Japanese company that employed prisoners from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire in Second World War forced labour camp agrees to erect memorial almost 70 years later
PUBLISHED: 16:49 09 June 2013 | UPDATED: 16:49 09 June 2013
© Archant Norfolk 2013
A memorial could soon stand where hundreds of young soldiers were enslaved by the Japanese.
Now a Norfolk couple, whose father was among them, are trying to contact his comrades in arms or their families, as they gather material they hope can be displayed nearby.
Corporal Arthur Jones joined the 6th Batt, Royal Norfolk Regiment in January, 1940. His stint in the army began close to his home in Dereham, patrolling the north Norfolk coastline.
But two years later, he was one of thousands shipped out to Singapore, in a vain attempt to stave off a Japanese invasion. When the British surrendered, in February 1942, Cpl Jones became a prisoner of war.
Along with 295 other British soldiers, he was transferred to Tokyo 13B Omi POW camp in May 1943, where inmates were put to work in the quarry, cement factory and open hearth furnaces of the Denki Kaguku Kogyo Company.
The names of every surviving inmate are recorded on a souvenir roster produced after the war by the camp’s allied commanders - who were responsible for record keeping.
At the end of the war there were 542 prisoners at the camp, almost half of which were east anglians - men of the 4th, 5th and 6th Royal Norfolks, the 4th and 5th Suffolk Regiment and the 1st and 2nd Cambridgeshires.
Sixty men died during their two and half year incarceration. They included 15 from Norfolk, four from Suffolk and one from Cambridgeshire. When the war ended, in August 1945, the long journey home began for those who had survived.
Cpl Jones went to work in maltings in Narborough and King’s Lynn. He met his wife, Netta, with whom he had a daughter Linda Lee, who was born in July 1947.
Linda, now Mrs Nicholls, grew up aware that her father had been in a forced labour camp. But like many, he said little about his ordeal, preferring to move on.
“He used to talk to me a little bit about being a prisoner,” said mother-of-two Mrs Nicholls, a retired occupational therapy assistant who lives in Gaywood, King’s Lynn, with her husband Kevin, 66, a retired training manager at Foster Refrigerator.
“He told me about the terrible snow they had. There were a lot who died of beri beri, malnutrition, dysentery and hard work in the quarry. They used to have to bind their feet, they had dripping wet clothes to put on.”
After Mr Jones died, at the age of 90, in 2008, the Nicholls found the camp roster and other papers including a card Cpl Jones had sent to his family in Dereham from Omi.
There was also a letter dated July 3, 1947, from Tetjuji Kondoh - president of the Denki Kaguku cement works.
“I beg to pay my highest esteem and courtesy for your hard work while you were at Omi,” it said.
“We Japanese are endeavoring to bring about a spiritual revolution in speeding the establishment of a democratic, cultural and peace loving nation.”
Tetjuji Kondoh’s words rang true when the Nicholls visited Japan, in 2010, on a pilgrimmage of reconciliation which included Omi arranged by Keiko Holmes of Agape World.
There seemed to be memorials everywhere except Omi, so the Nicholls contacted Denki Kaguku via the British Embassy.
“It occurred to us it would be a good idea if we could get a memorial put there, we think the company should pay,” said Mrs Nicholls.
“They said they would investigate the possibility of putting a memorial up, then they said they are prepared to put a memorial up in the spring of 2014.”
The Nicholls plan to attend the ceremony. They now hope to trace the families of the other inmates from East Anglia.
“If they wish to provide any information, memorabilia or stories we would be willing to put all of the information together in the hope that along with the memorial these artifacts can be displayed for any one interested to see,” said Mr Nicholls.
“We are not sure where this would be housed, perhaps in a museum at Omi or somewhere at the Denki Kagaku factory, but it would depend on the quantity we received.
“We have compiled a list of names, including one surviving POW, and relatives of deceased POW’s who are interested in the Omi memorial so that we can keep them informed of developments.
“The names we have collected so far have been sent to the British Embassy in Tokyo for them to pass on to Denki Kagaku to add weight in getting the memorial erected.”
Mr and Mrs Nicholls can be contacted via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.