Wilfred Batty

This article is reproduced in its entirety with the full permission of Adrian Batty

 

My father Wilf (Bill, Batt) Batty was born 3 April 1918 and was the only child to survive beyond a few weeks to parents, Charles Henry and Mary Ellen Batty. They lived at 1 Cliffe Terrace, Grange Street, Hull, a one-up-one-down house with a small kitchen and an outside toilet. They later moved to 3 Grange Street when Wilf’s Grandfather, Daniel Batty, moved in with them. Number three was a big improvement, having a front room, living room, a scullery with pantry off, two bedrooms and an attic. The toilet, however, was still outside. The living room had a Yorkshire fireplace with an oven at one side and a boiler at the other. Bathing was in a tin bath in front of the fire or at the wash house in St. Paul Street where it cost a penny for a bath and a penny for a towel. Wilf attended St. Paul’s Infant School, although for a short period he moved in with his Uncle Bill (William Batty) in Beverley where he attended St. Mary’s School.

 

 

(Whilst living in Beverley Wilf attended a corrugated iron church on Swinemoor Lane, known as the ‘Tabernacle’, where he was ‘paid’ a bar of chocolate for pumping up the harmonium!) In the 1920s Wilf’s father started a business charging accumulators in a shed in the yard, resistances were carbon lamps. He also loaned out accumulators and large batteries for 6d a week. Charlie then moved into radio and bicycle repairs and also hired out radios and crystal sets which used earphones in a mug to amplify the sound. He was an agent for BTH (British Thompson Houston Co. Ltd.) Swan Neck Speakers and shared a market stall at the Hull Market with family friend, Jim Sykes, who sold gramophones and gramophone records. Wilf worked for his father from the age of 11, carrying out electrical work. He earned 5/- (25p) for fitting a light socket and 10/- for fitting an electrical point. (This would have entailed a great deal of work in those days!) Kelly’s Hull Street Directory of 1936 reveals Charles Batty was a Cycle Dealer at 3 Grange Street, and Wilf was listed under Cycle Makers, Agents and Repairers, with a shop at 15 Reform Street, Hull. Wilf stated that the shop was chosen to catch the passing trade of Reckitts’ employees who mostly travelled to work on bicycles. The shop was not too successful though so he went to work for the Valiant Cycle Company based at 11Hessle Road, Hull. This business was owned by the Greswell family who bought in bicycles to put their own badges on, they also repaired bicycles as well as arranging hire purchase agreements - Wilf worked Friday nights and Saturdays collecting debts. This continued until, with war looming, he volunteered to join the RAF in January 1940.

 

Wilf’s work experience enabled him to take an RAF apprenticeship on Airframes and Engines, leading to him becoming an Aircraftman. His RAF career started at the No.2 Recruitment Centre, RAF Cardington, near Bedford, for the basic ‘square bashing’ before moving to RAF Locking, Weston-Super-Mare, where the Training and Technical Services were based. His next destination was 504 Squadron, RAF Castletown, Caithness, Scotland, working on Hawker Hurricanes until he Volunteered for further training at No.7 School of Technical Training for Engine and Airframe Fitters at RAF Innsworth, Gloucester. Following training Wilf was sent to RAF Monkmoor, Shrewsbury, where he worked in the Maintenance Unit salvaging spares, especially guns, from planes that had been shot down or had crashed. Wilf classed this as a ‘lousy job’, being reimbursed an allowance of just 2/6d for bed and breakfast, and 6d for tea. He was expected to scrounge his lunch!

 

 

His next move was to No.1 Echelon, RAF Tern Hill, Shropshire near Market Drayton, (March to May 1941), although no-one knew what it was! For a few weeks he serviced all the planes which landed but missed a posting to Bermuda as he was ill in hospital with a hernia problem. After running out of money he went to the County of Warwick 605 Squadron Tern Hill, which was short of fitters - 605 Squadron flew Hawker Hurricanes.

