FEPOW History Group (RFH)
Seminar for Beginners - SUMMARY Report
5 May 2007


Researching Researching FEPOW History Group (RFH) – Seminar for Beginners
5 May 2007
NMA Alrewas, Staffs

The Seminar was organised in response to feedback from delegates the RFH 2006 conference. The themes for the day were how to make a start, where to find information, who can help and the importance of sharing information.

Chairman, Jonathan Moffatt, welcomed delegates and introduced guest speaker Roderick Suddaby from the Imperial War Museum, FEPOW guests Harry Hesp (ex-Merchant Navy - Empress of Asia, Singapore), Fred Seiker (Dutch Army, Java and Thai-Burma Railway) and Victor Cole (RA, Changi and Thai-Burma Railway) and the other members of the group: Meg and Mike Parkes, Julie Summers, Erica Toosey, Keith Andrews and Martin Percival.

Delegates had travelled from all over the UK; some had attended last year’s conference while others were new to both the group and to FEPOW research. The Second World War Experience Centre in Leeds sent three representatives including one of their volunteer oral historians who works throughout the Midlands region on their behalf.

Jonathan invited two of the delegates, Hamzah Muzaini and Dr Nigel Stanley, to briefly outline their own particular research interests. He then asked Julie Summers to give and overview of sources of information and she was followed by Keith and Martin who gave the first in-depth presentation of the day.

Keith is an acknowledged expert on the National Archives FEPOW holdings. After detailing specific files and records he gave a fascinating insight into the wealth of information available as well as many of the vagaries and anomalies of the collections held at Kew. He identified several key areas about which no papers have yet been unearthed: repatriation ships and embarkation lists; RAPWI (Repatriation of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees) information, specifically camp rosters; part of David Nelson’s BRE Changi files. He warned delegates to be alert to the possibility of finding ‘hidden treasures’ in files, both at the NA and elsewhere. Sharing such information is vital.

Martin’s specific area of expertise covers magazines and newsletters published by FEPOW clubs and associations over the past 60 plus years. He outlined how such documents can illuminate and inform research and he stressed the need to read, and re-read your own source information regularly.

A break for coffee allowed delegates and guests to visit the bookstall and view exhibits brought in by speakers and delegates.

Next to speak was Roderick Suddaby, the Keeper of the Department of Documents at the IWM in London and an acknowledged expert on their FEPOW collection. He detailed the extent of the holdings, including both the photographs (over 9 million images) and sound archives, as well as the origins of the collection. He paid particular tribute to the work of David Nelson in the Bureau of Records and Enquiry at Changi, John Sharpe for his
post-war collection of FEPOW news cuttings and information and most recently, Les and Pam Stubbs, for their exhaustive work on documenting and publishing details of RAF personnel in the Far East. Since Les died last year, Pam has continued with their work on the Navy lists.

During an informal lunch many present took the opportunity to visit the FEPOW Memorial building and FEPOW plot. Delegates, speakers and FEPOW guests found time for informal chats with one or two discovering connections, eg Keith Andrews discovered that Victor Cole was in the same battery as his father and was able to show Victor his name on the official roll, a copy of which was on display.

The afternoon was a sharing session. First of all three of the organisers outlined their current areas of research: Meg explained the oral history project she has been taken on to run for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (part of Liverpool University). This will involve interviewing around 50 FEPOW during the next year about their experiences but with particular emphasis on the post-war years and how those experiences informed their lives. Two of the guests, Harry and Victor, have already been interviewed and she is shortly to visit Fred. She appealed to delegates for help in finding FEPOW who would be willing to be interviewed.

Jonathan explained his research on Argyll and Sutherland Highland and Gordon Highlander POWs - some 1500 in all, his aim being to create a database of use to FEPOW families and researchers which would give the specific POW camps each man was in with precise dates. Jonathan outlined sources of information including Battalion Record Books [Nominal Rolls] before concluding with a hands-on session looking at the account of a determined escaper, Pte McGlade of the Argylls.

Julie spoke about her forthcoming publication REMEMBERED, A history of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that is published to coincide with the Commission’s 90th anniversary on 21 May 2007. She then spoke about her research into Stranger in the House, a book that will look at the effect of returning men on family life after the Second World War. She invited any delegates who would like to talk about their experiences to contact her.

Delegates then shared information about their own areas of research and need for help and information.

In his closing remarks, Jonathan informed all present that the focus of next year’s conference would be Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya. Key note speakers include: Tony Banham the acknowledged authority on Hong Kong FEPOW research and Mr Jeyathurai A.(Jeya), Director of the Changi Museum. A full line up of speakers will be published in early June.