Fishing Boats owned by the Melling Family of St Anne’s


(Vessel identification assisted by Maurice P. Evans, Heswall & Nick P. Miller, Barrow)
Dates in brackets indicate the approximate period in the St. Annes fleet


The Melling family of St Annes, my ancestors, were Fishermen and later Fishmongers in the town. What follows is a detailed, almost forensic analysis of the fortunes and boats owned by the Melling Family. Whilst the Melling’s are its main focus, the work includes the history of St Annes, it’s fishing families, it’s fishing fleet and Geographic’s of local fishing grounds. It is reproduced here by kind permission of its main author, Gilbert Ian Mayes who produced the work in 2002. I have also included extracts of correspondence between him and me which sheds more light on the Melling’s fishing boats. Also included at Annexe ‘B’, are maps showing the topography of the Fylde Coast, photographed from Ian’s book ‘On a Broad Reach’.

Ian Mayes, a St Anne’s lad, born in 1936 to a family that came to the Fylde in 1875, from the Rossendale Valley, to work on the building of the town. His Gt Grandfather was a Carter and married Phoebe Tims, whose two brothers were lost along with the rest of the crew of the St. Anne’s lifeboat, ‘Laura Janet‘, when she capsized on service to the German barque ‘Mexico‘ in December 1886. Annexe ‘C’ below is a more detailed portrait of this extraordinary man and his extraordinary career.

The Melling’s Boats

We know that the Melling family of fishermen lived in Lytham Heyhouses/West End cottages, certainly from the late 18th century (Henry Melling b, Lytham-1781), and owned open sailing Trawlboats fishing in the then wide waters of the North Channel off where St. Anne’s now stands. These open boats we suspect were very similar to the clinker planked beach boats used at Blackpool around that time for fishing and later for trippers. We know that in the early days the Mellings kept their boat(s) in what was known as Granny’s Dock, the natural harbour inside the Double Stanner which now forms the outer Promenade around Fairhaven Lake, a refuge they shared with the Commonside (Ansdell) fishermen. This was surprising because we also know that the Little Marton fishermen, with whom they were more closely associated and included the Harrisons and the Balls, kept their boats at Gillett’s inside the Parker Bank, which later became known as the Crusader Bank and the waters as Oliver’s Heading.

Fig. 1 Blackpool beach boats hauled up on the beach opposite the Wellington Hotel near Chapel Street, around the mid-1860s.

Blackpool beach boats, with no protection forward to prevent swamping, were only suitable for inshore working and several were rebuilt as ‘Halfdeckers’ to enable them to fish outside the banks, as far north as Shell Flats and south to the Burbo Bank. Although we have no concrete evidence it is likely that the Annie’ was of this type.

ANNIE (1882-1906)

A two man ‘Shanker’ – approx 26ft (based on height of new mast (26ft x 7½ inch) made Jan 1890 by Rawstrone of Freckleton, weighing 2 tons (Imperial)

1882: Owned in St. Annes by John Melling, Mellings Lane, St Annes and registered at Preston -PN106. 1.1.1890: At Rawstrones, Freckleton for repair (211¾ man hours – £9.17s.0d). 15.10.1890: Broke from moorings off St. Annes Pier, sighted aground on Horse Banks. Recovered and returned to fishing. 1906: Registry closed.

Fig. 2 One of two half decked Blackpool beach boat types on the Double Stanner in the early 1890s when most of the St. Anne’s owned boats had moved to moorings to the south of the new Pier. It is likely that the ‘Annie’ was of this type.

Like the ‘Annie, the ‘Why Not’ was an older boat and whilst we have no direct proof that she was Melling owned, she is mentioned in this context by Harry Cooper in his essay, ‘Days of My Youth – The village of St. Anne’s 46 years ago’, published in 1932. Although built on Blackpool beach boat lines she was carvel built, so it is not clear whether or not she was originally an open boat, but most likely she carried internal ballast in the form of pig iron or stones which could be moved to windward when sailing. ‘Why Not’ (1889-1924)

A Trawler/Shanker 3.80 ton 28ft approx. 1889: Owned in St. Annes probably by the Melling family. 3,4.1891: Registered at Preston – PN25, as a two-man (fish) trawler. 1899: Re-registered as two-man shrimper (shanker) and fished by Thomas Ball, Abbey Road, Squires Gate with other partners including Nicholas Johnson, 53 Church Road and Hugh Rimmer, 35 Nelson Street. 3.4.1906: Possibly sold, coinciding with the purchase of the Tern. Re-registered as one man shrimper {shanker). New owner possibly Hugh Rimmer. 16.10.1924: Registry closed, broken up at St. Annes.

Fig. 3 The scene is the south beach adjacent to the Pier, sometime between 1910 and the spring of 1913, with two boats up on the Stanner for repair. From her lines and general arrangement, we think that it is safe to identify the boat on the left as the Why Not. Other boats are the Wild Duck fished during this period by “Ting” Harrison and “Nicky” Johnson, the Oliver Williams of “Noms” & “Teddy” Rimmer and the ‘Tern‘ of “Harry” Melling and “Skip” Harrison

The Annie’ was either sold out of fishing in 1906 or broken up at St. Anne’s at the usual repair site to the south of the Pier where a lot of the work was undertaken by the fishermen themselves or by the Nixon family; because of her age it is highly likely that the latter course was taken. The replacement for the ‘Annie‘ was the ‘Tern‘, a bigger and more efficient Trawlboat built on lines that had evolved rapidly over the past thirty years and was destined to see them culminate in the most powerful cutter rigged sailing trawlers on the UK coast. The lines and scantlings of the ‘Tern‘ suggest that she was built at Fleetwood by Gibsons and a boat with very similar dimensions was launched in 1893 for J. H. Bullock of 17 Dean Street, Blackpool as The Tern, and registered as a “yacht” but we have been unable to confirm that this was the same boat. The ‘Tern‘ is not recorded in Lloyd’s Register of Yachts in 1906/7 and this coincides with change of ownership to the Melling/Harrisons. In all the many Trawlboats, Nobbies, Prawners, Smacks, Half-deckers, etc. registered from the Solway Firth to Cardigan Bay only one boat ever carried the name ‘Tern‘.

Fig. 4 Although this is an Annan trawlboat it gives a good view of the layout on deck with the beam trawl stowed on the starboard side; the foredeck hatch and bogey stove pipe are clearly seen.

TERN (1906- 1913)

Smack 12.82 net tons (from 5.4.1913 – 8.20 net tons), 33ft – 5ins LOA x 9ft – 9ins x 3ft – 10ins draught. Class 2nd Trawling & Shanking.

1893: Possibly built by John Gibson & Sons, Fleetwood. 29.6.1894: Registered as ‘Tern‘ at Preston – PN64. (Possibly owned in Blackpool). 1903: Sold ? 3.5.1906: Sold to Henry Melling, 61 Church Road, St. Annes {fished in partnership with Robert Harrison, 43 Church Road, St. Annes). 5.4.1913: Sold to Fleetwood. Registered at Fleetwood – FD182. 23.2.1916: Sold to William McParlin, New Ferry Road, New Ferry. Registered at Liverpool – LL25. 7.5.1918: Sold to Heaton Bedson, Russell Road, Rock Ferry. 21.6.1923: Sold. Registered at Runcorn – RN37. 2.5.1931: Registry closed – ceased fishing. 1939-1946: Served as a firefighting float in Liverpool Docks. Renamed ‘Jean‘. 1946: Sold to Ernie Jones, Liverpool. Registered at Liverpool – LL1. 19??: Sunk at Knott End, raised by Stan Hurley, Thornton, but repairs too daunting. 19??: Sold to Mike Griffiths and towed to Fiddlers Ferry for repair and restoration. Renamed ‘Arthur Alexander‘ (LL1) on completion. 19??: Sold to Dave Pendleton 8.2.1997: Sold to Dennis Wright, Aberconwy. 1998: Won Mersey Nobby Race. 11.2001: For sale £17500. 12.2002: Not sold. Still sailing Conwy.

Fig. 5 Arthur Alexander‘ sailing on the Mersey
Fig. 6 Arthur Alexander‘ ashore for refit in the 1990s her appearance belies her working life as a trawlboat, at least seven years of which were spent fishing from St. Anne’s

With the continued silting of the North Channel and the ever-changing banks, channels and roads in the estuary following the cutting and restraining of the new Gut Channel opened in January 1910, it was inevitable that the deeper draughted Smacks could no longer operate safely from St. Anne’s. Harry Melling and Bob Harrison had the foresight to appreciate this fact early on when in 1913, they sold the Tern to Fleetwood owners and both purchased smaller boats suitable for single handed working; Harry, a 25 footer from Morecambe which was to become the Irene’ and Bob the Sunbeam’ a slightly larger boat at 28ft and suitable for working with his son.

Fig. 7 Sometime after WW1 the Irene with Harry Melling at the helm. His daughter Edith and a friend are sitting in the thwart and the Irene is towing a punt with three passengers. Note the two shank trawls and the general cramped condition in a 25ft Shanker, used for shrimping in the channels at low water, particularly the Pe(i)nfold and the North Road.

IRENE (1913- 1935)

Shanker   25ft       2.11 tons. 1913: From Morecambe owned in St. Annes by Henry Melling, 61 Church Road. 14.9.1917: Renamed Irene and registered at Preston – PN65. 1927: Mooring transferred to Lytham. 4.6.1935: Ceased fishing and sold to Preston owners.

With the closure the St. Anne’s Lifeboat Station on 30 September 1925 and the North Channel reduced to a very shallow waterway, it was inevitable that the three remaining St. Anne’s boats, Harry Melling’s ‘Irene‘, Bob Harrison’s ‘Sunbeamand Teddy Rimmer’s larger ‘Playmatewould have to move, along with several punts and dinghies. As all three fishermen were still employed looking after the lifeboat ‘James Scarlett’, which had been retained in the Lifeboat House for publicity purposes, it was not until the decision to remove the lifeboat was taken in September 1926 that they decided to move their boats. This move to Lytham was achieved in 1927.

We have been unable to trace any Morecambe boat that fished under the name Irene and as her name was not changed until the autumn of 1917, she must have fished from St. Anne’s under another name. We do know that she was last seen by Harry Melling and Keith Threlfall downstream from Penwortham Bridge around 1950, but what subsequently became of the last St. Anne’s boat in the ownership of the Melling family name we do not know but suspect that like many projects with old fishing boats she ended up being cut up. (This excludes the steam trawlers, the last of which the ‘Lizzie Melling‘ (PN45), 207grt/1904, owned by Melling Ltd, Fleetwood, was not broken up until June 1957 by Hammond Lane Foundry Ltd, Dublin).

Fig. 8 The Jetty, St Annes Pier


Fig 9. Freckleton Shipyard

Trawling from St. Anne’s was undertaken with two distinctive type of trawls each for different species of fish/crustaceans. The nets were braided by the fishermen themselves in the long winter evenings from twine supplied by the packman from Preston and treated with linseed oil and cutch (A preservative, made from catechu gum boiled in water, used to prolong the life of a sail.) to preserve them. The ironwork for the net frames would be made by the local blacksmith, in the case of the Melling’s possibly by the smithy at the top of Squires Gate Lane, Blowing Sands or Smithy Lane, Heyhouses. For demersal fish (those fish living close to the sea floor – Plaice, Sole, etc.), a single Southport beam trawl was towed, the overall dimensions depending on the size and power of the Trawlboat/Smack involved but seldom less than an 18ft beam.

While the beam trawl also caught brown shrimps the Ribble Estuary was home to a specific type of trawl for shrimping – the shank trawl. The development on the northern shore was distinctive from that on the Southport side and involved blacksmithed ends and wooden beam members. The smaller shanking boats trawled with two 8ft nets whilst the larger boats used two 10ft – 6inch trawls except when “broadsiding” – drifting broadside to the tide, carried by the current, when possibly four nets could be rigged.

Fig. 10 A Lytham/St. Anne’s shank trawl frame photographed on the Double Stanner in the early 1890s, this type of trawl frame was used until Arthur Wignall of Lytham built the first all metal box framework.

Sources and Further Research

Marine Research & Vessel Statistics. Search ‘SmaShipData’,

Mayes,G.I.& McCall, 1995, Short Sea Shipping 1995, Portishead Private

Mayes, G. & Mayes, JE., 2009, On A Broad Reach: The History Of The St Anne’s-On-The Sea Lifeboat Station 1881-1925 , Bernard McCall, Bristol

Images from G.I. Mayes Collection


TrawlboatA boat used in fishing with trawls or trawlnets.
PrawnerA boat used for prawn fishing
HalfdeckerAn open boat with some decking – commonly over the forepeak, over the stern sheets, and along each side of the well.
NobbyAn inshore sailing boat, used for traditional fishing around Lancashire and the Isle of Man
SmackA traditional fishing boat, often containing a well to keep the catch alive.
StannerA gravel, shingle and/or sand bank, offshore.
Shanks/ Shanker/ ShankingIn the North West of England a ‘shank’ is a brown shrimp, so a ‘Shanker’ is a boat that catches shrimps by net, usually a shank trawl, but in a mixed fishery, a beam trawl.  Shanking generally refers to boat fishing, but more in respect of Southport, St. Anne’s and Flookborough, as horse drawn carts towing two shank trawls i.e.. cart shanking.

Annexe ‘A’  Further information from extracts of correspondence between G.I. Mayes and the Blog Owner, Mike Coyle
(NOTE: Recent, personal information, addresses, etc. have been removed to protect privacy)

28 July 2001

Dear Mike

Since we last communicated our ‘Lancashire Nobby Research Group’ have managed to locate the yard ledgers for Peter Rawstrone’s shipyard at Freckleton. I had seen several transcripts, but most people thought that the originals had been destroyed, however a chance comment from a colleague, tracked them down to the Textile Museum at Helmshore! They are now in Fleetwood Museum, but not available to the general public – I hope to get them placed on microfiche or CD. The interesting thing is that as I already knew John Melling is mentioned, but with more detail.

