:: Volume 1 – Singapore & Malaysia
:: Volume 2 – Dutch East Indies
:: Volume 3 – Burma, Thailand & Indonesia
:: Volume 4 – Hong Kong & China
:: Volume 5 – The Philippines & Taiwan
:: Volume 6 – Japan, Korea & Manchuria
Information Updates

"This book contains a most interesting and well crafted account of what was happening during those very difficult times, for which David Tett deserves congratulations"
Ian McQueen in Gibbons Stamp Monthly January 2005.

"I was up until 3.00am reading your book. Brilliant is all I can say."
Graham Reynolds.

"My own personal opinion of the book is that you have produced an outstanding and valuable contribution."
Harry Hesp POW.

By David Tett
Foreword by Martin Bell

British military history is a selective enterprise. Victorious campaigns attract many writers, and defeats will be celebrated wherever possible as victories. The evacuation of Dunkirk, and even the disastrous Dieppe Raid, are obvious examples. But no such shadings of the truth are possible with the capitulation of Singapore in February 1942. It was an unredeemed catastrophe, and one of the most inglorious failures in British warfare. Some 50,000 British and Australian servicemen, most of whom had barely arrived, surrendered their indefensible "fortress" to the advancing Japanese. Those who survived - and a quarter of them did not - endured an appalling three and a half years of disease, starvation and privation in Changi and other prison camps. Even after their release, their service and sacrifice was never recognised - at least until November 2000, when the surviving 7,000 British former prisoners of war were given a gratuity by the Government.

My own involvement in the matter is incidental. Many years ago, and in much safer times, I served in the ranks of the Suffolk Regiment. The Regiment had lost its 4th and 5th Battalions in Singapore - part of the 18th East Anglian Division which disembarked barely in time to surrender. It was a needless sacrifice. The foot-soldiers were there, but without the air power, the sea power and landward defences that were needed to withstand the expected onslaught.

I was a member of the Parliament of 1997, and played a part in the campaign for compensation. I met many of the unsung heroes of that distant ordeal, and became President of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors' Association.

Some of them have never spoken of what happened to them and never will. Others have written memoirs, either in manuscript or privately printed. The official histories, in so far as they tell the story at all, are less detailed and compelling than the accounts of the men themselves - whether incarcerated in Changi or washed up on distant islands after the defeat of what remained of the allied navies.

Their accounts - each one of them unique - can now be complemented by this goldmine of a book. A Postal History of the Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees in East Asia during the Second World War may sound an unusual and rather specialised title. But it is exactly what it says it is. It is the stuff of history, and provides a priceless and universal appendix to so many singular stories.

The Japanese, although they treated their prisoners with the utmost brutality, still complied in a limited fashion with Article 26 of the Geneva Convention of 1929, allowing prisoners of war to send postcards home. Within four months of their capture, the British in Changi were presented with cards on which they were allowed to write messages home of no more than twenty words. Censorship was strict. I suspect that never in the history of letter-writing were words more carefully chosen. They were sent to families who in many cases had no idea that their loved ones were still alive; the men of the 18th Division, who disembarked so fatefully in Singapore, had set out in the belief that they were bound for the Middle East.

Some of the prisoners' cards are reproduced here, and make most illuminating reading. They speak, with diplomatic mendacity, of the senders being in good health and well treated. Neither were remotely true. All that mattered at the time was that they were still alive. That applies, by the way, to most soldiers in most wars.

These messages also belong to another world of - close-knit families, of fragmentary communications, of old fashioned loyalties, of censorship and sacrifice, and of a war which many of the POWs believed would end in the allies' defeat. Their own rather limited experience was of nothing else.

At the time of writing, sixty years on, very few of those prison camp heroes are still alive. This book is for them. But it is also for the rest of us, who can learn about what happened to them in a dark and desperate chapter of our history.

Its message is simple and serious. Lest we forget.

Martin Bell.
Member of Parliament May 2001

Chapter headings

1 - Prelude to Captivity
2 - The Prison Camps
3 - The Mails that were Returned
4 - At Home
5 - The Bureau of Record and Enquiry
6 - The Bren Gunner of the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment
7 - The Cards from the Prisoners of War in Singapore
8 - The Story of David Nelson
9 - The Mail to the Civilians Internees in Singapore
10 - The Cards from the Civilian Internees in Singapore
11 - The Story of Dr Stanley and his Family
12 - Mail to those who were not Interned
13 - Unauthorised Mails
14 - Japanese Postal Stationery and Censor Marks
15 - Some Went Home


1 The Armed Forces at the Fall of Singapore in Changi POW Camp
2 Cards sent from Malaya Camps
3 Cards and Covers addressed to POWs in Malaya and Singapore
4 Cards and Covers addressed to Civilian Internees in Malaya and Singapore
5 Movement of POWs from and through Singapore
6 Instructions for Completion of the First Civilian Internee Card
7 Australian Red Cross Society Directions for Mail Form B33 dated 23rd October 1943

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