Whilst continuing to be a Beanstalk Volunteer Reading Helper for a fifth year, I am also managing vacation and business short rental of some apartments in Kensington.
Other less recent activities as an experienced broadcast radio and television professional include: Granted an Ofcom UK Television broadcast licence and launched The Business Channel in November 2006. Having negotiated the sale of the licence and branding assets to the Indian Broadcasting Corporation Ltd, now I am continuing to try to develop a website for a virtual 3D art exhibition gallery to “house” the 2000 works of the botanical watercolour painting portfolio of Barbara Everard – needs funding! The package will include her self-written life story, ‘Call Them the Happy Years’, now published and available from www.fast-print.net/store.php, an extract of which, as well as a short biography, can be read at www.barbara-everard.com and the BBC’s WWII web pages.
I kept my hand in television production, having directed 12 studio interviews for The Rhoda Wilson Show for Cetstar Ltd, which were broadcast on the Sky TV channel, BenTV. And I am fascinated to see that at least two of the series that I created while at the BBC, Saturday Kitchen and Talking Movies, are still running, over 15 years since they first aired! Please check my CV for my work history!
I spent seven months in a role with LOCOG, helping to deliver the London 2012 Olympic Games, where the work had nothing to do with television production and broadcast. My role was to help manage the movement of vehicles and the press, photographers and ENG crews to and from Lord’s Cricket Ground where the Archery Competition took place. I suppose my media career made me an obvious choice!
For those interested in the stories and experiences of Japanese POW’s in the Far East, there are numerous books and films (including the highly inaccurate Bridge on the River Kwai as well as a number of organisations such as FEPOW and COFEPOW and the National Archives at Kew.
Malayan Volunteers Group (MVG – Malayan Volunteers Group |
The story that I have to tell starts with the story that my mother wrote for me, believing that neither she nor Ray, my father, would survive the war. A Malacca Volunteer Corps reservist, he was taken prisoner of war with the fall of Singapore and spent part of his POW time in Changi and then on the railway. He survived but never talked about it at any length – in later life he used to have horrible nightmares.
So my mother wrote an account of her life with him that covered how they had eloped to get married, went out to Singapore before the war started, where I was born, and from where some eighteen months later my mother and I were evacuated on the Duchess of Bedford, the last ship to successfully evade the Japanese and return safely to England.
The following is the penultimate chapter of this episode (I have not rewritten anything but I have edited some lines out). Whenever I read this to myself, it brings tears to my eyes and I am not one who expresses emotions easily.
The full history is entitled “Call Them the Happy Years” and runs to some 90 pages. It was finished in Emsworth in August 1945 by which time and where I, as a young child by then 5 years old, had witnessed and experienced some exciting wartime events on the South Coast of England. I too will chronicle these one day and the adventures that I had as a growing child in colonial Malaya – as I said above, my father survived the Japanese POW camps and less than six months after being repatriated to England, was on a boat to return to Malaya, where my mother and I joined him in 1946.
“Call them the Happy Years” by Barbara Everard
(An extract from the personal account of the time in Malaya leading up to the Fall of Singapore in February 1942. “Call Them the Happy Years on sale and can be ordered on www.barbara-everard.com or http://www.fast-print.net/bookshop and insert the ISBN number: 9781844269877 in the Search box.)
Captain Henshaw greeted me.
“Mrs Everard! You aren’t still here?”
“Yes. Why, aren’t I supposed to be? I asked, thinking with horror that perhaps some order had been issued that wives were not to visit husbands anymore. Just then Ray came.
“Oh Everard, I’m telling your wife she shouldn’t be here…”
“What?” said Ray. “Why, sir?”
“Well, you know,” he said. “They are all going — or gone”.
I smiled. “I’m not flapping off!”
“Well,” pulling his moustache down. “Think about it. Things don’t look very pleasant to me, and it won’t be very pleasant here soon.”
“Ray, what do you think we ought to do?”
“I…don’t…know”, Ray replied slowly. “I’ll ask Major Smith, the domestic affairs man and I’ll ring you this evening and tell you what he says.”
But Henshaw had done the trick. He had woken me from my dream. I was a bit nervous again from that time. At last, I saw how desperate things were… We’ll hold them at Batu Pahat! My God, they were in Johore, straight on the road to Singapore!
Ray rang me.
“Darling,” he said, “under these conditions, it would be a wise thing if you put your name down for a boat at the P & O”.
“All right, I will”.
