Amongst those brave prisoners of war was junior officer 2nd Lt Patrick ‘Paddy’ Given-Wilson who suffered three and a half years of incarceration at the Keijo POW camp in Korea and who, as the Japanese instructed, ‘endured’ and survived despite their brutal treatment.
And now the untold story of these courageous Lancastrians has been revealed in a book written by Paddy’s son, Chris Given-Wilson, Professor of History at St Andrew’s University and a much-published, popular historian.
In his moving – and yet ultimately inspirational – account of the starvation, disease and deaths suffered by the men of the Lancashire Loyals, Given-Wilson takes us from the fall of Singapore in 1942 to the end of the Second World War, documenting how the POWs’ resilience and sheer bloody-mindedness also resulted in great feats of ingenuity.
And it is this tale of creativity amidst the cruelty, and the bravery which ultimately vanquished brutality, that lies at the heart of Given-Wilson’s journey through the long-suffering prisoners’ years of captivity and their covert disobedience and resistance.
It all began at 7.40pm on February 15th in 1942. The light was fading fast, the Allied forces were encircled and the bombardment was relentless as Singapore fell to the Japanese. Discarding their weapons, the Lancashire Loyals quietly withdrew to their quarters, where they ‘composed themselves as best they could for the silent ordeal of the night, numbed and galled by the bitterness of enforced surrender.’
It was a humiliating defeat for the British troops who were ‘never given the chance to redeem themselves – a bit like Dunkirk without D-Day.’ But they never gave up… and discovered that there were many ways in which to keep up their spirits.
For some it was staging surprisingly sophisticated shows, complete with Gloria d’Earie, the resident female impersonator who was better known to his fellow POWs as Bombadier Arthur Butler, and a singing star of Radio Singapore before the war broke out.
Other prisoners grew fresh vegetables to improve their health, and Paddy Given-Wilson co-edited a secret satirical and subversive magazine called Nor Iron Bars (a line taken from Richard Lovelace’s famous poem, To Althea, from Prison, which reads ‘Stone walls do not a prison make/Nor iron bars a cage’).
Copies of the banned journal, which was often openly hostile in tone, were successfully concealed from the guards to be smuggled home, and are still housed at the Lancashire Infantry Museum at Fulwood Barracks in Preston.
Written with warmth, affection and humour, You Must Endure is both a proud tribute to the men who died and survived the inhumanities of Keijo POW camp, and a sobering reminder to later generations of the true cost of war.
(Palatine Books, paperback, £9.99)