Fepows

F Force enroute to the Burma Railroad, by Otto Kreeft

F Force enroute to the Burma Railroad, by Otto Kreeft

Fepows – Far Eastern POWs

Countless films and books concerned with the Second World War have, through the decades, concentrated on Europe and the Holocaust and the Far East prisoners of war have barely been mentioned.  The official 5 volumes of British history for this war include only 10 pages devoted to the subject, compared to the Australian history with 170 pages.

sketch by Jack Chalker, Fepow;British Army, Konyu, Thailand

sketch by Jack Chalker, Fepow;British Army, Konyu, Thailand

Japan’s army conquered the Far East in 1941-42.  Prisoners were taken from Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaya, Thailand, Java, Sumatra, Ambon, New Britain, Celebes, Guam and the Philippines.  According to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, Japan took more than 50,000 British and Australian troops in Singapore alone; 42,000 Dutch (N.E.I.); 10,000 British in Java and 25,000 Americans in the Philippines and then transported to the mainland camps.

The Japanese government made its position known in 1942, through its legation in Bern, Germany.  They felt they were not bound by the Geneva Convention, but it would apply the rules as far as it was possible – mutatis mutandis (with necessary changes).  By Japanese standards, the men who were captured had shamed themselves; they were contemptible, expendable and “white.”  But, the Japanese treated their own soldiers as badly as the prisoners.  Although most every rule of the Geneva Convention was broken, not every huard was cruel and not every camp a hell-hole.

Australians, rice in the rain, by Ray Parkin, Fepow, Australian Army.

Australians, rice in the rain, by Ray Parkin, Fepow, Australian Army.

Generally, the prisoners conformed to national stereotypes.  The British tried to preserve the class system, with the officers maintaining their privileges.  The Australians were generous to their “cobbers,” but where also considered the most skillful at robbing or tricking the Japanese.  The Americans were the most entrepreneurial, but some of their rackets were worthy of the Mafia.

The Americans offended the Australians because of their ignorance about other countries and an unsubstantiated superiority complex and they made insulting remarks about the menial status as a pawn of Britain.  The Americans in turn found the Australians smug, opinionated and inexplicably fond of monarchy and pageantry.  Both saw the British as arrogant, stiff-necked, inflexible and acting superior.

40 km south of Thanbyuzayat, Burma (Hidden POW camera)

40 km south of Thanbyuzayat, Burma
(Hidden POW camera)

For most Britons, the war ended on VE Day in 1945 – the soldiers still fighting in Burma became the “forgotten army.”  That made the Fepows not only forgotten, but forsaken.  It would take them more than 50 years to receive any proper compensation from the British government.

Catholic Church at Chungkai, by Jack Chalker

Catholic Church at Chungkai, by Jack Chalker

According to Ronald Searle, former Fepow, “When the memories  have vanished, their story will be a mere milestone in history.  All the personal misery and suffering that captivity entailed will become simply words on a page.  The Fepows have been described as members of the world’s ‘most exclusive and impenetrable’ club… Something that is difficult to explain to those unfortunates who are outside our “club”, who have never experienced what it means to be dirt and yet privileged to be surrounded by life-saving comradeship.”

rice arrives, hidden camera, George Aspinall, Australian Army

rice arrives, hidden camera, George Aspinall, Australian Army

Resource: “Surviving the Sword: Prisoners of the Japanese in the Far East 1942-45″ by Brian MacArthur, Random House, 2005

Being as most of the POWs of the Pacific and CBI were in captivity until 1945, further accounts will appear throughout this series.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Fepow Humour – 

Dammit Freddie - you know perfectly well that Saturday night is formal!

Dammit Freddie – you know perfectly well that Saturday night is formal!

"Can I scrape out the porridge bins cookie - it's me birthday today." -( George Sprod - bamboo round my shoulder)

“Can I scrape out the porridge bins cookie – it’s me birthday today.” -( George Sprod – bamboo round my shoulder)

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Farewell Salutes – 

Roy Achilles – St. Paul, MN; US Navy, WWII

William Crump – Auckland, NZ; RNZ Army # 273977Flag at half staff with sunset

Richard Discher – Ft. Pierce, FL; US Army, Korea

Bernice Duncan – Shawnigan Lake, CAN; Canadian Women’s Army Corps, WWII

Elmer Hall Jr. – Metairie, LA; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Andrew Harper – El Dorado, IN; USMC, WWII, US Navy, Korea

Richard Kincade – Divide, CO; US Navy, Cmdr. (Ret. 25 years), Vietnam, USS Princeton & Midway

Will O’Donnell – Hawke’s Bay, NZ; RNZ Army, WWII

Bill Romano – Chicago, IL; US Army, Korea

Curtis Williams – Oberlin, KS; US Air Force, Korea, radar

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 26, 2015, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 147 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this information. I remember one of the GIs doing his service in Germany
    saying, “Thank God I’m not in the South Pacific.”

