Eye Witness Account – Magic on the Burma Railroad

‘One day, the Japanese camp commandant said he had generals coming to visit and that he wanted me to do some magic. He asked what I would need for a trick. I requested an egg. He wrote out a chitty and told me to take it to the cook house. The cook asked me how many I wanted, so I asked for 50. I went straight back to the hut and we had a 49-egg omelette, saving just one for the trick.

Egg-shaped: Fergus Anckorn with the secret of his success

Gus Anckorn 7.egg-trick today

Gus Anckorn
7.egg-trick today

After the war, as a lecturer in subjects including English and economics at West Kent College, Fergus often pepped up his lessons with anecdotes about his extraordinary wartime survival. Now 92, he has decided to record everything in a new book, Captivity, Slavery And Survival As A Far East POW.

‘At the prison camp that night I did the trick for the generals and it all went very well,’ he says.

‘But the next day I was summoned to the commandant’s hut. He was glowering. The chitty was on his desk. He said, ‘You do magic one egg. Where 49 eggs?’ I thought, in ten seconds my head will be rolling across that floor.

‘Out of my mouth came the words, ‘Your trick was so important to me, I was rehearsing all day.’ He nodded and let me go. I couldn’t perform that trick again for 40 years. My knees would knock together even thinking about it.’

FERGUS ANCKORN. With the nurse he married.

With Lucille, the nurse he married.


The Japanese wanted to know how the trick was done, so Fergus showed the commandant how he made a hole in the back of a second eggshell into which he dextrously stuffed the handkerchief. The hollow egg is switched for an intact egg, which is cracked on a bowl, and out plops – not a handkerchief – but yolk and albumen.

Fergus and his twin sister were born in Dunton Green, Kent, in December 1918. Fergus’s father, Wilfred, a writer on The Hotspur, and his mother, Beatrice, instilled in him the moral code of decency, honesty and kindness that helped him survive the war.

On Fergus’s fifth birthday his father gave him a box of magic tricks and he became hooked on the expressions of amazement his family would feign at his childish conjuring. But as Fergus practised, this wonder became genuine and, at the age of 18, he was admitted to the Magic Circle.  ‘For about five years I was the youngest member and now I am the oldest,’ says Fergus. ‘I have joined the Inner Circle of 150 members.’ 

When war was declared in 1939, Fergus joined the Army.

He served in the 118th Field Regiment Royal Artillery and spent the first two years in Britain, preparing to fight a Nazi invasion.  While stationed in Woolwich, South-East London, he contracted pharyngitis and met the love of his life, a pretty, bespectacled nurse called Lucille.

‘I was lying in a ward for two months,’ he recalls. ‘One day, the fellow in the next bed asked if I was engaged. I said, “Good God, no. I haven’t got time for women.” And then Lucille walked into the ward. I quickly added that if I ever did get married, it would be to her.  ‘Lucille and I hit it off straight away. I used to go and talk to her when she was in the sluice cleaning out the bedpans – very romantic.’ 

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Fergus found himself heading to the Far East instead. Just before they departed, the colonel of Fergus’s regiment gave him the then huge sum of £30 to buy magic props, declaring: ‘You’re the only man we’ve got to entertain the troops.’

POWs working on the Thailand/Burma Railroad.

POWs working on the Thailand/Burma Railroad.


But on arrival, it was the enemy who were full of surprises. ‘We arrived in Singapore 15 days before it fell,’ says Fergus. ‘My war lasted five days.’  On Friday, February 13, 1942, Gunner Anckorn was driving an armoured lorry just outside Singapore when 27 Japanese bombers swooped out of the sky. ‘There were so many of them, there was no escape,’ he says.

By the time the bombing stopped Fergus had taken a severe blow to the head, his right hand was hanging off and he had a bullet in the back of his left knee. He was found in a ditch and taken to a field hospital, where a surgeon told Fergus his damaged hand would have to be amputated. 

Luckily, when an orderly came round to administer ether he recognized Fergus and cried: ‘You can’t cut his hand off, Sir, he’s our conjuror and a bloody brilliant one, too!’

