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Frank Dunn with fellow prisoners of war: "Recollections of a Brother's Global Trek in World War Two" by Neville Dunn: Fig 4"

Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan

August 1945

see below for the account for which this is Fig. 4 and part of the front cover.

"Recollections of a Brother's Global Trek in World War Two"

by Neville Dunn

March 2004



Frank Dunn with fellow prisoners of war in a Japanese camp at Fukuoka, Kyushu after WW2 ended, August 1945. Frank made the Aldis lamp from an old headlamp to contact US planes dropping supplies.


see also 96.88 for the account in which this photograph is included

"Sweet and Sour - The Story of a Global Trek in World War Two" by Frank



This image appears in the article, "My Buckley Great Granddads" by Eve Dunn - entries 230.1 - 4 (Figs. 1 - 4) and 96.8 (Fig. 5) and 96.4 (Fig. 6). To see all the images enter "My Buckley Great Granddads" in the reminiscence field.




The author sits centre in a group of POWs after peace was announced with the Aldis lamp made from a head lamp and British CO, Capt. Williams, on far left.






March 2004


In 1937 my eldest brother Frank Dunn decided to leave home in Park Road, Buckley, North Wales to join the RAF as a 17 year old boy entrant. As a 7 year old, I had become used to the short wave radios with their mysterious glowing valves that he was always building in his bedroom and it was natural therefore that he should be trained as a wireless operator/airgunner at the Electrical and Wireless School of RAF College at Cranwell in Lincolnshire. After successfully completing the course, he was posted to No 34 (B) Squadron where he was to fly as third crew member in one of the new, twin-engined Bristol Blenheim fighter bombers.


My lifelong interest in aviation stems from my brother's RAF service and I well remember how my sister Grace and I were very impressed by Frank's leather flying jacket and his flying boots when he came home on leave in the white Christmas of 1938. I also remember being taken to RAF Sealand in May of that year by my father, a WW1 veteran, to see the Empire Air Display and being very excited at seeing my first Spitfire flash across the sky after a succession of very slow biplanes. I at least did not realise war was just around the corner but I think my father already knew what was to come.


Our young neighbour June Ruckledge, worked in Courtaulds with a girl from Flint, Eunice Barrett who often visited her. Frank started seeing a lot of of Eunice when he came home on leave and it seemed an odd coincidence that it was on 18 August 1939, Eunice's 18th birthday, Frank's squadron was posted to Singapore in the Far East. He sent us a succession of postcards from exotic places like France, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and India as the squadron flew out very leisurely just as war was declared here in Europe. The flight was not without incident as one of the Blenheims damaged a propeller on landing and was grounded with two escort planes until a new prop was flown out by flying boat from Britain. Frank told us in his letters that life in Singapore was at first quiet with an almost peacetime existence, punctuated only by routine training flights. Then this all ended abruptly in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December and declared war on the USA and the Commonwealth.


Back in Wales in the summer of 1941, three ladies in their eighties turned up out of the blue on our doorstep in Park Road. My grandmother Eliza Dunn from Suffolk and her two sisters, Nance Fryett and Carrie Longland both from London, had decided that North Wales would be safe from German air raids and promptly evacuated themselves without warning us. We could not house them all in our small house so Auntie Nance and Auntie Carrie went to live with Miss Nellie Hopwood at 181 Mold Road. They all stayed in Buckley until they returned home in 1942. Auntie Nance had a son, Frank Fryett, who had been a Fleet Street reporter before being called up and he somehow wangled a posting to a nearby Royal Artillery anti-aircraft battery in Kinnerton so that he could see his mother. He visited us later in 1941 to tell us that he had been posted and, without disclosing his destination, said there was a chance of seeing his cousin Frank - we then knew he was bound for the Far East.


