Many books and memoirs have been written on prisoner of war captivity in the Far East during the Second World War. Some contain incredible detail concerning the fall of Singapore and are full of military historical facts. This book is not like that. Instead, it is written from the viewpoint of a young girl who experienced the bittersweet homecoming of her traumatized father, Jack, following the end of the war. June and her mother, Beatrice, had lovingly prepared for Jack’s long-awaited return from his imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese out in the Far East. June recounts that they quickly realized how ill-prepared they were to deal with Jack’s post-war traumas. The man who returned home did not resemble the man who had left in 1941. It proved to be a troubled journey as they navigated a path back to a semblance of normal family life. Their only way to cut through Jack’s decompression from three and a half years of intensely cruel mental stress in the notorious POW camps was by exercising incredible patience and, ultimately, talking it through with brutal honesty.
Jack was not a man who would have sought out help, especially concerning how he felt inside. Today, we comfortably talk about mental health and, in Jack’s case, PTSD. Following recent conflicts across the world, the topic of mental suffering has been thrown wide open. It has become part of our everyday language and is viewed with compassion. There is no shame in any type of mental health issue. However, June admitted that thirty years ago she would have been nervous to put her story down on paper. We are now acutely aware of what those unfortunate returning prisoners of war were suffering back in 1945. There is no shame to call out what it was – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This was a psychological trauma gained in horrific circumstances. Invisible injuries that became imprinted on minds.
The military and government put the traumatized returning prisoners of war under immense pressure not to speak of their experiences in captivity. Sadly, many of them took the instruction seriously and never discussed it with their families or friends. The message that had been conveyed was that they were nothing more than an embarrassing inconvenience. Jack recalled how they were told Britain was over the war and that people were moving on with their lives. No one would be interested in their tales of horror and, indeed, they may not even have believed them. Jack told us they were given leaflets concerning the matter on board their repatriation ships as they sailed homewards. Those returning POWs had already been dubbed The Forgotten Army, and then they were told to just disappear into society without recognition.