In On A Broad Reach p.72 the Lytham Times is quoted recording the incident on 15 Oct 1899 when the ‘Annie‘ (PN106) owned by John Melling was torn from her mooring south of St. Anne’s Pier and was last seen on the Horse Banks. From her continued existence, fishing from St. Anne’s until 1906, I knew that she had survived and from one of the Freckleton transcripts, that she had gone to Rawstrone’s for repair.

In the yard ledger Book 1, the ‘Annie, a ‘Shanker’ is entered on 1 Jan 1890, owner John Melling, St. Anne’s and some 2113/4 man-hours were expended on her repair. In the notes are ‘Church Road’ and that a new mast, 26 ft x 71/2 inches was made for her, the total cost of repairs and mast was £9.17. 0. Perhaps the most interesting is that this bill was not settled until 1 Nov 1890. The cost should be related to the wages being paid in the yard, a shipwright 4/4d a day and a labourer 2/8d a day. The measurements of the mast give us a rough idea of the ‘Annies’ length overall, this would be 27-28 ft, a single hander which would either be fished alone or with a ‘fisher lad’/ ‘fisherman’s boy’, and essentially used for shanking for shrimps inside the banks in the channels, roads and gullies.

Enclosed is a repro of the Fleetwood NobbyNora(FD46), which at 32ft x 9.4ft x 4.2ft and 7.73 tons was very similar to Harry Melling and “Skip” Harrison’s Tern (PN64) 33ft – 5ins x 9ft – 9ins x 3ft – 10tns 12.82 tons, the difference in tonnage being a slightly ‘chunkier’ boat. ! think the pic gives a good impression of the sail area of about 850 sq ft, even though they are becalmed and have a sweep out. Hard to imagine a fleet of about six or seven boats of this size getting underway from their moorings south of St. Anne’s Pier prior to WW1.

Fig. 11 ‘NORA’ FD46, Built Overton 1892.

16 May 2001

Dear Mike

As discussed this afternoon, pics of the ‘Arthur Alexander’ ex ‘Tern‘ (PN64) owned by Harry Melling and worked in partnership with Robert “Skip” Harrison from 3.5.1906 until 5.4.1913. At 33ft she was a good sized Smack (Nobby) used for both flatfish trawling using a 20ft Fleetwood style beam trawl or for shrimping using the St. Anne’s/Lytham 10ft 6ins shank trawl, two when trawling and two or three when ‘siding’ (broadsiding – using the tide flow to move the boat broadside, used when the current was strong and there was little wind).  In the winter they would also tow out the punt and use her to set long lines off Blackpool for spur dogs and cod. It is highly likely that the punt ‘Our May’ owned by ‘Skip’ Harrison was used in this fishery. ‘Skip’ Harrison’s youngest daughter, remembers, both this boat and the smack ‘Sunbeam’ (PN10), which he bought after the ‘Tern’ was sold. She was 3ft longer than Harry’s ‘Irene’).

We think that the ‘Tern’ may have been built at Fleetwood, but we have been unable to confirm this. | think that the recent owners would like to lay claim to her being ‘Stoba’ designed, and there are lots of features that point that way, but nothing positive so I am wary. In her present yacht like guise it is difficult to appreciate that she lay at her moorings to the south of St. Anne’s Pier for nearly seven years, taking all sorts of weather and providing a living (of sorts) for two families. With over 800sq ft of canvas, I bet they drove her hard, fishing both inside the banks and outside from Rossall to Burbo Bank, she would be a well used tool, that Harry and Skip were superior coastal boatmen and excelled at the fishing is clear from all the recollections I have of talking with “Uncle Bob” Harrison and listening to Tommy Harrison and Teddy and “Boxer” Rimmer. Hard men who led a hard life.

7 January 2003

Dear Mike

I am still a bit puzzled as to why the Melling steam trawlers never seem to get mentioned. I can remember the ‘Lizzie Melling’ registered at Preston (PN45) and the ‘Harry Melling’ (FD397), but when the latter was owned by lago Steam Trawlers and registered in London as LO55. Others were the ‘Annie Melling’ (FD168), ‘Tom Melling’ (FD414),‘Nellie Melling’ (FD25), ‘Lily Melling’ (FD222), ‘Lena Melling‘ (1) (FD189) and ‘Lena Melling’ (2) (FD417), they were owned by Melling Ltd and managed by W. Melling, 7 Fish Trade Buildings, Fleetwood (note this is not J. W. Melling, they were most meticulous with trading names in the BOT Mercantile Navy List.

Annex ‘B’ Topography and wrecks off the Fylde Coast
(Photographed from Mayes book, On a Broad Reach)

Annex ‘C’ Pen Portrait of Commander Gilbert Ian Mayes OBE CEng MRINA

My interest in ships and shipping took hold when I attended King Edward VII school in Lytham St. Anne’s overlooking the Ribble estuary.  The ability to observe the Preston bound shipping on a daily basis and to recognise the ships themselves was the start of a lifetime of research, collating and writing on current and maritime subjects.  This was fostered by the Geography master who suggested that I record a month’s shipping, noting the ports and cargoes and present as a snap-shot of Preston shipping.  Following on from this, visits were organised to Preston Dock and followed up by further visits, to Courtaulds’, Red Scar Mill,  Ribbleton to see rayon being produced from the imported wood pulp, the Preston Bypass where the imported roadstone was being used and others industries associated with the dock traffic. 

A thirty seven year career in the Royal Navy gave the opportunity to view the maritime scene world wide, particularly in Singapore and Hong Kong and books of notes were filled with my observations.  During my apprenticeship I started to write about shipping and became the Journal of Commerce & Shipping Telegraph correspondent for the Forth ports, particularly recording the large numbers of steam trawlers arriving for breaking up.  In 1974 I took over the compilation of the Ian Allen pocket book Coastal Ships, Tugs & Trawlers and complied the final version of that publication.  

Whilst serving at Bath I became involved in the Naval Control of Shipping in the short sea trades and this led to supporting Bernard McCall in his column in Sea Breezes writing abut the coastal shipping scene.  This was to form a lasting partnership.  The centenary of the Mexico disaster in 1986 took me  and my cousin John into research of the St. Anne’s lifeboat station and St. Anne’s  and Lytham fishing fleets.  Both these avenues  resulted in compiling and publishing the results, the former in On a Broad Reach the history of the St. Anne’s-on-the-Sea lifeboat station and the latter in publications by both Leonard Lloyd and Nick Miller on the Lancashire Nobby.  A follow on from this was teeming up with Alan Hirst at Fleetwood to start to compile a database of Fleetwood fishing vessels.  Realising the size of this task we decided to concentrate initially on the steam trawlers but with the untimely death of Alan I was compelled to carry on alone.  Contact with Jim Porter led to the results being posted on his website Bosun’s Watch and this relationship continues.

My interest in Coastal shipping, fostered in my teens remains and in the early 1990s Bernard and I decided to compile and publish a directory of short sea shipping companies domiciled in UK and the Republic of Ireland.  Six editions of Short Sea Shipping was published but towards the end it became more difficult to validate material as companies chose to flag out their tonnage and the last edition was published in 2004. By way of compensation I joined a group who had compiled a basic yard list of vessels built by the Yorkshire shipyard Cochrane & Sons Ltd and with Mike Thompson at Hull, set about putting this into shape for publication.  To do justice to the subject I decided to write in three editions and these were duly published in succession as Cochrane Shipbuilders and were well received by the public.

Bernard McCall died suddenly in August 2021 and my efforts in respect of coastal and short sea shipping will be to continue to support his projects by helping his wife Doreen and son Iain in their efforts to pick up the reins and continue with the business.  As to the Fleetwood Steam Trawler database, this is a daily update, as thanks to modern communications and the internet, fresh material is constantly coming to light and more emphasis is being placed on the social history of the fishing industry.


The Blackpool Regiment: A Brief History Part 2: The ‘Capitulation’, capture, imprisonment, liberation, recovery, repatriation and reception of the Blackpool Regiment’s survivors.

Background to the Surrender

With the British engaged in a demanding war in Europe and North Africa,  France capitulation, Netherlands overrun,  Japan hungrily eyed the rich resources held by  British, French and Dutch in the Far East. Prior to the invasion, the new Prime Minister Gen Tojo, advise an Imperial Conference that Japan should go to war to preserve its empire and as a response to the embargo placed on oil imports, by the USA.

In spite of a perceived growing threat, the Governor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas had been instructed to continue as ‘normal’, so as to maintain face and stability with the native population, made up of around 120,000 Thais and Chinese along with allied troops charged with the islands defence.

The Imperial Japanese Army (herein referred to as the IJA) invaded the Malay Peninsula on 7 December 1941, just a couple of hours before the attack on Pearl Harbour. They landed at Pantai Sabak, 10 miles from the RAF Airfield at Khota Baru, British Malaya, close to the Eastern border with Thailand and made rapid progress West and South. They crossed the Johore Straits on 7th Feb 1942. Despite fierce resistance by Australian and Indian troops (including the remnants of 137 Regt and 350 Battery), the IJA overran the island within 10 weeks of landing.

Singapore was never seen by Britain’s High Command as being threatened from the North. There was no effective plan for the defence of the island of Singapore. The jungles of the Malay Peninsula were thought to be impregnable, especially by tanks and artillery. Any attack was expected to be repelled at sea and as it landed – in Malaya! Attack via Thailand a neutral country was never envisaged. Defence was dependent on the presence of HMS ‘Repulse’ & HMS ‘Prince of Wales’, along with an allied air force of 335 aircraft, located mainly on the Peninsula. Reinforcement of the forces in Malaya & Singapore would take at least 3 months.

The largely unopposed landings and rapid dispersement from the Beachhead was facilitated by bicycles, using maps taken from school atlases. (Isaacs, 1973)

Island defences were directed seaward. Artillery was armed with Armoured piercing shells for repelling a Naval attack, not high explosives for a land-based attack. In any event, most of the guns were never intended to be turned inland. At the time of the surrender, the island was full of transiting troops; native and migrant civilians; colonial officers; civil servants and administrators, numbering over 100,000.

From the very beginning of the invasion of Malaya, and the collapse of the allied air force bombers were able to strike Singapore and did so with increasing intensity and accuracy. They were guided at night by the city lights that were never turned off, city officials, didn’t know how to! (Isaacs, 1973)

The Commander of Allied Forces in Singapore, General Arthur Percival surrendered the island to a relatively small IJA force on 15 Feb 1942. He did so in a confused meeting with General Yamashita at the Ford Motor Factory in Singapore. Confused because Yamashita didn’t realise Percival was surrendering. He only had 20,000 men on the island, Percival had 100,000. However, constant bombing and bombardment, low supplies and with reservoirs cut off, Percival sought to limit further civilian and military casualties. That day, Churchill declared ‘…It is a British and Imperial defeat. Singapore has fallen..’. He later regarded ‘The Fall of Singapore’ as ‘Shameful’, ‘the worst disaster’ and ‘the largest capitulation in British Military history’. A more detailed background to Japan’s entry into the war is widely available. New books testify to the renewed interest in the Fall of Singapore, its politics, its errors and its hero’s.

Following the Surrender, Japanese Newsreels would report and show Allied troops’ humiliation, by parading these ‘Mongrel Troops’, along the route through Singapore taken by General  Yamashita on his victory tour of the island.

The surviving men of what had been Blackpool Regiment, having been caught up in the events leading to the Surrender, found themselves disconnected from their Regiment, disarmed, bewildered and almost certainly angry that the fight was lost and there was nothing they could do about it. They would also be apprehensive about their treatment at the hands of the IJA. Little did they know!


The IJA military never committed to the 2nd Geneva Convention of 1922, which gave internationally agreed ‘rules’ for the treatment of Prisoners of War, although the Emperor, Hirohito, had agreed to its provisions. However, within the Japanese military, soldiers were treated harshly. Discipline was dispensed at all levels. A superior rank would think nothing of chastising a junior rank with a beating.

The ancient cultural code of Bushido (The Way of The Warrior), was a chivalrous code of behaviour for Samurai, the Japanese Warrior class. One of the code’s precepts included ‘mercy and benevolence’, which for PoWs, conflicted with another precept, that of ‘Honour’. The irrational fear of ‘disgrace’ in the face of the enemy was all consuming. Disgrace in surrender provided a fanatical driving force for Japanese soldiering.  These two features of Military life, disgrace and chastisement were to provide the framework for the treatment of PoWs under their control, throughout the war.

Having surrendered to a much smaller and inferior force (in terms of numbers, firepower and equipment), the allied armies captured in Singapore and Burma were regarded as detestable, disgraced and unworthy to be regarded as real soldiers. From the first day of the occupation the allies were reviled and consequently subject to humiliation, ridicule and poor treatment.  Following the Fall of Singapore, and the dishonour of lining the route of the IJA victory parade, the now captives were marched off to makeshift prison camps.

Round-Up & Incarceration

Since the collapse of the Blackpool Regiment  at Trolak, no records of 137 as a Unit exist, the rest of the story relies on experience of Coombes (1948) and ‘Chuck’ Jackson of 88 Regiment, the Blackpool man caught up in the next stage of the story. His diaries and documentary evidence provide valuable insights into the capture and treatment of our Blackpool boys; Cary Owtram’s account and  Leo Rawlings’ descriptions and drawings add authenticity and credibility.

The first instruction, when odds against the allies mounted on the island, was to destroy anything that might be of value to the enemy – materiel, weapons, equipment, vehicles & ammunition. The IJA surveyed all captured kit, repaired, reconditioned and recommissioned it. Amongst their star finds were 150 Field guns, including some of 137’s beloved ’25 Pounders’.

Some troops refused to accept the surrender and fought on for some days, others including the Australian General Gordon Bennett, attempted (and succeeded) escape. General Wavell had been withdrawn from the Island before the ‘Fall’. Others simply exhausted welcomed the end of hostilities.

