Ongoing Rehabilitation

Chapter Three

Ongoing Rehabilitation


In order to examine FEPoW rehabilitation and readjustment I attempted to determine, via the questionnaire, from what the ex-prisoners were adjusting and what their perceptions of their years of captivity and brutality were. Shephard said FEPoWs ‘felt resentment at their reception when they returned home’.1 All the interviewees said the reception they received on arrival at Liverpool or Southampton was very emotional but all agreed that no one had any idea of what they had ‘been through’ and that their ‘medical’ and interview was non-existent. When asked about Japanese culture the questionnaire revealed the bitterness and contempt with which the FEPoWs regarded the Japanese. John Maris said, ‘I can’t help feeling bitter’, and Jack Scrivener added, ‘I can’t forgive or forget’.2 It seems extraordinary that even in 1945 personal problems were considered to be the practicalities of ‘getting home’, rather than attempting to deal with the hatred and bitterness that the interviewees felt at that time towards the Japanese.3

Doctor T. F. Roger, visiting liberated camps said, ‘the group was proud of itself’.4 The interviewees disagreed; they just considered themselves ‘lucky’ to have survived. Shephard states, ‘a man who has lived when all those around him have died will forever afterwards feel a sense of guilt and unworthiness (survivors guilt) ... [and] anyone who undergoes such experiences may find it difficult ever to be like his fellow men again’.5 All the interviewees said they did not feel guilty for surviving, but they all agreed with Shephard that they were different from their fellow man. Therefore, through the questionnaire I attempted to ascertain if associating with their own kind, who understood the trauma they had endured, was in itself the best kind of rehabilitation and readjustment to civilian life.

In addition to the formal government rehabilitation for FEPoWs, as set out in the War office document To all British Army Ex-Prisoners of War,6 the questionnaire discovered that FEPoW readjustment to civilian life also took on several other aspects. The questionnaire reveals that not only were family and employment major factors in ex-prisoners’ rehabilitation, but that comradeship and associations were also of primary importance in their readjustment to a ‘normal’ life. Surprisingly, Shephard does not give much credence to the leading role played by comradeship, FEPoW Associations and other post-war activities associated with FEPoW internment. His only words on the subject are ‘(Feeling rebuffed and excluded, some FEPoWs began, in the late 1940s, to form their own clubs and associations ‘to keep going the spirit that kept us going’)’.7 However, it appears to me that there was more to it than Shephard assumes. It was not just to keep the spirit going, it was to remould that spirit and to re-channel it towards mutual rehabilitation. It was a re-working of their lives for therapeutic reasons. 

The role played by comradeship seems to fall arbitrarily into two distinct categories: officers, and other ranks. It also seems to reflect an attitude towards class and rank during Britain’s early post-war period. One officer I interviewed started his readjustment to his new circumstances during his captivity. He recorded in a secret diary, his army experiences in Britain, the journey to Singapore and the activities of the platoon that he commanded until he was severely wounded. While a prisoner he then accounted for the fate of his entire platoon, before and after capture, and then recorded his experiences as a PoW. His post-war rehabilitation took the form of frequent association with kindred spirits, and this was an almost mirror image of the second officer’s post-war experiences. On his return to Britain, as part of his readjustment to civilian life, he met other FEPoWs, of all ranks in London’s West End four to five times a week until he returned to work in mid-1946. He also wrote to or visited all the families of his platoon comrades who were killed in action or died while interned. This appears to be in itself a kind of self-help therapy and a form of readjustment.

The first officers’ ongoing rehabilitation to life in ‘’civvy street’’ took the form of continuing to meet with old comrades. He became an early member of the London FEPoW association, the 18th Division Association and the Cambridgeshire Regiment’s Old Comrades Association, and regularly attended reunions and Regimental dinners. By the late 1960s, he was confident enough to be speaking in public about his FEPoW experiences. The diary he kept hidden in Changi is now part of a large personal collection of documents and memorabilia8 on anything related to the Cambridgeshire Regiment and FEPoWs. Neither officer joined the Cambridge Yasume club and the latter did not join the FEPoW association. However, both officers did rejoin the Cambridgeshire Regiment post-war as ‘Territorial’ officers. Both officers are fully conscious that their post-war activities are an integral part of their personal ongoing rehabilitation process.

