Filed under: Far East, Heroes Return | Tags: Big Lottery Fund, Burma, Changi, Death Railway, Far East, Heroes Return, POW, Second World War. WW2, Singapore, Thailand, veterans
The amazing story of 93-year-old Far East veteran Jack Jennings is the inspiration for a National Lottery TV advert and UK-wide publicity campaign launched today (Sunday, 4 March).
The Devon WWII veteran recently made an emotional journey to re-visit old friends and memories in Thailand and Singapore thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme.
Jack served with the Suffolk Regiment, the First Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment, and was fighting a fierce last stand in Singapore when it eventually fell to the Japanese in February 1942.
Jack explains: “After the surrender had been signed we had to just wait for the Japanese to come and collect us. 500 of us were rounded up and taken to sit in a tennis court at the back of a large house. We had to sit there for five days, in the full sun, with water only occasionally and just biscuits thrown over the fences for food.
“We were then moved and put into Changi prisoner of war camp – worn out, tired and starving. The camp was packed by the time our company had arrived, so we had to settle for anything. After a meal of rice and watery soup, we felt better.
“We managed to get a wash and clean up, before retiring to our hut for a well earned rest. Needless to say we slept that night whatever the discomfort was, sleeping on bamboo slats.
“Our officers gave us our daily jobs and when these were finished there was time to wander around the camp to find out who had survived.
“The minor injured or sick could attend sick parade, to receive whatever treatments were available. The wounded and the worst of the sick personnel were in the adjoining Roberts Hospital, but this was grossly overcrowded.
“The change in diet affected many men, some with sores or upset stomachs, and others showed signs of vitamin deficiency. It was at Changi that I first saw coconut trees, but they were restricted for the Japanese. The result was a great struggle for survival and some couldn’t make it. The cemetery started at Changi, soon enlarged with three or four funerals every day.
Putting on a show
“Occasionally in the evenings, when more organised, someone would give a lecture, or we would have a debate. Permission was given to make a stage and put on shows, and very soon the talented ones among us were able to form a good concert party. Musicians found instruments, or made them, to provide the accompanying music.
“The result was a top class show which relieved the boredom for a while. Rumours of the progress of the war spread around at these gatherings, but at that stage it was not very cheery.
“It was at Changi that I had my first birthday in captivity. Who would have thought that my birthday treat was little more than a helping of boiled rice? The day was just another boring, depressing day with only one thought: “How long were we to be kept prisoners of war, and could we, by some miracle, be freed to get out of this miserable experience?”
“The prophets in the camp gave us high hopes at times, but each prediction came to nothing. After dark, lying on bamboo slats, trying to get some rest was difficult enough, but with the torment of mosquitoes, lice and the croaking bullfrogs it was worse. Little did we know then that things were going to get much worse.”
Jack was later moved to Thailand to work on the infamous Thai-Burma death railway, featured in the epic film The Bridge on the River Kwai. In the years that followed his release, he returned to his profession as a skilled joiner. He has two children, three grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Of making an emotional return to both Singapore and Thailand with his grand-daughter, Jack says: “I was able to find and visit the graves of former comrades we also visited the British Embassy in Bangkok and met some notable people. It was important for me to go back to Singapore and Thailand and remember all the men that didn’t come back.”
To find out about the funding available from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme please visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn or call the advice line on 0845 0000 121
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