Cycling home last week here in Cambridge, UK, I took a road I don’t take too often and came to a halt as I passed this building.
You might also be surprised to learn that this old building in a side street in Cambridge has a great deal to do with Singapore. As the worn, lopsided, sign hanging over the door tells us, this hut belonged to FEPOW – Far East Prisoners of War.
With the fall of Singapore in 1942, 50,000 British, Australian and other servicemen fell into Japanese hands. Most were eventually assembled at an army base at Changi. Lee Kuan Yew, then an 18 year old student at Raffles College, said ‘ I saw them tramping along the road in front of my house for three solid days’.
Those prisoners suffered terrible hardship and 25% of them would die, sent from Changi across S E Asia and to Japan itself. Many died building the infamous Siam-Burma railway. Some who remained at Changi worked building an airfield at Changi. This became RAF Changi, where I lived in the early 1960s, and then part of the new Changi International airport and SAF base.
On repatriation to the UK many of the former prisoners felt that their suffering was not and could not be understood. They formed their own clubs and associations and there were about 60 such associations which were part of FEPOW. Men from the Cambridgeshire regiment, who had fought in Malaya and Singapore where they became prisoners, opened their club house in 1952. Finally, it closed in 2008 – its job, ‘To keep going the spirit that kept us going’, completed.
Now the old hut in which those former prisoners met will shortly disappear and with it a small symbol of the linked histories of the UK and Singapore.
Link: FEPOW Community
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