Two of our associate members, Bill and Dorothy Bridges recently showed me a project which their two great-grand daughters, Bethany 11 and Amy 9, had done for their school work at Poringland Primary School, Norfolk. Below is the introduction, this was followed by copies of letters and telegrams, photographs, maps, newspaper articles etc. I am always very pleased to hear when our younger generation are interested in the Far East POWs and I know Bill and Dorothy are very proud of Bethany and Amy's work. Carol Cooper
Our great-granddad William Bridges was born February 1918. The following account tells of his experiences in the British Army and as a Japanese prisoner of war (ex-POW) from 1942-1945. After some experience in the Territorial Army (TA), he was sent to do active service as a soldier in the 2nd World War. He left a wife and two young children here in England.
His journey took him by English ship to Nova Scotia in Canada, then by American ship to the Far East and then on to Australia. On the way back the boat was sunk at Pearl Harbour. They went on to Cape Town on another ship, and then to India and on to Singapore where they began conflict with the Japanese.
His army unit was captured by the Japanese. This was the start of a terrible ordeal, which some never recovered from, and many never survived. Along with his fellow soldiers he was sent to work, helping to build the bridge over the River Kwai, also known as the 'Railway of Death'. The men had to build their own huts to sleep in, and huts for the Japanese guards who held them hostage. They were allowed to send home only one letter, telling their families that they were alive and safe and treated well. The truth was that they were being very badly treated, starved, beaten and tortured. Each day they were made to work on the railway or building more camps, whatever the heat and however ill they were. They got very little food, mainly rice and virtually no medical supplies. Those that needed operations went through it without an anaesthetic, Lots of men had to have legs amputated, due to severe tropical ulcers.
Some men never saw their families again; they died in the camps, some in their late teens or early twenties and are buried in Thailand in a massive cemetery.
When the war finally ended the men didn't find out until two weeks later when the Japanese guards disappeared and troops flew in to rescue them. After a long journey home, the men that had survived their ordeal in the camps needed urgent medical attention in hospitals back in Britain before returning to their families. Lots of families, including our great-granddads',didn't know the men were alive, and were shocked at their re-appearance. The children had grown up and many didn't even know their own dads. Our Nannie's first memory of her own father was when she answered the door and a man she didn't recognise stood there and said "Hello, I'm your Dad"
While the men were in the camps fighting to stay alive, through sickness, starvation, heat and terrible treatment, the women and children at home were trying to cope without their husbands and fathers, rationed food and clothing and an uncertain future.
Our great-granddad has been unable to tell us much of what happened in the camps, as it was so awful. They are memories that will stay with him forever, unfortunately. The men and their families have been continuing to fight for years for compensation for the pain and distress they went through. Most were too frail or sick to return to their jobs and had no money to provide for their families. Our Granddad had to clear snow from the street in order to get money from the government. The Japanese have never apologised for their treatment of these men and until very recently they had not received any sort of compensation.There has been an organisation set up to give the ex-POW's the chance to meet up and share their experiences with each other. This has now passed on to the children of the POW's, as, with each year, there are fewer men left to meet up. Many men still have terrible nightmares about their experiences in the camps, so it still hasn't ended.
Our great-granddad and great-grandmother now live in Brooke. They have
four children, nine grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren (so