09 February 2017

Son of Far East Prisoner Of War makes emotional return to Singapore

Keith Andrews is returning to Singapore 22 years after his first visit and says he’ll see things “through different eyes” this time around.

 

Keith’s father, Robert Andrews, from Trowbridge in Wiltshire, was captured by the Japanese in Singapore in February 1942 and was held prisoner for the rest of the war.

Keith is Vice Chair of COFEPOW, the Children (and Families) Of Far East Prisoners of War and will attend a commemorative service at the CWGC Kranji War Cemetery and Memorial this month, marking 75 years since the Fall of Singapore.

During his first visit to Kranji in 1995, Keith knew little about his father’s war record but now, after years of research, he understands more about the fate of those who were taken prisoner during the fall of the city, including his father.

The 67-year-old, from Whitwick in Leicestershire, will follow in the footsteps of his father, who served with three different Coast Regiments (7th, 9th & 11th), Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery.

“My father was first posted to Singapore in December 1939,” said Keith.

“He was transferred to Penang for a while. But because his training was in large calibre coast guns, he was sent back to Singapore and employed as a forward artillery observer for the 15-inch guns of Jahore Battery, at Changi. He would cool down fire emissions.

“As the Japanese got closer to Singapore, he was stationed on Ubin Island, in the Straights of Jahore but then pulled back to the mainland.

“He was taken at surrender and marched to Changi. Then in November 1942, he went up country with ‘Y’ party on the Thai-Burma Railway. He was there for two and a half years and it must have been horrendous.

“Then in May 1945, he was sent to Takhli, a camp run by the Imperial Japanese Air Force, not the army. His job was to build a runway for the aircraft. The Japanese never used it… but the RAF did. After his group was liberated, he was flown to Rangoon. From there, he got the SS Chitral back to Southampton.”

Keith’s father Robert died in 1986 aged 74. He rarely spoke about his wartime experiences and it was only after his death that Keith decided to research his father’s history.

“We got his army record and I was fortunate to read his liberation questionnaire,” said Keith.

“To be honest, the research created more questions than it answered. My father was very proud of being in the army during the war, he had been a boy trumpeter. But he never spoke about his time as a prisoner of war, although we knew he had mentioned the Thai Burma Railway.

“I’ve been lucky to find out what I have. I know other children haven’t been so lucky. I’ve actually been able to speak to people who were in the same camp as my father.”

Keith has been to the CWGC Kranji War Cemetery and Memorial in Singapore once before, in 1995, but says this month’s visit will have more meaning.

“I’m going back this time looking through different eyes. I think I will feel quite emotional to be honest,” he said.

“I know more than I did back then and that will make it more personal, to understand the fate of those who were captured.

“You just cannot comprehend the sacrifice that was made. The first time I went to Singapore, I was absolutely amazed and very sad to discover the thousands of graves at Kranji and the number of men with no known grave.”

As well as his involvement with COFEPOW, Keith is also a member of other history groups and remembrance associations including the Java Club, the Malayan Volunteers Group, the National Fepow Fellowship Welfare Remembrance Association (NFFWRA) and the Researching Fepow History Group (RFHG).

“I think it’s important that the history of the war in the Far East should never be forgotten,” added Keith.

“It’s often overlooked because, at the time, the country was also fighting for survival against the Germans in Europe and in Africa.

“My father’s not been with me for a long time now. I often wonder what he would think about all the research I’ve done. I think it’s important to remember, as there are still descendants out there looking for answers to their own family history.”

The commemorative event at CWGC Kranji War Cemetery is open to the public and will take place at 4.30pm on Wednesday, February 15.