On 5th November 2003 Carol Cooper visited Ribston Hall High School, Gloucester to give a talk on the story of the Far East Prisoners of War. The pupils were set projects using the information they had been given by Carol and from any other research they had carried out.
The following is a small selection of the items produced :-
Far East Prisoners of War
The school event was very special to me because my uncle died in the war but not as a prisoner. My uncle, Ken, was only 19 when he was killed in action in France. He was in the Gloucestershire Regiment which was defending Dunkirk while the British Army was being evacuated from the beaches.
I think all of the talk was very interesting because I didn't really know in much detail what happened in the Far East. I learnt a great deal from the talk, for example, the way in which the Japanese travelled down to Singapore. They went through China and came down Malaysia. The soldiers had to put up with terrible and strange conditions, they travelled through the jungle, which many believed to be impossible but they did it.
I thought it was appalling how the prisoners were treated. They were used as slaves to build railway tracks for the Japanese to use. They worked for 18 hours a day. The prisoners of war were severely punished for slacking or not being able to keep up. A lot of the prisoners were killed this way. The prisoners were also put on Death Marches which I was very shocked at. They had to walk for miles. Only 6 Australians survived out of more than 2,000. Two escaped from the march and the others escaped once they reached the camp at the other end. I think this is horrible and can't imagine what the prisoners of war were going through. It must have been very hard for them, emotionally and physically.
The prisoners of war were living in terrible conditions; they only had two feet in which to sleep in, the only food they had was rice (and that had maggots in) and they were likely to get diseases if they weren't careful. Being ill was not an excuse to stop working; you had to keep going until you were better or until you died. When the war was over and the prisoners were saved they were in very poor condition and very skinny. I was horrified to hear that people were living and being treated like that, it is disgraceful.
The prisoners of war had to put up with terrible transport conditions as well. Some of the prisoners were sent back over to Japan to work in steel factories. They were sent over by ship. It was called the Hell Ship. It got this name because many prisoners died on this voyage. The men were packed into an area and were 'stacked' up. There were many ledges above the ground to fit more people on board. If the prisoners didn't die, they often went crazy. On the ship, the only thing the men had to do was to watch a lamp swinging back and forth, that was their entertainment as the men did not have enough strength to talk. It was also very hot on board the ships. None of the portholes were open because the Japanese didn't want the prisoners to escape. At times on the ships it felt like there was no air. The other type of transport they took was rice truck. The trucks had to hold thirty men. Inside the trucks it was baking hot as they were made out of metal. On this journey many men died.
I feel very strongly for all the men who were prisoners and their families. If must have been terrifying knowing that it was most likely they were going to die being a prisoner and seeing those around you dying too.
POW reported by Emma Rudd
The war is over and we are just starting to look at the damage that has been done. Lives have been lost, entire cities, even countries, have been destroyed. What can we do? Why did it happen? No one can explain what it feels like to have lost a member of your family or a friend during the war.
In the following article, I will be writing about what happened in Singapore.
The Japanese invaded Singapore. No one ever thought that this was able to happen because the edge near the water was defended. No one thought that the Japanese would come through Malaya, through the rain forests but this is exactly what they did. Singapore was lost to the Japanese.
Many women and children were killed when trying to flee their country. Everyone panicked when they heard the Japanese were invading. Ships carrying mainly women and children were sailing out, trying to escape. Many of the women and children were killed.
Many men of different nationalities were captured by the Japanese and used almost like slaves. They had hardly any food and water and some turned to stealing from the Japanese. Anyone caught doing this was tortured.
Below is a diary extract of a prisoner :-
"Life in the camps was awful. We had no more than 2ft of room to sleep. We had hardly any food or water. One night I stole food from the Japanese. Luckily I wasn't caught but my friend was not so lucky. When the Japanese found out they tied him down and strapped his hands together. Then his hands were placed on to a rock and a Japanese man bashed his hands against the rock with a sledgehammer. The look of sheer pain on my friend's face taught me never to steal from the Japanese again."
The man who wrote this diary died while building the Burma railway. Many people also died when enduring the Death Marches. Most of these bodies haven't been found. Out of 3,600 men who went on a death march, only 6 Australians survived. No British prisoners survived. This shows how the marches got their name.
Many people died in this part of the world during this part of the war. It was a great tragedy and is hoped never to happen again.
FAR EAST PRISONERS OF WAR
First of all I thought that the talk we all (Year 9) had the privilege of experiencing was very moving but informative, explaining in great detail about World War II and what the prisoners of war had to endure.
There was a variation of the different types of information; visual aid (pictures and slides), facts and information and geographical information - maps.
