WARTIME MEMORIES OF
story began in 1938 when I went to Leeds to enlist in the Royal Navy.
After my initial examination, I went on to Manchester for my final
acceptance into Naval service, From here I was posted to H.M.S. Drake,
Devonport, to commence my training in Gunnery, This training period
lasted for six months, upon completion of which I left the Devonport
base by train travelling to Scotland to join the crew of the
Battlecruiser ‘HMS Repulse’ at Scapa Flow.
my service with the ‘Repulse’ we were given Convoy Duties on patrol
from England to Canada, and on the return journey escorting merchant
shipping carrying food supplies. On our safe arrival back in England we
were able to enjoy a couple of days leave. We then received orders to
escort troops from Capetown and Durban, South Africa, back to England.
All these duties were carried out during late 1938 early 1939, prior to
the outbreak of the Second World War, but in preparation for it. On
completion of these tasks we returned to the North Sea and resumed
normal patrol duties. While at sea on Patrol we were informed by the
Captain that Germany had made a declaration of war on the 3rd of
September 1939 and that a state of war now existed with them. On hearing
the news we immediately took on supplies of oil, water and food, and
returned to our duties day and night with no respite. After 12 to 18
months of chasing the German Fleet around the North Sea, including the
pride of the German Navy, the Battlecruiser, ‘Scarnaust’ and the
cruiser ‘Prince Eugene’, we returned to Scapa Flow at the end of
1940, where we were able to enjoy a few days well earned rest. Later we
were ordered to sail to Rosyth Dockyard, Edinburgh, for small guns and
mine devices to be fitted, and returned to our normal pattern of patrol
duties again in the North Sea.
the end of 1940 we received our orders to leave the North Sea area and
proceed at full speed to Singapore calling at various ports along the
way to refuel and replenish supplies. We took up our new station of
operations, patrolling in the China Sea and Malaca Straits off the
one tour of duty we returned to Singapore and proceeded to dock for the
night and it was during that time that we were awakened by loud
explosions and flashing lights which we later discovered were from bombs
dropped by high level Japanese bombers. It was some time later that we
were informed the same tactical operation had occurred at Pearl Harbour
the day before our attack took place, and with devastating effect on the
Sixth Fleet which had its base there.
the attack we received orders to abandon any ongoing repairs and proceed
at full speed to engage the Japanese Fleet and Troop carrying ships,
which were making their way down to the Malayan Coast for a suspected
invasion. It was whilst we were searching for the Japanese Fleet that we
were attacked from all directions by torpedo planes and suicide bombers
from which the ship sustained heavy damage that finally led to the loss
of a very great and fine ship which had performed many hazardous tasks
since she was built in a Clydebank Shipyard in 1916.
with some of my shipmates we abandoned ship and after spending a couple
of hours in the oil-covered sea we were rescued by a four funnel
American Ship. Along with my other shipmates who had survived the attack
we were returned to the H.M.S. Sultan Naval Base, Singapore, where those
who had wounds received treatment for them and we had the diesel oil
removed from our bodies.
following day a limited number of ratings who were deemed fit to return
to duty were found various ships to continue their war service. About 20
of us were issued with small arms and ammunition and sent to perform
sentry duties guarding the oil storage tanks onshore. We did these
duties for about six weeks, until we received orders to join two
minesweepers, H.M.S. Rhaman and H.M.S. Cinic Lee and move them out of
port to the open sea to avoid capture by the Japanese forces. We were
under the command of an RNVR Officer who asked us to attach an abandoned
private yacht to the stern of the Rhaman in the hope that we could
finally reach Australia.
headed for our first port which was Sumatra but we discovered during the
journey that the Japanese Forces had landed at Singapore. When we
arrived at Sumatra we had just a couple of days to refuel and replenish
food stocks and it was while we were occupied with these duties that
news reached us that the Japanese Forces were heading for Sumatra. It
was becoming clear that they were taking the Islands one by one, so we
left port and set sail to proceed to Java Dutch Indies. During the
journey both minesweepers came under attack from high level bombers,
which to our relief was unsuccessful.
continued on with our journey and arrived in the Java port of Batavia
which in fact had the appearance of a ghost town, lacking any evidence
of people, but the few that we did see showed no interest in our being
there at all. After a stay of three days in port, we received news that
the Japanese Forces had taken Sumatra, and were proceeding to take Java,
so once again both minesweepers, still with the yacht in tow, set sail.
We were passing through the Sundra Straits in the darkness and hoping in
our hearts that it would stay that way, but we were not so lucky. The
moon shone brightly, illuminating the ships and we were spotted by the
Japanese warships who fired a couple of warning shots across our bows,
to warn us to stop, which we ignored. Our R.N.V.R officer had orders not
to let the ships fall into Japanese hands so we commenced to cast off
the private yacht and were ordered to open up the sea-cocks of the ‘Rhaman’
which continued steaming until she sunk. While this was taking place we
transferred to the yacht and continued to sail on until we were boarded
by the Japanese sailors, and that was the ending to my Naval Service.
