Filed under: Navy | Tags: Australia, Changi Jail, Chichester, Dennis Tracey, HMS Fencer, HMS Victorious, Landing Craft Tank, Malta, PoWs, Prisoners of War, Royal Navy, Singapore, Sri Lanka, windmill
85-year-old Dennis Tracey has welcomed news of Heroes Return funding for World War Two veterans making second trips back to where they served.
Aged 17, Dennis volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1944 as a boy sailor. Dennis joined aircraft carrier HMS Fencer bound for Australia but the ship developed serious rudder problems whilst crossing the Mediterranean and had to put in to Malta for major repairs.
Once underway again the Fencer re routed to what was then Ceylon where Dennis was assigned to salvage duties in Colombo.
He recalls: “When we boarded HMS Fencer we didn’t even know where we were going.
“I originally joined up as a ships’ accountant in supplies but never did that job. When we got to Colombo I got shipped out to Fleet Salvage. We did all sorts of crazy things.
“We travelled everywhere, raising ships that had sunk, blowing up oil tanks. We were a mixed bunch. We had explosive experts, divers and electrical experts. I was the youngest of the lot.”
It was during this time that Dennis met the love of his life, Noreen.
He recalls: “We were based in a house in Colombo. Noreen, then Trixie Vandersay, lived in a house nearby with her family. There were four sisters and we use to watch them go by. They were all very beautiful. We used to connive to knock at their gate and offer them bottles of whisky and butter which our divers had brought up from a sunken NAAFI ship.
“One day we got invited in and sat on the verandah. The family were Dutch Burghers, and very strict, so the mother and father kept a close eye on us. I didn’t realise that Noreen and her sisters worked in the Royal Navy Cypher office. After that I would take cables over to be sent to our ships and she would take them from me. I said to my friends, ‘I’m going to marry that girl’.
However, when Dennis and Noreen got secretly engaged Noreen’s father wrote to the Admiral of the East Indies Fleet in an effort to get Dennis shipped off to Hong Kong. Fortunately that didn’t happen and true love was allowed to run its course with Noreen later able to join Dennis in England after the war.
After the Japanese surrender Dennis was transferred to a Landing Craft Tank crew and sent to Singapore to support clearing out operations and evacuation of PoWs from the notorious Changi Jail.
He said: “Some were only five stone. They had to be careful not to feed them too much or it would have killed them. It took many up to six months to get well again, and they couldn’t come home for some time. There was one guy I was trying to pick up to carry him to a bus that was waiting.
“He was clutching a great big paper package and I couldn’t get him to put it down. He was swearing at me, calling me all the names under the sun, so in the end I managed to get him and the package on the bus.
“It was 43 years later when I was selling my house in South Wales when a chap came to buy it. We got talking about the war and I was telling him about my experience with the man at Changi when he started to cry. He said, ‘that was me’ and came back a few days later with the package still wrapped in the same old paper, Straits Times newspaper, falling to pieces.
“He unwrapped it and inside was a windmill made out of bamboo sticks stuck together with crushed insects. He told me that it was the only thing that had kept him alive in Changi. I said, ‘you should hang on to that’ He said ‘I’m giving it to you.’ I still have it, although sadly, he has since died.”
Dennis finally returned home on HMS Victorious in January 1946. Looking forward to their trip to Sri Lanka in May, Dennis and Noreen will visit Colombo to re unite with family and friends from the past, Dennis said: “We have kept in touch with them all these years and would like a chance to see them one final time. I think Heroes Return is a great idea, and I am delighted to hear that veterans will now get a second opportunity to travel.”
For more information about Heroes Return, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn
Filed under: RAF | Tags: 62 Squadron, Akyab Island, Bombay, Burma, Changi, Hiroshima, HMS Ranchi, Indonesia, Nagasaki, PoWs, RAF, Royal Air Force, Saigon, Singapore
A Royal Airforce (RAF) veteran from Wythenshaw, Manchester, recently embarked upon a Lottery-funded journey to where he served in Singapore. Having enjoyed his emotional return, through the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme, he now wants others like him to apply for funding.
Jim Colecliffe, 87, joined the RAF in 1944 aged 18. Sent to Cardington for basic training he went on to Cosford where he completed a Flight Mechanic Engine Course.
He recalls: “I had been in the ATC a couple of years before I joined up. I was always very interested in planes. I had a model aircraft flying on wires in my house.”
Jim was sent to a squadron in Towyn, North Wales from where he received his posting to the Far East.
Boarding a converted troop ship, HMS Ranchi, Jim sailed for Bombay arriving in January 1945, and from there was transferred to Akyab Island in Burma where he served at rank of Aircraftman 1st class with 62 Squadron RAF a Dakota supply unit.
