Japanese prisoner of war’s first letter home following release from captivity is revealed

Chichester businessman Edward Whitmore Jones built up a successful furniture store after surviving three years as a Japanese prisoner of war.

Thursday, 20th August 2020, 12:38 pm

His hard work and commitment to customer service at Whitmore Jones Chichester ensured the shop prospered under his guidance but he tragically died in 1968 aged 54, the years of starvation and prolonged captivity at the hands of the Japanese having taken their toll.

Edward’s son Christopher Whitmore Jones and grandson Mike Whitmore Jones have shared his story to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, Victory Over Japan in the Second World War.

Edward was a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF, part of 211 Squadron, Middle East Forces, and became a prisoner of war when Java fell in 1942.

Whitmore Jones Chichester when it was founded in Oving Road in 1946

An article in the Portsmouth Evening News dated January 10, 1944, reported that a card he wrote on Christmas Day 1942 had finally arrived at his parents in Purbrook on New Year’s Eve 1943, over a year later.

When he was finally released, Edward wrote again on September 17, 1945, and started by saying he had sent a total of six cards, though the first cards he had received were on October 12, 1944.

Christopher and Mike said: “We find his first letter home after his rescue from captivity is very understated but informative and very moving.

“Regrettably, three bouts of malaria, five bouts of dysentery and beriberi, coupled with forced labour and poor diet, contributed to an early death in 1968, just 23 years after the conclusion of hostilities.

Edward Whitmore Jones, a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF, part of 211 Squadron, Middle East Forces

“Having survived the war, he moved to Chichester to open and run a branch of our family business in Oving Road, which we are pleased to say is one of the few long-standing family businesses still trading in Chichester today.”

Edward announced in his letter that he was given 15 minutes’ ‘scribble time’. It reads as follows:

“My dear Mum and Dad, At last after a weary 3½ years, we are all again free men. This is my first attempt at writing for a very long time after working on rice and stew for 3½ years one’s brain becomes decidedly dim. Did I say stew? Soup and mighty thin at times too.

“How is everyone at Sandy Brow? Am looking forward to having all the news. So much has happened during these last wonderful weeks that we still wonder if we are dreaming or not.

The card Edward wrote on Chirstmas Day 1942. It finally arrived at his parents in Purbrook on New Year's Eve 1943, over a year later.

“I wrote a few scratchy lines yesterday in about 5 minutes and was told that they probably would not be delivered and were being substituted by these. So here’s hoping.

“We are at present (about 50 of us) staying in a large building standing in spacious grounds in Batavia, a grand place. Our food is excellent and since the great day, nearly all of (excuse me!)

“Sept 17th. A very memorable date – doctor has just come to see us and informed us to pack our kit. Shall be flying to India any moment! GOSH!

“Everyone’s all a buzz. We had been saying that everyone was going home except us. I get so excited these days – especially when I think of home – my mother and father and all those I love. In fact writing this and thinking of you all is nearly too much for me. I’m a bit soft. During the past years one found it best to forget everything and take what was coming.

Celebrating 100 years of Whitmore Jones in September 2009, from left, Gerald Lloyd, Christopher Whitmore Jones and Mike Whitmore Jones at the Chichester store. Picture: Bill Shimmin C091581-1

“Have tasted eggs, butter, milk and meat, fruit, etc first for over 3 years. (STOP PRESS the ‘Gen’ is we are flying into Colombo, given warm kit and then straight to Good Old England. I wonder!) In any case shall post this where we stay, or bring it with me.

“Have been telling my ward that something big was bound to happen on the 17th. He’s a grand fellow, lives in Brighton and used to work for Small and Parkes s.c. Rep.

“Although Java is a beautiful island, not so much now the Japs have had it for 3½ years. Shall be glad to get away from the eternal sun.

“Pompey lads been very fortunate only 2 dead that I can find anything about.

“I am fairly fit, very thin and suffering from the after effects of having dysentery 5 times, but good food will soon put me right.

“As space is short will try to summarise events which might be of interest. Remember a small lad, one Pat Davis, first school pal of Voller days. Met him in early POW days after over 20 years, now Wing Commander, highest rank in camp and he turned up trumps. Just as natural as he always was, no side.

Cosham High Street store of Whitmore Jones

“Hope to get a pair of boots any time, have worn pieces of wood for 2½ years. Bare feet most of the time, they soon get hard. My hair will be about 1 inch long now.

“Since POW have been to AMBON ISLE for 1½ years on a working party. Just Hell on Earth. Our officers estimate 25% of us survived. Could never get you to half imagine this appalling suffering of our boys through disease and starvation.

“Had fish today, first for 3½ years, was it tasty. This place has been heaven. Must close. See you all soon. Loving son. Edward.”

He ends with a side note ‘MY MOTHER. What a day it will be’ and six kisses.

Edward was the youngest son of Arthur Whitmore Jones, who founded the family business in Southsea in 1909, and was 32 when he returned from the Pacific.

He expanded the business by opening the Chichester store, taking over the site of an existing hardware and furniture store which had operated since the early 1800s.

After Edward died, Christopher joined the business, to help his mother Jean, and took over the day-to-day running. Jean continued to work at the shop and retired fully from the business only in 2002, at the age of 81.

Mike joined the business in 2003, the fourth generation to be actively involved. He now runs the business with the aid of senior sales manager Gerald Lloyd.

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