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Book Review

Evacuation Singapore to the Prison Camps of SumatraThe Evacuation of Singapore to the Prison Camps of Sumatra


Judy Balcombe

The Evacuation of Singapore to the Prison Camps of Sumatra aims to describe the events prior to, during and after the Fall of Singapore and the ways in which former prisoners are remembered on Bangka Island today. It is the product of many years of detailed historical research, interviews with camp survivors and personal experiences discovering and locating the former Japanese civilian prison camp sites of Bangka Island and Southern Sumatra.

Judith's aim has been to compile an accurate description of the fate of evacuees from Singapore who were bombed and killed in the South China Sea and Bangka Strait or imprisoned in harsh Japanese civilian prison camps. Many families have not known the fate of their relatives until contacting the author through the Muntok Peace Museum website . The Peace Museum was established by prisoners’  families in 2015. The author has also described her many visits to Bangka Island and Sumatra in detail so others may follow in her footsteps and know that their relatives who were imprisoned and died during WW2 are now remembered very respectfully in the small town of Muntok. Annual Memorial Services are held each February 16, attended by families and the Australian, New Zealand and British Embassies.

All royalties to this book will be donated to the Muntok Red Cross in memory of the prisoners.

Pen and Sword

Pages: 224

Illustrations: 100 mono illustrations

ISBN: 9781399067157

Published: 3rd October 2023

Pen and Sword Books: The Evacuation of Singapore to the Prison Camps of Sumatra - Hardback (

Ronnie:- This is my book choice of the month.




Book Review

Lost in ChinaLost in China


Jennifer F. Dobbs


Lost in China is the true story of two Anglo-American children separated from their parents in China during World War II, and their unforgettable journey to America a year later. The Dobbs family lived in Shanghai in the late 1930s, where the children spoke Mandarin and Jennifer rode to school in a rickshaw. As war progresses, the family travels to heavily bombed Chungking, through mountains harboring bandits, and on the dangerous Burma Road. When their mother and father fly to Hong Kong on a short trip and get caught up in the Japanese attack, the Dobbs children are left parentless, with no idea when their parents will return, or if they are even still alive.

For a year, the children remain in Western China, and the two are separated when John is taken to stay with another family, where he survives a near-drowning incident. Finally, after spending a month traveling three-quarters of the way around the world via the US military’s World War II ferry routes, they reunite with their mother in a rain-swept, deserted airfield in Washington, DC - and face a shocking discovery about their father. ‘Lost in China’ is both a riveting firsthand account of a family broken apart in World War II China and a daughter’s tribute to her beloved father.

For more information go to  ‘Lost in China




PoW on the Sumatra Railway-tnPOW On The Sumatra Railway


John Geoffrey Lee


John Geoffrey Lee (always known as Geoff) joined the RAF on his 20th birthday in June 1941. He left Liverpool on a troop ship in December 1941, with no idea where he was going. He eventually arrived in Java, where he was captured by the Japanese, along with many others. During his time in captivity, he survived several camps in Java, Ambon and Singapore and three hell ship journeys. After being washed ashore in Sumatra, (as a ferry he was being transported on blew up), he was then recaptured and suffered sheer hell as a slave on the Sumatra Railway. Enduring bouts of malaria, beri beri, tropical ulcers and a starvation diet was bad enough, but this was exacerbated by the searing heat and extreme cruelty meted out to the prisoners by the Japanese and Korean guards. Geoff miraculously survived, weighing just 6 stone when he arrived back in Liverpool in December 1945.

After his release he found he had difficulty in convincing people where he had been as no one had heard of the ‘Sumatra Railway’, only the other one, thousands of miles away in Burma. Letters to newspapers were returned as ‘Just another Burma Railway story’.

The Ministry of Defence, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and The Imperial War Museum had no records of POWs building a railway in Sumatra.

So began Geoff™s journey, his aim… to prove to the establishment what he already knew to be true. This is Geoff's story of his captivity, release, and subsequent efforts in achieving his aim.

Edited by Christine Bridges

Imprint: Pen & Sword Military

Hardback, Pages: 224

Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations

ISBN: 9781399015257

Published: 28th June 2022

Price 14.00 (Special Price Amazon)


Ronnie - I now have the book to revue. First inpressions are it is well written and most of all, it covers the forgotten Sumatra Railway.

I have just finished reading the book, it is among my favourite FEPOW books. It is written by Christine Bridge’s father and has so much detail, I just could not put it down. Some small details brought the book to life, because it is as he saw it.

