Officer tells of extraordinary rescue
A WWII officer from Frome has told his extraordinary story of honour and bravery at being rescued by the enemy during the heat of battle.
Sam was held as a POW
Sir Sam Falle from Frome has just returned from a week-long trip as guest of honour of the Japanese government after having his life saved by a Japanese military commander in the second world war.
The former naval officer has been the only person to speak out about the extraordinary actions of one Japanese commander who rescued Sir Sam and his fellow comrades as they were stranded at sea after their ship was blown-up by the Japanese.
The Japanese invited Sir Sam, 89, and his son-in-law to Tokyo to thank him for praising commander Captain Kudo Shunsaku.
"I just thought Captain Kudo had done something great. It was wonderful! More than I ever experienced, more than I will experience again and more than I expected," said Sir Sam.
The incident happened in February 1941 when Sir Sam and his fellow comrades were involved in a battle between their HMS Encounter and the Japanese in the Java sea. Sir Sam and his fellow comrades were trying to stop the Japanese taking Australia.
During the four hour battle, every boat in his squadron apart from his boat, HMS Encounter, HMS Exeter and an American ship were sunk.
"We thought we were going to get away with it as there was a terrific storm, but it didn't last very long and the clouds blew away and there we saw them, 20 - 25,000 yards away.
"All these ten ships, all firing at us. They hit the Exeter, they didn't hit us. My captain went to rescue the Exeter survivors."
As Sir Sam's ship turned around, the Japanese struck them, blowing it out of the water. The incredible thing was that no-one died, the only thing which was damaged was the ship's engine.
"It was a miracle," said Sir Sam.
All 163 of them had no choice but to abandon ship.
"I remember going to the lifeboat. Somehow or other we got into the water and so there we were in the water watching them shell our ship."
The men were left in the water for 24 hours before Captain Kudo and his Ikazuchi ship took the extraordinary step of rescuing them.
Sir Sam said they were given a friendly welcome and were looked after as they were given cotton waste so that that they could clean themselves as they were covered in oil. He was then given a green shirt, khakis and gym shoes.
As he was tucking into some beef, biscuits and hot milk, the captain came down and said these words which Sir Sam has never forgotten:
"You are the welcome guests of the Imperial Japanese navy. You fight very bravely, I admire English Navy, English government very foolish make war with Japanese."
They were held on the ship for 24 hours before being transferred to a captured Dutch hospital ship. They were then held as prisoners of war for three and a half years.
"A long time after the war, I wrote a letter to the Japanese and he wrote back thanking me and that's the thing that got out of the governing officer. And then it lay in waiting until we had this extraordinary event," said Sir Sam.
Red carpets and limousines
Des said the recent trip to Japan was to thank and honour Sir Sam for bringing the attention of what Captain Kudo had done as he had kept it under his hat as he died in the 70s so nobody knew about the rescue.
Sam's son-in-law, Des Harris
"I hadn't realised until we got to Japan the hugeness of it and what it meant to the Japanese population," said Des.
"Sir Sam in his courage was the only one who was a prisoner of war to have spoken out and said, 'ok I was treated badly in the prisoner of war camps, but at least I was rescued and I was rescued honourably and I survived so thank you for that'.
"So he put a positive slant and I totally admire him for that and I think it's absolutely marvelous he did that because there're different ways you can look at things and he did it in the positive way whereas others might not have."
During the trip they were treated like royalty. They had a limousine take them from Frome to Heathrow, and were given the red carpet treatment everywhere they went.
Once in Tokyo they visited Captain Kudo's shrine and had a special event whereby speeches were given.
"I'm very proud of what he's done," said Des.
After the war, Sir Sam became an ambassador which saw him live in Iran, Iraq and Nigeria but it will also be his work in improving Japanese / British relations that he will most be remembered for.
"I was delighted of course that in some humble way I had helped Japanese / British reconciliation which I believe I want these two nations to be friends and to never have war again and I think that is the sentiment of the Japanese. We are their friends."
last updated: 18/12/2008 at 09:15