This remarkable leaflet was dropped from US planes to Allied PoWs on Japan following the surrender of the Japanese.
Many had been prisoners for almost four years.
Les Spence was a remarkable man who kept an astonishing journal.
For almost four years he risked his life to keep a daily record of hardship, courage and endurance in prison camps run by the Japanese.
He and his fellow prisoners faced starvation, disease and cruelty. They kept up their spirits by playing sport, listening to an illicit radio and by trying to create their own civilised society behind barbed wire.
Throughout the suffering in Java, a perilous journey in the hold of an infamous hellship and the horrors of a forced labour camp in Japan, Les Spence kept writing.
He spent much of his time in a coal mining camp near Nagasaki. There, he was able to record one of the most momentous events in history: the dropping of the plutonium bomb on the city.
We had uneventful train journey to Nagasaki and then we saw the result of the atomic bomb. It was simply astounding, nothing left standing for miles, everything flat and burnt out.
Covering the period from January 1942 to November 1945, the diaries have been annotated to create a record of the Allied forces who many feel were sacrificed on Java.
Les Spence’s work is a first-hand account of how to hold onto hope when all seems lost.
Now the subject of a major new screenplay (The Snows of Japan), the book is available in hardback and on Kindle from here.
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:
“Moving and magnificent in its reportage, this is a war story with a difference. The very gut-wrenching rawness of Les Spence’s diary is a reminder of an area of World War Two almost forgotten: the battle for Java and the sacrifice that followed. This is one of those books that once you start you can’t forget it. These secret diaries have been lovingly edited to provide a firsthand account of the rigours of being a prisoner of a cruel enemy is superbly evoked.”
Gordon Thomas, author of ‘Voyage of the Damned’, ‘Inside British Intelligence’ and ‘Gideon’s Spies’
“A remarkable testament to courage and endurance in the face of hardship and cruelty – and a firsthand account of how to hold on to hope when all seems lost.”
“A remarkable wartime document.”
South Wales Echo
“These remarkable diaries cover the period from January 1942 to November 1945, and are a testament to one POW’s moving story.”
Britain at War magazine, September 2012
From Amazon: “My grandfather was in the same camp as Les Spence (Camp 8B @ Inatsuki). He told me stories about his time in camp, but [this] book has provided additional insight into the fear, hope, and dreams of these prisoners. Its value lies in the fact that it is a first hand account (actual diary that was retained by Les Spence throughout his imprisonment) of the day-by-day blows experienced by this POW.”
When the Allies declared Victory in Europe the war in the Far East was still raging.
On June 22, 1945, American forces took the Japanese island of Okinawa after three months of bloody fighting. Fifty thousand Americans had been killed, wounded or become missing in action. Around 110,000 Japanese soldiers had died.
On August 6, 1945, the atom bomb was used on the city of Hiroshima.
It was followed by a second bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. It was a plutonium bomb and it exploded at 11.02am local time.
That same day the Japanese Supreme War Direction Council met to discuss the proposal for unconditional surrender which had been made by the Allies in the Potsdam agreement. The council could not agree on a decision.
Emperor Hirohito then met in private with Prime Minister Suzuki and his Foreign Minister Togo, before gathering together his generals. It was now the early hours of August 10. The Emperor tried to persuade his generals to accept the terms of the surrender.
Eventually during the day the Japanese informed the Allies that they would give in.
On August 14 it was announced that the Emperor would made a proclamation to his people. This angered some Japanese soldiers who marched on the Imperial Palace to prevent transmission of the speech.
They failed. The following day Hirohito spoke to the people of Japan. In light of the two atomic bombs he used remarkable understatement when he said: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”
He added that if they continued to fight it would cause the “obliteration of the Japanese nation”.
On September 2, 1945, the Japanese Foreign Minister and Chief of Staff signed the nation’s capitulation. They were standing on board the United States battleship Missouri, which was anchored in Tokyo Bay.
The document was then signed by General Douglas MacArthur and representatives of all the Allied states.
The war was over. The task of rebuilding a peace had begun.
What stories could simple objects tell? What have they seen? What hands have held them?
Among my collection I have this RAF mug from the years before World War 2.
It features an engraved message: “Presented to Officers Mess, Calshot, by Squadron Leader The Rev. R.N Shapley, March 1936”.
In truth, when I first bought it I knew nothing about Ronald Norman Calshot or Shapley. I’ve done a little research, but am always meaning to do a lot more. I’m quite sure there will be people reading this article who know more about them than me.
Calshot, which is situated near Southampton, in England, was initially established as a Royal Flying Corps base in 1913. It was taken over by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) during the First World War and became an RAF station on the formation of the service in 1918.
It was a seaplane and flying boat station, and was officially renamed as RAF Calshot in February 1922.
Calshot was home to the High Speed Flight as it prepared for the Schneider Trophy competitions in 1927, 1929 and finally 1931. Wikipedia states that Aircraftsman Shaw, also known as T.E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, was detached to Calshot to help with the 1929 Schneider races.
During the 1930s, Calshot continued its development and training role. It featured a Navigation School (until January 1936). Squadrons based there included 201, which flew Supermarine Southampton flying boats and later Saro Londons. 201 Sq would have been there when the RAF mug was presented.
But what of Shapley? I found the following references in Flight Magazine:
December 15, 1927: Rev. R. N. Shapley is granted short service commn. as Chaplain, with relative rank of Sqdn.-Ldr. (November 11). To RAF depot Uxbridge.
April 24, 1931: The Rev. R. N.Shapley, M.C., A.K.C., is granted a permanent comm. (March 19).
December 25, 1931: Revd. R. N. Shapley, M.C. A.K.C., to No. 5 Flying Training School, Sealand ; 6.12.31.
October 19, 1933: vice Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C. Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C., to Station H.Q., Boscombe Down, 9.10.33, for duty as Chaplain (C. of E.) at Boscombe Down and Netheravon.
May 24, 1934: Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C. Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C., to R.A.F. Base, Calshot,9.5.34 for duty as Chaplain (C. of E.)
January 13, 1938: N. Shapley, M.C., to Headquarters, R.A.F., Palestine and Transjordan, Jerusalem, 22.11.37.
The mug is dated March 1936, a couple of months before Shapley took up his role as chaplain to Calshot. And he was gone from Calshot at the end of 1937. What then?
The website of the Gordonians, an association for former pupils of The Gordon Boys’ Home, The Gordon Boys’ School and Gordon’s School, in Surrey, lists Shapley as being twice chaplain to the school: between 1923 and 1927 and between 1947 and 1949. It says he was later Bishop of Windward Islands. That sounds like another interesting posting!
I am, of course, intrigued by the reference to the Military Cross in the Flight Magazine listings.
What did he get this for? And when?
Wikipedia gives some biographical information but not about the medal. Its link to The Times says Shapley died on St Lucia and left £13,743. He died in December 1964.
But, again, nothing about the medal.
Wikipedia says he served with the London Regiment during the First World War. I am certain this when he won his Military Cross. But was he a chaplain then? He was not ordained until 1920.
It’s just a mug, I know. An inanimate object which, although it cannot speak, poses so many questions.