From that moment, I made preparations. I went to the P & O office. It was a long walk as they had evacuated themselves from Raffles Square to a house in Tanglin for safety. I saw a man Ray knew and had Martin and my name put down for a passage to the UK. He told me to ring him every evening without fail.
When I told Madge (Ross, a friend), she was very worried and could not decide what to do…stay in Singapore?…No, Bill Ross put his foot down. She was left to choose between Australia, South Africa or home. She put her name down for all three.
Every day I rang and every day the same answer. “NO, no news.”
I longed to hear there was news so that I could get Martin away and yet I dreaded it. I made other preparations. I had a T.A.B jab. I got in the two jabs. Martin only had one. I bought all the knitting wool I could find — there wasn’t much about and I bought the last tweed suit in John Littles. I didn’t bother to try it on. I just went up to the assistant and asked:
“That red suit. How much?”
“Sixty-four dollars, madam”.
“Here you are. No, I’ll chance it fits me.”
And when I got it back and tried it on, amazingly, it was a perfect fit, perhaps a little long in the skirt.
Martin started cutting his eye-teeth and, as I feared, he was running a temperature. He was now eighteen months old — a large child and a good one.
One day, Ray told me that a convoy was coming in any day and in all probability they would be the boats that would take us off. Also, the Japs were getting unpleasantly nearer. It was not a very nice feeling. I sort of felt a Jap would jump out at me at any minute.
I rang Mary up and told her that I would be going. She said:
“I shall stay, I can’t leave Grev. How can I leave Singapore? If the Japs come, we shall shoot ourselves”.
“I must go, Mary, because of Martin”
“Yes, you have the child to think of. Of course, you must go. Well, goodbye my dear and the best of luck”.
(It wasn’t until two years later or so when I met Mary again and heard her terrible story. She had decided to go right at the end. On the 3rd boat out and she had arranged to meet Nellie and Jean on the boat. There was awful confusion and she did not find them that night and the next day at sea she searched for them. They were not on the boat. She heard nothing more of them for years. Then she heard that they would not leave their husbands and had been put on the SS Kuala. This was sunk by the Japanese. Nellie, the wife of the No1, Fire Brigade, Singapore, was drowned. Jean, beautiful, young, golden girl she was, had been incredibly brave, going in and out of the water rescuing people, getting them onto the sands of Paluh ?, a small island off Singapore. Jean had been recaptured and was taken back to Singapore and it was later heard that she was sent to Japan. She was never heard of since.)
But to return… I was all ready, my two suitcases packed and waiting. The tension was terrific and I saw, at last, the extreme urgency of getting out. On January 29th, 1942, I rang Stogden in the morning. I was getting sick of ringing Stogden and always the same answer. Though I dreaded also hearing anything different as it meant parting from Ray, yet I longed to hear something because of Martin. Was ever a woman more torn!
This time, instead of the usual answer, he said:
“Will you ask your husband to ring me this evening?”
Ray was given night leave. At seven, he telephoned Stogden, who told Ray to come over and see him. The siren sounded an alert so Ray left me sitting under the stairs in the hall doorway. Martin had such a temperature I thought I would not risk him in the trench. It was a nasty raid and the building shook and I could see flashes and fires. From Johore, continual flashes….guns!
There were two further raids before Ray returned which was about eleven and the last raid was about to finish. I was still under the stairs where he had left me.
“I’ve had a grim time”, he said. “Not a taxi…not a car. Walked all through the raids. I sheltered once and when I did get to the end of that Godawful road, Stogden said `It’s your wife I want to see and her passport and NOW. QUICK, if she’s to get on these boats’. So, quickly, darling, straight away as you are. Madge must come too”.
Madge now offered the car and Ray to drive it. So we all got in. All the sleepy Ross children and Martin wrapped in a blanket. There was a congested mass of cars at the bottom of the hill when we arrived at the house. There was a fighting mass of men trying to get their womenfolk into the house. I got in at last, in my turn, leaving Martin with Ray who was talking and listening to a group of men. It was a hot night and the heat was bad in the blacked out overcrowded room. I saw Stogden, seated at a table, surrounded by women.
“Ah, Mrs Everard, here you are at last… Passport in order…good”
All was well and he made out a ticket for me to embark on the “Duchess of Bedford” at twelve the next day.
Madge got into the room and she came up to Stogden. He was horrified.
“Three children and you are in Singapore still! I can’t fix you on this boat — go over to that table there”.
I’m very fond of Madge but I was glad to see that she wasn’t to be on my boat. I had had enough of Madge’s nerves. She got put on the “Empress of Japan” (later renamed!). Madge was still undecided where to go.
