"...this will be a rather unusual type of letter... "
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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- 2|Singapore
- 3|P.O.W.
- 4|Liberation
- 5|Rebuilding
- 6|A New Life
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 Chapter 9:
 Chapter 10:

Nine months after becoming a Prisoner of War my grandfather managed to acquire a field notebook with plenty of blank pages. He had been keeping notes for those first months in little notebooks and on scraps of paper – whatever he could lay his hands on. The punishment for keeping a diary was death but that didn’t stop my grandfather. He penned his first entry, addressing my grandmother, thus beginning a long letter that chronicled his years of captivity and in which he recorded his hopes and dreams for the future.

He did not know if the letter would ever reach his wife, or whether it would, but without him. He fervently hoped they would arrive together. He wanted her to understand what he had lived after she and the children sailed to safety at the end of 1941. He wanted her to understand his actions and the choices he made in those final days of freedom as Singapore prepared for the worst, and he wanted to give her an idea of his current existence as a POW.

But he wanted to spare her the distress of gruesome details. He glossed over the ghastly realities of the fight for survival, and concentrated on the positive things, often viewing his situation with humour and hope. As so many friends and fellow prisoners died off around him he refused to be counted amongst those who were overcome by the sheer horror and brutality that they were subjected to.

The beatings he received were not mentioned at all. There is one reference to the “woofings” that he was “all too familiar with” and this is only to note the change in policy as the war progressed. He did not tell of his friend who died at the hands of a Camp Guard when tortured with the Rice Treatment – the force-feeding of uncooked rice followed by loads of water, thus swelling the grains in the stomach. Nor did he write of the sheer desperation of another friend who cooked up jungle snails only to die of food poisoning shortly afterwards.

Death, disease, starvation, filth and lack of dignity were the daily realities of my grandfather’s life for nearly 4 years. He chose to draw a veil over the awfulness of it all in his letter and focused on the future, a future that would be filled with better days than those he was living now. He kept the image of his beloved wife and children always before him, and “chatted” in his letter about the plans he was formulating for their time together after the war.

In old age he was able to look back without rancour on the “hidden years” of his life. The stories he told were always funny - my brothers and I clamoured for our favorites – there was the Potato Story, the Parker Pen story, the Jumping Up And Down On The Glasses story, the Old Lady And The Apple story and a host of others that held us enthralled with every telling.

But I have read other stories in recent times that speak of the horror of those years for the Far Eastern Prisoners of War. My grandfather coped by downplaying the harshness of those times and turned tragedy into triumph through sheer determination and a sense of humour.


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