Saturday, 6 February 2010

Sepia Saturday


This is a page from a a bible carried by my father throughout the Second World War. He was a prisoner of the Japanese. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll quote from my mother's blog (I'm sure she won't mind):
My late husband, Dominic Rivron's father, was what used to be known as a Boy Soldier - he was recruited into the East Surrey Regiment in 1938 as a flautist in the band. For reasons I shall not go into here, he was almost immediately sent to Shanghai with his regiment, so that at this very young age he witnessed indescribable cruelty when the Japanese invaded China. For instance he saw the Nanking rebellion with all its awful happenings. Then in 1941 he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and for the rest of the war he lived in terrible conditions in the jungles of Thailand - and worked on the Kwai bridge and also the Death Railway.

When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and then shortly afterwards on Nagasaki, the war came to an end. At the time he was near to death with cerebral malaria. His discharge certificate cites malaria, pelagra, beri-beri, cholera, typhoid and a host of other reasons for his discharge. Immediately aid was flown in to his remote jungle camp he was airlifted to Bangalore in India to a specialist hospital, where he remained seriously ill for months. But he recovered.
He always said that the dropping of the bombs probably saved his life, because although we were winning the war anyway, the episode probably shortened the war by a few weeks - enough to save his life.

However, we were both members of CND at the time of the Aldermaston marches - and he was totally against nuclear weapons.

I've tried searching the internet for the legible names. So far I've found information on LV Headley, HC Babb, and Noel Duckworth. There is an interesting page about Rev. Headley here, which includes a number of photographs he took with a Leica. He buried the camera and retrieved it later.

HC Babb was captured at the fall of Singapore. After the war, he was a key member of a team who retraced the route of the Burma-Siam railway, identifying the 10,500 burial places of the POWs who died building it. He co-authored the book, First Reconnaissance of the Burma-Siam Railway. A photocopy of his diary is kept in the Imperial War Museum Archive.

There is an interesting reminiscence about Noel Duckworth here. He seems to have been quite a charismatic figure.


Sorlil said...

Really interesting, it's hard to imagine what your father went through and also interesting that he was against nuclear weapons.

Rachel Fox said...

One of the things that is amazing about these terrible times and true stories is that some people do survive - despite it all.

Elisabeth said...

Dominic, I always find stories about war distressing, especially stories about the second world war. It seems so close to home.

How did your father cope afterward, I wonder? The level trauma that he must have suffered is probably indescribable.

My own father suffered horribly during the war. He would not talk about it, but I have no doubt that it made things far worse for him, as it must do for anyone who undergoes service in any war, on any side.

The photo of your father's bible is very moving.

Thanks for this, Dominic.

Martin H. said...


One of the most interesting stories I've read for a long time. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you.

Poet in Residence said...

My father who was with the RAF in India and Ceylon during the war always spoke highly of those young soldiers who were in the Eastern theatre.
It was interesting to see the sepia photos on the link. Amazing that they survived.

Totalfeckineejit said...

It never ceases to amaze mehow humans can endure.I don't think I would. Great family history there Dominic and not a distant relation but your own father.

Poetikat said...

I recently read Kazuo Ishiguro's book, "We Were Orphans" which is set in Shanghai at the time of the Japanese invasion. Prior to reading it, I had no real idea of what went on. I had however, been exposed to many war films as a kid and "Bridge on the River Kwai" was one that I saw over and over again. I can imagine what your father must have lived through, if Lean's film is anything to go by.
My father was a Boy-soldier as well, but fortunately, he didn't not join up until very late in the war and as a result, did not see any front-line action.
It must have been a hard road back for your dad-both mentally and physically.
Thanks for sharing this.
The picture of the bible evokes a time we can only imagine, doesn't it?


The Weaver of Grass said...

It is nice to give your father an airing on your blog two days after the nineteenth anniversary of his death Dom. Of the names there Burr Boughman (might have spelt it wrongly) was a great influence on your dad as was Paul Millar (who after the war became Queen's Chaplain) but perhaps the greatest influence was Noel Duckworth, who later became chaplain at Pocklington School. Your dad painted a picture of the jungle church in Thailand, which used to hang in Duckworth's church in Hull after the war. I wonder if it is still there - I think it was called The Church of the Transfiguration.
During their time as prisoners, many POW's sold individiual pages of their Bibles in order to make cigarette papers (the pages were thin) but your dad never did this - the cover is stuck together with rice I believe. Lovely post - thank you for posting it (your Mum)

Lyn said...

