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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
I hope to see you soon...
By Cait O'Riordan
BBC News

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of Victory in Japan, one British prisoner of war's wait for liberation is described in his letter home.

For many of those held in prisoner of war camps during World War II the experience was too painful to talk about, even many years later.

My own grandfather never told me about his three-and-a-half years in captivity in Hong Kong and I never dared ask.

So when he - Colonel Bob Berridge - died in 1984, it seemed his experiences had died with him, leaving me with just a few oblique clues about how he survived the camps.

This has been a long and seemingly endless separation and now it is nearly over
Colonel Bob Berridge

In the basement of his home I found evidence of how he kept himself busy during imprisonment: an intricately carved wooden chess set and journals filled with sailing charts and yacht designs.

It was not until after my grandmother's death that my mother discovered a letter written by Bob and dated 20 August 1945 - five days after the Japanese surrender.

Denied newspapers and radio for years, Bob and his fellow prisoners had begun hearing rumours the war had ended.

Colonel Robert Berridge
Keep this letter, said Bob Berridge
Initially sceptical, Bob notes how the prisoners went "wild with excitement" when the news was confirmed.

They expected to be rescued immediately - instead they had to wait 10 long days for the British fleet to appear in the bay off the "Argyle Street" camp.

Writing nearly every day during that period Bob described life in the camp to my grandmother Cicely in his letter.

He writes of his hatred for the Japanese and explains how he and his fellow prisoners kept their minds occupied during the long wait for freedom.

Boat dream

The letter describes the jubilant reunions of some of the men with their wives and children interned in the civilian camp "Stanley".

Bob also tells Cicely of his dreams: for their future; of seeing her and their two children, Richard and Sally (my mother); and food. He writes a lot about food.


Years of living on the bare minimum taught Bob Berridge little is needed to be happy: "After all the only thing you can do with money is to buy life. If the life you like costs you less, why bother to earn more by doing what you dislike?"

Finally freed in September Bob went first to Australia, then to America to look for his family.

Cicely and the children had spent the war in the US, but by the time Bob arrived there, they had already left for the UK.

After circumnavigating the globe, Bob, Cicely, Richard and Sally were finally reunited in England. The letter arrived home around the same time he did.

JAPAN'S INVOLVEMENT IN WWII
7 December 1941 - Japanese aircraft attack Pearl Harbour, killing more than 2,400 Americans
6 August 1945 - World's first atomic bomb kills 100,000 in Hiroshima, Japan
9 August 1945 - Second atom bomb on Nagasaki
15 August 1945 - Allies celebrate as Japanese Emperor Hirohita broadcasts surrender
2 September 1945 - Japanese General Koiso Kuniaki officially signs surrender
Total Japanese death toll: more than three million
140,000 Allied POWs held
Retired from the Army in his forties, my grandfather never did try to earn more than he needed by doing things he disliked. Instead he spent most of his time at the wheel of a boat he built - the one dreamed of and designed in the camp.

The letter is my family's only insight into what he went through.

He wrote: "Keep this letter, it may be rather entertaining and interesting later when all the feelings and emotions we have had have been forgotten."

It would seem that those feelings and emotions were not forgotten, for neither my grandfather or grandmother would discuss the war.

But thankfully, the letter was kept.


The following extracts are in Mr Berridge's own words and written in language commonly used at the time.

20 AUGUST 1945

My Darling One,

Isn't everything marvellous, my love? Just think that it is only a matter of months or even perhaps weeks before we will be together again.

This has been a long and seemingly endless separation and now it is nearly over.

I am fine, no need to worry at all. A very slim fellow of 9 stone 13lbs, rather bony and knobbly all over. I find anything hard not too good for sitting on! Anyway a few weeks food and I won't know myself.

Cicely Berridge
The reunion with wife Cicely eventually happened in the UK
It has been a thrilling 10 days since we began to get the rumours. We couldn't settle down to anything, but prowled round the camp trying to pick up any scraps of information and hotly arguing and debating every point.

At last we got it officially, the entry of Russia, the Atomic Bomb and the acceptance of the Potsdam terms and the Mikado's comic opera script ending the war.

We were wild with delight and expected a relieving force any moment. We turfed the armed sentries of the camp, were gloriously rude to the filthy swine we've had all along as Camp Commandant, got extra food and cigarettes and generally began to "go to town".