The next day Fergus woke up in the Alexandra Military Hospital to find he still had his hand but that the hospital had been taken over by the Japanese, who were taking away the staff and shooting them.

From the Daily Mail. co. uk

Click on images to enlarge.


Military Humor –


Well, I didn’t read it myself, but my mate knows a bloke who got a mate that’s a mess orderly and he knows a bloke on P party who says…….



buck.jpg from Muscleheaded

Courtesy of Chris, from Muscleheaded.wordpress.com/










Farewell Salutes – 

Charlie Aldridge – Olive Branch, MS; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI

Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal

Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal

Stanley Atkins – Fort Lee, NJ; US Army, WWII, Africa & CBI, Bronze Star

William Baldwin – Stroudsburg, PA; US Navy, WWII,PTO, USS Batfish & Bass

Angelo DeRosa – Toms River, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI

Mary Dunne – Milford, CT; US Army WAC Nurse Corps, WWII, CBI, 159th Sta. Hosp & 181st Gen. Hosp.

Earl Hayes – San Jose, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI, P-47 pilot

William Kast – San Francisco, CA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, gunnery officer

Duane Oberlin – Ft. Wayne, IN; US Army, WWII, CBI

Donald Peck – Tampa, FL; US Army, WWII, CBI, Bronze Star

Peter Zaharko Sr. – Brooklyn, NY & Delray Bch, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI, 68th Air Service Group, Sgt. Major



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 October 16, 2015, in First-hand Accounts, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 121 Comments.

  1. Definitely an amazing tale of survival… I wonder how he lived out his life in the sense of reflecting on his captivity and injuries while at war…


    • That generation (from my observances) did their best to push very strong emotions back down inside. Sometimes it might explode or get washed down with a bottle, but it seemed to be their way.
      [and today’s kids think they have it rough if the teacher asks them to do their homework]

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi GP Cox., enjoyed your blog. Grew up in Bermuda during the war, got to know a few US navy and army types as a preteen boy. Have enjoyed reading stories of the war,even though I was not active in it or any other war. I think you are doing a great service to the guys who went before to keep the memories and stories alive. In the world we have around us today, it is important that our collective history be studied. Thanks for this. R.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for encouragement. It is my firm belief that all our veterans be honored and remembered – I wish I mention them all!! I appreciate your visit and hope to see you again.


  3. A great piece of recorded history, showing the ingenuity of the men of those times.
    His artistry would have been a great boost to the morale, as illustrated by the orderly’s insistence on saving his arm.
    There must be thousands of untold story’s like that still floating around in the back of the minds of many a survivor.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice to know that a little magic worked wonders for Fergus and probably helped save his hand and his life. We all need a little more magic in our lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What an amazing person Fergus was. A great story!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Historical Diaries

    am loving these post and better am reading all the comments , =)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hello gp cox its dennis the vizsla dog hay that is a verry klever madjishun their wot nos yoo kannot mayk a gud trik withowt brayking a fyoo eggs!!! i am glad that he kept his hand and his hed!!! ok bye


  8. Luck, magic and a silver tongue seemed to have followed this guy!


    • I’m always on the lookout for fairly unknown stories, and this seems to have fit that bill. Sort of like your hunting thru San Diego for the best pictures – and you succeed!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just wait until you see what I post today! I got info about the Navy Bicentennial Commemorative Plaque from one of its creators! Photos and detailed descriptions from a long News Release! It might end up being the most awesome and important thing ever on my blog! I just have to do a little more work to get it ready…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Being as you wrote this comment this morning, I knew you must have the post on line by now – so I went to your site first. You KNOW what I found!!! You went through a lot of hard work, and disappointments, but you kept at it and now you DO have the most important thing on your blog – HISTORY at its best!!!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. What an amazing story, CP Cox, and you tell it so well!


