Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Far East POW inspires UK Lottery campaign by The National Lottery Community Fund

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.

Jack Jennings, 93, pictured at home in Torquay (photo credit: Kevin Clifford)

Jack Jennings, 93, pictured at home in Torquay (photo credit: Kevin Clifford)

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?”

Jack Jennings survived the horrors of Changi prison camp (photo credit: Kevin Clifford)

Jack Jennings survived the horrors of Changi prison camp (photo credit: Kevin Clifford)

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

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

My brother was born in Changi hospital – the irony that good things eventually happened there. He is a very talented and inyeresting man and is about to vist the far east to propose! I remember visiting it as a hospital with my mother when we statoioned in Singapore (RAF). Your advertisement propelled me to look to see if there was a backgroundg to your time there. Humbling. If younger peope today knew how lucky they were to have any of the things they have. Good luck Sir. X

Comment by Andrea Clements

Thank you to the National Lottery for funding the ‘Heroes Return’
programme. A truly worthwhile cause.
I have just returned from a private trip following the route of ‘F’ Force.
My great-uncle Albert Charles Darvell, Royal Army Service Corps was taken prisoner like Jack in Singapore. The journey of ‘F’ Force (about 7000 men) from Singapore to Songkurai camp near the border with Burma is tragic. My uncle was part of that force and sadly died of cholera about 3 weeks after reaching the camp.
I was able to visit the original cemetery area at Songkurai and leave flowers and family photographs.
He died 69 years ago but I feel so proud to have been able to visit the area and pay tribute to him. I fulfilled what my father (who was stationed in Burma 1943-1946) and my grandfather would have wished to do.
We were fortunate to have been escorted on the trip by Rod Beattie the director of the Thai-Burma Railway Research Centre who with Terry Manttan the manager of the centre provided me with so much support and a huge amount of information, not only with regard to Albert but also the wider picture of the war in the Far East.
For me, an unforgettable experience, emotional and poignant. I have been privileged to have ‘walked in the footsteps of heroes’
Patricia de Tisi

Comment by Patricia de Tisi

My Great Uncle Reverend ThomasJenkins Pugh was a padre in the battalion that fell at singapore and spent 3 and a half years in Changi Jail has anyone any information on him

Comment by carol moss

My Uncle Sgt Stanley Burdell 854118 16th Defence Regiment RA was at Changi + was transported to Ballale island. he was one of the 600 Gunners. He along with 580 were Massacred + thrown in a mass grave. I believe he was put in charge of The Mosquito Campaign at Changi other than that i have no information on him. Does anyone have any information at all about Stanley Burdell. I`d be very grateful for any info at all.

Comment by Violet Henry

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