"The Story of Eric and Mary"
Eric died 20th August 1945
Palembang Prisoner of War Camp
Five Days after the Japanese surrender
three days before the Australian Air Force flew in supplies
The "Diss" Family of Halstead S - J/ 05
Frederic Sydney Diss and Annie Hird married in Barrow-in-Furness in 1911
on S - J/02
1914 - 1945
Eric Diss born 14 th March 1914 married Mary Blacka, born 9 th January 1913,
at St Oswald's Church, Little Horton, Bradford on 18th January
Eric and Mary Diss
Engagement and Marriage.
We became engaged on the 29 th October 1939 and married on the 18 th January 1940 at St. Oswalds Church , Little Horton, Bradford. I had been staying with my Father's Uncle at Little Horton. The Reception was held at the Midland Hotel in Bradford --- Bunty had kept a copy of the menu.
Dewsbury Round Table 1934
A report in the paper announced the formation of a Round Table in Dewsbury. Eric was appointed the Secretary. The following comment made by Eric is reported. "I can see our membership in the Heavy Woollen District growing so rapidly that under the vocational restriction, our problem will be how to limit the numbers rather than secure them"
[Dewsbury Paper 9 th October 1934]
By the start of the war Eric was a Director of the family firm F.Diss & Sons Ltd. Market Place Dewsbury now part of the Goldsmith's Group. He had left school at 16 and served an apprenticeship as a Watch and Clock Repairer. Later he qualified as a Gemologist and was elected a Fellow of The Gemological Association. Sydney was rather proud of the occasion when their shutters were painted "Red, White and Blue" - I have seen a photograph of them and they did look striking. It was probably a publicity "stunt" at the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1935.
In 1935, probably also associated with the Silver Jubilee, there was a National "British Clock" Window Dressing Competition. Eric won the 1st prize of £30 which in those days was quite a sum of money, equivalent to the amount earned by Mary in her first year as a nurse.
From a conversation with Mary it appears that Eric did not get on very well on with his Father and disagreed with much of his policy. Mary told me she was very proud of Eric when he walked out of the firm for 6 weeks. Mary also told me that Eric was a wonderful person, very thoughtful and caring, taking after his mother Nan. I had always thought that their family troubles started with the traumatic events surrounding Eric's imprisonment and death. It appears that this was not altogether correct. Sadly after Nan's accidental death in 1954 matters got considerably worse as she had been a stablising influence on the whole family.
Eric out for a drive
Eric and his father Sydney
I met Eric in 1935 in my second year of training at the General Hospital, Fell Lane, Keighley; at the first dance we had at the hospital. We used to meet most weeks for an evening as we only got one day off a month. We used to spend a lot of our days off in the Lake District or in the Dales. I passed my State in 1937 and went to the Halifax General to do my midwifery. I saw more of Eric when I went there and was better off financially as my salary went up from £30 per year to £60 . Quids In !! I passed midwifery in 1938 and took a Sister's post at Manygates Maternity Hospital in Wakefield. When there I saw much more of Eric but the threat of war loomed.
We became engaged on the 29th October 1939 and married on the 18th January 1940 at St. Oswalds Church , Little Horton, Bradford. I had been staying with my Father's Uncle at Little Horton. The Reception was held at the Midland Hotel in Bradford --- Bunty had kept a copy of the menu.
Hors d'Oeuvre Varies
Poulet Roti, Bread Sauce
Salade de Fruits Glacee
We went for our honeymoon to the Grand Hotel, Scarborough -- the hotel which fell into the sea in the 1990s. Everywhere was snowbound and Eric got pneumonia shortly after.
We went to live at 25 Derwent Road in Dewsbury and Eric joined the Auxilary Fire Service. Later he got very worried about the war and said he should offer his services so he joined up as a private in the
R.A.O.C. later being transferred to R.E.M.E. as a Instrument Maintenance Mechanic.
