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Adventures of a Far East Prisoner of War - Part Two

by bedfordmuseum

Contributed by 
bedfordmuseum
People in story: 
Mr. Arthur Ronald 'Ron' Staveley, Mr. Ted Sherring
Location of story: 
Non Pladuc, Kanchanaburi, Thailand, Three Pagoda Pass,Bankok
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A7989466
Contributed on: 
22 December 2005

Mr. 'Ron' Staveley, his daughter Patricia and his wife, Rose. A photograph taken on his embarkation leave in 1941. This photograph was kept in his wallet for many years.

Part two of an edited oral history interview with Mrs. Patricia Olney and Mrs. Ann Hurley about their father Mr. Arthur Ronald ‘Ron’ Staveley’s wartime experiences as a P.O.W. on the Thailand/Burma railway.

Memories of Mr. ‘Ron’ Staveley by his eldest daughter, Mrs. Patricia Olney.
“He was at Non Pladuc for quite a time and then he went up to Thailand, up into Thailand and he went to Kanchanaburi which is the River Kwai bridge, everyone knows the River Kwai bridge. But I have been to Kanchanaburi. We went to Bangkok and Singapore, my husband and I and we went up to Kanchanaburi and went on to the railway and also visited the war graves because my father wanted us to see that. There is a big cemetery near there, you go down on the river by boat to the cemetery. He was there for some time. Again people would come in and then go up country and he was also involved when they built the bridge, which is fantastic but when you look, they built the railway line into the rock face, these huge rocks come down and they built the line into this rock face and it’s actually cantilevered out of the rock face. We actually travelled along that line. They’ve also built a mock up of a camp as it would have been further up into the jungle.

Kanchanaburi where dad was for a long time, one of the things that happened there was and I think it is something that should be recorded, they were always making radios and things and then they’d have to hid the bits. My father was very strict about anything being hidden in the Cook House because he was extremely worried that if it got found it meant that the men probably wouldn’t eat and the sick in the hospitals wouldn’t get any proper food. Anyway, an aerial was hidden in one of the pieces of bamboo and it was found so of course dad being head cook was put in a hut where he couldn’t lay down or stand up, made of tin and he was left there for three weeks over that. He managed to survive because people were feeding him and getting him water, he was there for three weeks as a punishment. There were other people there who were actually killed because of that. They were actually killed in front of everyone as a deterrent not to have a radio. And as dad said, ‘What was the good of a radio? Because you couldn’t escape or anything. It didn’t tell you anything you didn’t know anyway.’ So I think it’s a story worth telling. That wasn’t very good but that was one of the things that they did. The other thing that he used to tell us about was coming up from Bangkok there were lots of ‘go downs’ in Bangkok obviously, big ports and the Red Cross used to be able to get their parcels to Bangkok and the Thai people used to come up the river in Thailand. I suppose along the rivers, come up and come up the River Kwai and if they could smuggle them some bandages or food and things like that they would from there. But the Japanese themselves wouldn’t release any Red Cross parcels or anything like that, no medicines or anything.

So he was right up here now, Three Pagoda Pass. He always reckoned he was quite lucky because he never got sent to Japan which some of his fellow people did, but he went further up into Burma. He’s never talked much about Burma so I just really don’t know what it was like there. But one of his stories there was towards the end of the war and he must have been between Rangoon and Mandalay because he actually went to Mandalay in a camp somewhere near Mandalay and of course by then the Chindits were coming through. What the Japanese did there to stop them coming through and this is recorded, they did actually stop,Mountbatten. They actually put machine guns on the fences round the camp, built a fence and put the machine guns on and they threatened to kill the Prisoners of War if Mountbatten didn’t stop where he was. So that was in any camp around there, they would have done it to all of them.

Then he was shipped back to Bangkok. This is a most dreadful story. This was towards the end of the war. He was at this camp and for some reason he went back to Bangkok and he’d got a thing with water in, not very much but it was going to be at least a 24 hour journey. Could be longer and a Japanese soldier stood by him and kicked the water over so he didn’t have any water until he got to Rangoon and met up with Ted Sherring. Of course by then he was very dehydrated but Ted got him back so he saved his life really. But that was quite unnecessary to do something like that.

In the camp near Bangkok, it was near a paddy field and when the Chindits were moving in and there was bombing going on they would put them in the middle of a paddy field. The bombing wasn’t so bad but of course it was mosquitoes and then malaria and all sorts of bugs and leeches. From that he got leeches that had got into his leg and when they were rescued he had such a big ulcer, it was right down to the bone and that was from when they just kept them in a paddy field. Then when they got to Non Pladuc they put them by the railway line and so when the RAF were bombing Rangoon instead of putting them in trenches or anything they just put them by the railway line so that the prisoners again might get killed. My dad was always awful, 5th and 6th September 1945, because they did it then. And the chap, Jack who’d been all the way through the war with him, he got hit. Apparently they had a bit of money between them and they flipped, tossed a coin to see who’d go back for the money because they’d left it in the hut and my dad won, so he went back for the money. When he came back his friend had caught it and he had lost both legs and of course they had nothing to save him and so he died.

