Suffering and survival: the captive body during the Second World War

Stanley Gimson, Kanyu Riverside Camp: Dysentery Ward (1943) © IWM (Art.IWM ART 16893)

Private Geoffrey Monument was serving with the Royal Army Service Corps when he was captured at the fall of Singapore, 15 February 1942. He would spend the next three and half years in captivity at Changi, Haito in Formosa (today’s Taiwan) and various camps in Japan. Monument wrote poetry in a diary and notebooks that he kept secret during his time as a prisoner and these are now held in IWM’s collections.

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Cataloguing prisoner of war collections

Letter from King George VI welcoming returning prisoners of war from the Far East. © IWM (MH 27887)

IWM holds a vast collection of documents telling the stories of the men who were held captive by the Japanese during the Second World War. The collection includes diaries, memoirs, photographs, artworks and oral history interviews, and all of these resources are invaluable in helping historians, researchers, families and members of the public to learn about the day-to-day experiences of the men who were prisoners of war.

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Rod Suddaby

Rod Suddaby at a FEPOW round table meeting hosted by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine on 15 February 2010 (detail from a photograph by Nick Parkes). Photograph by permission of Meg Parkes.

‘Never stray too far from your sources’. This was the invaluable guidance of Rod Suddaby whom I had the privilege to have as my PhD co-supervisor for the last two years of his life – focusing on the stories of Far Eastern prisoners of war (POWs).

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Prisoners of War on the Sumatra Railway

A engraving from the Sumatra railway memorial. Amanda Farrell.

February this year saw the seventieth anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 15th of that month 1942. Between June of that year and October 1943, over 60,000 Allied troops would be forced to labour as prisoners of war (POWs) on the Burma-Thailand railway.  It is not so popularly known, however, that after this a second ‘Death Railway’ project was overseen by many of the same Japanese engineers. This second railway was built on the island of Sumatra, and its construction involved nearly 5,000 Allied POWs.

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