Conversation with Mr. Arthur Lane, Far East Prisoner of War

Kinue Tokudome

Hardly a day went by in the past two years without FEPOW (Far East Prisoner of War) Mr. Arthur Lane sending me an email or even a couple of emails. It could be his thoughts on the experience of British POWs of the Japanese, a poem he wrote, a humorous story he wanted to share, a beautiful picture he found, or even music he wanted me to listen to. We became friends without ever meeting in person. Although I always enjoyed our exchange and was grateful for his kind effort to enlighten me on what British POWs went through, I have yet to find the right context in which I could introduce him on my website since it is predominantly about the experiences of American POWs.

I decided to introduce Arthur by way of posting my conversation (via emails) with him in the hope that visitors to my website will be able to see the commonalities between Arthur's experience and that of American POWs and between their feelings today.

Arthur enlisted in1935 at the age of15, joining the Manchester Regiment and served as a machine-gunner and bugler in Egypt, Cyprus, Palestine, Singapore and Malaya. At the capitulation of Singapore on February 15, 1942, he was among the 80,000 British, Australian and Indian troops that became POWs of the Japanese.  He was forced to work on the notorious Thai-Burma Death Railway where thousands of his fellow POWs died.

As a bugler, he sounded the last post over more than 3000 British, Australian, Dutch and even Japanese burials.

He has published sixteen books concerning the war and published twenty-six books on behalf of other former service men and women.

He also assisted in the making of three documentary films, one of which “The Last Post on the River Kwai” followed Arthur and his fellow former POW as they returned to the places where they were forced to work to build the Thai-Burma Death Railway.  
                 
                  
(Arthur walking on the bridge over the Rive Kwai)
 

In 1984, Arthur founded the National Ex Services Association which has since grown into a 2000-member organization.

In his recent book, The Shadows of A Manchester Soldier, he wrote:  

As prisoners of war we felt that we had been led like lambs to the slaughter. However our release from incarceration was even worse. Not one of the trained doctors realized, or had ever experienced, or took the trouble to ask about, the kind of illnesses we had suffered. The examination I received was very much similar to the one when we enlisted!

“Trousers down! Cough! You’re OK! Next.”

Not one bothered to examine the minds of men who had been locked away for close on four years.                    

It is my sincere hope that by introducing Arthur's work and thoughts on this website, I will be able to make a small contribution to his extraordinary efforts to educate people on the history of POWs of the Japanese during WWII. I also hope that those who read his words will realize that former POWs like Arthur are giving us a great gift of living legacy. We may never be able to ease their pain, but we should at least try to listen to and share their stories.


You wrote sixteen books. What motivated you to publish so many books? 

In 1956 I applied for a war pension which was granted on the proviso that I attended for Psychiatric treatment. Part of that treatment was that I should write down as much as possible about my experiences in the army.

I started to write about my military experiences including my time as a prisoner of war.  In 1956 when I produced a one hundred page manuscript in long hand, this was passed around to various newspapers for about two years without success. 

Finally I hid it in the attic where it remained until 1986 when I purchased and managed to use an old typewriting machine using one finger at a time. I produced a two hundred page manuscript originally titled Squaddie. This was later changed by the publisher to “One God Too Many Devils”. Unfortunately the publisher was just another devil who sold all 1500 copies without my receiving one penny in return. 

That is why today I publish books for all former service men and women without charge and why after selling the requisite number of books to pay for the printing. I always give the remainder away to charities. I would rather give away whatever wealth I have rather than have someone steal it.

Looking back, what effect did writing books have on you?

The advice given to me by my psychiatrist, that I should search in my mind and record in writing my knowledge and experience of events in which I had been involved as far back as I could remember, set me on a course of writing I have never imagined was possible.

After producing my first book I resolved to do my utmost to find out the full truth concerning that period in my life which are referred to as being Hell.

