Sketch by Jack Chalker

Prisoner Of War

The Bishop

The Bishop

Bishop of Singapore and Birmingham

At the cessation of hostilities in Singapore, the Bishop was not interned immediately, but was allowed, under escort to visit hospitals and certain prisoner of war camps. Freedom of activity was largely due to the good offices of a Japanese officer, Lieutenant Ogawa, who arrived in Singapore soon after the occupation and held the position of Director of Religion and Education. He gave the Bishop a letter in Japanese which explained who he was and what his activities were. It was through his contact with these camps that the Bishop was able to establish a system of messages between those in POW camps and their relatives and friends in the civilian internment camp at Changi. It was the policy of the Japanese throughout the whole period of the occupation to allow no communication between civilians and the prisoners of war. It was due to the Bishops initiative that a great many prisoners and internees thus heard news of relatives and friends, which they would not otherwise have received. He even obtained drugs and medical supplies for the hospital from dubious sources when the Japanese moved the General Hospital to the Miyako which was a Mental Hospital. His escapades were unknown to the Japanese who would have called it looting and he would have suffered the penalty. Undoubtedly he took serious personal risks, but the Japanese never discovered what was going on, and he was not questioned about it, when he was later under interrogation by the hated KAMPETAI, equivalent to the German Gestapo, the Japanese Military Police. He was also responsible for getting money into the camps to purchase food and medical supplies, as that supplied by the Japanese were non existant. He had various methods of getting money into camps. On one occasion he concealed a large sum of money in a piece of piping which he was taking into camp. Another was to smuggle in money was when on funeral duty to put it in the all-purpose coffin when it was returned empty from the cemetery. Sometimes money was put in the Bishop's robe case while he was taking a funeral. He was able to borrow money in the name of the Anglican Church. Much of it came from the Chinese who believed in the final success of the British, and were ready to lend money in return for IOU's. The Japanese were trying to establish that there was a spy organisation in Changi prison which received and transmitted by radio telephone; which had established contacts in the town for. the purpose of sabotage and stirring up anti-Japanese feeling outside the camp. There were, however, radio receiving sets in the camp, which were used soley for the reception of news, and money was collected from outside the camp for the sole purpose of supplementing inadequate rations supplied by the Japanese. It seems certain that the Military Police had got to know that money was being brought into the camp, and that the Bishop was implicated in this, also there was an attack on the Japanese ships in Singapore Harbour and the Bishop was thought to be implicated in this. The arrests that took place were to be known as the ‘The Double Tenth’ as they occurred on the 10th October.

Leonard Wilson, Bishop of Singapore, was taken by the police on October 17, 1943, to Outram Road Jail, Singapore, headquarters of the Kampetai. On the evening of his arrival, the Bishop was questioned, the interrogation being punctuated with beatings, for between three and four hours. On the following morning he was again taken to the torture room, where he was made to kneel down. A three angled bar was placed behind his knees. He was then made to kneel down, on his haunches. His hands were tied behind his back and pulled up to a position between his shoulder blades. His head was forced down and he remained in this position for seven and a half hours. Any attempt to ease the strain from the cramp in his thighs was frustrated by the guards, who brought the flat of their hobnailed boots down hard on his thighs. At intervals the bar between his knees would be twisted, or the guards would jump onto one or both projecting ends. Beatings or kicks were frequent. Throughout the whole of this time he was being questioned and told that he was a spy. This was one of the times when he lost his nerve and pleaded for death.

Again the next morning he was brought up from the cells, and this time, tied face upwards to a table with his head hanging over the end of it. For several hours he remained in that position while relays of soldiers beat him systematically from the ankles to the thighs with three fold knotted ropes. He fainted, was revived with warm milk, and then the beating was continued. He estimated he must have received over three hundred lashes. The beating he said, was far easier to bear than the excruciating pain of the previous day. It was not long before he lost all sense of feeling. The blows had lost their power to hurt, so dead were the nerves of the body. He was tortured on the evening of the 17th, and most of the day of the 18th and on the 19th of. October. Finally he was taken down to the cells and thrown on the floor, in a semi conscious state, and he said that if it had not been for Stephenson, who subsequently died from the treatment he himself received, he would not have survived. He said that without God's help he doubted whether he would have come through. Long hours of ignoble pain were a severe test. In the middle of that torture they asked him if he still believed in God. "Then by God's help he said, "I do," they asked me why God did not save me, He does not save my by freeing me from pain or punishment, but he saves me by giving me the spirit to bear it. And when they asked him why he did not curse them he said that we were all brethren, even though as I looked at their faces as they stood and took it in turn to flog me, their faces were hard and cruel and some of them were evidently enjoying their cruelty.

