Sketch by Jack Chalker

Love Sprang from Batu Lintang

Love Sprang from Batu Lintang

by

Carol Burnett

 

Robert Fyvie was suffering terribly from a bout of dysentery, he had arrived in Malaya with the 2nd Gordon Highlanders on the 8th March 1937 and in the May of 1940 was transferred to the R.A.S.C. with his best friend Tommy. It was bad enough being interned in the Batu Lintage prisoner of war camp but the dysentery was getting Robert down. Tommy, thinking it would cheer him up and aid recovery, nagged Robert to attend a concert being performed by the women and children of the camp. Finally giving in, Robert settled down next to Tommy and the rest of the audience for the entertainment.

Standing on the makeshift stage, a group of young women performed a variety of songs. One of the women in the chorus was Frances Colina, and it didn't take Robert long to notice her. He told Tommy in no uncertain terms, that he had just found the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Needless to say, Tommy's plan worked and Robert made a full recovery!

Robert found out that Frances had lived with her parents in Sarawak before the Japanese invaded, Frances father owning the Va Timber Co Sawmill at Lawas. Arrangements were quickly made for her younger brother, who was at boarding school in Singapore, to be sent to New Zealand. Frances had spent almost a year in hiding with her parents, until surrendering to the Japanese at Trusan in late 1942.

Over the next couple of years, Frances regularly received little parcels of sugar, smuggled to her via some of the locals, sometimes accompanied with a bunch of wild flowers. The sender of these precious gifts remained a total mystery to her, but were hugely appreciated, especially as she knew what risks this person was taking.

After three years of imprisonment, the camp's occupants were finally liberated and preparations began for sending them home.

manunda0102

Hospital ship A.H.S Manunda

(Australian Hospital Ship)

Plans were made for Frances and her parents to board the Australian hospital ship A.H.S. Manunda to Singapore, while Robert and Tommy were to board another ship. This did not suit Robert at all well, as he feared he would lose his love and never find her again.

After arranging a meeting with the captain of the Manunda, Robert explained his future wife was to be a passenger on his ship and he wished to be transferred on board with her, so they could be married. The captain pulled a few strings and arrangements were made for both Robert and Tommy to be transferred.

When Frances and her parents boarded the ship, they were introduced to the captain. On recognising her name, the captain immediately congratulated Frances on her forth coming marriage. This came as quite a shock to the young woman, as she had no idea what he was talking about. She had in fact, been previously engaged to a British Naval officer but sadly, he had died earlier in the war.

Upon introducing himself, Robert explained that he was the sender of the gifts of sugar and flowers, and that he had promised himself he would marry her as soon as they were free. He had been completely in love with her since the day he saw her on stage. Not wanting to cause any upset or embarrassment to anyone, and being quite taking by this cheeky Scotsman, Frances agreed to the wedding.

Grandparents-2

Frances in her wedding dress aboard A.H.S Manunda

 

Three days later, the captain stopped the engines and broadcast the wedding ceremony throughout the ship. Frances was wearing a beautiful dress made of gauze bandages by the nurses on board, and Tommy was honoured to be present as Robert's best man.

Grandparents

Grandpa was posted to Singapore from 1949 until 1952 as part of the Far Eastern Land Force (FARELF).

In the 1950s the Far Eastern Land Force (FARELF) defence programme was in full operation, grandpa was posted with this force to Singapore in 1949.  The Malayan Government built twelve jungle forts, Brooke, Chabai, Dixon, Iskandar, Kemar, Langkap, Lebau, Legap, Selim, Shean, Tapong and Telanok, these were not only to protect the Malayan aborigines who were the target of the terrorists, but also as bases for jungle patrols for the Security Forces. Grandpa returned to Britain in 1952.

Robert and Frances went on to have seven children, my Dad being the eldest. They spent many years together as best friends, devoted husband and wife, wonderful parents and the best grandparents a girl could ever ask for. I miss them both so much, but find comfort and strength knowing that from all the misery, pain and suffering of a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Borneo, could come such life long love.

St James Palace

St. James Palace in 1955 after Grandpa  received his MBE

The children are my Dad and his sister Stella Manunda Fyvie

Frances brother stayed on in New Zealand and lives there to this day.

On occasion, Grandpa would recount the odd story, mostly during the "winter of discontent" when there was nothing else to do during the blackouts.

In 1955 Grandpa received the M.B.E. at St. James Palace. As he didn’t talk about the war much, it has not been possible to establish the exact reason for him receiving this award, but the family believes it was for the care he gave to the men of Hut 19 (as mentioned in Agnes Keith's book), along with his friend Tommy.

I'm honoured to be their granddaughter.

Carol Burnett

 

 

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