The book begins on February 14, 1942 with the memoirs of Captain Pilkington who was in the Alexandra Military Hospital in Singapore, recuperating from having been shot in the shoulder. He writes that he was living in a world of fever and pain, but little did he know, as he wrote in his diary, that worse, much worse, was to come.
What stands out from reading this book, is that no matter the privations and cruelty, the POWs still managed to put on a brave face. As well as cholera and dysentery, the POWs also suffered with beri-beri, lice, scabies and bed bugs, tropical ulcers, diphtheria and malaria. “No more gallant action was fought in the war than that of our desperately sick men, against death. Day after day they willed themselves to live, knowing their chances were almost non-existent.”
Captain Pilkington was an avid book-keeper as he has the prices of all items noted, right down to the final cent. It also was interesting that the POWs were actually paid a “wage” and from that had to buy their own food. I must admit, I had never thought of their existence in that way. However, they were very skilled at growing crops wherever they were stationed.
I have never been a war buff. My father was also a POW, but I do not hold grudges. It is the Geneva Convention that has me flummoxed. The “It is OK to kill someone today, but because of some circumstances, not tomorrow,” concept, is a situation that cannot morally be defended.
The final chapter is emotionally heart-rending, and it should be taken slowly, there is so much emotion between the lines.
Writing and researching this book was obviously a watershed for author Stu Lloyd who admitted at the end of it all, “…after years of vacillating ambiguity - I am now firmly, undeniably, resolutely anti-war.” He went further, writing, “Every gravestone is not just a casualty or statistic: it is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s flesh and blood, a bundle of hopes and dreams cruelly and prematurely dashed.”
This book will also make you look at yourself and your own attitudes. It should be made compulsory reading for all teenagers, of all nationalities and religious persuasions. We are all capable of atrocities, but surely we can keep that side of our characters under control? However, when I read about Iraq and Afghanistan I have to say we cannot. This grieves me.
Stu Lloyd’s book records a major milestone in the history of WW II. Asia Books is handling distribution, so it may also appear in Bookazine.