had no real knowledge of the activities of Rovers during the Second World War, especially in the Far East, until I acquired Bamboo Thumbsticks, a privately-funded book, produced by what is referred to as a 'publishing committee', and printed by C Western, a one-time Rover in the Far East, probably in 1947. The text concerned the Rover Crews in the Far East during the Second World War. I was particularly drawn to the account of Crews formed behind the barbed-wire of Prisoner of War camps. Initially, my researches centred on the Rover Crews in Formosa, now Taiwan, and those in the camps that supplied prisoners for work on the infamous 'Death Railway', but in researching these I was able to read the actual logbook and other supporting documents relating to the Rover Crews in Changi Jail in Singapore. As Changi was the 'nursery' from which many of the other Prisoner of War Rover Crews were spawned, I felt it appropriate that the history of these Rovers should also to be documented in this article.
he fall of Singapore in February 1942 led to the capture of thousands of Allied Servicemen by the Japanese. The poor treatment of these Prisoners of War, the privations they suffered and the appalling conditions they had to endure has been well documented. What is not so well known is the efforts of some of those Prisoners of War to offer some vestige of normality and distraction by trying to occupy the minds of their fellow prisoners. One of the most successful was the continuation of Scouting behind the barbed-wire. Without any form of guidance or authority from any national Scouting Body and without access to any Scouting literature whatsoever, Rover Crews were set up independently by inspirational leaders in the certainty of punishment by their captors should they be discovered. Wood Badge courses were devised in anticipation of victory, freedom and the return home to pass on the training they had received as prisoners in a world free of global conflict.
ho could not but feel humbled on reading narratives written in the camps by men facing death in such appalling conditions? I felt, as I so often do in writing these Pages, that this was a part of Scouting History that deserved to be placed before the widest possible audience and that it should be reported in the words of the men who were there. I trust that the authors of the logbooks, sometimes unnamed, and the publishing committee of Bamboo Thumbsticks will forgive my extensive quoting of their work. However, as the text is liberally sprinkled with details and names, I hope that the 'Milestone's Magic' will come into play and that correspondents more qualified than I will enable us, even so long after the events, to add more details to these inspiring first-hand accounts.
hankfully, today we live in a totally different, though, sadly, far from perfect world. The 1939-45 World War is now the subject of History lessons in schools, and very remote from those of Scout age. The language at the time of the Second World War, is not the language of today and understandably the words used in first-hand accounts may not be in tune with today's 'politically-correct' world, but they are a significant part of the history of those troubled times and it should not be necessary to apologise for their inclusion. These wartime documents do not reflect on current governments or nations and, sixty years on, sufficient time has passed for reconciliation, as most of the declining numbers of survivors have now accepted. Having taken my Scout Promise first in 1956, I feel bound by the old Scout Law and believe Baden-Powell's greatest achievement is enshrined in these words, A Scout is a brother to every other Scout, no matter what country, class, or creed the other may belong, but that does not entitle me to deny history, or to fail to recount what is essentially the triumph of the Scout Spirit over adversity, as a tribute to those who Scouted behind barbed-wire. In a similar vein, you may be interested to read in these Pages, World Scout Historian Piet Kroonenberg's, Jay, an account of Scouting in Nazi-occupied Holland and there is also an article on the formation and history of Rover Scouts.
The Changi Jail Group of Rover Scouts
y written sources for this section come mainly from the original Changi Rover Crew's Logbook, a short article by their inspirational founder and leader, Rev. A Rowan Macneil, plus a certain amount of documentation, including a list of names of members, mainly written after the war. I was fortunate to be able to visit Changi Jail in the spring of 2005 and to be guided by its curator to surviving artefacts and information left by visiting ex-Changi Rovers and their families. My visit, and the fresh information I was able to glean, some of which had personal links, strengthened my understanding of the hardships faced by these imprisoned Rovers and my desire to tell their story.
The Changi Cookhouse, painted by an unknown PoW. The painting was discovered in the Kwai Noi camp
The title for this section is that given to the Changi Rovers by its founder. It immediately alerts us to the fact that there was not just one Changi Rover Crew, but several. There was the Somers Crew, named after Lord Somers who, as Chief Scout, was known to both English and Australian Rovers, particularly as he was once Governor of Victoria, Australia and was involved in Scouting there. Two other Crews were called 'Tanah Merah' and 'Java', and all were under the leadership of Rev. Macneil. The Rover Crews were not the only form of Scouting in Changi and other activities were created either before or after Macneil's time, or in different sections of the prison. At some stage, a Scout Group is known to have been formed in the Women and Children's part of the jail. Unfortunately, I have been unable to discover any records or recollections pertaining to these.
he Somers, Java and Tanah Merah Crews were founded for a very specific purpose. Rev. Macneil had no intention of creating mere social clubs, however valuable and necessary that might have been. A 2004 television documentary on the Prisoners of War working on the Death Railway named the 'pal' system, fostered by Macneil, as the greatest aid to survival in a environment where death was commonplace. Whilst accepting the need to alleviate as far as possible the dreadful conditions and scourges that the men had to endure, Macneil was able to look beyond an Allied victory, the coming of which he never doubted. He foresaw that the men in his care would return home to a world where the rising generation would need the guidance long denied them by the absence of their fathers and older brothers. His purpose was to train Scouters to Wood Badge standard. In achieving this unselfish aim, the Rovers who worked and trained together formed bonds between themselves and offered service to others that eyewitness accounts say improved the lot and morale of the entire camp. Perhaps Macneil's greatest achievement was that, as prisoners were shipped further back behind enemy lines to even greater adversity, Rovers from Changi started new Rover Crews, bringing brotherhood and support to thousands of PoWs and giving them a perspective beyond their immediate misery to a better tomorrow.
