Royal Corps of Signals
From the Times - August 15, 2006
May 24, 1918 - August 13, 2006
Prisoner of war of the Japanese who devoted his life to obtaining compensation for other Far East veterans and victims.
A PRISONER of war of the Japanese for three and a half years, most of it spent in forced labour in a copper mine in Taiwan, Jack Edwards devoted his life after his release to trying to obtain compensation for former PoWs and their widows — and an apology from the Japanese Government. Edwards's book, Banzai You Bastards (1991), is a frank memoir of his time at work in the copper mine at Kinkaseki (Chinguashi), near Jiufen, Taiwan. The story it tells begins with the British capitulation at Singapore, retails the horrors of life in the copper mine and ends with the survivors' liberation by American soldiers. "They picked us up like babies," Edwards recalled. "I was picked up by a giant of a man. He began to cry, saying `Christ, the bastards. What have they done to you?' "
A native of Wales, Jack Edwards was born in 1918. He served with the Royal Corps of Signals during the war and was a sergeant when he went into captivity at the surrender of Singapore in February 1942. He spent some time in the notorious Changi jail before being moved to Taiwan.
He worked in the mine as part of a team, digging upwards into a copper seam in sulphur-polluted water and in constant danger of cave-in. Jack Butterworth, who had been in Edwards's unit and was sent with him to Kinkaseki, recalled: "You had to bring out 24 bogeys of good copper ore per day for a four-man team. If you didn't get that you were lined up and beaten . . . You'd look at the rock at the beginning of the day and decide whether to go for the 24 or not. Sometimes it was better to get the beating."
Even by the grim standards of Japanese PoW camps, Kinkaseki was extreme: 526 Allied soldiers were held there, of whom only 64 survived to be liberated. Edwards himself came closest to death with the end of the war in sight. One night, listening to American aircraft bombing a nearby target, the men in his barrack began to cheer. After the bombing the guards took Edwards from the barrack, forced him to kneel on stony ground and beat him with bamboo poles. After this ordeal he was put in the "death hut", but he recovered.
As the end of the war approached, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were
marched into the jungle where they were forced to build a new camp from scratch. In his memoir Edwards recollected: "All of us looked ghastly, eyes sunken, mere skeletons, covered with rashes, sores, or cuts which would not heal. Others too far gone to save were blown-up with beriberi, legs and testicles like balloons."
With defeat inevitable, Tokyo instructed its camp commanders to dispose of all prisoners by whatever means seemed most suitable. The guards at Edwards's camp had set the disposal date of August 18, 1945. But on August 16, after two atomic bombs, Japan surrendered. The survivors were taken by lorry to Taipei, where their captors meekly turned themselves in to US forces.
Edwards returned to Kinkaseki in 1946 to give evidence to a war crimes tribunal. As with other Far East Prisoners of War (Fepow) he had found on his return to Britain an active discouragement from reminiscing about the horrors of his period in captivity. And the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 ordered Japan to pay a derisory £76 compensation to all surviving PoWs, in return for which all future individual claims were waived.
Edwards went to live in Hong Kong in 1963 and remained there for the rest of his life. He worked first for the Hong Kong Government as a housing officer at a time of mass immigration from China, then as a senior housing manager for Hongkong Land.
At the same time he tried to locate the whereabouts of the remains of missing relatives for families in Britain and the Commonwealth. At the request of Diana, Princess of Wales, Edwards found the grave of Major-General Merton Beckwith-Smith, the father of her lady-in-waiting.
It took Edwards 45 years to write Banzai You Bastards. He was, he said, too traumatised and could not put his memories down until he had returned to Taiwan to help to make a documentary. The book remains a compelling document. At one point, Edwards recounted, he and his starving comrades had been saved by Marmite thrown away by the Japanese, who had assumed that it was some sort of lubricating grease.
Two years after its publication in English Banzai You Bastards appeared in Japanese as Kutabare Jap Yaroh! (1993, Drop Dead, Jap!). It sparked huge interest in Japan, not least because Edwards's first translator, the Japanese journalist Shinji Nagino, was murdered in Montreal when only a third of the way through his task.
In 1991, after constant campaigning, Edwards won a monthly pension from the Government of HK$315 (less than £30) for Chinese veterans, and their widows, who had helped the British in the hopeless defence of Hong Kong in 1941. He also achieved for them the grant of British citizenship on the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997.
Edwards also spoke out for those in Hong Kong who had been forced to sell their property and businesses to the Japanese during the occupation in exchange for the worthless Japanese military yen. And he helped former "comfort women" in their quest to force Tokyo to admit that enforced prostitution was a policy, not a side-effect, of its war in South-East Asia.
Edwards returned again to Kinkaseki in 2000 for the erection of a memorial. By this time only ten veterans survived, their journey facilitated by a grant of £10,000 from the British Government. Their chief desire was still an apology from the Japanese Government.
Edwards was chairman of the Royal British Legion's Hong Kong and China branch, and never missed the annual Remembrance Day services. On such occasions from his flat in Sha Ti, he flew the very flag that Arthur Frederick May had hoisted from The Peak after escaping from a PoW camp in Kowloon just before the Japanese capitulation. May died in Hong Kong in 2000. Butterworth, Edwards's comrade at Kinkaseki, died that year too, just before the inmates' reunion. The flag will drape Edwards's coffin at his funeral.
Edwards was appointed MBE and advanced to OBE for his services.
He is survived by his wife, Polly, whom he married in 1990.
Jack Edwards, OBE, author and campaigner for PoWs in the Far East, was born on May 24, 1918. He died on August 13, 2006, aged 88.