Winsham at War


Fred ,until  his death in 2005, lived in Davies Close

The Story of Fred Newton -Private RASC British prisoner of war number 1004 captured by the Japanese in the fall of Singapore. During his period of captivity he saw the Atomic Bomb dropped on Nagasaki . The bomb dropped on Nagasaki was the second of the two Atomic Bombs dropped on Japan. It had the power of 22kilotons of TNT The Japanese surrendered shortly afterwards.

73,000 people were killed in the bombing of Nagasaki. told to Peter Duffell

Fred Newton first served in Europe at the beginning of the War.  When France collapsed and the British Army evacuated at Dunkirk, Fred was one of those who did not manage to get aboard any vessel and finally got home from St. Nazaire.    But, as he put it, ‘it was out of the frying pan into the fire’ for early in 1941 he went overseas again and along with his unit went via Halifax in Canada, and the Cape of Good Hope to Singapore.   He and six of his mates said that they would stick together through thick or thin.    They arrived in Singapore in January 1942. When Singapore fell on the 15th of February, Fred like many other servicemen was herded into Changi prison camp and began the terrible three and a half years as a Prisoner of War of the Japanese.RS800 H Railway map.gif (19000 bytes) 
The Burma Railroad
After a period working in Singapore itself, repairing lorries which had been sabotaged before the Japs arrived, Fred, with thousands of other prisoners was sent to Thailand to work on the infamous railway planned to connect Bangkok and Singapore to the existing Burma railroad.  (Click on map) . The conditions under which the POWs lived and worked were a kind of hell.  The Japanese guards beat them mercilessly for the slightest infringement of the rules, real or imaginary; rations were barely enough to keep the men alive, medical assistance for the sick was practically non-existent and the death rate was horrendous.  

  “ Four prisoners escaped from the camp- I think they were Northumberland Fusiliers, and they got so far in the jungle and they couldn’t get any further so they decided they’d turn round and come back. They came back so far and then the Japanese escorted them back to Chungkai, the camp, and we heard that they were being shot at four o’clock in the morning. I don’t think there was anyone who slept during that night waiting to see what did happen and early in the morning we heard the shots ring out and the next morning, we could see the mounds the graves being covered in.  Six of us used to go out from there - we palled up together in this company from England stuck together all through and we used to go up into the hill and collect bamboo for the fires to cook the rice. They’d give you a big board to hang round your neck with Japanese slogans to say that you were permitted and we used to see these little kids coming along in the mornings with these bunches of flowers and put them on the graves. When the wife and I went out in 1995 I was telling her about that and there were two little girls inside the cemetery and they saw me standing in front of the grave that I found which was one of our mates - he died; he had both legs amputated.  He died on Christmas Eve 1943,and they saw me standing there I suppose I broke down a bit Next thing standing beside me, they gave us some flowers and pointed to put them on that grave.  That was very touching indeed. . Reminded me of those children going up to where the graves were - they’ve been moved now into the cemetery.”
   Fred remained in camps Nong Pladuk  and Kanchanaburi until April  or May in 1944. At this time he and his mates decided to volunteer to be sent to Japan, thinking that they would be more likely to survive there when the Japs were ultimately defeated as nobody knew what they might do to the POW’S in Burma and Thailand.   