From May to September 1941 he was at RAF Baginton, near Coventry, then September to October at RAF Honily, Warwickshire. Wilf said he worked at RAF Baginton and learned more about ‘soldiering’, (army manoeuvres in case of enemy invasion), but slept at RAF Honily.

At this time Hull was suffering badly from bombing raids by the Luftwaffe and in March 1941 Wilf received a telegram informing him that his family home, 3 Grange Street, along with houses in Lorne Street and Fountain Road, had been hit by a stick of bombs. Luckily his parents had survived by hiding under the staircase where they had been buried but their neighbours were not as lucky - the occupants of No.5 and No.7 were killed. Wilf was given compassionate leave and he returned home to salvage what he could from the wreckage. He rescued a pack of 6 unscathed eggs and the family nest egg!

Wilf and his fellow aircraftmen spent much of their leisure time in Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa, and during a superb day’s weather that Easter Wilf met his future wife, Doris Gertrude Griffin, at the bus terminus in Leamington Spa where she lived. He had been promoted to Leading Aircraftman – 944068 L/A/C Batty RAF, this being the second rank, then learned that he was to be posted abroad. Wilf and Doris may have become engaged before he left as Doris states in a later letter that she still had the ring.

Records show that Wilf embarked on troop carrier HMT Z16 on 8December 1941, which was formerly the Union Castle Liner Warwick Castle. He was informed that he was going to North Africa to invade Tunisia, however, a significant action had occurred on 7 December when the Japanese carried out a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, which had an impact on what was to follow for Wilf. HMT Z16 left Gourock, Scotland, for Malta but the Japanese threat to the Dutch East Indies meant it was diverted and pilots, planes and aircrew were parted. The convoy was reorganised several times but it eventually arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone, and anchored for four days before leaving on Christmas Day for Cape Town, South Africa, arriving 5 January 1942, when the men were allowed shore leave. HMTZ16 set sail for the Indian Ocean four days later where one half of the convoy left for Singapore.

Wilf arrived at Tanjung Priok, Batavia, Dutch East Indies, Java, on 3 February and disembarked the next day to find Japanese attacks were expected at any time. The Squadron was split up at Batavia, the majority departing for Palembang, Sumatra, on the 8th, arriving Oosthaven, Sumatra, by small boat and train then onto Palembang on 9 February and an airfield known as P1 to find no aircraft or pilots. All RAF personnel were requested to hand over their weapons to the Dutch Army, apparently to replace those they had lost when escaping from Singapore. Wilf said that on 13 February he had reported to Wing Commander McCarthy, a doctor, with a painful ear when they looked up to see Japanese parachutes descending. As the airfield was under attack, they decided to escape to Palembang and procured a lorry, Bren gun, rifle and bayonet, and went into the jungle with the intention of going into the mountains but decided not to risk it as the forest around the airfield had swamps, snakes, leeches etc. and they had no medical supplies. Singapore was under attack by the Japanese between 8 and 15 February 1942, with Singapore surrendering on 15 February, releasing more Japanese troops for the attack on Java. The battle for Palembang lasted two days and all Allied troops in Sumatra and Java had surrendered within two weeks, the Dutch capitulating to the Japanese with Allied troops on 8 March 1942. (In a letter written 27 October 1945, on his return home on the Dominion Monarch, Wilf informed Doris that on his return to Java from Palembang, he had written a letter to her ‘pouring out his heart’, two days later he was pouring gallons of fuel over thousands of letters and putting a match to them!)

Wilf’s officers met with the Japanese under a flag of truce when the Japanese promised to allow prisoners to study and work in the fields if they surrendered. Wilf was taken prisoner 20 March 1942 and it appears that POWs wandered around for a couple of days until they were imprisoned in Boei Glodock, Batavia on March 23rd. His war was about to take a very different direction!

 

POSTCARD – Japanese Souvenir

 

Boei Glodok was a Dutch prison for 400 long-term Javanese criminals who were herded into one corner. Cells for 10 criminals were filled with 30-40 POWs, each cell having one hole for a toilet – not very pleasant when many POWs were soon suffering from dysentery and were infested with bedbugs, the bites of which could lead to ulceration. A fellow POW, George Spink, informed me that the POWs had been a full day without food or drink when they found out that their officers were sitting on a lot of tinned fruit, Wilf promptly led a protest against the officers. George said that “Batty stuck up for himself”.

