Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sepia Saturday Update

A little more internet searching discovered a few more facts about my father's time as a prisoner and the men who signed the page in his bible.

Several of them -probably all- were members of the Pudu Fellowship, a Christian group formed in prison. Rev. Noel Duckworth was the president, Rev. Burr Baughman, an American, was the vice president and Alan Kirk, the secretary. I knew the group existed: my father was a member and I've still got his membership card. (Interestingly, after the war he became an out-and-out atheist).

In his book The Naked Island, an Australian account of life as a prisoner, Russell Braddon describes a group of religious fanatics (not to be confused with the Pudu Fellowship):

In Pudu a small group (very small) became fanatically religious and convinced themselves that all ills could be cured solely by faith. Part of their way of life consisted of calling everyone even the most improbable types "brother": part in praying vociferously and fervently at all sorts of unexpected times (during the course of which praying they banged their foreheads on the gaol's concrete floors with thuds that were quite distressing) : and part in refusing even such little medical treatment as was available.

Since they all had ulcers and dysentery, it was a fine point of gaol ethics whether they should be  forcibly treated or allowed to pursue their own path of prayer, which on specified dates was to be followed by miraculous cures. When the cult showed no signs of spreading it was generally accepted that they were entitled to their own point of view. And when a month, later the last of the small group died (the requisite miracle on the appointed day having failed to materialize), religious fanaticism vanished forever from prisoner-of-war life as I saw it.


It has been suggested that this was a description of the Pudu Fellowship. This is certainly not the case. Quite a few members of the fellowship survived the war. Not only this, but accounts of the doings of group members hardly tally with Braddon's description - in particular, the stalwart behaviour of Rev. Duckworth, the leader of the group, and a man who Braddon considered to be one of the two most inspiring men in the prison. There was very little paper to be had. When fellow prisoners asked if it would alright to roll their tobacco in pages torn from the bible, Duckworth told them that it was alright, so long as they read the page first! He invented a fictional intelligence contact who -everyone thought- relayed him positive news about the war. He was evidently a strong character who helped keep many of his fellow prisoners going. Before the war, he had been cox in the winning Cambridge boat in the 1934 boat race.




When my father returned home after the war, the Sleaford Gazette covered his experiences with that unintended irony so typical of British local papers:


The article which follows is an improvement on the crassness of the headline, and is perhaps the best account I have of my father's wartime experiences (click to enlarge):


22 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

What an interesting account of your father's experiences and involvement with this 'sect'. Did he involve the family when he got out? I can relate to a lot of what you describe about their practices having grown up as a Jehovah's Witness. None of their expectations ever materialize either. My mother died waiting and my sister still believes and waits. So sad.

Dominic Rivron said...

He wasn't a member of the sect (I've just tightened up the text a bit to make that clearer!). He was a member of the more mainstream Pudu Fellowship. When he got out, he became an atheist.

I have met a few Witnesses. I've never felt the slightest urge to join them and I'm still no closer understanding why they believe what they believe.

Poetikat said...

Thanks for sharing this update Dominic. I was particularly interested in the Gazette article that gives you so much information about your father's experience in his own words. I wish I had something like that. My father was in Singapore and Malaya and Hong Kong. He served in the British Army for 11 years. We tried endlessly to get him to write down his experiences - he was always marking personal anniversaries and now I have no record of any of them.
God, the horrors your father endured and witnessed! I'm amazed that he could find anything "comical"- even the dive-bombing of the aerodrome, but then, it's probably that attitude that kept him alive, isn't it?

By the way, as I write this, "The Great Escape" is playing in HD on our T.V. Once you watch five minutes of it, you're hooked!

Kat

Dick said...

Absolutely fascinating, Dominic, both posts. What a wayward slice of history!

Elisabeth said...

The story unfolds and more and more details reveal a more complex experience. This is fascinating, Dominic. i admire your tenacity in finding out your father's story. It needs to be told and remembered.

the watercats said...