Scouting in Bondage by A R Macneil, Chaplain 2/29 Battalion, Australian Infantry Force
irst published in The Victorian Scout in December, 1945 in the State of Victoria, Australia, this piece must have been written shortly after the liberation of the PoWs in Changi Jail and notes may even have been made during Macneil's internment. The article is slightly abridged here.
"Even behind the wire in a P.O.W. camp things go in cycles. We had been in Changi for about 15 months before the club habit really took hold with a vengeance; a Yacht Club, a Skiing and Mountaineering Club, an Equitation
[Horse Riding] Club and Motor Cycle Club appeared in quick succession, with several others not quite so given to publicity. Why not earlier in our captivity? Well, there had been many alarms and excursions during the first few years. Large parties had been in and out on various working parties, men as a whole had not settled down to the fact that they were prisoners and likely to remain so for an indefinite long period. But by the time 1943 was well under way, there was a large group who, for reasons of age or infirmity, special qualifications, or the holding of key jobs, or just that they had pull, seemed anchored to Nipponese No.1 Prisoner of War Camp, Malaya.
This photo of Dave Beck was sent to Changi Museum by his relatives in Melbourne
"What about a Scout Club? No, I didn't fancy the idea, but I was hopeful that I might collect enough people interested who would undergo a course of training, preparatory to taking out warrants when they got home. To do this I needed a Training Team, I would seek out Wood Badge men.
"And that is how I met Alec. He sent in his name in response to a notice in Camp Orders and I walked a mile and a half to find him weighing out filthy little fish; he was in the Royal Army Service Corps. Alec had taken his Wood Badge at a County Course in Bedfordshire, where he was Scout Master of one of the Luton Troops. We clicked at once. I only received one other name as a result of that notice - A Morrain - on all official channels. So I met Bob, He was an Assistant County Commissioner from the northern part of my own state. Bob was a Sergeant in the Australian Army Medical Corps and was able to collect a dozen Victorian Scouters and Rovers at once, his unit was full of them. So far so good, but where were our recruits?
"I tried another notice in Orders, this time for anyone interested. The result was Fred, a school master and a Scouter from Manchester. We decided to "catch-my-pal", which was used exclusively from then on, without success as a means of bringing many recruits from outside, but fruitful in gathering Scouts to the banner. So began our Scouting in Bondage.
"The difficulties of times, meeting places, distance, lighting and ever-changing Nip
[Japanese] regulations were overcome as they arose. Our first form of organisation was as a troop, and our meetings were like any other club in Changi, with the difference that our talks were on Scouting and allied topics. Patrol Leaders also trained two or three recruits who we invested as Tenderfeet. Bob proved to be our most inventive genius and made a flag by getting some blue cloth from the lining of a tropical pattern, but which became green when treated with acriflavine. The same dye, used on strips of white sheet, made a good yellow material for the badge and lettering. I think he said he was in the Army Medical Corps though he had never done anything like it before. He also cut wrist badges of aluminium, using a scribe made from a broken dental drill. Alec produced an embroidered badge on a khaki scarf. [See image on this page] The design was unique with the character meaning 'Prisoner of War', and familiar in the camp, seen on almost every notice. Dick made a badge for the top of our flagpole. Thus outwardly we began to look like Scouts when we met.
"Talk however, even in a P.O.W. camp will not hold a troop together, and after an auspicious start, numbers began to dwindle. My original scheme of a training troop had not seemed feasible; but in November Alec and Tug came forward with a scheme to form a working Rover Crew. By breaking down our organisation from a Troop to a Crew, with practically autonomous patrols we found a new lease of life and incidentally proved the patrol system is the main-spring of Scouting.
"From then on we never looked back. The new members who were brought in by their friends were sponsored through their period as Squires and invested as Rover Scouts. Although hiking, and even independent Camping was impossible, these new Rovers have a better grip of Scouting as a whole (and certainly have true Scout Spirit) than many, I would say most, Rovers invested at home. We ran, at longish intervals, courses in Part 1 Wood Badge Scout and Rover. After the first of these I shared out the duties of Leader with well qualified members of the Crew, thus further spreading responsibility. We held Christmas and Birthday parties in 1944, and 'Rovers Own' services. As numbers grew we founded two and at times three crews, each of two or more patrols. The test of the soundness of our group - was that it survived and flourished when the Group Scout Master was laid up for two months, "Tug" as Rover Secretary carried on the necessary coordination and the Rover Scout Leaders ran their own Crews.
""Sweet are the uses of adversity", and even in the squalor and semi-starvation of a Nipponese prison camp, our Scouting brought times of interest, useful instruction, and happy friendship. One of the best features of all was the International flavour given to our Crews by the presence of British, Australian, Dutch and Americans. We all learnt that whilst Scouting principles are the same the world over, that only details of camping, uniform, finance and other things differ from country to country. It was a common sight as one walked the promenades of the camp in the evenings to meet groups of two or three Rovers spending their time together. That is how it should be. The Movement is richer for our Rover Brotherhood in Changi, both as regards numbers and quality. When I retire from Scouting, the honorary rank I shall ask for will be "G.S.M. Changi Group of Rover Scouts"."
