Your Editor has asked me to write number one in a series of War-time Experiences, but a less glorious story would be difficult to find for I figured in the evacuation of France in 1940 and the surrender of Singapore in 1942. My only bid for fame is that jointly with Harry Wheelock we were the first War-time volunteers to leave the Bank. The reservists and Territorials had gone before us, but on the Monday following the declaration of War, Harry and I obtained JPs blessing and departed to enlist as pilots only to be rebuffed with the statement No more names taken until Friday. That seemed much too far away, so we decided for a life on the ocean wave - only to receive another set back as we were informed That this is no ordinary War and that the Navy were only accepting men for 7 and 14 years. That left the Army, who were pleased, even eager to have us for the duration, so we became a couple of greasy gunners in the Royal Artillery.
Two months later we were in France having quite a pleasant time until the Germans suddenly decided to turn it into an ordinary sort of War and spoilt everything. My recollections of France in retreat are somewhat hazy, but the outstanding memory is the tragedy of the hundreds of thousands of refugees, their household belongings piled high on any conveyance they could get hold of, cluttering up every road and their being mercilessly bombed, machine gunned and shelled by the advancing Germans.
Back in England, I was commissioned and again equipped for foreign service, this time - the Middle East. We were to be supporting artillery to some Indian Divisions, who were going through Iraq into the Caucasus, to stop the Germans, who were then doing rather well in the Ukraine, from coming through the Caucasus and joining up with their forces in North Africa. We were given the title of The Caucasus Delaying Force and our guns and equipment were sent off in advance to Basra. We, however, were diverted whilst at sea to Singapore, and arrived without guns and equipment to join the beleaguered troops. Enough has been written about the fall of that Citadel, but I must mention that all the fixed guns pointed the wrong way and that the water supply of the island was on the mainland, which was in Japanese hands.
So I became a Prisoner of War in the hands of the Japanese, but the day after the surrender, it was difficult to find a Japanese, for their fighting troops had immediately pushed on to Sumatra, and their administrative troops were so terrified, they being only a handful compared with the thousands of prisoners, they barricaded themselves inside their quarters. When things became organised I was sent with a party of 700 troops to Saigon in French Indo China, where we acted as coolies unloading the boats in the docks. The majority of the prisoners went to Siam to build a railway from Bangkok to Moulmoin in Burma, and the loss in human life was so great that after a few months we were brought from Saigon to help in the project.
We paraded each day in the dark and marched from the camp, so that we reached the section we were working on as day broke and worked to night fall. As long as you could keep fit, life was bearable, although the odds were not in your favour. The jungle seethed with mosquitoes, so that malaria was prevalent, flies spread dysentery, cholera swept through several camps and later, as the railway progressed away from the river, which was our life line bearing our food and, of course, our drinking water, malnutrition became our worst enemy adding the deficiency diseases of beri-beri and pellagra to our troubles. It has been stated that every sleeper laid on the railway cost a human life and these figures of my own party of 700 will give you some idea of the casualties. The method of work on the railway was that the line was constructed from camps. When each section was completed, that camp would trek past the existing camps and take up position on the next section to be built. After our first stint, when it was time to move, our 700 troops were reduced to 600, and at the end of our leap-frogging up the railway that was reduced to 58 men. Not all these men died, but at the time of moving on they were too ill to make the journey.
The Japanese are a peculiar race, civilised on the surface, but animals when scratched ever so slightly. Their treatment of us was inhuman but so was the treatment of their own troops. I saw a Japanese NCO order half-a-dozen of his own men, who had committed some misdemeanour, to stand around a table. He then jumped on to the table and proceeded to kick each man in turn in the stomach for about ten minutes, going round and round and forcing each man to come reeling back to attention.
At last the railway was finished and we came back out of the jungle on to the plain, where food was more plentiful and life easier though no surer. In the early days most camps housed one or two men brave enough to risk death by operating illicit radios, but gradually the sources of batteries dried up and we got less and less authentic news so that it was with almost disbelief that we heard from the Siamese that the War was over. My attire for 3˝ years had been a loin cloth and some home-made wooden sandals, but I had kept a pair of shorts and a shirt for this great occasion. We were flown from Bangkok to Rangoon and led into the Mess for a meal. The wonder of it - chairs to sit on, tables with clean white linen, immaculate cutlery and even white women - it was all too wonderful to bother.
Bankers in Uniform - 1
by Frank Hood
Many of the Bank's staff served in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, and some ten years after returning to their banking careers, they were requested to share their experiences 'away from the BMB' with their colleagues. The recollections of three members of staff duly appeared in the staff's News Letter - this one by Frank Hood appearing in the Summer of 1957 edition