PoW's paintings of Burma camp horrors to be sold

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The Independent Online

A collection of paintings by a former prisoner of war depicting the horrific conditions of Japanese labour camps is due to be sold at auction next month.

Jack Chalker, 83, recorded the suffering that he and his fellow PoWs endured while working on the Burma Railway project during the Second World War.

One of his works, Punishment, shows a prisoner tied to a post with a tin containing stones around his neck that would cut into his chest every time he tried to move. Another shows the diseased and gangrenous leg of a prisoner, which would have been treated using only the most rudimentary instruments. "The agony that must have been endured by these hundreds of patients is indescribable," he said.

Mr Chalker, from Somerset, was studying painting at the Royal College of Art in 1939 when he received his call-up papers at the start of the war. He was sent to Singapore in 1942, where he was captured with 137,000 other troops and sent to work on the railway. He succumbed to dengue fever and dysentery and spent two and a half years in hospital camps.

It was forbidden to record anything about the railway project and Mr Chalker received severe beatings when his work was discovered.

He recalled: "I was hiding some drawings in a section of bamboo when a Korean sentry suddenly appeared. He began shouting and hitting and made me tear the drawing into very small pieces. This was only a prelude to the real beating, and the next two days were a nightmare. When at last it was all over, I found that two small drawings had escaped detection under some rags."

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Mr Chalker was sent to Bangkok as a war artist and completed additional work for official war history and medical records.

Giles Peppiatt, director of the watercolour department at the auction house Bonhams, described the collection of more than 100 watercolours and pencil and ink drawings as an "immensely important historical archive". The collection will be auctioned on 16 April.

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