he Reverend Alexander Rowan Macneil, a chaplain serving with the Australian Forces, was affectionately known to all the Changi Prisoners as 'Padre'. During the First World War he had volunteered, was mentioned in dispatches several times, won the Military Cross and Bar and became one of the youngest Lieutenant-Colonels in the Australian forces. After the war he obtained an M.A. and a degree in Divinity and, despite a speech disability, became the Chaplain to his old school, Scotch College, in Hawthorn, a suburb 4½ miles (6km) east of Melbourne. He founded the 1st Hawthorn Scout Troop there in 1926, the result of several month's preparatory work by 'Padre' Macneil, who was to become its first Scout Master.
e had trained at Gilwell (Australia), gained his Wood Badge and became a Deputy Commissioner for Scouts for the State of Victoria in 1936. He visited England then returned to Victoria where he became a teacher at Trinity Grammar School, Kew, another suburb of Melbourne near to Hawthorne, leaving to volunteer for active service as soon as war was declared. At the fall of Singapore he was captured and imprisoned in Changi Jail. It was largely due to Padre Macneil that Scouting continued in some form in Changi. On the first day of his internment, he appealed for Scouts, whom he used as 'seed corn' to attract others.
hen he returned home to Victoria, Australia, he was appointed a Field Commissioner and took a leading part in the organisation of the State Jamboree at Yarra Brae. His time at Changi had severely affected him and by 1953 he was compelled to resign because of ill health. He died on October 14th, 1953.
The Changi Rovers' Logbook
his remarkable document, handwritten in Changi Jail and illustrated with crayon drawings, runs to 42 large exercise book pages. It was compiled by the 'Keeper of the Log', Robert 'Loftie' Shelton between June 1943 and the liberation of the camp in August 1945. The extracts quoted here faithfully follow his text, but are on occasion edited and abridged.
An original Changi necker photographed with the permission of the Changi PoW Museum, Singapore
"3.8.43 A full meeting of members. Meeting opened tonight with breaking of Troop Flag:- This flag was made under the direction of Loftie who designed same: members scrounged material to the detriment of Loftie's wardroom sun-blind.
["The Rovers used acriflavine from the hospital, it turned blue material green and white material yellow" from an article on Changi Rovers by Malcolm Cole in Australian Scout, December 1993. Loftie Shelton's blind was blue and the same dye was used to make a white sheet yellow for the applied motif and lettering] Evening closed with supper, followed by prayers from the Scout Book of Prayers Flag Fall and Scout Promise. God be thanked that we can still raise a smile and whistle.
"Thurs. 4.11.43. Smokie Dawson has been busy making Scout Scarves from remnants of U.S. shirts. He has embroidered in "gold" on the apex of the same Nip symbol of P.O.W. (prisoner of war).
[The Japanese "Kanji", seen here, means 'prisoner' or 'captive'.] Many members now busy with first series of Wood Badge Questions. Greatest Difficulty scarcity of paper. Second ditto. No text books but "it is the effort that counts."
"Thurs 16.11.43. A new emblem designed, or rather copied from a design, loaned by Tug and issued especially to all English Scouts prior to embarkation; has now been made in the camp and given to all members of the Crew. Some were made out of aluminium scraps from the "Limb Factory". When polished and strapped to the wrist it compared very favourably with the official design.
Wriststrap drawn by logkeeper Loftie Sheldon
"13.10.44. Orders placing restriction on all meetings and entertainments other than church services. Fatal Friday 13th
"1.11.44. Brown out restrictions heavily enforced.
['Brown out' is a reduction in electrical current]
"14.12.44. Paper absolutely unprocurable so brevity in all reports.
[of May, 1945. (Meeting attendance was down owing to the poor health of many members.)] Reduced rations (nearly ½) and longer working hours make it very trying both physically and mentally.
"Aug. 16th. 1945 Tonight's meeting was entirely different to what was intended. Coming events cast their shadows before, and so records were checked, addresses taken, and then discussion on past events, present conditions and hopes for the future.
[The 'coming events' must have been momentous, Germany had totally surrendered on May 8th, the Atom Bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima on August 5th and Nagasaki on the 8th, Japan had surrendered on the 14th and the 15th had been celebrated by the Allies as 'VJ' (Victory over Japan) Day. There is little wonder that, in this excitement, there was an attempt to bring records up to date and exchange addresses with colleagues and friends before the long hoped-for return to home shores.] It was hoped to hold an investiture service for Alec Bamford but he is too sick at present to stand up to the service ... Padre gave us a farewell chat, much appreciated.
And so we say farewell to the Changi Group, and God be with them wherever they may go:- May the Great Pathfinder grant that what we have learned in confinement shall make us better and fitter leaders in the New World to which we hope to soon to go to."
he Log finishes with a brief, poignant summary of membership and a patriotic salutation -
Total Number that passed through the Group 55.
Total Number that remained throughout 26.
Total Number that remained until sent up country 27.
ublished long after these events in 1949, The Left Handshake by Hilary St George Saunders bravely attempts - though the author makes no such claim - to document much of the history of Scouting in the Second World War. A chapter is devoted to 'Scouting in Captivity' and this has many excellent, otherwise unpublished accounts of Scouting activities in European and Far-Eastern Prisoner of War camps. Unfortunately, there are only two pages with any relevance to Changi. The following un-attributed quotation does, however, record the final act of the remaining members of the Changi Rover Crew.
"On September 6th eleven of us in full uniform rode on bicycles to the den and hoisted the Union Jack and Scout Pennant on an improvised flag staff ... there was a grand rally and such uniforms and badges as were available were worn."
Below is a list of Rover Scouts taken from the Changi Rover Scout Logbook (now in the UK Scout Archives ) and every other source I have been able to locate. The information has been cross-referenced with other sources where possible and any additional names have been incorporated into the list.
