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Rowland, Frederic

Military Cross | Second Lieutenant | 88th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

Member of "H' Force, and worked on the Kwai at Konyu, Hintok and Nikki

My father, Frederic Rowland, MC, died after a lengthy illness last Sunday, January 21.

He was in the Royal Artillery, was a member of "H' Force, and worked on the Kwai at Konyu, Hintok and Nikki.

The Toronto Globe and Mail, had a nice obituary in today's national editions, the copy is as below:

PoW worked on River Kwai
Survived the infamous Railway of Death
and later became a city official
who helped change the face of Toronto


Friday, January 26, 2001

TORONTO -- Fred Rowland, who survived the "Railway of Death" on the River Kwai and went on to become director of development for the old City of Toronto, died on Sunday in Toronto after a lengthy illness. He was 82.

Mr. Rowland was born March 8, 1918, in Wargrave, England and grew up in the town of Clacton-on-Sea.

During the Second World War, he served with the 88th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, in Malaya and Singapore. He was awarded the Military Cross for actions at the Battle of Kinta River, Malaya, on New Year's Day, 1942. Mr. Rowland, then a 21-year-old second lieutenant, was commanding a forward observation post during a Japanese infantry and mortar attack when a mortar round wounded the two other men in the post and cut off communications. He then crawled out of the observation post to resplice the phone line and call in an artillery barrage.

After the surrender of Singapore in February of 1942, he was one of 61,806 mostly British and Australian soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese. Later in 1942, he was one of the PoWs sent to work on what became known as the Burma-Thailand Railway of Death on the River Kwai.

One place where Mr. Rowland worked was the Konyu-Hintok section of the railway, where a huge cut known as Hellfire Pass was carved out by prisoners using hand tools.

He was a hammer-and-tap man for his captors: He held a metre-long metal bar against a piece of rock for another man to strike with a sledgehammer, creating holes in the rock into which dynamite would be placed.

During his captivity he survived malaria and beri-beri. In one incident, he was placed in a hut for the terminally ill, but crawled into another medical hut and saved his life. By the time he was freed, he weighed just 83 pounds, although he was 6 feet 2.

There were few support services for former prisoners-of-war when he arrived home, said his son, Robin Rowland, a CBC producer.

"My father had a cursory medical examination and then was released out into the world," Robin said, explaining that his father felt betrayed, as many prisoners did, by their government.

His father did not speak often about his wartime experiences, but in 1983 Robin interviewed him on audiotape for six hours, and in 1997 made a six-minute video documentary about his father's experiences for the CBC's Pacific Rim Report, in which he retraced the route of the Railway of Death.

Mr. Rowland watched the famous 1957 movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness, and like many of the former prisoners whose slave labour was documented in that movie, he had a love-hate relationship with it, Robin said.

"It made their story a worldwide story," explained Robin, but no one liked the Guinness character being a collaborator.

At the end of the war, he worked in what was then the British colony of Tanganyika, where he met and married Catherine Hill.

In 1951, looking for greater opportunity than postwar Britain could provide, the family immigrated to Canada and Mr. Rowland joined Aluminum Co. of Canada Ltd., where his first job was at remote Ootsa Lake, B.C., buying land from settlers. Alcan was building a hydro dam on the Nechako River, a dam that would flood the settlers' homesteads. He then worked in Kitimat, B.C., as a property manager for Alcan before joining the City of Toronto Development Department in 1965.

He eventually became director of development and negotiated on the city's behalf on the construction of many of today's downtown office towers.

He was also part of the team that conceived and planned the series of underground malls in downtown Toronto.

He retired in 1979. His wife Catherine died in 1981. He later lived in Clark's Harbour, N.S., and Rice Lake, Ont., before becoming ill. In 1987 he returned to Britain for a reunion with surviving members of his regiment.

Besides his son Robin, he leaves a daughter, Judi Christou, and two grandchildren, Christopher and Catherine.

Robin Rowland