Eric was posted to Aldershot so I got a job at the Cottage Hospital Maternity Unit so that I could be near him. Later he was posted to Hucknal, Nottingham. When Eric got pneumonia I went to stay at an hotel nearby until he got better. I then got a job at the Childrens Hospital, Nottingham on night duty but continued to live at, what was I think, the Royal Hotel. One night Eric walked me to the hospital with a friend and arranged to meet me at the hotel the following evening. That was the last time I saw Eric as he never appeared the next night. He had been posted to Singapore. I wonder if he had known that he was being posted that day and kept quiet about it.?
I then worked for a Nursing Agency and was posted to Brockhall, near Stonyhurst where I stayed for some time. I was then posted to a Nursing Home in Bedford. I was anxious to get overseas and joined the Queen Alexandra Nursing Service and after time at Aldershot and Peebles got my first overseas posting to North Africa. I was in the Flagship, the Strathallan, and after being torpedoed spent over 11 hours in a lifeboat. We lost 6 Nursing Sisters and about 30 men. After the North African campaign which took me to Alexandria, Cairo and Algeria I was posted to Bari on the Adriatic Coast of Italy. Going on duty one night I heard a hell of a bang and orange flares everywhere. I was blown up two staircases but went on duty having only received facial injuries. A lone German raider had hit the only ship carrying mustard gas. The first 500 casualties came to us and the dry ones we put to bed. The wet ones we relieved of their clothes. It was the dry ones who got so badly burnt as we were not told for 48 hours that the ship had been carrying mustard gas. Sadly a lot died like flies.
Later I was in Naples, Rome and Taranto and it was when I was in the latter I learnt I was to be sent home. [continued at end of section "Prisoner of War"]
[Letters dated 11th February 1996, 8th March l996 and Telephone Conversations about this time.]
Eric arrived in Singapore in May 1941
Extracts from letters from 7634791 Pte Diss E.S. R.A.O.C. 9th Coast Regiment R.A. Malaya sent from Singapore during 1941 variously to Sydney and Nan, his Father and Mother and Marjorie and Sylvia [Bunty] , his sisters.
Letter dated 21st May 1941 to Marjorie Bunty and All
I was overjoyed to receive your cable and letter shortly after arrival here. The letter evidently came all the way in our ship, together with one from Mary but being in a sealed mail bag could not be opened until we arrived. ----
We arrived exactly two months after leaving the old country ----- and that seems years ago now. Perhaps you have received one or two of my letters posted at various calls on the voyage. Although the climate and other conditions here are rather trying I am mighty glad to get off that ship. Cooped up there for eight weeks was no joke I can tell you. ( Let anyone advise me to take a cruising holiday when I return and I'll break his or her neck!!) ---
You have no idea what a wretched sensation it is being stuck here at the other end of the world for the duration. Leaving you all to endure the air raids and privations, while I have only to work hard, and try to avoid sickness. The atmosphere is extremely humid here -- about 60-70 % although the temperature rarely rises above 92 F. Considering we are so near the equator it is surprising to find the climate reasonably bearable. Of course on account of the humidity everything feels and is damp, but the hot air prevents any bad effects. Most of us have had stomach trouble, but are now settling down to make the best of it. The tropical vegetation is a wonderful sight , coconut trees, bananas, pleasant smelling , lightly coloured flowers, in fact trees and plants of a thousand types. They are always green and fresh looking because the weather remains the same all the year round. It rains every day for a short while but there is abundant sunshine which obliges one to wear a topee until 6 pm. There is of course the expected thousands of insects and "things that creep in the night". On the first morning one of the chaps found a centipede 6 inches long and 1/2 inch wide in his toilet case!! We have lizards, big spiders and millions of ants (large and small) inside our tent as constant 'companions'. Not forgetting huge butterflies and moths the size of pigeons, and colossal bats that swing about at night. However, I have found nothing more serious than ants in my bed yet! (Touch Wood). There is a storm every night and sometimes torrential rain , which soaks everything in the tent, but we are expecting to move into wooden huts in a few weeks time. The sooner the better!
