Sunday, 14 August 2022

Henley Probus Club

THE Club held its 445th meeting at Badgemore Park Golf Club on July 10.

After the normal business, the guest speaker Anthony Wilder gave a talk, with the assistance of slides, entitled “PoW sketchbook — a story of survival”.

The talk was about his father, William Wilder, who was a prisoner of war in the Far East during the Second World War.

William Wilder was born in Wallingford in 1915 and after his early education attended the fine art department at Reading University.

His first job was as a teacher at Culham College of Education but in 1940, after one year of teaching, he was called into the armed forces where he trained for one year as a gunner.

In 1941 he left by ship for Singapore where he arrived, via Cape Town, in January 1942. William had maintained a diary throughout his student life and then during his career in the forces.

This was to help greatly when it came to recalling his experiences between 1942 and 1945 and sharing them in later years with Anthony.

In February 1942, Japan attacked Singapore and William became prisoner. With little food, a small island and very poor logistics, starvation was rife.

While William was a PoW he was used by the Japanese as an artist and as such was granted access to materials to produce illustrated drawings for them.

He also produced drawings for himself and these, along with his diary, allowed William to record graphic accounts of his day-to-day activities for the whole of his period in captivity.

In March 1943, the British captives were loaded on to cattle trucks and taken on a four-day journey by railway (standing all of the way) through Malaysia to Thailand to work on the Thailand to Burma railway for the specific purpose of providing the Japanese access to attack (British) India.

The railway was 258 miles long, including the bridge over the River Kwai and the Wampo viaduct.

It became known as the Death Railway because of the high attrition rate — the British PoWs comprised about 30,000 and their attrition was 22 per cent while the Malay prisoners were about 50,000 and experienced 56 per cent attrition.

Anthony read out extracts from his father’s diary, some of which were horrific while others were humorous.

The bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945 allowed the prisoners of war in the Far East to be set free. William, together with his diary and illustrations, returned to Oxfordshire in November 1945.

Anthony was thanked by members for his talk and congratulated for having been able to sit with his father and extract so much detailed information on his years in captivity.

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