    Like

    • I can believe that!! The Pacific was a completely different type of war with battlefields hundreds of miles apart on different islands, jungle warfare that was unknown, temperatures and conditions completely alien. I appreciate your interest.

      Like

  2. Thank you for bringing to light this dark piece of history. I learned something today.

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  3. Unsubstantiated superiority complex? Harumph!

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    • I think that might be how we acquired the nicknames of ‘ugly american’? Thanks for visiting, Kerbey, good to see you. I love viewing all the nostalgic pictures you post each day!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aw, thanks. You’ve got quite a stash yourself. Yes, you’re right; that’s where we must have acquired our bad rep. And here we still are, trying to police the world but running out of money. Why can’t evil dictators and terrorist groups just be nice people?

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  4. This was a great piece of history you shared, thank you. I try to keep Tuesdays reserved for Vietnam; being it’s the 50th anniversary but I’m going to come back and reblog this tomorrow. Thank you again.

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  5. I feel it is more than coincidence but the Defense Language Institute (the current Military Intelligence Language School that grew out of WWII and where my dad was sent for training) just had a Bataan Death March Memorial Trek: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk9BULnV

    Like

    • WOW, isn’t that fantastic!! It’s great to see to see a part of the younger generation not only saying they remember but showing it!! Thank you very much for this link, Koji – but somebody should wake that kid up in the bottom picture – the POWs didn’t sleep so well! 😉

      Like

  6. To finish my comment…he was in a Japanese camp for the duration of the war. He had mental health issues for the rest of his life and never spoke about those years.

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    • I would also imagine that the stereotypes,etc. were just for that reason; but I can also understand how most came home still scarred for life. I am truly sorry your Granduncle had such an ordeal to survive.

      Like

  7. Imagine that in the face of that horror, class systems and national stereotypes persevered. Maybe it was a way of pretending to have some degree of ‘normality’. My Grandmothers brother was in the British merchant marine and was captured and

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  8. I believe I read, in a biography of Tojo, that Japan never signed the Geneva Conventions regarding POWs.

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  9. So Americans were considered to have a superiority complex even then! It is interesting to hear about their attitudes towards each other…not exactly “Hogan’s Heroes” is it? It seems there are always the “forgotten” ones in every war…

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    • I imagine there always some forgotten ones, Sue, you’re right. I’m doing my best to help correct that [along with some of other fellow bloggers]. I don’t think there were too many “Hogan’s Heroes” prison camps around, but there were a few hidden radios. Thanks for dropping in!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Sara Holliday and commented:
    A good short introductory accounting of the Allied Far East Prisoner of War experience, concentrating on the imprisoned national groups’ attitude towards each other.

    Like

  11. Thank you for sharing this absolutely unknown for me side of the WW2.
    Inese

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  12. It was interesting to read the attitudes of Americans, Australians about one another and about the British. Excellent reading.

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  13. I found the descriptions of the various attitudes towards different nationalities amusing. I think many of those remain today!

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  14. Well that post certainly sent my brain into overload. Let me try to process my thoughts . . . I can understand people falling into the trap of considering the POWs as a forgotten element of the overall conflict, but I cannot think of a single Australian baby boomer I have met who would be unaware of their suffering. If they were lucky enough to have a parent return, they certainly knew of the lasting bitterness, evidenced by the strong opposition to buying anything made in Japan. Of course, immediately after the war, that label was a joke, but this attitude endured well into the Japanese manufacturing boom. Even now, I detect a certain unease about the idea of letting our defence force submarine contract go the Japanese – as our Prime Minister is so keen on.

    The current Booker prize winner, Richard Flanagan, with The Long Narrow Road to the Deep North, explores the Thai Burma Railway experience in harrowing detail. When reading the book, I wondered if the central character, Dorrigo Evans, was based on Edward “Weary” Dunlop, the Aussie surgeon who became a legend on the railway, but I heard later that it was the author’s actual father who was the inspiration. And of course, another recent foray into the Thai-Burma railway is the Brit-Aus film The Railwayman. By the way, you should catch up with A Town Like Alice. Of course, it is stylised and a little romantic, but it is a good reflection of the Australian larrikin culture of that time. (sadly too diluted now with political correctness). Another book I can recommend to your followers is Diary of a Girl In Changi, this time a female civilian perspective of a Singaporean resident. Then of course, there are all the stories of the death marches, Sandakan being one example.