On 16 Feb 1942, the IJA issued orders ‘ concentrate all Allied PoWs in  Changi’.  Prior to the ‘Fall’, Changi was a complex of Barracks, Changi Gaol, civilian accommodation, offices and a small hospital. These were set on an area of land with three sides of sea and so easy to confine and contain the 80,000 or so prisoners. Initially, British Officers were left  alone to manage operations. Prior to his transfer to Manchuria, General Percival was keen to re-establish Regimental routine and discipline in Changi, much to the chagrin of many of the Australian and the few American troops. Later this was to become a bone of contention in the conduct of the Camps.

Owtram decribes attempting to gather up the men of 137 following the surrender. He then (along with Rawlings) goes on to decribe in detail the 12/14 mile march to Changi, without much water, some without shoes, but they marched as best they could through devastated villages and large numbers of dead soldiers and civilians, there was no time to clear casualties from where they lay.

The Regiment had managed to send kit and all the food they could muster in a truck allocated for the task. Initially, they were housed by the Allied High Command into Roberts Barracks, which was without light and water because it had been severely damaged by Jap bombers. After a few days they were moved to Changi Gaol. Owtram and other officers were allocated the relative luxury of the Gaol Governors House, affording use of the beach for bathing, until the Japs forbade it. The 330 men of 137 were then moved on to Birdwood Camp. Here they made gardens, played sports and held concerts and even had talks on Infantry Tactics and Jungle Warfare! For the first few months food was provided,on half rations, from that which was rescued at the Surrender, supplements by issues from the vast warehouses of European foods held in Singapore. Soon these were restricted in favour of an issue of rice from their captors. The rapid change in diet having a massive impact not just on physical well-being but on morale. Owtram suggests that a tin ‘Bully’ had to be shared by up to 40 men.

The first duties given to the allied prisoners was building the wire fencing surrounding the camp and clearing the streets and bombed sites of dead.

Once the Jap High Command realised they had an additional workforce of 100,000, The Allied Commanders were instructed to establish ‘Work Battalions’ of 500 men. Owtram describes attempting to keep 137 Regiment men together, he did so with the addition of 170 men from 80 Anti-Aircraft Regiment. This Battalion were sent to work, via Singapore in a truck, to Ban Pong in Siam (Thailand), some 1500 miles north, to work on road projects and what became known as the ‘Death Railway’.

The Camps

There are many accounts of life in camps for both civilians and the military controlled by the IJA.  Here we can only outline some of the key features of life for Prisoners, including those of 137 Regiment. The author had access to a detailed timeline of one man’s journey through capture and return from captivity. Although not a member of 137, he was a Blackpool man, a Gunner in 88 Regiment RA, 137’s  ‘Parent’ Regular unit. It records his time in camps throughout Thailand, working on the Death Railway and his return home. It is based on the scrapbooks, diaries and photographs he maintained. It provides a real insight into the life and repatriation of Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOWs).

Films like ‘King Rat’, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘The Railwayman’ may give us an inkling of life in the camps. Whilst each dealt with the topic sympathetically, some aspects of the ‘Kwai’ film were roundly condemned by Blackpool FEPOW at their 1958 Conference, when it had been implied that Prisoners might have colluded with their captors in the building of the bridge, featured in the film. (Hack & Blackburn, 2007, p159).

Despite privations and deplorable conditions there are many memoirs, artefacts, artworks (including comedic caricatures and poetry) and accounts of resilience, if not resistance. Improvised musical instruments, concert programmes testify to prisoners making do and coping. The Imperial War Museum of the North holds collections of improvised musical instruments, medical equipment, games equipment, etc. as testament to prisoner’s ingenuity and resourcefulness

Medical conditions too, however appalling, were mitigated by ingenuity, courage and imagination. Parkes (2015) reports evidence of improvised equipment, facilities and medication from the meagre resources available.

The conquerors were unprepared for a large population of military and civilian prisoners. Buildings of all types were commandeered to provide secure accommodation: warehouses, schools, factories, Barracks, public buildings. 50,000+ Allied prisoners were crammed into buildings inadequate for the numbers. In one case, at Selerang Barracks, 15,000+ prisoners were forced into accommodation for 1200. Next door, Changi, was built in 1936 to house 600 prisoners, held 3500 Civilians, including women and children. ‘Changi’ remains in the consciousness, although Selerang was the PoW prison.

As time passed, PoWs were moved to provide slave labour throughout the occupied territories, to work in factories, mines, industrial areas, and building airfields and the infamous Burma -Thailand and the lesser known ’Sumatra’ Railways. Many thousands died on the transport to these camps, either from malnutrition, poor treatment or by sinking of ships and air raids by Allied action. It’s estimated that some 18000 prisoners and forced labourers, died in sunken ships alone.

The camps were of distinct types: ‘Branch’, ‘Detached’ or ‘Despatched’.

Branch Camps were established and controlled by the IJA, who provided accommodation, clothing and food.  Detached or Despatched Camps were smaller Branch Camps, located in or close to factories or mines, in these the benefiting Company provided all, with JIA providing prisoners and military staff. Many well-known names feature in the list of those company’s benefiting from slave labour: Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Kawasaki, Nippon Steel, Matsui, etc. Many were pursued for compensation by American ex PoWs in the 1990s.

Camps were not subject to a common regime and local Commanders held great power. Experience of prisoners varied greatly, but none of it good. Rules and regulations were enacted but were routinely ignored. The Japanese Navy insisted on interrogating Allied Pilots prior to internment, to improve military intelligence and consequently established its own camps.

Blackpool Boys in Captivity

At the surrender, the remnants of the Regiment were now divided into three distinct groups: The ‘Casualties’, The ‘Remnants’ and 350 Battery. The Casualties comprised those men who had been lost in the jungle after the Slim River incident; the wounded left behind in the care of the IJA because they were too poorly to move; prisoners of the Japanese captured after Major Owtram as Officer Commanding 137, split the survivors into two groups at Slim River; those killed in action or died of wounds during the fighting and those who died at the hands of the IJAafter capture. The Remnants were those who, with Cary Owtram had made it to Singapore, joined 88 Regiment and as captives were now in Changi, but separated from their colleges in 350 Battery that had fought with 135 Regiment, right up to (and briefly after) the surrender.

Coombes, Battery Commander of 350 Battery, relates the story of how the remnants were finally linked up with 350 at Roberts Lines, Changi. He describes how Cary Owtram returned from a foraging trip to Singapore, with news that ‘the estranged Battery would be joining them’.  After welcoming cups of tea and a long rest they were now, at least in name, back as 137 Field Regiment RA. The following day, the Regiment was reorganised into just two Batteries, with two Troops each, with a reasonable structure of officers and NCOs.  Jobs details were circulated, to include fixing latrines, cook-houses and accommodation in the bomb damaged buildings.

After 2 days work and as the Boys were getting used to captivity they were ordered to move, along with all the Divisional Artillery units, directly into Changi Gaol, two miles up the road, leaving the good work done.

At that time the Gaol had been cleared of its civilian inmates and although conditions were stark, 137 moved in, established accommodation in the concrete housing blocks, including Sergeant’s and Officers Messes.

Coombes recalls ‘Days began to fall into a relentless parades, inspections, meals and leisure time’. This was until notice was given that another 2400 men were to join them in the same accommodation. They did so and in relatively quick time, normal service was resumed. Work parties were detailed to work inside and outside the confines of the Gaol. One detail was required to bury about 300 Chinese personnel that had been driven down to the sea and machine gunned on the beach, a task undertaken by Blackpool Boys. Another, later job was extracting boxes of gold bullion from a bank in Singapore, loading it onto a succession of lorries bound for the docks, there it was stacked by more of our boys, ready for dispatch to Tokyo. Coombes later discovered from an English Bank worker that the cases of ‘bullion’, were actually coins and bank notes since the bullion had been liberated and sent to Australia before the Surrender.

Initially, life in the camps was fairly leisurely. Generally the Camp was unguarded, with men of the Regiment taking their turn as sentries, mainly to discourage absconders and foragers.  Coombes says that contact with their captors was minimal. Senior allied officers were briefed each morning about work that needed to be undertaken and these instructions were relayed in the Part One Orders to the men and NCOs to carry out, as would be the case in any other circumstances. One such order required Officers to relinquish their badges of rank, displaying only one ‘Pip’ on their left breast pocket. Another demanded that all IJA soldiers (and later the Korean Guards) to be saluted, regardless of rank.

Food was still in reasonable supply but water was rationed to one bottle per man per day for washing, shaving and drinking, the water being collected off site in a water truck that had to be manually pushed by the men, because no fuel was allowed to be used.

Within the next three weeks, another move was to be made, as the numbers of Allied troops were corralled into the Changi area. This time it was to Birdwood Camp, following the move the men were required to ‘Wire themselves in’, to create the wire fence that would constrain them while they were there.  Whilst here, it became necessary to run foraging trips into the surrounding jungle to collect berries, leaves and roots to supplement the ever reducing diet. Eventually, the IJA appointed Sikhs to guard and patrol the compounds to restrict movement. These weren’t just any sikhs, they were recruited by the IJA into the Free Indian Army, by selling the promise of liberation from the shackles of Britain, their homeland of India. Many thousands of Indian Troops fell for the dream and switched sides, even in the midst of battle. They would be disappointed!

During the time at Birdwood, work details were of two sorts: the normal activities of work that may mean working for the day and returning to the camp at night after work and that which required a more long term arrangement; perhaps in Singapore or other parts of the island where prisoners were away from Changi and away longer term, salvaging vehicles left in the rapid departure from the city, building roads, repairing airfields, working on the docks, ant the like. Coombes declares that by mid May upto 10,000 allied prisoners were living in Singapore and its environs. He goes on to say that about half of 137 were working at Kranji 23 miles from Changi, on roads and building a war memorial to the Japanese war dead.

Life in the Camps

Accounts of treatment by IJA Guards in the camps are available from sources, including the National Archive, many also reported in the trials of IJA Officers. Local survivors put pen to paper, or at least maintained a record of events at great risk. Among them was Leo Rawlings, who joined 137 at the outbreak of War and was captured at the Surrender, spending three and a half years in jail, some of that in the notorious Changi complex.

More recently in 2017 the diaries were published of Cary Owtram, formally Major in 137, later ‘Promoted in the Field’ to Colonel, commanding the PoW Camp at Chungkai, one of the largest, with over 10,000 prisoners. His account provides a vital insight in to how the now fragmented 137 Regiment merged into an amorphous mass of beleaguered inmates; how he managed both personally and professionally to cope with capture, transportation, imprisonment, eventual release and return home. Others include Ian Mitchell (1996) who settled in Blackpool after the war and the detailed accounts from Col Phil Toosey (in Summers, 2005).

For many, liberation from IJA tyranny was not the end of the story. Physical and mental effects of captivity and deprivation left deep scars

Those prisoners who managed to keep diaries of their imprisonment, risking torture and certain death by doing so. They used scraps of paper, tree bark, charcoal anything to write with and write on. Ink was made from blood, pigment from earth or berries. Leo Rawlings managed it, as did Cary Owtram. An excellent, detailed and personal account of the move to Changi, life in the camp where he was imprisoned, the Surrender and the journey home is given by Brigadier EW Goodman DSO MC, Brigadier Royal Artillery, Malaya Command 1941 – 1942, (See references) although from a senior Officers perspective; Parkes (2002 & 2003) also provide Officers experiences. Some prisoners managed to maintain, large quantities of documentary material: details of payments made and due; planned journeys to be taken when released; play scripts & songs; dishes missed as a prisoner and many, many more.

Life in the camps was hard, especially in those camps made ready at short notice and in times of shortage, even for the IJA. Open latrines, inadequate washing facilities, negligible medical supplies and facilities and food.  Prisoners of all ranks were forced to work. In some more established camps Prisoners were paid for the work they did and were occasionally able to buy minor comforts, at the camp canteens in nearby villages and transported them under close guard. Pay was not in cash but in a sort of Credit account with cash only being given for purchases outside the camp. Most Prisoners were not paid in any form. The Japanese view was that the prisoners had the opportunity to redeem themselves by working for the Divine Emperor.

Those who were paid, were able to enhance their diet, marginally from local purchases. Pay was around 60 Cents a week, paid on the basis of no work, no pay. That left those who were unable to work, without any supplementary food. Officers who were paid had a levy on their pay of around 30% to contribute to hospital drugs and food for the hospitals. Toosey records that officers were paid at the same rate as their  IJA counterparts. The money being paid to him each week and distributed by him and his officers. Rates varied, around 30 Cents (US) a day for NCOs, 25 Cents for ORs, probably enough to buy 20 cigarettes and a couple of duck eggs.

Hospitals too were in short supply of drugs, dressings and equipment, occasionally the ‘Detached’, Company camps had basic medical facilities, although Prisoners in homeland Japan had 2 PoW Hospitals treating seriously ill patients. Alternatively, Army Hospitals were used.  Camps in outlying areas had no facilities other that what Prisoners managed to provide for themselves. Cary Outram i/c 137 Regt., was appointed SBO at Chunkai, which later became a ‘Hospital’ camp. Toosey makes reference to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Chunkai Camp. The highly regarded Major Eddie Gill, also of 137 was running Nong Pladuk Camp, from Autumn of 1942 until Toosey arrived there in December 1943.

In the well established camps, thing were a little more organised, there are reports and artefacts relating to theatre productions, and educational courses and talks. Like PoWs anywhere, the greatest feature was lack of contact with home.


Pre-printed card

Communication with home was at best occasional. In the larger, better organised camps, the IJA provided pre-printed cards to send home with very rudimentary information, but at least it was something. Incoming and outgoing post, via the Red Cross, on the other hand was to say the least sporadic. Prisoner Charles Jackson received four in three and a half years, taking up to 6 months to be delivered either way. Contact, at heavy expense was also available via local population, where that was possible. On liberation, telegrams enabled home contact, although demands on the service were very heavy and infrastructure for sending and receiving somewhat unreliable.


