Below are the stories of six FEPOW men in their own words. They represent the experiences, skills and ingenuity FEPOW used in order to endure the harsh and deadly conditions of the camps and work parties.
NOTE: Printable 'fact file' sheets of each FEPOW can be found in the downloadable teachers pack.
Ronald John 'Jack' Spittle
Aged 27, Private, Royal Army Medical Corps, from Buckinghamshire
- Known as Jack, he was sent as part of a specialist squad to Singapore to do anti-malarial work destroying mosquito breeding grounds.
- Engaged to Sybil during the war. He saw her letters (very few of which got through) as his ‘salvation’.
- Lived in huts and cramped barrack buildings.
- Wrote about the types of diseases faced by those in the camps and lack of vitamins.
How Jack used his skills to provide extra help to others:
Jack knew how to create anti-fly spray and handwash, which was vital in helping the POWs keep clean and healthy. With a lack of proper toilet and washing facilities, and with mosquitos carrying malaria, the men were very vulnerable to diseases.
Aged 23, Gunner, 135 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, from Kent
- Youngest member of the magic circle aged 17, oldest member when interviewed in 2007.
- Survivor of the Alexandra Hospital Massacre, Singapore 1942, two days before the Fall of Singapore (15 February, when the majority of British servicemen were captured).
- Before he became a prisoner, Anckorn was injured during the Japanese bombing. His right hand was badly injured and he also had a bullet in his kneecap.
- Appeared in the final of ITV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in 2016, with the winner serviceman/magician Corporal Richard Jones (see Supporting Links).
- Sent a coded message on a postcard from a camp in Thailand, using Pitman’s shorthand to cross out unwanted statements, to his journalist parents back in England so they knew he was alive.
How Fergus used his magic skills to help others:
Fergus said being able to do magic saved his life as the Japanese loved his magic tricks. He did tricks which involved touching food as Japanese guards thought all prisoners of war were ‘verminous’ and would not eat anything they had touched. He also distracted Japanese guards with magic whilst on working parties on the railway so that they could get longer breaks.
Aged 19, Leading Aircraftsman, Royal Air Force, from Hampshire
- Was blasted by an explosion and went deaf and numb on his right-hand side.
- Had back problems from carrying earth.
- Helped build an airfield on a coral island in the Moluccas.
- He was later shipped to Sumatra to work on the jungle railway.
- He believed that having a small group of friends saved his life.
- As time went on he said food got more scarce.
- Had a girlfriend at home.
Derek, on bonding with other prisoners:
“If you have marched 30 or 40 miles with somebody and you have been through combat with people you have something which is a bond. You’ve been a prisoner for months, you have been through troubles together, you’ve shared your water bottle together. A lot of you were frightened and you we were all scared in a lot of ways and you talked to people and you bonded like two brothers. You looked after them when they were sick, if a person was sick you took them water and you did their washing, and you can never describe the bonding we were so close and it got closer and closer over the years.
People would die for their mates, that is how close things got.”
Captain David Arkush
Aged 27, Dental Officer, Royal Army Dental Corps, from London
- Qualified as a dentist at the University of Liverpool in 1937.
- Sent to Singapore Island in 1940, worked in the army dental service at Nee Soon, assisting medical staff in hospitals in Singapore when the Japanese invaded. He was sent to work in Thailand.
- Prisoners kept a secret radio in some of the camps. This is how they heard news from home. Radios were run by batteries which they had to smuggle into camp. Occasionally medical staff said they needed batteries for torches as there was no electricity and they used them in the radios.
- There were two orchestras in Chungkai camp in Thailand.
How David used his ability to leave camp to help others:
Because he was a dentist, David was allowed to leave the camp to find pain killers and could buy things from the local shop. He used this relative 'freedom' to trade things in the local town and bought equipment such as earphones to hear the secret radio in the camp.
Aged 28, Flight Lieutenant and RAF medical officer, from Bristol
- Worked with the surgical team at the No. 1 Allied General Hospital in Java before the Dutch East Indies fell.
- Made a small carving of a native women’s head out of wood at the start of his captivity.
- Medical officers made vitamins from fermenting fruit.
- Started to suffer with vitamin deficiency and his ankles started to swell up.
- In one camp there were only three latrines (holes in the ground used as toilets) for thousands of prisoners and they had to queue up to use them.
Nowell on creating medical equipment from scant resources:
“I got again the engineers to convert a normal iron bedstead into an orthopedic bed...They made wheels to go up and down on the side rails of the bed and then a sort of pulley at the end so you could pull the sliding part down, and so you could put the patient on this to extend his hip joint.”
Aged 22, Gunner, 135 Field Regiment, from Manchester
- Captured in Singapore and sent to work on the Thai-Burma railway.
- Volunteered to work for Lt Col. Toosey in the POW camp office at Tamarkan camp in Thailand.
Maurice on what the FEPOW wore:
“We hardly got any equipment anyway, if we were lucky to still have a pair of boots that were usable. And all we wore was a Jap Happy, a sort of loin cloth, and we got used to it, we acclimatized to it, it was very hot. Singapore is a very hot island; I mean it’s humid as well as being hot.”