He said: “Once we knew we were being posted overseas we were sent to Morecambe to get kitted out with pith helmets and all the jungle gear. Once we got to Bombay we had four or five days travelling across India by train.
“It was terrible to see the poverty. People with badly maimed limbs even women and children. I couldn’t believe that people could live like that in this day and age.
“We then flew to 62 Squadron base on Akyab Island just off the coast of Burma. Once we got there we had to deal with the monsoons, putting up tents and then digging trenches around them. We were what you might call slightly damp. I was only 18 and it was a different world to me all this.”
Carrying out four to five sorties a day to drop vital supplies to front line troops fighting the Japanese, Jim’s was assigned to keep Dakota ‘U’ for Uncle serviced and flying safely.
Jim recalls: “As soon as they landed I would check the cowlings and the engines and then climb into the cockpit, check over all the instruments and run the engines to make sure everything was working properly.
“It was all quite an experience really. We tolerated the heat somehow, no shirts, just bush hats. We got a cooked breakfast every morning from the RAF cooks and then after that we lived on typical American K rations.
“These were the same as were supplied to all aircrew in case they got ditched. There were packets of biscuits, cigarettes, chocolate, even toilet paper, typical Yank stuff. It was a little bit sparse, but we didn’t starve.
“When I heard the bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I felt a bit upset that they’d had to do it. But then we hadn’t had it tough like others.
“We only had one fatality when a Canadian pilot got caught in a cumulonimbus weather cloud and his plane was destroyed.”
Following the Japanese surrender, 62 Squadron was disbanded and Jim was posted to Singapore for three months where he was assigned to looking after VIP aircraft used by generals and admirals.
He was later transferred to Indonesia where he serviced planes flying Japanese PoWs back home. Jim then received his last posting to Saigon at that time a staging post for aircraft between Singapore and Indonesia.
He remembers: “One night I was on guard duty when we had to look after two very high ranking Japanese officers stopping with us in our guard house. They were extremely polite. But I could never work out if they were being very polite because they had lost the war, or if it was just their nature.”
Jim, who recently celebrated his 87th birthday, recalls his Heroes Return 2 trip to Singapore in June last year where he was accompanied by his daughter Brenda.
“We went round the airfield at Changi where I was stationed. We also visited the Changi Museum and were shocked by the atrocity of some of the stories we read. One was about an Australian lady who had two sons aged 11 and 12 who were both seriously ill.
“In desperation she approached a Japanese guard for help but he smashed her face in with a rifle butt. There was also the story of a Malaysian woman who came to the fence of a PoW camp to pass food through to the prisoners. She was caught by a guard who smashed her with a rifle butt, but she still came back the next day.
“I think the chance to have a second trip with Heroes Return 2 is absolutely fantastic news. I couldn’t believe it. I am over the moon. I wouldn’t have been able to go back without the funding. It was a great experience for both me and my daughter Brenda, and for me to be able to show her the places I knew. The whole thing has made such a big impression on both of us. She has never stopped talking about it.”
For more information about Heroes Return, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn
Filed under: Heroes Return | Tags: Bill Frankland, Black Friday, Cenotaph, Death Railway, Far East, funding, Heroes Return, Iwo Jima, Japanese, Okinawa, Pearl Harbour, Peter Ainsworth, Rangoon, Remembrance Day, Singapore, Sir Alexander Fleming, Thai-Burma
World War II veterans will be able to apply for funding for a second commemorative trip under the Heroes Return 2 programme, the Big Lottery Fund announced today.
Over £25 million has been awarded since 2004 to more than 52,000 Second World War veterans, widows, spouses and carers across the country for journeys in the UK, France, Germany, the Middle East, Far East and beyond. From today, veterans will be able to apply for funding to go a second time.
Peter Ainsworth, Big Lottery Fund UK Chair, said: “It is for me a very real honour and pleasure to announce that our Second World War veterans who have already been on a Heroes Return commemorative visit can now be supported to make another journey to a place where they fought or served. They let us know how important these visits are to them – whether it be a trip to London’s Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, a visit to the beaches of Normandy, or journeys to war cemeteries in the Far East. The experiences they revisit remind us that we must never take for granted the peace this generation secured for all of us and the debt we owe for the freedoms we enjoy and value today.”
London Second World War veteran Bill Frankland, a renowned allergist and registrar to Sir Alexander Fleming in the development of penicillin was studying medicine at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School when war broke out. Bill accepted a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and in late 1941 with the rank of Captain he joined a team of 30 doctors as they embarked on a two-month long voyage to Singapore.
Bill, who is approaching his 101st birthday in March recalls: “We were on our way to form a new general hospital in Johor Bahru. But when we arrived it was decided that there would be no new hospital and we would be split into two groups.
“I spun a coin and went to Tanglin Military Hospital and my friend went to Alexandra Military Hospital. It was three days before Pearl Harbour.”
