NOSTALGIA: Memories of PoWs tortured by Japanese

Five emaciated British soldiers after being liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Five emaciated British soldiers after being liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
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A couple of years ago you might remember reading my article about Portsmouth-born Captain Albert Edgar Symonds who was a prisoner of war under the Japanese. 

He spent much of his time in Changi Jail. As with thousands of other prisoners he went through three years of utter hell and torment and in his remaining years suffered nightmares and flashbacks right up to his death.

Portsmouth-born Capt Albert Symonds, centre, on the cover of A Cruel Captivity.

Portsmouth-born Capt Albert Symonds, centre, on the cover of A Cruel Captivity.

It was suggested he write his memoirs and I published a portion of them. I am now glad to say his story has been published by Pen & Sword Books, along with the memories of 21 other Second World War servicemen. The stories have been collated by Ellie Taylor and there are also interviews with the men’s families recording how they too  had to cope with their menfolk’s experiences.

After reading the book I cannot understand how the Japanese could have been so inhuman, how completely stupid they were in the way they got men to labour for them. I know they had a culture of non-surrender and anyone who did was looked upon as a coward, but did they have to make men suffer through starvation, beatings, disease, and sheer cruelty? If they had any sense at all they would have fed and nourished the thousands of British, colonial and American POWs and had all the work they wanted done completed in far less time than it took.

The stories are horrific and in today’s world would shock most people. These men suffered like no prisoners before or since.

 As Harold Prechner recorded: ’I found myself a prisoner of war under representatives of a barbaric and sadistic race of sub-humans, known as Japs.

‘Apart from beheadings by sword others were lined up and beaten with a type of baseball bat, not a few times but one recorded he was beaten 26 times and another man over ninety.'

Henry Doughty recorded: 'Having to sleep in a hut with beds infested with bedbugs. The whole area was a feeding ground for insects and mosquitoes.' He also recorded that the Korean guards were more brutal than the Japanese .

Many thousands were transported by ship in holds that were sealed for days on end before the ships sailed, with the men suffering from malaria, dysentery, beri beri, tropical ulcers, foot rot, ringworm and starvation. When they arrived in the camps they had to suffer torture. Punishments included being buried up to their necks in sand with the tropical sun burning down. Another records having to stand in the sun with a heavy box of bolts above his head and was hit continuously if he lowered it.

Most of the stories come from men who were in their early twenties when war broke out but looked like old men when they were rescued.

What does come over is the overwhelming joy at being repatriated at the end of the war. Having said that, only a few record having no ill feeling towards modern Japan. Many said they would not have anything made in Japan anywhere in their homes and rice was never allowed in the pantry. Heaven forbid if their children ever left anything on their plates at mealtimes.

A severely shocking read A Cruel Captivity is available from Pen and Sword. Call 01266 734267 or go to pen-and-sword.co.uk.

I recently asked, on behalf of a reader, Mick Davies, if anyone could remember a small barracks that once stood in Waterlooville.

Mrs Judy Cassell emailed via her daughter Nicola to tell me that it was in fact a signal school and that it stood where the telephone exchange once stood. It was on the left as you head out of town towards Purbrook.

Yvonne Shepherd  told me: 'When I went school in the  late forties I would pass these buildings nearly every day. We always said it was the 'top secret place' as there was a guard at the gate and barbed wire keeping people out. I think the buildings were part of ASWE before they moved to Portsdown Hill. Afterwards it became the library and then the Post Office before being taken over by British Telecom if my memory serves me right. I do not remember soldiers being there although I do remember the American soldiers taking over Broadlands House (where Wickes  is) and giving us chewing gum on our way to school.

Americans? Waterlooville? More information please.

Owing to the five-pence charge on plastic bags we are now in the ludicrous situation of purchasing something like a suit and being expected to walk off with it under an arm. It appears to me that stores are taking advantage of this 5p not to have paper bags any more.

Can you remember when, if purchasing something large from a clothing store of quality it was put in a large thickly gauged paper bag with the stores name emblazoned on it. I was in Exeter some months ago and purchased a suit for well over a hundred pounds and asked the girl behind the counter to put it in a bag. She then attempted to put it in a plastic carrier bag! I asked her if she was having a laugh and she abruptly told me ‘No’ and told me I was being charged five-pence for her efforts. I turned and walked out of the shop.

I agree completely with the cutting down of plastic but please bring back the paper bag.