Alex Massie

Singapore Years

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From the Telegraph's obituary of John Burrows, an intelligence officer who spent part of the war working at Bletchley Park:

In August 1939 he married Enid Carter, an employee of the British Sugar Corporation, and a few weeks later, on the outbreak of war, he volunteered for the Intelligence Corps. "When I joined the Army, I was a teacher of modern languages," he said. "I admitted to a working knowledge of German and was immediately posted to Singapore."

Relatedly, today's paper also carries an obituary for Phyllis Thom, who, like my grandfather, spent most of the war in a Japanese POW camp:

By 1944 death had become an everyday occurrence, and entries from Phyllis Briggs's diaries of the time convey the mixture of tragedy and black comedy that were characteristic of camp life.

"May 3 1944: Mrs Colley ill. Mrs MacLelland died. May 11: Mrs Curran Sharp died. I ate chopped banana skins for the first time, which helped to fill a corner. Every day fresh orders from the Japs about gardening and grass cutting. July 4: Felt ill and fainted again. The Japs complain that the children pull faces and laugh at them. More threats to cut rations. Mackenzie ill with dysentery. July 19: Still no rain – water ration reduced. Baby Darling died very suddenly. July 27: Grace Guer died. She had only been ill four days – a great shock to us all. She was young and pretty and had kept fairly fit. A high official visited the camp so we had to do up the dormitories and sweep the road. July 31: Capt Siki made a speech – the black market must stop – we continue to work hard and we must obey all orders."

At one stage there were so many dying that the grave diggers could not keep up: "In the end the children were the strongest and it was they who did the digging."

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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