The subject of this dissertation originated in the late summer of 1939 when civilians eager to play a part in the war against Germany signed up for service in the Territorial Army battalions of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. At the end of 1941 the 18th Division (East Anglian) was ordered to mobilise, its destination was rumoured to be North Africa or the Middle East. While still at sea, the 18th Division learned of the Japanese attack on the mainland of Malaya. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in a desperate attempt to appease the Australian government, diverted the 17,000 men of the 18th Division to Singapore and unashamedly sacrificed these inexperienced troops to a ferocious and victorious Japanese army 1. On the 13 January 1942, the Cambridgeshire Regiment’s 2nd Battalion, untrained for jungle warfare, arrived in Singapore. Owing to the critical situation on the mainland it was unceremoniously pushed into battle three days later. After bitter fighting against the elite Japanese Imperial Guard, who were well supported by tanks and aircraft, approximately 400 of the 750 strong Battalion escaped to Singapore in order to defend the ‘Island fortress’.
Meanwhile, the Cambridgeshire’s 1st Battalion and the remainder of the 18th Division arrived in Singapore on the 29 January 1942, and found that the battle for the Island was about to begin. ‘During this period an order of the day was received from General Wavell to the effect that Singapore will be defended to the last round and last man’.2 Wavell, who had only recently been dismissed by Churchill for his failures in the North African campaign, then proceeded to fly to India and safety, as did the man most critical of the performance of British troops, the commander of the Australian forces Lt. General Gordon Bennett. Bennett later faced a court of inquiry to explain his flight from Singapore. Until the ‘cease fire’ sounded in the late afternoon of the 15 February 1942, the 1st Battalion of the Cambridgeshire’s, ‘with both flanks in the air and communication with the rear cut off, was still holding its ground’3. The 1st Battalion is, rightly, extremely proud of its reputation of being one of the few Battalions to hold its ground and the last to lay down its arms4.
The capitulation of Singapore meant that the majority of the British soldiers who were taken prisoner and not imprisoned in Singapore’s infamous Changi jail were transported to various locations as far afield as Japan, Thailand, Indo-China and Burma, and set to work in the most appalling conditions on a variety of arduous tasks. Starvation, brutality, enforced slavery and untreated disease claimed the lives of one in three prisoners5 during their three and a half years imprisonment. Furthermore, the adverse conditions they suffered were responsible for countless premature deaths and years of combat trauma for the surviving Far Eastern prisoners of war (FEPoWs). Ben Shephard in an article entitled A Clouded Homecoming?6 examined the psychological trauma and psychiatric treatment of FEPoWs, and one of my tasks has been to examine his findings with particular regard to officers and men of the 18th Division from Cambridgeshire.
However, this dissertation is not solely about determining how returning Cambridgeshire FEPoWs rehabilitated and readjusted, or responded to their rehabilitation; it is also about attempting to establish a methodology by which the extent of their reintegration can be reliably researched. I determined that interviewing surviving Cambridgeshire FEPoWs would be a valuable source of primary evidence. Therefore, I formally interviewed two officers, one sergeant, two corporals, five privates and one medical orderly, all of whom were from Cambridgeshire and were members of the 18th Division. In addition I had many informal conversations with survivors of the war with Japan, and their families. I should point out that although this cross section of Far East veterans may not appear to be a substantial sample it constitutes the majority of FEPoWs who were able to, and also prepared to, discuss their wartime and post-war experiences.
Initially I acquainted myself with the Malaysian campaign in order to be a credible interviewer, and I discovered that although there were thousands of publications concerning FEPoW wartime experiences, apart from Shephard’s article, there was virtually nothing written about the problems of British prisoners of war (PoW) rehabilitation and readjustment. Using the Shephard article, and my introductory research, I compiled a preliminary questionnaire, and then carried out a ‘dummy’ interview with a FEPoW. From this interview, I then compiled a second questionnaire in which I tried to approach the same issues from different angles at different stages throughout the questionnaire in order to validate and elicit reliable information. To ensure that all the FEPoWs felt at their ease I tried when possible to carry out the interviews in their own home. However, this did have certain disadvantages. For example, I had to disregard one interview because the interviewee was constantly ‘prompted’ by his wife. If home interviews were not possible, then all the interviews were carried out in the FEPoWs own Yasume Club in Cambridge.
After I had completed a second ‘dummy’7 interview with the ‘second’ questionnaire8, I then added twenty-three supplementary questions because of the discoveries I had made en-route. This became my standard questionnaire. These discoveries included the unearthing of War Office documents and the interviewees’ understanding of words. For example, I initially used words such as ‘’interview’’ and ‘’de-briefed’’ when for some FEPoWs I should have used the word ‘’interrogation’’ because this was the word used in some official documents9. In addition to the problems associated with verbal history there was of course, as one would expect after fifty-two years, the problem of fading memories. An added complication was a continuing local controversy over a recently published book which featured the wartime experiences of several Cambridgeshire FEPoWs. The consequence was that some FEPoWs refused to co-operate and some were initially reluctant to be interviewed because they suspected that monetary gain might be involved.
1 A. Wenham, ‘Defence of a Hopeless Cause’ in Eastern Daily Press 12 February 1992
2 William Taylor, With the Cambridgeshire’s at Singapore (Cambridge, 1971), p.15
3 The Cambridgeshire Regiment 1939-1945 (Private publication, 1945), p.4 see Appendix B, document number 1 pp. 87-92
4 see Appendix A, interview number 5 pp. 52-56 question 11c
5 William Taylor, With the Cambridgeshire’s at Singapore, p.111
6 Ben Shephard, ‘A Clouded Homecoming?’ in History Today Volume 46 (8) August 1996
7 see Appendix B, document number 2 pp. 93-94
8 see Appendix B, document number 3 pp. 95-99
9 see Appendix B, documents numbers 5 and 6 pages 107 and 108