Philip E Briggs. VJ Day reflections
Dad wasn’t a hero. He would have been disapproving of the ubiquity of the whole “Help for Heroes” thing which suggests that as soon as you put on a military uniform you become heroic. He volunteered in 1941 because he had a sense of duty – the vast majority of the British people, one way or another, did the same thing. He was an intelligent, fit young man (24) about to be married and a few years into a career as a Transport Manager. That was his thing, he was good with vehicles. Quiet. Good at sport. Honourable. Decent. The Army gave him a commission and allocated him to the Royal Army Service Corps, who did transport. He married as planned and then, like thousands of others, he was in a troop ship bound for…? He didn’t know, and it changed along the way but in early February 1942 he found himself in Singapore one of those sent to reinforce the garrison island. Not great timing.
In the days before Singapore fell Dad was involved in the action. But it was a hopeless cause. The British and Commonwealth troops were rounded up, placed first in Changi, and then moved to Thailand where work on the Thai/Burma railway began. It was to be a year before my mother, who was pregnant and expecting their first child in April knew his fate. At the end of March, six weeks after Singapore fell, she had a communication saying that Dad was “missing”. Over a year later, on April 3rd 1943, she finally received a telegram from the War Office that he was a Prisoner of War.
On VJ Day, 15th August 1945, my mother celebrated in a muted way. She was not to know Dad’s fate until 10th September when a cable confirmed that he was on his way home. He sailed from Rangoon on the 32 year old HMT Orduna on 21st September and arrived in Liverpool on 19th October. He had been away from England, and my mother, for nearly four years.
As with so many Far East Prisoners of War Dad rarely talked about his experiences. I know that he was involved in the Camp radio – he kept an earphone in his shoe. I know that he was part of a small group of Officers who made contact with Thai locals to smuggle some food into the Camp. I know that if he’d been discovered in these activities he’d have been shot – or worse. Somehow he survived. He survived privations that books like the Booker prize-winning “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” describe so graphically. Officers had a better chance of survival than other ranks. Young, fit men perhaps survived better than older ones. But luck played its part. The serendipity of his incarceration and survival didn’t turn my father into a hero. He lived to be 75 . He lived a fulfilling life after the War. He never forgot what he’d been through. And he never forgave his captors.