Between1970 and 1992, I returned to Singapore and Thailand many times in search of two Japanese war criminals Tanaka and Hashimoto who were engineers who I witnessed killing several men by devious means. At the end of the war, they both escaped to Malaysia where they joined forces with the Communists trying to overthrow the British in Malay. I created a private investigation agency in England to assist me in my endeavors. I finally found both men in 1990 hiding out in Thailand. I went to Thailand and presented my charges at the British Embassy. Unfortunately someone at the embassy informed the Japanese embassy and between them they obtained immunity from the Thai government. Both returned to Japan as heroes which caused me to promise that I would reveal the true story concerning the several war criminals I had been unfortunate to have met. 



Newspaper article on Arthur's pursuit of Japanese war criminals

The continued researching and writing gave me a greater appetite to find out the truth. In doing so it has also opened my eyes and my mind to the fact that there is always an opposite. There is always an answer, and that I should never take anything for granted until all avenues have been examined. While working on my research and other matters I allowed adequate time to investigate the whereabouts of certain war criminals through my friends and associates in the Chinese and Malay communities.  When I received information concerning Tanaka I felt that all my Christmas’ and birthdays had arrived at the same time. Unfortunately I had not allowed for interference from the American influence in Thailand which allowed Tanaka and Hashimoto to go free.

What do you mean?

It was well known that the Americans influence was rife in the Pacific areas whereas the British had no influence whatsoever. My enquiry led to the American Ambassador in Bangkok issuing a bloc immunity to all Japanese and other Asians who were being sought by the British war crime investigators. My attempt to obtain an interview with the American consulate was initially obstructed and then denied. An appeal to the British government received the reply that the matter was the responsibility of the Thailand government, who, without requesting sight of evidence issued an overall immunity.

My thought today are in the form of a reprimand to myself for having wasted so much of my time over the final years, researching and hoping to find an answer.

The only answer I have found so far is that wars are created by men who desire to become some form of God and that people like myself working for them, had assumed that having been told that I was fighting for right and freedom I had accepted it as the truth, until finally I realised that we were all uneducated pawns.

That is a very sad commentary.  But I do not think you wasted your time as I know that your work and books will send a powerful message to future generations.

I had the privilege of interviewing famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in Vienna in 1996. I asked him why it was so important for him to hunt down Nazi war criminals after more than half a century.  He said to me:

I believe it is important for the world to know what they did even if their crimes took place more than fifty years ago. During their trial, newspapers report all the details of what they did and the world pays attention to them. This is what we have to do for our children and their children. I believe that if history repeats itself, it would be the failures of our generation and not those of future generations.

By the way, Mr. Wiesenthal was not interested so much in how severely those Nazi war criminals would be punished. It was more important to him that their crimes be known to future generations. He also considered bringing war criminals to justice as his duty as someone who survived the Holocaust so that the world would not forget victims.  Did you feel the same way?

My reasons were very personal. In the early months building the railway, I had been sent to work for Tanaka who was a qualified engineer. My job was to carry all his surveying equipment and several pieces of wood to be used as markers. After two or three months I was used to his every move and mood. You will read in my book of where he and two or three other prisoners and engineers were lowering themselves down the rock face to drill and place dynamite explosives. One of the Japanese lost his grip and fell down the rock face and into the river below. Several of us managed to reach the man, but Tanaka was not interested in rescuing one of his own men, he shouted for me to get in the water and bring out the equipment the soldier had been carrying.

I have a list of names of men he killed. His special trick was to allow the prisoners to drill holes in to the rock face, place the dynamite and fuses in. Once the fuses had been connected to the main charge, by law and humanity Tanaka was supposed to shout a warning and allow the men to go clear, instead he would run as fast as possible and press the plunger sending cascades of rock showering among the prisoner. Many were injured but two were killed outright.

Arthur looking up where his fellow POWs fell to death along the Thai-Burma Death Railway

Finally two months before the railway was completed he saw some prisoners resting in a cave, just below the blasting position. He blew the fuse with the prisoners inside. At that particular time a very senior Japanese officer was close by. He witnessed the act and ordered Tanaka to leave the project immediately. He was the cause of most of my hate.

