VJ Day 70th Anniversary memorial event

Thursday, 13th August 2015

Special service, Saturday August 15, 12.45pm

Far East Prisoner of War Memorial, Camden High Street, Mornington Crescent

All Welcome

Order of Ceremony

Opening address Sgt Major Chris Maynard (ret)

• Speaker 1: Cllr Roger Robinson

• Speaker 2: Nadia Shah, Deputy Mayor

• Speaker 3: Charlie Reid, great-grandson of Tone Garizio

• Short speech by Sgt Major Chris Maynard (ret), based on words featured on the Kohima Epitaph: When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today  (John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 -1958)

• Standards are presented

• Sgt Major (WO2) A. Robinson of the Royal Logistic Corps will read Royal British Legion Prayer:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Last Post played by Manu Raffray

• A minute’s silence

• Standards dip

• Reveille played by Manu Raffray

• Standards raised

• Crowd invited to lay floral tributes 

THE Far East Prisoners of War peace memorial – the only one of its kind in London – was the brainchild of our readers, the former Mayor of Camden, councillor Roger Robinson and Eric Gordon, the editor of the Camden New Journal

Generous readers raised enough money for the memorial to be created. At a special ceremony on September 21, 2012, the memorial plaque, which has an image of a prisoner of war (POW) by the late artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle who himself laboured on the Burma railway, was unveiled at Mornington Crescent by Viscount Slim, President of the Burma Star Association and the son of General “Bill” Slim. 

He was helped in the unveiling by Far East Prisoner of War veteran Alfonso “Tone” Garizio who worked on the Burma Railway, dubbed the “death railway”.

Messages of support were sent from Prince Philip and Countess Mountbatten of Burma among others and the event was attended by ex-Far East Prisoners of War, their families, members of the military as well as St Pancras and Somers Town councillor Roger Robinson and Mr Gordon, both of whom gave speeches. 

Viscount Slim, praised the people of Camden for the creation of the lasting symbol ensuring those POWs will be “forever in our thoughts”.

A message from Prince Philip said the memorial, which was designed by architect Chris Roche, would “remind future generations of the gallantry, suffering and sacrifice of so many…”

Every year since its unveiling those touched by the suffering and hardship of those Far East POWs have assembled at this spot to bow their heads in respect for those who were, until so very recently, still described as “the forgotten army”.

Reflections on the horror experienced by victims of war in the Far East

The following features are from a special 4-page supplement edited by Jane Clinton and sponsored by McCarthy & Stone* that are published in this week's Camden New Journal.

‘Recognition at last’

WORKING back­breaking nine-hour shifts on the Burma “death railway”, former prisoner of war Alfonso Antonio ‘Tone’ Garizio found solace in song. 

“I was paired up with a lovely chap called Dennis Carver. I used to ask him to sing to me because I got the hump a lot when we ‘spiked’ the railway,” says Tone, 95, of putting down the railway pins. “It helped brighten things a little. Red Sails in the Sunset was a particular favourite. Whenever I hear that song it takes me right back.”

Not that it is something Tone, who was in the 1st Cambridgeshire Regi­ment, finds easy to revisit, even after 70 years. 

He was captured at the fall of Singapore in 1942 when he was 22 and sent to Ban Pong to work on the Burma to Thailand railway. It was dubbed the “death railway” and for good reason: of the 60,000 Allied POWs who worked on it 12,621 died including 6,904 British.

While Tone recalls the camaraderie of the other POWs with fondness, the physical and mental strain of those four ghastly years still haunts him. His frame shrank from 11 stone to well under seven. He suffered recurrent bouts of malaria and dysentery. When his clothes fell apart, he wore a rice sack. When his shoes rotted, he worked in his bare feet. During the monsoon he battled trench foot. “We had lice and were all constantly ill,” says Tone who lives in Islington with Doris, 91, his wife of 66 years. “To this day I don’t know how I ever survived. Human life was thought of as nothing. Many lost limbs. So many died. It was just awful.”