 

The Daily Mail {pre-Hull Daily Mail} Friday 10 April 1942:

 

“AIRMEN MAY BE PRISONERS. Reported missing and believed prisoner of war is L/A/C Wilfred Batty RAF of 52 Grange Street, Hull. As a boy he attended Brunswick Avenue School and later worked for a Hull cycle firm.”

There was a photograph of Wilf and also A/C Foster who was also reported missing.Wilf had a regular routine of being woken early, breakfast being a pint of steamed rice and a cup of hot water; mid-day meal ¾ pint of steamed rice plus green vegetable water; evening meal a pint of steamed rice and the vegetables used at lunch! Barely enough to survive on. One of the first jobs they were given was to be marched to the airfield to fill in the bomb craters in the runway created by Japanese bombing, and the RAF to prevent the Japs using it. Wilf said he then spent the next six months cutting grass around the airfield with a small scythe. He found himself in trouble with the Japanese on several occasions, not helped by the total unpredictability of the Japs. One day he noticed a native in the long grass at the edge of the airfield trying to attract his attention and discovered he was trying to sell Nestlé condensed milk stolen from the stores. Wilf was caught by the Japs, marched to a hut, had his hands tied behind his back and forced to kneel down. A Japanese officer then stood above him and rested a Samurai sword on his neck. An RAF officer (American or Canadian, thought to be ‘Red’ Campbell), successfully pleaded for his life. Wilf and his comrades were then marched out and waited in line, expecting the worst. However, the Japanese officer then made the native walk along the line of POWs and give each one a tin of condensed milk! Due to the lack of food the POWs soon started to suffer from several diseases/illnesses, including dysentery and malnutrition, with many dying from their conditions. Some, who could not face the hardships, gave up, lay down and died. After six months many of the POWs were required to move and on 21 October 1942 were embarked on a Japanese freighter, the Yoseda Maru. They had no idea where they were going or what the future held for them. Wearing tropical clothing, the POWs were undernourished, underweight, and suffering from many ailments, including dysentery.

The Yoseda Maru sailed to Singapore where they were herded onto another aging freighter, the Dai Nichi Maru, later to be nicknamed as one of the ‘hell-ships’. The POWs were held in holds, in deplorable conditions, having to sit and sleep on the wet iron ore being carried in the hold, along with rats and insects. Toilets were wooden structures on deck accessible only by climbing one steep ladder out of the hold. The weather was atrocious for much of the journey and initially the Dai Nichi Maru sailed to Saigon with many POWs dying in the disgusting conditions.

The first deaths were honoured by the Japanese (a dead POW was given more respect than a live one), but as the numbers grew the ceremonies were stopped. Many POWs were now too ill to even climb the ladder to visit the toilets, adding even more to everyone’s miserable conditions. The freighter finally sailed into Shimoseki, Japan, arriving 25 November 1942, in a snowstorm. It was the Japanese winter and the POWs were ill-prepared for it. Wilf was then transported by train to Onomichi and by ferry to the inland island of Innoshima, and finally to a shipyard at Habu. This was to be his home for the next three years.

 

