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Prisoners of the Japanese: The fate of three who went to war against the Japanese in WW2...
In this group of friends, Frederick Eastaff is seen on the left.

Many Bletchley men were amongst the thousands of Allied troops taken prisoner by the Japanese at the Fall of Singapore, in 1942.
Some would survive their captivity, many would not, and this is the story of those who, having been forced to help build the 'Railway of Death', were crowded aboard Japanese ships to be taken as slave labour to Japan.

In March, 1944, after the building of the Thailand to Burma railway a group of British and Australian PoWs were duly crammed into the forward hold of the Japanese vessel 'Kachidoki Maru', and 1,318, including all the Australians, in the 'Rakuyo Mara', this being the vessel aboard which three men from Bletchley - Douglas Cress-well, Frederick Eastaff and Geoffrey Chew -would be herded.

Gunner Douglas Cresswell of 72 Victoria Road, had enlisted in 1939 from a previous employment at the brickyard and Gunner Geoffrey Chew of 21 Aylesbury Street, had joined the Royal Artillery.

In fact his first job on leaving the Bletchley Road schools had been at the local Sketchley branch whilst as for Frederick Eastaff, his parents lived at 32 Albert Street and he had been a driver in the 5th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment.

Aboard the ship each PoW was handed a block of raw rubber, about two feet by two feet by one foot, and although this was to be ostensibly used as a 'life preserver' the real motive was probably to cram more rubber into the cargo.

On the morning of 6 September the two ships, with no markings to indicate that PoWs were aboard, manoeuvred into a box formation with other ships to sail for Japan, but unbeknown to the Japanese a message had been intercepted regarding the voyage, and on the night of 9/10 September the decoded information was transmitted to the American submarines Growler, Pampanito and Sealion II. Thus it would be whilst crossing the South China Sea that the convoy was attacked, yet nevertheless, for Douglas Cresswell 'It was a wonderful feeling knowing our Allies were out there.'

Launched by the Sealion, one of a second salvo of three steam torpedoes missed the ship but one hit in the bow, and another amidships in the engine room.

Yet despite settling 10 or 12 feet into the water the vessel was kept afloat by the cargo of rubber, and although the Japanese survivors tried to prevent the PoWs from clambering into the lifeboats, this often provided an opportunity for some of the prisoners to settle old scores.

After the torpedoing of his vessel Douglas Cresswell had scrambled on to a raft, and this was then lashed to three others to endure the coming uncertainty.

As for the 'Kachidoki Maru', of the three torpedoes fired by the Pampanito two struck home, sinking the ship.

About 600 PoWs from the two stricken vessels would be picked up by Japanese ships,but not for another four days did the Americans realise that many of the remaining survivors were British and Australian.

A rescue mission was swiftly launched and - asking the Sealion to help - on 15 September the Pampanito began to pick up the exhausted PoWs.

Fainting in the arms of his rescuers Douglas Cresswell was the first man to be hauled aboard, and after as many men as possible had been rescued the Pampanito and the Sealion then rendezvoused on the afternoon of 18 September with the destroyer 'Case', which transferred medical supplies, a doctor and a pharmacist to each submarine.

On 20 September the two vessels reached Tanapag Harbour, Saipan, and small landing craft then ferried the survivors to the beach and thence to the US Army's 148th General Hospital.

Wearing US Army uniforms on 1 October the British group then embarked on the Liberty ship 'Cape Douglas' for Pearl Harbour, and from there were taken to San Francisco.

From here they travelled across America to New York and duly boarded the 'Queen Mary' for the Atlantic crossing to England.

During their time in America the former PoWs had enjoyed almost a celebrity status, and it therefore seemed quite appropriate that two of the other passengers would be the movie actors Mickey Rooney and Bobby Breen.

The ship duly docked at Greenock, and the PoWs then underwent a week of military debriefing at a secluded country estate, Vache, at Haversham, Buckinghamshire, before returning to their homes.

Yet tragically Frederick Eastaff and Geoffrey Chew would not be amongst their number.

They had not survived the sinking, and are today commemorated on the war memorial at Kranki, Singapore.

Douglas Cresswell was the only Bletchley survivor of the sinking which claimed the lives of his long-time friends Frederick Eastaff and Geoffrey Chew.