First book about WWII POWs in Taiwan to be published

Hundreds of people on Sunday gathered at the site of the former Kinkaseki POW Camp in Jinguashi, New Taipei City as Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society held the 20th Remembrance Day service to pay tributes to former POWs who had suffered or perished in Taiwan. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) – The 20-year efforts to recover the once “little-known” history of prisoners of war (POW) captured by Japan during World War II and interned in POW camps on Taiwan has borne fruits as a book about their stories is to come out next year.

Hundreds of people on Sunday gathered at the site of the former Kinkaseki POW Camp in Jinguashi, New Taipei City as Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society held the 20th Remembrance Day service to pay tributes to former POWs who had suffered or perished in Taiwan.

Greeting the family members of those POWs was the typical damp weather for northeastern Taiwan. Ann Buckles, whose father Frederick West was with Royal Engineers of British Army, told CNA that retracing her father footsteps let her feel what he went through.

“We were here in the rainy day, but they had to work in the rain,” said Buckles, who came to Taiwan on behalf of her father who spent three years as POW after being captured in Singapore in 1942. “It’s so good to know where he was so I can visualize it all now.” Buckles said she never heard anything about POW camps from her father and she thought that “it was just too horrible for them to say.” However, the history should not be forgotten, Buckles said. “We must never forget what they have done. They shaped our whole future. Britain wouldn’t be a country if they hadn’t fought the war. We owed them so much,” Buckles said.

Nick Beecroft, 57, from England, said his father said “almost nothing” about his experience in POW camps, “apart from humorous anecdotes.” His father Thomas Beecroft was also captured in Singapore and enslaved in various POW camps in Taiwan.

“Somehow, I didn’t like to ask. It seemed like intrusion on his pain,” Nick Beecroft said when he recalled his father was enjoying his work in insurance business after the war. “He was painful to speak about it, and also he wanted to move on with life.” Nick Beecroft came with his son Charles Beecroft who initiated the idea. “I never met him, but being here today made me feel so close to him,” Charles Beecroft told CNA.

According to Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society, over 4,350 Allied POWs were held in 16 POW camps in Taiwan from 1942 to 1945 and more than 10 percent of the POWs died in captivity from starvation, sickness, overwork and beatings by cruel guards.

The dark history was hardly known until information about Kinkaseki POW camp came to light in 1996. The next year, Michael Hurst, a Canadian expat in Taiwan and director of the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society, began to organize efforts to restore the history.

In her reading at the service, Fiorelle Amore, granddaughter of George Ferguson who was with 5th Field Regiment Royal Artillery of British Army, said that all POWs have a common wish to pass along to future generations – please remember them.

Amore said that her grandfather passed away when she was 14 or 15 years old. She said that her family could only piece together information they obtained from his friends to know what might have happened to him.

Over the past 20 years, Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society has located all the 16 camps and contacted more than 500 former Taiwan POWs and their family members for the “little-known” stories to finally be told, Hurst said.

“Now those wonderful men who thought no one cared about them, no one loved them, no one appreciated what they have done and suffered here, they now know for sure that they have not and will not ever be forgotten,” Hurst said at the ceremony.

Hurst told CNA that when he started the work, the history was unknown in the United Kingdom and even in the United States. “Because when they went home from the war, the British and the American government told them not to talk about it.” Hurst said that he has amassed a large collection of sources from family members of POWs, including diaries, transcriptions of diary, notes, etc. and he has been working on a book about the history of Taiwan POW camps, expecting to publish it next year.

After the English version is published next year, Hurst said they will have it translated into Chinese eventually because one of the goals of Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society is to help Taiwanese people know about the history.

The book could be the first one about the history of Taiwan POWs.

Speaking on behalf the Commonwealth and Allied countries at the ceremony, Representative of Australian Office Catherine Raper, said Remembrance Day is an opportunity to remember all the history and to recall the courage and the sacrifice of those who will continue to preserve democracy and freedom.

“It’s our duty and our honor to remember” and to pass the remembrance on to the next generation, Raper said.

Director of the New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office Moira Turley, British Office Taipei Representative Catherine Nettleton, and Director of American Institute in Taiwan Kin Moy also joined the service in honor of the veterans. They joined family members of POWs in laying wreaths on the memorial to conclude the ceremony.

By Shih Hsiu-chuan