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Kenneth Collier (RAF) - POW in Sumatra

My Father - Kenneth Collier (RAF) - POW in Sumatra

by Maxine Collier

When I was a child growing up (I was born 15th September 1949) our family seemed different from other families. This was because our father had been a prisoner of the Japanese in the Far East. All families in the fifties were aware of 'the War' but ours more so because of the terrible experience my father had as a POW. Not that he felt sorry for himself (he didn't) because he was one of those who had come home, but he had experiences which most had not. Experiences of terrible brutality, suffering, horror, humiliation, illness, starvation and injustice. He often said that history books lied and that what had happened in the Far East had been covered up. He was angry and sad about all those who had suffered at the hands of the Japanese and those he believed had been forgotten.

He was a fiercely intelligent man with a very developed sense of compassion. He remembered the camp every day of his life. He remembered those who had suffered and died. Memories just popped into his head and little snippets of information would slip out (today's flash-backs!), memories that my mother thought unsuitable for the ears of children and which she would ask him to keep quiet about. Even in his seventies he would still mention trying to amputate a friend's leg (without any pain relief) to try and save his life!

My father was Leading Aircraftsman Kenneth Collier. He weighed six stones at the end of his ordeal. He was twenty-two years old when he went to war and was the first to volunteer to join up from his home town of Blaenavon in South Wales, UK. He spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war and was twenty-eight years old when he came home. He went on to lead a full life, had three children and worked and cared for his wife and family all his life.

Kenneth Collier (standing on aircraft) - 1956

Not long before he died I began to realise that although his ordeal had affected all our lives, I did not really 'know' much about what had happened to him. For instance, I thought he had been a POW in Singapore when, in fact, he stated in surprise at my ignorance - "I was in Sumatra". I realised that although he mentioned it a lot, we had not asked questions in order that he did not dwell on it. I now regret this. However, in February 2002 things began to change. I was having a sad day remembering my father (who had been dead for seven years) and came down at teatime from my office to watch the evening news. I switched on and to my amazement realised that the day was the 60th Anniversary of the fall of Singapore! The news mentioned COFEPOW. I knew that thinking about my father all day wasn't just a coincidence. It had been sixty years since his ordeal had begun. It felt as if he had been telling me just this. I contacted COFEPOW and became a member. Since then I have discovered a lot more about where my father was a prisoner. I have his medals and discovered that he was in a hospital camp and found photographs of that camp.

Camp well that never held water
Cookhouse boilers - Sungei Ron Camp

My father Kenneth Collier (RAF) was stationed in Kallang, Singapore in November 1941. At the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942 he tried to escape via a Chinese tugboat which was shot at by the Japs. He spent 19 hours in the water hanging on to a raft and was eventually picked up by the Japs and became their prisoner. He was imprisoned in Palembang, Sumatra and I believe spent his three and a half years in camps in or near here. I believe he spent the last year in 'Sungei Ron Camp' a hospital because he had become very ill and weak with chronic malaria and starvation. From a newspaper cutting from 1945 my father had written home - "We got the whole bag of tricks from the little yellow***** at one time or another, bashings, kickings, barbed wire cage and all sorts of queer little tortures their animal minds could devise, including starvation. They broke a good many of our bodies but not once did they break our spirits and that annoyed them. About one in four died. I myself have been fortunate. I am fit and well and putting on weight every day." He had weighed six stone and he was fortunate!

Parade Ground at Palembang Camp
View of guard houses opposite Camp entrance

I have also discovered that in the first camp he was in there were women and children. At the beginning in this camp there were no latrines and in order that the women could go to the toilet without the Japs watching them, the male prisoners would make a circle around them with their backs facing inwards. Children were also born in the camp and were burned at birth by the Japs.

The airfield road looking towards Palembang

The camps in the Palembang area were involved in the construction and repair of the local airport. George Duffy has informed me that a book written by a Dutchman, Willem Wanrooy, who visited the area at the end of the war called 'Prisoners of the Japanese in World War II' mentions three camps in and around Palembang. One of these was Soengai Geroe camp. He states that sick POWs from the other camps were concentrated here and tells of 'brutal treatment' and awful facilities.

Don's grave , British Military Cemetery, Palembang

(Cross painted, inscribed and fixed by Kenneth)

Don (seated) with a friend Sydney Berkley on board Air Sea Rescue Launch HSL 105Photo taken before capture and kindly supplied by Syd

I have also found an old and faded record (hand-written) that my father had kept of the names of Japs found guilty of war crimes. I believe my father bore witness at their trials. My father wrote - "Ringer and I feel that we have done a little to square off the accounts of Chief Petty Officers Eden, Finch, Davis, Gm Williams and all the rest of the good chaps." Presumably they had died at the hands of the Japs..

It belonged to Ken and on the back was written

' Colombo 1945 - 'Knocker' White and Johnny Bryant from London and Charlie Tout from Bristol'

A photo of returning POWs taken in Colombo, Ceylon