Private Jacky BARKER

Christopher John BARKER 1920-2012

Family Details

Christopher John “Jacky” Barker was born 10 January 1920[1] the son of Christopher John and Florence May Barker ad brother to Mary, Elisabeth and Marjorie.[2]  In 1929, Jacky’s father died leaving Florence a widow with 3 children [Mary died in 1922].[3]  By 1939, the family lived at West View, South Church, Bishop Auckland, where Florence was recorded as “unpaid domestic duties”, Elisabeth as “machinist, factory, soldier’s uniforms” possibly West Auckland Clothing Company and Marjorie was still at school.  There was one other resident and that possibly was Jacky but “this record is officially closed”.[4]  At this time, he worked as a labourer.[5]

Service Details

The service record of 3322728 Private Christopher John Barker, 2nd Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders has not been researched.  The battalion was under the under the command of the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade.[6] He was held captive by the Japanese on or around the fall of Singapore, 15 February 1942.

There follows a brief summary of the fall of Malaya and Singapore.[7]

When war broke out, the 2nd Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was in Malaya.  They valiantly fought the Japanese down the length of Malaya and were one of the very few British units that were prepared for the jungle warfare. During the withdrawal of the Indian 11th Infantry Division, the 2nd Argyll’s slowed the enemy advance and inflicted heavy casualties.  However, the battalion was practically destroyed during the Battle of Slim River.  The survivors were sent back to Singapore where they were amalgamated with the Royal Marine survivors from HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse.  They took part in the final battles for the island of Singapore before General Percival surrendered 15 February 1942.  Many died in captivity as POWs or in the jungle trying to avoid capture.

 The Battle of Slim River

7 January 1942: By 6.30am, the Japanese tanks approached the 2/Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were positioned around the village of Trolak itself and protected 12th Brigade HQ. This was a regular British Army battalion and very experienced, considered to be one of the best jungle fighting units the British had in Malaya. The Argyll’s were in a defensive position but without fixed anti-tank obstacles or mines. They had only a little warning of the rapidly approaching Japanese, fought ferociously and managed to delay the Japanese infantry, holding them up until about 7.30 am. The force east of the road, “C” and “B” Companies under Colonel Robertson fought their way into a rubber estate and tried to flank the Japanese advance by heading south through the jungle inland and breaking up into small parties. Six weeks later some of these soldiers would still be in the jungle.  “A” Company, west of the road, managed to break out of the encircling Japanese and cross the river before the rail bridge was blown. “D” Company, further north, suffered the same fate as Robertson’s party, having to scatter into the jungle and attempted to reach British lines. Most of “D” Company would be captured before they could reach the river.  Only 94 Argyll’s answered roll call on 8 January, nearly all from “A” Company.

Atrocities

An instance of a Japanese atrocity was committed in the area around Trolak where there were a number of wounded Argyll’s. Second Lieutenant Ian Primrose reported that after he regained consciousness from an injury during the fighting he discovered that the Japanese were dividing the wounded into those who said they could walk and those who said they could not. Primrose decided he could walk, which was fortunate as the Japanese soldiers proceeded to shoot and bayonet the wounded who could not. Afterwards, the survivors were forced to dig graves for the dead and then told to carry the Japanese wounded.

Aftermath

The 11th Indian Infantry Division suffered huge casualties and though some eventually made their way back to join in the fight for Singapore, many more would still be in the jungle after the surrender. Large numbers of these survivors were captured but a few, like Lt. Colonel Lindsay Robertson and his party of Argyll’s, attempted to evade capture.  They were unable to keep ahead of the rapid advance of the Japanese. Robertson was killed 20 January 1942. The remaining survivors from the two brigades were scattered all over the Malayan Peninsular. Some of the Argyll’s were still at large by August 1945.

A Gurkha NCO, Naik Nakam Gurung, was found during the Malayan Emergency in October 1949.  He had lived in the jungle since 1942.