Meanwhile, after flying sorties against the enemy in Siam and Malaya and being attacked on the ground, little remained of my brother's No 34 Squadron and what was left tried to escape to India and Australia. Frank however had by then crossed over by boat from Singapore to the island of Sumatra, part of the Dutch East Indies, where he took part in the little known battle of Palembang, Hurricane fighter reinforcements had been shipped out and these were used to try and beat off the Japanese attacks from the sea and the air aimed at capturing the vital Royal Dutch Shell oil fields. The battle was lost however, the oil fields set alight and Frank was lucky to be evacuated with other servicemen on board the last, overladen boat crossing the narrow sea strait to Merak, a port on the west end of the neighbouring island of Java.

During trench digging operations in Sumatra, my brother had developed a hernia and on arrival in the Javan capital of Batavia (now known as Jakarta) he was admitted to a Dutch hospital. As the Japanese approached, he was later moved to an inland hill hospital from where he discharged himself and with others decided to trek south over the high mountains to try and escape to Australia. After a start on foot, they joined up with an Australian Army "Black Brigade" who intended to drive their trucks over the mountains to find a port and escape ship on the south coast.


On the narrow, twisted mountain tracks however the Aussies took a wrong turning and found themselves at a dead end with no chance of reversing or turning around. The trucks were all heaved over the edge of the track into the deep ravine below including one, the cash truck, that contained a hoard of Dutch silver guilder coins! Back again on foot, the men wearily carried on over the mountains to reach the south coast, only to learn there were no boats available. Frank was now part of an RAF contingent which eventually had no choice but to surrender and they were transported back to Batavia. Here the group were first held by the Japanese in a native jail where 150 men at a time were crowded into cells intended for 30 and, with a lack of sanitary facilities and food, dysentery soon began to take its deadly toll.


While all this had been happening to my brother, the troopship carrying cousin Frank had been diverted from Singapore only to sail into Batavia harbour and be immediately captured by the Japanese. By what seems an amazing coincidence, cousin Frank was moved into a camp in a rubber plantation where by sheer chance he spotted brother Frank. Hardly able to believe his good luck, my brother was to have a vital companion for the rest of his imprisonment. Cousin Frank, as a former Fleet Street reporter, was very streetwise and, when my brother developed serious dysentery, it was his London cousin who was able against the odds to bargain for eggs and other food from local natives which most probably saved my brother Frank's life. It seemed like a tale of the town mouse and the country mouse!


After being moved to yet another camp, the Japanese soon began transporting prisoners to Singapore for onward shipment to Japan to work as slave labour. The prisoners travelled in small, unmarked coasters under appalling conditions, continuously battened down in the holds. These ships were naturally being attacked and sunk by the Allies and, in October 1943 when cousin Frank was selected for one of these transfers, brother Frank riskily volunteered to change places with another Flight Sergeant so that the two cousins could stay together. Sadly that other airman was eventually to die on another ship when he in turn was shipped out.


From Singapore, the prisoners were put on board a ship which was returning Japanese troops to Japan for further combat. En route, their convoy was attacked by an American submarine and, among other ships, a tanker carrying aviation petrol from the Dutch oil wells was hit and went up with a tremendous explosion. Years after the war had ended, my brother Frank learned that a fellow RAF ex-prisoner had met a visiting American Rotarian who was an ex-naval officer and had served on that very submarine. He still vividly remembered the explosion that day in 1943!


Life in Japan proved to be extremely harsh when the prisoners were put to work on the coal faces in the mines with the minimum of food and only poor clothing to resist the bitter Japanese winters. As a youngster, I and my brothers had been taught by our father how to cut bread and meat thinly and evenly - Fred Dunn was a top class joiner and always did things properly! When the prisoners were given a morsel of fish or meat to supplement the small daily ration of rice and vegetables, brother Frank was always called upon to cut it up as he could do this so thinly that everyone got a taste!


