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Tollesbury - Village of the Plough and Sail

From Changi to Tollesbury

This story is based on Alf Ward's diary.

I joined up at the beginning of WW2 and in time was posted to an RAF station near Singapore. Life changed rapidly as the Japanese forces approached and when Singapore fell in 1942 we were taken prisoner. I spent my 21st birthday in a Japanese hospital. Later that year I was sent to Changi jail in Singapore.

From Changi, 400 POW’s were marched to the docks, boarded a tramp steamer and were pushed and prodded into the hold as the ship sailed.. For three weeks we were allowed on deck once a day to wash in salt water and once a day a basket of rice was lowered into the hold. Conditions were tough and many died. The steamer docked in Nagasaki and we were taken by train to a camp. There we lived 30 to each wooden hut. Put into groups of ten, and were told that should one of the group try to escape, the other nine would be shot.

Each morning we were marched to a steel works where we spent the day carrying coal to the furnaces — one basket at each end of a pole — like coolies. Food was scare but sometimes we were lucky and managed to catch a snake or bullfrog or find orange peel or kipper heads amongst the camp to break the monotony of the daily rice soup. There were many deaths in the camp.

Days turned into weeks, weeks to months and months to years. We were moved to a camp in the mountains to work in the mines. We were all getting very weak.

Then came the rumours of the bomb in Hiroshima. Could it be true? Could it be over? The next morning we woke to silence in the camp. The Japanese had all gone in the night. After a camp conference we spent the day collecting white stones and arranged them on the mountain spelling the name of the camp. The next day food and clothing were dropped by parachute into the camp. That evening we enjoyed the best meal we’d ever had.

Within a few days we were on a train to Tokyo and then onto Yokohoma. We were on a ship bound for Manilla recuperating and building up our strength then sailed for home on the aircraft carrier ‘implacable’ and then on to France and the Southampton.

Finally the last lap from Liverpool Street Station to Witham and then on Osborne’s bus to Tollesbury.

In Tollesbury — what an overwhelming welcome! Flags, strung across the streets, banners, placards in windows saying ‘welcome home’ and when I reached my parents home the front room looked like a harvest festival thanks to the kindness of friends, family and neighbours.

©Alf Ward, WW2 People's War
Reproduced under the following terms

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