Ranks, battalions, regiments and companies were listed in a highly-abbreviated form. Moving the mouse cursor over most of the entries in the 'Army Ranks' column will reveal the full version, where it is known.
The photo of Dave Beck in Scout Uniform and kilt, shown above, was sent to the Changi Museum, where it is on display, by his family in Melbourne, which was where he later settled. I cannot at the moment confirm that he was definitely in the Changi Rover Crew.
||Last known at
The Changi Rover Memorial
The plaque sent by Scouts from Victoria, Australia to the Chapel at Changi Jail
ic Mitchem, then a Commissioner in Victoria, Australia, wrote the following in an undated letter to the U.K. Scout Association:
"Several years ago one of our Senior Branch Commissioners was holidaying in Singapore and was taken over the chapel in the Prison. He noticed that a number of the units incarcerated there had their crests on the walls of the chapel. So a Rover Badge and a Scout 'Gone Home' sign, were used to design a plaque and we had it cast in brass. This was sent over with the Singapore Scout Members who attended the World Conference, and we had a request from the Prison Authorities for a list of the names of the Rovers, plus their Units etc. (A terrible job after all the years that have passed.) They accepted the plaque which the Singapore Scouts handed over, on our behalf, and we got busy.
"From the two minute books, kept under the noses of the Japanese, we managed to get 60 names. Then came the hard part, to find their units. Some were U.K., some Dutch, some Strait Settlements, but mainly Australian.
"About this time we had a note from Alex Brown, Vice President, Ickneild District, Luton, an ex-Rover wanting to regain contact with Australian members. I sent him our list plus the addresses of several Rovers we knew and he organised Charles Wilson, Grange over Sands, the official Roll Keeper, to send us the copy of the official nominal roll which helped very considerably. Another UK member is Davy Percy of Hereford.
"Well, the plaque was handed over on the 30th March 1988, and we have received photos of the 'hand-over'."
he image shown here came from a photograph attached to Vic Mitchem's letter. Though I set out to locate this plaque on my visit to Changi, I was unable to do so. The Jail is still being used as a prison and its chapel is not open to the public. Some of the plaques from the chapel have been re-sited in the Museum but not, unfortunately, that to the Changi Rovers.
A Personal Perspective
The Formosa International Rover Crew
ajor I Cross Pedley of the Royal Artillery was the inspiration behind Scouting in the Shirakawa Prisoner of War Camp on Formosa (now known as Taiwan). The history of this Crew is recounted in the book Bamboo Thumbsticks, mentioned at the beginning of this article, passages from which are paraphrased below. The anonymous author, or authors of the book must have had close contact with 'The Skipper' Major Pedley, or his writings, as there are numerous direct quotes.
"The Formosa International
Rover Crew actually had its birth in Changi Civil Gaol, shortly after the fall of Singapore, when two Scouts, Major I.C. Pedley R.A. and Padre Pugh C.F.
[Chaplain to the Forces] arranged a meeting of Old Scouts. This meeting was well attended (March 1942) and an OSA (Old Scouts Association) was formed. The first real "effort" of the O.S.A. was finding (?) by any means possible, old linen for bandages, pillows, sheets, etc, for the sick and wounded. Since the Japanese had refused to take any responsibility whatsoever for the sick and wounded the prisoners of war had to make whatever arrangements were possible, and this was no small problem.
espite the fact that the prisoners were often constrained within separate areas, Scouting was still carried on.
"On the first St. George's Day (1942), Padre Pugh was able to hold a simple Service at which those present re-affirmed their Scout Promise.
"With the general movement of prisoners by the Japanese to other countries, the O.S.A. gradually diminished in numbers, yet one cannot help wondering how much this first "effort" in Changi Gaol helped to sow the seed of further Scouting in other Prisoner of War camps.
"Within Major Pedley's Regiment, the Scouting activities continued, ably supported by Padre Pugh. Eventually they too were moved, by sea, on what can only be described as a "hell-ship". Packed like sardines into each hold, the sick and the fit all mixed together - dysentery and diphtheria were added torments. All this in the tropics too! Still the Game of Scouting carried on with many good turns and yarns.
Bamboo Thumbsticks privately published in 1947
"Arriving at Formosa after three weeks of this hell, they were once again divided; many of the parties being sent to the terrible Copper Mining Camp in the mountains. More ill-treatment, disease and all too many deaths. Owing to the after effects of diphtheria, Major Pedley was made a Librarian, for a long time without any books! This though was a great help, as it made it possible to continue the Game
[of Scouting] under the guise of discussing Library business, as there were still a good number of the O.S.A. with him. Unfortunately Padre Pugh was in one of the other parties, so they lost his valuable support.
"It was here that Rover Second F. Crossley (Major R.A.)
[Royal Artillery] and Rover Mate J.T.N. Cross (Lieut. R.A.) did such good work, and when the sick were moved to Shirakawa, they carried on the Game. One of the important jobs carried on here was that of keeping a full record of all the poor fellows who died, along with a plan and details of where they were buried. A constant labour of love, though a most pathetic task for Rovers was ensuring that wreaths and crosses were properly made and lettered for those prisoner comrades who passed on.
"When he was moved with the sick personnel, Major Pedley (Skipper) handed over the job at Shirakawa to Rover Mate Cross, who carried on in his usual very methodical manner. When all met up again just prior to release another patrol was added to the Crew, and these two continued as R.M.
[Rover Mate] and R.Second as before.
"In the new life at Shirakawa life was still under the same awful atmosphere of mental and physical torture, both by the Japanese individually and by their methods of "food control", i.e. work or starve, fit or unfit.
