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Research into Dad's POW record
My father, Richard (Dick) Bennett initially served in India on the North West Frontier with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. After the outbreak of WW2, he volunteered to go to Malaya with the Indian Army Ordnance Corps, part of India III Corps. That was in February 1941. Records show he was based in Kuala Lumpur. He was captured in Singapore on 15th February 1942, when the Allies surrendered to the Japanese.
For the first few months of captivity he was imprisoned in Changi POW camp in Singapore. He was sent to Thailand to work on the Thai-Burma railway in November 1942.
The breakthrough in my research came when I found his POW Record Cards and Liberation Questionnaire in the National Archives at Kew. This showed that his unit was HQ 3 India Corps, and he had originally joined the army on 4th March 1932. The place and date of capture was Singapore 15th Feb 1942. He listed the camps he had been in as follows--
Changi (Singapore) Feb-Oct 1942
Wan Lung, Thailand Nov-Dec 1942
Wantakin Dec 42-March 43
Pookai April 43
Tarso May 43
Tamarkan May-Nov 43
Chungkai Dec 43-June 44
Shirakawa, Formosa Nov 44 - Aug 45
The Liberation Questionnaire revealed a great deal about his experience as a POW. He wrote in answer to a question about an escape attempt-
"Four men made an attempt in Jan or Feb 43, were brought back to Chungkai, Thailand, tried and shot in conditions of great secrecy. It was rumoured they had killed a Thai. Their graves are at the foot of a rocky hill and about 400 yards North of a small Thai village and school which is situated on the North side of the railway line. I do not remember their names or units."
In answer to a question about sabotage attempts he wrote--
"Many large bamboo roots were put in the embankment on the Thailand Railway near Wan Lung about the beginning of December when the Japanese were not looking, with a view to rendering it unsafe."
He was asked to describe courageous acts. He wrote as follows--
"Lieut. Cox: Royal Norfolk Regiment. On 21st September 44, when a Jap ship containing prisoners of war was sinking he, with complete disregard for his own safety, and under MG fire from American aircraft, helped men out of the hold while the boat was sinking, and by so doing lost his own life (consult CSM Kerr - 2 Cambridgeshire for corroboration, as Lieut, Cox helped him out of the hold)."
"I consider the old Thai woman who gratuitously tended the graves mentioned above should be suitably recognised and rewarded."
Kind members of the FEPOW and Michael Hurst of the Taiwan POW Memorial Society filled in a great deal of the detail for me. Michael's wife Tina very kindly translated the record cards from Japanese.
On returning from the railway in 1944 Dad was held in Singapore at the River Valley Road Camp with the majority of the men at that time and then in July was put on 'Hellship' the Hofuku Maru which was destined for Japan.
The ship was an old tub and was plagued with engine troubles all along the way. It first stopped in N. Borneo for some repairs while the rest of the convoy moved on. Then later the ship limped into Manila where it basically stayed for the rest of the summer. The POWs were not allowed off the ship and in many cases not even out of the holds for all that time. Many men became sick, some died and some were off-loaded and subsequently replaced with others of a similar number.
Finally the Hofuku Maru departed from Manila and was heading up along the northwest coast of the Philippines when the convoy it was in was attacked by US carrier aircraft and sunk. Over 200 were able to get to shore and between 42 and 49 were picked up by the Japs and taken to Taiwan. Several of those men subsequently died in the weeks that followed. The men who made it to shore were taken to Bilibid Prison to await a further move.
Dad was then put on the Hokusen Maru on October 1st and spent 39 days travelling from the Philippines to Taiwan via Hong Kong. When it arrived in Takao (present day Kaohsiung) the men were in such terrible condition that they were off-loaded and sent to various camps to recuperate before later being moved on the Japan in mid-January 1945.
Most of the POWs off the Hokusen Maru were sent to either Heito, Toroku or Inrin Temporary camps and most were later re-gathered either at Takao or Keelung and sent on to Japan. Because Dad was a WO1 (warrant officer) he was sent to Shirakawa Camp in south-central Taiwan. This had been mainly an officers' camp but after most of the senior officers had left for Manchuria it became more of a hospital camp. This information can be found in the POW List on the website of the Taiwan POW Memorial Society. Dad is listed on that roll.
For some reason Dad was not sent to Japan but remained in Taiwan for the rest of his time as a POW. When the war ended the men remained at Shirakawa for another 10 days and then on August 26th they were moved from there to Taihoku (Taipei) and put into a former Japanese convalescent compound - called the Maruyama Evacuation Camp - to await evacuation by allied forces. There were two other camps in Taihoku at that time and
supplies were dropped on the nearby airfield by B-29's of the US Air Force.
On Sept 5th and 6th the POWs were evacuated from the three camps by the US Navy - the men from the Maruyama Camp were moved on the 6th to Keelung by rail and loaded onto US destroyer escorts and taken out to a waiting aircraft carrier - the USS Block Island CVE-106 which transported them to Manila for medical care and treatment before being released to return home to the UK.
It is quite likely that he went either to the States - or more likely
Canada, and then across country by train to the east coast where he took one of several repatriation ships across the Atlantic and home.
On returning to England, he was still very sick, having lost a lung in the shipwreck of the Hofuku Maru. He was sent to Hammersmith hospital in London where he met my mother, who was doing her nursing training there. They were married within a few months.
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