What Tanaka did was absolutely deplorable. Tanaka did not kill just one man, he caused the deaths of many men. I would have been prepared to act as a single firing squad at his execution. I wanted to ask him how he felt before I shot him.

At one time I was so angry that I suggested that he should be set on a military shooting range and used as a target. I wished that the Americans would continue the war and massacre all Japanese, not just the military. I was so full of hate. 

My friend in the army Joe Duckworth was killed by the Japanese and Korean guards.  Smoking was not allowed when working. At the time large fires were built so that work could continue through the night.

My friend broke the rules. He asked permission to go to the toilet. While there he created a cigarette and was about to smoke it when the guard caught him. His punishment? The guards and all other Japanese standing around, pushed cigarettes into Joe’s mouth, in his ears and up his nose then demanded he light them from the fire. He hesitated and they prodded him with sticks. He fell face down into the fire. He was dead within seconds.  I lost many friends during the fighting, but that was only to be expected, but to lose a friend in such circumstances was beyond my understanding.
                                                     
Joe Duckworth (left) and Arthur (second from left)

Today I accept that nothing anyone can do will compensate those who are gone and it is only those who are gone who can actually forgive.

Were you involved in seeking an apology and compensation from Japan?

Our attempt at receiving compensation and an apology from the Japanese government was blocked by the British government. Then we found evidence that our government had betrayed us in the 1950s.

Article 26 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan states that should Japan make a peace settlement or war claims settlement with any State granting that state greater advantages than those provided by the San Francisco Treaty, those same advantages shall be extended to the parties to the San Francisco Treaty. After our government signed the San Francisco Treaty, we were paid £76. 

But our government knew that the Japanese government subsequently concluded further Treaties with eleven countries, agreeing and giving actual reparations that were more than each British subject had received. Yet our government decided not to invoke Article 26 of the San Francisco Treaty. The Foreign Office’s memo said, “We should not of course give any publicity to this decision.” A Treasury official also wrote, “Financial Secretary has accepted the conclusion you had reached on general grounds of foreign relations, despite the possibility or domestic political embarrassment in connection with Allied Prisoners of War.”

Having found these documents we made to our government the following claim:

Is it not about time that a neutral researcher investigator is appointed by the Government to examine the betrayal of those men and women who were incarcerated by the Japanese for three and a half years, more than sixty years ago? There are not many of us left, but we still survive each day with the knowledge that we were betrayed before and after the war.  Is it not about time that those in power agree to have the facts examined?

In the year 2000, all Far East prisoners of war received a token compensation of £10,000 paid for by the British Tax payers.

Just last year, the Japanese government finally offered an official apology to American former POWs and started an invitation program for them. The Japanese government had an invitation program for British former POWs and their family members for 15 years until recently. More than 800 British people were invited to Japan. What do you think about the program?

I was never invited and had I been asked I would have refused. I was never a prisoner in Japan so it helps no reconciliation for me. Even today a number of those left, including myself, would shy away from any form of reconciliation. Maybe it is because all through my life I have held the belief that there is no future in trying to rebuild burnt bridges.

But how about building a new bridge?  You have been sharing your thoughts with me for more than two years. I would like to think that you saw some meaning in trying to reach out to me, a Japanese person.

How easy it is to say the words “I forgive you” when referring to a personal enemy.  For myself I was a soldier doing a soldier's job. As such I respected my enemy who was doing exactly the same job. Therefore I have nothing but respect for those Japanese soldiers who respected this code. However once victorious many Japanese soldiers became inhuman in many ways whether by command or self-gratification. I have no idea.

Again it would be easy for me to forgive, except that it should be the victims saying I forgive you, not me. I have nothing to forgive them for, I was just as responsible for the deaths of Japanese men and youths I did not even know. It is easy for anyone who was not involved to ask the combatants to forgive, because they did not feel the pain of watching the cruelty being inflicted.

