Nagasaki: It was simply astounding, nothing left standing for miles, everything flat and burnt out.

Sgt Major Les Spence
Sgt Major Les Spence

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.

From Java To Nagasaki
From Java To Nagasaki

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.”
Western Mail

“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.”

From the Bomb to the Surrender

 

US Marines on Okinawa
                             US Marines on Okinawa

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.

Hiroshima
                                         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.”

Emperor Hirohito
                                Emperor Hirohito

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 Japanese delegation arrives to sign the surrender on board the USS Missouri
The Japanese delegation arrives to sign the surrender on board the USS Missouri

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.

 

A small object from history poses questions about a bravery medal

DSC_0178What 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.

Inscription: to the Officers' Mess at RAF Calshot
Inscription: to the Officers’ Mess at RAF Calshot

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.

What is the story behind Shapley's Military Cross?
What is the story behind Shapley’s Military Cross?

 

Classic paperbacks#7… Navarone revisited…

The Guns of Navarone
      The Guns of Navarone

Could not resist ending on this version of The Guns of Navarone (see also #3).

It made me chuckle.

Great cover. But in the book the raiders don’t climb the cliff on Navarone in German uniform, do they?

And, when they do, there is a storm raging. This German soldier is making the climb in the blazing sunshine.

I wonder if the photo is actually a genuine one from WW2?

Classic paperbacks#5: The Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle Has Landed
The Eagle Has Landed

A truly wonderful book which has thrilled since its first appearance in 1975.

Although the author had been already writing for many years, The Eagle Has Landed established Jack Higgins as one of the great thriller writers of the modern day.

His is a style I absolutely love.

The film starring Michael Caine came out the following year.

The above is the paperback version I first read in the early 1980s.

As a bonus here is the original cover:

TheEagleHasLanded

Classic paperbacks #4: Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare
        Where Eagles Dare

The novel version of Alistair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare is not all that it seems.

It’s a classic thriller made into an explosion-filled, action-packed film.

Well, not quite.

In fact, the book started out as the film.

Producer Elliott Kastner approached MacLean directly and asked him for an original script.

MacLean wrote the script and then the book to coincide with the movie’s release.

Years later, Kastner remember the moment he first approached the author.

“I rang Alistair MacLean at his home in Surrey, and told him that I would really like to meet with him.  He refused; he didn’t wanna meet without my telling him more details.  So I told him:  I wanted him to consider writing an original story, directly for the screen.  There was a moment of silence, followed by ‘Hmm, nobody ever asked me that before…’

“ ‘So’, he said, ‘What is it you want?’  ‘I want a team of five or six guys on a mission in the Second World War, facing enormous obstacles.  I want a mystery.  I want a sweaty, exciting adventure movie.’  That’s all I told him, just that.”

And in the book and film that is exactly what we got!

Classic paperbacks#2: The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai was first published in 1952.

Its writer, French-born Pierre Boulle, had been a prisoner of the Japanese during WW2. He used his experiences as a background to the book.

Interestingly, the original English translation of the French title of the book was The Bridge over the River Kwai. This appears to have been changed after the appearance of the David Lean film.

A week of classic paperbacks: The Dam Busters #1

The Dam Busters
             The Dam Busters

Celebrating great books and their covers.

These are the classic paperbacks many of us grew up with.

I used to scour second hand book shops for them. I’d often end up with two or three versions of the same book.

Kicking off seven days of classic books – all with a WW2 flavour – here is The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill. 

It was originally published in 1951 and was the first of dozens, if not hundreds, of books about the raid on the Ruhr dams.

Brickhill had been a fighter pilot, who had been shot down and imprisoned in Stalag Luft III. His first book, The Great Escape, was about events at that camp.