BY THE JAPANESE
our capture by Japanese Sailors, we were transferred to a Japanese
troopship, where we stayed on board for about a week. We discovered when
we boarded that a mixture of other nationalities like ourselves had been
caught earlier, including Australian, American and Dutch sailors who had
been rescued when their ships had been sunk. We finally reached Java
where the ship docked, and from there we disembarked and were taken to a
Japanese P.O.W. camp in the jungle. Throughout my captivity I was moved
several times to different camps. The treatment we received was the same
standard at all the camps we were detained at – brutal, including
torture, starvation, and in many instances death. This was the order of
the day. Our starvation rations consisted of half-a-glass of dirty,
maggoty rice in the morning, after which we were put out to work 12
hours per day working on Japanese airfields in the jungle. We were
barely covered with clothes or shoes, and most prisoners simply wore
g-strings. The same food ration was doled out at dinner and evening
sacks crawling with lice were our blankets, and I and many of my
unfortunate brave comrades endured this treatment for three and a half
years until we were repatriated back to Changi Jail, Singapore, for
treatment and convalescence. During our stay at Changi Jail the American
Airforce dropped many food containers by parachute, but unfortunately
because of our starvation diet over the past years in the camps, our
stomachs had shrunk and because of this we were not allowed free access
to the food. Instead we were put on a feeding programme under the
direction of our army doctor, who explained to us that the food would be
too rich for our stomachs to digest properly. After a two-week stay at
Changi, we were told that the British Fleet had arrived in Keppel
Harbour, Singapore, and one of the VIP passengers on board was Lady
Mountbatten. During her visit she asked if we would like to go on board
one of the cruisers in the harbour and meet the sailors who had taken
over Singapore. That was an invitation we just could not refuse.
later we received information that we would be returning to England, and
the ship that would be taking us home would be the a troopship of the
New Zealand Navy, the S.S. Monwaie. Our destination port would be
Liverpool and when we finally docked we were amazed to see thousands of
Liverpool people and other well-wisher’s waiting on shore to greet us
on our arrival. It was a wonderful moment, and one you would always
treasure. I walked down the gangplank with my kit bag on my shoulder and
with heart-felt thanks for my survival. I knelt and kissed the English
soil, which over the last few years I had thought it unlikely I would
ever see again.
AFTER MY NAVAL SERVICE
returned to my parent’s house in Halfpenny Lane, Pontefract in 1945
and stayed with them for a six months leave of absence. Later I was
recalled back to my base at Devonport to undergo a medical examination
with Naval doctors, who deemed me unfit for any further Naval service.
The doctors attributed my poor health to the severe treatment I had
experienced during my captivity at the hands of the Japanese Army. I was
granted an honourable discharge and returned to Pontefract.
two years later with other ex-prisoners of the Japanese, we were to
receive an offer of £66 compensation from the British Government, which
if you consider the treatment we had endured during our captivity, was
an absolute insult to us all. But with the thought that a much better
offer would eventually be forthcoming in the future we accepted what we
thought would be an interim payment. However, this was not to be the
case and so the Japanese ex-prisoners formed a fighting fund to pursue a
better deal and fight the Japanese Government for an offer in what we
believed to be a just case for a much more deserved compensation. The
Japanese government showed no interest in our legitimate claim and
refused to accept any responsibility for it, so the fight was to
continue with the British government for the next thirty years.
Eventually a final offer from them of £10,000 was accepted as a final
settlement but as always with such offers, there were strings attached.
Initially the payment was not to be made to widows whose husbands had
died in Japanese camps, which was totally unacceptable to all survivors,
but this was thankfully resolved with the assistance and involvement of
the Red Cross whereupon the offer was finally accepted.
resumed my civilian working life in 1947 mainly working at the Prince of
Wales Colliery, Pontefract, until I retired in 1980. It was in
Pontefract that I met my future wife Evelyn at a dance held at the Town
Hall, Pontefract, and we were later married at St. Giles’s Church,
Pontefract, in 1947. We experienced the joy of having two sons Malcolm
and Neil, and we now live a quite life in Pontefract.
Frank Fletcher, 2005
Interviewed by Maurice Haigh, 17th August 2005
I feature some reports submitted by Frank Fletcher which appeared in the
local press and have relevance to the above story.
2nd July 1943
has been received by Mr, and Mrs E. Fletcher, of 59 East Avenue,
Pontefract, that their eldest son, Seaman Frank Fletcher, is a prisoner
of war in Java. He formerly worked at the Prince of Wales Colliery,
Pontefract, and joined the Navy at the age of seventeen and a half. He
served on board the ‘Repulse’ for two and half years, and after its
loss he was reported to be in Singapore. His parents last had word of
him 18 months ago, and he was reported missing 14 months ago. Monday was
his 22nd birthday.
POW PAYOUT AFTER 55 YEARS
of the brutal Japanese camps have finally won their 55-year battle for
compensation. Tony Blair signalled that the 5,500 ex-servicemen still
alive would receive a payout next month. He told MPs that "The
nation owes them a particular debt of honour." The deal would
cost the taxpayer £55,000,000 if veterans win their demand of £10,000
Mr. Blair said a decision would be made shortly. An insider said; "It’s
definitely on its way."
were starved, tortured and used as slave labour in camps during the
Second World War. In recent years, veterans have called on the British
government for cash after being ignored by Japan.
DISASTER BELL FOUND
have lifted a treasured bell from a sunken British warship after Royal
navy chiefs feared it would be taken by trophy hunters. A twelve man
Navy team plunged 150ft into waters off East Malaysia to lift the 50kg
brass bell off H.M.S. Prince of Wales. Japanese aircraft sank the
battleship along with the battle cruiser H.M.S. Repulse in 1941, killing
840 in one of Britains worst ever naval disasters. Both were located
last year. A similar recovery is planned for Repulse. Chiefs called the
bell a "fitting memorial."
THOUGHTS TO OUR BRAVE FIGHTING MEN
think it would be fair to say without contradiction that the brave men
of our armed services, held on to their courage throughout the most
horrendous treatment and brutality performed upon them during their
back one cannot imagine the horrors experienced by prisoners of war at
the hands of the Japanese and we can only offer our heartfelt sympathy
to the survivors who were lucky enough to be rescued from their
captivity and to their immediate families.
can only echo the words of Mr. Blair, when he said, "The country
owes them a debt of gratitude."
us also not forget the brave acts of courage and service performed by
our services in all theatres of war during the 1939-1945 world conflict.