Tribute by Roy Wood
In World War two my uncle, Frederick Ernest Wiles, born 1920, formerly a boxer, was serving in the Beds & Herts regiment when he was captured at the fall of Singapore in 1942. A prisoner of the Japanese, he was sent to work on the notorious Burma railroad where the chances of survival were very poor.
At the completion of the project he along with many other POW’s were shipped to Japan to work in mines or factories. Whilst on the voyage, their ship, the Rakuyo Maru, was attacked and sunk by an American submarine, USS Sealion. The Kachidoki Maru, another ship in the convoy which carried prisoners, was also hit and sunk by the USS Pampanito. Four days later the Pampanito saw what they thought to be Japanese survivors in the water, on investigation they turned out to be Allied PoW’s from the Rakuyo Maru. American submarines rescued 63 from the water, Frederick being one of them.
Frederick eventually reached New York via Hawaii and California, where he crossed the Atlantic on the famous “Queen Mary”, then operating as a transatlantic troopship.
Being aged about thirteen I was enthralled by Fred’s epic story especially as he had brought me a sectioned fold out diagram of the ship to show me where he had worked in a barber’s shop whilst on board.
His story to that point was not so very remarkable, being only one of thousands of similar wartime lucky escapes. What is amazing to me is that after surviving against all the odds of battle, capture, forced labour in awful conditions followed by shipwreck and rescue, his wife shot him.
In May of 1948, Fred was killed at his home in Harrow Road, Farleigh, Surrey, by his wife, Doris, with his own shotgun. The jury at her first trial for murder in July at Kingston were unable to reach a verdict, (this was at a time of capital punishment and four other women were hanged after the war!). She was subsequently acquitted after a second trial in December of that year, and no other charges were ever brought.
Frederick Wiles left four children and is buried in All Saints churchyard at Warlingham, Surrey, along with his parents and his sister, Ellen, my mother. The impact of this tragedy has always stayed with me, influencing my attitude toward risk taking, and my apparently casual attitude regarding danger. Remembering Fred, I consider that we all prepare and focus properly upon known hazards, so reducing the potential for trouble, but it might well be the disregarded ‘banana-skin’, when relaxed on your own doorstep, that will get you in the end.