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On December 16th 1994 the following article in a local newspaper made
an incredible impact on one women who read it, , so much so that three
years later it brought about the beginning of COFEPOW - The Children (&
Families) of the Far East Prisoners of War.
||Carol Cooper, from Norfolk started to read the newspaper article then with a tremendous shock she realised the soldier concerned was her father, a father who was sent to war when she was two years old.
His name was L/Cp William Smith, the address given was the house where she was born in 1939. Her mother and sister had died some years ago, but none of them ever knew the diary existed. They had only known that he had died working on the Thai/Burma Railway and was buried in Burma.
Carol Cooper is the baby
The discovery of her father's diary began a series of remarkable events.
But her first task was to contact the person who had bought the diary at
the auction and asked, being the daughter of the solder concerned, if he
would sell her the diary - he refused and so began a long campaign to acquire
something that she believed should have rightfully come back to her mother.
Solicitors confirmed that legally the diary belonged to the person who bought
it, morally it belonged to Carol, but no one could change the law.
The buyer then, temporarily, lodged the diary in the Royal Norfolk Regimental
Museum in Norwich and they sent Carol a transcribed copy of what her father
had written. Reading this copy was a traumatic experience. It had been kept
from the day he had left England on the 28th October 1941. This date was
her parents birthdays, both being born on the same day and this fateful
day in 1941 was their 26th birthday. The whole diary was written as if a
letter to her mother together with many moving and loving poems and despite
what he was going through he always sent his love on their birthdays.
Though Daddie be so far away,
You are in this thoughts forever,
He prays to God each night and day
We soon may be together.
To my darlings"Happy Birthday"
Is all I can send to you,
But I'll be home some "Bright Sunday"
And make your dreams come true.
To the very end he was so sure that, although so many were dying all
around him, he was going to make it, he was going to come back. He was
starving, he was very ill, his few clothes were filthy, but he still managed
to write in the diary - "Don't worry Ida darling, I'm coming back
to you one day".
The last entry in the diary was the 8th December 1943. He was in a camp
called Tambaya in Burma. He died 9 days later on the 17th December. Carol
was later to learn that he had died of malaria, malnutrition, dyptheria
and cardiac beri beri.
Reading the copy of the diary answered a question that had puzzled Carol's
mother all her life. She had received a letter from the War Office informing
her that her husband was a prisoner of the Japanese in Singapore. Two
years later she was informed that he had died and was buried in Burma.
She would not believe that he had died in Singapore and had been buried
hundreds of miles away in Burma. She always thought that it was a mistake
and one day he would come home, but the diary would have told her that
he was sent from Singapore with the ill fated "F" Force into
He wrote of being marched up-country, travelling from camp to camp along
the length of the Thai/Burma railway, night after night, often in mud
and rain, stopping during the heat of the day and then off again, he often
wrote "last night we did approx 20 miles, it was hell". They
were forced to endure the unimaginable - all were exhausted, starved and
suffering from ill health.
Now knowing so much more about her father strengthened Carol's resolve
to one day gain possession of the original diary. Fortunately, after endless
letter writing, the conflict of the diary came to the attention of a BBC
producer who thought it would make a good story line for a documentary.
The outcome was the commencement of a documentary film in August 1996
dramatising the events that had taken place and Carol was offered the
journey of a lifetime when it was planned to take her back to Thailand
to retrace the steps her father had taken while a Far East Prisoner of
War. The intention was to end the documentary in Burma with Carol visiting
her father's grave, but shortly before they left for Thailand on the 8th
November 1997, the owner of the diary agreed to sell it and millions of
viewers were to see a very tearful Carol receiving her father's diary
for the first time.
Filming in Thailand along the route of the infamous 'Death Railway' was
to prove an emotional and unforgettable experience. Standing in 'Hellfire
Pass' where 700 men died of brutality in a few short weeks, brought choking
tears and the same had to be said when early one day, Carol climbed into
one of the original metal trucks which had transported hundreds of prisoners
from Singapore to Ban Pong in Thailand. Her father had written in the
diary of travelling in these trucks for five days, 30 men to a truck and
going for 36 hours without food or water. At 8.30 in the morning, the
sides and roof were already very hot to touch and it was not hard to imagine
what it must have been like at midday.
Carol in Metal Truck
|The whole journey from Kanchanaburi to the Three Pagoda Pass, on the Burma Border, was one of emotion, passing through camps like Nikke where her father wrote "It seems like it will never end, but one must keep smiling and eating the rice. I pray to God that it won't be long now, over 2000 have died so far since we left Changi."