    Just last week, my brother and I touched on the story of Vivian Bullwinkel, the Army nurse who was the sole survivor of a machine gun execution of nurses in what is now known as the Bangka Island Massacre. Something which would have gone unrecorded except for her testimony. Most probably you are planning a post on that episode.

    As it happens, my last career move was to the Australian branch of a Japanese shipping company. As soon as I arrived, my Aussie colleagues told me sternly, “whatever you say, DO NOT mention the war”. As time went on though, I had trouble reconciling my knowledge of the POW camp atrocities with the exceptionally polite and courteous attitude of my Japanese colleagues. They were so considerate and diplomatic that I was in danger of coming across as aggressive in comparison to them. Eventually, I capitulated and asked my extremely kind and gentle male boss to try to explain it to me. I cannot paraphrase him properly, but it went along the lines of the Samurai culture, Bushido, and the Japanese belief that the collective good of (Japanese) society out-ways the ethics of the individual. Then of course, the obedience to the Emperor. That’s my simple summary, but I am sure it is much more complex than that.

    Whoops! So sorry for the brain dump. Hope it doesn’t take up too much space! In closing though, you might like to read this recent account by Max Gilbert, a survivor of the Ambon campaign and imprisonment:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-04-23/australian-recounts-brutal-life-in-prison-camp/3966170

    Liked by 3 people

    • I can understand your confusion in dealing with people who used to considered the enemy. To add a little to your male colleague’s statement, the Japanese troops also were away from the strict traditional homelife and their actions got very carried away – so much so that some committed suicide rather than go home and face their family; they never expected to survive the fighting. I appreciate your comments – don’t worry about the space – and the link you’ve added would be a great post in itself [should I take it or would you prefer to do a series on the Australian point of view? I do believe we need to hear more from that source.] Thank you for for reading and joining in!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very happy for you to take up the running on those topics. They are a good fit your with your military history theme. I keep having ideas for great posts and no time to do them. I am still hoping to put up something on the Boeing 747 coming to the museum here, but have too many other projects taking priority. Just got the manuscript back for second round of proof reading. Sigh . . .

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    • Interestingly, my Grandfather (R.I.P.) fought the Japanese in New Guinea and yes after the war he had an intense dislike for them, but ultimately disliked Americans more! This all stemmed from early combat incidents alongside very green American troops and post battle “equipment losses”. He never liked talking about any of those things much so I only ever gleaned small details. He would probably not be happy to know his second son (my Uncle), 2 grandsons (a cousin and I) and a granddaughter all live in the USA today!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. It seems like reading your posts is one of the few ways to honor many of the veterans. I hope is some way these long forgotten and unknown veterans feel that people are in some small way, honoring them.

    Like

  16. You know, the aspect that stands out for me from these tales of the Burma Road, River Kwai and so on, is that of forgiveness. I was of a generation to meet and know many British victims of the Japanese tyranny in those camps, walking skeletons many of whom never recovered, either mentally or physically. Yet apart from the demands for ‘apologies’ from Japan, there was never the relentless, sustained witch-hunt that was, and still is conducted against Nazis instrumental in the maintenance of the death camps. Now this is not intended to be anti-Semitic; I know how terrible were the crimes committed in those places – I don’t belittle them in any way. But I do wish we could move on.

    Like

    • Also, hoping not to offend anyone, but I agree, it is time to move on. Not every generation should pay for the sins of the previous ones. I’m still hearing stories of young German people being persecuted for the actions of their grandfathers – it has to stop somewhere. Excellent comment, Frederick.

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  17. Among the gripping exhibits at the Fort Siloso historical centre on Singapore’s Sentosa Island are exhibits from the Prisoner of War camps maintained within the city. Since the Fort is part of what is now an amusement and recreation island it produces a really stark effect: ten minutes ago you were watching folks on go-karts, now, sketches illustrated by a prisoner of the long hard work of staying alive.

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  18. I guess war is war… hardly to hold any rules.

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    • So true, sometimes it’s hard to believe rules were ever made up in the first place. It’s not like the leaders of the opposing countries are going to step into the boxing ring with each other.

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  19. This is why I keep reading your blog, GP. I had no idea. How awful is that.

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  20. The stereotypes section had me giggling. Those weren’t hard to picture at all. Thanks for the very informative post!