One of the big things he had was - he was shifted back to another camp in the jungle after that session and when they where they were quite remote in the jungle there and Lady Mountbatten - this is a wonderful story - she came in by helicopter into the camp. The war finished on the 15th of August I think it was and they weren’t actually rescued for another week because nobody could get there, although they knew the war had ended, nobody could get there. They were in this fairly remote camp by then and she came in by helicopter and she came down the steps and she just flung her arms out and she said, ‘Boys, come and get me!’ and you can imagine all these raggle taggled soldiers and of course then they got their medical aid and my dad’s ulcer was sorted out.

But he was, well I don’t know what weight he was then but he went to India, to Bombay to recuperate. They flew them out because dad was so ill, people were really very ill so they flew them out of Bangkok to Rangoon. He was there about six weeks, a month while they got his leg better and him better. But when he actually came home and came home at the end of October 1945 he was actually six stone in weight.

I was five when dad came back. Yes, Waterloo Station, we were meeting him at Waterloo Station. Dad had said to my mother to meet him under the clock and of course everybody was meeting everyone under the clock at Waterloo Station! My mother being the impatient person she was, told my brother and I, because he’d never seen my brother of course didn’t even knew he had a son — until, he found out after the war. She went to go and look for my father and left us two - you did as you were told in those days — went to look for him and she went to the train and they were taking off all the very poorly ones on stretchers and things. Anyway she walked back and by this time my father had appeared under the clock and he took one look at her and he said, ‘Where the hell have you been?’ What a welcome!

My brother — we’d lived with our grandparents for a long while and my grandfather had actually died in an accident in the February (1945) before the August but we always knew him as dad, or my brother did because my mother always called him dad and always called my father Ron. And so my brother, three years old, said to him, ‘Oh, hello Ron, when’s dad coming home?’ Oh, we got over it but it was something that sticks in your mind!

One of the loveliest stories is when dad was demobbed, he was released on 14th January 1946. He had £75 back pay or something - it was a lot of money, some sort of back pay. But of course he’d just had a demob suit that was very, very thin and very cold - in fact it was one of the coldest winters, 1946. Anyway, he needed an overcoat. He decided he’d got to buy an overcoat with the money so he went round, because we lived in London then, and he went into a Jewish tailors shop because he saw some warm coats there. He walked in and the tailor, the owner said, ‘Oh, what do you want?’ Dad said, ‘Oh, I’ve got so much money, I can afford that coat’ and he said, ‘well, where have you been?’ And dad said where he’d been - a Japanese Prisoner of War, he said, ‘Come with me, I’ve got a coat for you’ and it was a Harris Tweed coat and dad said, ‘I can’t afford that, I haven’t got enough money to do that.’ He said, ‘No, it’s for you! Because if it hadn’t have been for you I’d have been in a concentration camp, dead!’ That’s a fantastic story, my father kept that coat all his life because of that.

Then after the war he was one of the first people who set up the Far East Prisoner of War Association in London, because we were in London at the time. Once a month they had what was called a ‘Tenko’ and they did a skit on what it was like when the Japanese lined them up and of course the Japanese were short and they’d get on a box to bark orders at them and things. They always did a hilarious skit on that and had great fun. But a lot men used to come up to my mother and say my father had saved their lives - because of getting the food for them and making sure they had … because he knew a way of making a natural yeast so he could make some bread for them so he could do that, there were various things he could do. He knew how to do it and he would make bread out of rice flour and all sorts of things to give a bit of bulk and to get them going. Mostly I mean we just heard the funny stories when they’d got one over the Japanese. But he always reckoned the Korean guards were the worst.

The Japanese were above the Koreans. But one of the things he did say was that the Japanese Officers treated the ordinary Japanese soldier almost as badly as they did the Prisoners of War. So that’s interesting that they did that. But he had tremendous admiration for the Thai’s, the Malay’s and the Chinese for all the work they did and how they helped them where they could because if they got caught they would have been killed.

Dad had malaria. Oh yes, he had malaria it was endemic and it kept coming back all the rest of his life. He also had dysentery that again came back constantly all his life. It was amoebic dysentery which was in his blood stream so that kept coming back. But when he came back, the next summer a mosquito bit my father and then bit my brother and he got malaria. They called the doctor and the doctor said he didn’t know what was wrong with him and my father said, ‘I know what it is! It’s malaria.’ ‘It can’t be!’ Anyway they took him to St.Thomas’s hospital and of course it was malaria and he stayed in hospital — but he got better.

He used to go to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases regularly because they were checking up on different diseases he might have. Fortunately he didn’t have a thing called denge fever which is a real horror. I can remember him, well I took him down several times because he had a war pension in later years, not straight away but later and they had to check him up every so often to see if he’d recovered or not! He hadn’t recovered! And that was interesting because that was the first time I knew that he’d been tortured over the radio aerial. Because you have to fill in a form and by this time - I’d never seen it before but he was getting quite frail by then and asked if I would fill it in for him. I asked him the questions and filled it in and there were about three questions he wouldn’t answer. But when I got back home he rang up and he said I can fill those questions in now, he said, but I didn’t want — because my father had remarried — he didn’t want my stepmother to know. And one of the questions was ‘were you tortured?’ and that was the first I knew - he’d never, never said about that until then. There were other occasions but that was the big one when he was kept in a small cage for three weeks. And of course the River Kwai bridge I think got built about three times because they were all sabotaging it as well! And if you got caught sabotaging it you were in terrible trouble.”

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