Monday, 30 January 2012

Britain is still a country for an old soldier, magician and Second World War survivor from the Burma Railway called Fergus Anchorn

Few old soldiers who fought for Britain in The Second World War are still alive and one group in particular have almost gone : those who fought in the Pacific and were captured by the Japanese. One of them is 93 year old, Fergus Anchorn, whose story, has now been told Peter Fyans.

What you probably didn't know about Fergus, was that he :

* as a boy, grew up carefree, in a close-knit family in Kent, endlessly practised conjuring tricks until, at 18, was elected the youngest member of the 'Magic Circle' and is its oldest practising member today.

* married his sweetheart, Lucille, during The Second World War in 1941 and shortly afterwards, embarked with his Army regiment on a troopship for South East Asia, landed in Singapore, was dive-bombed by the Japanese, jumped into the water and emerged to find five of his companions blown to pieces.

* later, back on shore, was ordered to pick up a live jammed shell, which exploded when a bomb landed 3 metres away and when in hospital, dipping in and out of consciousness, pleaded for his hand to be saved from amputation and got help from a medical orderly who recognised him as the conjuror he had seen in England.

* was still in the Alexandra Military Hospital when Japanese soldiers overran the building, shooting and bayoneting patients and doctors and already covered in blood, buried, his head under his pillow, muttered to himself, "Poor Mum" and waited to die
but was spared by soldiers who thought he was dead.

* next survived in Changi prison-camp where his smashed right arm was saved by having maggots devour the gangrene and had another prisoner, a cartoonist called Ronald Searle, make drawings for him. *(See below the link for my posting marking the death of Ronald)

* in 1942, became one of thousands of British prisoners working on the infamous 'Burma Railroad', built to create a supply route between Burma and Thailand with a track which ran through dense jungle, over mountains and rivers, in monsoon conditions and was fed a starvation diet in conditions where fellow soldiers died like flies, plagued by malaria, tropical ulcers, cholera and dysentery.

* grew weaker and when ordered to carry scalding creosote up a viaduct, found he couldn’t move, even when the shrieking guard emptied the creosote over his back, expected a death sentence but was taken to a hospital camp because the Japanese, who scorned weakness, accepted that physical injuries like his burns needed to be repaired.

* when his wounds began to heal and strength renewed, was able him to do some simple magic tricks : making handkerchiefs and playing cards vanish and reappear and found that the Camp Commandant Osato, a ruthless bully who ordered beatings for fun,
turned out to have an insatiable appetite for magic, demanding over and over again to see how his tricks worked.

* was able to get more food and longer rest-breaks for his friends by distracting the guards, in whose eyes, he became almost a human and with the backing of officers, put on ‘concert parties’, with comedians, singers and musicians with a double bass made out of two tea chests and strings from the innards of a cow.

* saw the railroad completed, at the expense of thousands of lives and was transported, deep into Thailand and then Hiroshima and recalled : "I almost couldn’t take the strain of it.  I had taught myself never to think of tomorrow.”

* at the age of 27, returned to Britain and, like his fellow soldiers, set about rebuilding his life in a country which had little time for heroes and wanted to forget the 'disaster' of Singapore.

* became a lecturer at West Kent College, where he often pepped up his lessons with anecdotes about his extraordinary Wartime survival.

* speaking about the book said : "It was a stroke of luck meeting Peter. I always knew I wanted someone to tell my story, for the sake of my great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren after I've gone."

Fergus talking about his time as a Japanese POW : Part 1 :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

Part 4 :

The Burma Railway :

* My posting on Ronald Searle who died earlier this month :
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its greatest cartoonist called Ronald Searle :

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