Habu was (and still is) a dockyard on the inland island of Innoshima, near Zentsuji, Japan, so there was no chance of escape. On arrival at the dockyard the POWs were split into work teams, known as PT gangs. PT was thought to refer to Painters and Transport but they soon became known as the Physical Torture gangs. PT gangs were decided on levels of fitness. PT1 were the fittest, biggest and strongest, known as ‘Genki’ boys’, (Japanese for strong/good), and were required to do the majority of the heavy manual work. Wilf was in PT1. The last PT gang (Byoki) was made up of the sick and weak who were required to carry out tasks such as sorting nuts and bolts from scrap, sweeping and clearing rubbish etc. All had to work in some capacity. The PT gangs had foremen with nicknames such as Hatchet, The Bull and Ringpiece. The camp changed its name several times and was known as Fukuoka 12, then Zentsuji 2, before becoming Hiroshima 5. The dockyard built and repaired ships and Wilf was to spend his captivity in the PT1 gang carrying out this work. This was, of course, in contravention of the Geneva Convention. However, Wilf and his fellow POWs took every opportunity to sabotage the ships, fitting weak rivets or fitting rivets loosely. A Japanese worker would inspect the rivets and put a cross against any that were faulty. When he had gone, the team would remove the cross and put a new cross next to a sound rivet. The team also unscrewed oil pipes to the engines and filled them with sawdust and threw overboard any equipment they could find, trying their best to aid the war effort. They lived in purpose-built wooden huts which were very cold in winter, with heating from stoves only allowed for two months of the year. The POWs were in a very poor condition when they arrived and suffered several deaths shortly after arrival due to deprivations and disease on the voyage there. George Spink, a good friend of Wilf, was 6½ stone on arrival and seriously ill and was kept alive with goats milk for 2½ months. Food was always very scarce but became scarcer as the war continued. However, it does appear that the POWs were a lot better off than many POWs in other camps. Red Cross food parcels arrived 4 or 5 times during the 3½ years and were a great bonus. Clothing was of poor quality and wore out quickly and other essentials, such as soap and shaving materials, were also scarce.

 

 

Sketch of POW Camp by Geoff Coxhead.

 

Wilf developed many skills to survive and became an expert thief and lock picker, apparently being the first to do this after he made a set of skeleton keys out of flattened bicycle spokes. The only locks he couldn’t open were the Yale type. Chick Henderson informed us that a further three sets of keys were also made in the workshops. Initially looting was petty thieving but as food became scarce in Japan the food stores were padlocked so Wilf and the PT1 gang became an accomplished team of thieves, some being lookouts, who broke into Japanese ships stores, (as did other PT gangs), to steal food etc. Favourite loot included miso, beans, soup flavouring and stock, rice, barley, vegetable oil and noodles. Excess food was bartered for things they needed – cigarettes were the most important currency. They took enormous risks as a severe beating was the least they could expect should they be caught. Apparently a guard, The Bull, was caught stealing a chicken and was imprisoned! Many POWs were not prepared to take the same risks. To carry their spoil the PT1 gang made small bags out of material taken from the kapok-filled life jackets, the bags were suspended from string placed around their necks and carried between their legs. The small size of the bags limited what they could carry but as they were subjected to regular searches by the guards they couldn’t carry too much. Apparently they chose the groin area as the Japanese avoided this part of the body when carrying out searches. George Spink tells of a guard protecting bags of rice so some of the team got him into conversation whilst the others emptied a bag of rice behind his back. A cartoon drawing kept by Wilf sums up the thieving. One side depicts POWs on watch whilst another one opens a door, with the reverse showing the POWs being marched back to camp with bulging uniforms!

 

Wilf did say that one of the guards was always suspicious and knew that he was up to something but could never prove it so he ‘had it in’ for Wilf and they had many ‘run-ins’. One such occasion was when Wilf asked for a new shirt as his was falling apart. The guard went to the stores and offered him a shirt in an even worse condition. Wilf laughed, the guard threw a punch at Wilf which he ducked, and then he laughed again, for this Wilf received a severe beating. The Camp Commandant was away at the time and on his return Wilf received another beating, ending up in the hospital. Phil ‘Chick’ Henderson, another Genki boy, confirmed that Wilf had done something to upset the Japanese, although he didn’t know what, and was singled out and given a bad time, including beatings and hard work. Another time, when Wilf’s shoes fell apart and he refused to work, the guard left and returned with a pair of sandshoes taken from a dying POW which Wilf refused to wear stating that “he didn’t work in sandshoes” - again he received a severe beating. Later, however, the guard returned with a new pair of size 9 boots (no one knew from where) and said “Now you work.” Wilf replied, “Yes, now I work.” In later years Wilf had to wear a leg iron to correct a damaged ankle. The damage had occurred when Wilf and his fellow POWs were pushing a truck along a railway track and he had trapped his ankle in the points.