One of the most moving occasions was when visiting the Chungkai and
Kanchanaburi Commonwealth War Cemeteries. Walking through the large
Kanchanaburi cemetery under a scorching sun, weaving between thousands
of small neat headstones seemed to epitomise the whole dreadful fate
of the Far East Prisoners of War. They had all been so young, mostly
between 20 and 28 years of age, but for Carol the real tragedy lay
in the knowledge that not one of the 7,000 men laying before her had
died in a battle of soldiers. Not one had been given the chance to
fight for his life - they had been ordered to surrender and all died
in captivity - prisoners, dying of starvation, brutality, slavery,
dreadful tropical diseases, malaria, diphtheria, dysentery, cholera,
beri-beri and terrible leg ulcers.
Standing in the hot sun she wept for their suffering and felt a dreadful
injustice when realising that nowhere had she seen a Memorial, a plaque
or a stone anywhere along the length of the railway from the British Government
honouring the thousands of British servicemen who had died there.
Until the discovery of her father's diary and the visit to Thailand, she
had known only that the Far East prisoners were not treated very well
and were poorly fed, the true extent of the treatment of these British
Prisoners of War was unknown to her and it appears unknown to many other
people. Why, she has often wondered, does everyone know what happened
to the Jews in Germany, but so few know of the similar suffering of the
Far East Prisoners.
The saddest moment of the whole journey was when they tried to enter Burma.
The BBC were refused entry because of a flare-up of their internal political
problems. The Burmese Government refused to have any media coverage
in their country, even though the BBC only wanted to film in the Thanbyuzayat
War Cemetery. This was a bitter blow both to Carol and for the film producer
and they had no option but to turn back.
The documentary 'The Diary' was first shown in the Eastern Regions and
then on national T.V. on 12th August 1997. It was advertised with the
following write up:-
"Like thousands of his fellow soldiers who became prisoners of war
after Singapore fell to the enemy, Lance Corporal Bill Smith endured unimaginable
suffering at the hands of the Japanese. Unknown to the enemy, Bill kept
a diary that ended with his death from malaria in December 1943. His words
were a testament to the love he bore for his family. After his death,
the diary disappeared, only to resurface some 50 years later when it was
sold at auction. This is the poignant story of his daughter's fight for
the diary she believes is rightfully hers. It is also a reminder of the
horrors endured by many thousands".
After the filming of the documentary, Carol was to receive many letters,
but more importantly, many books. Books written by the ex prisoners themselves,
books on their experiences, their suffering and their three and a half
years of hell. These books endorsed all that she had learnt in Thailand
and more so.
With the visit to Thailand over, the filming finished, the documentary
shown, life for this ordinary English woman should have returned back
to normal. But not so. She could not forget the experiences of Thailand,
the knowledge of so much misery and the deep sense of injustice she felt
towards the British Government, past and present, for their uncaring attitude
in refusing to acknowledge the suffering and ill treatment of their own
men by the Japanese army.
She commenced a campaign of letter writing to the Government - "Why
has the Government never honoured or paid tribute to the Far East Prisoners
of War, servicemen who died for their country while supposedly under the
protection of the Geneva Convention?". Her own M.P. eventually brought
the matter up in the Houses of Parliament - The reply:- "It is not
the policy of the Government to erect memorials to servicemen, any memorials
have to come from private fund raising."
In August 1997 Carol Cooper put an advert in the local papers calling
for the children and families of Far East Prisoners of War to join her
in asking the British Government to pay these men the honour they truly
In November 1997 COFEPOW - The Children (& Families) of the Far East
Prisoners of War was formed with twenty five members in the Norfolk area.
Members now hail from all over the country. A year later five Charity
Trustees were appointed and COFEPOW became a Registered Charity - No.
They have the support of many M.Ps across the country and the help and
friendship of numerous FEPOW Associations. On 24th October 1998, they
planted their first Tree of Remembrance to their fathers, brothers and
uncles, 57 years after most of them last left home.
COFEPOW has already met with officials in Whitehall and requested their
assistance in building a place that will tell the FEPOW story. This in
part would go some way towards their recognition of the suffering of the
Far East prisoners which is long overdue, but the British Government has
had over 50 years to build a barricade against questions pertaining to
the Far East - it is a subject they would prefer to forget, but the debt
they owe will never go away. Meanwhile we are asking all visitors to our
web site to kindly read our Appeal.
Bill Smith will always be remembered by his daughter for this lovely poem
he wrote to her mother:-
There is no hour that passes by
But some sweet thought of you
Shines like a lamp on high
To light my whole life through.
There is no day, but at its end
My prayers for you I say
That God will guard and keep you
Forever Mine Alone, Darling Ida May.
N.B. Carol spent some considerable time researching how the diary came back to this country and where it had been. She is now 99% certain she has the answer.
But that is another story.
All the contents of this page are the © Copyright of Carol Cooper, 1999
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