Two months later on Friday 13th February 1942, known as Black Friday, allied forces were in full retreat as the Japanese seized most of the reservoirs leaving the city with only seven days water supply.
Caught under constant heavy mortar fire Bill transferred his patients from Tanglin to a makeshift hospital in the Fullerton Theatre in the centre of Singapore.
When the Japanese invaded Singapore Bill’s friend and colleague was murdered along with nursing staff and patients, one in the middle of surgery, as the marauding soldiers, armed with bayonets, and ignoring a white flag of truce stormed the Alexandra Hospital on a killing spree.
Bill recalls: “The Japanese had no plans on how they would deal with prisoners. We were sent to Changi. It was an 18 mile march, but I went by lorry with my patients. There was a lot of dysentery and after six months we were all starving. I was looking after one of the dysentery wards and saw little of the Japanese. Our guards were mostly Koreans and later Indians.”
But soon the PoWs were being sent to work on the notorious Thai-Burma death railway. Bill was transferred to a working camp, formerly a British Artillery barracks on Blakang Mati Island, known then as Hell Island, now Sentosa.
He remembers: “I never saw the sea, even on the island. In the camp there were 75 per cent Australians and men from the British 18th Division. In my working group I knew every man personally. We lived off meagre rations of rice and everyone suffered from gross starvation. All we could think of was food. When we could we ate rats, mice and dogs.”
Apart from chronic dysentery other tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and starvation beriberi were rife amongst the prisoners. However, even this didn’t save them from the relentless forced labour instigated by their captors.
Bill recalls: “The Japanese kept us all busy. If my sick parade got too large a Japanese private, non medical would take my sick parade and put them to work if they were strong enough to stand.
“If the men’s behaviour was bad the Japanese would bash the officers. They would line us up and just punch us in the face.
“The best bashing I ever had was when I was knocked unconscious. I didn’t feel much but when I got up I realised I had lost a tooth.
“Once a soldier came up to me and said he was going to kill me and he tried but I survived it. I think at the time it may have been in revenge for some allied victory abroad.”
Those who attempted to get away ran a hazardous course with the Japanese paying local people 100 dollars to give up escapees.
He said: “I looked after a marvellous man who had tried to escape. He had ulcerated legs, dysentery, malaria and starvation beriberi. After two months he was getting better and I was about to return him to his unit when a police officer from the much feared KEMPI Military Police came round with an armoured guard of Sikhs.
“They ordered him to dig his own grave but he was much too weak to do it so the Sikhs had to dig the grave. They were then ordered to shoot him but only one hit him so the police officer finished him off with a pistol.”
In May 1945, Australian troops landed in Borneo and British, American and Chinese forces defeated the Japanese in Burma, while American forces also moved towards Japan, capturing the islands of Iwo Jima and finally Okinawa.
Bill recalls: “Each corner of the prison parade ground was covered by machine gun posts. There was a Japanese order that if the Americans set foot in Japan all PoWs were to be killed. This would include 120,000 in all.”
“When the atom bomb was dropped we thought the war was finished but the local Japanese command said it wasn’t and fired on the VJ planes coming over Singapore. Five or six days after VJ day we asked to see a Japanese officer. It was a very risky thing to ask anything from a Japanese officer but we wanted to be released.”
The next day they were allowed to leave Blakang Mati and went back to Singapore Island. It would be Bill’s first taste of freedom for three and a half years. Bill remembers: “I was flown from Singapore to Rangoon 12 days after VJ day. There was this marvellous Red Cross woman at the airport who gave me sandwiches. It was the first time I’d had bread in over three years.
“Shortly after I was examined by a doctor who pressed my stomach and said I had an enlarged spleen. But I said ‘no ‘it’s bread!’ But he still had me admitted to hospital.”
Arriving back in England in November he recalls: “The first thing I was asked was whether I wanted to see a psychiatrist. I said ‘no, I want to see my wife’.”
Less than two months later Bill was back at work at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. A renowned allergist, whose achievements include the popularisation of the pollen count as a vital piece of weather-related information and the prediction of increased levels of allergy to penicillin, Bill is also a key expert witness in matters of allergy.
Recently making a Heroes Return 2 trip to Singapore with his daughter, he said: “I don’t think I would have gone without the grant. I went up to the Kranji Memorial to pay my respects to those who lost their lives. It was very quiet in November and I was all on my own. It was quite emotional.”
For more information about Heroes Return, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn
Filed under: Far East, Heroes Return | Tags: Big Lottery Fund, Heroes Return, Singapore, Thailand
The story of World War Two veteran Jack Jennings, 93, inspired a recent National Lottery good causes TV advert campaign.
Having trouble viewing this video? Watch it on our YouTube channel.
In this video, Jack speaks of his return to the Far East with funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme. He also gives his thoughts on how Lottery money benefits good causes across the UK.