By the way, dears, before I forget please don't send me any cigarettes etc. They are very cheap here -- sealed tins of Capstan or Gold Flake 50 for 45 cents (1/2 d), Matches are 4 boxes a 1d. Bananas 4 for a 1d. Because of the plentiful crop of sugar cane all tea and coffee is nearly stiff with sugar -- ugh! it is really sickly sweet. And now I had better tell you what I actually do each day. At 5.45 am our "boy" brings us a cup of tea and wakes us up. Breakfast 6 to 6.30 and on parade 6.45am for work. Work until 12 noon, when we break for lunch until 1pm. then resume work until 4pm. On return to the tents we have another mug of tea brought to us by the "boy". The rest of the day is free, although we are a fair distance from the nearest city and we have to make our own amusement. There is a N.A.A.F.I. canteen, thank goodness, where we can buy an iced fruit drink and a cake. The workshop here is wonderfully equipped, and I am at last getting down to the real thing. A beautiful swimming pool, about 10 minutes walk away provides us with a 'cooler' when we feel we are inclined.
There is so much to tell you that I cannot possibly get it all in this letter which I intend sending by air mail, so I will continue in my next. Pehaps I had better just mention one other thing, the food is excellent and actually served by Malayan boys. We have plates and real tableclothes.
H.K. has done what we expected of him. No roughing for him --- bless his soul !!
[ H.K was Harold Keeble, a contemporary of Eric's who started life on the local paper. He later acquired fame as a Senior Editor in Fleet Street for over 40 years, where he was regarded as the top man in his trade . He had been Editor of the Sunday Express at 41 and after this was Editor of most of the National Daily Papers at various times, reorganising them all in turn. The above reference by Eric will be to H.K.'s appointment to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office for which work he was appointed an OBE in 1944. Harold was engaged to Marjorie for ten years 1935 to 1945 but in the end they did not marry and Harold married another. In 1959 Harold's wife died in a motor accident and ,complete with Rolls Royce , Harold tried again to persuade Marjorie to marry him without success as she felt she had to look after Bunty . A letter from Moore and Smalley our accountants in 1959 suggests changes to the financial structure of the business in view of the fact that Marjorie was getting married ] . Father's decision to close the shop two days a week is a very sound idea.-----
Letter Dated 17th August 1941 to Marjorie
You appear to be well looked after these days --- by officers I mean! The young Lieut in the snap looks a very cheery bloke. Mary appears to be having great fun with his kit. By the way, the letter containing these snaps came through in very good time, just about eight weeks. Some times the ordinary Air Mail Service, which only carries the mail to and from South Africa to Malaya , takes as long, sometimes longer, than the usual surface route. So if at any time you want to get a message through really quickly be extravagant and use the Pan-American Air Service, which flies the whole way here via the Atlantic and Pacific in about 14 days.----- Please congratulate Father on being re elected a Director of Staves. [ this was a jewellers wholesale cooperative] -----
Sorry to read that the Barrow had a packet, also Uncle Cecil's bad luck, but pleased no one is hurt.
I am just managing to stick this existence but the war can't end soon enough for me. Everything is so unnatural, and I detest this climate.
Letter dated 10 th September 1941 to Mother and Father
I have now reached the stage almost approaching stagnation -- nothing fresh to report. We are still living under emergency conditions, but there appears to be a chance of peace being maintained after all. It is to be hoped so! On the other hand Germany seems to realise she is beat and is now trying to bring America and Japan into this bloody struggle. The casualties on the Russian Front must be terrible and I'm afraid many more millions will be killed or wounded before this ghastly war ends. However, our present position seems improved and next year should see the decision.
While working hard and still finding this climate somewhat trying I am managing to keep fit. My only complaint is the persistence of filthy skin diseases which seem to refuse all treatment. My body is still covered with lumps, spots and red patches that itch continually. However, these little troubles are hardly worth mentioning.
I am working hard and finding the coast defence work very interesting. It provides plenty of variety and travel. My transport is sometimes a cycle, a motor bike, a car, or a motor launch --- then again I have plenty of use for my two legs! At times my jobs take me through areas of thick jungle where one can see all the vivid life of wild creatures. There are myriads of highly coloured birds and insects living in the amazingly beautiful tropical vegetation. We get plenty of amusement watching the antics of monkeys, and occasionally see a snake wriggle speedily away. The largest bird is the huge white- bellied Malayan eagle which has a wing- span of about 8 feet. It has been known to attack man when alone, and often can be seen swooping down on a colony of monkeys and whisk one up like greased lightening. We have to swim in enclosures on account of sharks. Any way it is impossible to attempt to describe this life --- it must keep until I come home.
