VJ Burma rail infographic
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VJ Burma rail

July 15, 1995 - Surrender of Japan after six years of war. Graphic shows locomotive Singapore, Burma-Siam railway, and conditions of Prisoners of War who built it.

GRAPHIC NEWS - As the anniversary of VJ Day and the end of World War II approaches, memories of the horrors endured by allied troops fighting the war or held captive in the Far East are vividly recalled.

Captured alongside British, Dutch and Australian servicemen at the fall of Singapore in February 1942 was a small train, a standard gauge steam locomotive called ‘Singapore’. Built by Hawthorn Leslie in Newcastle, she had been shipped out to the Royal Naval Dockyard in 1936. During the attacks on the docks the locomotive sustained bullet and shrapnel damage – marks still visible today – and was then put to work in the docks for the Japanese until the end of the war, a fate shared with many British servicemen from the East Midland, East Anglian and Lancashire regiments, who had arrived in Singapore just days before the city fell.

Japanese custom held that it was better to commit suicide rather than surrender and regarded their prisoners with contempt, keeping them in appalling conditions in the notorious Changi jail, in labour camps, or forcing them to work on the infamous Burma-Siam railway, where so many died it is claimed each sleeper along the line represents a life lost. Some 16,000 servicemen and more than 100,000 native workers perished.

As the tide of war turned against the Japanese, orders were given that in the event of allied invasion all surviving prisoners of war were to be eliminated. Only Japan’s sudden surrender after the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 saved them from certain death. Ex-prisoners find it impossible to forget or to forgive but are determined that the courage and sacrifice of those who did not survive should never be forgotten.

Emaciated, many physically and mentally scarred for life, the prisoners were repatriated from September 1945 but it was not until 1953 that their fellow captive ‘Singapore’ returned to Britain, where she shunted goods in the Royal Navy Dockyard in Chatham until sold for preservation in 1972. The locomotive was acquired by the Rutland Railway Museum in 1990. In 1986 ‘Singapore’ was honoured by the Federation of Far Eastern Prisoners of War and now carries the FEPOW crest on its cabside, together with the British and Australian flags. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fall of Singapore in 1992 the train was loaned to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, where she has remained for three and a half years – a tribute to the period the prisoners endured before liberation. Survivors of the ‘Railway of Death’ met at Duxford on the 50th anniversary of the completion of the railway in October 1993, and the engine was steamed in their honour.

It is hoped that ‘Singapore’ will remain operational well into the next century as a working memorial to the prisoners of war in the Far East but to do so she needs major boiler repairs. Rutland Railway Museum is appealing for donations to raise £40,000 towards the cost of the repairs using the FEPOW motto, ‘to keep going the spirit that kept us going’ as its slogan.

VJ Day will see the locomotive decked in bunting and victory regalia before heading home to Rutland in time for the anniversary of the liberation of Singapore. She will attend a memorial service organised by FEPOW associations at Bassingbourn Barracks, Royston, on August 20 and will take pride of place during three steam open days at Rutland over the August Bank Holiday, August 26-28, where survivors and their families will be offered free admission to meet an old friend.

Sources: Rutland Railway Museum, Federation of Far Eastern Prisoners of War

You can help by sending any donations, large or small, towards the ‘Singapore’ boiler repairs to the Treasurer, Singapore Locomotive Appeal Fund, c/o Flaxfield Cottage, Whissendine Road, Ashwell, Oakham, Rutland, Leics. For further information contact Mr DM Atkinson, tel 01223 317617 (work) or 01480 460147 (home).

PUBLISHED:7/7/1995; STORY: Julie Hacking
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