Memoirs of Douglas Morris
Going Home - Things developed rapidly. American aircraft and supplies were dropped and plans made to return for everyone from our area back to Bangkok and also all survivors from the Railway. It was so sad that a number of very sick men able to relax at the end of a long struggle against illness died before they could receive good medical help.
It so happened that at this juncture two of my good friends, Gerald Angier, an officer with great local knowledge and a Thai speaker, together with Bill Richardson, a Major in RUR who was in the Malay Regiment, were in Bangkok in transit. They decided that the Japanese HQ established in Bangkok must be taken over by the British. They dispatched a brother officer together with a Jap ex-guard in a Jap vehicle all the way up to Nakhom Nayak to collect me. They wanted me as part of the team. So down I went, one of the first to leave, and to receive a great welcome and a briefing of what was planned.
The Jap HQ, occupied by some 200 Japanese still in possession of their arms, was in Bangkok’s largest building, the home of Thailand’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce in peacetime in open grounds surrounded by walls and imposing gates. Gerald with his local contacts had got possession of a large saloon car. One morning we three, dressed in reasonable uniforms with caps, together with one of our Japanese interpreters drove up to the gates still manned by Japanese guards.
We announced: “The British Army is taking over these HQ. Collect you Commander and bring him here.” He duly arrived. Through the interpreter he was ordered: “You will take immediate action to move all Japanese personnel and material from these buildings”. He bowed and accepted. Gerald turned to me and said: “Douglas, with the help of the interpreter stay here and see this carried out. Bill and I will go and arrange for necessary stores &c we will require”. I received immediate Japanese compliance.
By mid afternoon a large Union Jack was flying from the main mast. Beds and bedding, furniture and household equipment of all sorts arrived by mid afternoon also and without going into detail we dined that evening drinking the King’s health and slept for the first time in 31/2 years on beds with bedding. It was all so amazing one hardly slept that night.
We soon increased the team and work was put in motion for the quickest possible return of all FE PoWs by sea and in special cases air.
We were delighted and honoured by visits from numerous high officers - early on General Bill Slim whom I was privileged to meet and talk to. Another unforgettable visitor was Lady Edwina Mountbatten. She was the first white woman I had seen or spoken to for over three years. She addressed a large gathering of ex-PoWs. She gave a highly amusing and stimulating talk. Among many other things she pressed those present: “Wait till you get home to your own wives and girls!” And, lifting the side of her skirt displaying an elegant leg, added: “There are lots of legs like this”.
Our team was able to see on their way thousands of good men including my dear brother Terry who preceded me. They were flown up to Rangoon which was the base from which we were embarked in liners and sailed home. My turn came and I was allowed to sit forward in the pilots’ area and enjoy the flight to the full. I could hardly believe the amazing good fortune to be told that 2nd Bn The Royal Berkshire Regiment, my old battalion, had just arrived and were now in Rangoon having fought all the way down from the battle of Kohima. I was given an amazing welcome! Old brother officers, friends among them, Tony Davies temporarily in command and Frankie Boshell wearing a DSO he had so worthily been awarded during the campaign. I basked for a few days in this happy company, meeting also old soldiers who remembered me well from the days in Palestine and on The Canal.
I was to sail finally in SS Chitral – a journey full of hope and anticipation. We touched in at Colombo, Ceylon, from where I got a message to Joanie and my parents.
We landed at Southampton where I was to find in control of Port Authorities a R Berkshire officer! He said, “Douglas, no further worries; I will personally drive you home in my staff car”, before which I phoned home and spoke to them all. Poor darling Joanie, in the stress under which she had suffered, had fallen for a dose of chicken pox. However she was on her feet and with care and comfort soon on the mend and life once again was utterly blessed and wonderful.
We were of course granted leave and strings of medical check-ups to assess the state of our fitness. I remember I was pretty thin and only weighed 9 stones instead of my normal 11. There were many people we had to see. Firstly, Joanie’s dear mother living in Warrenpoint, Co. Down, so we early on took a trip over to Northern Ireland there to meet my dear mother-in-law for the first time. It was a wonderful meeting for me and we became the greatest of friends. I can boast that she was happy with the man her daughter had married! Joanie’s father had died when she was yet only a teenage girlie.
Ellie and Arthur were in fine fettle; Arthur back from a period of service in Africa where he had served as a Captain RE, a wartime soldier. There also in Warrenpoint was Joan Ryland, a lifelong bosom friend of Joanie from their earliest days.
James, her husband, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Ulster Rifles and their dear wee daughter Suzanna was Joanie’s Goddaughter. Now, as I write all these years on, dear Sue is the most wonderful friend to me with Donald, her husband, and their own dear family living in London.
And talking of London, it was the place we had to spend some holiday time, there to meet masses of old friends and enjoy to the full good shows, good food and the joy of being together again. We had also to start building up some worldly goods. As you can imagine, we, as everybody else, lost everything to the Japs, when your country is overthrown – home and all one’s treasures, not to mention cars and similar items.
Those of us seconded under the Colonial Office were invited to submit claims. It sounded hopeful. In the event the amount they managed to grant us was 600! It was derisory but simply not worth contending. We decided that having survived and were together again was our wonderful reward. I was, before Christmas 1945, promoted Major and soon after having been passed fit for service again, we were posted to a job in Colchester. I had of course to make up my uniform &c and good Conway Williams, our old regimental tailor still going strong in 48 Brook Street W1, equipped me once again. I had joy in buying dear Joanie some nice dresses. So we could continue our love of golf, I had of course to buy a new set of clubs, but I do not have to go into details on this side of life.
It was not long after we went to Colchester that poor Joanie developed a nasty appendix and had to undergo an operation.
This thankfully was successful and with typical fortitude and allowing the usual time to mend, she was able to return to an active and giving way of life.