Your reply reminded me of what my late friend, Duane Heisinger, wrote to me while he was battling with cancer. Duane’s father died on a POW transporting ship. He wrote a beautiful book called, Father Found, where he chronicled his journey to find out how his father lived and died as a POW of the Japanese. He encouraged me wholeheartedly while I was struggling to get my fledging website off the ground. He wrote to me:

Ultimately, Kinue, you and I each see these events only through others and we see through a mirror darkly clouded. For some of us who try to write what it means to us or to others, we are clearly in an area of well intended fantasy grasping to try to understand and then to express. It was important for me to try to understand this as best I could for I was "writing for my father, as well as myself", therefore I wrote what I did. But in that regard, my writing could only be as a stab at his feelings--which I could clearly not know.

Though truth is often relative, and history is often twisted by writers, it is often the only manner of treating the past, so it is important that all of us try--and try with integrity.

I was so humbled by his words and felt, “If a son of a POW who spent seven years to write a book about his POW father is this humble in admitting he could not know how his father might have felt, how can I, a total stranger from the very country responsible for all those sufferings of POWs, act as if I know something?”  Still, I was encouraged by his urging that all of us should try to write, and try with integrity.

For myself I can forgive all Japanese except those who were responsible for the unnecessary killing of unarmed prisoners and in many instances, civilians.

Today through my association with you, probably created by the fact that you are able to speak my language, I am now able to expose my ghosts and say with all truth that I no longer have any wish for any sort of reprisal. Through you I have been able to put in writing most of all my hate.

I ask nothing from the Japanese who have had enough pain and suffering. My wish is that the so called leaders of all nations should begin talks about the destruction of all arms.

I cannot speak for my former POW friends, but as long as some of them are saying that an apology means something to them, I want to help their efforts to obtain one.

Whatever I might think, the Second World War, especially the Pacific and Far East theatre are already being erased from the minds and memory of today’s people. I only continue writing and researching as my atonement for having survived.

I think you are doing future generations a great service by your writing. You once wrote to me, “The past is the past but it is also a reminder to never go along the same road again.” I think you are doing what Mr. Wiesenthal tried to do.

I can understand your frustration, though. Mr. Wiesenthal was able to present all the evidence he collected on the former Nazis who he hunted down, more than 1,000 of them, to the German authority so that they would be tried as war criminals. He even received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, from the United States for his pursuit of justice. There seems to have been a double standard applied to Japan.

Still, I am glad that you keep writing for us and for future generations.

You just sent me the entire manuscript of your newest book, a monumental 1,400 plus-page book entitled "70 Days to Hell." Thank you so much. I think the forward written by Lieutenant John Nixon, PhD, Royal Navy (Ret.) summed up well what this book is about.

Arthur has written this book with a twofold purpose. He has strived to create a book which records the events of the 70-day period leading up to what is commonly referred to the ‘great capitulation’ of Singapore. The book, in order to meet its aims, also needed to include a reference section listing the dead and linking them to the actual geographical location their loss took place in. Arthur has achieved this immense undertaking by apportioning a chapter to each day of the ‘fall of Malaya.’ The intention of producing such a piece of work has been to create a historical record, presented in such a way that it can be used in the future by anyone interested in locating the whereabouts of those British people who are either still missing or buried in makeshift and unofficial war graves.

Arthur’s secondary purpose is one which runs throughout his other books and also in the work of many of the veterans of the Far East – to dispel the myths and factual inaccuracies surrounding the ‘great British capitulation’ of Malaya and Singapore. In correcting commonly-held misconceptions, he has sought to restore the honour of those British servicemen and women whose acts of bravery and heroism have not been adequately recognised. In this book he argues that they have not received the respect they deserved and were ‘tarred and brushed under the carpet as failures.’ Arthur is particularly sensitive about adjustments to history within today’s politically correct attitudes and the many sensationalist television documentary producers that continue to produce inaccurate or biased accounts of the fall of Singapore. Using General Percival’s own personal account of that campaign - something I feel adds increased validity to the book’s messages - he puts forward what he strongly argues is the truth, presented by someone who was present and as he puts it himself, has continued to participate in it for over sixty eight years.