For more information on Heroes Return visit our website or call the advice line on 0845 0000 121.
Take a look at the National Lottery’s good causes directory for a snapshot of all of those supported right on your doorstep.
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
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Big Lottery Fund, Death Railway, Heroes Return 2, Keelung Harbour, Lottery Funding, POW, Second World War. WW2, Singapore
Jack Fowler served in the Far East during the Second World War before his was captured by the Japanese and taken to a POW camp. This film follows his emotional return to Singapore.
Filed under: memorial | Tags: Big Lottery Fund, Death Railway, Heroes Return 2, Keelung Harbour, Lottery Funding, POW, Second World War. WW2, Singapore
Robert Day served in World War 2 in Northern Africa as a tank engineer, getting them back to the front line. This film follows his return to El Alamein, Egypt where he visits the battlefields he fought on, military cemeterys and museums.
Filed under: Singapore | Tags: Big Lottery Fund, Far East, Heroes Return, Singapore
Watch Fergus Anckorn on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme talking about his time spent in Singapore and Thailand during World War II.
Fergus returned to the Far East in November 2009 with a grant from Heroes Return
Filed under: Far East, Singapore | Tags: BIG, Big Lottery Fund, British Pacific and East Indies Fleets Association, egypt. world war 2, Heroes Return, Heroes Return 2, HMS Victorious, HR2, Lottery Funding, Malaysia, Penang, Singapore, veterans, WW2, WWII
Second World War Royal Navy veterans from across the UK are flying out to Singapore and Malaysia next week (28thJanuary) to pay their respects for the final time to the comrades that lost their lives in the Pacific. The veterans are part of a 127 strong party from the British Pacific and East Indies Fleets Association
It is the final time the veterans, most now in their 80s and 90s, are travelling as a group to pay their respects in Singapore and on the Malaysian island of Penang.
One member of the association making the trip is Mr Victor Gray who lives in Plymouth and first joined the Royal Navy in September 1943 just after his 18th birthday. Victor, who is now 85, was chosen to be trained as a specialist radio operator, intercepting the enemy radio transmissions and in 1944 travelled to the Far East on the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious via the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Victor explains: “We went to India and became part of the East Indies Fleet. We then set sail for Palembang and in a battle with the Japanese over two or three days we managed to destroy a third of the Japanese oil supplies. After that we travelled down to Sydney where we joined what then became the British Pacific Fleet. It was so hot, you could fry an egg on the flight deck and I actually saw that done more than once.
To find out more about Victor’s story and the Heroes Return 2 programme visit our programme page
Filed under: Far East | Tags: BIG, Big Lottery Fund, Death Railway, Far East, Heroes Return, Heroes Return 2, Hong Kong, Jack Fowler, Japanese, Keelung Harbour, Kinhaseki, Kinkasekid, Lottery Funding, National Lottery, Pearl Fowler, POW, Prisoner of War, Second World War. WW2, Singapore, Stanley Market, WWII
Pearl Fowler went back to the Far East with her husband who served there during the Second World and was the taken as a Prisoner of War. Pearl has recorded some of the most memorable parts of their trip.
Arrived with time to spare despite traffic. In duty free, do I treat myself?
Arrived in Hong Kong. Lost camera and spectacles, not to worry. Lovely meal in hotel and so to bed as very exhausted
Selling poppies at Great Pacific Mall in Central Hong Kong with fellow travellers
Remembrance Service in Central Hong Kong. Talking with Captain Alex Butterfield about being released by the Americans. Laying poppy wreaths at cenotaph. Went to Sai Wan Cemetery finding gravestones of several Suffolks, which was very emotional. Visited and left poppy cross at Jack Edwards grave, a very emotional day.
A day of shopping at Stanley Market. An experience travelling 1 hr by local bus and trying to barter with stall holders. It was very hot and clammy
Had a meal at the revolving restaurant, then onto the peak. Wonderful views, an exceptional day
Short flight and long car journey to reach hotel, settled in and got an early night as busy day tomorrow.
Visit the campsite of the copper mine Kinkasekid and the mining museum which has now become a tourist destination. Followed by visit to Keelung Harbour where all the prisoners landed after their long sea trips on the hell ships. From here they were taken by train so far and then a 10 mile march up a very steep track to the campsite carrying whatever kit they still had in their possession.
Historical & cultural tour
Jungle campsite for memorial service, all the locals were there to greet the P.O.W.’s with a band playing, drums beating and bugles playing. Met 90 yr old farmer who remembered the P.O.W’s time
Memorial services at Kinhaseki. Laying of wreaths. Last post played by trumpeter Andrew Tsao. Bagpipers played by Mal Turner whilst wreaths were laid. Prayers by Rev Diane Womg. Very emotional time when P.O.W’s paid tributes.