Prior to the formation of official FEPoW clubs, the other ranks attended functions at venues such as the Old Drill Hall in both Cambridge and Wisbech, which were arranged by the Cambridgeshire Regiment. The ‘other ranks’ all joined their local FEPoW association, some also joined their local British Legion and, when the Cambridge branch of FEPoW Association founded the Yasume Club in 1952, all the interviewees who were of other ranks also joined. Only one man gave up his Yasume membership soon after joining. He had a young family and it is noticeable that he found readjustment relatively easy. This was possibly because he spent his entire captivity with a ‘support group’ of four other soldiers from London who, determined that they would all survive, supported, fed and cared for each other when they were sick. They all travelled from prison-camp to Rangoon then home together and eventually parted on Cambridge railway station. Despite receiving invitations to several reunions the interviewee never felt the need to go. As far as he was concerned he ‘had to get on with life’,9 a sentiment that the majority of FEPoWs expressed.

The majority of other interviewees, without doubt, needed their comradeship to continue post-war as part of the process of readjustment and rehabilitation. One interviewee said the benefit of the Yasume Club was that ‘we all spoke the same language’;10 another said it was ‘good to be with people who understood how you felt’.11 There is evidence to support this in the questionnaire: when asked whether being a FEPoW set them aside from other people all the interviewees answered an emphatic, ‘’Yes’’.12

Shephard argues that the lack of recognition which FEPoWs received from the War Office was because there was ‘a feeling that the soldiers brought the misfortunes on themselves by surrendering to a smaller Japanese force’.13 (The War Graves Commission register now confirms that 85,000 British troops were outnumbered by 120,000 Japanese.14) Although doctors did identify that PoWs would have psychological problems when they returned to Britain, the evidence suggests that there was no special provision for FEPoWs. All the interviewees agree that on their immediate release they were treated for malnutrition and tropical disease. They also agree that when they arrived in Britain, at best, there was nothing more than the briefest of medical interviews. This was despite the fact that a group of psychiatrists who advised the Army on social policy had translated concern into action. Their studies had shown that most PoWs began having problems almost as soon as they returned and after the initial elation of homecoming had worn off. They deduced that what was needed was a facility after the PoWs had arrived home which would help them talk through their problems and find employment.

The result was Civil Resettlement Units (CRU) which returning PoWs could join if they wished. The assumption was that CRUs would give the PoW a period of temporary security, during which time they could gradually resume their domestic responsibilities and regain a sense of their own worth and identity. Shephard says that the CRUs were certainly successful in re-integrating PoWs into the labour force; so far as one can tell, it also helped them emotionally. The questionnaire reveals that unfortunately only one of the interviewees had any experience of CRU and that this facility was only on offer after almost three years of psychological torture. This point is not lost on Shephard: he says that prisoners of the Japanese were not completely forgotten. However, inevitably, sheer ignorance of events in the Far East meant that official policy took no real account of them.15 The official policy, as I pointed out previously, appears not to take into account the particular problems associated with torture and degradation that FEPoW were subjected to.

True to gender-stereotype the returning FEPoWs were expected to have a stiff upper lip and carry the burden alone. It seemed to officialdom that ‘inferior Asiatic peoples’ could not possibly inflict lasting damage on a British soldier. ‘The Secretary of State for War told the House of Commons in September 1944 that the conduct of British prisoners working on the Burma-Thailand railway had been true to the highest traditions of our race’.16 There was no special provision for FEPoWs and their torture and degradation was simply not understood by officials; therefore, there was a constant need for ongoing rehabilitation. The latest ongoing rehabilitation was, paradoxically, a government initiative: the fiftieth anniversary of VJ-Day. This was an occasion which brought to light for the first time to the majority of the general public the horrors the FEPoW endured. At the same time it gave the FEPoW a ‘legitimate’ opportunity, in their eyes, to air publicly their grievances and release their emotions: a process of ongoing rehabilitation. The VJ-Day celebrations unfortunately did not, however, elicit for the FEPoW either adequate compensation or a satisfactory apology from the Japanese government.

1 B. Shephard, ‘A Clouded Homecoming?’ in History Today Volume 46 (8) August 1996 p.10

2 D. Waterson, ‘When a Fortress Fell to Japan’ in Cambridge Evening News  12.Feburary 1992 p.12

3 see Appendix A, Interviews numbers 1- 11 pp. 32-86

4 B. Shephard, A Clouded Homecoming? p.12

5 Ibid., p.13

6 see Appendix B, document number 4 pp. 100-106

7 B, Shephard, ‘A Clouded Homecoming?’ p13

8 This collection will eventually be lodged with the Imperial War Museum

9 see Appendix A, interview number, 1 pp. 32-36

10 see Appendix A, interview number, 6 pp. 57-61 question 36 

11 see Appendix A, interview number, 7 pp. 62-66 question 37

12 see Appendix A, interviews numbers, 1-11 pp. 32-86

13 B, Shephard, A Clouded Homecoming? p13

14 P, Woolrich, The Sunday Express, 21 September 1992 p.21

15 B, Shephard, ‘A Clouded Homecoming?’ p.11

16 Ibid., p.11






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