Prisoners of War

The surrender at Singapore on 15 February 1942 was the worst disaster ever to befall British arms. There followed three and a half years of captivity as prisoners of war, during which the Japanese treated our men abominably, particularly in the construction of the Thailand - Burma railway. Certainly thousands of prisoners are known to have died, and it was said that every sleeper was laid at the cost of a human life. The Surreys had lost thirteen officers and 172 Other Ranks during the nine weeks of the campaign. In addition, one officer and 148 Other Ranks died as prisoners of war between February 1942 and August 1945.

Medical conditions were appalling. There was a shortage of hospital facilities and the normal drugs and dressings. Apart from malnutrition, the prisoners suffered from a number of tropical diseases, including malaria, dysentery, diphtheria and cholera. Sanitation in the camps was almost non-existent. Officers and men were forced to work excessively long hours as coolies, the Japanese beating them with bamboos or steel rods in their frantic efforts to complete work on the railway. Attempts to escape or the discovery of wireless sets were punishable with death.

Yet, in spite of everything, hope was never extinguished and morale remained high. Our men were convinced that these conditions could not last for ever and that we were going to win in the end. There were many cases of heroism and self-sacrifice in the prison camps, and it is well to remember the fortitude and courage of our soldiers, not only on the field of battle, but in the terrible conditions of a Japanese prisoner of war camp.


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