The last part about his visit back in 1980 to provide proof of the Sumatra Railways' existence sometimes brought tears to my eyes.

A book to remember, thank you Christine, and all my thanks to your father for giving us the chance of letting us into his memories. God Bless him.




Book Review

Women Interned in World War Two Sumatra-tnWomen Interned in World War Two Sumatra


Barbara Coombes

Thousands of women and children were among those who struggled to leave Singapore just before capitulation on February 15 1942; their hope was to reach safety. For many that hope was never realised; countless numbers drowned as ships were bombed and sunk on their way to 'safety'. The 'lucky' ones who survived the onslaught of the ships would become guests of the Japanese; many of these would not live to see the end of the war. Two very different women fleeing on those last ships and subsequently interned in camps throughout Sumatra were Margaret Dryburgh, a missionary and teacher, and Shelagh Brown, a secretary at the Singapore Naval Base. Their paths crossed briefly prior to the catastrophic events of 1942 and met again in internment. The 'Captives Hymn' composed by Margaret Dryburgh was initially sung by herself along with Shelagh Brown and friend Dorothy MacLeod on 5 July 1942\. It has since been sung at services throughout internment and continues to be sung at services all over the world. Music and faith were fundamental to both their lives and Margaret's creative talents lifted the spirits of everyone during those dark and difficult days. In a remarkable partnership, when the women were struggling to find something new that would lift their flagging spirits, Margaret and fellow internee Norah Chambers produced a 'Vocal Orchestra' using women's voices in place of instruments. The first performance stunned the entire camp; they had never heard anything so beautiful and momentarily made them feel that they were free and floating away with the music. This true account, using personal diaries and family documents traces Margaret Dryburgh and Shelagh Brown's journey from childhood through to adulthood and internment. Early life shapes adult life and perhaps contributed to their response to captivity which showed courage, tenacity, perseverance and surprisingly, given the appalling conditions, a good deal of humour. 'May the Day of Freedom Dawn'







Pen & Sword History


Pen & Sword History

Pub date:

30 Jun 2022



DEWEY edition:




Number of pages:









25 (Amazon)






Book Review

Death and Deprivation on the Forgotten Sumatra RailwayDeath and Deprivation on the Forgotten Sumatra Railway


James H Banton

James Henry Banton was born in Burton on Trent in 1920. He worked as a driver of a steam locomotive used to used to transport beer and supplies to breweries around the town. When war broke out Jim joined the RAF, eventually becoming a Leading Aircraftsman as part of the RAF’s ground crew. During this time Jim had met the love of his life Dorothy Mason. Jim didn't know that when he left Gladstone Dock in Liverpool he would not see home or his family including Dorothy for another four and a half years.

Eventually posted to the Far East he was captured by the Japanese in the hills on the island of Java. Used as slave labour, starved, beaten and witnessing death on a daily basis he was later put to work on the building of the Sumatra Railway. The Far East Prisoners of war became known as the Forgotten Army, however there has been little reference paid to the Sumatra Railway compared with other theatres of WW2. With this in mind the prisoners who worked on the Sumatra Railway could be considered to be the ‘Forgotten of the Forgotten Army’.

In August 1945 the world celebrated victory in Europe, however for the FEPOW’s the war dragged on. As parts of the world were trying to return to normality Jim and his colleagues were being made to dig their own graves in the Sumatra jungle. The FEPOW’s lives hung in the balance as orders had been issued to murder all POW’s should mainland Japan be invaded by the Allies.

This book is Jim’s story and it is hoped it will also be a reminder not only of the sacrifice of the Forgotten Army but also highlight the suffering of the ‘Forgotten of the Forgotten Army’ The Sumatra Railway POW’s.

Published by Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 168
Illustrations: 33 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399006491
Published: 29th July 2021

Pen and Sword Books: Death and Deprivation on the Forgotten Sumatra Railway - Hardback (


Ronnie's Review - A very good read, which acknowledges the suffering of the PoWs who worked on the Sumatra Railway. The story is enhanced by taking the reader into  the story at the year of his birth, and following his life up to and beyond those dreadful years as a Japanese PoW. The aftermath is a big part of James story as he tries to deal with the nightmare of the camps. A great insight into the other railway as a Japanese PoW.




Book Review

Britons Never NeverBritains Never Never


Ken Porter

Ken Porter was with the 5th Beds and Herts and wrote this compelling story of his entire war experience that involved his enlistment and training, travel out to the Far East, and the battle for Singapore at MacRitchie Reservoir. He describes being at River Valley Camp before traveling to Thailand with Letter Party ‘Q’ and marching up to Tha Sao via Tha Dan, then working in Group 4, ‘L’ battalion towards Wang Yai.

By his careful health and self-management, Ken managed to avoid the nasty outbreaks of dysentery and Cholera, however, suffered ulcers many times, which he prevented from becoming serious and life and limb-threatening. At Tha Sao he wrote about the misfortune of Wally Nind who was attacked and badly injured by a bull elephant, of which he survived having surgery performed by Sir Edward Weary Dunlop.

Ken was eventually evacuated to Tha Muang, only to be drafted back to Tha Makham to carry out repairs to the bomb-damaged bypass wooden bridge. Here Ken was witness to some of the famous bombing raids, following which he was transferred to Nakon Nayok and then on the Phitsanulok march with CSM Bennett".

Martyn Fryer- The book was first published 1993, this is the second edition 2021.

I have been very busy over the past 12 months or so doing the rewrite of the Ken porter book, Britons Never Never, ‘Once I built a railroad. The project was mainly for the family of Ken Porter, then decided to offer the book in support of TBRC during the current covid crisis, as I wanted no payment from the family for all the work I have put into reproducing the book.

The book is a great read and a first-hand account of Ken's war from start to finish.

I would like to donate a book to the Fepow Family Library (HQ) and one for the Fepow Family Book Draw. (Ronnie - thank you Martyn, appreciated)

Each donation amount is by choice above the minimum book price. The minimum price is 10, which will include a 1 donation and we suggest the maximum price is 15 with a 6 donation, therefore, you can choose the amount you donate within this scale.

Books are available in the UK, by contacting Martyn Fryer by email for details:-

(Martyn Fryer is also the author of 'From the Woodlands to the Jungle' based on the 5th Battalion, Bedford and Hertford Regiment)




Book Review

Cricket in the Second World WarCricket in the Second World War


John Broom

As the civilised world fought for its very survival, Sir Home Gordon, writing in The Cricketer in September 1939, stated that ‘England has now started the grim Test Match with Germany’, the objective of which was to ‘win the Ashes of civilisation’.

Despite the interruption of first-class and Test cricket in England, the game continued to be played and watched by hundreds of thousands of people engaged in military and civilian service. In workplaces, cricket clubs, and military establishments, as well as on the famous grounds of the country, players of all abilities kept the sporting flag flying to sustain morale.

Matches raised vast sums for war charities whilst in the north and midlands, competitive League cricket continued, with many Test and county players being employed as weekend professionals by the clubs.

Further afield the game continued in all the Test-playing nations and in further-flung outposts around the world. Troops stationed in Europe, Africa and the Far East seized on any opportunity to play cricket, often in the most unusual of circumstances.

Luxurious sporting clubs in Egypt hosted matches that pitted English service teams against their Commonwealth counterparts. Luminaries such as Wally Hammond and Lindsay Hassett were cheered on by their uniformed countrymen.

Inevitably there was a sombre side to cricket’s wartime account. From renowned Test stars such as Hedley Verity to the keen but modest club player, many cricketers paid the ultimate price for Allied victory. The Victory Tests of 1945 were played against a backdrop of relief and sorrow. Nevertheless, cricket would emerge intact into the post-war world in broadly the same format as 1939. The game had sustained its soul and played its part in the sad but necessary victory of the Grim Test.

Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 288
Illustrations: 140 integrated black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526780171
Published: 28th May 2021

Ronnie's Review - As a lover of the game and village cricket team player, this is a must read. Running the Far East web sites, I would like to have seen more on the Changi Test Matches, but that did not stop my enjoyment of reading about sport within the horrors of war. Anyone who would like to read more on the Changi Test Matches go to my website page ‘Changi Ashes’.




Book Review

The Battle of Burma 1942-1945The Battle for Burma, 1942-1945


Philip Jowett

The battle for Burma during the Second World War was of vital importance to the Allies and the Japanese. The Allies fought to protect British India and force the Japanese out of Burma; the Japanese fought to defend the north-west flank of their newly conquered empire and aimed to strike at India where anti-British feeling was growing stronger. Yet the massive military efforts mounted by both sides during four years of war are often overshadowed by the campaigns in Europe, North Africa, the Pacific and China.