Headlines in the Gazette,  Christmas 1943

Jacksons Diary records the Cards sent home, (probably pre-printed with bare information), as follows,  Cards sent: July ‘42; Nov ‘42; May ‘43; Oct ‘43; Jan ‘44; Jun ‘44
Jan ‘45 (25 Words)

Generally, the regime in the camps was harsh, with frequent beatings and punishments for minor infractions of rules and summary justice for more significant crimes – stealing food or attempting to escape. Very few escapes have been recorded. Prisoners could be relocated without notice, being moved on foot, by train or ship.

It’s estimated that around 10% of the camps population died as a result of neglect, ill treatment, injury, malnutrition and disease, with the number increasing to almost 30% for those working on the Burma Thailand Railway. In addition, many died in Allied air raids and sinking of the prisoner transport ships. Sometimes planes crashed and there were cases of suicide, as well as ill health on the ships home.  Parkes also draws attention to the PoWs working near the sites of the Atom Bomb blasts, particularly at Nagasaki where 350 were based, in work camps and a mine close by. At least 80 were killed by the blast.

Changi Jail

Individuals and remnants of units arrived in Singapore in three distinct ways: those who were captured during the battles in and during the retreat from the Malay Peninsula; those who avoided capture and made their way to ‘safety’ by any means and those who fought a rear-guard action, in formed units, all the way to the island. Some elements of the Blackpool Regiment and 88 Regt were in this latter group, eventually taking up positions close to the famous Raffles Hotel and the Governor’s residence and later right on to the Southern Beaches, with their backs to the sea. They did so as ‘remnants’, with the men, artillery and ammunition they could transport in the ramshackle remains of the Batteries. They fought valiantly but in vain. Parkes and others report the surrender as ‘a shock’, even though inevitable in the face of what was perceived overwhelming force. The reality was the Garrison island housed up to 100,000 allied troops, and it was overwhelmed by 20,000 enemy.

As the IJA tried to manage the administration of so many prisoners, Changi was commandeered to house them. The Changi Garrison complex was the principal location for allied prisoners on the island, providing a heavily fortified, coastal defence base, which included the British Barracks at Selarang, just a mile or so away from Changi. The complex also included Roberts Barracks which housed a hospital.

Selerang was the site of a well-documented incident, in August 1942, when the British and Australian prison population of the Changi complex were assembled in the parade square, where they were held for 5 days with little water and sanitation. Four prisoners had escaped, and the IJA commanders insisted that the prisons population sign non-escape declarations. The 4 recaptures were executed, which only stiffened the resolve of the rest. However, illness, weakness and disease and the threat of adding the patients from the nearby hospital to the numbers in the Square, finally forced the signatures and the men were allowed back to threadbare accommodation.

Rawlings suggests that Changi was regarded as ‘luxurious’, when compared to some of the ‘Up Country’ camps. Abuse, beatings and malnutrition, bad accommodation and facilities were the norm of course. However, attempts to normalise conditions, through team games, concert shows, improvised medical facilities and a sort of Regimental regime tended to justify the term ‘Luxurious’.  Certainly, these luxuries were not afforded in the camps on the mainland and within the Japanese held territories. Indeed, the Regimental regimes there tended to include comprehensive admin and disciplinary arrangements, much to the chagrin of those who had experienced the harsh realities of other camps. After a few months the Changi complex became a sort of clearing house or distribution centre for the allocation of slave labour to the Singapore Docks, Sandakan Airfield and other infrastructure projects throughout the emerging Japanese industrial empire, including the notorious Thai-Burma railway.

Rawlings was in fact scathing in his accounts of the prisoners who were sent to work on the railway and those, mainly Officers, who stayed behind in the relative luxury of Changi and who failed to understand the treatment meted out in the Up-Country camps.

Food and Diet

Initially, Owtram, Coombes, Gill & Co. had managed to secure stocks of food, particularly tinned and dried food from the Godowns and warehouses, during the chaos of the time prior to during and shortly after the surrender. They had also managed to transport as much as they could, ahead of their march to to Roberts Lines. Once feeding arrangements had been sorted and the attached RASC and Regimental Cooks had worked their magic establishing cook-houses and messing for Officers, Sergeants and ORs, feeding was back into a normal, if highly rationed and controlled way. This luxury was not to last; protracted captivity and a constantly shifting tide of prisoners and an indifferent and unsympathetic IJA host would see to that.

Coombes (1948) gives us the clearest account of state of prisoner feeding, particularly in the earlier days in Changi. He recalls the supplementation of food grown in constructed kitchen gardens and that which was foraged. Some food was bought by the men, when they could, on the ‘Black Market’ at outrageous prices, sometimes subsidised from Mess funds or the PRI. Indeed arrangements were put in place to tax the pay of those who were working at a rate of up to 30% to pay for food essentials and little luxuries, like chocolate. Foraging parties were allowed to roam in the environs of the camp, until the camp was wired off. Trade through the wire, with locals and the Black Market seems impressive. During April and May, 1942, Coombes recounts 300 tins of Sardines, 200 tins of Jam, half a ton of vegetables and 400 Coconuts.

In terms of official food deliveries, The Jap authorities provided rice, flour, tea, sugar, milk, meat, salt, fat and occasional wheat, every 15 days, although the amount delivered equated to a single meal per man. The haul of tinned food liberated from the Singapore warehouses, and stored in Changi, prior to and just after the ‘Surrender’, was estimated to last about 80 days only.

According to Coombes, catering was supervised by a ‘Messing Officer’. Typical of the menu cycle was:

Breakfast – Boiled Rice, Fish Cake, Chauppatti and Tea
Tiffin – Boiled Rice, Soup or Sauce, or Rissoles of Beans or Fish, Sweet Rice Pudding, Tea
Supper – Stew or Meat Roll or Pastry or Meat Ball, Sweet Pastry – Biscuit, turnover or Boiled Dough & Sauce, Tea

By contrast, Toosey recalls an NCO of 135 Fd Regt’s description of the menu of 24 Feb 1942 in Changi:

Breakfast: 1 teaspoon of Sardine, 2 biscuits, 1 pint of tea.
Lunch: 1 pint of tea
Evening: Dessert spoon of stew, 3 biscuits, 1 pint of tea.

Later, the opportunities were greatly reduced. Rice became the staple food. Initially, it was an unfamiliar ingredient for the cooks who had to learn not just how to cook it but how to present it in forms acceptable to the men. Eventually rice would become the only food available and the calories it provided powered the back-breaking work the men undertook.

The same NCO recorded, in a letter to his wife, the following menu for the day:

Breakfast: Boiled rice, a spoon of milk, tea
Lunch: Boiled rice,mixed with tinned herring
Evening: Boiled rice and a little stew

The impact on the body of the inclusion of rice, raged from constant need to pee, to chronic diarrohea or constipation. It took weeks to adjust to the new diet.

With the financial supplements available, it’s also clear that the Officers Mess seemed to be able to pull all the stops out for Mess Dinners and for visiting Senior Officers, although sacrifices had to be made before and after, in order to provide for them. There is little reference to the catering for the ORs.

Coombes details the ‘Ration Scale’ at No1 Camp, Nong Pladuk & Ban Pong, June 1942, A base camp for work on the Thai-Burma Railway. (The Death Railway)..

Food Weight (gms) Calories
Rice 608 2027
Rice Flour 17 55
Tapioca Flour 16 18
Beef 35 60
Egg 11 20
Fish 9 10
Soya Beans 6 24
Peanuts 3 10
Sweet Potatoes 54 70
Pumpkin 36 4
Wax Gourd 17 2
Cucumber 8 1
Egg Plant 20 5
Greens 70 7
Onions 80 32
Chinese Radish 18 4
Coconut Oil 20 172
Sugar 16 64
Bean Shoots 80 16
Total 2601


  1. From Coombes, 1948, p118.
  2. Amounts per man per day.
  3. Includes all preparation waste.
  4. Grams at 32 per oz.
  5. Work and heat requirement at least 2500 Cals per day.

The ‘V-Scheme’

Mention of the ‘V-Scheme’ here is apposite, it enabled several thousand more survivors than otherwise be the case. Both Toosey and Coombes make reference to the scheme in their writings.

The Camp Medical Officers were well used to managing patients with care and compassion, in the absence of drugs, dressings and equipment. Camp SBOs like Toosey and Gill had both introduced a levi on any earnings from work done for the IJA, although this only amounted to little, it was used mainly to supplement food and medicines for the sick, whose number increased dramatically in number as the years went on.

Cary Owtram at Chunkai, Toosey at Tamarkan and Coombes and Gill at Nong Pladuc all describe how, in 1943, they were told by an allied interpreter, that it would be possible to make contact with a Thai trader called Boon Pong, in Bangkok. He would be willing to supply food, medicines and equipment (albeit in relatively small quantities, given the size of the camps)) in return for a letter guaranteeing repayment after the war. A short time later Owtram describes taking possession of 10,000 Thai Dollars, in notes, to provide initial help.

The ‘V-Scheme’ involved establishing a trading link between the camps and interred ‘Ex-Pat’ civilians in the capital Bangkok. The plan was to smuggle goods in to the camp under the noses of the IJA. Payment for the goods, mainly bought locally, would come from the ‘Tax’ levied on working prisoners, from small personal donations and from loans provided ‘through the wire’.

The trade benefits were not only one way. Information about troop and rail movements; bomb damage; details of enemy and allied casualties; prisoner sickness and death statistics. All transactions done in complete secrecy, with only very few having any knowledge of the arrangements. Risk of discovery was all consuming, the penalty would be summary execution.

The numbers of sick and dying were becoming exponential, as numbers in the work camps  increased. Coombes provided meticulous reports and statistics. A sample is found at Annexe ‘A’.

The relationship with Boon Pong would last until the end of the war and after. He would undoubtedly save the lives of thousands of allied prisoners, including many Blackpool boys.

The Thai-Burma Railway

The building of the railway was to enable logistic support for the invasion of Burma. It was an extension of the existing line, proposed and surveyed by the British in the late 1880s. It was thought to be too difficult because of the jungle terrain. At its peak over 180,000 civilians and about 60,000 military personnel would be engaged in the construction, 90,000 civilians and 12,000 Allied PoWs would die too. The railway ran from Ban Pong, Thailand in the south to Thanbyuzayat in Burma at the northern end.

A great deal has been written about the ‘Death Railway’ and there is no intention to write further here, however, some of the statistics are stark!

  • 3m Cubic Metres of Rock moved
  • 4m Cubic Metres of Earthworks built
  • 650 Cubic Ft of Timber poles
  • 688 Bridges
  • 415 Km of track
  • Work Camps every 5/10 Km


From Mitchell 1996, p105

Work on the railway was undertaken by ‘Battalions’ or ‘Forces’ of around 600 men.  ‘Force B’ from Changi included men from both 137 & 88 Regiments. ‘Force A’ had been assigned to Airfield Construction. The camps rarely had accommodation, the men having to construct it before they started work on the line. On 27 May 1943, some of the Blackpool boys with Col Eddie Gill were sent north in a group of 200, via Kinsayok, a camp of 1300 (200 of them suffering from Dysentry). Coombes provides diary details of the appalling and rellentless treatment and conditions on those northern reaches of the railway.  A typical workday (including rainy season days) is recorded by Coombes, thus:  07.15 Reveille; 07.45 Breakfast ; 08.25 Parade; 08.50 March to Nong Pladuc; 09.45 Work starts; 14.00 Lunch; 15.00 – 18.30 Work; 19.00 March Back; 20.00 Supper; Lights Out (where there was some) 22.00.

At Nong Pladuk, SBO Col Eddie Gill was concerned about the growth of unfit, sick and injured prisoners being forced to work, the impact of poor diet and poor medical support and the multiplying events which sought to separate allied officers from their men. Remonstrations with the IJA officers at all levels resulted in the regular response:

‘ The railway will be completed by August, 1943, irrespective of the loss in life of Prisoners of War.’

As planned, by August 1943 work on the railway was complete. The inmates of Kinsayok were split into two groups, the sick and unfit with Eddie Gill to go south via Nong Pladuk to Chunkai. On their return they were back with the CO 137, Cary Owtram and Col Toosey. The fit went further North to provide maintenance gangs for the railway.

Early in the New Year of 1945, the PoWs learned that they were to be separated from their officers. The intention was to further break the spirit of the men, and the officers. Most (successfully, for the men) handed over authority to the RSMs and NCOs. Both Toosey and Owtram had been keen to maintain contact with their own regiments, looking after the interests of the men in their charge. Both record that moving out was a terrible wrench. They were sent via Nong Pladuk to Kanburi at the north end of the track, near the town of Kanchanaburi. The camps held around 3000 Allied officers.


Liberation, recovery, evacuation and repatriation

Coombes recounts being told of the Japanese surrender by Siamese civilians, on his way on a work party. On return to the Camp, the SBO Col Swinton was formally informed that the war was over, but that they must still regard themselves as prisoners until relieved by ‘his own people’. They must stay within the confines of the camp, because the Camp Commandant could not guarantee that all the outlying IJA troops were aware. Supplied were demanded and received, from warehouses that were stuffed full of Red Cross materiel sent to prisoners, but never distributed.

A few days later, representatives of RAPWI (Recovery Allied Prisoners of War and Internees) appeared to arrange repatriation.

Being told that the war was over, did not sit easily with prisoners. They had not dare believe any success stories heard from newly arrived prisoners, on illicit radios or from sympathetic Thais. One account recalls the suspicion held by the PoWs when men in green uniforms arrived in camp to inform them of their freedom and release. That suspicion eventually evaporating into uncontrolled joy by some and reflective silence by others, particularly for relatives and friends who had not survived.

The Japanese declared their intention to surrender on 10 September 1945. Toosey describes how, not until 17 August 1945, he heard the news and expressed his wish to rejoin the men of his Regiment he had left at Ubon. Cary Owtram, acting CO of 137, also sought assurance of the state of his own men. 234 Men had died, 71 of those in battle, the rest, 163, had died at the hands of the IJA, the remaining survivors were in various states of mental and physical health. The surviving 137 Regiment officers had been sent to Kanburi Camp, many the men distributed to camps along the route of the Thai-Burma railway.