"The Camp was of mixed nationalities, British (U.K.), Australian, New Zealanders, Canadians, American (from all states of the U.S.A.), Dutch and Indonesians. Here were fresh fields to conquer and the Skipper's talks on Scouting took great effect, so that, with the remains of the O.S.A., which he still kept going, The Formosa International Rover Crew came into action. All these Scouting activities had of course to be kept "underground".
"The camp had now become a "Sick Camp", to which the sick from other camps on the Island were drafted. Three large huts were turned into "hospitals" by the simple procedure of filling them with sick and naming them "hospitals". These were run by British and American P.O.W. doctors. It is a great tribute to their wonderful sense of vocation that wherever their members were - under the most exacting conditions, including personal ill-treatment - they always went around doing all they could, in the cool, calm and cheerful manner of their Calling. They never gave up in spite of the agonising knowledge that with just a little extra they could have saved so many more lives.
"The Patrols selected their own leaders and were each named after some great person. Their cheerful and straight-forward manner soon began to be felt in the Camp, and gradually had a marked effect in the general uplift of morale. The extraordinary thing was that so many fellow-prisoners did not know who were Rovers but would remark after some particular action, "That chappie must be one of those Rover blokes."
"One of the first drives by the Skipper will perhaps illustrate how difficult it had become to keep a normal outlook on life. All Rovers were instructed to curb the "sharp" retort, which was all too common after living so long together. They were to make every effort to give the Scout grin and a pleasant greeting, and above all listen to the other fellow's problems. This sounds so simple in cold print, and yet when one stops to think, even here at home under normal conditions, it is not always easy to be pleasant. . . . What "effort" must have been required to get this underway? Anyhow, it succeeded, and the Skipper kept pushing more and more of such apparently small but vitally important drives, and quietly emphasising that "effort" was always required in Scouting.
"The Crew grew to be over a hundred strong and to include quite a third of the camp. Bit by bit, or as B.P. would have said "Softlee Softlee catchee monkee" - the Scout Spirit of Friendliness and help won through, and the whole atmosphere of the camp took a turn for the better. The Skipper suggested that it would be wiser to divide the Crew into two halves, one to be known as the Port Watch and the other as the Starboard Watch. This move was approved and was a great success under such grand newly-appointed Leaders as Asst. Rover Leaders, G.B. Vinycombe, (Major I.A.O.C)
[may be Indian Army Ordnance Corps] and S.H. Yeates (Sigmn. R.C. of Sigs)
[Signalman, Royal Corps of Signals] and their respective Senior Rover Mates, D. Handforth (Sigmn R.C. of Sigs.) and K. Milligan, (Cpl. R.C. of Sigs.) The quiet cheerful and always efficient work of these four with their wonderful active example in really trying to live up to the ideals of Scouting was not only outstanding but infectious.
"Many special Good Turns were laid on (these of course were extra), and many trials and tribulations had to be overcome to carry them out. Once again it was the sick who were the first consideration. What heartbreaks there must have been going around the so-called "hospital" and yet within those same hospitals there were active Rover Patrols, whose members were all patients. The way these particular patrols kept their end of the Game going was a tonic to both patient and healthy. Quizzes were arranged for the hospital and run by Skipper and Vinycombe and the two "sick" Rover Mates - Handforth and Bottomly, (Gnr.R.A.)
[Gunner, Royal Artillery]
"In spite of Jap opposition Rover Mate F.M. Grazebrooke, (Major R.E.)
[Royal Engineers] persisted in trying to give the sick some music on his "squeeze box", and after some painful experiences the Japs finally approved. Later he was joined by Rover Mate W. Van Naerson, (Sgt N.E.I.Army)
[Dutch East Indies Army] with his "squeeze box" and the added attraction of his fine voice. Van Naerson also ran a boiler for the purpose of cleaning the patients' blankets etc. This at times, as can well be imagined, was not a pleasant job, but a vitally important one.
"Running a Patrol of real hard nuts was not an easy task but Rover Mate C. Wragg (Gnr. R.A.) managed it, even when he was sent to hospital! The outstanding Rovers were Rover Seconds. R.D. Bickford (L/Bdr) R.A.
[Lance Bombardier, Royal Artillery] from Nova Scotia, Canada, and J. Wileman (Gnr. R.A.). Both Rovers were very sick men, but their unselfish and cheerful help to their fellow patients was an enormous aid to hospital morale. Attending to bed-pans and bottles (of very improvised pattern too) when feeling under the weather was no joke - but they did it.
"Among the sick Rovers was the worst case in the Camp, Rover Scout J. Green (Bdr. R.A.). Although very weak and emaciated he always tried to do for himself and others till at last he could do neither. But he still managed to give the Scout Grin and the "not so bad really" reply to all enquiries. When the Camp was being evacuated, Green was on the D.I. List
[may be 'Disabled Individual'] and arrangements were made to leave him behind with a doctor and an orderly. What must he have felt? Yet when Skipper went, alone on what he thought would be his last visit, Green held the Skipper's hand and with the same (but very weak) grin said "Don't worry, Skipper I will be with you soon." - and to the surprise and joy of all, he was! A real Scout, full of faith and moral courage.
"Then there were those grand, solid and true-hearted fellows who Lived the Game in every way possible. Rover Mates C. Phillips (Cpl M/c Regt)
[Corporal, Manchester Regiment?] B. Slack (L/Sgt Sherwood Foresters), B Hick (Bbr. R.A.), L.J.Vincent (B.Q.M.S.R.A.)