Their “shift” started at 7am and they would be working through searing 90°Fahrenheit heat (32°C). The one pound of rice a day, was never nearly enough. “By lunchtime the rice had gone off in the sun,” says Tone, who was on the railway for nearly two years. “It tasted horrible but it was food, we were hungry, there was nothing else. I remember me and Dennis saw this green leaf growing which looked like spinach. We picked it, boiled it and used it to disguise the awful flavour of the rice. I always say it was this ‘spinach’ that kept us going.” 

His seeming good health saw him and 300 other POWs, including his friend Dodger Hampton, selected to work in the copper mines at the Iruka camp near Kumano, Japan. They had to drill 20-metre holes in the copper mines without a mask. His lungs were perforated because of this. 

Alfonso ‘Tone’ Garizio pictured above with his friend Dodger Hampton; and, below, at the official unveiling of the POW memorial in 2012 

In all, Tone was a POW for four years, during which time his family did not know whether he was alive or dead. On August 15 1945 Japan surrendered but it took a while for the news to filter through. “We were told there was no work,” says Tone. “We knew then it was over.” They used rags to spell out P-O-W on the roof of their huts and when they broke into a shed where they were appalled to find hundreds of Red Cross parcels stashed away. 

Eventually an American plane spotted them and the POWs began their long journey home which took Tone to the Philippines, to Canada and across the Atlantic back to the UK. 

It was on this journey that he got his first smell of “real food”, bacon, for four years. “Even though I had dysentery I just could not resist it,” he says smiling at the memory. “There were men piling their plates with four rashers, two eggs. I remember thinking, ‘if this is the attention we are getting in Canada, imagine what it will be like when we get home?’”

Sadly his expectations of a glorious homecoming were misplaced. They were indeed the “forgotten army”.  “I got a letter from the King and a rock cake, I was disgusted,” he says of his arrival in Southampton in October/November 1945 – his memory of the date is hazy. “When I got home to Soho I saw my dad and said ‘Hello pop’. He turned round and said: ‘So you’ve come home then’. And that was it. We went to the pub for a drink.” 

When the initial relief of surviving had worn off, Tone found it hard to cope. “I just drank for six months,” he says. “I was a bit lost. If I hadn’t met Doris I don’t know what would have happened.”

He began working in a restaurant in Green Park. It was here that he met Doris. They have two daughters, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren. 

Tone went on to have a successful career in catering and worked as a chef at Le Caprice for nearly 25 years. It is only recently that he has felt able to talk about his time as a POW. “For many years I barely spoke about it,” he says. “I used to get really tearful, I still do.”  

For his 80th birthday he returned to Singapore and then to the railway. “The hundreds of graves is what hits you first – they didn’t die in the war they were killed on the bloody railway.”

In 2012 he helped unveil the memorial to Far East Prisoners of War, funded by the readers of the Camden New Journal. Tone will be there on VJ Day, now also recognised as Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOW) Day, on August 15 and his great grandson, Charlie, 16, will say a few words about him. “I think it is marvellous that finally the Far East Prisoners of War are getting the recognition they deserve,” says Tone. “At last.”

An army chaplain’s healing words

HIS was a story of extra­ordinary compassion, of a man so full of love that he recalled his time as an army chaplain for the Far East Prisoners of War as ”wonderful”. While the hardship and the cruelty was beyond comprehensive, Eric Cordingly offered a comfort to the POWs in Changi, Singapore,  and later at the hellish “death railway”. 

In Changi he had found an old mosque, asked if he could use it and it became a chapel. It was here that so many of the men found a connection to home.

“I think he was surprised by how much of an effect the chapel had on the men,” explains Eric’s daughter, Louise Cordingly, of her father who was a Church of England chaplain. “It is important to stress that my father wore his religion very lightly. It worked both ways: the prisoners needed the church and the structure of it and my dad had said he always felt like he was in the way in the army but that when they were captured he had the most wonderful opportunity.

