01 Apr 22

Why read this book?  For one 24 carat gem and for each one of the five other gleaming family jewels. Lest We Forget. Oh Dear. Surely not another WW2 biography. Yet another of a generation older than even the golden oldies amongst our NRMembers. Yawn? Yawn, by no means.

Because, while you are next standing still, even for just the Two Minutes Silence on Remembrance Sunday, ponder this.  How long might you have survived, day-after-day working on the Death Railway in Thailand?  One year, two, three, more?   How many of us would have had, or of today’s generation would now have, the physical, mental or spiritual strength to survive?

This book tells the story of six siblings, each one of whom was courageously to hazard their life on the front line in the various WW2 theatres of war. The odds against all six surviving must have been very long.  Let’s meet them. Edward, Indian Army, Bn CO, fought in Italy. Beatrice, married a Yank serving in the RAF, widowed. Walter, Gurkha, Bn CO, fought in Burma. Peter, Tea Planter, TA Officer, fought in Malaya, Death Railway. Harold, Surgeon at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, treated hideously war wounded. Ruth, Nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital, London and Cairo. Both she and her brother somehow miraculously survived several severe bombing raids on the hospital.

Anyone who has been in action may have deeply sub-conscious potential flashbacks. As a Midshipman, I harboured two. Only one has ever surfaced. Neither the WW1 nor the WW2 nor the Post-WW2 generations talked about their wars. Such memories are bottled up.  But, worst of all, the FEPoWs and their families were ordered NOT to talk about it.

The extraordinarily talented authoress of this book, Walter’s grand-daughter. has, through her eloquent prose, captured the very nuggets of personal anecdote, from family papers, regimental and hospital histories, and the National Archives, and vividly uncorked all these wartime memories and, in some cases, exposed the flash-backs.  Each story would stand on its own merits.

So what is this ‘24 carat gem’? We can all learn and hopefully benefit from the lessons of history but for me the most illuminating of all these six courageous accounts is Peter’s story. From the tranquillity of tea planting in Assam, to the fighting retreat through Malaya, the fall of Singapore, imprisonment, the cattle-truck transport to Thailand and his working long days, day in, day-out on the poorest diet of meagre rations for over three years on the Death Railway.

And, more than this, the grotesque brutality, torture and death of the many thousands of Chinese, Malay, Indian, European and Australian men, women, children and babies perpetrated by the Japanese and Koreans, was a revelation far, far worse than I have ever seen revealed in any other FEPoW account.

And did you know that had not the Japanese War ended on 15 August 1945, the Japanese High Command had ordered that all Allied PoWs were to be exterminated, by shooting, bayoneting, beheading, drowning, howsoever might be best achieved, without trace, on 28 August.

Both my wife and I found this a tough read but read it you should, indeed must, right to the very end…

So, why read this book? For the one 24 carat gem and for each one of the five other gleaming family jewels. Lest We Forget.