We managed to get in touch with the civilian internees at Stanley and there were reunion scenes between husbands and wives and children, which nearly made one weep.

Oh, my love, I hope we'll be together soon. Just thinking of it makes me jump up and want to shout and rush around. Where will it be? And how? And when?

I've dreamt of it for all this last three and a half years and can hardly imagine that it will soon be there.

Boredom, squalor, and hunger and a horrible feeling of uncertainty all along
Some of our planes flew over. They came pretty low so that we could see their markings. One of the pilots threw us a few packets of cigarettes. We were all waving and shouting like madmen.

We've got a wireless in now and can get the Manila broadcasts. We've been listening to the account of the arrival of the Nip delegation and hope that today will see the signing.

This delay is maddening. We want to see all the ships come in and new cheery faces, fat and well covered people - plenty of aircraft, our own uniforms, tanks and arms.

We are wild for cables and letters. I haven't had a letter from you for months, the last one about a year old. Real proper letters, not these silly maddening word limited and Nip censored ones which we've had to be content with.

I am longing to hear all your news. How R is looking, tall he is, what he weighs, and what he does and likes. And little Sal, whether it is possible that she can be even more of a love than she was when I last saw her.

Richard and Sally Berridge
Bob's children Richard and Sally spent the war in the United States
I feel like a Rip Van Winkle slowly waking up to find a strange, new and unreal world to be explored.

We've been lucky here on the whole. Boredom, squalor, and hunger and a horrible feeling of uncertainty all along. Except for some sickness and some very bad incidents life hasn't been too bad. It was the uncertainty that was the worst of all, I think.

But the people in the town, the Chinese and third Nationals have had Hell.

There has been a reign of terror in this colony which makes the inquisitions and tortures of the dark ages a miserable and footling affair of amateurs. The stories we have heard these last few days have been beyond belief.

We had no illusions ourselves about the type of people the Nips are but even we have been astounded, shocked and horrified by what has come to light.

21 AUGUST 1945

I had a swim this morning. It was grand after nearly four years without one. Quite hard work to keep up - buoyancy quite different from what it used to be!

We live in long huts, from 30 to 50 to a hut. I have a wooden bed with some wire on it, some sacks of coir as a mattress, a table and a wicker chair.

Plenty of active little fellows in them all! In the summer one spends one's time de-bugging and in the winter shivering!

I had hoped to escape in the early days. Had I known how long it was going to be I would have gone somehow.

It is better to make less money by doing what you want to do and like
Escaping was difficult, not so much from the escapee's point of view, but from the point of view of his friends left behind in the camp. They were taken out and beaten up by the gendarmerie - anyone who has ever been in their hands becomes a changed man before they finish with him.

I wonder how changed we will find each other? Not only in figure but in temperament.

I can't bear to be idle now. I must always have something on hand to be worked out and completed.

I think too that it has brought home to me a very important fact. That is that it is better to make less money by doing what you want to do and like doing rather than to make more by doing a job in which you have no real interest.

After all, the only thing you can do with money is to buy life. If the life you like costs you less why bother to earn more by doing what you dislike?

22 AUGUST 1945

The news is good. We heard on the wireless yesterday that the signing is to be within 10 days and arrangements are being made for the re-occupation of this place.

I wish they'd drop us a few tins of bully by parachute though! At first I was so thrilled by everything that I could neither eat nor sleep.

Now things are settling down and my appetite is back to its normal and I'm a little bit tired of rice and beans!

23 AUGUST 1945

Splendid wireless bulletins all yesterday evening - we got a short wave set going so could pick up stuff from anywhere. Short wave wirelesses were strictly verboten here - if a civilian had one and was caught he would be killed.

Married officers have been having day trips to Stanley to see their wives and families.

Our thrill will come when our unknown steamer pulls in at some unknown port in an unknown continent. Oh it will be too marvellous and exciting.

I'll be like a dog with 50 tails and whole lot of juicy bones as well. By the way we must get another dog - a waggy fellow with huge paws.

24 AUGUST 1945

Still here, my love, a typhoon blowing up. I hope it doesn't interfere and delay the arrangements for getting us out of this delightful spot.