Mitchell (1996) describes a typical reaction to an interruption during some community singing, being held in their camp at Tamuang : ‘.. two men appeared and strode to the front. They were dressed in green uniforms , one with a strange looking sub-machine gun, both with parachute emblems on their shirts, neither with any badge of rank. … Since the men did not know that the European war was over, had never seen Sten guns, nor British troops in green uniforms, nor British troops without badges of rank, nor knew of the formation of the parachute Regiment, …’

One of the two men was a Major, who explained the situation; The IJA guards had deserted their posts and fled the camp. They had been ‘shadowing’ the camp and waiting for the opportunity to move in for several days.

The Japanese surrender and pending liberation was a double-edged sword, freedom, yes but the real prospect of reprisals led to trepidation and an anxious wait until the arrival of Allied troops.

In 1943, the IJA High Command, through Commanding General of Military Police, issued orders to plan for the ‘Final Disposition of PoWs’, what was designated as ‘Document No. 2710’ of August 1st 1944. The methods to employ were included, under Section 2 of the Order:

  1. Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of them as the situation dictates.
  2. In any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.

The document was used in the post war War-Crimes Trials. An official translation of Document 2701 below.


On 20 Aug 1945, following Surrender of Japanese forces, a further order was issued providing ‘authorization for Guards to flee because of mistreatment of POWs’  (National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), War Crimes, Japan, RG 24, Box 2011)

The initial declaration of the end of hostilities was made in Japan on August 15th, however, the formal signing of the Surrender document was not made until September 2nd.  We see later that some of the Blackpool boys, although liberated on 2nd of September, were not declared ‘No longer PoWs’ for several weeks or even months after. Finding and processing so many thousand prisoners on adding to the anguish at home.

Even from Dec 1942, efforts were under way by the International Red Cross (IRC) to locate PoW Camps in the Far East and those in the Japan mainland were also being sought, under the title of ‘Op Blacklist’. Few camps were liberated by Allied Troops, other than those discovered as occupied islands were liberated. On Surrender, many IJA  Guards simply melted into the surrounding countryside, abandoning their charges, some of the prisoners in the larger industrial concerns were wined and dined by their employers. Camps were sought mainly by air surveillance, which dropped much needed supplies when they were found. Others were well known, often by reputation! Special Forces, working alongside Thai and Chinese resistance were able to move quickly into camps. Some were too remote that news of the Surrender didn’t reach them for several weeks.

Efforts to provide supply drops of food and medicines by air continued, although Toosey describes a number of unwelcome drops of RICE! Sutcliffe’s diary records one air drop that killed a bullock and badly injured several men.

Meanwhile, preparations in the ‘known’ camps were being made to get the men back home. Time for some was used to update themselves; getting used to new, unfamiliar terms being used, like ‘D-Day’, ‘Bazooka’, ‘Atom Bomb’ or personalities ‘Ike’, ‘Slim’ and ‘Montgomery’.


For the Blackpool Regiment boys, Cary Owtram delayed his return home to locate and gather them in. Many were never to return, killed in action of dying at the hands of the IJA or as a result of disease, malnutrition or work accidents.

Prisoners were recovered and evacuated from the camps by all available means. All were medically assessed and encouraged to complete ‘Liberation Questionnaires’. Many did not complete them and most only the first page with basic information. The liberating authorities were dependent on covert admin records kept by PoWs. Official Japanese records were destroyed as camps were abandoned. Those unfit to travel were moved variously to Allied Hospital ships and Field Hospitals and clinics established by military medics.


The Repatriation Memorial, Liverpool. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

Those well enough to travel immediately were assembled at Air Fields and Ports in preparation for the journey home. Many passed through ‘Repatriation Holding Units’ or Transit Camp like No 5 FARHU, getting kitted out with clothing as they did so.

From the British Government’s point of view the preferred means was by sea, allowing time for PoWs to put some weight on, improve medically and reduce the shock for those at home! On board, personnel were briefed not to dwell on their experience, on conditions at home and what they might expect when they arrived, bearing in mind that many had spent over 3 years without any contact from home. Similarly, families were told not to ask questions and just get on with life. Many arrived back in the UK without welcome or fanfare

The newly liberated PoWs were told in no uncertain terms that they were not to recount their experiences until after a debrief by the Intelligence Officers of ALFSEA (Allied Land Forces South East Asia) and production of a written statement. Statement were to be of dates and places of internment, treatment and personalities involved. Speculation as to their use in tracing Japanese Escapees and War Crimes Trials was rife, but unconfirmed.

Ships assembled for invasion of Malaya and Singapore in Op Zipper, were reassigned to move PoWs.  All UK airports and ports were pressed in to service to receive PoWs back home. Those from the NW including 137, came back mainly via Liverpool, landed and given rail passes to get them to their home town, arriving at the homes in what they stood up in and little else, often with bewilderment and disbelief.

About 37,500 FEPOWs (20,000 via Liverpool) came home to UK normally by sea, taking several weeks, giving time for the men and women the chance to adjust to their freedom and to recuperate physically and to some extent mentally, in preparation for questioning by families and officials back home. Many received instructions not to talk about their experiences to their families, because ‘they wouldn’t understand’. Many were in poor physical and mental state: tropical illnesses and infections, malnutrition, being amongst the most common. Whilst there was a network of military hospitals for each of the services, many had minimum capability and capacity to cope with numbers of referrals.

The Journey Home

Those for repatriation were transported from camps by plane and train and assembled at the ports in Rangoon and Singapore, bound by initially for Bombay to handover the sick to Indian hospitals or Colombo, where they first tasted real freedom – shore leave. Ships were met there with bands playing. Their journey would usually take them via the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, past Sicily, Malta and Gibraltar through the Bay of Biscay and home.

The journey home by ship provided much rest, rehabilitation and respite from the rigours of the camps, new kit, good food. Sutcliffe recalls the kindness of the military and civilian staff manning the reception and movement centres allocated for handling repatriation and the taste of tea with milk and sugar, of real bread and the tinned apricots that seemed to be served everywhere at all times.

The journey provided time for joy and regret, for grieving and for longing. Longing for family, wives and for sweethearts and for wondering what life at home would be like, back in the company of loved ones, with the ghosts of the last three and a half years constantly close by.  Some were cheered by recollections of home, some with dread of what they might find – some expectations would be met and others dashed in the months to come.

Few flew to UK. Onward journey to home from the Ports, was normally by Travel Warrant by train, to be met, or not, at local stations.

To confuse things, Britain in October/November 1945 was in the middle of a strike by Dockers. 2000 Returnees were delayed at Rangoon’s ‘Epilogue Camp’ – No 5 FARHU (Forward Area Holding Reception Unit), wrote to the British Press and the Government to complain about the delays to the ships – the RMS ‘Alcantara’ and MV ‘Llangibby Castle’, likely to make them miss their first Christmas at home for many years. (Discussion at: ‘Epilogue Camp, Rangoon, 1945′). They did so with full support of their Commanding Officer General Symes. Sutcliffe also comments with indignation, on the strike and its consequences for returning PoWs. He also criticises what he refers to as the ‘Gutter Press’ for their support of the action and the decay in life at home – reporting the strike, rationing, shortages and the like.

A typical journey home is covered fully in Lt Sutcliffe’s diary. Another, for one of the Blackpool men of 88 Fd Regt can be found in Annex ’B’.


The treatment of POWs differed between those from Europe, where there had been a declared victory and those from the FE where their capture was a result of capitulation. There were questions to be asked about how and why; as opposed to the questions from the European perspective which concentrated on what and who. The latter featured people, the former, circumstances.

Officially, PoWs were regarded as Casualties and as such should be expected to attend a ‘resettlement’ programme in order to rehabilitate them back into society. Early in 1945 a pilot ‘Civil Resettlement Unit’ (CRU) was established by the Army, in response to the increasing number of repatriates, either from escapes from captivity, or on medical grounds via the International Red Cross (IRC). By the end of 1945, a network of 20 residential CRU’s had been established. The four-week programme at these units, was designed to ‘re-socialise’ ex-prisoners and attend to their mental, physical and social wellbeing and help with employment, with in a safe and familiar military setting. In general, the CRUs were regarded as successful, judging by the number of attendees regarded as ‘Well adjusted’, suggesting a genuine benefit in the therapy given and received. Whether the families at home regarded the therapy as beneficial is not known.

cru leaflet

Extract from ‘The New Plan’ pamphlet, given to returning PoWs

Leading light in developing care for returning FEPOWs Brig Phillip Toosey CBE. As Lt Col he was CO 135 Fd Regt RA, the remnants of 137’s 350 Battery were allocated to his command on their return to Singapore. Toosey, a Wirral TA Officer was captured in Singapore and was SBO in the infamous Camp at Tamarkan (Tha Makhan, on the River Mae Klong), from where the Prisoners built and died working on what the film the ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ was based.

Parks & Gill, (2014), describe how he helped FEPOWs obtain medical help after their return (no NHS at this time) and how he later established a close bond between them and the consultants working to help those with what was at the time TDI ‘Tropical Disease Investigations’ at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. It was a relationship that would last over six decades.

Parkes quotes Hately-Broad (2013) suggesting that the lack of information and a consistent policy looking after PoW’s families promoted fear, isolation and frustration for both PoW and their family. The Belfield Report of 1919 spelt out the importance of a rational, navigable and sympathetic support systems for serving soldier’s and PoW’s families, following the experiences in world War 1. However, nothing came of its recommendations, leaving families and PoWs in an information and support ‘Limbo’. Traditionally, Regiments generally carried the burden of supporting families of its servicemen. In the case of FEPOW many of those Regiments, like the ‘Blackpool Regiment’ just ceased to exist, in practical terms.

The Blackpool Experience

By the time of repatriation, more Blackpool boys had died in the camps than were Killed or ‘Died of Wounds’ in Action; more were to die of or with the physical and mental effects of their experiences, once they were home.

Lack of information and speculation played havoc with both authorities and families, A quick analysis of the Official Notifications to the families of the men’s capture, shows something of the anguish felt at home, not knowing if loved ones were dead or alive. Both fear and dread at the prospect of loss and then jubilation and thanksgiving for some.  A sample of three Blackpool men’s records illustrate the point:

Gunner Reginald Leonard ‘Reggie’ Dunne

15 Feb 1942       Reported ‘Missing’
05 Nov 1942       Reported as a PoW
02 Sep 1945       Liberated
10 Oct 1945        Declared ‘No Longer PoW’

I.e. 9 Months between notifications of being ‘Missing’ and being a PoW; then over a month between Liberation and being declared ‘No longer a PoW’

LBdr Charles William ‘Chuck’ Jackson

15 Feb 1942       Reported ‘Missing’
09 Jun 1943        Reported as a PoW
02 Sep 1945       Liberated
26 Oct 1945        Declared ‘No Longer a PoW’

I.e. 17 Months between notifications of being ‘Missing’ and being a PoW; then 2 months between Liberation and being declared ‘No longer a PoW’

Maj WE ‘Eddie’ Gill

15 Feb 1942       Reported ‘Missing’
23 Sep 1942       Reported as a PoW
02 Sep 1945       Liberated
14 Sep 1945       Declared ‘No longer a PoW’

I.e. Officers fared a little better – 7 Months between notifications of being ‘Missing’ and being a PoW; then just 12 Days between Liberation and being declared ‘No longer a PoW’

Because the Blackpool Regiment were distributed around the Japanese occupied territories, their experiences differed hugely. From September to December 1945, The Gazette was filled with reports of returning PoWs and accounts of their treatment.

About 500 Mums, wives and girlfriends attended a briefing at Blackpool Library, given by Professor BG Magrath, Principal of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The newspaper report headlined ‘HOW TO TREAT POWs BACK FROM THE FAR EAST’ suggested that they left ‘looking brighter’. The Professor gave them up beat advice on diet, ailments the men may suffer from and when and how to get medical help and advice. Finally, ‘Don’t let your man over eat!’.

Reception at home was mixed. One Mother meeting her son, said ‘At least you didn’t have to face the Blitz, like us!’, and another ‘Well you weren’t fighting for long!’. Families wanting to know why, how and what they’d been through; some accepting a quiet resignation not to speak about it. Other returnees eager to share experiences, not just with family, but with anyone eager to listen, including the Press. Local papers just as eager to tell tales of atrocities and of heroic deeds.

Adjusting must have been difficult in all cases. Rawlings describes how his family failed to understand or tolerate what was simply referred to as ‘Battle and Stress Fatigue’ and the role that alcohol played in offering brief spells of respite. He was clear that return to civilian life was too quick for ‘…sanity to establish itself decisively’.

Some consolation was garnered when the Blackpool Branches of Far East Prisoners of War Association and Burma Star Association were formed in the early 1950s, with several thousand founder members across the UK. Both provided opportunities for comradeship, collective memory and mutual support.

Free from captivity didn’t mean free from torment and ordeal. Feelings and emotions suppressed for years were now unleashed on families ill-equipped to cope or make sense of it. Families that had been advised not to talk about their experiences and not expect too much; Families that took second place to fellow PoWs. Families that despite the privations of war at home, knew absolutely nothing of what these shadows of their former selves had experienced. Families that couldn’t make sense of ‘new’ irrational behaviours. Behaviours that had maintained some kind of survival, sanity and normality in a captive, totally alien world. In the longer term, these men expected that, as time moved on the rest of the world would forget what they had been through. Adding to the mix of non-communication, returnees too had been instructed’ to ‘Guard your tongue’ in an official leaflet given to them on the way home.

GuardYrMouth2 (2)

The ‘Guard Your Tongue’ Leaflet

After varying times for recuperation and recovery, many went back to work. Work as therapy; Work as a distraction; work to earn a living. Some enlightened sympathetic employers held jobs open. Others made use of the facilities laid on by local and central government employment agencies.