  10. What a fun story! It brings back memories of my kids doing magic tricks years ago.


  11. What a great story. No wonder he couldn’t do that egg trick for 40 years. That was some quick thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks. A moving and inspiring story – as so many here! Regards Thom.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. No knowledge ever goes to waste…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fergus is a familiar figure to me and I read his book, Captivity, Slavery and Survival as a Far East POW: The Conjuror on the Kwai , by Peter Fyans a while ago. It is very good!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I tried to track down the book and found it, written by a Peter Fyans about Gus Anckom. It is written in the first person but not by Gus. I guess you would call PF the ghost writer, or perhaps it’s a dramatised story (novel)? It’s only available in hardback so perhaps worth asking your library to bring it in if the price is unaffordable for purchase.


  16. Great true story, amazing!


  17. Is the book available now?


  18. A very lucky escape with the commandant! And a neat trick too!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. A great story, and it rang a lot of bells for me. My Dad was in the artillery at Woolwich in 1940, and may have even known Fergus. And I read The Hotspur comic as a boy too, it was one of my favourites. Dunton Green is near Sevenoaks,, and I drove past there in September, during my holiday to Kent. Thanks, GP!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. You can’t end it like that! Taking the staff away and shooting them??!!


  21. Thank you for your marvellous posts! I especially like the way you honour those who pass! Their stories must be recorded and celebrated.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Really enjoyed the article and the egg trick. Quick thinking on his part with the 49 eggs and practicing. Bet he had to work hard after his injuries. Made me want to learn more. Thanks, Everett!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Quick thinking on this man’s part ! Great story .

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Just like that old saying, the Japanese could capture our soldiers, but not their brains. Those just kept on producing that old Yankee ingenuity. Good story, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Great story. Good thing he was able to keep his wits about him when he was questioned about the 49 eggs!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. That ended at just the right point – makes me want to find his book! I admire his resilience and optimism. The story of the defense of Singapore seems a bit neglected. ‘Sinister Twilight’ by Noel Barber is a good history of its defense.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I love the first hand stories. This one ends on such a disturbing note, but it brings home the reality that it was war.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. War is awful! I am grateful the Fergus kept his hand. Why did they have to kill the healthcare workers though?


    Liked by 1 person

    • Many reasons that at the time seemed right to them I suppose. They couldn’t feed their own people, fear of their own superiors, doing what they felt war was about – I’m sure each man could tell us something different.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Just as well he had a good feed before he realised he wouldn’t repeat “that” egg trick for a few decades 🙂 I enjoyed that part of the article, but the end took my breath with sadness learning of the staff being taken away and shot.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. What an amazing story, GP Cox! 🙂 Fergus is well worth a lot of publicity, thanks for presenting this article.
    Wishing yo and yours a great weekend,
    The Four of us in Bonn and Cley,
    Dina x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina,
      Thank you for coming by here and reading about the magic! Give all my best to Klausbernd, Siri & Selma!!
      GP Cox

      Liked by 2 people

      • It’s always a pleasure to be in sunny Florida and learn and appreciate the work and the brave heroic effort of the soldiers of the past. You tributes deserves a recognition in the White House. What you put into words will outlive us all and make history. A very comforting thought. Not only for the families of the heroes, we all feel proud on your behalf. Keep up the good work, Gp Cox. We need role models and more modern heroes like you. You make this world a better place.
        We feel honoured to be your virtual friend.
        Four big *hugs* from
        Dina, Klausbernd and Sir and Selma – with lots of fayriedust!


        • Who could possibly ask for a nicer compliment than that? Dina, you’ve got me blushing, but I do hope future generations might benefit from sites such as this!!
          Thank you so much!
          GP Cox


  31. Great story–made me want to read Mr. Anckorn’s book.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Ach Thank you aber auch schöne Fotos lieber Gruß und ein gutes week-end Kisses…

    Liked by 1 person

  33. The world needs more illusionists. With their ability to delight, comes the power to let us imagine a magical world for awhile. One of my oldest friends does close-up illusions. I can understand how Anckorn could bowl over the Generals.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Wow, amazing story. Thanks GP! I just watched the movie The Railway Man which tells the story about Eric Lomax, another Burma Railroad Survivor, I highly recommend it to everybody.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. Glad you approved of this article! Thank you.


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