Jimmy Nicholls was 11 when he and his family were captured in Burma as Japanese soldiers were taking over the country in 1942.
He was interned in a camp for the rest of the war and was an office boy for Japanese soldiers. He was in the camp with his sister Theresa Coverdale. They were liberated by American soldiers in 1945 and dad can recall them giving him chewing gum.
Dad died last year aged 88, but his sister Theresa is still alive living in St Ives and is 100 years old in September.
Those members of the family old enough in the camp were made to work. Dad became an office boy for the Japanese soldiers.
He is pictured wearing a Japanese soldier’s hat they gave him, a T-shirt and shorts. The amazing thing about this photo was we never knew it existed until the great-granddaughter of another older sister of dad’s found it amongst family photos in Canada a few years ago. My aunt Catherine (Babs) was not with the family as she had escaped to India and this photo must have been taken by someone and sent to her. It is a treasured possession especially as it depicts dad just as he had described himself to me.
During his time in the camp one soldier was unkind to dad and hit him badly when my cheeky father put a fly down the neck of his shirt. Another called Captain Tomamoto was very kind and taught him Japanese folk songs and a hymn. They were among the last songs dad could remember as dementia ravaged his mind.
We printed the words of the hymn in Japanese at his funeral. I recorded dad singing the folk song and wanted to find out if it was accurate. My brothers and I had grown up hearing these songs. A friend of a friend teaching in Japan played the song to his students and they said it was word and note perfect. The Japanese captain called him Taro which he said meant brave boy.
Dad was with his parents, sister Theresa and nieces who were only a few years younger than him Marie (Diddy), Ann, Collette and Clare. My grandfather and the youngest niece Clare who was just a baby died in the camp. My grandmother, her frail body ravaged, died not long after they were liberated. They were tough times for my dad and his family. But the rest made it safely back to the UK and in 1950 my dad joined the RAF. He later became an airframe fitter working for BOAC before moving on to motor vehicles and working for Arch Motors on Lola racing cars In Huntingdon. In 2003 myself and some members of my family travelled back to Burma with him and amazingly amid overgrown grass and weeds in the countryside a few miles outside the small town of Maymyo we found the very barracks they were kept in. Dad and his niece Diddy showed us the corner of the barracks occupied by their family and where they would cook their meagre rations and the large concrete bath structure where they would bathe.
Just a few years ago a contact sent us a copy of an American military newspaper from the time with a centre page spread showing young people acting out what life was like living in the camp imprisoned by Japanese soldiers. And there amongst them is a 15 year old Jimmy Nicholls among the youthful actors.