This year on 23rd September, my father would have celebrated his 100th Birthday.
Sadly he didn’t live to enjoy such an occasion; he died in 2001 at 83 years of age.
But as we approach Remembrance Sunday, I want to talk about him from a personal perspective, whilst remembering the millions of brave men and women who gave their lives or suffered unimaginable atrocities, at the hands of the enemy, in both the first and second world wars.
They were an extraordinary generation; strong, patriotic, focused and mentally and physically extremely tough. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, so the very least we can do is to REMEMBER them.
My father returned home having been held captive by the Japanese for nearly three and a half years during the second world war.
The soldiers who fought in the Far East were known as the ‘Forgotten Army’, because they were.
The troops in Singapore were awaiting evacuation from the island, as the Japanese advanced; but Winston Churchill made the decision to turn the ships back, with the result that Singapore fell into Japanese hands and all the troops along with many civilians were captured.
Some of the history of what happened to both the military and civilian populations during the following three and a half years is a matter of public record. They endured unspeakable torture, cruelty, starvation, deprivation and degradation, but many of the internees chose not to talk about their experiences after the war, including my father.
We do know he survived several very serious illnesses including, Beri Beri, Dysentry, Septicaemia, Malaria, Diphtheria and Osteomyelitis of the right lower jaw, for which he had four operations in the POW camp, and further surgeries many years later, back in England.
To this day we don’t know how he survived, but it is clear that he had an incredible inner strength and determination to make it home.
When he came back from the Far East, he weighed just over 5 st, having been nearly 12 st when he was captured; being 6 ft tall, it’s not hard to imagine how he would have looked. However, his physical appearance was recoverable, with a good diet and a lot of TLC, but the mental scars were not. He spoke about it very little, but it is clear that it was my mother who supported him through the endless nightmares and flashbacks which stayed with him throughout his life. She was there for him through it all; there was no help, no counselling, no government support.
After arriving back from the Far East he was invalided out of the Army, despite having had a bright future ahead of him when he joined. He was given £7.00 and a tin of cocoa and basically told to go and “get on with his life”.
Then in the mid 1990’s following a documentary he was involved with for the BBC, titled ‘Not Forgotten’, he was asked by a doctor to take part in a study into the effects of trauma, now known as PTSD.
It seems it is since then and the more recent wars, that we have accepted that being in a war situation, has without question, a lasting affect on the men and women who put themselves on the front line.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has become a recognised consequence of military service.
I have asked this question of myself and my family; at the age of 24, can you even imagine what it must be like waking up each morning wondering if this will be your last? And not just on one day but everyday for three and a half years.
Being forced to watch the beheading of fellow soldiers who may have tried to escape or insulted a japanese officer.
Being made to dig graves and then forced to watch prisoners, men and women, stand at the edge of each grave and be shot into it. Then having to fill the graves in.
Waking to find a friend in the next bunk has given up his fight during the night, but then being subjected to a post mortem being carried out right there in front of you.
Despite all of this my father managed to live a full life, working well into his seventies, and he remained married to my mother until she died in 1998. We thought he would go very soon afterwards, but again, he surprised us by living on for another three years.
Sadly none of us really have much knowledge of what my father and thousands like him, suffered in both the first and second world wars.
I believe that in the last year of his life, he may have wanted to talk about it, but the opportunity never arose, and I feel guilty that I may have deprived him of feeling some peace at the end of his life.
Although he worked hard for the best part of his life, there were many signs of the effects of his time in the POW camps, most too personal to put into print.
He would spend up to two hours in the mornings washing himself over and over again, and the bathroom floor would be soaked from him splashing himself with water.
If his hands were idle he would take a man-size cotton handkerchief and roll it into a ball from the outside in, so tightly that it would tear into holes. It was a strange thing to do, but clearly something he had learned to help relieve the stress and boredom in the camp.
He felt that he had lost four years of his life and was determined to claw that back, which we believe was why he carried on working for as long as he could.
And although he never said outright, he clearly felt angry that his country had let him down. He didn’t have a good word to say of Winston Churchill, or the government who wrote him off when he returned home, and he HATED the japanese and would never have anything made by them in his house.
And from my point of view, I carry those feelings with me on his behalf.
Now as we approach Remembrance Day, 11th November 2018, it is the duty of all of us, to remember each and every one of the brave men and women, military and civilian in both the first and second world wars, as well as those who were lost in other battles of 20th century. If they hadn’t made the sacrifices they did, we would be living very different lives today.
So when we feel life is getting us down, we have to remember their sacrifices and their suffering, and their selflessness which has given us the lifestyle that we are privileged to have today, and that must NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.
Until next time,
Oil on canvas
Artist – Jamie Jardine, London, Ontario, Canada.