“He said the chapel was helpful for the homesick men. It reminded them of home and it gave them somewhere to go. A lot of them loved to have jobs to do and some of the engineers made the most wonderful bits and pieces for the church. There were carved wooden angels, there was the cross made out of a howitzer shell case [which now is at the Changi Museum on the site] and they made a huge pulpit. They reconditioned a harmonium and the organist was actually a concert pianist.” 

Like so many of those who were prisoners of war in the Far East, Eric spoke sparingly of his experiences. The family knew that he had papers and writings from that time but they had no idea of the amount and richness of the material until their mother died in 2011. What Louise discovered was a veritable treasure trove: there was her father’s daily diary, then there were the exquisite drawings and paintings made by the POWs during their time at Changi. “When I saw it all laid out I knew it had to be made into a book,” says Louise, who is a couples counsellor and lives in Hampstead. “It was a family project so I worked with my three brothers.” 

Eric Cordingly, above; and a ­painting of the chapel in Changi

The result was the book, Down to Bedrock: The Diary and Secret Notes of a Far East Prisoner of War Chaplain 1942-1945, which was published in 2013. As well as her father’s diary of the day-to-day existence at Changi, and the art work there are photographs of Eric in his chapel. 

For Louise, 68, the book has helped bring her father, who died aged 65 in 1976 from pan­creatic cancer, a little closer to her again. “I have always felt haunted by it, that it was unspoken, so editing this books [she edited another on the cross at the Changi chapel] has helped to lay that ghost to rest. I so regret we didn’t ask him about that time but somehow, you know, he was just my dad. I lost him all those years ago and reading the diaries brought me close to him again. ”

When the POWs were sent to slave on the railway, Eric’s job changed. “It was towards the end of the building of the railway and there were a lot of very sick men. He drew up orders that he was to be notified of anyone who was seriously ill or dying and he tried to get to the bedside of every single prisoner who was dying and then he would take their bodies out and bury them.”

When they were finally freed, returning to “normal” parish life in the Cotswolds was not easy. “He spent many hours in his study in the months after his return home writing to the families of those prisoners he’d cared for before they died. He had been through this horrific experience and they all thought they would be killed at the end which was so awful. But he didn’t have any hate. One of the things that died in the prison camp was hate, he said. He wasn’t a hating sort of man. He was a lovely, quiet, kind, modest man.” 

His early death she believes, was brought on by his time as a POW. “He died of pancreatic cancer when he was 65 which is far too young,” says Louise, who has two grown-up children. “The doctor asked him, ‘have you had any traumatic events in your life?’ and he said, ‘well, three-and-a-half years of starvation’. So I’m sure it set off the pancreatic cancer.”

Following the publication of the book, Louise has had the delight of making contact with POWs who knew her father. 

“It has been wonderful,” she says. “All sorts of people got in touch. There was Bertie Boyce, who was a butcher’s delivery boy when he was called up. He said how much dad had helped him. When we met we gave each other a huge hug. It was lovely. It was astonishing to meet these people. I just could not wait to shake their hands. It is a wonderful feeling; there is a sense of camaraderie amongst them. I was learning about my father anew.”

Eventually Eric Cordingly settled back into life in the UK and he went on to become the Bishop of Thetford. He is buried, with his wife Mary, in Norwich Cathedral. “What strikes me so much is that my father never, ever complained,” says Louise. “Looking back he called those years ‘wonderful years’ which sounds weird but I think he really felt he was able to do his job and that his job was necessary.” 

Down to Bedrock: The Diary and Secret Notes of a Far East Prisoner of War Chaplain 1942-1945 by Eric Cordingly (edited by Louise Cordingly) is published by Art Angels Publishing, £7.99

The Changi Cross: A Symbol of Hope in the Shadow of Death by Louise Cordingly is published by Art Angels Publishing, £7.99

Bonds of friendship

HE saw men fall apart in front of his eyes, ravaged by hunger, disease and sheer exhaustion. 