Returning to work for some was relatively easy. Professional folk and some tradesmen found it easy and gratifying to slip back into work. Others, who may have lost skills over their captivity, or who had lost physical faculties, found it more difficult. Some of course would never be able to hold down a job ever again, helped only by the rehabilitation, benefit and therapeutic services on offer at the time. Senior Officers of local units, like Toosey, Owtram and Gill, appear to have played a crucial role in assisting returnees, either to therapy or into work. 137’s 2i/c Cary Outram’s family describe their fathers re-integration, following a long spell of paid leave: ‘…we were much impressed by the many responsibilities he was soon taking on..’, ‘…he kept in touch with other ex-prisoners, attending FEPOW Reunions in London.’

In June 2008, The Gazette reported the anniversary of ‘Eddie’ Gill’s death in 1968. One of 137’s Battery Commanders, launched himself into local service as a Councillor, and as a keen supporter of the military and service organisations in Blackpool, including FEPOW and the British Legion. Gunner ‘Reggie’ Dunne, whose brother Fred also a Gunner in 137, became a teacher of Science at John Vianney School. I remember him in the late 50s, with some affection as a tough, quiet and patient man who earned the respect of his pupils. He filled his days working with ex-POWs in several organisations including FEPOW. In a Gazette report on his funeral in 2003, is wife declared He made everyone have a laugh and got on with life. He spoke about being in the POW Camp but he always saw the good side, all the men had such great comradeship.’.

FEPOW & Burma Star Association

DSC09045The need for association with contemporaries and those who shared the experience of captivity in the Far East seemed strong. By 1946 the move from informal and local self-help groups was made to form National Association of  Far East Prisoners Of War Clubs and Associations in 1947. Not all the returnees engaged, Parkes & Gill suggest that about a third were involved, leaving the remainder, unsure or unwilling to share, talk and listen. Probably preferring to suppress dreadful memories. Initially, the ‘Returned British Prisoners of War Association’ attempted to deal with the men and women that had been through the Japanese experience. It was clear that the experiences of the German PoWs was a world away. The National Association of FEPOWs grew out of the differing set of needs. Toosey describes the most common symptoms suffered by the men and their families were ‘anxiety, restlessness and nightmares’.

The aim was to provide support for each other and their families, indeed ‘To keep the spirit that kept us going’.  Simply to be able to talk and listen, usually organised by the men themselves or former NCO’s. Officers were also welcome of course and some took on leading roles in the grown of what became a movement. As time moved on it was clear that health and welfare needs were beyond ‘helping each other’. In the North West, Philip Toosey, local business man and Banker provided enabling force to develop not just the FEPOW presence but also the early and  close collaboration between the Far East veterans and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Toosey, ex Senior British Officer in the Tamarkan Camp, later Knighted, worked tirelessly for the FEPOW cause until his death in1975, as did Col Eddie Gill and Cary Owtram.

In spite of dwindling numbers of members of FEPOW, the Children Of Far East Prisoners of War (COFEPOW), continue to perpetuate their memory and host research.

The Final Legacy

In 1946, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (then the Imperial War Graves Commission) started gathering together the remains of those that had fallen on the island from the cemeteries at and around Changi and the rest of the island, mainly located at the sites of PoW Camps. Together with those in Thailand and Burma (now Myanmar). The legacy of those years of conflict and imprisonment is written in the names, accounts of the battles and prisons of those British, Commonwealth, American and Dutch who are commemorated there. To name a few: Kranji including Singapore commemorates 24,000; Rangoon, 27,000; Kanchanaburi, 5080; Thanbyuzat, 3150;


Kranji War Memorial, Singapore. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

Chunkai. 1420. Those numbers don’t include the civilians who died, fighting and suffering at the Singapore hands of the IJA. The Kranji Memorial includes memorials to ‘Unmaintainable Graves’ and one to ‘The Singapore Civil Hospital Graves Memorial’, remembering those who died and were buried in the grounds of the Hospital in such numbers ‘.. that burial in the normal manner was impossible. Before the war, an emergency water tank had been dug in the grounds of the hospital and this was used as a grave for more than 400 civilians and Commonwealth servicemen’ (CWGC).

The troops serving in the Far East regarded themselves as ‘The Forgotten Army’, we pray that the graves and memorials and sacrifices made by the Blackpool Regiment and all others, are never forgotten.


A cursory review of the Casualty List shows the Regiment was in action as soon as it arrived in Jitra in the north of Malaya. The War Diary records the losses objectively, dispassionately: ’23 Dec 41, …4 Killed, 6 Wounded, 2 vehicles destroyed…’. Like many others, our Regiment was made up of fit young men, average age 27, the youngest just 20 and judging the the men’s numbers, made up of both experienced and fresh and inexperienced, perhaps caught up in the recruitment frenzy in 1939.  Also interesting are the names shown as ‘Killed in Action’ long after the Surrender, as late as September and December 1944. Sad to read are the long list of those who died as Prisoners of War, especially those who died just before, during and just after ‘Liberation’.

For many years after the War, two major organisations held the stories of those who survived the retreat and surrender of Singapore, The Burma Star Association and the Far East Prisoners of War Association (FEPOW). Often those stories were only shared between those who had experienced it and the trauma of servitude under a brutal military regime. Certainly, the men who returned were mere shadows of themselves pre-War, both physically and mentally. A Regiment of fit young men launched into War as a new and inexperienced Regiment, established to fight at home, in defence of Britain. Many would have found the War exciting, challenging, then only to spend 3 years in a hellish prison, to die in squalor, illness and without mercy from their Captors.

Accounts of conditions and treatment in the camps are widely available, much less so are the accounts of treatment on liberation, repatriation and home-coming. Perhaps an opportunity for further research.

The stories of those prisoners that have been told and reported, drawn, filmed and recorded We must never forget what the survivors of the Blackpool Regiment went through, never.

As tourists travel to far away places in what is now Malaysia, visiting the shops and sites of the Modern Far East, will they ever consider what made those sites available to our generation and what might have happened if the Japanese had won the War there. We must also be wary of the ‘Disneyfication’ of the sites of battles and those of significance to the ‘Forgotten Army’ that fought in Malaysia: ‘The Burma Railway’, ‘The Bridge on the Kwai’, ‘Changi Prison’ and the multitude of war grave sites and the rest.


Part 1: Oct/Nov 2015
Part 2: Jul/Aug 2018

Authors Note:  Like the first part of this History of the Blackpool Regiment, this is a reduced version. The full story with Annexed documents is available at Blackpool Central Library, Local History Section.


References, Sources and Further Research


Background to the Fall of Singapore
Isaacs, J., 1973, BBC Series ‘World at War’, Ep 6 Banzai! Japan (1931–1942), Thames Television

Lt Sutcliffes Diary (‘D’ Tp, 350 Bty, 137 Fd Regt RA)
Personal Papers of Lt Robert Sutcliffe, 350 Battery, 137 Fd Regt RA TA. At Imperial War Museum, Library, Ref: Docs18749

Personal Diary of CO of 88 Fd Regt
D’Arbuz, History of the 88th Fd Regt RA In Malaya 1941/42, Unpublished. At IWM Library, Ref: LBY K.84/2318

Accounts of Captivity
Vart, R., Experience of Captivity with 137 Fd Regt RA, Sound Recording, at: Lancashire Archive, Ref: 1995.0231


Details of Japanese Prison Camps; locations and life in the camps at:

Clark T.(Ed) 2008, The ‘Bushido’ Code at:

Conditions on Thai- Burma Railway at:
Coombes, J.H.H., (1948), Banpong Express, available at:

Jap PoW Index Cards;  PoWs held in Singapore Camps at NA WO367 and Find My Past; Hospital Registers for PoW Camps in the Far East (1942-1947) at NA WO 347 via:

Researching FEPOW History 2015 Conference Papers, Surviving Far East Captivity and the Aftermath: 70 Years On

Accounts of the Sumatra Railway construction

Entertainment in camps at:

Experience of PoW’s Families via Google Books, search ‘War and Welfare: British Prisoner of War Families, 1939-45’ at:

Information on Civil Resettlement Units at:

The Sporting Lives of Sir Shenton Thomas and the Male European Internees at Changi Prison Camp During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, 1942–1945, Peng Han Lim and Mohd Salleh Aman at:

Document 2701, etc.  at:

Leaflets ‘Guard your Tongue’, etc at:
Oliver, L., 2017, Prisoners of the Sumatra Railway: Narratives of History and Memory, Bloomsbury Publishing. Available on Google Books, search ‘Guard Your Tongue’

Photo of Repatriation Memorial Liverpool By Rodhullandemu [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Kranji War Memorial By Oorlogsgraven stichting [CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Epilogue Camp’, Discussion and documents at:

Brig EW Goodman account of time in Malaya, including capture, imprisonment, liberation and repatriation at:

WW2 Forum at:

Thai-Burma Railway map at:

No 1 Nong Pladuc Camp and Group 1 Movements at:

‘The New Plan’


Blackburn, K, & Hack, K., 2007, Forgotten Captives in Japanese-Occupied Asia, Routledge

Bull, S., 1999, Lancashire Gunners at War: the 88th Lancashire Field Regiment, 1939-1945, Carnegie Publishers

Chesworth, A., (2017), Planning and Realities: The Recovery of Britain’s Far East Prisoners Of War 1941-1945, PhD. Thesis, Dept of History, University of Sheffield. Available at:

Coombes, J.H.H., (1948), Banpong Express, Self Published, Printed by Wm Dresser & Sons, Darlington

Davies, P., (2013), The Man Behind the Bridge: Colonel Toosey and the River Kwai, A&C Black

Daws, G., 1996, Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific Paperback, William Morrow Paperbacks

Eldredge, SE., 2014, Captive Audiences / Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand – Burma Railway 1942-1945, Macalester College

Farrell, B., (2005), The Defence and Fall of Singapore (2nd Ed, 2015), Monsoon Books, Singapore

Hately-Broad, B., 2013, War and Welfare: British Prisoner of War Families, 1939-45, Manchester University Press,

Mitchell, I., 1996, Prisoners of the Emperor Paperback, The Pentland Press

Monument, G., 1996, An Angel on my Shoulder, A Lane Publishers,

Parkes, M. & Gill G., (2015) , Captive Memories: Starvation, Disease, Survival, Palatine Books.

Parkes, M., 2002, ‘Notify Alec Rattray…’, Kranji Publications

Parkes, M., 2003, ‘…A.A. Duncan is OK’, Kranji Publications

Summers, J., 2005, The Colonel of Tamarkan: Philip Toosey and the Bridge on the River Kwai, Simon & Shuster UK Ltd.

Taylor, E., 2018, Captivity: Prisoners of the Japanese – Their ordeal and the Legacy, Pen & Sword Military,

Woodburn-Kirby, S.,et al.,  (1957), The War Against Japan: The Loss of Singapore (Official History), Vol 1, HMSO, London. Republished 2015 by 232 Celcius.


Who is ‘Grundy’?

On an unusually leisurely walk on Highfield Road, in South Shore


The Commemorative Stone at the Park, there is a second tablet with the date ‘July 1915’

recently, I noticed the commemorative stone set in the wall of the Recreation Ground and former Library. The rest of my walk was spent wondering who, when, what and why?

‘Grundy’ was in fact a pair of brothers, both Artists. Sons of a Bury Solicitor and staunch Unitarian, Thomas Grundy: John Relph Greenhow Grundy, born 1841 and Cuthbert Cartwright Grundy born 1846. The Census record for 1861 shows Thomas with wife Eliza (nee Greenhow) and  four children, older brothers Thomas and Edmund (also Solicitors), along with John and Cuthbert the youngest. The record also shows the household with a House Maid and a Cook. John is a Bleacher/Dyer in a local Cotton Mill and Cuthbert a School boy.

Cuthbert was expected to follow his brothers and father into the legal profession; however, dogged by illness, his university life in Manchester was frequently interrupted. He took to Painting, Biology and Chemistry;  as an artist he was untrained, as a Chemist he was amateur, although in 1870 he published ‘An Introduction to the study of Chemistry’ and in 1871 ‘Notes on the Food of Plants’ and in 1901, ‘How does a Plant Grow? In the same year, their father died and Cuthbert was awarded a  silver medal for rescuing two boys from the sea at Grange over Sands.

By 1879, Cuthbert was producing and exhibiting Landscapes, often based on trips to the Lake District with brother John. He exhibited at the Royal Academy.

The Grundy association with Blackpool began when Cuthbert moved here in 1888. In 1891 he is living with a Servant from Nottingham at 11 Moore Street, South Shore (demolished in the 1970s).  John is also in Blackpool at 322 Lytham Road, with his wife Alice, a Daughter Ethel, John RG Jnr and two Servants.

The 1901 Census shows Cuthbert living with the same servant, in an eight bedroomed house at 326 Lytham Road as a Landscape painter. John has moved with his family next door to 328 Lytham Road. Cuthbert’s house became known as Grundy House and housed the Grundy Museum after his death in 1946 until the house became a private residence again in 1980. (Note: House number changes on Lytham Road took place between 1924 and 1929, What became the Grundy Museum was located at 456 Lytham Road)

As a Unitarian like his Father, Cuthbert held Unitarian services in his sitting room, until the South Shore Unitarian ‘Tin Tabernacle’ opened on Lytham Road in 1894. A Church Hall: ‘The Sir Cuthbert Grundy Hall’ was built in 1932, on the site, becoming the church in that year.  In 1904 Cuthbert’s support for the Unitarian community culminated in his formally opening of the Unitarian Church at Fairhaven in July 1930 and a Non Denominational, Free Christian Church on Waterloo Road.

Cuthbert never married He had said that his Mother was his best friend and if he was married he wouldn’t be able to do the things he wanted to do.  He and his brother were generous contributors to Children’s charities in Manchester, Bury and Blackpool. He was exhibiting in Blackpool in 1879, John following in 1880. He became a Magistrate and was Blackpool’s first Knighted resident. Becoming a Justice of the Peace in Lancashire and Blackpool


Sir Cuthbert Grundy

Since 1902, Blackpool’s municipal art gallery, was housed in modest accommodation at Revoe Branch Library and both brothers exhibited there. In 1903 the Brothers sought to hand their collection of artwork to the Council in order to ‘encourage arts’ and to promote the formation of a dedicated Art Gallery in the town. As incentive the Brothers provided £2000 towards development costs. In 1908 a site in Queen Street was acquired for a new Library and Art Gallery. The work was completed in 1911, with a further extension of the Gallery in 1938.