[may be Battalion Quarter Master, Singapore Royal Artillery] and Rover Seconds J. Greening (Bdr. R.A.), R.H.M.Kerton (Gnr. R.A.) - all these did particularly good work. Another Rover Scout, an old Dutch Voortrekker, H. Asmusson (Sgt. N.E.I. Army) also did some excellent work in the hospital, always with his nice little smile.
"Boy Scouts of America may be rightly proud of Rover Mate, W. Walters, (Capt. Med Corps U.S. Army). Himself a semi-sick man, he took sick parade every day, when an average of 200 attended. His slow infectious smile, kindly manner and way of treating each patient as if he were the only patient to be treated, was really good medicine. An old Eagle Scout, this long-legged, drawling-of-speech American, in the briefest of shorts, truly lived up to the high standards of that great honour. Rover Scout I. Beattie (Pfc. Med Corps U.S. Army)
[Private, First Class, United States Army Medical Corps.] was a full time orderly in the hospital and his almost feminine intuition and gentleness was a great asset.
"The Skipper's job outside the co-ordination of the Crew's activities, was the visiting of the sick at least twice a day, and voluntarily patrolling the hospital during air raids, talking to the sick, who were unable to be moved into the fox holes. Eventually both Grazebrooke and Beattie joined in this patrolling, and two or three others on a roster. Beattie showed his great moral courage in this, to quote his own words. "I am sure scared Skipper, but if you stay so will I." (Note the Japanese would not permit Camps to be marked as P.O.W. or even as Hospitals to bear the Red Cross, hence the raids.)
"One of the greatest helpers was Rover Scribe, H Kilpatrick (Colonel, British Army), a real "backroom" worker with his kindly smile, sound advice and encouragement, of whom the Skipper said, "From a personal point of view he was not only a great friend, but a real father confessor. To have such a person, to whom anyone could go, and in whom we all had confidence and respect, was something beyond price." Col. Kilpatrick had been a very sick man for a long time, but nothing was ever too much trouble, whether it was for the good of the Camp as a whole, or any individual in particular. As Senior Officer P.O.W., he repeatedly appealed to the Japanese authorities for extra food for the Camp and medical stores for the sick. For this, like others he suffered much physical ill-treatment. He was another really grand Scout.
"The duty to God of our Scout Promise was kept well to the fore, and Rover Padre F. Stallard (C.F.)
[Chaplain to the Forces] an old Scouter, saw to it that this most important part of life was duly observed, not only among Rovers but in the camp as a whole. His advice and help in drawing up the Investiture Service was invaluable. As this had a definitely religious basis, it is a great tribute to his wise appreciation of conditions and circumstances that all denominations approved without any alterations. When sick in hospital, he delegated his duties where possible to the Skipper, who said,
"The briefings he gave me were so simple and so explicit, whether for the usual services or for a funeral service, that they were an asset in themselves. His last actual P.O.W. duty was taking a party of Rovers to the cemetery to make sure everything was left in the right way, and finishing with a short service."
s noted above, this was the same Fred Stallard, formerly of Changi, who became Canon Stallard, my vicar in Peterborough, which was also Wally Hammond's home town. The world is indeed a very small place.
"It is interesting to note that Rover Scribe Kilpatrick, being the oldest Roman Catholic in the Camp, acted as their Padre, supported by Major Dean Sherry (U.S. Army), two of the finest men one could wish to meet.
"In spite of having no Scout literature of any description, the Skipper managed to devise a series of Talks on Scouting subjects, to which he added rough sketches. This was handed round secretly and used for reference, he also handed a rough design to Senior Rover Mate Milligan for Certificates of Appointment - the finished result in colour was something to be treasured for years to come. These were not intended to take the place of official documents and warrants, but were merely to show in what capacity individuals had served. The Chief Scout, Lord Rowallan was pleased to grant the registration of the crew and he also authorised the appropriate warrants later. This was a great moment.
"A job which had a particular thrill was the surreptitious making of flags for the Day they never once doubted would arrive - Victory Day, When the great day came, The Union Jack and Old Glory, together with the Netherlands and the Chinese National Flags were broken and, led by Padre Stallard, thanks were offered to God for deliverance with heartfelt prayers.
"One could go on with many stories of those chaps who tried "To do their best to do their Duty." Some by virtue of natural aptitude for Leadership and good Scout qualities stood out more than others, but every member without exception, whatever his place in the Crew, truly backed up his leaders, and made the "efforts" required by our Promise and Law.
"At the last gathering of the Crew, before they dispersed to all parts of the world, The Skipper stressed the need for the Scouting "effort" wherever members should be, and finally, in the same way as Scouting activities started in Changi Gaol, Singapore, 1942, they closed down with a prayer and a re-affirmation of the Scout Promise."
t seemed improbable that this inspiring story should only have come to light on the pages of a thin, privately-published, low print-run volume and never have been brought to the attention of the wider Scout Movement, so I turned to the pages of The Scouter for 1945, but found nothing. However, in the February 1946 edition the new Chief Scout, Lord Rowallan, wrote in his 'Outlook' that he had received a letter from Colonel Kilpatrick, Senior Officer of the Shirakawa Prisoner of War Camp on Formosa. The letter below is taken from the same issue.
"There is one aspect of life in a Japanese Prisoner-of-War camp in which I feel certain will be of interest. From October 1944, I was the Senior Officer in Shirakawa P.O.W. camp in Formosa, and in fact on the island. From that date onwards conditions in Shirakawa grew grimmer and grimmer. Food grew more and more scarce and the neighbourhood was constantly being bombed, tropical diseases and malnutrition were rife and the prisoners were subject to brutality and ill-treatment by the Japanese, and to working conditions which approximated to slavery. These conditions inevitably had a bad effect on the condition of the prisoners.