Some are called upon to sacrifice beyond imagination, and are somehow given the strength..great love and appreciation to your father for having endured..
and such a beautiful seems to have special powers..

Barry said...

I found this post really interesting. To think that he worked on the bridge at the River Kwai!

I remember reading James Clavell's novel King Rat about the Japanese prison camps. What a nightmare time.

Betsy said...

That is really an amazing story. And love the page from the Bible, too. It's a miracle he lived through all of that. Welcome to sepia saturday :)

Sorlil said...

p.s. I'm really glad you've got rid of the snow, it was always a struggle trying to download your page!!

MuseSwings said...

It's amazing that both your father and the Bible survived! What an amazing story!

Stephanie said...

Wow, that brings WWII up close and personal. Fascinating.

willow said...

This is so rich with historical intrigue! I just watched a documentary last week about two WWII vets who hid items, thinking at a later date, they could return and find them. One in an attic in Austria, and the other buried on an island in the South Pacific. Neither could find their hidden treasures. It's amazing all the things that were buried for safe keeping.

Get Off My Lawn! said...

Hard to think of having to live with the knowledge that dropping a nuke on a city saved my life. And probably others. I don't know how that would have affected me. Probably made me work les and spend more time with family. At least I hope that's what it would do. I should go now and go for a walk with my daughter.

John Hayes said...

An amazing story. My dad also served in the Pacific in World War II & was slated for the invasion of Japan, which didn't occur because of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombs. My father was pretty much permanently scarred by the war--I've no doubt he suffered from PTSD for the rest of his life--& his experiences were nothing compared to your father's. & thanks to the Weaver of Grass for telling the story so clearly, & including all the consequences & ramifications.

L. D. Burgus said...

What a story you have written here. It is amazing how the body takes such horrible things and yet will rebuild itself. He saw some very awful things and finishing in prison for so long was so hopeless. I am glad there are people that can write the story to help honor his sacrifice.

Susan at Stony River said...

Amazing, what he overcame, at such a young age. My father fought in the Pacific theatre also, mostly in the Philippines and South Pacific, won a few medals and never, ever, ever, spoke a word about it after he came home.

Rachel Fenton said...

Nanking is a key date in the novel I'm writing - just wrote a reference to it actually so this was a bit twilight zone for me - the point I am making with it in my book is how recent all of these atrocities were, how tangible - in so much as we could know people who were there and that's something that needs to be thought about. These are not memories, this is living, here and now.

It is very moving to read about your father like this and for something as fragile as a little book of bible paper (and we know how thin those pages are) to have survived what many men and minds could not.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everybody.

Elisabeth asked, how did he cope? Very well, considering. He didn't dwell on it and got on with his life. He chose not to get involved in old soldiers networks and organisations. He spoke about it a little, when asked.

He got a job in the prison service teaching painting and decorating. I sometimes wonder if he subconsciously gained security from this.

Dominic Rivron said...

Rachel Fenton: Good point. The older I get the more closer history seems to get. You realise a decade is not a long time, a century... And even things that happened a long time ago are no less terrible for that.

Poetikat said...

Dominic, Glad to see you'll be doing Sepia Saturday again. There's now a dedicated blog that Alan and I have created here:

You can sign up weekly as you decide to participate.


Nishant said...

true stories is that some people do survive - despite it all.

Work From Home

BwcaBrownie said...

That was so special, thank you DR.
How lucky you are to have such unique parents.
The post-war job your father took, teaching (ie helping) people who were imprisoned as he had been, 'speaks volumes'.
Anything about war chokes me totally.
My grandfather a year under fire on the Hindenberg Line 1917, father in RAAF WW2 UK and Germany.
I loved the UK CND marchers I saw on television here in 1963, and in 1965 I joined a 6am army barracks demonstration against the war in Vietnam.