These posts are fascinating! I can't even begin to imagine what men like your father went through.. that particular moment in history seems such an un-real thing to those of us who weren't physically part of it. I always find it ironic how war seems to bring out both the best and worst aspects of human nature...
Thanks for sharing!

Martin H. said...

There's nothing quite like original documents and newspaper cuttings for bringing a story to life. I have been enthralled by this account of your father's experiences.

John Hayes said...

What a harrowing story. The bit about the religious sect is also quite interesting.

The Weaver of Grass said...

That picture which illustrates the article in the Gazette is still around somewhere in the family Dominic, but I am not sure where.
As for your dad's wartime experiences - I am sure they did colour his whole life but I do think his extreme youth helped him - he was only seventeen when he was captured. Also amongst his contemporaries, some of them seemed to rise above it for the rest of their life - others went under - I think you would agree that your Dad rose well above it although of course he never forgot it.
Incidentally - for many years your dad was a member of the Humanist Society - I think he just let his membership lapse - but that was always his line of thinking.

Sorlil said...

Really interesting, Dominic. Did you know much about your father's war experiences while you were growing up?

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everybody! The odd specific thought:

poetikat: It's a shame you can't find someone who knew him when he was a soldier.

watercats: It brings out the worst and the best and, tragically, I think some people of my dad's generation (not my dad) were, from what they say, only truly fulfilled when they were taking part in the war. It's not that they had particularly violent tendencies or anything, but it allowed them to step outside the humdrum. It suggests we need to make peace more interesting!

Dominic Rivron said...

weaver of grass: I'm not sure where it is, either. I have a feeling it used to hang in his mother's room in the home she was in. It's only a vague thought, though. I'm sure I've seen it on a wall somewhere...

sorlil: Not a lot, but he did tell stories. He didn't dwell on it, and he got on with his life.

I remember him once trying to eat rice and being unable to swallow it.

They used to make up operettas to amuse themselves, putting silly words to military band tunes, and he would sing snatches from time to time.

He once told me they were all given half a cigar and a glass of saki at Christmas. Not being a smoker, he did a swop and ended up with 2 sakis. In his emaciated state they made him paralytically drunk and he was thought to be dead. Fortunately, a passing doctor correctly diagnosed his condition!

He told me that Lord Mountbatten said "well done, lad" to him as he was stretchered onto a troop ship at the end.

Get Off My Lawn! said...

This beats the hell out of the story of my grandfather possibly being a bastard of the Horsenet clan. And with more evidence.

Rachel Fenton said...

It's amazing he survived. I can't get over how matter of fact the article is.

willow said...

Fascinating stuff. Interesting that your father became an atheist after returning from the war.

BarbaraS said...

Wow - what a great thing to have the newsprint article still as well as all the pieces of paper. They'll become more valuable as time goes on.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

fascinating read and wow, your late father's experiences-wow; thanks for the update on the previous post.

your remark about your father's later 'conversion' to atheism puts an interesting spin on the notion 'that there are no atheists in foxholes'

to endure prison it is good to have a community obviously the pudu fellowship served this function....and helped provide strength to endure

kimber the wolfgrrrl said...

This is absolutely fascinating -- thank you for sharing your research and your father's experiences. I find family histories engrossing because they breathe life into dusty dates and distant facts.

tony said...

An Uncle of Mine was in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp During WW2. By all accounts, "he was never the same man afterwards" (hardly surprising!)But he remained tight-lipped about his experiences.Your post sheds light on him as well.

A Cuban In London said...

This is one of those posts that surpasses the personal anecdote. You have given a history lesson to a history addict. I also read your previous post 'Sepia Saturday' and was enthralled. Many thanks. This is one of the joys of blogging, learning about each other's backgrounds.

And as for the - alleged - British identity crisis, you're quite right. I stand corrected. It's mainly south of the Scottish border and east of the Welsh one. In my defense, I will say that I try to use the word 'British' instead of 'English' as much as I can so as not to cause offence. :-) But you're definitely right.

Greetings from London.

Nishant said...

He was a member of the more mainstream Pudu Fellowship. When he got out, he became an atheist.

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