"There was in camp one Officer-prisoner who had always been a keen Scout, and whose devotion to duty and to the interests of his fellow prisoners was outstanding. His name and address are: Major I.C. Pedley R.A.; 'Kauvira', Wetheral near Carlisle, Cumberland.
"Early this year Major Pedley conceived the idea of forming a Rover Scout Crew in the camp and approached several other prisoners who were imbued with the proper Scout tradition. As a result, an International Rover Crew was formed consisting of British, American, Australian and Dutch prisoners. You will realise that such a venture was conducted under difficulties, since the gathering of any prisoners was forbidden by the Japanese: and owing to circumstances in the camp, many of the usual formalities, tests, etc., had to be dispensed with. However the venture met with such success that several crews were raised and eventually about 100 out of 450 belonged to them.
"The effect on the general morale of the camp was excellent. At a time when brutality, starvation and the sheer struggle for existence might easily have produced moral chaos, the quiet work of the Rovers and their example of common sense and unselfishness, helped to restore the standard of conduct in adversity which one expects of the Scout Movement and the British Army. I cannot sufficiently express my admiration for, and gratitude to Major Pedley and his Rovers for the work they did and the example they set. I had reason to be proud of them as fellow countrymen and grateful for the assistance they rendered me in my duties as senior officer.
"I understand that Major Pedley would like to have his crews officially registered and feel certain that when you learn all the facts you will not withhold registration from them."
hat the Chief Scout, Lord Rowallan, had not been idle in this matter is recorded because he had taken the trouble to find out Major Pedley's Scout record. Pedley had been a Cub Master in the 3rd Barrow Group, and later a Scout Master in the 16th Carlisle before the hostilities, but there was no mention of any official recognition for the Formosan Rover Crews.
ecognition was forthcoming, because there is reference to it in the introduction to Bamboo Thumbsticks. But what of Major Pedley? If any Scouter deserved an award, surely it was he? On the back page of The Scouter for August 1946 there is a list of awards made between May 19th and June 23rd, 1946.
Silver Wolf. Major I Cross Pedley, R.A. R.S.L., "Formosa" International Rover Crew and formerly the S.M., 16th Carlisle (Wetheral).
For living very truly the Scout Law and Promise and having encouraged, by his splendid example, other prisoners to do likewise, under the most appalling circumstances while in the Japanese Prisoner of War Camps at Shirakawa, Formosa.
ut then the trail goes cold, and it would seem that the full story, or even the little that I have been able to uncover has never been properly published. There are few illustrations for this part of the article, a clear indication that my researches at this stage are barely adequate. I will not be content until we have at least one photograph of the Major on these Pages and, I hope, contact from surviving members of the Crew or their relatives. Milestones, as always, would be grateful for any 'leads' or assistance.
The Siam - Burma Death Railway. The Menum Kwa Noi Rover Crew
The Bridge over the River Kwai
ith the fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese needed to construct a railway from that seaport back through Siam (now Thailand) and Burma to connect with their supply bases in Burma and, ultimately, to use as a point from which to invade India. Allied experts of the time considered that such a project would take five or six years and would never be finished whilst the war lasted. Amazingly, using an estimated 61,000 Prisoners of War and some 250,000 local labourers from Siam, Burma and Malaya, the project was finished in sixteen months but at a very high cost in human life. The Prisoners of War were (contrary to the film The Bridge on the River Kwai) very unwilling partners in the construction and a considerable number of them died of starvation, disease or the brutality that was necessary to persuade men to work in such conditions. On some sections such as that of the Hell Fire Pass, mortality was as high as fifty per cent. It is thought that 16,000 Allied PoWs and 75,000 Asian labourers died during the construction of the railway - one life for every railway sleeper laid, it was said, so earning the Siam - Burma railway the epithet 'The Death Railway'.
enum Kwai Noi is an area in the north of Siam, a country not conquered by the Japanese, but this was no obstacle to their railway-building plans. The Siamese people would never have been any match for the Japanese war machine and had little choice but to agree to the Japanese construction of a railway across their land in exchange for no other intervention in their way of life. In the valley of the Mae Klong it was necessary to build a bridge across the river and a trestle support for the line some way down its length where the river enters a gorge. Not far from the bridge site, the Mae Klong river joins the Kwai Noi which also required bridging. Prisoners from Changi were brought up by train, ironically pulled by engines built in Britain. They were housed in bamboo shelters on the bank of the river and set to work on both bridges and the Mae Klong trestles.
he film The Bridge on the River Kwai is perhaps best forgotten as an accurate historical record, though it did portray the conditions of brutality faced by the prisoners. The Kwai Bridge, as can seen from the photograph, was made from metal sections. These sections were brought up from Java and PoW labour was used in the construction of the bridge. The Mae Klong bridge was in fact the wooden trestle bridge of the film, but the easier name of The Bridge on the River Kwai was used as the title for the film. Both bridges were destroyed by American bombers in 1944. The trestle bridge was completely destroyed. The Kwai bridge received a direct hit and one section, the second span nearest to the camera in the image above, was destroyed, cutting the railway line at that point. The bridge remained unuseable and was not repaired until 1971, when it was put back into service. Today, tourists can walk, as I did, or take a train ride across it, to visit the site of the PoW camp over the river, to the left of bridge in the photograph. The picture was taken from the JEATH War Museum. The name, in conciliation, replaces the word 'Death', and stands jointly for Japan (J), England (E), America, Australia (A), Thailand (T) and Holland (H).
here follows two accounts about this camp taken from Bamboo Thumbsticks. We are told that the un-attributed authors knew each other, but were members of different sub-Crews within the main Rover Crew and were unaware of each other's contribution to the book.