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  21. Thinking of Lord of the Flies, GP, I recall the ‘stick sharpened on both ends,’ which is what happens so often when prejudice and jingoism trump the value of working together. –Curt

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  22. Isn’t it amazing how a philosophy or a set of values can inspire one set of human beings to ignore the humanity in another – just as the Nazis did with the Jews.
    I see you are a bit dismissive of River Kwai, but I recall someone who had been in such a camp remarking that it was a pretty fair reflection – and that prisoners showing ‘bloody-mindedness’ in spite of punishment did gain respect (if they survived, of course).

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    • The movie was loosely based on fact. The general idea was there, but not the facts. No one had a ‘good’ time in the enemy camps that’s for certain. Thank you for coming today to read the post and tell us your side. I really like to see people talking about the post, not just with me, but with each other!

      Like

  23. These people suffered severely at the hands of the Japanese and they are / were very much the forgotten army. There is little recognition for them and considering the conditions and difficult times they had certainly deserve so much more. Some rather interesting stereo-types there too!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Like David, my uncle (my father’s brother) was a prisoner of the Japanese after being captured in Burma. Their treatment was appalling, and I doubt that there was much evidence of ‘stiff upper lips’
    Thanks for a much-needed reminder gp.
    Best wishes, Pete..

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    • Please do not ever forget. If I did not know before, I say now, send your uncle’s name, branch of service, and I’ll include him in the Farewell Salutes, [they are not just for the recently deceased].

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  25. The Bridge on the River Kwai?

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  26. I’ve always found it interesting the prisoners were allowed to keep their hats . . . I also don’t recall seeing Americans POW pictured with hats. Nothing to make of it; just an observation.

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  27. Thank you for this great post, dear GP Cox and helping people to remember the forgotten prisoners. Your quote at the end is very precious, I have copied it. ❤
    “When the memories have vanished, their story will be a mere milestone in history. All the personal misery and suffering that captivity entailed will become simply words on a page. The Fepows have been described as members of the world’s ‘most exclusive and impenetrable’ club… Something that is difficult to explain to those unfortunates who are outside our “club”, who have never experienced what it means to be dirt and yet privileged to be surrounded by life-saving comradeship.”
    Take good care!
    Warm greetings across the sea,
    Dina, Klausbernd, Siri & Selma xo

    Like

    • Reading your comment, Dina, made me swell with pride. I take it to mean that I have done something good, in the right direction, for the memory of these men who fought so hard for freedom, survived the punishment they received for doing that and then were even forgotten. I appreciate you taking the time to express your feelings.
      All my best to the Fab Four of Cley___ GP Cox

      Like

  28. My late uncle was a prisoner of the Japanese in Burma. When he returned home after the war he was almost unrecognisable, would not speak about is incarceration and was very subdued. As state he remained in until he died.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The book does mention that the men that were there had a very rough time of being able to talk. Your uncle was a very strong man to be able to survive it at all! I’ve hesitated in putting actual photos of the men here because my heart goes out to them. The amount of deprivation took massive tolls. Thank you for coming by, David.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. On the Burma campaign by the ‘Forgotten Army’ you might like to read ‘Quartered Safe Out Here’ by George MacDonald Frazer – yes, the author of ‘Flashman’, but he gives here an account of the experiences of the men who were there…what they felt about the Japanese and their views on dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – not at all what you might expect.

    My father missed his draft to Singapore when the regimental dentist made a mess of him before sailing. His friends went into the bag at Singapore and few returned….he never bought anything Japanese for the rest of his life.
    Mark you, he didn’t have a great opinion of British politicians and generals either – with the exception of Slim.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have read “Quartered Safe Out Here” and it is a great recommendation, Helen, thanks for bringing that up. Your father was certainly lucky to have missed the boat, but hope they fixed his teeth eventually! It seems the men greatly respected Slim, but his opinion of the UK officers sent to the PTO is understandable. Thank you for coming by and commenting, I appreciate your views and time.

      Liked by 2 people

  30. Another really interesting post, especially about the relationships of the different nationalties of prisoner. My dad’s experience in the RAF in England was that when members of the various squadrons went from their isolated airfields into a big city, the presence of so many young men, all over-excited and fuelled up with beer, was a recipe for certain disaster.

    There were many fights, and they often took place along national lines. He said that the Canadians were always delighted to fight the British, and would invariably be helped by Australians should any be present.

    On occasion, however, members of the American Eighth Air Force might turn up and join in, as they thought appropriately, on the side of the Canadians, against the British. This was sadly mistaken, as the Canadians seemed to dislike their American neighbours considerably more than their British hosts. Pub fights, therefore, would usually degenerate to an “Americans v English, Canadians and Australians” situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m surprised to hear that, must have been some competition going on in there in the ETO I am unaware of. But as you know, I’m not as “up on” the Europe scene as I should be. It’s very interesting to hear your story, John. In the Pacific fighting arena, it was more of a Navy, Marine, Army competition going on.