As my own father was among those that shared his experiences, I am grateful to Arthur for his immense efforts and offer best wishes for the success of this book.

I was just amazed how detailed your description of what happened on each single day of 70days leading up to the fall of Singapore was. You provided a map for each day with every movement by both Japanese and British/Australian forces followed by a list of all the men who died on that day and their burial sites.


Singapore February 9, 1942

I hope this book will be read and used as a reference book by many people, including Japanese people. I have forwarded the manuscript to one of the most respected Japanese scholars on the history of the fall of Singapore.

Now let me ask you about the National Ex Services Association. What made you decide to create this organization?

When I left the army in 1950, I became aware of all the various association, ex regimental units. Groups composed of those who served together in their various theatres, various other groups with an axe to grind. I was invited to join my own unit association and various prisoner of war associations, but they all had one thing in common. They all wanted to remember, “Did you remember Jim or Bill or did you remember the fight at?”  

I had been in the army 12 years and had served as a soldier should, so I did not wish to be constantly reminded of what happened where and to who. So I decided to create an organization which would be capable of helping each other, just as we did when we served. With just seven members we went on to a membership of 2000 plus.

What were some of the examples of your organization's activities? 

All soldiers are just ordinary men really and they make mistakes which lands them in prison. At first we arranged for visits to those unfortunates. We then began to make hospital visits and organizing protest campaigns seeking compensation, not just for Far East POWs but also for men who had been used as guinea pigs in Porton Down laboratory and those on Christmas Isle testing nuclear bombs and other matters concerning our soldiers serving around the world.

Today our association offer support in many ways to the soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Most who have been at the sharp end of hostilities similar to myself feel that killing is not the answer. But what is the alternative?

Its website is so elaborate.  http://www.nesa.org.uk/  Are you the webmaster?

The website is maintained by myself and my associate Rob Eyre who happens to be a very good with graphics. We ask for donations, but so far the costs come from my bank account.

I also obtain money from my books, not a lot, and from my son who is a commercial photographer. 

Thank you for sending me some of the photos he took while traveling to the Thai-Burma Death Railway with you.

                            

Did you share your experience as a POW when your son grew up?

My son was born in 1957, ten years after my daughter.  He has no interest in the war. He enjoyed meeting all the old soldiers occasionally but he cannot see any sense in killing anyone to settle an argument. I have tried to explain but he is as stubborn as his father.

My daughter who is 63 years of age has supported me in many ways. She is a nurse like her mother and in her occupation has been witness to pain and suffering of others. I have a granddaughter of 35 years and grandson 28 years who have also supported me and my endeavors.

I feel that in many ways I respond to you as I would to my daughter. We argue and I dictate occasionally. I let her win, but not a lot.

                                                                                                                                        Arthur's daughter Glennys

Now I must ask you about your poems, many of which you sent to me. I enjoyed reading them. Does poetry come naturally to you? Or you have to struggle to find right words?

I am what is referred to as a soldier's poet. I only come to life when I have something to shout about.  I have tried writing to newspapers, but never seem to get the replies I would wish. So I just put on paper my anger, temper, and feelings. More often than not I write my anger in prose and then screw it up and throw it in the paper basket.

Here are some of the poems you sent me.  Thank you for sharing.

----------

Nightmares

Did you ever hear the sound of a bullet which missed.
Or a ricochet as it whines between the tree's.
Have you ever felt so useless tasted the bitter bile of fear
As it rises in the gut from God knows where

Have you ever heard the rattle of a mortar on it's way
And the crashing sound as it hits the roof above?
Have you heard the screams of men as they meet a horrid death,
Or smelled the stench of cordite mixed with urine guts and blood?

