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

Jack Fowler’s story…

Jack Fowler, 88, from Lowestoft, Suffolk was a prisoner-of-war in the Kinkasaki prison camp in Taiwan – one of the worst in the Far East. He was awarded a Heroes Return grant to go back to Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan with his wife and daughter.

“There was every excuse for dying, but few for hanging on”

When King George VI inspected Jack Fowler’s regiment – the Royal Suffolks – before he left for war, his youthful looks made the King suspicious.

“We were all standing in a line and as the King walked along it, he came across to me and he said: ‘Surely you are too young?’ He then called over my Colonel, who told him that if they sent away the men who were too young they would lose half the regiment. The King then looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder and said: ‘I thank you all’.”

Jack was a Private with the 4th Battalion of the Royal Suffolk Regiment, when he was stationed in the Far East. But his tour of duty came to a quick and abrupt end when Singapore fell to the Japanese. On 15 February 1942 Jack was captured.

“Most of the regiment were sent to work on the railways, but I was sent to work on the docks repairing crates,” says Jack. “I was then moved between different prisoner-of-war camps and spent three years at Kinkasaki in Taiwan.”

The notorious Kinkasaki prison camp was a copper mine in which the POWs were made to work under terrible conditions in blistering heat in confined spaces underground. Roof collapses were common and often deadly. Diseases such as malaria, dysentery, and beriberi (caused by lack of nutrition) were prevalent.

For three-and-a-half years Jack and his fellow POWs cut through rocks, wearing nothing but loincloths and rags bound on their bleeding feet. The mixture of sweat, copper and acid tanned their bodies as they worked 10 hours a day filling bogies with ore. At the end of the day, bed was a two-foot wide piece of planking in an open hut, prone to flooding, lice and rats.

“There was nothing to save us from the toiling and the sweat, but the grace of illness ” recalls Jack. “We welcomed disease – the vomit and the pain. There was every excuse for dying, but few for hanging on.

“Many ‘fell asleep’. We put our comrades in a box and dug a shallow grave. The rain would wash away the soil for us to cover again the next day.

“For those left behind, there were brutish things to bear; it was mighty difficult to force yourself to live. It was hell on earth – it really was. What kept us going? One excuse for living was to finish the job.”

Eventually in August 1945 after three-and-a-half years, Jack was liberated. The men who had survived devised a makeshift Union Jack and flew it on a pole.

Jack sees his trip to Taiwan as an act of homage.

“Those of us who came home left many friends behind. I’ll be remembering those who were not as lucky as me, the ones we left sleeping on a distant shore.”

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you Sir for what you endured on our behalf, my Dad was also in this camp, sounds indescribably cruel.

Forever grateful.

Comment by Andrew Coogan

It must have been a living nightmare that few of us could even start to imagine. The cruelty should never be forgotten.

You are a true hero Sir.

Comment by Ian Williams

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