As a child I was told by my parents not to ask my Pop anything about the war. Thomas Victor Phillips enlisted in 1939 without even telling his wife! He was a sapper and after basic training he was shipped off to Africa where he faced off against the Germans at El-Alamein in early 1942. Here he sustained a shrapnel injury and as a result spent time in a hospital in Egypt. When he was well, he re-joined his company and was making his way back to Australia for a break, when his company was captured by the Japanese in Java.
Thomas became a POW at the infamous Changi prison and after three months he was transferred to the Thai-Burma railway, which was much worse. Cruelty, starvation, beatings, beheadings and death were now constant companions. Pop was lucky that he could work or he would have been killed. After 6 months he was transferred to Fukuyima to work in the coal mines. This is where he stayed until he was released at the end of the war. Out of the 12 ships that transported these brave men, 8 were sunk by U.S. battleships, the Americans not knowing they were killing their own men.
My Pop weighed 40kgs when he was picked up by the Americans, he was a changed person. I now understand why he drank heavily, hated the Japanese, gambled without thinking and never spoke about the war.
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Originally published in Lila Jean Vintage Magazine Issue Two | Autumn 2015