August 15th saw the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, which marked the end of hostilities with Japan during World War II. This is also the point at which LSTM’s longest running collaborative project began, working with former Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOW), returning from captivity.
Even before the men returned to the UK LSTM’s then Dean, Professor Brian Maegraith, addressed a large group of their families in Blackpool in early September 1945, answering questions about the kind of tropical diseases and infections that they might return with. This was the start of a unique scientific and medical collaboration, now in its seventh decade.
From 1967 onwards LSTM became the primary centre to carry out Tropical Disease Investigations (TDIs) for FEPOW. By this time hundreds of men had been under the care of LSTM and in the mid-1970s Dr Geoff Gill became involved in their care until the last TDI was carried out in 1999. The relationship with LSTM did not end there and out of this enduring relationship came knowledge which improved the diagnosis and treatment of some tropical diseases.
In 2007 LSTM’s Honorary Fellow Meg Parkes began her social history project recording interviews with the men as well as some of their wives and widows, the culmination of which is Captive Memories. It charts the history of these survivors, remembered six decades after their release. It is a touching and personal account of their captivity, survival and the struggles, both physical and psychological, faced on their release. Each person interviewed is quoted in the book which provides a fascinating history underpinned with eyewitness accounts and personal perspectives.
As part of the national commemoration of VJ Day in London, Meg Parkes took part in the live coverage, broadcast on BBC One, talking to broadcaster Kirsty Young about her experiences as the child of a FEPOW, along with other family members as well as surviving FEPOW themselves. Watch her interview here, beginning at 1 hour 56 minutes. Anyone interested in learning more about Captive Memories can do so here. There is also an opportunity to meet the authors, as both Meg and Geoff will be giving a talk and signing books at an event at Waterstones on College Lane in Liverpool One on Monday 24th August from 6.30pm.