The Grundy Art Gallery today

The Grundy Art Gallery is regarded as ‘one of Britain’s loveliest little Galleries’ (Cook, W., ‘The Spectator’, 03/09/2011)

Cuthbert’s public persona burgeoned and in 1911 he was presented with a Ceremonial Key by Blackpool Corporation on the opening of the Recreation Park and Reading Room on Highfield Road, a project to which both brothers had promoted and contributed financially. The Grundy’s life long commitment to community culminated in the opening of Children’s Convalescent Home at 138 Stoney Hill Avenue.


John RG Grundy

John died in 1915, in the same year Cuthbert was Knighted by King George V. The newspaper reports of his death were effusive, providing some glimmers of light into the life this very private man and his family.

He had trained to be a Civil Engineer. After a very few years he had abandoned his career in favour of Landscape and Seascape painting, around the time that Cuthbert was developing his own enthusiastic interests in painting and sketching. The brothers were reported as inseparable in their artistic pursuits. They founded The Bury Society of Fine Arts, played a significant role in establishing The Royal Cambrian Academy.between them the community benefited too; children’s Convalescent homes, recreation grounds, etc.  The apex of their joint enterprise was the establishment of Blackpool’s own Grundy Art Gallery.

With the anniversary of the death of his son Relph in 1907, John never really recovered, taking to his rooms for two weeks and dying shortly after, the culmination of two years ill health.

In 1933, Cuthberts name was included on the tablet commemorating the building of the Peace Palace in the Hague, after he had a commemorative medals cast for each of the 700 men who worked on the building; a testament to his Unitarian roots and his lifelong pursuit of peace and community.  He was made Hon freeman of County Borough of Blackpool in 1938 and died in Blackpool in 1946, just before his 100th birthday. Despite their generosity to Blackpool, their funeral services were low key in line with their belief in understatement, although press coverage was widespread.

Throughout both their lives the Grundy brothers had shunned publicity, John especially. However, that belies the fantastic contribution both may to the Arts in general and cultural life in Blackpool in particular.  At Appendix ‘A’  is a summary of the Brothers extraordinary involvement with the Arts and Charity.

So this was the who, what when and how of the Grundy name is significant in Blackpool’s heritage.

April 2017


Sources & Further Research


Census Returns at:

Births Marriages & Deaths at:

The full story and painting life of the Grundys at:

Story of Grundy Art Gallery at:

Changing fortunes of Blackpool

Morris, E., 2001, Public Art Collections in North-West England: A History and Guide, Liverpool University Press

Images:   All images remain copyright to the Author.

Books authored by Cuthbert Grundy:
Grundy, C.C., 1870 ‘An Introduction to the study of Chemistry’, Ulan Press (Reprinted 2012)
Grundy, C., 1871 ‘Notes on the Food of Plants’, Nabu Press (Reprinted 2009)
Grundy, C., 1901, ‘How does a Plant Grow? John Murray, London (Reprinted 1935)
Grundy, C.C., 1909, ‘Paragraphs about Pictures: Six Dozen Helpful Hints for Visitors to a Picture Exhibition’, RE Jones, Conway (Reprinted 1913)

Newspaper References to the Grundy Brothers
21/04/1998 Evening Gazette, Feature on the contribution made by Sir Cuthbert Grundy.
28/10/1916 Gazette, ‘The man behind the Resort’s Gallery’
18/07/1927 Gazette, Grundy Home for Children foundation laying.
11/01/1927 Gazette, Forthcoming Ceremony
01/02/1946 Gazette, Obituary & death reports

Cuthbert References:
27/09/1907 Blackpool Herald   p6 Col 1
07/12/1904 Blackpool Times    p6 Col 6
16/08/1919   ,,                              p5 Col 8
03/01/1930   ,,                              p9 Col 1
09/02/1929 Gazette & Herald   p7 Col 3
27/09/1907 Blackpool Herald  p6 Col 1
08/10/1907   ,,                              p7 Col 3
22/03/1911  Blackpool Times  p5 Col 6

John References:
17/03/1915 Blackpool Times p5 Col 1 Obituary

Properties owned by the Grundys: to be found in
Kelly’s Blackpool Directory 1924, 1929, 1934,
Slater’s Blackpool Directory 1890, 1901, 1902, 1905, 1909
Cook’s Blackpool Directory 1896, 1902
All available at the Local & Family History Dept, Blackpool Central Library

Additional Sources:
Cuthbert’s Last Will and Testament available at Ref  LG3(P) Blackpool Central Library
Council Minutes for 1913: Establishment of Highfield Road Recreation Park and The Branch Reading room at Minutes: 375, 376, 395, 433, 481, 494, 495, 593, 596, 657, 664, 666, 677, 678.

Courtfield Days: An affectionate glance at the history of venerable institution.


The term ‘Courtfield’ has a dual meaning for those who experienced it. First, there was the House, ‘Courtfield House’, which served as the physical location hotel & catering training from 1947 until 1969 and then again from 1986 until 1998. Secondly, Courtfield was the name associated with all the training that went on there, when ‘Courtfield’ became synonymous with the World Class’ skills training and management education that went on there. In those early days, Courtfield and Westminster College were the two centres of excellence in the UK, competing with the best Hotel Schools in Europe. They provided the industry with the key players in hotel and catering operations and management, throughout the world.

In its heyday, Courtfield was in the vanguard of hotel and catering (as it was referred to then, ‘hospitality’ now) learning. The only other catering college at the time was Westminster and a little later the Universities of Strathclyde and Surrey offered courses in catering management. It was established in the tradition of the greatest hotel schools in the world, those of Lausanne, Luzern, Cornell, The Hague and Geneva, eventually spawning a host of competing schools throughout the UK and Europe. Courtfield’s history is woven with the names of great people, the brainchild of legends William Rees Jones, the first Head of Department, Gloria Swanson, the president of the Hotel & Boarding House Association, Alderman Machin, Billy Read, Johnny Whyte, later Geoff Cowell.

History of Hospitality Education in Blackpool

Although its actual origins are unclear, it’s certain that a School of Confectionery was operating in the 1920’s by local Baker and entrepreneur George Burton. Burtons pioneered bakery manufacturing and technologies. It became one of the UK’s largest biscuit maker, as Burton’s Gold Medal Biscuit Company and eventually becoming Burton’s Foods. George became Chief examiner with City & Guilds and by 1937 was Head of Blackpool Technical College’s School of Bakery.

Discussions commenced between the new College’s Principal and Blackpool Borough Council to establish a college to support the hotel and catering businesses in the local economy. In 1934 Classes were held to assist Blackpool Hotel & Boarding House Association improve its member’s services to its visitors. In 1937 the College held classes at Thames Road School and at Vance Road providing the beginnings of formal hotel and catering courses, together with the formation of an Advisory Committee. 1939 the College Prospectus listed a ‘Hotel & Catering Trades Advisory Committee, indicating a well established and co-ordinated provision for the town’s Hotel & Catering Industry.

After World War 2 catering courses attracted an influx of demobbed service men, at the wooden building on the site of what is now College Court on Park Road. Indeed, the Gazette and Herald reported that the first post war Courses would commence on 24th September 1945. Catering Courses would start in October when Major W Rees Jones was to be ‘released from the from the Forces’. By 1947, the pressure was beginning to tell on the limited facilities in the ‘Wooden Hut’ and negotiations began to find a suitable home for Catering education in Blackpool. ‘Courtfield’, on the corner of Hornby Road and Park Road, was soon identified as a potential site. The house had been owned by the Mather family. Robert Butcher Mather had been Mayor of Blackpool in 1897-98.

Courtfield House

Built in 1897 by Town Freeman, successful businessman and ex Mayor Robert Mather JP, the house was considered to be one of the finest in the borough. The Mather family occupied the house until its sale, by auction in 1945. The name of ‘Courtfield’ was suggested by a family friend, Rev Fr Bernard Vaughan. The Vaughan’s ancestral home in Gloucestershire was called ‘Courtfield’, it had been in the family since 1570.

At a cost of £14,750 (plus £396 costs) the buildings and land were bought amid controversy. There was much disquiet about the cost and perceived competition between the college restaurant facilities and local businesses, although there was no comment about the need for a hotel & catering school.

Courtfield as a centre for Hotel & Catering was actually established in 1947, when students were transferred from the Bakery School on Park Road. Ten years earlier classes had been held in a number of venues in the town, to assist local hoteliers. An Advisory Committee was formed to investigate the establishment of a Catering Department at the College.

The cost of acquiring the building and land of the Courtfield site was £14,750.

The overall cost of ‘The Experiment’ was reported to have been £60,000, which included modifications to the house and equipping it with some of the finest equipment available. Some of the silverware is still being used at the college, badged with the original Blackpool Technical College ‘BTC’. Much of the original polished copper pans that many of us remember cleaning with lemon and salt at the end of our classes, was sold off to provide replacement aluminium pans in the 1970’s. In 1949, ‘Courtfield’ was formally opened in a blaze of publicity with a Lunch for HRH The Duchess of Gloucester in June of that year.

In 1956 it was planned to extend the buildings by demolishing the Coach House at the rear. In the early days, the house was occupied by the Mathers, the Coach House housed 4 Carriages, two horses and a Coachman.

The development involved the addition of ‘prefabs’ at a cost of £9000. However, the Ministry of Education had suggested a larger permanent extension which would accommodate a college refectory, to the side of the house, provided a large dining room, kitchen and servery, increasing the cost of extensions to £21,104, but offsetting the costs with revenues from sales. This became the ‘College Refectory’ and well used by staff, Students and occasionally the public.

Controversy was never far away from the headlines. Disagreements and poor communications between the Council departments in setting up the College was identified as the cause. The Gazette at the time reported that there was additional confusion in the minds of the public and Councillors regarding the Courtfield proposals and those for a new and separate Food Technology building. Very quickly, extensions were agreed, planned and developed to provide a state of the art home for ‘Blackpool Catering College’. The Gazette of 13 October 1951 headlined on the ‘Battle raging over Catering College’, there were references to ‘Frayed Tempers’, especially when College staff salary increases were proposed.

Squabbles about money failed to dent the enthusiasm in neither the department nor the students. In response, The Gazette reported Mr W Rees Jones saying that his proudest moment was when one of the most vociferous critics, the Mayor Cllr Joseph Hill JP, had expressed his pride in the recent student’s results.

Outside Links

In the early days, ‘Courtfield House’ ran as an operating hotel school with all the facilities of a commercial hotel, with Reception, Rooms, Restaurant, and all the back room operations, Laundry and Linen Room, Kitchens and Stores, Cleaners and Pot washing. Press photo’s of the time show, recently ‘demobbed’ students going through the work of every department in the Hotel. As early as 1948, students were exhibiting and demonstrating at the prestigious International Hotel & Catering Exhibition at Olympia in London.

In 1936, Mr E.H. Harrison, Blackpool’s Director of Education, suggested a ‘novel move’. That is, to gain real, practical experience in the business, by taking over a local hotel in the ‘Off Season’. The Education Committee would take over the hotel. There’s no available evidence that the project started, however, the caterers established close and vibrant associations with commercial and welfare catering operations in the town, over many following years. Indeed, as it will be seen, that’s exactly what happened many years later.

Links with the local businesses were enhanced in the 1947 when Blackpool Landladies and the public were offered a three year two nights a week course series of demonstrations and talks on Catering. In the 1950’s this was supplemented by a series of eight demonstrations and talks on Catering. Hugely popular and widely reported, these were held in the Tower Circus. The Gazette reported that over 500 ‘Boarding House & Hotel Keeper’ attended the series of eight demonstrations and talks. These had been arranged via the College by virtue of the close links that Mrs Gloria Swanson, the President of Blackpool Hotel & Boarding House Association had. Mrs Swanson was also the Chairman of the Trades Advisory Committee at the College.

Open Days allowed the public, employers and prospective students to see what was being done in the Department. A programme from May 1952 cites activities going on in 12 rooms in Courtfield house as well as in the Green House and the gardens: demonstrations of buffet work, silver service, Cocktails, flower arranging, . No less than 95 staff and students are detailed in the programme to show people what was possible.

Royal Visit to Lancaster

To mark the 600th Anniversary of the County Palatine, the King, Queens and Princess Margaret accepted an invitation for a two day visit to Lancaster which included a lunch provided and served by Courtfield Students.

In May 1968, Lord Derby the then President of the BHCSS invited the Students to cater for the Queen at Knowsley Hall, Liverpool. The Gazette reported the occasion and described how great the service was at two events catered by the students at the Police College at Hutton, Preston where they catered for the Deputy Lord Lieutenants, guests of Lord Derby. Edward George Villiers Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby was Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire from 1951 to 1968. The Lord Lieutenant is the Queen’s personal representative in the County. Lord Derby had laid the College’s Foundation Stone in September 1934.

The College files are full of letters of thanks for services given to the great and the good, including Prime Minister, Edward Heath and Shirley Williams, Minister of Education and Paymaster General. She held both appointments at the same time.

During the 60’s & 70’s, each year the students had the opportunity to try out new found skills when Courtfield took over the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool, ‘en masse’. The hotel management stepped aside to allow the Courtfield staff and students to take on the operational roles of the hotel, all under the watchful eye of the leading characters of the day: Jim Vincent, Johnny White, Bert Jackson, Vic Hoyle, Peter Blair, Bryan Hill, Gladys Skelton, Harold Hewitson, all taking on the management of hotel departments. Each year group of students took on roles appropriate to their experience, with everyone getting involved in the cleaning and setting up of the Hotel. They were fabulous days of learning with all students remembering them with great affection and recognition of real learning with ‘real’ customers.

Later students would have the opportunity to work at high status venues, like for example Houghton Tower and others, serving Royalty or National figures visiting the area.

