VJ Day memories - How Cyril, 100, lived through ‘hell camp’ and came home to Suffolk
- Credit: Archant
One of the very few surviving Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOWs) marking the 75th anniversary of VJ Day today is Cyril Doy, aged 100, from Southwold.
During the war, he faced a daily struggle for survival in what he describes as a “Japanese hell camp”.
He was in the 6th Battery, Royal Norfolks, and was forced to work on the infamous Railway of Death, made famous by the film Bridge over the River Kwai.
However, in a short piece he has written about his feelings over VJ Day and its aftermath, Mr Doy said the film was “far removed from the reality”.
Mr Doy, who describes himself as “Southwold through and through”, served in Malaya, but, like many others he became a Japanese Prisoner of War (PoW) when Singapore fell.
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He endured a devastating experience as a prisoner for three-and-a-half years until VJ Day. The PoWs did not get back to the UK until November 1945, when they sailed into Liverpool before returning home.
Altogether, about 90,000 Asian labourers and 12,399 Allied prisoners died in the jungles of northern Thailand as a result of the “Death Railway”, a project undertaken by the Japanese military.
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As well as the gruelling heat, they faced near starvation – and Mr Doy was so thin when he arrived back in Lowestoft by train that his father didn’t recognise him.
Hard physical labour and routine beatings were also part of their suffering.
While in the prison camp, Mr Doy kept his spirits up by discovering a few pages of a book about his home town of Southwold, The Testament of Stephen Fane, written by Stephen Critten.
He said: “I had been a prisoner of the Japanese by that time for about two years, I would have thought, and we were all in a bad way of course.
“Of course, not having heard anything from home and not knowing if any of my family were alive or how they were going on, it was quite a pleasure, after all of these thousands of miles, to read something about Southwold.”
One of nine children, Mr Doy has spent his whole life in the town except for his war-time service, living in the same house since 1951.
He and his late wife Joan were married for 71 years until she died 18 months ago.
Mr Doy began his working life as an apprentice compositor at the Southwold Press for seven years until he was called up.
After the war, Mr Doy went back to work as a printer, moving to Beccles Caxton where he spent four years, before taking over his father’s corn and seed merchant business in Southwold High Street and running that for 38 years. He also ran Marshall’s bakery for a few years in the 1960s.
He celebrated his 100th birthday on January 28 with a family get-together followed by a party at the Millennium Hall in Southwold.
Mr Doy says he has received “hope and comradeship” over the years from the Java FEPOW Club. He is keen to ensure that word is spread about the organisation, which now helps all FEPOWs and their families, not just those taken prisoner on Java.
Secretary and welfare officer Margaret Martin is keen to reach any surviving FEPOWs who do not know about the group, as well as their families.
She said: “I always want to find FEPOWs to provide them with welfare support and the camaraderie of their fellows, before it is too late.
“I also support their wives and widows and help their families to know more about the FEPOWs.”
For more information about the Java FEPOW Club, visit their website.
VJ Day and the aftermath
By Far East Prisoner of War Cyril Doy
Over the course of the last 75 years much has been said and written regarding the harrowing stories of Far East POWs that survived the Japanese hell camps which existed throughout the Far East, today’s vast cemeteries bearing irrefutable evidence of the carnage and inhumane atrocities committed by a ruthless, sadistic military regime.
The fictional film The Bridge over the River Kwai gave the viewing public a false picture of life as a FEPOW, far removed from the reality of the appalling conditions endured by POWs and enslaved Asian inhabitants. It is not the intention of this wartime story to enlarge on events that took place 75 years, ago but simply to give an up-to-date version of the lives of FEPOWs still suffering from the effects of their ordeal.
One can only envisage the joyful homecoming reunions after many years of absence. After a long period of rehabilitation it became increasingly evident that many surviving POWs were destined to spend a lifetime of ill health due to their ordeal, a situation that did not escape the attention of many well-intentioned good people, resulting in the founding of many voluntary organizations solely intent in helping to alleviate the situation.
One such organisation that springs to mind is the Java FEPOW Club, bringing hope and comradeship to its members.
Sadly, the passage of time has now reduced membership to a relatively mere handful, leaving existing members expressing their gratitude to two wonderful lady administrators intent on providing help to those in need within the true spirit of ‘Lest We Forget’.
As most FEPOW clubs have closed, ‘The Java Club’ welcomes not only ex-prisoners taken in Java but all ex FEPOW’s and their wives and widows.