John Collier Gransden
1909/05/18 - Born London
Son of Thomas and Margaret Gransden
1940/09/ - Enlisted
Malayan Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
by Rosemary Gransden
My father John went out to Singapore in 1932 aged 23 to join the Borneo Company as a Junior Manager. His early years were spent as a young British Tuan living in the Borneo Company Mess in Orange Grove Road, later a bachelor house in Thomson Road, looked after by servants, with wonderful photographs of Wash Amah, Cookie (Ah Foo) and house boys, Lee Sing and my father's boy, Ching Mee. There are also photographs of splendid elephant picnics in Johore, leaves spent at Frazers Hill and Cameron Highlands, dinners at Government House, parties at Raffles and Tanglin Club where he first met my mother whose father was a senior RAF officer posted to Singapore - I was born and brought up in Singapore after the war and was always hearing about how wonderful their lives were at that time - and certainly these photographs would seem to confirm this!
Shortly after my father's arrival he signed up as a Private in the Singapore Volunteer Corps, ‘A’ MG Company, his army training and manoeuvres carried out in 1933 at what was then the unfinished, Changi Barracks. Large areas of swampland and virgin jungle around Changi village had been cleared in 1927 for the construction of a large Army barracks and barracks at Fairy Hill Point and Battery Hill were already completed but work had stopped in 1930 due to the depression and would not re-start until 1933...... I found early photos of his training at what he calls "Changi Camp"... in a large expanse of cleared jungle. Although not considered to be particularly significant at the time, the Japanese had invaded Manchuria in northern China in 1931, but this was believed to be "merely a little war between Orientals, of no particular interest, nothing to do with Europeans and certainly of no consequence to Britain’s great Empire"
In 1935 he was commissioned into the SSNVR and in 1939 enlisted in the RNVR and his old albums contain photos of the Naval Base in 1941 and RNVR personnel lining up in front of various Admirals including Admiral Tom Phillips just days after the arrival in Singapore of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse.
In early 1941 my father was serving on HMS Dragonfly (confirmed in a letter he wrote in March 1941 to my mother who was by then back in England after my grandfather was recalled to Britain in 1939). Father left Singapore on that Black Friday 13th February 1942, it is believed on the Pulau Soegi which was sunk near Banka Island on 15th. (I haven't been able to find definite confirmation of whether he did in fact leave on the Pulau Soegi and if not, which ship he left on - these pieces of the puzzle do eventually surface - I hope, if one is patient!) He did tell me his ship had been torpedoed and sunk and that he had swum to an island but little else in the way of detail. On his Liberation Form he has given HMML 1093 but I haven't found anything relating to that. Do you recognise HMML 1093 by any chance?
I discovered he was subsequently taken on board British minesweeper, HMS Tapah, is recorded in the last log by Tapah's Lt. J.N.C Hancock as being a passenger but Lt Hancock noted in the log that “Lt Gransden did not leave Singapore with them”.
I know that Tapah rescued a number of survivors from some of those ships which had left Singapore just prior to surrender, most of which were sunk by the Japanese in the hundreds of miles of sea between Singapore and Sumatra.
Tapah was intercepted by a Jap warship on 17th February and ordered to Muntok where on 18th all those on board were taken prisoner.
1942/02/18 - Captured Banka Island, Sumatra
PoW No. IV 557
From my father’s liberation form he was initially held at what he calls the Chinese Club which I believe was the old Chinese cinema in the town of Muntok and a week later hundreds of military personnel captured at Banka Island were ferried over to Palembang where he was imprisoned in the Mulo School.
Japanese Index Card - Side One
Japanese Index Card - Side Two
1942/07/18 - Left Palembang, Sumatra in ‘Japan Draft’
With 127 PoWs including 90 British - 4 Australians - 33 Dutch
On 17th July 1942 he was recorded by Lt Arkley, NZNVF, as being part of the "Japan Draft", when 94 British military personnel under Air Commodore C.O.F. Modin were taken, not to Japan as they thought, but back to Singapore.
1942/07/20 - Arrived Changi
Following a month in Changi he was listed as being part of the "Japan Special Party" of 400 men which included the most senior British, Australian and Dutch commanders - the Generals, Brigadiers, a large number of Colonels, a few Air Commodores, together with their batmen and some junior officers and senior civilians - the Colonial Governor, senior judges and top civil servants, who were transported on a hell ship to Takao, Formosa…so he was in some quite elite company!
The relevant document to that transportation to Formosa is headed "Original Roll, OVS Parties, 1942/08/16 Japan, "B" and "Special" as received from HQMC, again in the belief that they were going to Japan. From what I understand they had little idea where they were going or where their final destination was to be although a few had heard they were bound for Japan.
On the way to the Singapore docks from Changi on 16th August 1942 the “Japan Special Party” stopped and all those aboard the trucks were ordered to get out and line up in front of a Japanese General who made a speech saying he hoped that they would be comfortable and assuring them that they had no cause for concern about their future
1942/08/16 - ‘Special Party’ to Taiwan in the England Maru which was in convoy with the Fukkai Maru. The England Maru sailed to Taiwan
The Fukkai Maru to Chosen, Korea, then onto Mukden, Manchuria.
1942/08/ - No.3 Camp Heito, Taiwan
They were all initially interned at Heito Camp #3 until moved to other camps on the island but my father remained at Heito until he was sent to Shirakawa in November 1944 after Heito was destroyed by American B29s during the Formosa Air Battle. He told me that he had said to the Japanese that in civilian life he had been a farmer, hoping he would then be put to work in the fields and so have a better chance of survival being nearer the source of food of which there was so little and certainly both at Heito where he laboured for long hours on a nearby sugar plantation.