On 23 January 1943 100 Hong Kong Defence Volunteers arrived at the camp as POWs. Two, Hal Halsall and Vic Bond, were put into my father’s team and became good friends but lost touch later. (Hal became my Godparent in 1950.) The Japanese had many rules including POWs having to bow to everyone, when they could smoke and eat, and having to avert their eyes when a Japanese battleship came into the dock for repair. Failure to comply meant a beating, even if the POW was not aware that a Japanese was present, or he was preoccupied. All POWs had a numbered bamboo identification tag on a chain around their neck – Wilf was number 31. I remember the tag. When I was a young lad in the 1950s it was thrown in a box of nuts and bolts in the shed, along with some unknown medals. Now sadly lost.

Some time around June 1943 Doris received ‘intimation’ that her fiancé was a POW in Japanese hands and wrote to the Red Cross Society to inform them. The Red Cross replied on 16 July 1943 with details on how to transmit letters to Japan. Doris and Wilf’s parents all wrote to Wilf as soon as they knew he was alive and a POW. I’m not sure how many letters got delivered though they are in the family records. During 1945 several cards were sent by Wilf, and also by his parents and Doris, and some were delivered. One card from Wilf, received 4 August 1945, stated,”Happy to know everything is OK. Congratulations to Jack, Tommy and Erk”. When I asked my father who these people were he informed me that Jack = Navy, Tommy = Army, and Erk = Air Force (erk, airc or aircrew) and it meant that the POWs were aware of the success of D-Day and VE Day. (Victory in Europe, 8 May 1945.)

 

Front and Reverse of Postcard from POW Wilf to home.

 

In a letter to Doris dated 17 September 1945, Wilf wrote: “I have lived over and over again the times I have spent with you, this most of all, alongwith you waiting for me, has kept me alive. It was only too easy to give up and die like many of my comrades did. I am not brave, many has been the time when I have been on the verge of doing it myself, but my thoughts of you and home have always kept me plodding along. We always knew we should win some day.”

Eventually the war turned against Japan. The POWs were able to watch huge formations of Allied aeroplanes, including B-29 bombers, flying inland to bomb Japan. Allied planes also bombed the Habu dockyard and Wilf obtained photographs of damage caused. Chick Henderson stated that Genki boys were working on a ship when it was bombed and were lucky to escape without injury, running to a cave for shelter.Food rations were reduced even further with less and less food available to maintain strength. The Japanese were offered the chance to surrender on July29th but they refused and on August 6th the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Japanese still refused to surrender and a second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th. Japan finally surrendered on 15 August 1945,although many of the Japanese Military wanted to continue fighting. It was later found out that the Japanese had intended to execute all POWs if they were invaded, and some were. Apparently the POWs found the capitulation difficult to comprehend and carried on as normal until 3 p.m. when Wilf and the PT1 gang lit a fire under a damaged boat and roasted some beans! There is a cartoon of this event signed by many POWs. Wilf and his fellow POWs were not aware of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima even though they were only 30 miles away as there was a mountain between them and they were used to the sound of explosions in the distance. However, my sister, Avril, recalls our father saying that they had been aware that something had happened as they could see beyond the mountain.

On 23 August the POWs received orders to paint letters, 20 feet in length, on the roof of their billet for identification by Allied aircraft dropping supplies.

Wilf wrote to Doris of these final events from HMS Ruler, anchored in Yokohama Bay, and it is best to repeat his account, in his own words, written 14 September 1945:

