Talk on lives of captives in Far East

An illustration from the book Captive Memories.
An illustration from the book Captive Memories.

The bravery, fellowship and stoicism that carried Far Eastern prisoners of war through years of captivity is the subject of a fascinating talk at the weekend.

Meg Parkes, who helped with information for an exhibition at Belford Museum on local men who were FEPOWS, is returning to the village to give the illustrated talk.

An illustration from the book Captive Memories.

An illustration from the book Captive Memories.

Local men were captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore and were among the 60,000 Allied prisoners used as forced labour to build the Burma-Siam railway.

An honorary research fellow at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, daughter of a FEPOW and co-author of Captive Memories, Meg has interviewed 66 FEPOWs, including one from Wooler and one from Berwick, and has used these eye-witness accounts to build up a picture of their lives.

Life in the camps alongside the railway was brutal. The men suffered through ill-treatment, starvation, illness and injury. Meg will describe the conditions that the men endured and give a fascinating picture of the life-saving ingenuity and inventiveness that kept body and soul alive.

Her talk will not dwell on the brutality but concentrate on the life-saving strategies adopted by the men: The medical services provided by doctors, dentists and indeed anyone with a remotely medical background, with no equipment and few drugs. They used whatever was to hand to fashion necessary equipment such as using mess tins melted down to make false teeth, making false legs out of bamboo or needles out of bamboo thorns.

The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine started to treat the returned FEPOWs at the end of the war for the effects of the diseases they had contracted.

In the early post war months, a few of those living in the north of England began to make their way to the LSTM to seek the expertise of doctors there. So began a unique six decade–long medical and scientific collaboration.

The talk is on Sunday at St Mary’s Middle School, Williams Way, Belford, at 2pm. Admission is £2 at the door.

Belford Museum’s exhibition featuring all the local men who were FEPOWs will be open over the weekend.