Army doctor recalls Far East campaign

SIXTY years on, Dr John Black can still recall the shocking state of Far East prisoners of war he treated after the Japanese surrender in 1945.Dr Black, of Victoria Mill Road, Framlingham, was aged 26 when he was posted to the Far East as a recently qualified army doctor.

SIXTY years on, Dr John Black can still recall the shocking state of Far East prisoners of war he treated after the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Dr Black, of Victoria Mill Road, Framlingham, was aged 26 when he was posted to the Far East as a recently qualified army doctor.

"Each patient, when admitted to hospital was clutching a small bag or a battered tin containing the few personal items he had managed to keep during the years of captivity," he recalled.

"At first they insisted on keeping these under their pillows and it was only later that we were able to persuade them that it was safe to put them in their bedside locker."


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Dr Black gives a rare insight into doctors' experiences during that period in a new book.

Rather a Mixed Crowd – Military Medicine in India and South East Asia 1944 to 1947 is Dr Black's personal account of his time in India, Burma and Malaysia during and immediately after the war.

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Pitifully thin, and suffering from various vitamin deficiencies, the ex-prisoners of war had to be carefully treated as they were brought back to health.

"Worrying features were adverse effects of treatment. A too rapid increase in food intake caused circulatory collapse, possibly due to a dumping syndrome.

"One patient who became ill and collapsed for no obvious reason was found to have large quantities of noodles in his locker, having persuaded the Chinese ward orderly to buy them in the city. Sudden unexpected death occurred in a few cases and we heard of similar deaths in Singapore, in non-hospital patients, generally after a large meal," said Dr Black.

He recalled one man who had been kept for a fortnight in a wooden box as a punishment for some minor misdemeanour.

As a result, his knees were hyperextended and he needed physiotherapy.

He also recalled how a medical specialist passed one man's bed "with a shrug and no discussion", having "written him off". Outraged, Dr Black and a ward sister were determined to prove them wrong and gradually persuaded the patient to eat. He recovered, and later sent the doctor a photograph of himself looking well nourished and cheerful.

Dr Black, a member of the Framlingham's historical and preservation society, decided to write the book to fill what he saw as a gap in people's knowledge of that time.

"Firstly, very little had been written about the Burma campaign in general and the forgotten army, and secondly, I couldn't find anything that had been written about army medicine during that period, so I thought I would draw it all together," he said.

Dr Black returned to the UK in 1947, and worked at the University College Hospital, then at Great Ormond Street. He became a consultant paediatrician was worked in Glasgow and Sheffield before retiring to Framlingham 20 years ago.

Rather a Mixed Crowd is published by Sessions of York, and is priced £5.40. UK post and packaging costs £1.80.

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