Jacqueline Jeynes - Author, Editor and Publisher

Before Hiroshima: Forgotten Prisoners of War in Japan, Burma and the Far East

ISBN: 978-0-9926100-9-8

“My Father as a Far East Prisoner of War” an article published by "Your History" magazine.

It is a summary of some of the personal elements in the book, but is really the starting point for the project.  

The title reminds people that if not for Hiroshima, and the appalling consequences for 110,000 innocent Japanese people, the war would not have ended and over 130,000 POWs/Internees would have lost their lives. It includes a copy of the edict from the Japanese Emperor ordering the slaughter of all of them "by whatever means" at any sign of attack by the Allied troops.

My father, William Albert Halls, was taken prisoner in Singapore aged 18, and was held for three years in various prison camps. During this time, prisoners were moved around and required to work on various projects. My father worked on the infamous Burma Railway and also in the docks on ship repairs. While he refused to speak about his experiences until the last couple of years before he died, he did always chuckle when talking about the safety of the rivets in the ships’ holds!

All prisoners of war are treated poorly, but it is clear that the Japanese were particularly cruel to their prisoners. Each day, prisoners lined up and waited to see whether any of them were chosen to be beheaded, and who it might be this time – some days it was no one. They were given rancid rice to eat and nothing else, which meant they sometimes resorted to eating grass, although apparently there was a rumour that a dog in the camp suddenly disappeared! Sadly, more prisoners died in captivity in Japan than in any other prisoner of war camp in Europe.

When he was finally rescued, there were 50 men left from an original total of 500. But again, he chuckled when he recollected how many food parcels were dropped before troops came in to liberate the camp, with the expectation that there would be more men. Even though they had not eaten proper food for so long, my father and his fellow prisoners did their best to eat as much as they could manage, knowing they would just be sick.

Many of the prisoners were sent on to Canada to recuperate before coming back to Britain, generally because their health was so poor. A naturally tall, well-built man, my father only weighed 5 stone when he returned. His medical notes said he had dysentery, beriberi and a host of other diseases, as well as broken teeth from a Japanese rifle butt. As a mother of five sons, I cannot even imagine what these young men went through, but clearly Dad’s sense of humour helped him survive.

I was born in 1948, and just remember my father as a happy, funny man, who was quiet and unassuming. I realize now that there must have been things that were very difficult for him. When I was in primary school, we had a supply teacher who was Japanese and taught us how to say ‘good morning’ in Japanese. I was so proud of being able to repeat this at home, yet my father said nothing to make me feel bad about it. I also remember that when we had to go to hospital with my little brother, Dad fainted in the waiting area as they wheeled someone past with lots of blood on the covers.

For many years, Dad was involved with FEPOW support groups in the Midlands, and I eventually became secretary of the regional group. Everyone had their own story, of course, and many had severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress that were not really recognized. In the spirit of reconciliation, there have been many attempts to establish links between the Japanese government and those representing the people most closely involved in the conflict – Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOW). 

Many would still not consider any form of reconciliation, but a year before Dad died I was honoured to be asked to represent UK FEPOW at the Remembrance Day service in Japan, with Dad’s blessing. It was a very formal occasion, with lots of international representatives there as I laid the wreath to remember those who returned and those who died in the camps. When I returned from Japan, my father was very ill from widespread cancer, and yet he still retained a willingness to consider reconciliation in the spirit it was intended. He was proud that I had represented him and his comrades. And I was very proud of him.

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The book is based on 25 years of research as I was Secretary of the Midlands group of FEPOW during that time.

My father who died aged 76 from several forms of cancer, as did many of those who were held captive.

Lots of examples of a British government that had little thought for POWs when they returned from the Far East - including this bill!

Although Changi is the camp name that many people recognise, it was not the worst one - for example they were allowed to worship and the Changi Cross was a symbol of this.

The book contains evidence related to the capture and confinement of POWs and Internees, work on the Thai-Burma railway, repatriation and the negative way they were treated by UK government on their return.