“I am writing you once more a free man and on a British Aircraft Carrier anchored in Yokohama Bay…..I will try to give you some idea of what has happened in the last month, or to be exact, from the 15th August. Well here goes. On the 15th August the Emperor gave a speech over the radio which was broadcast throughout Japan announcing the capitulation of the country. We were at workin the dockyard cleaning up the debris from the last raid we had, by the way it was our own people not Yanks which dropped it on us. The British Major who planned the raid was in Yokohama to meet us and was pleased to hear no prisoners were hurt. He knew we were imprisoned on the island but did not know the exact location of the camp. They sure plastered the dockyard sinking 4 ships, wiping out the workshops, putting the yard completely out of commission but making plenty of work for us. Anyway on with the story, we got hold of the gist of the Emperor’s speech and downed tools immediately and refused to do anything at all.We were then marched back to our camp, told a pack of lies and finished by telling us we would not have to go to work the following day or until they received official information. We stayed quiet for a few days and then got fed up of eating rotten rice and soups so we set off for the village, commandeered all the stores and lived merrily ever afterwards. The Nip police got in touch with our officers and promised plenty of food if we would stop looting the village stores etc. so we gave up looting and settled down to a life of idleness, sun bathing, swimming.

I forgot to mention that our camp was situated 2 yards from the sea. We stole a launch and had some good picnic trips to the surrounding islands. The days marched by,very good weather and everyone was happy for the first time in 3 years. And now we pass onto the 2nd September, a Gala day for us, the signing of the Peace Treaty,and also a B-29 dropped us our first relief food supplies, what a day, fags, chocs,oh everything that mattered. What a feast, I nearly made myself ill. That manyfags, even I couldn’t have smoked them all in 3 months. After a few more days we received a visit from the Swiss Red Cross delegate and was told the conditions of the surrender. All about the Atomic Bomb and bomb damage through the whole of Japan, and did we cheer for after all we had not suffered in vain. The Japanese are now starving, they have nothing, which pleases all POWs immensely. On with the story for the airmail is getting less and less. We left our island in the inland sea on 12th August (I think Wilf meant September) passing through Fukohama, Osaka and other big towns. You may believe it or you may not but it is true of these towns, there is nothing, when I say nothing, I mean NOTHING, if I had not seen it I would not have believed it myself. For 2 hours at 45 miles an hour in the train we passed through what must have been a thickly populated area. So for about 90 miles long, and as far as the eye could see on either side of the train there was nothing but charred wreckage. We arrived in Yokohama and received a marvellous reception from the Yank Army of Occupation. Silver bands to play us in and out during dinner, a Yank dance band playing to us the slow swing which I understand is all the rage now. To cut the story short, we boarded the HMS Ruler last night and now once more we are under the British Flag.”

The aircraft carrier, HMS Ruler, entered Tokyo Bay 31 August 1945 in preparation for the signing of the Japanese surrender on 2 September. It left Tokyo Bay 13 September for Sydney, Australia, carrying nearly 450 ex POWs, one of whom was Wilf, with various friends, George Spink, Chick Henderson, Vic Bond, Hal Halsall etc. The Sydney Morning Herald, Tues. 25 September 1945 carried a report stating the HMS Ruler was due in Sydney, Thurs. 27th with 450 ex POWs from Tokyo (269 UK Nationals). Food for passengers was as varied as possible with the emphasis on meat and vegetables, so much needed to make good the deficiencies of diet in the last few years. Ships’ carpenters also made wooden toys for children who had never had any since capture 3 years before. ‘Passengers’ received a cash advance of £5 each and were allowed a ration of bottled beer every day. The condition of the ‘passengers’ improved rapidly.

HMS Ruler arrived in Sydney and the POWs were settled into HMS Golden Hind, a Royal Navy Barracks set up on Warwick Farm, one of Sydney’s racecourses 15 miles from the city. Here they were allowed to recover from their ordeal. In a letter dated 30 September, Wilf wrote that his weight was back up to 13 stone (from 6½ stone) and in another dated 4 October he stated he was more settled mentally and had had a two-day holiday in the (Blue) mountains. He had tried to get home without luck. There was plenty of food and he could have as many beef steaks and eggs as he could eat, and they were swimming in milk. He also said there was a shortage of booze, although he could buy ‘fancy stuff’ such as gin slings and whisky highballs etc., which “made him frightfully ill if taken in too large a dose”. My father decided to stay at the barracks as he thought he would get home earlier – I believe Chick Henderson went to a sheep farm for 2 weeks and some POWs

