To honour those who served their country

“In this their finest hour”


Despatch Rider

Dick Lee


Royal Artillery

Attached to 11th Indian Division

Service History


Dick Lee

I was just 20 years old when I was shipped out from Gourock on the Empress of Japan, believe it or not.

It was before Japan had joined the war, and the ship's name was change to the Empress of Britain soon after.

We were taken to Indian at first and then Malaya. The war hadn't reached us yet. It was like Butlins - young lads, lying in the sun with nothing to do for months, until the Pacific war began in December 1941.

I was a motorbike despatch rider with the 11th Indian Division. I was carrying a message from HQ to a gun position when two fighters swooped from behind at on a truck convoy on the road ahead.

With the bike engine roaring at 45 mph I couldn't hear them coming, otherwise I would have gone off the road into the cover of the trees.

The blast from the first bomb sent me into the air. My bike was crushed and my right leg shattered against the truck.

As I lay on the road shrapnel from a second bomb hit my left. I had been the only one hit.

The Aussie troops from the convoy took me to Jahore Hospital, but it was being evacuated. With blood pouring from my legs I was taken in. The nurse was clean and white, and I apologised for being such a mess.

She said, "don't worry" and injected me with a needle. I remember nothing else until I woke the next morning with one leg in plaster, the other in a cradle. There wasn't a soul to be seen.

I was moved to Alexandra military hospital in Singapore - that's where the nightmare began.

I was there during the British capitulation on February 15 1942. I was helpless in stretcher in the corridor when the first Japanese troops entered the hospital.

It was barbaric. They bayoneted surgeons and wounded men alike. There was no rhyme or reason to it. They took watches and rings from patients and went on their way.

A second lot of troops arrived and started killing again, they overturned beds, thinking we'd hidden valuables under mattresses. There was no way to communicate.

It went on for two nights. I would lie awake with the screaming echoing along the corridors.

A hospital is meant to be a place of sanctuary, but the red cross on the outside meant nothing to them.

It was simply the lucky of the draw that I survived. I recovered in hospital at the Changi prison camp over the next six months.

When I was fit I was taken to a labour camp at the River Kwai in Thailand. It was hell. We worked on construction of the Japan's railway towards Burma.

I was in a camp of 2000 men clearing virgin jungle. Elephants pulled down trees, while we laid sleepers and track.

I ate rice rations for three-and-a-half years. A mug of rice porridge, with a teaspoon of sugar, for energy in the morning. Plain rice with leaves for lunch, and rice with a mug of stew at night.

We all had vitamin deficiency, tropical ulcers and many died of malaria, cholera and other diseases. I had amoebic dysentery while I was burying others who died of the same thing.

If you were too ill too work you laid in a hut all day with your rations halved. You either got better or died.

We worked wearing just cloth pants and a hat. Some had the last tatters of their shirt to keep the sun off their shoulders.

On the day the last spike was hammered in the Japanese somehow produced clean uniforms to dress the workers. They were taken right after the ceremony.

I went back to Changi until Japan surrendered on August 15 1945. I survived. I was a lucky one.


Dick Died May 2008


FEPOW Sunday Post 3-tn

Dick on left with Avril and Jimmy Hart - FEPOW Day 2007

Dick was a survivor of the Alexandra Hospital Massacre and appeared in a number of TV documentaries.

A friend writes: His was an East End childhood of poverty in a large family, three to a bed and no shoes. He chose to accompany a comrade to the Japanese Railway, although he could would have stayed behind because of his considerable injuries during the fighting, but he was not going to let his chum go without him  although he had to be carried over his friend's shoulders the last few miles into  the Railway camp.

He could only carry out light camp duties thereafter,  but at night he joined a small concert party to play and sing to men in the really vile sickness huts, telling jokes and stories to keep up their spirits in the evenings.

After the War he moved up to Glasgow to work on "the barrows" and build up his own business there, he became a good chum of the the Argylls in particular, and was soon  known everafter - as "Cockney Jock".


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