The Prisoner of War Diary of
Staff Sergeant James O’Toole
Royal Army Ordnance Corps
Staff Sergeant James O'Toole found himself thrown into action when the Japanese attacked Hong Kong on December 8th 1941. He was later to find how the Japanese treated their prisoners when the British Colony fell on Christmas day of the same year.
Written documentation was forbidden by the Japanese and treated as an offence, a beating or worse would be the punishment. The existence of the diary relates the backbone of these men who were prepared to suffer the consequences so others could read of their plight.
Mike Peaker has edited the diary which has invaluable information about time spent as a POW in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong, from the time of their capture in Dec 1941 through to the Japanese surrender in Aug 1945.
James O’Toole’s handwriting is flowing and stylish but not particularly easy to read, especially when he is trying to get a lot on a page. Names have proved to be particularly difficult, and on occasions have been spelt incorrectly. Where there is doubt over the accuracy of the transcription the text has been highlighted in gold. The numbers of the Diary Pages in the transcription correspond to the actual pages in the diary.
The transcription is a verbatim copy of the original. As nears as is possible it is an exact replication of the diary itself, in the hope that the transcript will retain as much of the character of the original as possible. The only change that has been made is that a consistent format has been applied to the date that prefaces each entry in the diary.
After the war James - or Jim as he was always known - kept in touch with some of his Hong Kong friends, in particular Bill Nichol and Arthur Peaker. Arthur’s son Hugh emigrated to Australia in 1957, and when Arthur first visited Hugh there in 1958 he introduced him to Jim. Hugh and Jim remained in contact through the sixties and early seventies, and Jim was a regular visitor. Later, when Jim was looking for somewhere to live, he moved into accommodation owned by Hugh’s parents-in-law, a family called Caruana. From there Jim went into a mental institution and subsequently the Returned Servicemen’s Village but some of his effects remained at the Caruanas. After Jim’s death Hugh went through the personal papers that had been left at the Caruanas, and it was then that the diary came to light. Jim had not mentioned it in his lifetime. Furthermore, during the whole of their time together as POWs Bill Nichol had not known that Jim was keeping a diary; Bill only became aware of it when Hugh Peaker told him after Jim’s death. The secret of how Jim managed to conceal the diary from the Japanese died with him.
Hugh Peaker did the time consuming work of the original transcription of the diary. He mentioned its existence to his cousin Michael Peaker, Arthur’s nephew, when Michael visited Australia in 2002. Hugh was keen to find an appropriate home for the diary; Michael undertook the task on his return to UK. Michael scanned the diary, Jim’s paybooks, and other documents into digital format, and edited this transcript. Digital copies of the diary, Jim’s pay books, and this transcript have been sent to military museums, including the Royal Logistic Corps Museum at Deepcut, Surrey; following amalgamations the Logistic Corps is the natural descendant of the RAOC. Michael also managed to trace John Cunliffe, Jim’s nephew (see Page 57 of the Diary), and the original documents were handed over to the family in February 2003.
© Hugh Peaker and Michael Peaker 2002