Perspective: Prisoner Scarred by Japanese Brutality; the Government Has Announced Pounds 10,000 Compensation Payments to Far East Prisoners-of-War. Alison Jones Talks to Fred Brown Who Was Captured in 1941

The Birmingham Post (England), November 8, 2000 | Go to article overview

Perspective: Prisoner Scarred by Japanese Brutality; the Government Has Announced Pounds 10,000 Compensation Payments to Far East Prisoners-of-War. Alison Jones Talks to Fred Brown Who Was Captured in 1941


Byline: Alison Jones

Nobody could blame former RAF gunner Fred Brown for being bitter. He still bears the scars of the four years he spent as a Japanese POW after being captured aged just 18.

In the winter he still suffers violent cramps in the leg where a snake bite left him with an open wound that surgeons could only treat with razor blades and grass poultices.

He witnessed death on a daily basis, friends taken through illness or a too-violent strike from the butt of a soldier's gun.

Yet his reaction to the news that he and his fellow prisoners were finally to receive the pounds 10,000 compensation they had fought 11 times longer for than the war actually lasted, gives a flash of the stoic nature that kept him alive when others gave up.

'It's been a long, hard struggle and there were times we thought that after 55 years we weren't going to get it,' said Fred, who is 77 and lives in Selly Oak.

'Now it seems like we are going to get a fortune. But I'll wait until the cheque's in the bank before I start celebrating.'

The fact that it is the British Government who will be paying rather than the Japanese still angers Fred, as it does the thousands who suffered at their hands.

'They should bloody well have paid us pounds 30,000 rather than pounds 10,000, but that is their religion, their code. They thought that if you surrendered you were a coward.'

In Fred's case the decision to surrender had been taken completely out of his hands.

A trainee chef at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, he had volunteered to join the RAF, where he was a ground gunner, and then volunteered for overseas duty.

However, no sooner had the ship he was on landed in Singapore than they found themselves under-attack.

'We were told to get back on the ship and get out of Singapore. We made our way to Java where we waited to be posted to the various aerodromes.

'We were at the base camp and the next thing we knew the Japanese bombers came over in force and they said if we didn't capitulate they would begin saturation bombing of the two capitals.

'It was all Dutch owned then they just capitulated and left thousands of us in the bag, waiting for the Japs to take over.

'It was soul destroying to think it was going to end like that. The only action we had seen was on the way into and out of Singapore.'

Fred was to spend his 19th, 20th and 21st birthday in prison camps.

'On my 21st I was sick with my bad leg so some of the lads went out and got a few snails and fried them up with some rice and that was my 21st birthday meal.'

Even this meagre offering seemed like a feast compared to the typical rations of men building the railway up in the Thai jungle.

They worked ten to 12 hours a day on a cupful of rice, a piece of dried fish and 'soup' made of water and spinach. In the beginning this was occasionally supplemented by duck eggs the prisoners bought using what few possessions they had, from villagers living nearby.

Fred, who was held prisoner in Java for a year before being moved to Changi Prison in Singapore then eventually 'up country' to work on the railway, started the war as a strapping six footer weighing 13 stone.

By the time he was brought back from Thailand to Changi, to receive treatment on his leg, he had worms in his stomach and was a pitiful five and a half stone.

The fat and flesh had been stripped from him by bouts of beriberi, dysentery, cholera and malaria.

'We all had dysentery. Hundreds of us. It was an everyday occurrence. Fourteen a day were being carried out dead.

'I was pally with this little Aussie bloke and we were lying in the tent when he turned to me and said 'Topper, I shan't make it. I won't be here when you wake up. …

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