Roll on Victory.
Poem written by Eric while in Singapore, 1941.
Letter dated 21st September 1941 to Sylvia
The only commodity that is cheap now is cigarettes. Everything else has gone up in price and money slips through your pocket like water.
We are allowed to wear civilian clothes in the barrack area, and this is quite refreshing after a hard sweaty day's work in khaki drill. So you see there's another continual item of expense --- clothes! I often thank my lucky stars that I am not an officer out here --- the expense is terrific.
By the way Father mentioned that Jim France and Tony Trillwood either followed or preceeded me out here. If I knew what rank Tony Trillwood had I could quite easily contact him. Perhaps he has a commission?
Letter dated 30th September 1941 to Marjorie
Yesterday I also had a letter from Mary enclosing three new snaps of herself, one taken in the "garden of Eden" (Sorry! Ashfield ) where she was partaking of the sun's health-giving rays in a scanty swim-suit! Yes ! It is very snappy indeed! She is evidently quite set on joining a nursing organization which may send her East. I still don't like the idea of her taking added risks on the sea, and if she came here the climate is far from good for any woman, -- though strangely enough, women appear to stand it better than men! However in wartime she must b e allowed more latitude, and she has every right to please herself and make her own plans, I suppose. She is obviously feeling our separation badly now -- the same as I am, and should she manage to get within range of my station I shall be overjoyed naturally.
I should like some extra money to help me find some sort of amusement at Xmas, so if this arrives in time , please ask father to cable me £10 of my money to the G.P.O. Singapore -- which is not too far away for me to collect. There is a chance that I may "run dry" before December, in which case I shall cable. 12/= a week goes just no distance at all in this place, and one has to keep moving in the evening to avoid getting morbid and depressed. I go very often to the local cinema, (known here as the 'Gaff' !) We get plenty of up-to-date films from America, and luckily get quite good news reels also. But that is our only entertainment after work, apart from what we make ourselves. One grows to dreadthe evenings with their everlasting problem "what can I do with myself tonight ?" I am always happy to get up in the morning at 6am, and after a cold shower march off to work.I'm extremely lucky to have a good boss. He has a very handsome yacht, and we go for many a pleasant sail together at weekends.
Yes, Dear, I am still a private! Sorry to let the family down and all that! However, I may be able to give you a surprise one of these fine days. Being a ranker doesn't worry me much though ----- I know I am doing an extremely useful and essential job of work ----- possibly more so than if I were an Officer. Honour and Glory of uniform has no attraction for me, and I know definitely that an Officer has to lead an expensive life out in these parts.
You mention that Tony Trillwood has a Commission in the RAF out here. It is no use my trying to contact him ----- as Officers just cannot mix with the common soldiers in this outpost of the "Old School Tie" . There is not half the true democracy compared with life in England as I knew it seven months ago. That is what makes a common soldier feel so small here ----- always confined to this or that part. However when I review my financial position compared with some I meet ----- I am able to have a quiet laugh up my sleeve !
Keep well and cheerful, I feel next year will see us nearly through the war.
Letter Dated 14 th October 1941 to Mother and Father
At the present time we are holding important defence exercises. It reminds me more of Blighty now ----- seeing the men in fighting dress instead of white polo shirts etc. This place is properly "clearing the decks for action" and if the Japs do decide to 'have a go ' they are going to get a very hot time!
