LSTM’s longest running collaboration is with ex-Far East prisoners of war (FEPOW). Now in its seventh decade, this unique relationship has led to world class research into tropical medicine and the effects of captivity which continues to inform modern treatment and the way in which military personnel are cared for today during some modern deployments.
Even before the men returned from captivity following the end of World War II, LSTM’s then Dean, Professor Brian Maegraith, addressed a large group of their families about the kind of infections and tropical diseases that the men may be suffering from on their return. This and the professional relationship between Maegraith and local businessman Philip Toosey, himself a former FEPOW and senior British officer at Tamarkan Camp, Thailand, led to many men, particularly those living in the north of the UK, finding their way to LSTM in the early post war months.
From 1967 onwards LSTM became the primary centre to carry out Tropical Disease Investigations (TDIs) for FEPOW and has treated thousands of men across the decades, many of whom were still suffering relapses of amoebic dysentery and malaria years after release. As well as providing clinical care and treatment, rigorous scientific research by doctors and scientists at LSTM investigated these longstanding health problems and many detailed studies were published in medical journals during the subsequent decades. These included reports on subjects such as persistent strongyloidiasis, long term neuropathic syndromes, the general long term health effects of Far East captivity, as well as new methods of diagnosing conditions such as Strongyloides stercoralis.
Along with their physical health the TDIs also took into account the psychological impact that captivity on the men, in many cases recording symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), decades before it became a recognised condition.
Initial TDIs were carried out by Dr Dion Bell, who inspired many of his younger colleagues across LSTM and beyond to become involved. In in mid 1970s the Dr Geoff Gill (now professor of tropical medicine) became involved in their care until the last TDI was carried out in 1999.
The relationship with LSTM did not end there, as honorary research fellow Meg Parkes began a social history project in 2007, recording interviews with 66 FEPOW veterans. The men shared memories of captivity, survival, the post-war aftermath and their unique long term perspective. FEPOW wives and widows also contributed their own unique experience in supporting the men. Extracts from many of the interviews are available to listen to at: www.captivememories.org.uk
LSTM’s Far Eastern Prisoners Of War (FEPOW) was featured in an edition of Wellcome Trust’s life science publication Mosaic. This audio programme is available here (from December 2015)
The ongoing work of Geoff Gill and Meg Parkes has culminated in the release of the books Captive Memories (2015),now in its 2nd edition and Burma Railway Medicine (2017), with quotes from all interviewees providing a fascinating history underpinned with eyewitness accounts and personal perspectives. It charts the history of this enduring relationship from the experiences that led to initial clinical consultations through the impact upon modern medical science.
Along with the books, the pair co-chaired international FEPOW history research conferences in Liverpool – Far East Explored: 70 years on in 2015 and another one in 2017 and Meg Parkes remains involved in an ongoing Education programme, working within schools to ensure that the voices of those involved are not forgotten.