Ken Adams who was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was sent to the Far East was captured at Singapore and worked at Changi Hospital. His book, Healing in Hell: The Memoirs of a Far Eastern POW Medic, is a vivid, terrifying account of that time. He wrote it when he was 91.

They battled to save people’s lives who worked on the Burma “death railway” with little medicine and equipment. There was dysentery, malaria, cholera and beriberi disease among others. Infested with lice and with trench foot the men were wrecks and even the paltry rice they were given to eat was full of mouse droppings and dead maggots. One man played Over The Rainbow repeatedly as thoughts of freedom dominated their lives and Ken fantasised about bread and butter. 

Ken watched man after man die, their bodies mere husks.

“After 70-odd years the terror had faded,” says his son Mike, 66, who lives in Canberra, Australia, and helped his father write the book. “But certain things could transport him instantly back to the jungles of Thailand. The smell of fish and prawns cooking would sometimes remind him of gangrene and the reek of tropical ulcers that destroyed flesh and exposed bone. Of course I only found out this when he was a very old man.”

It was in 2005  when he began to talk to his grandsons, Richard and Mark, that Ken Adams’ story started to surface. “The stories tumbled out in no particular order. I found that my father was open to talk­ing to me about what the war and being a POW meant to him and how it had influenced his life.”

For Ken, who was from Harrogate,  it was the friendship of the men that helped him get through the harrowing time at the Burma railway.  “My father was absolutely clear that having good mates around him was central to his survival, as well as to the survival of others,” recalls Mike.  “His best friendships over a lifetime were formed in the camps. That of course was a problem after the war. The networks that had sustained so many men in very difficult circumstances were suddenly ripped away, and then a new set of problems emerged.

Ken Adams and Marion on their wedding day

“My mother, Marion, only knew that my father was still alive in the September of 1945. For over three years she had believed he was dead. Then they had to try and adjust to each other. My father had been changed dramatically. He had lost his faith. He was insular. He wanted order and predictability. He was argumentative and hoarded food. My mother had also changed: she had become a liberated, independent woman. Lots of families must have gone through these sorts of struggles.” 

Mike will be at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on VJ Day. “Dad would have been very happy about the increasing recognition of the FEPOWs’ sacrifice,” he says.  “I think he felt, particularly in the early post-war period, that British society couldn’t accept the fall of Singapore and saw it as a failure of courage and resolve rather than the absence of effective air and naval capability. 

“This attitude then coloured attitudes in general to POWs. Other men could talk in pubs about their war. He could just talk about being captured and being in a series of camps that few had ever heard of. He could, in a quiet moment, think back and recreate those times – the fears, the joys, the day-to-day efforts to survive. 

Ken Adams died last August when he was 94, just three weeks shy of his 95th birthday.  “My father divided his life between his POW years and the rest. I never knew this until he was over 90. He said that those three years and seven months were the most vivid in his life. I think as an old man he came to see something positive in his wartime experi­ence. He’d seen the best and worst of people. He had known starvation and want. He had survived as a result of good luck and good mates. He had stopped hating the Japanese, seeing them very much as victims of a brutal military dictatorship, just as he was. And he under­stood some­thing important about people: they are incredibly fragile – lives can be snuffed out so easily – but they also are very resilient and can cling tenaciously to life with the help of a few friends and some patching up by doctors.”

Healing in Hell: The Memoirs of a Far Eastern POW Medic is published by Pen & Sword, £19.99

Countess Mountbatten of Burma

COUNTESS Mountbatten of Burma, the daughter of the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, has spoken out about the need to remember the Far East Prisoners of War. 

“I think we are losing touch with what went on, the hardship,” she told the New Journal. “It is very important, to keep these people’s memories alive.

“It was great that your readers raised all that money for the memorial and I think it is terribly important to have such memorials to maintain their memory for the future for people to remember the real sacrifice that people made in so many ways,” she said. “Families suffered terribly when their men were away. It was not easy when they came back. These Far East Prisoners – they were unbelievably badly treated. It was ghastly.” 

Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, served in the WRENS and recalled the sense of community spirit among people during that difficult time.

“I had three years in the WRENS at home and abroad and mainly in Singapore I lived with and worked with people from all over the country and from all different walks of life,” she said. “There was a wonderful community spirit. Everybody helped everybody else and in the Forces there has always been a family spirit. I think that the sense of community is something that has been rather lost but it does surface again when there is a disaster.”

The Countess, who is 91, has recorded an audio message for the BBC. She will not be attending ceremonies but her two sons and four grandchildren will be at the VJ Day event at Horseguard’s Parade.

“The sad thing is when people have suffered and they feel that no one will have remembered and no one is grateful for what they did,” she said. “I think it is wonderful that there is something to show that they have been remembered and they will go on being remembered. It is so important that perhaps a child will walk past your memorial and ask what it is, and why it is there, and they will read it and find out about what happened. So that each generation remembers. 

“I send you very best wishes for what you are doing which I do think is very important.” 

Ronald Searle

WHEN Ronald Searle was released from Changi prison in 1945 after four years as a Japanese prisoner of war he was frail, scarred and near collapse, weighing just six stone. 

He had with him, however, more than 300 drawings from Changi and the Kwai (one of which was reproduced for the Camden FEPOW memorial with his blessing). 

Years later he would acknowledge that it was while working on the Burma “death railway”, that he learnt how to really draw. 

“This is what made me an artist, because it gave me a purpose,” he recalled. “As a student, you spend days on the folds of a sleeve, but without purpose. Suddenly, you have a way of applying it, a subject that matters. Those four years were my formation. A God-sent gift.”

Within 15 years of freedom he had established himself as one of the most popular cartoonist’s of his generation. 

A collection of his POW drawings, which he described as “the graffiti of a condemned man”, were collected into the book, To the Kwai – and Back: War Drawings 1939-1945 and were published by Ernest Hecht and his Souvenir Press.

Searle never met Hecht, his publisher of 40 years. His London agent, Rachel Calder, was said to have met him only once and latterly Searle could only be contacted by fax via his second wife, Monica, with whom he lived in Tourtour in the South of France until his death in December 2011 aged 91. (He famously left his first wife, publisher Kaye Webb, and their teenage twins to be with Monica. They were married in 1967.) 

Searle’s archive as well as his sketchbooks, books and drawings were all bequeathed to the Wilhelm-Busch Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst, in Hanover.

His To the Kwai – And Back was, he said, written as a “clear factual account, not an indictment”.

“It’s not an emotional book,” he insisted. “I adore our Japanese friends.” 

To the Kwai – and Back: War Drawings 1939-1945 by Ronald Searle is published by Souvenir Press, £25

Patti Lomax

THE wife of former Prisoner of War and The Railway Man author Eric Lomax, has praised Camden’s memorial to the Far East Prisoners of War and recalled how moved she was when she visited it. 

Patti Lomax, 78, visited the memorial a year ago and was delighted that the Far East Prisoners of War had been remembered in this way. 

“It was a privilege and an honour to visit your memorial and I had no idea, living up here in Berwick-upon-Tweed and I suppose most people haven’t, that there is such a memorial in Camden,” she said. 

“I was so struck by the efforts of your community to remember the FEPOWs, it was incredibly moving to see it.”

Patti visited the memorial with Andy Paterson, the producer of the film, The Railway Man, which was based on her late husband’s book. 

She hopes that people will stop and reflect on the true significance of VJ Day. 

“I think it is very important that the end of the war is marked,” she said. “A lot of the media seems to think VE Day was the end of the war rather than just the end of war in Europe. I read that in two or three places and I thought, ‘goodness me, education is lacking somewhat’.”