Captivity

17 February: The Argyll’s and Marines held at Tyersall Park were ordered by the Japanese to march to Changi which was the site of the main POW camp in Singapore.  Headed by Piper Charles Stuart, they marched out of Tyersall Park and hundreds of soldiers from other units stood to attention as they passed. In fact, Captains Aylwin, Lang and Slessor, 2/A & SH had no intention of letting their men march to Changi. A few hundred yards along the way, what was left of the battalion transport drew up and bussed them into captivity passing marching columns of POWs. At first the Plymouth Argyll’s were quartered in the Changi Village shops area. Many were subsequently sent to smaller work camps at River Valley, Havelock Road and Kranji.  Many were sent to other work camps in Japan and south east Asia including the infamous Burma railroad.

3322728 Private Christopher John Barker is recorded as POW 2467 [old number] & POW 1314 [new number] held at Camp M35.[8]  We understand that this was one of the camps on Singapore island.

Another local man from Evenwood Gate, 3322838 Private G. Maughan, also belonging to the 2nd Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was involved in the engagements at Singapore.  He died on or around 18 March 1942 aged 27.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial [9] and the Evenwood War Memorial.

War in Southeast Asia: A summary of significant dates [10]

  • December 1941: Japan invaded Thailand and attacked the British possessions of Hong Kong and Singapore.
  • 7 December 1941: Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, the US Naval Base in Hawaii.
  • 8 December 1941: Japan invaded Malaya and bombed Singapore.
  • 25 December 1941: Hong Kong fell to the Japanese.
  • 31 January 1942: Hong Kong POW Camp was finally established holding 10,972 detainees.
  • 15 February 1942: Singapore fell and a further 50,000 Allied troops were captured.

More than 50,000 British forces personnel surrendered to the Japanese between the fall of Hong Kong and March 1942 when the vast territories of the Dutch East Indies surrendered.

POW Camps : some details [11]

During the Second World War, the Japanese Armed Forces captured nearly 140,000 Allied military personnel from Australia, Canada, UK, India, Netherlands, New Zealand and USA in the Southeast Asia and Pacific theatre of war.  More than 30,000 POWs died of starvation, disease and mistreatment.  The Empire of Japan didn’t sign the Second Geneva Convention of 1929 thus did not abide by conventional means of humanity.  The death rate of POWs was 27.1%, 7 times higher than that of POWs held by the Germans or Italians. Allied POWs were forced into hard labour in constructing railways, roads, airfields etc. which were used by Japanese Forces in the occupied areas.  About 36,000 were transported to the Japanese mainland to supplement the shortage in the workforce and compelled to work in coal mines, shipyards, munitions factories etc.

37,583 prisoners from the UK, Commonwealth and Dominions were released after the surrender of Japan.  The organisation of POW Camps on the Japanese mainland were often reformed and rearranged but it is estimated that there were about 130 camps detaining 32,418 POWs.  Approximately, 3,500 POWs died in imprisonment in Japan.

2 February 1942, the Japanese entered Singapore and the naval base was captured 15 February 1942.[12]  The main camp for British and Commonwealth prisoners held in Singapore was Changi POW Camp which held about 50,000 British and Empire troops.  Work details were sent to various projects on Sumatra, Burma, Thailand and other Japanese occupied territories.  We think that Private Jacky Barker was held POW at Singapore for the duration of the war.

One of the most notorious examples is the construction of the Burma – Thailand railroad [or Death Railway].  Of the 60,000 Allied servicemen forced to work on the railroad, more than 12,000 died from maltreatment, sickness and starvation.[13] All POWs leaving Singapore did so via the Keppel harbour.  Dates of departure and destinations to Japan were:

  • 28 November 1942: on arrival some went to Kobe [Kawasaki] Camp and others to Naoetsu [Tokyo No.4] Camp
  • 26 April 1943: left Singapore on the Kyokko Maru with 1500 POWs and arrived at Moji in Japan where POWs were sent onto Taisho sub-camp, one of the group of camps around Osaka and Kobe.
  • 16 May 1943: on arrival, POWs were sent to Moji and Kobe camps.

