Baronage heading

Twentieth Century Chivalry


Laurens van der Post, writing of his experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese, immortalised them in these words ~

For four years we were in the hands of a lot of lunatics: for us it was a mediaeval war. It couldn’t have been more horrible. We were faced with death and brutality of the most extraordinary kind; we were utterly powerless minute by minute. That was a war within a war.

This quotation was chosen by Tom McGowran to preface his collection of extracts from the newsletters of the Scottish Far East Prisoner of War Association which, together with a few items from other sources, has been published by the Cualann Press with the title of BEYOND THE BAMBOO SCREEN.

The extracts are reminiscences written by survivors of the war’s worst atrocities. Statistics tell only a part of the full story ~ for example, that of the 85,000 captured at the fall of Singapore, one third died in captivity ~ and only those who read books such as this will be able to understand the horrific way in which the prisoners died, and the inhumane way in which the survivors were forced to live. (When the Japanese troops burst their way into the Tanglin Military Hospital they bayoneted not only the patients in the beds, they bayoneted also the patients on the operating tables as well as the doctors and nurses treating them.)

Red Cross parcels were never distributed to the prisoners ~ they fed their captors instead. Occasionally a starving man would endeavour to recover something from where the parcels were stored, but the retribution if caught would be to be beaten unconscious and then to be tortured, sometimes to death, sometimes not. Japanese torture is bestial, as these accounts, written by survivors who are not professional authors, bear irrefutable witness.

The book rightly discusses the contentious question of the justification for the use of the atomic bombs at Nagasaki and Horoshima. There are two factors of prime importance to this issue. The first, too often forgotten, is that instructions had been issued to all Camp Commandants that in the event of Allied invasion of Japanese-occupied territory, all PoWs were to be exterminated in whatever way was most convenient to local circumstances. At the War Crimes Trials one of the documents attesting this was Document No 2701, and a translation of its text is included in this book.

The second factor is the Japanese intention to fight on to the very last man, woman or child. The book includes an analysis of this by Roy S. Bratby of the Gordon Highlanders which is included here on a separate page.

The book contains also poetry and drawings, of which the poem Remembering Hiroshima is published here on a separate page.

Page 2 ~ The poem
Page 3 ~ The article
Current Baronage Magazine’s Contents Page