Have you ever reached a point in life, when nothing really matters
That death would be a welcome peaceful thing?
Have you ever looked in awe at the bloody useless body
Of a comrade or a friend as before your eyes his life's blood ebbs away?

Did you ever pray to God, then find he wasn't there
and in desperation cry out for mum or dad?
Have you ever fought a one sided useless fight
betrayed by those you thought that you could trust,
Then be taken prisoner by a bestial Japanese?

I was! and I wish I never had.

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Thoughts of a Soldier

I joined the army as a soldier then a killer by command
Became judge and executioner in my time
Maimed and killed my country's enemies with total disregard
Performed the duties of a soldier down the line

I've been spat at sworn and thrown at,
Stoned and thrashed with bamboo canes.
Sometimes belted with a rifle or a lash,
Then left strung up rigid by the arms

Suffered the water treatment and decapitation threat,
Gone without food or drink for days beneath the sun.
Worked and treated like a coolie for fifteen hours a day
With nothing left to show for what I had done

Yet! there's nothing more soul destroying
Or anything which brings me pain
Than being betrayed by one's own government
For whom I had fought and served in vain.

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Arthur's self portrait

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A SERVICE MAN’S PRAYER

AND WE THAT ARE LEFT TO GROW OLD WITH THE YEARS
REMEMBERING THE HEARTACHE, THE PAIN AND THE TEARS.
HOPING AND PRAYING THAT NEVER AGAIN
WILL MAN SINK TO SUCH SORROW AND SHAME
THE PRICE THEY PAID WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER
EVERY DAY EVERY MONTH, NOT JUST IN NOVEMBER

----------

Night Terror

I dreamt last night of hate-filled eyes
In a twisted snarling face,
And a voice that bellowed, hoarse with rage,
And knew I was back in that place.
For the blood and the brains and the slivers of bone,
And the pitiful stares of the dead
And the last bubbling gasps in a dying child’s throat,
Are all locked away in my head.

All under control, and quickly subdued,
Not meant for casual ears;
Yet, still today, I know the taste
Of bitter salty tears.
Scalding tears of rage, that men
Could do that to a child;
So when we found them later that day,
We let the boys run wild.

Training fought hate for control of my mind;
The race was very close-run;
Though later I came to admit we were wrong,
I refuse to regret what was done.
Those eyes, that face and that voice are all mine
There’s no other sound that I hear;
Except for that throat filled with blood at the last,
That always rings out loud and clear.

And I awake with a pounding heart,
Teeth clenched to keep from screaming
And wonder what I’ve done of late
To trigger off such dreaming.
Maybe there’s something in all of us,
However deeply hidden,
That makes us relish in our dreams
The things that are forbidden?

The most savage of beasts that stalks the world
Takes no delight in killing;
Except for the one that walks erect;
And that one’s always willing.

----------

ONE GOD, TOO MANY DEVILS

I saw his face so many times
Three thousand maybe more,
I saw him first in Palestine
Then again in Singapore. 

When the world was all in flames
And man a beast became,
He would call to see me every day
But would not give his name. 

His eyes were black like un-forged steel
The smile was more a grin,
With arm outstretched he showed the way
Like a slave I followed him. 

It was more than forty years ago
That he visited each day,
More recently just once or twice
Has he called around this way.

Where my hair now has turned quite grey
And my face accentuates the strain,
He appears still young with his crooked grin
And eyes which still show flame.

He waves his hand and beckons
For me to follow him again,
But I smile right back and say “No more”
And he slowly goes away.

 

                                                                                           Posted on December 8, 2011


70 Days to Hell can be purchased at:
http://www.nesa.org.uk/page16.htm

 *Telegraph article on Arthur
'Forgotten army' of POWs hold final remembrance service for fallen comrades

*BBC on Arthur
Veterans recall WWII's South-East Asian campaign

* During WWII, approximately 80,000 British soldiers became POWs of the Japanese, including those taken POW in Hong Kong, Shanghai and outlying islands. Of those, 46,000 returned home at the end of hostilities.