After 55 years, Japanese PoWs will get pay-out

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The Independent Online

Successive governments have failed to compensate surviving Japanese prisoners of war. Now Tony Blair, under pressure from the British Legion and the Far East Prisoners Of War (FEPOW) has had a change of heart.

Successive governments have failed to compensate surviving Japanese prisoners of war. Now Tony Blair, under pressure from the British Legion and the Far East Prisoners Of War (FEPOW) has had a change of heart.

Tomorrow the Government will announce compensation, expected to be £10,000 for each survivor, bringing to an end a long struggle for the seven and a half thousand survivors and their families.

But a former Royal Marine, Peter Dunstan, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942 and sent to work on the Burma railway, is sceptical.

"I will believe it a lot more when I actually see the money," he said. "For years both our government and the Japanese have been stalling, telling us that the £76 we received in the Fifties was all we were entitled to. It has been a dark blot on this country's history, which needs removing."

Mr Dunstan, like so many survivors of FEPOW, has immersed himself in the fight for compensation. Deep in his heart he knows the Japanese will never pay up. To keep the plight of FEPOW in the public eye, he gives talks to schools and clubs. He says cheerfully: "That is what keeps me going. But I have a pal who cannot talk about his experiences and goes berserk if he sees anything to do with the Japanese on TV."

Mr Dunstan calculates that of the 60,000 British servicemen taken prisoner by the Japanese, more than 21,000 died in captivity of either maltreatment, disease or despair. Forty thousand returned to this country, many of whom were too profoundly shocked to fully recover their physical or mental health. Nights of horror and appalling scenes haunt them, and there are those who wake sweating and screaming as their memories overwhelm them.

Mr Dunstan said: "My feelings about the Japanese treatment of us will never leave me. I just hope that with Remembrance Day so close that we will cease to be forgotten men. Money cannot bring back those we lost, but particularly for the widows, it could ease the pain."

Jack Sharpe's defiance shone through in the world-famous photograph of him sitting at the end of his bamboo bed in Changi camp in September 1945 looking like a skeleton. Racked with dysentery and weighing barely four stone, this remarkable man was still smiling.

Mr Sharpe, now 85, lives quietly on his own in Scraptoft, near Leicester. His time in captivity is still etched in his mind. He was beaten, saw friends die and faced a firing squad. Yet never once did his spirit break. He had been in Singapore with the Leicestershire regiment, when they were ordered to surrender on 15 February.

Mr Sharpe's mother received a letter that he was missing, presumed killed, and weeks later the Red Cross informed her that her son had been executed. He was never allowed to write home. Transported to Thailand, he escaped but was recaptured and put in front of a firing squad. Rifles were cocked, but a Japanese officer intervened.

He was then court martialled for defying the order to escape and sentenced to two years. Realising he would not survive in the prison they were going to send him to, when the president of the court asked him if he had anything to say, he told them exactly what he thought of the Japanese. He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in another jail. The president had insulted Mr Sharpe: "He said no Japanese soldier with a body as strong as mine would allow himself to become a prisoner. He would commit suicide. That was it - I'd had enough. I told him I was going to live to see the Japs surrender and that I would walk out of the prison on my own two feet."

Thrown into Outram Road jail in Singapore, he remembered the sign over the door: "Her Majesty's Pearl Hill Prison". For 14 months he was in solitary confinement with only a bucket for a toilet, three bowls of thin rice and a cup of dirty water a day. He slept on concrete and was woken every hour by a guard banging on the door. He held on, dreaming of home and his mother and the insult from the court martial.

Moved to another cell, he was constantly beaten as those around him died of beri-beri and dysentery. Friends pleaded with him to try and get to a less harsh camp, but he refused. "I was going to endure. I had become a symbol to those around me and to the Japanese," he says defiantly. He contracted scurvy, then scabies covered his body in scabs.

His darkest moment, when he nearly faltered, was two weeks before the end of the war. "One of my friends who I was close to got a beating and could take no more. He simply curled up and died. I couldn't see the sense in going on, but I had to."

After three-and-a-half years the camp was liberated. "The lads picked me up like a conquering hero. But as I was being carried out, I saw the sign, HM Pearl Hill Prison. I asked them to put me down. I'd held on to the belief throughout my time that I would walk out of that prison a free man, and that the Japanese would have surrendered.

"I managed a few steps then the lads picked me up again. I weighed 11 stone when I was captured, I was now only four."

In Changi, he had his photo taken before being flown to India. His mother never believed he was dead and wroteto him every month. A thoughtful NCO, seeing that he had gained a little strength, helped him to a quiet place outside the ward, sat him down and gave him the 38 letters from his mother. "I thought of all the pain she had been through. For the first time I allowed myself to cry. I just wept."

His next surprise was to see his elder brother in the ward. He had got himself to India and located the hospital. "When I was small he used to hold my hand and teach me how to walk. Now he was helping me to walk again. He slept in the bed next door to me. That was the beginning of my recovery."

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