Local Newspapers were filled with comment and editorial on all manner of topics relating to Courtfield, staff, students, officials, events, Prize Giving, Exam results and Open Days, and just ‘Goings on’, even Menus and recipes. Occasionally the comment was negative. Some of the local businesses objected to the success of the restaurants, large numbers of students and the public preferred to use the college refectory rather than local businesses.

Sometimes adverse comments came from politicians who objected to the education budget being hijacked by maintenance of catering equipment. Local schools jealous of the resources given to the Hotel & Catering Department rather than the local schools who argued vociferously against resources allocated to the College. Some even scoffed at the prospects of training and education for ‘chambermaids, waiters and cooks’.

Amongst the more positive reporting were references to Prizes awarded and Teachers from other institutions coming to Blackpool to ‘see how it’s done’. Some of the Politicians argued that Blackpool should be the National Centre for Hotel & Catering Education. There were frequent pictures of Students, staff and celebrities being served by them.

As commercial and educational pressures followed, those ‘take-overs’ became fewer and eventually non-existent by the mid 1960’s. There was a ‘nod’ to the practice for a number of years when final year students came off timetable, each group in turn to run the 3 restaurants in ‘C’ Block as commercial operations without intervention but with the support of the staff. So, for example, Jack Sumner in his Marketing Class, would set up a Marketing Plan with the students for their restaurant operation. Again pressures for time and space eventually finished the practice in the late 1980’s.

New Head and the move to Bispham.

The new College campus was developed at Bispham, Ashfield Road and the brand new, multi storey building was allocated for catering, with what were first class facilities: 6 floors, 5 new restaurants 6 training kitchens, a Pastrywork kitchen and a Larder preparation room along with an Accommodation suite, Science Labs, a library and a new feature: a ‘Call Order Restaurant’ modelled on the latest contemporary restaurants in London and many US city’s. This indeed was ‘Cutting Edge’. In today’s parlance, the ‘Fine Dining’ restaurant was the Machin Room, named after Alderman Machin, one of the key local figures responsible for the decision to build a new College.

Following the closure of Courtfield site, the new ‘C’ Block (‘C’ for Courtfield, now ‘Cleveleys’) quickly became a new home for the staff and the students. Managers in Morning suits, Waiters in Tails and chefs in whites with tall hats, mixed and mingled in the corridors appreciating and aspiring to jobs in the best that the industry could offer. Restaurant staff was only made up of final year students, who were inspected each day for clean hands nails, clean shoes and for their personal ‘odour’, with defaulters being given short shrift or the ‘Hair-drier’ treatment. Geoff Cowell saw the ‘Tail Coats’ as an anachronism when they moved to Bispham, but not for long, no new students bought them. John Whyte did not agree, but the College moved with the times and the Tail Coat era was over.

Many students went on to become Captains of the industry all over the world.

The 1970’s and early 80’s saw the ‘Hey-Day’ of Catering Education at Blackpool: a Faculty of 90+ staff, 1000 students, graduating 400 per year with high quality qualifications into the Hospitality business of the world. However, with the fame and popularity came the increasing demand for space and staff. The Faculty had reached a point of ‘Critical Mass’. It was time to look at the structure. It made sense at that time to separate out the so called ‘Craft’, or operations courses from the ‘Management’ provision, forming the Department of Catering Operations.

In addition, pressure was mounting to support education for those not able to join the mainstream courses either because of ability or disability, together with the need to support employability courses under the Governments YTS (Youth raining Scheme) and the ‘TOPS’ programme – (Training Opportunities Scheme, designed for adults.). Space was found in the old Somerset Avenue School site to provide kitchen and food service facilities, funded through Central Government. This author and others drew plans for the redevelopment of the site along with plant and equipment lists. The courses were very successful, but short lived, coinciding with the decision to move back into Courtfield.

By now Courtfield House was in a very poor state, occupied by the Arts Department and variously used as a studio and a Drop In space for all sorts of folk. The conditions there deteriorated badly and there was considerable damage to the structure of the building.

After much thought the decision was taken to move the Craft students – Chefs, Waiters, Receptionists, Housekeepers, Pastry Chefs and Bakers and the Butchers and courses back into Courtfield House and the Park Road site, now in an almost derelict state.

The decision coincided with the recruitment of a stylish, exciting young Chef Lecturer, who was making a name for himself in East Lancashire. Graham Wilkinson arrived at the College as a Principal Lecturer in Cookery & Food Production, he brought flair, talent and experience from the top UK establishments including Buckingham Palace. Graham and this Author planned and executed the move back to Courtfield after a major refurbishment of equipment and the building. Courtfield was back!

The move back to Courtfield

The decision to move back to Courtfield House was not universally popular. Staff and students considered it a retrograde step. But the move went on in any case. A number of us considered the move to be a rebirth of what was. Realisation was somewhat harsher. The building was in a mess but true to the word of College management and the goodwill of some of the staff and effort from other departments all moved ahead in the Summer holidays of 1985.

Like the initial move to Bispham, it was largely carried out by staff without professional movers. Funding was helped greatly by staff and students who took over a hospitality unit at the Lytham Open Golf, and the following year did the same again at another venue, we were voted the best independent hospitality unit on both occasions. Individuals were encouraged to make donations which bought dining room chairs and other essentials.

In spite of hard work some classes were not ready for the start of the new Term in September. Ivor Hixon, the Department Head at the time, recalls:

In spite of our best efforts we were not completely ready for the September start. Bakery and Meat Technology were able to run as usual. First year catering students were catered for within the existing resources, supported by part-time paid work in local establishments. The start for day release students was postponed until after the Illuminations, in November, which suited everyone.

The major problem was accommodating senior catering students. Graham Wilkinson, solved this by using his contacts and considerable charm to place them all at the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. Students would be working alongside a skilled, experienced and highly qualified team. During this highly desirable internship, Gladys Skelton and Yvonne Trotter were the resident tutors who taught, mothered, cared for and kept all in line until the end of October.

The Decline of Courtfield.

Nothing remains static, the demand for hospitality programmes declined, as did many of the craft courses. Smaller colleges that had been ‘Feeder’ colleges in the past, were given permission to run their own courses. Private providers and the larger hospitality companies decided to run their own training. Delivery and assessment of Trainees was undertaken in the workplace rather than in ‘Realistic Work Environments’. Consequently, the now depleted Craft programmes were moved back to Bispham. Eventually, the College sold off Courtfield House and its land to developers. They immediately cashed in on the artefacts of what had been a beautiful Victorian house: its marble fireplaces, carved wood doors and brass door furniture, ceiling mouldings, stained glass windows, even its oak floorboards.

From the mid 90’s a new reorganisation at the college dismantled the teaching organisation for Hotel & Catering, many of the long serving, highly qualified, but expensive staff were encouraged to retire. The faculties of Food, Leisure and Hairdressing were merged, with a new Head of Department and by the end of the 90’s the Hotel & Catering provision at the college was a shadow of its former self.

The Legacy of those times, at the peak of its reputation as a world class provider of Hotel and Catering skills ( now referred to as Hospitality) is carried by those who remember it. Never to be repeated.

The name of Courtfield lives on in our memories as a centre of vocational excellence in Hospitality management and Culinary Arts.


Editors Note: This is a short extract from a longer and more detailed History of Courtfield, made available to the Local History Department at Blackpool Central Library with pictures and memorabilia.

Feb 2016

Mum and the ‘Clubs’: an affectionate look at Blackpool’s ‘Clubland’

‘Clubland’ refers to those Working Men’s and Social Clubs that provided entertainment on a grand scale, in Blackpool for over 150 years. Some still do.

Prompted by a tenuous link with Clubland, this piece worked its way on to the page. The link is through my Mum’s ‘work’ in the 50’s through to the 70’s, in those clubs. She was a Singer, in fact at 91, she can still ‘belt it out’ at any given opportunity.

The clubs provided a small income to supplement the income of a family of 8. Initially, Mum would have the family bathed and ready for bed when Dad came home from work, he would babysit while Mum travelled to and from the Club by bus. Later, we had Baby-sitters, my Grandad, or Aunties or Uncles, but as we got older, my Sister and I took charge when Mum set off with Dad driving, to entertain the demanding audiences in ‘Working Men’s Clubs’. Dad in the audience.

Mum 1950, Carrol Levis Audition

Mum in her Heyday

Until the research for this piece I knew only the bare essentials: they were for working men; that the audiences were hard work; but they provided a grounding for some of the most famous UK acts in the business, among them, Jimmy Tarbuck, Roy Castle, Frank Carson and many, many others, all of whom cut their teeth entertaining the Blackpool crowds. At one stage Roy Castle’s name on the bill was at the bottom, Mum’s at the top!

Work was found by going to ‘Auditions’ where the Concert Secretaries of the Clubs met and, as a group, tested the ability and capability of the Artiste, then booking the artiste if they thought they had a chance against the noisy but well meaning crowds at their club. My Mum survived singing in Clubs for over 25 years, singing songs from the shows, light opera and pop-songs that
were within her range, or those popular with the audience. She did so whilst bringing up 6 kids, having 4 of them over the same 25 years. Mum went on to appear on Television, returning always to the Club stage.

The Clubs that she loved and hated simultaneously, fell always into only 2 categories the good ones and the bad ones. The good ones, where the pay was good and the audiences appreciative, and the bad ones, where the reverse was true. My memories are of her talk of favourite Concert Secretaries, Accompanists, Bands and Clubs’ names. When she wasn’t shouting at the kids, she sang all the time, no doubt rehearsing the next new song.

For over 60 years, until the late 1970’s, The Empress Ballroom and the larger Clubs hosted the ‘Command Performance of Clubland’. Stars from throughout the year were invited back for the biggest Blackpool showbiz event of the year. Mum regularly appeared and occasionally starred.

But what of the Clubs themselves? They began to emerge as places of entertainment for a working class with a little disposable income. Often built and run by the men themselves as an antidote to the entrepreneurial offers available at the time, although some sought Patrons to provide initial funding and association with a ‘Name’. The rise of unionism and new ideas of self-determination, encouraged both social cohesion and enterprise, giving the Working man an opportunity to contribute to the welfare of his local mates. The clubs were run by a Secretary, with an elected committee and Officers. They would have the power and the subscriptions to book and pay for entertainers to perform in their establishments.

CIU LogoThe Working Man’s Club ‘movement’ leapt forward with the formation of the The Working Men’s Club & Institute Union (CIU) in 1862 by the Rev Henry Solly, a Unitarian Minister, supported by local dignitaries and Politicians, specifically ‘to encourage self-improvement and promote temperance among working men’. For over 150 years, the ‘Union’ provided, and still does, guidance on the setting up and running of Clubs. Affiliation, meant that Members could visit any club in the Union.

The Temperance lobby was strong at the time and members, and their families, were pleased to be seen as contributing to and benefiting from the cause. It did not last, the growing prosperity of the members and their clubs enabled choices to be made as to whether drink would form part of the entertainment. Committees soon realised that to buy beer in bulk and to sell volume relatively cheaply would generate profit and benefit for the members.

By 1865, the CIU Allowed clubs to decide their own path and the majority settled for a not-for-profit bar for the benefit of Members only and the surpluses to be ploughed back into the Club. A Royal Commission and a consequent ‘Friendly Societies Act’ of 1875 sought to regulate clubs, protect members from exploitative activities of those in charge, enabling them to hold property and pay benefits to sick and infirm members.

From the few dozen Clubs in the early days through their supremacy in the 1970’s when there were over 4000 ‘affiliated’ Working Men’s Club to the present day when there are about 1900 throughout the UK.

Blackpool, as a centre of entertainment, was host to many Clubs, some still in existence. The oldest, the No1 or Bloomfield Club, recently celebrated its 150 anniversary. The Central Library local history archives has a programme for the Club’s Golden Jubilee (at LT94(P)), with a fascinating history of the Club and its changes of location, name and activities.

The largest by 1954 was the Central Club, formerly the Blackpool WMC. The Blackpool Directories perhaps tell the growth story best: in 1924 there were 7 Clubs listed, in 1929 it was 9. By 1934, Barretts Directory records 22 Clubs, excluding Sports, Church, Political Clubs and British Legions. The local press bears witness to the evolution of Clubland, recording formation, acquisitions, amalgamations and changes of name and location.

Appendix ‘A’ provides a list from those Directories. Many in the list will be instantly recognisable today. They are for me!

Appendix ‘B’ provides images of Membership Cards and Rule books from Blackpool Clubland available in The Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library,.

The place of Clubland in Blackpool’s Heritage can not be over stated. Over the years, they provided, entertainment, employment and a vibrancy to the Town, as well as a welcome break from drudgery of work for both men and for women. The paucity of research on the Clubland scene in Blackpool demands that this sector is taken into account in the assessment of Blackpool as the leading UK centre of entertainment. I can only hope that the planned Museum will initiate that research, or at least a bright young Undergraduate might see the potential for a Final Year Dissertation.

Jun 2015

Sources & Further Reading

Cherrington, R., 2012, ‘Who cares about Working Mens Clubs’, available at:

Cherrington, R., 2012, ‘What is the CIU’, The Club Historians, available at:

Blackpool Clubs at:

Cherrington, R., 2012, Not Just Beer and Bingo! The Social History of Working Men’s Clubs’,

Tremlett, G., 1987, Clubmen: the History of the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union, Secker & Warburg.

‘Command Performances of Clubland’, Cyril Critchlow Collection, Blackpool Central Library. An Index is at:—November-2012-%5BPDF-173MB%5D.pdf

The Mellings: A lifeboat connection


DSC07670Prior to the installation of the Lifeboat at St Annes, the saving of lives and vessels usually relied on the Fishermen families in St Annes. The Mellings were probably actively engaged in the ‘Lifeboat’ business before there was an official Lifeboat. As well as altruistic motives there was always the prospect of ‘Salvage’. After all, these men had to make a living.

Attached to this page is an account of the contribution made by one St Annes family to the Lifeboat service in that town.

Link to Lifeboat Exploits