A NEW website seeks to pay tribute to the fortitude of former Far East Prisoners of Wars and to honour the memory of those who never returned and still lie somewhere in South East Asia.

When VE Day was declared on May 8, 1945 and the United Kingdom was engulfed by spontaneous celebrations, most of the population could be excused for thinking that the Second World War had ended, after five nerve wracking and debilitating years.

Indeed, in Europe the war had ended, but on the other side of the world it most certainly had not.

Having fought its way through the jungles and monsoons of Burma against a fanatical Bushido inspired Nipponese Imperial Army, the 14th Army had succeeded in recapturing the port of Rangoon scarcely a week before, but the enemy were still in no mood to give up.

Much of the heroics of this Army had escaped the attention of the European populace in their euphoria over the Victory in Europe, resulting in the 14th Army frequently being referred to as ‘the Forgotten Army’.

However, there were many thousand other Allied military men and indeed European civilians who were also out of the sight and minds of all but their closest relations back home.

These were the men and women who had been caught up in the whirlwind Japanese advances throughout South East Asia following their attack on the American naval base of Pearl Harbour in 1941.

The fall of Hong Kong over Christmas 1941 and that of the supposed fortress of Singapore a few weeks later resulted in the capture of 130,000 British and Commonwealth troops, leaving aside those civilians who had already been interned throughout China and the western Pacific.

It was the capture of those troops in South East Asia, which Winston Churchill described as the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British military history, that was the start of four years of captivity at the hands of a brutal Nippon regime, whose Bushido creed looked upon surrender as a much greater dishonour than death.

Conditions for those Far East Prisoners of War varied greatly.

In the large camp of Changi, Singapore, the issue was largely one of boredom, made more bearable by innovative concert parties, esoteric lectures and even golf tuition. For those forced to work in the jungle camps, building railways and aerodromes for the Japanese, it was a very different story. Here they were treated as virtual slaves and subjected to almost daily barbarity, being fed only a daily diet of rice which the prisoners augmented with any wild rodents or reptiles that they could catch. Dysentery and tropical diseases were rife and the only medication or operations available were those that the prisoners could improvise themselves, which they did with remarkable ingenuity and skill.

Thousands of Allied prisoners died throughout the new Nipponese Empire until World War Two finally ended in Asia on August 15, 1945, some three months after that in Europe and the prisoners of war were released from their captivity.

Admiral Mountbatten and the 14th Army did what they could to repatriate those physically capable of travel back to the UK as quickly as they could and the first FEPOW ship back, the SS Corfu, docked in Southampton on October 7. Another 27 ships followed that winter, and a further 24 returned to Liverpool.

Their official welcome could hardly be described as ecstatic. Perhaps the humiliation of Singapore still rankled in the establishment and although military bands were on call to lift the spirits of the returnees, no wives or sweethearts were allowed to greet the Corfu and the troops were actively discouraged from talking about their experiences of the past five years.

Now, 75 years on, new website www.fepow75.org.uk pays tribute to those former Far East Prisoners of war and honours the memory of those who never returned.

Visitors to the website will find interviews with survivors, case histories of some who did not, as well as the story of the hell ship Lisbon Maru, poetry written by one of the first FEPOW back on the Corfu, beautifully read by the young actor Hubert Burton, as well as a gallery of artwork created in the various South East Asia camps, much of which has not been widely seen before.

Roger Townsend is the honorary director of FEPOW 75.