Philip Jowett, using over 200 wartime photographs, many of them not published before, retells the story of the war in Burma in vivid detail, illustrating each phase of the fighting and showing all the forces involved - British, American, Chinese, Indian, Burmese as well as Japanese. His book is a fascinating introduction to one of the most extreme, but least reported, struggles of the entire war.

The narrative and the striking photographs carry the reader through each of the major phases of the conflict, from the humiliation of the initial British defeat in 1942 and retreat into India and their faltering attempts to recover the initiative from 1943, to the famous Chindit raids behind Japanese lines, the Japanese offensive of 1944 and their disastrous retreat and ultimate defeat.

Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Series: Images of War
Pages: 240
Illustrations: 200 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526775276
Published: 12th April 2021

Ronnie Review - It is rare to find a book covering over three years of a conflict which this one does. The Burma Campaign is well detailed with help of 200 campaign photos. A good book to visually refer to.




Book Review

The Liberation of the PhilippinesThe Liberation of the Philippines


Jon Diamond

General Douglas A MacArthur, Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area, saw the liberation of the Philippines Archipelago as the launching board for the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. By late 1944, with the capture of New Guinea and surrounding islands, the US Sixth and Eighth Armies were poised for the challenge.

American forces landed on Leyte on 20 October 1944 with the Leyte Gulf naval battle quickly following. By 25 December the island was cleared opening the way for Lieutenant General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army to invade Luzon on 9 January 1945. Bitter Japanese resistance required Eichelberger’s Eighth Army as reinforcements. Manila finally fell on 4 March. In the meantime Bataan was captured on 16 February and Corregidor on 2 March after a US airborne assault. Fighting continued and MacArthur finally declared the liberation of the Archipelago on 5 July, just a month before the Atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This superbly illustrated work in the Pacific War Images of War series leaves the reader in no doubt as to the intensity of the land, sea and air operations required by the Allies to defeat the Japanese.

Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Series: Images of War
Pages: 240
ISBN: 9781526788726
Published: 5th August 2021

Ronnie's Review - Again a well illustrated book which I found very informative as it widened my view on the American advance on the Philippines. It filled in many pieces of the jigsaw which were missing. Recommended.




Book Review

Saipan 1944Saipan 1944


John Grehan and Alexander Nicol

After the astonishing Japanese successes of 1941 and early 1942, the Allies began to fight back. After victories at Guadalcanal, Coral Sea, Midway and other islands in the Pacific, by 1944, the Japanese had been pushed back onto the defensive. Yet there was no sign of an end to the war, as the Japanese mainland was beyond the reach of land-based heavy bombers. So, in the spring of 1944, the focus of attention turned to the Mariana Islands ‘Guam, Saipan and Tinian’ which were close enough to Tokyo to place the Japanese capital within the operational range of the new Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

The attack upon Saipan, the most heavily-defended of the Marianas, took the Japanese by surprise, but over the course of more than three weeks, the 29,000 Japanese defenders defied the might of 71,000 US Marines and infantry, supported by fifteen battleships and eleven cruisers. The storming of the beaches and the mountainous interior cost the US troops dearly, in what was the most-costly battle to date in the Pacific War.

Eventually, after three weeks of savage fighting, which saw the Japanese who refused to surrender being burned to death in their caves, the enemy commander, Lieutenant General Saito, was left with just 3,000 able-bodied men and he ordered them to deliver a final suicide banzai charge. With the wounded limping behind, along with numbers of civilians, the Japanese overran two US battalions, before the 4,500 men were wiped out. It was the largest banzai attack of the Pacific War.

As well as placing the Americans within striking distance of Tokyo, the capture of Saipan also opened the way for General MacArthur to mount his invasion of the Philippines and resulted in the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister Tojo. One Japanese admiral admitted that ‘Our war was lost with the loss of Saipan’. This is a highly illustrated story of what US General Holland Smith called ‘the decisive battle of the Pacific offensive’. It was, he added, the offensive that ‘opened the way to the Japanese home islands’.

Frontline Books
Series: Images of War
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 180+ black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526758309
Published: 21st May 2021

Ronnie's Review - The Battle is told in detail with a large collection of photos to enhance the book. Although the Battle of Kohima was fought on the border of India and not actually the Pacific, I would query the sub-title of the Saipan book ‘The most decisive battle of the Pacific War’. Kohima was the first battle in which we overcame the Japanese and slightly pre-dates the Battle for Saipan.