Prisoners who were too ill or weak to work underground were placed in workshops repairing motors and other electrical gear which was in fact as hard if not harder than working underground. Whether underground or on the surface, the prisoners did their bit for the war effort by sabotaging equipment such as putting sand in the motor bearings. They did this at great risk to their own lives as detection would have meant summary execution. Brother Frank also kept a diary which was strictly against the rules and would have resulted in dire punishment if he had been caught. The Japanese guards practised crafty deceptions such as the Christmas dinner that was laid out for the prisoners so that visiting Swedish Red Cross inspectors could see how well they were being treated. As soon as photographs had been taken however, the tables were cleared with no prisoner being able to touch the food - that is, except cousin Frank who sneaked something at great risk to himself!


Meanwhile, we at home knew nothing of these happenings because brother Frank had been posted missing believed killed in action in 1942 and my father died from his war service disability in February 1943 not knowing whether his eldest son was alive or dead. My mother never lost hope that he was alive somewhere and, late in 1943, a charred Red Cross postcard from Frank turned up in the post. The aircraft carrying the mail had crashed in Northern Ireland and most of it had been burnt in the fire, much to the loss of many unlucky families. Our postcard carried only a few standard phrases but we knew now that Frank was alive and a few similar cards appeared over the next two years.


The POW camp housing the cousins was situated near Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu and it lay half way between Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although the prisoners realised the war had changed when American planes began to bomb the Japanese mainland, none of them understood the meaning of the huge explosions over those two cities in August 1945. Now, almost six years to the day he had left Britain, brother Frank more or less knew that their war would soon be over but it was 7th September before American aircraft started dropping supplies to the prisoners. By which time, brother Frank with his electrical knowledge, had made an Aldis-type signalling lamp from an old headlight to communicate with the planes (see attached photo with Frank Dunn in centre wearing cap). The supplies were dropped in canisters made from welding two oil drums together and, although these were supported by parachutes, the parachutes sometimes broke away to leave the drums falling like bombs. Buildings were demolished including the camp commandant's quarters and Japanese civilians were killed.


When released by the Americans in September 1945, the prisoners found a hut stacked with mail and parcels which none of them had ever received. The two cousins visited the local village before being taken to Nagasaki for transportation home. Other than it had been a very large bomb that had been dropped on the city, none of the prisoners realised that it had been a nuclear bomb and what hazards they were risking just being in Nagasaki. All prisoners were very emaciated on release, brother Frank ending up at 50 kg (7 stone 12 lb), but he was soon putting weight on fast under American hospitality! The journey from Nagasaki to the island of Okinawa was spent in the hanger of a large tanker converted to an aircraft carrier and it must have seemed like a luxury cruise compared with their past years. The prisoners were then flown by USAF transport planes from Okinawa to Manila in The Phillipines.


After two weeks in Manila where the cousins were to meet celebrities like Danny Kaye and Lady Mountbatten, the rest of October 1945 was spent crossing the Pacific Ocean in a very uncomfortable transport called a Liberty ship which were noted for their instability. They docked in Seattle and the two Franks were taken by train over the border to join a Canadian hospital train in Vancouver. It was already the start of winter as they crossed the Rockies but now they were properly clothed for the cold weather. The train discharged its passengers in New York where they embarked on the Queen Mary, empty of returning American troops, for the final leg across the Atlantic Ocean, to end their global trek in at Southampton some 75 months after brother Frank had set out.

Little did he know it at the time but Frank passed his younger brother Norman out in mid Channel who was on his way out with the Royal Armoured Corps to North Africa - they were not to see each for another two years. After the excitement of Frank's homecoming, my most vivid teenage memories are of a kitbag seemingly packed with American cigarettes and chocolate, some of which I confess I sampled. I can still remember that distinctive smell of Lucky Strikes and Camels and the taste of Hershey bars. The other memorable souvenir was, to us at least, an unknown board game my brother had picked up on the voyage across the Pacific - Monopoly! My younger sister and I were fascinated by this strange game of buying and renting properties which I still have in which we of course had to use dollars and not pounds and we landed on the various railroads instead of familiar London stations. What was a Boardwalk we asked?