While the Bishop did not suffer further physical torture except for one brief period, the interrogation went on for months. At one period of the interrogation he was asked each day how old he was. He said he was 45. Then one day he was asked the same question, he answered, 'I am 46.' The guards immediately broke out in chorus, 'You are lying; you are lying, you told us you were 45. The Bishop said, 'I am not lying, because today is my birthday.'

The atmosphere changed at once. The guards made him comfortable, gave him food and a cigarette to smoke, and stopped their questioning for that day. He was then put in a cell where the internees were crowded, irrespective of race, sex or state of health, in cells or cages. They were so crowded that they could not lie down in comfort. No bedding or covering of any kind were provided, and bright lights were kept burning overhead all night. Prom 8 am to 10 pm inmates had to sit up straight on the bare floor with their knees up, and were not allowed to relax or put their hands on the floor to talk, or move, except to go to the lavatory. Any infractions of the rigid discipline involved a beating by the sentries. There was one pedestal water closet in each cell or cage, and the water flushing into the pan provided the only water supply for all purposes, including drinking. It should be recorded here that nearly all the inmates suffered from enteritis or dysentry. No soap, towels, toilet articles or handkerchiefs were permitted, and inmates had no clothing other than they were wearing. The food supplied, normally rice, occasional vegetables, and weak tea with no mill; or sugar, was less than half of that supplied by our own prisons' department as a punishment diet for Asiatics. Three women taken from Changi Prison were detained in exactly the same conditions as the men, and shared cells with male prisoners of all races. They were afforded no privacy, even for their most intimate requirements, and any attempt on the part of European men to screen them was broken down by the guards. The building resounded all day and night with blows, the bellowing of inquisitors, and the shrieks of the tortured.

In these conditions and this atmosphere of terror, these men and women waited, sometimes for months, their summons to interrogation, which might come at any hour of the day or night. The Bishop was eventually sent back by the Military Police to the internment camp in Sime Road. This happened on May 26th, 1944. He went to a hospital attached to the camp. He had  lost four stones, but after some weeks was sufficiently recovered to join his fellow internees.

Changi Gaol-2

Confirmation of Prisoners in Changi Gaol after liberation

In 1947, after the war, the Bishop took various services of baptism and confirmation in the Cathedral for those who had been prepared, and he got permission for those who were serving sentences for war crimes to be marched up from the prison. Among those that he baptised and confirmed was one of the men of the Military Police who had been responsible, four years earlier for taking part in his own torturing. "I have seldom seen so great a change in a man. He looked so gentle and peaceful, even though he was going back to serve a ten year sentence, and later he received communion at my hands ir the prison," said the Bishop.

Ted Coffey, Deputy Chairman of the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association (FEPOWs), writes; He was known as 'Our Bishop', and was greatly loved by all FEPOWs irrespective of race or creed. Probably one of the most significant things happened after his death, when the Emperor of Japan paid an official visit to this country. Many of our members took great exception to this, but at our annual conference held that year, it was agreed we would take no action. This was mainly due to the conference being re-mended of the teachings we had so. often heard the Bishop tell us.

For many years the Bishop took the Annual Service of Remembrance and Reunion for the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association held in the Royal Festival Hall in London.

The Bishop took his last service in St Paul's Cathedral on July 23rd, 1970. In the train on the way home to Yorkshire, he was taken ill. He had a mild stroke, but this was followed almost at once by a second more serious one. He died at his home in Wensleydale on August 18th, 1970.



The Double Tenth



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[Keeping the Faith] [Arriving in Singapore] [Prisoner Of War] [The Double Tenth] [Sermon] [My Fathers Witness]


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