Everyone is keenly following the news of the day, which unfortunately is the grave position of the Russian forces and the threat to Moscow. One of today's papers reports the landing of large BEF forces in Northern Russia but there is no confirmation from official circles . I do so hope we are making a military move at last. We appear to have done very little so far ----- from the action point of view ----- in the struggle now going on ---- which means so much to us. Indeed if Russia was subdued what then? However it is little use my commenting on the present position of things, because the whole layout will most likely have changed by the time this reaches you! ( One of your letters took 13 weeks to reach me !!!! )
You mention that Tony Trillwood and Jim France are also out here. That is interesting but unfortunately I have little chance of contacting them. They are both Officers and consequently are not allowed to associate with the common soldier. The distinction is somewhat exaggerated out here ----- and the best Hotels are labelled " Officers Only " . So unless Tony attempts to contact me, I shall certainly not risk the possibility of embarrassing him. Don't misunderstand me I will explain the position more fully one day.
Your item of news about Derrick T. is not really surprising, but it is ----- as you say ---- very disgusting. It makes me extremely annoyed to think that anyone can get away with such barefaced cowardice at such a critical time. I'll admit I am not doing a great deal just now, but I do feel I am at least a useful link in the chain of Empire defence, ----- what's more I'm sweating like a nigger in the bargain !!! There's plenty to do in my present job, and believe me ----- it is of vital importance although we are not yet at war out here.
Mary continues to keep a wonderful stream of letters flowing out East, and she is still determined in her efforts to join a nursing association which may post her near me. She doesn't realize, however, what distance is, and how war conditions can limit one's plans. I would much rather she continued her good work in England, where ---- Heaven knows ---- there is plenty to do. She has an adventurous spirit though, and I can fully appreciate how she feels. I am greatly proud of her spirit and pluck, and the way I am feeling at this moment I would give my right arm to see her again. You two have never known what it means to be separated by such a great distance for so long.
I recently received a long and interesting letter from Fred Roberts -- the first . Incidentally he is the only member of the Round Table that has written to me so far, in spite of the correspondence duties detailed in the R.T. bulletins which come to me from time to time !!
I am once again pretty well rock bottom for cash and will have to wire you for a further £10 in a week or two. Apart from cigs, things are not cheap now out here and it is impossible to keep sane on £6 per week. so please send me a further £10 three months ----- every three months ---- from my next request.
The V. Campaign has swept through Malaya like wildfire. Some Chinese have even got a coloured V on the side of their topees!
Letter Dated 31 October 1941 to Mother and Father
Firstly I must thank you for so promptly arranging for another cash amount to be sent through ---- have just received notification from a Bank in Singapore. I hope to be able to manage a trip down there to collect it shortly. Have been very 'stony broke' lately and believe me it's a stiff order trying to kill time and boredom on 2/3 per day ! Please be good enough to arrange with my Bank to forward similar amounts every three months, and if I get moved from here I shall cable you at once.
Christmas draws near, though I must say I shall be glad to see it over. It will seem so odd out here in the sticky heat, and my thoughts will centre on you all gathered together around a cheery coal fire. Perhaps I shall be lucky enough to join you all again for a "spot of turkey" in 1942.
As I write there is still the war tension out here. We continually carry out large scale practices and the last few weeks have seen me behind many a big gun getting temporarily deafened by the terrific roar of batteries tuning up to concert pitch for the reception of Japanese adventurers! The blackouts are very trying here on account of all buildings being semi-open ---- for ventilation. We shall have to develop cat's eyes if the worst comes to the worst!
I am still keeping fit and well ---- on plenty of hard work, and an occasional game of hockey. Hockey, incidentally, is a very popular Army game and certainly provides plenty of strenuous exercise. I smile when I think of my first game ---- during which I ran myself to a standstill !!!!
The war appears to be spreading out in a more definite pattern now. It seems that Germany together with short-sighted Balkan countries, Italy and Japan are prepared to challenge the rest of the world. America sees her shipping going down ---- including a destroyer, and skilfully averts an immediate break with the Huns. Roosevelt is obviously not going to declare war until the bulk of America's public clammer for it. He is is playing a very high strategy, and I think we can safely say that by next spring the
Yankees will be marching side by side with the British and Imperial troops.
There'll be no "Dunkirk" in the Far East ---- you can take that from me ! If things do start it will be a bitter fight to the end. From what I have seen of our Far Eastern defences, I should say that Japan would definitely be committing suicide if she decided to challenge both American and British interests in these parts. I often wish the bubble would burst out here ---- the air certainly needs clearing.
