A Brave Son of Coalville
by Janet M Richards (Niece)
Reginald Shaw was the second son of Mr and Mrs William Shaw of 45 Vaughan Street, Coalville and brother to my father, Mr William [Bill] Shaw. Uncle Reg was a handsome young man, who though of only small stature, made up for his lack of height by having an outgoing nature, and engaging smile. He was a true son of Coalville and along with my father, took an active interest in all local activities.
Like so many other Coalville men, in 1940 he answered the call of duty and leaving his parents in Vaughan Street and saying farewell to his fiancee, Vera, he set off for Blackpool where he enlisted with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
In the summer of 1941 Uncle Reg was posted to the Far East and although few details are available, I have found that sometime after, he was captured at Tasik Malaja, Java, now part of Indonesia.
At some point he was transferred to the notorious Sandakan Camp on the island of Borneo and official records state that on 1st May 1945 he contracted Beri Beri and on 21st June he died.
This would not be the right time or place to detail the horrendous circumstances under which the prisoners existed. Suffice to say that when the Japanese suspected that the war was turning against them and that the Australians may carry out an invasion of Borneo, they moved many of the prisoners from Sandakan Camp further into the jungle, with orders that no prisoner was to survive. The more able bodied prisoners were selected and used as pack horses in order to transport food and equipment to the new camp. On the journey, those prisoners who fell by the wayside were shot. Later a second march of less able prisoners was carried out under similar conditions. Those prisoners who were totally incapable of being moved, were left in one hut, without any provisions and it is believed that many were shot before the Japanese finally vacated the camp. I have no way of knowing whether Uncle Reg died on one of the marches, whether he died at the camp, or whether he was put to death. Of the 2500 Australian and British servicemen held at Sandakan, only 6 survived and this was a result of them escaping into the jungle and being looked after by the local inhabitants.
It was sometime after the war that confirmation was received that Uncle Reg was dead. I was only a very young child at the time, but I can clearly remember the day that the telegram arrived and the sorrow that it brought on the household. This was a terrible blow to my grandmother, especially as she had lost her husband, my grandfather in 1944. Worse was yet to come, when in 1949 my own father, Bill Shaw, died of cancer.
Uncle Reg was originally buried in Sandakan War Cemetery, Borneo. However the cemetery was in an area subject to severe flooding and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission decided to remove the bodies for reburial. Sadly, by this time it was not possible to identify the bodies and so, even in death, Uncle Reg was denied the quiet resting place that he so richly deserved.
Naturely it saddens me that I am the only surviving member of the Shaw family and that I am the only one who remembers my uncle, but I am honoured that I have the opportunity to perpetuate his name, and I am determined that the information 1 have obtained will be passed on to my sons and that hopefully they will pass it on to my grandchildren. I want them all to take pride in the knowledge that my Uncle Reg gave his life in order to secure the freedom and security that we enjoy today.
Like so many others, Uncle Reg is commemorated on the Coalville War Memorial, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Krangi Singapore Memorial and various Far East P.O.W. websites.