Their treatment in the POW Camps and work places was brutal, for 3½ years, they faced unrelentingly lethal conditions and much has been written:

  • Over a quarter died in captivity, the rest returned home sick and damaged.
  • The average prisoner received less than a cup of filthy rice a day. The amount was so meagre that gross malnutrition led to loss of vision or unrelenting nerve pain.
  • Diseases were rife. Malaria and dysentery were almost universal. Dysentery, an infective disease of the large bowel, reduced men to living skeletons. Tropical ulcers were particularly gruesome.

Significant dates relating to the end of the war and liberation of POW Camps are:

  • 6 August 1945: Hiroshima: nuclear bomb dropped
  • 9 August 1945: Nagasaki: nuclear bomb dropped
  • 15 August 1945: Japan surrendered to the Allies [VJ Day]
  • 20 August 1945: One of the instruments of surrender was that the letters PW had to be drawn on the roofs of buildings at POW Camps so that relief supplies could be dropped by air.
  • 25 August 1945: Commencement of air drops of provisions, food, medical supplies and clothing to POW Camps – eventually some 4,470 tons of supplies were dropped to 158 camps in Japan.[14]
  • 29 August 1945: The occupation of Japan officially began.[15]
  • 31 August 1945: Details of the handing over of POWs to Allied representatives were agreed.
  • 2 September 1945: Having agreed the principle of unconditional surrender on 15 August 1945, Japan formally surrendered ending the Second World War throughout the world.

Post War

In March 1949, Jacky married Sheila F. Eeles [16] and a daughter Patricia was born 1953.[17]  Jacky Barker worked as a cutter for the West Auckland Clothing Company for many years, possibly resuming work following his demobilization.  He was a work colleague of the author’s father and a much valued friend of Jim Richardson.  He was a table tennis coach and led the St. Helens Table Tennis club for many years.

Jacky taught me to drive.  As a 17 year-old with a keen interest in the Second World War and knowing Jacky was a POW held by the Japanese, I had to ask what conditions were like.  He said:

“Kevin, I’ll only say one thing.  When I came back home I turned on the cold water tap and watched the water run out for ages and ages.”

I can only surmise that his thirst had been almost overwhelming and the vision of running water was a thing to behold.

14 January 2012, “Jacky” Barker died aged 92.[18]

The Singapore Memorial, Kranji War Cemetery [19]

Many who have no known grave are commemorated on the Singapore Memorial.  The cemetery is 22 km north of the city of Singapore.  There was a cemetery located at Changi POW camp but the graves were moved to Kranji in 1946.  There are 4,458 Commonwealth Second World War burials at Kranji War Cemetery.  Within the cemetery stands the Singapore Memorial bearing the names of over 25,000 casualties of the Commonwealth land and air forces who have no known grave.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Photos shown are general photos of POWs and Camps and are not specific to Jacky Barker.

CAPTURE CARD

REFERENCES

[1] Capture Card

[2] Family details – family tree courtesy of Ancestry

[3] Family details

[4] 1939 England & Wales Register

[5] Capture card

[6] Capture card

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argyll_and_Sutherland_Highlanders#Second_World_War

[8] WO361 Casualties and Missing Personnel 1939-1945 [Fold 3] I have not been able to trace the location of Camp M35.  An exhaustive search of records has not taken place due to the current “covid 19” restrictions, for example the A&SH Museum at Stirling Castle is closed

[9] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[10] http://factsanddetails.com/asian/ca67/sub427/entry-5330.html and https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4879862/WWII-heroes-reduced-skin-bone-Japan-s-POW-camps.html

[11] https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/prisoners-of-war-of-the-japanese-1939-1945

[12] http://factsanddetails.com/asian/ca67/sub427/entry-5330.html

[13]https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4879862/WWII-heroes-reduced-skin-bone-Japan-s-POW-camps.html

[14] http://www.mansell.com/images/natl_archives/Page_01aa.jpg

[15] http://user.xmission.com/~tmathews/b29/56years/56years-4508b.html

[16] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.1a p.1061 1949Q1 Durham Northern

[17] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.1a p.1017 1953Q2 Durham Western

[18] England & Wales Death Index 1989-2018

[19] CWGC