FEPOW Memorial Church



Sgt. Ron Needham, 6th Bn. Royal Norfolk Regiment


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Ron joined the 6th Bn. Royal Norfolk Regiment on 18th October 1939 as part of the 18th Division. On 29th October 1941, after two years training, he sailed in the MS Duchess of Atholl from Gourock, nr. Glasgow.
Arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia he was transferred to the USS Mount Vernon, part of Convoy WS12, bound for the Middle East via Trinidad, South Africa, and Mombasa. From there, 53rd Brigade sailed on to Singapore while the two other brigades sailed for Bombay. They reached Singapore on January 9th, 1942, with most of their heavy equipment still in Bombay - that arrived with 54th and 55th Brigades just in time for the surrender on 15th February Ω.

Ed Note: although they were transported in American troopships, it was almost a month before Pearl Harbour and the formal entry of the US into World War II.

Within 4 days he was at the front but they were constantly forced back until they returned to Singapore for the final surrender Ω. They were sent to Roberts Barracks and initially had very little contact with the Japanese, although a way was found to keep the records safe Ω. He was moved by cattle truck to the notorious Burma Railway where he worked on the Bridge over the Kwai, his situation made easier by being transported rather than having to traverse the railway on foot Ω. He worked on both bridges; gruelling work, bad treatment and insufficient food characterised their lives Ω. Unsurprisingly, illness was rife. There were virtually no medical facilities, although some additional materials were bought from local villages Ω. Huge numbers of POWs died on the Burma Railway, those dying of cholera being cremated in an attempt to contain the disease Ω. Brutal treatment of prisoners was the norm, many carrying the marks for ever Ω. Yet despite their dreadful privations, they succeeded in maintaining a remarkable cohesion and comradeship Ω. Morale was further boosted by sharing their knowledge and experiences Ω.
In April 1943, he was moved from Tamarkan to Hellfire Pass, where in June, he contracted dysentery. Fortunately he was moved back to Kanchanaburi, which probably saved his life, although the infamous Radio Incident and the reprisals that followed showed the Japanese Kempetai in all their brutality. He was moved back to Nom Pladuk where he remained until June 1944 Ω. He was then taken back to Singapore where he remained until December 1944, when he left on a convoy destined for Japan. The convoy got no further than Saigon since the previous convoy had been heavily torpedoed by American submarines. He worked on an airfield near Saigon before being moved outside for other work, later returning to Saigon and billets near the docks Ω.
After August 6th, things became very quiet and shortly after they were told the conflict had ended. The sick were flown out as a priority and within a few weeks they were flown to Rangoon via Bangkok Ω. He got back to England on the Indrapura sometime late October/early November 1945, in the middle of a dock strike. Having worked on the docks themselves, the ex-POWs were able to bring the ship in without the help of the dockers Ω.

In a remarkable link with the past, Ron and some of his mates, visiting the Bridge over the Kwai many years later, met the little girl who had sold them  them duck eggs all those years before Ω.           

                                                   Listen to another recording








Convoy WS 12






Bridge, River Kwai







"Jap Happy" loincloth worn daily at Nom Pladuk

"Sunday Best" shorts made from sleeves of Dutch Army uniform