      Like

      • Pierre Lagacé

        My 425 Alouette Squadron veteran told me about an anecdote where they protected a black US Air Force airman against other USAF airmen in a pub. True story. My veteran never makes up stories. He had another when some British soldiers were nagging some soldiers of the 22nd Regiment… elite soldiers. They never tried that again. French-Canadian soldiers were rightly feared by Germans.

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  31. This was one of my first introductions to the story of the Fepows. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Town_Like_Alice_%281956_film%29 I read the book and saw the film many times.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I had never heard of this film, Ann. Thank you for supplying the link for me and the other visitors here!! I hope they take the time to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like a good film. I’ll see if I can get it through Netflix. Amazing how people can be kind, ruthless and bigots at the same time, but I see this in everyday life around me. Abraxis is the word that comes to mind. A pecking order in prison camp! It has been a long, long time since I read Lord of the Flies.

      Like

      • Lord of the Flies was not about prisoners, but children deserted on an island for a short time and how the pecking order immediately developed. I’m going to be looking for that film as well. Thanks for reading thru the comments also, the readers always add something to the posts, Lavinia, and everyone appreciates that!! I’m looking forward to seeing how Gallivanta replies to this.

        Liked by 2 people

        • That’s what I thought I remembered, the book was about children. I think poor Piggy ends up getting killed towards the end? Yes, kids do develop a pecking order, very quickly. Adults often have no idea how much impact their own actions have upon the little ones.

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      • I haven’t seen the film in a long time, Lavinia, but I remember being captivated by it. I would have been about 10 or 11 when I saw it for the first time.

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  32. Interesting to say the least and I found their attitudes towards each other fascinating too.

    Like

    • The book was very interesting…how they sacrificed for each other, kept morale up and endured whatever the Japanese and Korean guards threw at them, is truly inspiring and certainly makes our troubles seem so petty in comparison. I’m glad you found it interesting, Norma, Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. As Searle stated, All the personal misery and suffering that captivity entailed will become simply words on a page.
    A soldiers history alas ends up no more than words on a page.
    Those illustrations are great, how about gp, a post depicting illustrations by various prisoner artists, those guys did a brilliant job preserving history with their illustrations.
    Regards
    Ian

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are by prisoners, but as I said on the bottom of the post, others will be coming . I have one post all set for the 1942-43 Intermission story group about one particular artist. I was amazed that a camera was actually hidden by one Aussie – the guards couldn’t have been too diligent. Thanks for the visit, Ian.

      Liked by 1 person

  34. Even in a prison camp a pecking order. You think everyone would get along but then people are people.

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  35. How sad that the British government snubbed these unfortunates for so very long.

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    • Isn’t it though!! It amazes me how we rant and rave about a single individual before we do a group. That’s why I plan Intermission stories, which will occur next between the posts for 1942-43. Thanks for dropping in, Swabby.

      Liked by 1 person

  36. Thanks for the story. Although I’ve known about Japanese POW camps from the American perspective, I’ve never heard the term FEPOW before nor had I known that the UK had not recognized them until more than 50 years later. Terrible. All that served deserve our respect.

    Like

  37. This post comes on cue, as I am about to post a review a first-hand account by a FEPOW. The Far East Prisoners experience is a really difficult area of the war, mostly because none of us can really imagine the conditions or the cultural differences between all the nations, both prisoners and captors, who were thrown together. I have read many, many books on the subject during my research. The MacArthur book is a goodish overview because it covers the vast areas where FEPOWs were held, though I think the 1992 book River Kwai Railway by Clifford Kinvig is an better overview of the railway experience, including the Japanese perspective. Neither of these writers were there, and something that emerges from the primary sources is that every man had a difference experience of their captivity. There were certainly clashes between the different nationalities, but the stereotypes represent only a small irksome minority. More important than anything else was having mates you could depend on.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That is why I ended the post with the quote by a Fepow. With the volumes of eyewitness reports and official papers on the subject, I felt MacArthur’s view was substantiated plenty by those that were there. I’m looking forward to your post on a Fepow, Hillary!

      Like

  38. Thank you schöner Beitrag liebe Grüße von mir Gislinde

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Amazing how little has been said about these unfortunate people.

    Liked by 3 people

  40. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget and commented:
    Lest we forget

    Like

  41. Fascinating attitudes towards each other

    Like

  1. Pingback: Pacific Paratrooper – GP Cox: Fepows (Far Eastern Prisoner of War) WWII | The Linden Chronicles: The Wolf's Moon by Patrick Jones

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