Book Review

Japans Pacific War Japan’s Pacific War


Peter Williams

‘I had no qualms fighting the Australians, just as I have killed without remorse any of the Emperor’s enemies: the British, the Americans and the Dutch’, so admits Takahiro Sato in this ground-breaking oral history of Japan’s Pacific War.’

Thanks to years of research and over 100 interviews with veterans, the Author has compiled a fascinating collection of personal accounts by former Japanese soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Their candid views are often provocative and shocking. There are admissions of brutality, the killing of prisoners and cannibalism. Stark descriptions of appalling conditions and bitter fighting blend with descriptions of family life. Their views on the prowess of the enemy differ with some like air ace Kazuo Tsunoda who believed the Australians ‘worthy’. Some remain unrepentant while others such as Hideo Abe are ashamed of his part in Japan’s war of aggression.

The result is a revealing insight into the minds of a ruthless and formidable enemy which provides the reader with a fresh perspective on the Second World War.

Publisher Pen and Sword

Hardback with Pages: 248

Illustrations: 80 black and white illustrations

ISBN: 9781526796127

Published: 15th April 2021

Price 20

(Use ‘fepow25’ for 25% Book Club Discount)

Ronnie - I found the book very informative tying in the Japanese Interviews with Allied information. I highly recommend it.




Book Review

Escape to Japanese CaptivityEscape to Japanese Captivity


Mick and Margery Jennings

Mick and Margery Jennings' comfortable life in Singapore ended with the Japanese invasion in late 1941. Margery was captured in Sumatra after HMV Mata Hari, the ship taking her and other families to safety in Australia, was bombed. Mick left Singapore after the surrender in February 1942 when he and other soldiers commandeered a junk and sailed to Sumatra. After crossing the island, he and Bombardier Jackson set sail for Australia in a seventeen-foot dinghy. After an appalling ordeal at sea he too was captured and, having recovered in hospital, was incarcerated on Sumatra until moved to Changi Goal in May 1945.

Despite not being far apart, Mick and Margery never saw each other again, although they managed to exchange a few letters. Tragically Margery died of deprivation and exhaustion in May 1945, shortly before VJ day, while Mick miraculously survived.

Based on personal accounts and Margery’s secret diary, this outstanding book describes in graphic detail their attempted escapes and horrific imprisonments. Above all it is a moving testimony to the couple’s courage, resilience and ingenuity.


By Capt Mick Jennings, Margery Jennings
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 200
Illustrations: 32 black and white
ISBN: 9781526783097
Published: 17th December 2020





Book Review

The Lost SamuraiThe Lost Samurai


Stephen Turnbull

The Lost Samurai reveals the greatest untold story of Japan’s legendary warrior class, which is that for almost a hundred years Japanese samurai were employed as mercenaries in the service of the kings of Siam, Cambodia, Burma, Spain and Portugal, as well as by the directors of the Dutch East India Company.

The Japanese samurai were used in dramatic assault parties, as royal bodyguards, as staunch garrisons and as willing executioners. As a result, a stereotypical image of the fierce Japanese warrior developed that had a profound influence on the way they were regarded by their employers.

Whilst the Southeast Asian kings tended to employ samurai on a long-term basis as palace guards, their European employers usually hired them on a temporary basis for specific campaigns. Also, whereas the Southeast Asian monarchs tended to trust their well-established units of Japanese mercenaries, the Europeans, whilst admiring them, also feared them. In every European example a progressive shift in attitude may be discerned from initial enthusiasm to great suspicion that the Japanese might one day turn against them, as illustrated by the long-standing Spanish fear of an invasion of the Philippines by Japan accompanied by a local uprising.

It also suggested that if, during the 1630s, Japan had chosen engagement with Southeast Asia rather than isolation from it, the established presence of Japanese communities overseas may have had a profound influence on the subsequent development of international relations within the area, perhaps even seeing the early creation of an overseas Japanese empire that would have provided a rival to Great Britain. Instead Japan closed its doors, leaving these fierce mercenaries stranded in distant countries never to return: lost samurai indeed!

Frontline Books

Pages: 192

Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations

ISBN: 9781526758989

Published: 2nd March 2021

Ronnies Review - As my father was a Japanese PoW and the night he died I wrote a verse dedicated to him using the line ‘He was fighting Samurai on Singapore Soil’, I wanted to know why Samurai is used for Japanese fighters. The book tells it all. This is certainly not a WWII book but I found the history of the Samurai very interesting.The verse is on my father’s Memorial Page titled ‘The Fisherman’s Son’.


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