September 28th, 2016

VJ Day: Solihull veteran remembers his time as a Japanese POW

VJ Day: Solihull veteran remembers his time as a Japanese POW VJ Day: Solihull veteran remembers his time as a Japanese POW
Updated: 4:06 pm, Aug 17, 2015

AS SOLIHULL fell silent to commemorate Victory over Japan day, one local resident remembers all too clearly what the war was like for Allied forces fighting in the Far East.

As Europe celebrated victory over Germany on May 8, 1945, Solihull resident Alec Gibson, was being held as a Japanese Prisoner-Of-War and subjected to hard labour and torture at the hands of his captors.

The war was not over troops and POWs in Japan for another three months.

The 93-year-old great-grandfather, who is now a resident at The Royal Star & Garter Home in Solihull, was just 17-year-old working in an armament firm as part of the reserved occupation when World War Two broke out.

Knowing that his friends were fighting and dying for their country Alec felt it was his duty to join up and was commissioned into the Indian Army.

Serving in Burma as a cipher officer with the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade, otherwise known as the Chindits commanded by Brigadier Orde Wingate, he put his mathematics and numeracy skills to good use coding and decoding secret messages.

But when his brigade came under attack from the Japanese in 1943, Alec was commanded to crawl through enemy fire to destroy the code book that was attached to a dead mule in a nearby clearing.

As he and his unit tried to escape across the Irrawaddy River, they were captured.

Alec was held in a Prisoner-Of-War camp in Rangoon for more than two years – suffering malnutrition, disease and subjected to hard labour and beatings.

But this did not dampen Alec’s spirits – the 93-year-old reminiscing how he took every opportunity to sabotage his captors by damaging rice sacks and dropping goods from boats.

“If you were found out you’d get a good old beating,” he added.

“I got caught now and again.”

Deciding to move their prisoners to Thailand, the Japanese rounded up the prisoners fit to march and left those unable to walk to fend for themselves.

Luckily Alec, who at this point weighed just five stone, was one of the few who marched on.

But when the Japanese found themselves and their captives on no man’s land, being shelled from both sides, Alec and the Prisoners-of-War were abandoned giving them the chance to escape to a nearby village.

It was here, where they faced bombing from unsuspecting Allied forces, that Alec lost one of the senior officers he had grown close to – who, having survived the rigours of the camp, was caught up in the shelling and killed.

After recuperation in India, Alec eventually returned home to his family who had received no news since 1943 when they received the message: ‘Missing, presumed drowned.’

Surviving his beloved wife Kathleen after 61 years of marriage, Alec now spends his time on the cycling machine and practicing his passion for art.

And despite everything, Alec said he would do it all again.

He added: “I had some close scrapes, but really it is just sheer bloody luck that I’m still here.”

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