Eric Lomax wrote The Railway Man on scraps of paper while he was a prisoner of war. His account of the privations and torture he endured was published in 1995 and was eventually made into a Hollywood film starring Colin Firth as Lomax. Sadly, Eric died in 2012 aged 93.

Since his death Patti has continued to read about that time and to this discovers new details of her husband’s experiences through other people’s work.

“Since he died I have read a lot of war books about that period and people have actually written about him and telling the most horrific stories about him which he never talked about to me and I had never heard about from him,” she explains.

 “It was a matter of luck sometimes who survived and how my husband survived, goodness only knows,” she says. “It really is incredible.”

Of his book she added: “Eric always regretted not stating in the preface of his book that the middle part was based on his manuscript which he wrote on bits of paper. It is an absolute record of what happened at the time. The film The Railway Man is a drama but they kept a lot of that truth.” 

Patti, who became Eric’s second wife in 1983, will be at a VJ ceremony in Berwick-upon-Tweed on August 15 although she admitted she would have “loved" to have come to Camden too to mark what will be the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. 

 “I’m very busy with VJ Day preparations up here in Berwick-upon-Tweed,” she said. "We’ve got a big service in the morning and then there is a charity screening of The Railway Man in the evening to raise money for Combat Stress.”

She is no doubt her late husband, who forgave his captors and interrogator, would be heartened by the increased recognition of the efforts of the Far East Prisoners of War. 

“I think he would have been very pleased that at last they were being recognised and accepted,” she said. "I also think that because so many of them now have gone that it is not before time. Sadly it has come too late for many people but for those who are left I think it must be rather wonderful.”

Manu Raffray

AT the ceremony on Saturday, young and old will stand side-by-side to honour the memory of those Far East Prisoners of War, alive and dead, their families and the civilians who suffered during that time. 

One of those will be 12-year-old trumpeter Manu Raffray, who will play the sombre tones of the Last Post and Reveille

Manu, who goes to William Ellis School, played at the Remembrance Sunday event at the memorial last November and will take centre stage again to mark the 70th anniversary of VJ Day.

“I’m so pleased to be playing,  but I am worried I’m going to mess up a note,” says Manu who also plays piano. “I know a little about the Prisoners of War. I feel I’m not doing enough for them.” 

Messages of support

“VJ-Day marks the conclusion of World War II, with the end of the struggle in the Pacific. The Allies had finally prevailed, but at a terrible cost of people killed, injured, and subjected to the living hell of the POW camps. It is their sacrifice which allows us today to live in freedom. We will remember them.” General Sir Mike Jackson

“I remember the meaningful and happy occasion when I was with you at the very distinctive and beautiful Memorial in memory of the Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOW) and was honoured to be amongst you all.  The FEPOWs will not be forgotten during the events of VJ Day on 15th August.  My warmest wishes to you all. “ Viscount John Slim, President, The Burma Star Association

“We wish you the greatest success in your celebration and we are sure, from your clear concern, that it will be a memorable occasion. Our thoughts will all be for those who suffered and to those who survived that are left. We are ensuring they will continue to be remembered.” The charity, Children of the Far East Prisoners of War (COFEPOW)

Special VJ medallion

A COMMEMORATIVE VJ medallion marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war has become so sought after that organisers have had to produce more to meet demand from around the globe. 

The medallions, which were initially produced free for members of the charity the Children of the Far East Prisoners of War, have become so popular that the charity has had requests from people who want to buy them to mark this special event. 

“We produced it for our members only, free,” said a spokesman for the charity. “However it is such a good keepsake, we have received hundreds of requests from all over the world to buy them. So we have had to have a further 600 struck.”

The charity is holding its own VJ event over two days with a service at Lichfield Cathedral on August 15 where former hostage Terry Waite will give an address.

On August 16 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire, events will continue with a service and the opening of a new FEPOW Memorial Garden.

For more information on the Children of the Far East Prisoners of War go to www.cofepow.org.uk

* The special report was sponsored by McCarthy & Stone www.mccarthyandstone.co.uk/springhillhouse

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