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Jack Jennings, P.OW. Who Helped Build Burma Railway, Dies at 104

Jack Jennings, P.OW. Who Helped Build Burma Railway, Dies at 104

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Jack Jennings, a British prisoner of battle throughout World War II who labored as a slave laborer on the Burma Railway, the roughly 250-mile Japanese army development undertaking that impressed a novel and the Oscar-winning movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” died on Jan. 19 in St. Marychurch, Torquay, England. He was 104.

His son-in-law Paul Barrett confirmed his demise, in a nursing facility, in an e-mail.

They stated they believed their father was the final survivor of the estimated 85,000 British, Australian and Indian solders who have been captured when the British colony of Singapore fell to Japanese forces in February 1942.

A non-public within the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment, Mr. Jennings spent the following three-and-half years as a prisoner of battle, first in Changi jail in Singapore after which in primitive camps alongside the route of the railway between Thailand and Burma (now Myanmar).

To construct bridges, Mr. Jennings and no less than 60,000 P.O.W.s — and 1000’s extra native prisoners — have been compelled to chop down and debark timber, noticed them into half-meter lengths, dig and carry earth to construct embankments, and drive piles into the bottom.

In his 2011 memoir, “Prisoner Without a Crime,” Mr. Jennings described the harmful means of driving the piles, utilizing a heavy weight raised by the boys to the highest of a timber body.

“Two males usually guided the pile from a perched scenario close to the highest,” he wrote. “This was a gradual, punishing job, jolting your complete physique when the burden abruptly dropped and the pile sank decrease.”

He survived the searing warmth of the Indochinese jungle; a day by day food regimen of rice, watery gruel and a teaspoon of sugar; and a battery of illnesses: malnutrition, dysentery, malaria and renal colic. He developed a leg ulcer that required pores and skin grafts, which have been carried out with out anesthesia.

“At least 15 troopers died every day of malaria and cholera,” Mr. Jennings advised the British newspaper The Mirror in 2019. “I bear in mind sitting in camp simply counting the times I had left to dwell. I didn’t suppose I’d ever get out of there alive.”

The brutality inflicted by Japanese troopers was no less than as dangerous in the course of the railway work because it was within the camps.

“If you weren’t working like they thought you need to, you’d get a stick or the butt of a rifle,” he added. “But I needed to preserve going. I had a pal who slept subsequent to me. I wakened one morning and he was dead.” Four males who tried to flee have been beheaded.

“My feeling for the Japanese guards who have been with us, and all who allowed them to commit such barbaric crimes, stays the identical,” Mr. Jennings wrote. “I’ll by no means forgive or overlook.”

Amid these torturous situations, Mr. Jennings, who had labored as a wooden joiner in England, carved a chess set out of wooden he discovered within the camps, utilizing a pen knife. He carried the chess items house.

Jack Jennings was born on March 10, 1919, and grew up in West Midlands, England. His father, Joseph, a brickworker, died of most cancers when Jack was 8; his mom, Ethel (Dunn) Jennings, who had labored in a foundry earlier than she had kids, took in laundry to earn cash after her husband’s demise. She additionally picked hops in the course of the summer season, together with Jack and his two sisters.

At his mom’s request, Jack left faculty at 14 to earn cash for the household. He fared poorly as an workplace trainee earlier than discovering his métier at an area joinery works. He finally enrolled in courses in cupboard making at an area artwork faculty.

Mr. Jennings was drafted into the British Army in 1939 and, after prolonged coaching, traveled by boat to Singapore, arriving in January 1942. The British Army was quickly overwhelmed by the Japanese and surrendered Singapore on Feb. 15.

“They knew the place to strike, and strike onerous,” he wrote in his memoir, including that “there was nowhere to cover or to retreat to. We have been trapped, civilians and troopers.”

The Japanese herded about 500 troopers, most of them from the Cambridgeshire regiment, onto a tennis court docket. At every nook a Japanese soldier stood guard with a machine gun. The prisoners drank soiled water and ate “onerous Army biscuits and ration chocolate” tossed at them by their captors, Mr. Jennings wrote.

After 5 days, they have been marched to Changi jail and later to jail camps that the prisoners themselves needed to hack out of the jungle. Mr. Jennings stated he spent his time constructing bridges and being handled for his diseases. An estimated 12,000 to 16,000 P.O.W.s died throughout development of the railway. Many civilian prisoners perished as effectively.

Mr. Jennings discovered of the Japanese give up in August 1945 from leaflets dropped in a jail camp that stated, “To All Allied Prisoners of War: The Japanese Forces Have Surrendered Unconditionally and the War is Over.”

He arrived house in October and, two months later, married his girlfriend, Mary. Three days later, he celebrated his first Christmas along with his household in six years.

In 1954, Pierre Boulle, a former French soldier and undercover agent who had served in China, Burma and Indochina, revealed “The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” a novel in regards to the development of a bridge by Allied prisoners. It was changed into a movie in 1957 starring Alec Guinness, because the delusional colonel answerable for the British prisoners at a Japanese jail camp, and William Holden, as an American Navy commander who escapes the camp and joins a commando mission to destroy the bridge. The film, directed by David Lean, gained seven Oscars, together with for finest image.

Mr. Jennings is survived by his daughters, Hazel Heath and Carol Barrett; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mr. Jennings wrote his memoir within the early Nineteen Nineties, though it might not be revealed till years later. He made a number of journeys again to Singapore and Thailand.

One of them, in 2012, to Thailand, close to the Burmese border, was paid for by Britain’s National Lottery, which produced a TV commercial that includes Mr. Jennings for a marketing campaign referred to as “Life Changing.”

In it he seems to stroll slowly along with his cane by way of a re-enactment of a jungle battle scene that was meant to be haunting reminiscences to him, whichfades right into a go to to a cemetery for the Allied troopers who died throughout development of the railway.

“We left him to have his personal personal time amongst the large cemetery,” John Hillcoat, who directed the commercial, wrote in an e-mail. “It was daunting what number of died. Jack appeared to have carried a variety of guilt being a survivor.”

In an interview for the National Lottery, Mr. Jennings stated that the Thailand he visited was “fully completely different” from the one he remembered. “So the outdated goals simply light, you realize — so I used to be fairly stunned and relieved,” he stated. “The place is known as a good vacationer space now.”

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