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The stories of some of the thousands of British servicemen held as prisoners in South East Asia during the Second World War can now be explored online for the first time thanks to the completion of a new oral history project
The stories of some of the thousands of British servicemen held as prisoners in South East Asia during the Second World War can now be explored online for the first time thanks to the completion of a new oral history project.
The Captive Memories website features audio recordings of 62 Far Eastern prisoners of war (FEPOW) imprisoned in camps in countries including Japan, Borneo, Hong Kong, Java and Thailand, as well as details of their rank, regiment, the ships on which they were transported and the camps in which they were held.
The project, commissioned by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) in partnership with the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive and sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has taken more than three years to complete. The school’s involvement with the prisoners began through its work treating the diseases that many had contracted during their often long and brutal captivity, marking the start of a relationship that has now spanned more than 60 years.
“To be invited into the homes of these men to listen to – and record for posterity – their unique memories, some shared for the first time, has been such a privilege,” researcher Meg Parkes told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. “In a few cases, the men’s wives asked if they could sit in and listen as well, being only too aware that they would hear things they had never heard before. The Captive Memories website will ensure that the voices of these men can now be heard by a worldwide audience.”
Family historians researching their ancestors who were held prisoner in the region may also be able to uncover new leads in a research conference set to be held next year. The event, run by the Researching FEPOW History Group, will take place on 8 and 9 September 2012 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied defeat in the Fall of Singapore. For more details, visit the event’s website.
One of the thousands of men captured in Singapore was Maurice Naylor, who served in the 135th Field Artillery and is among those to contribute his story to the project. “The war in the Far East tends to be overlooked, especially the thousands upon thousands of young men who, as PoWs, suffered and died from overwork, starvation and disease,” he recalled in one of the interviews. “When I retired and visited Thailand, I saw the men’s graves. Rows upon rows of them. I decided to do what I could to ensure that their sacrifice would not be forgotten. At first it was difficult to talk, because it set me back, dredging up old memories. But it is important – I want to do my bit. We all lost our youth there.”