A reconstruction of a PoW hut at the JEATH War Museum, River Kwai
"At the age of seven I joined the Wolf Cubs, and was a Sixer before going up to Scouts at eleven, eventually becoming a Patrol Leader. At the age of eighteen I was expected to join the Rover Crew, but after reading Rovering to Success felt I was not worthy, and so left the Scouts.
"When war came, I was called up for service and sent to Singapore. I had been there eight months when the island fell and like many others, found myself a prisoner in Japanese hands. It was then that I realised that thanks to my previous Scout Training I was able to look after myself and help my fellows to do the same.
"After eighteen months in Saigon, Indo China, I was taken to Siam to work on the Railway of Death. There was a perpetual nightmare, but I had faith that God was caring for me and repeated the 23rd Psalm every day. At one of the camps on the railway it was suggested that anyone who was an old Scout or a Rover should notify a certain person, who was hoping to form a Crew in the Camp and try to extend it to other camps without letting our captors know, or they would have thought we were planning for an attack or escape. That is why we always held our meetings in secret.
"Meetings were largely devoted to Scout work and Games. They gave life once again some meaning, and helped us from Great Britain, and our American, Australian and Dutch brothers to live through those years."
"The Menum Kwa Noi Rover Crew was, so far as I know, in existence for about twenty months during 1944 and 1945 in THAILAND, and consisted of a mixture of British, including Australians, Dutch and Americans. Rovering commenced "up-river" somewhere during the building of the Bangkok-Mulmein railway, sometimes known as the Railway of Death. Menum Kwa Noi means North of the Menum, and there were several crews under this name. Each camp had its gathering of Scouts and Rovers; these chaps naturally sorted themselves out by their common desire for fellowship, Christian or otherwise. A leader was elected and patrols formed. The patrols met on different nights, and now and again the whole camp crew would get together. Meetings were strictly secret from the Japanese. Lights had to be concealed and noise eliminated as much as possible.
The Mai Klong trestles, some of this PoW engineering is still evident today
"At Kaorin Camp, we used to meet in the Barber's Shop. This was a small hut built of bamboo and rattan (dry strips of flat bamboo plaited together to form a screen wall). The roof was made of dried leaves from the bamboo doubled over a thin bamboo cane about three feet long. These were placed like long slates on rafters and purlins, all of bamboo, well overlapping each other. We brought our homemade stools, in fact everything we possessed we made ourselves, for instance shorts out of rice sacks and shoes or "klompans" made of wood.
"Our activities were very limited. We went through the Scout tests, had advanced talks and demonstrations of first aid and ambulance from "Doc", played games and told stories relating to past Scouting and other activities. Some of our members had not been Scouts before; these chaps had to go through a probationary period and a type of training. The tests were as near to the real thing as possible, but the stress was on character and discipline.
"Through the medium of these crews there grew up a strong fellowship and love of one's fellow man. A fellowship which would undoubtedly be carried on afterwards, retarded a little by the thought that there might not be an afterwards in this world, but such thoughts were few and far between. The unity of the crews helped tremendously towards a happier and more optimistic outlook on the future. Our previous Scout and Rover training were absolutely invaluable during those long four years."
n The Scouter, December 1945 edition, in Rover Notes, Colonel C Watson, H.Q. Commissioner for Rover Scouts, wrote:
"There is also great news of a P.O.W. Crew in Siam, the "Manam Kovai Noi", [sic] now, of course, happily disbanded. It consisted of 200 or so Rovers of seven or eight nationalities and had branches in five camps. The whole thing was carried on secretly under threat of the death penalty. We are looking forward to getting the full story later on."
nfortunately, so far, I have been unable to discover 'the full story' but, as always Milestones, would be delighted to hear from anyone who has further information about the activities of these PoW Rovers, or indeed those from any other theatre of war.
he fact that none of the authors of the reminiscences in Bamboo Thumbsticks are named, is very much part of the pre-war Scouting tradition. It was common for writers to either go un-attributed or to use a pen-name: 'Jack Blunt', an author of Scouting books and articles in The Scout, whose true identity was never revealed; 'White Fox', who was a former Commissioner for Woodcraft, John Hargrave or 'A Holborn Rover', the name long-used by Ralph Reader, are prime examples, and stem from a belief that Scouting was bigger than any one person and that all who contributed were equal. Nowhere was that more amply demonstrated than in the Prisoner of War camps. Higher-ranking officers paid tribute to their men, whom they acknowledged suffered greater deprivation than themselves. The editor of Bamboo Thumbsticks apologises for adding army ranks to names, but states that he only did so to give an idea of the wide range of people involved.
he accounts of the 'Death Railway' were written by men who clearly have avoided recreating their worst moments. There is no word of criticism about their captors and they say nothing at all about the conditions under which they lived. Anyone who has any knowledge of the deprivations that these men worked under will marvel at their Scout Spirit, which shines through in abundance.
he image below is of one of the many hundreds of immaculately-kept graves of Allied servicemen in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery near the Kwai Bridge. I cannot say for certain that J Mole was a Rover Scout. But his, and each of the other graves, are marked by the crests of the same regimental units, and countries of origin as those I came across over and over again when reading the original Logbooks. His grave is pictured here as a memorial to all those who never returned.
'Lest We Forget'