decided to stay in Australia, including Swede’ Moulstone. (It appears, reading between the lines, that this may have been a good time, with a ratio of “12 girls to every male”.) Wilf and his fellow ex POWs boarded QSMV Dominion Monarch on 17 October 1945, a liner converted to a troopship which sailed for the UK the next day, via Freemantle and Suez, arriving in Southampton 15 November 1945. Wilf was writing

letters to Doris almost daily, it appears, some of which survive. It seems he was not impressed with the ship as on 20 October he wrote that the ship was horrible and on 27th that it was rocking and rolling but fortunately there were plenty of portholes. It was hot and he stated “he was browned off in more ways than one,what with the usual Service red tape, out of bounds there; don’t do this, don’t do that, it is just barely possible to exist on this ‘ere ship.” He did, though, get a daily allowance of chocolate and cigs. It is not known if anyone met Wilf when he sailed into Southampton as he requested them not to due to red tape, also he wanted to visit Doris at her home and travel to Hull to see his parents.

He was at Cosford Camp on 27 November when he received back pay of £422.15s.9d, entered into a Post Office Savings Bank Book on his behalf. He also had to pay income tax on his earnings whilst a POW!

After a very difficult 4 years, Wilf was finally home. It is not known what he thought of conditions at home, the bomb damage, rationing etc, especially since he had recently spent a few weeks in the Land of Plenty! 5,102 men of the Royal Air Force had fallen into the hands of the unsympathetic Japanese, 1,714 did not return home. Wilf was one of the ‘lucky’ ones.

My father brought home some memorabilia, including postcards, letters, drawings, a piece of paper signed by most POWs in the camp, a sketch of Churchill also signed by POWs, and a photograph of Doris which he had kept with him throughout his incarceration. Wilf and Doris were married on 23 December 1945 at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Royal Leamington Spa. They moved in with Wilf’s parents for 9 months with Doris visiting the Council’s Housing Dept. every day but Hull’s housing was in short supply due to the intense bombing suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe – 95% of Hull’s housing had been destroyed or damaged. Eventually, in September 1946, they were offered a requisitioned hairdresser’s shop in Great Thornton Street, not far from The Valiant Cycle Company where Wilf had resumed his career on leaving the RAF.

In the early 1950s Wilf successfully applied for a job at Blackburn Aircraft, Brough, East Yorkshire, where he was to remain until he retired in 1982. He helped in the design of the Blackburn Buccaneer and the Hawker ‘Jump Jet’ vertical take-off plane. He made and tested models in the low speed wind tunnel and rose to the position of Head of Precision Engineering, Aerodynamics Laboratory. On his retirement Doris and Wilf bought a lovely detached bungalow in Newport. Due to malnutrition / vitamin deficiency he shrank five inches in height in his later years.

 

Hull Cycle Dealers at ‘Hoppers’, Barton. Early 1950.

Around 1994 Doris got in touch with the Far East POW Association after reading an article in the press and at first Wilf resisted any attempts at a reunion but after several chats on the phone with other surviving POWs he attended the FEPOW 50th Anniversary weekend celebrating VJ Day where he met many other surviving POWs, and had a tearful reunion with several fellow Genki boys. He also found out he was eligible for a war pension! Many of the POWs were surprised that Wilf had emerged after so long and he even received a letter from ‘Swede’ Moulstone in Australia which began: “Dear Wilf, Well after all these years you finally surfaced. We often wondered what happened to you when you got back. We couldn’t get a lead on you at all. I hope you don’t mind this joke, but the standing joke about you was that you were so damned good at breaking and entering Jap boat stores that you may have taken it up full time!”

 

Doris and Wilf at FEPOW reunion, Birmingham 1995 with fellow POW in centre

 

Adrian Batty

My father rarely spoke of his experiences as a Japanese POW and information has been gleaned from snippets he gave; from other POWs, Chick’ Henderson, George Spink, Terence Kelly, and from the History of the 605 Squadron. I am also very grateful to Vic Ient, son of a fellow FEPOW, for his research at the Imperial War Museum.