All the wireless reports seem to show that people are taking an interest in us generally and that we'll get pretty good attention and treatment when were are relieved. We could do with a bit of it too.

28 AUGUST 1945

Still here, my love. It is an absurd position. We hear daily on the wireless how every place is being occupied and taken over, but nothing about us.

It seems as if we are to be first in and last out. I think they might have told us something by now or even dropped us some supplies. Actually we have plenty to eat now, but a few luxuries like some jam or biscuits would have been very welcome.

The worst part of it is that many Chinese outside are starving and a Red Cross ship with rice for them would have made all the difference.

We had two or three days typhoon weather, but not very serious, and now it is extremely hot.

I think the extra food we are getting makes a difference, as up till now I have never felt the heat at all. It is a wonderful feeling though to be full again. Not to have to think as one finishes one meal that there are so many hours to go to the next one and that one will be hungry all that time.

29 AUGUST 1945

I hope that possibly our names may be got out shortly by wireless. It is certainly time that something was done, you must be wondering when you are going to hear officially that we are all well.

The American Air Force in China, (the 11th Combat Transport Squadron) dropped us some supplies today, nearly all medical stuff which our hospital will welcome. They are very short of drugs now.

It was thrilling watching the packages swinging down below red and green parachutes to land with a thump on the square.

Bob Berridge spent many hours carving a wooden chess set
The plane was only a couple of hundred feet up. We could see the crew shovelling the packages out through the open door, then waving to us as they banked around for another turn.

Last night the Colonial Secretary in our former government here broadcast over the HK Radio. He told how we were gradually taking over the colony and said that he hoped we would soon be relieved.

I hope our relief force picked it up and pull up their skirts and scuttle a bit. More food now, I eat everything I can get hold of and can already feel the difference.

To be full is grand and slightly over full even better! I must weigh myself again as I think I must have got back into the 10 stone class already. I dream of fried dishes and lashings of milk and cream and butter.

30 AUGUST 1945

At last things are beginning to move. Yesterday a task force of our Navy was lying off the coast.

Keep this letter, it may be rather entertaining and interesting later when all the feelings and emotions we have had have been forgotten
This morning the BBC announced its arrival and the sky is full of aircraft. We are so blasť now that we hardly look up if they come!

I really think that another day should see them in here and then a few more days and we'll be on our way.

Keep this letter, it may be rather entertaining and interesting later when all the feelings and emotions we have had have been forgotten.

Oh my love to think that "it won't be long now". How often in the last years have I said that to myself knowing full well what a long dull stretch was ahead of us. But this time it is really true.

It still seems unbelievable and like a marvellous dream. I feel sometimes like jumping up and down and shouting the way Richard does.

LATER

The fleet is coming in now. I have been watching them from the roof of Jubilee Buildings - a long way away so nothing much to see.

With any luck they will tell us something of their plans for us before evening. If only there is a cable from you somewhere on board.

31 AUGUST 1945

The rest of yesterday was just continual excitement and emotion. People came in to see us. There were endless talks and barrages of questions.

The harbour is full of British ships again. Naval and Marine landing parties are busy putting the Nips inside, planes are whistling about and cars coming and going.

Journal
Bob Berridge's wartime journal was full of charts and designs for boats
The Admiral was in here in the evening and told us that everything would be done to hurry things up. But it looks very like India or Australia for a while. A large proportion of prisoners form Burma died of heart failure due to sea-sickness on their way home, so they are going to be pretty careful with us.

Apparently they have been taken utterly by surprise by Japan's surrender so that all the delay is quite natural. I take back all the unkind things I said or thought earlier during this period. I had felt all along that there must be some reason for the slowness in taking over.

It is rather strange to think that we, with our limited news, had in some ways far more idea of the Japanese collapse than the people outside.

3 SEPTEMBER 1945

I have been aboard one of the hospital ships, the Dorsetshire and HMS Anson. Our plans and destinations still very uncertain, but I think it will be the Philippines first for fattening up, then home, probably via Australia and S Africa.

The long way round won't mean any real delay as the fattening can be carried out on the ship as well as ashore! I guess we'll be leaving this beastly camp tomorrow or the day after. They want it to put Nips in - poetic justice with a vengeance.

All my love my Duck and lots of huge hugs. Oh it's marvellous to be writing at the end of a long separation and not the beginning.




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