Thursday, 9 March 2017

A mother’s loss

The continuing story of my family over 200 years

My grandmother’s war diary finishes in September 1943 which is rather an odd time to finish. But it may just be that the seven pages covering the period December 1940 to September 1943 are all that has survived. Or it might be this is all there ever was.

It would be another two years before Victory in Europe was celebrated in May 1945 and Victory over Japan in the August and it would be even longer before the troops including those in Japanese prisoner of war camps returned home.

I can only guess how Nana had got through the long years of waiting for news of my uncle. He had been captured in December 1942 and apart from one short letter and some official communication she had nothing to go on. The wait continued until the November of 1945 when the cruellest of news arrived in the form of a telegram from the Air Ministry.

This was followed by a letter confirming his death from dysentery in Kanburi, Thailand and was buried in Paper Mill Cemetery, Kanburi. It is hard for any a parent to be faced with such news. He was just 21 with a full life ahead of him and in the words of the official letter dated December 2nd “the news will be particularly grievous at the present time, when you must have been hoping that you would soon see your son safe at home again.” What followed was the letter from the King and his medals.

Nana went onto write to anyone who may have been in the same camp. Some were there at the same time but in another part while others had just been passing through. The replies continued to arrive through into 1947, but none could shed any more information, “I fear I can tell you nothing in the way of news about your son’s death. I’m so sorry ........ he was in quite a different Unit from me, in the beginning and there were some 35,000 British personnel split up into 5 main Groups up and down the railway.”

The letter confirmed what I had long suspected that Uncle Roger was one of the allied prisoners who built the Burma-Siam railway which the Japanese began in October 1942 and finished the following December. 13,000 prisoners of war died during its construction and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80 to 100,000 conscripted civilians also perished.

His remains along with all those who died in the jungle camps were moved by the Imperial War Graves Commission to the Paper Mill Cemetery. Today it is possible to view the place online, Nana had to content herself with an official letter from the Imperial War Graves Commission dated May 1955 that along with permanent war memorial across all theatres of war the Kanchanburi War Cemetery in Siam was completed.

I would like to think that this letter closed the story. Nana could now look at a map and know where her son was buried; she had his medals and some if very few of the letters he wrote during his war service. But there had been a sting in the tail of how a grateful nation treated the mother of a serviceman killed fighting for his country.

In January 1946 she received a letter from the Air Ministry which pointed out that “as his Royal Air Force pay ceased on the day of his death, the voluntary allotment which you have been receiving has been substituted by a temporary allowance of equal amount, to which you are entitled under the regulations.”

But this to would cease on February 21st 1946, just ten days after what would have been his 24th birthday. I don’t suppose the money was ever the issue. The payments were no substitute for having her son home and watching him grow into maturity. Nor in a sense can you fault the logic which requested she return the payment book “to this Department as soon as you have cashed that order.”

But every time I read the letter I wonder how it must have torn at my grandmother’s heart.

Pictures; a message from the King, and the site of his war grave, in the collection of Andrew Simpson

No comments:

Post a Comment