I think this was good as it kept me interested in what was being talked about and I didn't get bored. I found it very interesting as this was new knowledge for me and I was curious about what happened.
I was appalled at how badly the prisoners were treated by the Japanese. The Japanese just wanted to dominate South East; places such as Asia, India, Singapore and Burma. Many died while being transferred, taken from country to country. This must have been hard for them, living in poor conditions, little food and drink, no energy and forced to work a painful 18 hours a day.
I was amazed to find that only 6 Australians survived out of thousands. It was an interesting topic to research about and produce work for. I am really glad we studied the Far East Prisoners of War and I have gained a lot of useful information.
I am writing a diary entry today as we have got off the hell ships. I want to keep a record of what experiences I will endure during my time as a POW (prisoner of war). Therefore, if I die of natural causes or get killed my family will be able to understand how I felt during this time and everything I was subjected to. I am missing my family terribly and cannot wait until the war is over.
When we got off the hell ships I was relieved to see light once again and to inhale some pure air. It felt as though I was in heaven. We were exhausted but we were forced to work a hellish 18 hours longer. The hell ships were absolutely appalling and we were made to live in disgusting conditions. We were hardly fed or able to drink anything. If we did, this happened very rarely though, we only received about 2 ozs of rice per day which we were expected to live on.
If we were obedient we would get a sip of water but one day we all got a surprise. We got a treat and this was a spoonful of honey. This might not seem much but we were extremely grateful as this gave us a bit more energy, not a lot though.
I am terribly thin now and all of my bones are sticking out, it is a horrific sight. I am not very well at the moment. I am suffering from severe exhaustion and cannot move a lot. My bones are all stiff and I often suffer from piercing and extremely painful pins and needles and ongoing pain. I am not treated any differently because of this. I am still made to work as long as the other prisoners. I don't know if I can last any longer!
It is also very hot and sweaty in the ships. I often felt faint as the temperature just kept increasing. It was unbearable. It was like we were left to burn in there. There were many floors on the ship and at each level we were 'stacked' in straight lines with very little room to move. Often, we got strapped so we could not move at all on the journey.
The only entertainment we had was to glance at the sea through the small window. We did not engage in conversation with one another as we did not have enough energy. If we did talk to one another we probably would get beaten either with a leather strap (or rope) or with their bare hands. I never got beat for talking but I was forced to endure it for silly little things with not much significance. I have still got the lacerations and bruises to prove it. They are so painful and are getting very infected because of all the dirt and grime entering them. It was horrific. Many prisoners died during this terrifying journey. I was one of the POWs to survive. I am both mentally and physically affected by this journey. I hope I can survive, I am taking each day as it comes.
By Lita Russell 9DMS
When the visitors came to school and did their talk I became quite moved by it afterwards. I wasn't expecting what I was given and I was astonished at the shocking stories that the form was told. I understood that they weren't treated with five star quality but the conditions that the lady explained to me really did make me stop and think. I couldn't figure out why the prisoners of war were treated with such little care. I can remember the visitor saying that some of the prisoners would just collapse with hunger, thirst and exhaustion and then they would be dumped in the bushes or just left in the pathway to be trampled on. I was disgusted with the amount of food they were given, I think it was only about 3 ozs of rice every day. Then the lady mentioned that her father was a prisoner of war and he kept a diary which she found out about at a later date, and in the diary he mentioned that if they had a treat, it would be a scoop of butter or margarine. I couldn't believe this. I didn't think I would have been touched like this when we had the talk. It just makes me stop and think how lucky I really am to not have lost my dad in the war by such terrible conditions.
WHY ME ?
I could be at home
I could be down at the pub
I could be riding my bike
I could be reading the paper
I could be picking berries
I could be smoking my pipe
I could be doing a lot of things
DIARY OF A DEATH MARCH SURVIVOR
Dear Diary - June 1945
I have made it to Ranau but I am in no way relieved. I believe we could be here for some time. I am exhausted, I can hardly sit to write this now, but I want to keep a record, maybe someone will find it and I will become known in years to come.
I shall die soon, I look like a skeleton and you can see every bone in my body. I am suffering from exhaustion and lack of food. I am covered in cuts and bruises where the guards have hit me. I am surprised I haven't died already.
The conditions here are terrible. No effort was made to welcome us. It was heavily raining when we, at last, arrived but there was no shelter so everyone just went for cover under the bushes and shrubs. No one can be treated for their illnesses as there are no medical supplies or facilities.
We are only given a small amount of rice a day, but we are all starved already so it doesn't make a difference. There is no water nearby so we have to fetch it from a creek half a mile away but six men have already died making that journey.
We still have to work cutting bamboo sticks to build huts for us to shelter in.
There is no point living any more.