I have the great privilege of having had Sam as my Uncle whom I loved and respected as my own Father. He was my hero as a child and my friend until he died.
I remember seeing him for the first time in my Aunt Polly’s house. Although Sam had many friends, Aunt Polly was certainly not one of his greatest admirers.
Aunt Polly had a beautiful big dog, and Sam had just been released from the Prison Camps in Singapore. I believe the first words I ever heard him say were; “COR! BLIMEY! I COULDN’T ARF EAT A LEG OFF THAT DOG AUNT POLLY!”
That one comment made another enemy – Aunt Polly.
Sam was courting my Aunt Enid at the time. They had travelled all the way from Watford to our little mining village of Blackhall, just to introduce himself to our family. He’d made a great start.
The conflict was further aggravated when Sam ‘accidentally’ dropped a bowl of RICE into Aunt Polly’s daughter’s lap. She had made it especially for him because she’d heard that it was all that the P.O.W’s ate.
And so, this was the first memory of this Giant of a man, humbling himself and begging forgiveness from my Aunt Polly. This was a terrible blow to me as a young lad who had been bragging to his school friends that his Uncle Sam was coming to see him – and that he had been a Prisoner-of –War with the Japs!
I am a sincere believer that in every bad man there is some good. Just as in every good man there is some bad. And in all the years I have known my Uncle Sam – Aunt Polly was the only person in the world that hadn’t a good word for him – and he tried so very hard to please her.
My Father, who was one of the nicest men one could ever wish to meet, worshipped the ground that Sam walked on. He was proud to know that he married one of God’s favourite people – his sister – my Aunt Enid.
Sam would never talk about his P.O.W. life, but I always recall my Mother being careful not to give him RICE for his meals whenever he came to stay with us. Ice-cream was always number one priority of the day whenever Sam and Dad met. Sam had an insatiable appetite for ice-cream. One vendor in Seaton Carew always used to give him a ‘bit extra’ because he thought that Sam was such a canny lad with a charming line of patter.
I have been trusted to write Sam’s story in order that it be a family record to be read by future generations. It is a story well worth the little time to read, if only to put one’s own relatively trivial problems in their true perspective. When one is officially told that they are going to be be-headed, then all other problems fade into insignificance.
In the writing of “MISTER SAM” I have been appalled by the atrocities that took place in the Prison Camps. In my further research, I am now fully aware that Sam purposely missed out Thousands of other horrific examples of mans’ inhumanity to man. The barbaric acts cannot be imagined, let alone put into words. And in today’s political situation it is best that they are not mentioned further – but some scars never heal.
YASHATA remains a mystery, but maybe, just maybe, my theory is right and there is some good in the worst of men – even our enemies. This may possibly apply to Yashata. I for one am grateful to him for looking after Uncle Sam and he may have even contributed to saving the lives of many of the Prisoners in doing so.
I have spent many days searching records to resolve the mystery of Yashata and to find out whatever happened to him after saying Goodbye to Mister Sam. I even advertised in newspapers to ask if anyone knew of the man.
It was due to one advert that I received a phone-call from a Jim Wilson who lived in Billingham – only five miles from my home in Hartlepool where Sam stayed with us, on holiday, every year for the past twenty five years. Jim was Assistant Secretary of FEPOW (Far East Prisoner of War Association). He remembered well the football matches in the camps and the to-ing and fro-ing of Yashata, and of him asking for ‘Mister Sam’. Jim produced a photograph of the football team and pointed Sam out to me.
I have never seen a man so delighted when I told Jim that Sam was my uncle and that he came to Hartlepool almost every year for his holiday. All those years had passed by and Sam had been passing Jim’s front door – only fifty yards apart.
What was to follow was too coincidental to be anything else but amazing. Jim produces the monthly newsletter for FEPOW and I gave him a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”…’If you can keep your head when all about you…- You’ll be a man my son’. Very apt for the subject I suppose. The poem was written on some sort of parchment or rice-paper and barely legible. It had been in some of Sam’s memorabilia. I said that the words were encouraging and may be of interest to his readers.
Jim looked astounded as I watched him slowly turn the handle of his printing- machine. And there on the printed sheet was the very same poem that was on the parchment that I’d brought for Jim. He said that he’d found a copy in some old papers and thought it ideal for the newsletter. Jim also said that he’d copied the poem from that very same bit of parchment when they were returning home by ship. Sam was said to have read the poem every day – it was his bible.
Jim was in tears when I told him about Sam and he said that never a week goes by when “Sammy’s” name isn’t mentioned. Jim was in the Hospital Ward of the ‘Empress of Asia’ when it was bombed – the same ship on which Sam was a nurse. He recalled that they both had injuries to their legs at the time. They were taken prisoner and served in the same camps.
I was told that Jim was one of the men who had to go up-country to work on the ‘Infamous Railway’ and he told me that for every sleeper they laid – a man died. Jim also said that he was one of the many who Sam gave his cigarettes to. He vividly recalled the night they arrived back into Sam’s care, literally on the verge of death, stricken with dysentery and other diseases.
JIM WILSON paid tribute to Sam by saying:
“Sam should have been awarded a medal for the work he did and the lives he saved during his P.O.W. life. Many is the man who will recall his unfailing efforts to care for the stricken and to make their last days as comfortable as he could. The entertainment he provided with his performances on the football fields will always stay in our minds as an example to us all. God bless him. He is a great man and I would dearly love to shake him by the hand and thank him for all he did for us.”
I made sure that Jim finally got the chance to shake Sam’s hand before Sam was stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease and died in May 1999. Many souls visited them again that night. And I swear to God that I could hear the Crowds Cheering as they talked.