After six years of absence with a heart grown fonder, Eunice Barrett took up with brother Frank where they had left off in 1939 and they married in 1947 coincidentally on the anniversary of the fall of Singapore, 15th February, five years earlier. Frank and Eunice, now in their eighties, live in Blacon on the outskirts of Chester and have a daughter, Frances, married to Ian Gander, and two adult grandsons, Neil and Ryan.


Sadly, there were many missing faces in Buckley back in late 1945 and, out of four close school friends from the Board School, brother Frank was the only one to survive the war. Gerald Lyons, a next door neighbour in Park Road, was the first to die from meningitis while serving in the Royal Marines. Royal Navy sailor Harry Langford, whose father Walter kept a grocer's shop in Brunswick Road opposite Park Road, died aboard HMS Nith which was damaged by a pilotless German plane in June 1944 while serving as a brigade headquarters ship off the Normandy beaches after the D Day landings. Harry left a young widow and a baby son. Another school pal Wilf Jones also from Brunswick Road died somewhere unknown in the Far East while serving in the RAF. Mrs Jones, Wilf's mother, and my mother remained very close friends all their lives and Mrs Jones was positive that she saw the spirit of her son at her bedside one night in 1943 which she always considered afterwards as a sign of his death. Cousin Frank Fryett returned to his extrovert life style in London newspapers and soon lost touch with his Welsh cousins. Buckley continued to change with Walter Langford's shop eventually demolished for the new Precinct construction and Zion Presbyterian Church, where Frank pumped the organ on Sundays, also demolished to make way for the new bypass road.


Brother Frank continued his full engagement of service with the RAF until retirement in 1960, now grounded though and supervising radio and radar installations in the UK and Kenya, but then could not sever the links he had made and subsequently served as a civilian radio inspector at the RAF's principal radio and radar servicing centre at RAF Sealand until final retirement. This meant that he spent many happy years at RAF Sealand which by now had lost to industrial development the airfield that I had visited with my dad in 1938 and which had existing since Royal Flying Corps days in World War 1.


In spite of all the hardships he suffered, Frank still has a 'ham' radio room at home where he indulges in his lifetime hobby of amateur radio, keeping in touch with contacts all over the world including ex-RAF colleagues. In 2003 he won the annual trophy awarded to a member of the RAF Cranwell Radio Club for promoting radio communication among its members. By another odd coincidence, the trophy commemorates the life of another unrelated Flight Sergeant Dunn that Frank remembers from his days at Cranwell and it would have been presented, if Frank could have attended, by an Air Vice Marshal Dunn! Some of the Club's members are ex-prisoners of the Far East war and it seems ironic that their radio equipment, no doubt the best available, is very likely to be Japanese made!


March 2004


Fig. 1 Frank Dunn with father Fred and brother Allan on home leave in 1937 shortly after joining

the RAF as a 17 year old boy entrant.( Entry 96.4)


Fig. 2 A model of the Bristol Blenheim Mk 1B fighter bomber in its prewar markings in which

Frank Dunn flew with No 34 (B) Squadron in Britain and the Far East between 1938 and

1942. (Entry 96.9)


Fig. 3 Frank Dunn coping with equatorial heat at RAF Tengah, Singapore in 1940. (Entry 96.10)


Fig. 4 Frank Dunn with fellow prisoners of war in a Japanese camp at Fukuoka, Kyushu after

WW2 ended. Frank made the Aldis signal lamp from an old headlamp to contact US

planes dropping supplies. (This entry)


Fig. 5 Frank Dunn's school pal and next door neighbour in Park Road, Gerald Lyons who

died from meningitis while serving in the Royal Marines. (Entry 103.1)


Fig. 6 Another of Frank's school pals, Harry Langford from Brunswick Road who died aboard HMS

Nith in June 1944 off the Normandy beaches after the D Day landings. (104.1)

Author: Dunn, Neville


Year = 1945

Month = August

Building = Military

Event = Historic

Gender = Male

People = Group

Work = Military

Extra = Formal Portrait

Extra = Military

Extra = WW2

Extra = 1940s

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