I re-joined Ray.
“All right?” he asked, anxiously handing over Martin.
“Yes, tomorrow at twelve. `Duchess of Bedford’”.
“Thank God for that. I’ve been through hell out here. Thank God you’re on a boat”
I did not say much. I was too upset…too full….too broken….and the whole thing was too big for me. But luckily and fool that I was, I did think that all was well….that Singapore would hold. And that I would be back in a year! I really thought that. Thank God that I did. Had I thought or had I any vision, I would have had the horror of choosing between husband and child. As it was, I was not bitterly unhappy…only unhappy at leaving Ray. Not crazy with grief as I would have been had I any idea how serious things were and what was going to happen.
Also, Ray did not tell me the Japanese were at the Causeway.
(The account moves to the next morning)
Ray and I woke early, both feeling so unhappy. I got all ready in good time before the raids. Ray borrowed a car from one of the Volunteers (Army Reserves) to take me to the Docks. We got everything downstairs into the hall by nine. And then the raids began and they were very heavy, the guns crashing all around. We kept under shelter till eleven and then there was a lull…and Ray said
“We’ll go now”.
I said goodbye to Essa (Martin’s ahma), poor thing. I hadn’t known her long but she proved herself well, trustworthy and brave. Ray told her he would return and pack up the cot and pram and see her.
Madge had gone off earlier. It took us an hour to get to the docks, which were only about three miles away. I saw thick black smoke in the dock’s direction. There were so many detours and traffic jams, owing to the bombing, which with the convoy in the harbour, were all on the docks. We were worried lest we be caught in a raid and too miserable to speak. Also, it was obvious, that there was a serious fire at the docks and I was sick with fear that it was the boats.
We turned in at the Dock gates. The fire was very close now and black billowing smoke over all. Ray backed the little car by an iron shed. There were fires burning all over the wharf and hoses all over the place and a great fire belching black smoke — but it was on the wharf.
I saw the “Duchess”, grey painted. And, carrying Martin, picked my way through the hoses and fires and up the gangway. Ray quickly got my luggage on board, saw my steward and asked him to look after me… What a hope!
He did not stay longer than ten minutes on board. Both of us believe in quick partings. He kissed me twice and also Martin.
“Goodbye dearest, take care of Martin”. And he went.
I cried and, crying, looked out of the porthole in the passage and I saw Ray disappearing round a corner of the iron shed. Round a corner!
In my sorrow, I thought of that other time. A brain is an amazing thing. Even so miserable, seeing Ray go, my memory flashed back four years and I saw him again going round the corner of Queens Gate Gardens.
In the afternoon we began moving away. We all crowded on deck, tears running down our faces. There were soldiers cheering and waving as we left. We were going south, I suppose it was the only way, with the Japanese to the north. The little island receded, women were crying, women were trying to comfort each other.
I looked at Singapore with tears streaming down my face. Some woman said to me:
“Terrible to think what is going to happen there…”
We watched till we could no longer pick out landmarks. The “Empress of Japan” was following us with, I presume, Madge on board.
And so we went. And so ended my four years in Malaya, so full, so happy, so abruptly ended.
Four years later, my mother finished that part of her diary thus:
What more is there to write? This is the end of the tale of Singapore as I know it.
It is four years, this year, 1945 since I saw Ray. Four years, one for each of the happy years in Malaya.
Four years in which I have known utter loneliness, misery and mental worry. I have received four postcards from him, for which I thank God. I have waited, seeing no end to this war, through air raids here, Dieppe rehearsal, D Day and the terrific preparations, buzz bombs and Victory in Europe Day, which I rejoiced in with everybody…with a hope that I had not had before.
Yesterday, when the world was awed by the first news of the atom bomb on Japan… Today, as I finish typing this for you, Martin, to read one day…I hear Russia has declared war on Japan. So there is no more to write, only to wait as usual. No. Not as usual, but with hope.
Barbara Everard returned to Malaya in 1946, with Martin, to be reunited with her husband, Ray, who had survived three years on the Burma Railway as a Japanese prisoner of war and who, after a short repatriation to England after his release, had returned to resume his job as a rubber planter. She took up her hobby of water-colour painting tropical flowers and when she eventually returned to England in 1951 became one of the world’s leading botanical artists. See www.barbara-everard.com and www.flickr.com/photos/63494612@N04/ for examples of her work.
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Contributed by Martin Everard; People in story: My father, mother and I; Location of story: Singapore; Background to story: Army; Article ID: A2003536; Contributed on: 09 November 2003