The drawing was done of him as a FEPOW on 9th October, 1944, by Army Padre, Reverend Captain Frederick H. Stallard, Royal Army Chaplain Corps, at the Japanese prisoner of war camp of Heito on the island of Formosa where both men had been interned since their transportation in the filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested holds of a rusty and dilapidated Japanese hellship, a dangerous and perilous journey which in late August 1942 took 1,400 Allied prisoners of war from Changi POW Camp in Singapore to the Formosan port of Takao. In November 1944 after Heito was destroyed by American bombing, he was taken to Shirakawa where he remained until freed by the US Navy in early September, 1945.
Fred Stafford who did the drawing was instrumental in setting up the Changi Rover Scouts where the POWs, many of whom had been former boy scouts, did good turns in the camps and the practice of Scouting spread to many of the prison camps across the Far East and did an enormous amount in helping to boost the morale of the prisoners. There were several scout crews in Formosa and many of my father’s expressions date back to his time as a boy scout and later a prison camp rover scout. (Captain Fred Stafford became a vicar in Nottingham after the war)
1944/11/ - No.4 Camp Shirakawa, Taiwan
At Shirakawa he was involved in working in the padi, rice, and vegetable fields and in the camp farmyard.
1945/09/05 - Liberated Taiwan
He was released from Shirakawa by the US Navy in September 1945 and taken on the American aircraft carrier, USS Santee, to Manila.
Then on to San Francisco, entrained across the States to New York where he boarded the Queen Elizabeth to Southampton.
After the war my father returned to Singapore and as part of his job he travelled extensively across the Far East and regularly visited both Japan and Formosa over the next twenty plus years. I asked him once how he could visit Japan and regularly do business with the Japanese after the way he had been treated by them in the Japanese prison camps (at Palembang, Singapore and Formosa)and he replied that he and most people who had been living and working in the Far East at the time of the Japanese invasion, had lost their homes, their businesses, their possessions, the Japanese had killed a great number of their friends, the Japanese had in fact destroyed their whole way of life, but he was damned if he was going to let what the Japanese had done and what had happened during the war destroy the rest of his life as well. That steely determination and strong will together with a wonderful sense of humour, which had held him in good stead during his three and a half years of internment somehow also seemed to help him in his recovery from the tragic circumstances of that “bloody, bloody war”, as he called it, and enable him to move on and start again despite what he had suffered and been through as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.
He got on with his life but he never forgot what had happened either to him or to his many friends, who had suffered at the hands of the Japanese, those who had survived and those who had died in the defence of Singapore and Malaya and in the Japanese prison camps across S.E. Asia and I will always remember his last words to me when I visited him in hospital just before he died on 20th April, 1994, when he said, "Don't feel sorry or grieve for me. I have been a very fortunate man. I have had nearly 50 bonus years of a happy and successful life unlike so many of my friends and people I knew in Singapore and Malaya who lost their lives and died during the war in the Far East all those years ago....."
My father never forgot what happened and he certainly never forgot the loss of so many good friends during that war with the Japanese, as indeed we who come after must never forget either. It is so important that we continue to keep alive the memory of the many men, women and children of different races who suffered so terribly at the hands of the Japanese military during World War 2, that we remember the millions of people, both military personnel and civilians, who lost their lives between 1941 and 1945 in the war against Japan, and it is especially important to remember the men, women and children who were captured, those who died during internment in Japanese prison camps across the Far East and those who survived three and a half years of hunger, disease, brutality, enslavement and separation from the rest of the world.
Hopefully with so many of us doing this and more and more being shared, written, documented and recorded on the war in the Far East, there will come a time when VJ Day, marking the end of the war with Japan, will and should become as important a day in this country as VE Day, marking the end of the war with Germany, and FEPOW Day 15th August will one day become an officially recognised National Day of Commemoration, worthy of the courage and the sacrifice, which was made by many thousands of people, both those who fought and died fighting the Japanese and those who were later interned and lost their lives in the truly infamous Japanese prisoner of war camps across South East Asia
I've been very lucky to have found a lot of detail from books, manuscripts, private records of former British Malayan families and from the sharing of information with others on a similar quest and had invaluable help from people like Jonathon Moffat at the Malayan Volunteers Group of which I am a member, Michael Pether, who has done an enormous amount of work researching those who left on those last evacuation ships and whose family used to live opposite us in Singapore in the 1950s, Michael Hurst at the FEPOW Association of Taiwan FEPOW websites and the American USS Block Island Association who sent me a lot of interesting stuff including the testimonies of the officers and men of the US Navy who were serving on the American aircraft carriers, Block Island CVE-106, the USS Santee and DEs who rescued and evacuated 1,100 of the POWs on Formosa on 6th September 1945 - including my father. Quite recently out of the blue the son in law of another Formosan POW sent me the name of the American troopship, the USS Admiral Rodman, which evacuated my father from Manila to San Francisco on 17th September 1945 together with the list of military personnel recovered from enemy custody, two of whom had been in the camps in Formosa with my father. I can never resist finding out more about the people whose names crop up on these various lists and records and whom one recognises along the way which all adds to the interest and fascination of doing this.
I've also become a very fast typist too! I knew that awful secretarial course my father told me would be so useful would come in handy one day.....!!
Full story is now in the Far Eastern Heroes as told by John’s daughter Rosemary.
KEW:- WO 392/24, WO 345/21, WO 361/1968, WO 361/2071, WO 361/2071, WO 361/2019, WO 361/1536,