Transfer to Omuta, nr Nagasaki
In Japan he was sent to the infamous Camp 17 at Omuta across the bay from Nagasaki on the southernmost island of Japan.  There he worked in a zinc foundry where zinc scrap was melted down for re-use.
 “One day, two of us were carrying these - on the shoulder an iron bar. A Jap would put another bar . . drag this crucible out . . . drag it out so far and you got near the fire with the iron bar pour this stuff out turn round and walk . .Tip it down a great big pit get a new one and put back, tripped over something - you couldn’t help it - things lying about all over the place We tripped over it and fell down and of course the Japs went mad about that. It was an accident, you can’t help that. Hurt my hip and was sent to the physiotherapy room. I laid on the table there, then they said they were going to send for someone. When he came in - great big bloke ,about six foot something , tall hefty great bloke I don’t know if you’ve watched all-in wrestling . . . Leg stretch . . so he got hold of my leg, he put it right over . . Walked back behind me and went Phew, Gee whiz, that did hurt. Think if he’d left it where it was ! Done a few exercises would have been better off because it did hurt. Any way they had to send me home on a tram.  You had to march home when you finished work. An extra guard was put on the tram with me so instead of walking back I had a ride home.  So I was off - couldn’t work for two or three days after that when it got better it was all right, it was painful that was. . . Then I burnt the bottom of my foot - they gave me rubber shoes. The Japs pinched all the Red Cross parcels . . . . . .trod on a hot cinder - burnt right through.”
In Camp 17, when the meager rations were handed out to the prisoners, there was a pegboard with each man’s number on it by a hole.  When he received his food, a peg was put in its hole to ensure that no man was given more than one ration. After returning to camp at the end of the days work at the foundry, Fred lined up for his food, but an American orderly who was handing it out said that his peg was already in the board and so he must have had it.  Fred insisted that he had not but the orderly threatened to report him to the Japanese so he gave in.     Later he encountered a British officer. One Geoffrey Pharoah Adams who listened to his story and marched back to the canteen area with him, out-ranked and out-faced the corrupt orderly who was forced to concede. Many years later (Capt?) Adams who wrote several books about his experiences as a POW was in contact with Fred who he remembered well as the Prisoner No 1004 who he had helped at Camp 17.
“We were just across the bay from Nagasaki  . . . it turned out it was April 29th because it was bombed -  incendiary bombs -  it was all they needed in Japan really- incendiary bombs - everything would go up in flames . . . Unfortunately, the wind was blowing that night  - blew some of them over into the camp, set that on fire but they did drop two high explosive bombs one went off and one didn’t detonate.   They got an American and made him pick that up and walk to the water edge and dump it over the side . . .Anyway, he was lucky it didn’t go off.   We had one or two scares after that .  Eventually we knew something was happening, the Japs came round and gave you a good beating for nothing . . . So they were losing . . . .One day we saw this huge cloud go up from across the bay and we all said oh they’ve hit the oil places over there . . because we knew Nagasaki was a big naval base . . . We heard a few days afterwards that that was the second atomic bomb.    And then we heard that we were being set free but we had to stay where we were. The Japanese had moved outside the camp and we had to remain  . . I should say there were about 4000 of us - there were Americans, Dutch, British and some Indians... . . .”
   “We just marched out down to the railway station. We were taken by Nagasaki and we could see the result of the atomic bomb - nothing standing, only the railway line, that was okay .Trees uprooted, just blown right out of the ground and planted somewhere else . When we were boarding the boat a  USS mobile cruiser and the  American sailors there . . A nice big old-fashioned scrubbing brush  a bar of carbolic soap and we were scrubbed from head to foot.. I imagine there were about six to eight hundred of us on that boat. We were in a very poor condition. They give you three options- to fly back ,go by boat or go by train. I volunteered to fly back but no - they’d keep you hanging about because when I left Japan I was between eight and nine stone - before that (in Thailand) well down  below eight stone’’....
 ‘We were taken down to Okinawa, from there we flew to Manila in one of the old Liberators, which had just been taken out of action - the bomb doors didn’t close properly .  We sat there looking down at all the little islands . . Then we could go up in the cockpit, take it in turns, go back to the rear gunners place have a look there, it was quite exciting.  Came into Clark’s Field in Manila and into another plane to fly us across to another little airport and then on board the Implacable - the aircraft carrier. It took us to Vancouver in Canada and then from Vancouver I came all through the Rockies. Three days and three nights on the same train right across to Halifax. By the time I reached Halifax I had completed an around the world trip. (originally he traveled via Halifax to Cape Town  and Mombassa to Singapore).  I shall never forget that journey through the Rockies .”
   Fred was reported missing and every card that his Mother had sent to him over those three and a half years was returned as ‘not known’.   The first word from him in all that time was a cable sent by him from on board the Implacable. 

   ‘By the time I got back to England back to Southampton on the Isle de France I weighed  13 stone ten, On that Canadian train . . Beautiful. . . Same train all the time, they changed the sheets and bedding . . Marvellous trip . . I always wanted to go back.   Unfortunately I left it too late.  Can’t make it now.  .’   ‘Landed at Southampton, couple of days there, sent me home on leave, after Christmas I had to report back to Trowbridge a couple of days there and then they sent me to Taunton for demob. We had our passes late. I had to get a later train and got to Chard Junction at three o’clock in the afternoon.RSW@W Returned Letter FNImage1.jpg (46638 bytes) My uncle was there to fetch me in the car. He went so far up the road he went the other way . . .he went round Forde Grange, I couldn’t make it out. Anyway, I didn’t ask questions, I looked around , it was nice to feel I was home and recognise places.  We got to the bottom of the village, lo and behold, they were all waiting with a great big rope and they pulled the car through the village, all dressed up with ribbons and everything.’RS600HLetter to Fred Newton  Image1.jpg (75074 bytes)
Fred’s mother wanted to give him rice pudding as a treat not realizing how his miserable diet over those three and a half years had been little else. 'My mother said  ‘we’ve saved your dinner for you, Fred.  Got a lovely cooked dinner for you’.  ‘Oh’, I said, ‘that’s lovely-  I’ll look forward to that’.  ‘But I’m sorry, we haven’t got any sweet left, we’ve eaten it all’.  ‘Oh, what a pity’, I said, ‘what was it? ‘   She said ‘rice pudding.  So I said - I laid down a law then.  I said ‘whoever puts a rice pudding down in front of me - the rice pudding goes out the window & whoever made it follows it !’ (Click on pictures for larger images)

Among those who pulled the car up through the village was Gwen, a girl in the WAAF who Fred had known from school days when he used to work the bellows on the organ at Sunday School and she used to sing in the choir.  

   ‘I used to give her a  wink every now & then  when I was on the organ, so I made up my mind then - you know - but it took a long time.  We both went our own ways, but I came back & she was one of those helping to pull the car up through the village.   We got chatting & I found that she was still free & still eligible so it started all over again’.   

Gwen & Fred Newton were married 1947. Fred passed away in 2005 .Gwen is now living in a nursing home (2016)

Copyright reserved by Fred Newton & Peter Duffell



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