FAR EAST PRISONERS OF WAR
 
 

The men taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Fall of Singapore on February 15 1942 came from an astonishing span of backgrounds. A few months before, in late spring of 1941, a Royal Signals Line Construction Section of some 70 men was formed of members of the Glasgow Post Office Special Reserve Unit, mainly technical tradesmen, and men from a unit stationed in the West Country, some of whom were Dunkirk survivors.

In July 1941, under the Captaincy of Barry Custance Baker, they embarked from Liverpool docks. After, that is, treating the porters, sailors and other onlookers to eight Eightsome Reels performed by 64 of the men. They landed in Malaya in early Autumn and worked all over the country setting up lines until February 15th 1942 when they surrendered to the Japanese and vanished.

 

Royal Corps of Signals 27 Line Section

Members of 27 Line Section in Kota Tinggi, Johore, Malaya 1941

Wampo Viaduct, built by POWs of the Japanese and conscripted local labour in 1943

... all waited at home, without any information about whether their men were alive or dead, prisoners or free men. Barry’s wife, Phyllis, pooled addresses she had for the men with Queenie Garrod, wife of Barry’s Lieutenant Bob. She kept in touch with these relatives over the years and they wrote and told her about any information they received. She also collected descriptions of each individual to present to the War Office for use during the debriefing of rescued prisoners.

Mothers, wives, fiancées, grandparents...

... mostly worked on the infamous Thailand/Burma railway built by POWs and local labour alongside the river Kwai Noi. Some of them were transported to Japan on the hellships. Some were unlucky enough to be sent to Borneo. Of the 67 young men who were taken prisoner, 41 survived and 27 died as POWs.

Meanwhile the men of 27 Line Section...

... many relatives wrote wrote to Phyllis and Barry about their joy at a returned son or husband, or their heartbreak in bereavement. Many of the surviving men also wrote to Barry to share news of the missing members of their unit.

I would love to hear from any relatives of the men of 27 Line Section and to be able to tell them as much as I know about these years. I have tried to tell the story of the separation of these men and women through their letters and through Barry’s memoirs of their lives as POWs in Writing to a Ghost: Letters to the River Kwai 1941-1945. This will be dedicated to 27 Line Section. These letters and some from relatives of men not in 27 Line Section are now preserved in the Royal Signals Museum (with copies in my possession). Please email threadgoldpressatwaitrosedotcom, if you would like to know more or go to my blog http://greenwritingroom.com for a list of the men in the section.

At the end of the war...

John Plane

Andrew S. Graham

Barry Custance Baker

Gordon Hunt

Neil McDonald

James Stewart

J Arnott

Daniel McNicholl

Charles Johnstone

Their story is told in 
Surviving the Death Railway: a POW’s Memoirs and Letters from HomeSurviving_the_Death_Railway.html