Last Thursday I went to Midge Gillies' launch of her book The Barbed -Wire University in Ely. Her father had been a wartime POW and early on in the writing of this book Midge had taken an interested in my friend, Frank Brook's experiences as a Polish POW (see DUNKIRK & CALAIS 16 June 2010 post).
At the launch, Midge gave a slide talk in St Peter's Church which probably hadn't seen a congregation that size for decades. Mr Toppings of Toppings bookshop was there pouring wine and selling more copies of the £25 hardback than he believed possible. In the end he ran out of them.
There was something so positive about the initiative and creativity of these POWs during their captivity. An Australian named Griffin, in a Japanese camp, interested me because he wrote a children's book The Happiness Box as a Christmas present for the interned children held with their mothers at Changi Gaol.
'The Happiness Box tells the tale of three characters, a monkey called Martin, Wobbley the frog and the wise little lizard Winston, who live together in a house in the jungle. But even in this children's story the POW's preoccupation with food is obvious. The trio live off the north, south, east and west winds that Winston catches in a trap he has set in the very highest tree and which Wobbley serves up with rice and vegetables. But the wind trap is the only one in the jungle and they are forced to share their meals with hundreds of other creatures that turn up at their door. Their happy existence is rocked when Wobbley finds a strange wooden box in a rice field...'
At the last minute this book was banned. Griffin had made a mistake giving his lizard the name 'Winston'. The Japanese assumed it referred to the British prime minister and there were coded messages in the story and ordered the book to be destroyed but somehow it escaped.