Thursday 8 December 2016

Brave Irishmen among River Kwai bridge slaves

Published 26/02/2012 | 05:00

SIX Irishmen were among the hundreds of starving prisoners who worked under constant threat of execution to build the bridge over the River Kwai.

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According to author Robert Widders, they were among the many Irishmen and women who suffered at the hands of the Japanese.

In his latest work, The Emperor's Irish Slaves: Prisoners of the Japanese in the Second World War, to be officially launched this week, he reveals that they included Trinity graduate Ransome Macnamara Allardyce, who was bayoneted to death when the Japanese overran the Alexandra Military Hospital in Singapore in February 1942.

Another Trinity graduate, Arthur Charles Prigge, died covered in ulcers while a prisoner of the Japanese, while Sister Mary Cooper died in a Japanese prison camp on June 26, 1943, from the combined effects of starvation, brutality and tropical diseases.

In the book he also tells the heartbreaking tale of Fusilier Timothy Kenneally, from Bishopstown, Co Cork, and Pte Patrick Fitzgerald, from Kilmeaden, Co Waterford, who along with two others tried to escape from a slave labour camp on the Burma Railway. The two Irishmen and their fellow escapees were caught, tortured, crucified and executed on March 27, 1943.

And Patrick Carberry spent the summer of 1943 cremating the emaciated corpses of his comrades who had died from cholera.

Wing Commander Harold Maguire, from Kilkesishen, Co Clare, was captured on Java. His wife Mary Elisabeth took out a newspaper advertisement pleading to other soldiers for information about his whereabouts. Eventually she received a letter from her husband in which he wrote that he was in excellent health. In fact nothing could have been further from the truth. After the war he was awarded a DSO for the example he had set his fellow captives and later went on to be knighted and become an Air Marshal.

In 1959, Maguire, when an air vice-marshal, was forced to land a Spitfire on a cricket pitch only 10 minutes after flying over Whitehall in a display commemorating the Battle of Britain.

As his engine failed, he spotted a sports ground and managed to put the aircraft down, breaking the stumps at one end while the teams were off having tea. When he entered the pavilion, nursing an injured back, he was welcomed by the players with a strong cup of Darjeeling.

"These people had two things in common: they were Irish citizens serving with the British armed forces; and they were amongst more than 650 Irishmen and women who became prisoners of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1942," Widders writes.

"Nearly a quarter of them died while in Japanese captivity," he adds.

The book will be launched in the Neill Hoey theatre at Trinity College on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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