Veterans tell of the bitterness that remains: Marianne Macdonald talks to three former PoWs about their view of the decisions that preceded capture by the Japanese

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Indy Politics
HAROLD PAYNE, 72, of Tunbridge Wells, is president of the Far Eastern Prisoner of War Association, and devotes his time to helping thousands of former PoWs.

'I do not think that post-mortems on war matters serve any purpose whatsoever. I feel very strongly about that because decisions have to be made at the time that can't be altered. Quite honestly I do think that some people made stronger decisions than others. Certainly my life was changed by their decisions and I had the 'privilege' of being a prisoner of war for three and a half years.

'But it was the luck of the draw. I was in prison for three and a half years, working on the Burma-Siam railway, but I still had my King and country. And I was one of the fortunate ones in being allowed to come home. Others were killed and died.

'I had to work bloody hard on that railway, in terrible conditions with lack of food and bad treatment. But when I was let out in August 1945 we were just so happy to be free. I came home and got married - to a woman who did not celebrate VE Day because she thought it was wrong while people were still in the Far East. I was fortunate enough to meet that woman.

'There are some who feel bitter and they are entitled to feel bitter. And I would be a liar if I said I wasn't still suffering today - in one way we all are. But there we are. It was just a chapter of accidents.'

BERT HUMPHREYS, 73, of Southampton, was captured by the Japanese in February 1942.

'There was incompetence, not at a military level but a political one - from Duff Cooper and Sir Shenton Thomas. They knew the Japanese were going to land in Thailand, yet they refused permission for the British troops to go there and repel them because that would have been entering neutral territory. Yet the Japs entered neutral territory when they went in. If we had gone in we would have changed the whole position out there.

'I arrived in Singapore 10 days before the fall after being bombed off my ship. We were captured on 15 February and held as prisoners of war for three and a half years. I worked first on the Burma-Siam railway and later went to a prison camp in Omuta, 35 miles from Nagasaki. There was starvation and no medical supplies. Malaria, cholera, dysentery were rife. We worked in a factory making zinc in the heat of the furnaces. It wasn't until 15 September 1945 we were liberated.

'I pin the blame on Duff Cooper and Thomas for what happened. If they had allowed the commanders to do what they wanted to do there could have been a different outcome to the war in the Far East - particularly in Singapore.'

WILLIAM GRIFFITHS, 72, of Blackpool, was blinded and lost his hands immediately after being captured by the Japanese in February 1942.

'I was just a junior in the RAF, just an aircraftman, so I don't feel qualified to comment on the incompetence. I just had an impression, along with many other young men, that we were completely unprepared. The Japanese had complete supremacy in every department.

'We just felt utterly desolate. It was chaos. We had nothing at all and the Japanese seemed so much better prepared.

'I had been sent to Java days before I was captured and put into a prison camp. Amid all the confusion there the Japanese ordered a few of us to go into the mountains and remove the booby traps. I was blown up, blinded and lost my hands and that was it. I don't feel bitter, though: it was a long time ago.'

(Photograph omitted)

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