning when we didn’t go out we couldn’t eat our breakfast as we could see that it was full of maggots. We ate them in the dark as we couldn’t see what we were eating. They only gave rations for people who went to work, the sick were denied rations. We had to try to get everyone on parade in the morning and then get the sick back to bed before we went out on our working party. Occasionally on a working party in Singapore we had been given shark, it was usually given to us to impress a Japanese General when they came to inspect the camp.”

     Kenneth and his fellow PoWs found out an Atom bomb had been dropped on Japan when they were told one night by an Officer.

     “An officer came to our hut and told us the bomb had been dropped. We were told not to let on that we knew. He came back again to say that the Japanese had surrendered. That bomb saved our lives. We were saluting the Japanese one day and the next morning they were saluting us and the next day they had gone. We didn’t see them go, they just left. Although they did leave a few people behind on the aerodrome. On the day freedom was declared I was transferred to a headquarter company who had a hut outside the Gaol. At that time two Australian Officers landed by parachute on the runway, which is now Changi airport and they took over command of the camp. We received a message to put a white cross on the runway for planes to drop supplies for us. We searched to see what we could find to put down and were told by an Australian Officer to make the Japanese do it. It felt good to watch them work as they put a white cross on the runway.

    “As I’d somehow managed to keep myself fit, I put it down to the fact I was so young, I was given duties to carry out after our release from Changi Goal. It meant I was one of the last to leave, as I was driving a lorry to ferry people to Singapore to get on board their planes. I was at the airport at the same time as General Slim’s plane and his pilot came and asked if I’d sent word home. I hadn’t and he took me into General Slim’s plane, gave me a postcard, which I filled in, and he made sure that my mother got the notice that I was well.

    “At last it was time to return home and we boarded a boat for Southampton. Our first meal on board was rice, the doctors said as we’d eaten rice for three and a half years our stomachs wouldn’t initially be able to take rich foods. They gradually built us up to eat properly. On the journey home I sent a telegram at each stop. I sent one from Colombo in Sri Lanka. When we arrived at the bottom of the Suez Canal we were given new uniforms and our stripes and medals were put on them. My cousin was waiting for me when I got off the boat there as he was a Batman to an Officer and he showed me around. We stopped there for two or three days. The next stop was at Gibraltar and then on to Southampton and home and family. We thought once we got to Southampton we could go straight home, but they wouldn’t let us and we had to stop overnight. I was feeling a lot healthier by then, as they had really looked after us on the journey back to England, which took three weeks.

    “Leaving Southampton I took a train with a chap from Wolverhampton. I was undecided whether to get off at Birmingham or go on to Dudley Port. In the end I decided to get off at Birmingham and he went on to Wolverhampton. There was a ‘get you home service’ for Servicemen and I thought I would use that, but as I was going up the steps at New Street station who should come down the steps but my dad and my sister Dorothy who was in the WAAF. They didn’t know I would be there, they thought I might get off the train there. They had a car to take me home. It was great to see them. We got home and it was great to see my mum after three and a half long years.

    “When I’d settled back at home my mum arranged a birthday party for me in a Church Hall, as we didn’t get to celebrate my 21st birthday together. By then I was 25. I’d spent my 21st birthday as a PoW. We were captured in February and my birthday was on 6th March. One of my mates, a Staff Sergeant from Liverpool, had given me a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate for my 21st. We kept in touch after we were released and he came to our wedding when Brenda and I married on 7th June 1947.

    “I found out what my mum had been through during the war. On one day in February 1942 three telegrams had landed on her mat informing her that her three sons were missing in action. I was captured in Singapore; my brother Geoffrey, a Staff Sergeant, was captured in Java. For a short time Geoffrey and I were both in Changi Goal, although in different parts of the camp. I had a gramophone and a few records and I would carry it across the camp to play him some music. He was sent to Borneo and that was the last I saw of him until the war had ended. My other brother Granville, a Sergeant in the RAF, managed to get out of Greece into Crete and hide in the rocks until he could get a boat to Egypt. He made his way back to England and went over to France on D-Day. I was reunited with Granville, but Geoffrey had go to Australia to recuperate, and it was a while before he was well enough to be repatriated, although he was still a bit of a wreck when he got home. He got better, he married and raised a family and ended up as a works engineer at the steelworks in Brierley Hill.

    “Life carried on. I was offered my old apprenticeship, but I was 25 by then, a man, and I told them I couldn’t afford to live on the wages they paid. I took a job at Baldwin’s steelworks in Swindon, near Dudley. It’s where Brenda had worked on the big sheets of metal that she had to catch. We always say that she did proper man’s work during the war! It’s where we met.

    “On VJ Day I mark it in my own way as I think of everyone I knew. I don’t feel bitter about my time as a PoW. I felt bitter towards the Government of the time as they sent us to Singapore knowing there was no protection. I keep the steel plate with my name, rank and number in my back pocket to remind me. We also had to wear a bracelet with the information carved into it as we didn’t have shirts and I have kept that. For everyone I knew – my pal Vic Morrell, the Cathedral organist in Changi who would practice on a wooden keyboard, and the thousands of men and women who lost their lives – the FEPOW prayer.”


    by Cpl. Arthur E. Ogden and Victor Merrett.

    And we that are left grow old with the years,

    Remembering the heartache, the pain and the tears,

    Hoping and praying that never again,

    Man will sink to such sorrow and shame.

    The price that was paid we will always remember,

    Every day, every month, not just in November.

    We Shall Remember Them.


    If you know a veteran who could be eligible to join Blind Veterans UK please call our Membership department on freephone 0800 389 7979. You can find more information at www.noonealone.org.uk