Quite apart from the major issue, a number of whites out here need a few screaming bombs to bring them to their senses. Honestly, they have not the slightest conception of what modern war means! They almost revolt at the thought of paying a few shillings in the pound on incomes over £2000 a year !!!!
Mary's letters, which are always cheery and full of life, continue to give me the courage I need to face this most un-natural life. I don't claim to be undergoing terrific hardships, but there is definitely a serious strain on one committed to living this way. No matter how comfortable are the barracks and canteens, there is always the complete separation from our beloved people and England, which indeed drives many a man to insanity. Have no fears about me though ---- I know how to keep a mental balance.
Well folks it will be great to get back to the fireside of an English home once again. I shall look forward to a cup of properly mashed tea ---- instead of the poor stuff we get dished up. Fresh milk is practically unknown, and most things like it come out of tins.
My work recently appears to have greatly pleased my bosses, and my O.M.E. has recommended me for upgrading. If it comes off, I shall get the magnificent sum of 6 d per day increase in pay, and at the same time place me in a better position for promotion ---- if ever such a miracle comes my way !!!
This will probably reach you early in the New Year so I will close with the wish ---- A Happier New Year to you all, and may Victory be won in 1942
Don't worry about me ---- I can take it.
Letter Dated 10 th October 1941 to Marjorie.
I am surer than ever that I shall be back again with you all in 1942. We seem to be building up a mighty offensive to strike at the right moment and it won't be long now.
Letter Dated 23rd November 1941 to Mother and Father.
Last week I paid a few days visit to my old section ---- which is not very far from here. [Since September Eric appeared to have been attached to the H.Q. Wing of the Regiment] The object of the visit was an attempt to up-grade myself by a trade test. However , my luck was not in ( as usual in the Army!! ) and they chose to test me on my weakest point. I am trying to take this minor defeat as well as I can, but after such a real top-notch effort it is a bitter disappointment. Now if they had chosen the test from my actual work over the last three months I would have run away with it . As soon as possible I shall have another crack at it.
You will no doubt be a little surprised to see type-written letters coming through, but I couldn't resist buying this little "Remette" - which I got quite cheaply and which I hope to bring home intact ( I wonder ? ).
Last week I received my first letter from Ru, and it was most entertaining reading. He appears to be doing quite a bit of travelling around -- even to the extent of using an Army plane on one occasion. They appear to have both recovered from their dreadful experience down at Plymouth.
The big news this week has been the British offensive in Libya, and so far we appear to be doing extremely well. The only thing that bothers me at the moment is the question of France. Will she play right into Hitler's hand, and allow him to send troops to French North Africa ?? It is unbelievable to think of them being so blind and so traitorous. Mind you, I think it mostly on the part of their leaders. Are we going to restore France to her pre-war status after such hamperings and insults ? Time only will answer that question ..... Unless things start to hum out here I have every hope of getting home next year sometime. Of course, if Japan wants a bloodbath in the Pacific -- then she'll get one alright, but it will all take time I suppose.
Did I ever mention that my new job often takes me into parts that are covered with thick jungle-land? In many of these outforts, huge Cobras are sometimes caught by the ' lads ' - as long as 24 feet - who get the skins cured to take home! Comparing my lot with that of the chaps who have to live months in those parts I am very lucky.
Judging from Mary's recent letters she is more restless than ever, and it would not surprise me to hear she joined up for foreign service, though I hope and pray she will never do that.
I often wonder how the old firm is doing these days. Hope you are managing to carry on alright, though I guess it will be a long time yet before our stock is expended. How is the opposite policy of "sell all quickly" proving itself at Barrow ? I shall be very interested to know.
Please try to remember my request for a further £10 early in February
Letter Dated 28 November 1941 to Grandma Diss
After three months under canvas, I have now become more or less settled in a Royal Artillery barracks "somewhere in Malaya". It was a welcome change to start living in dry quarters instead of the perpetual damp and "live stock" of camp life in the tropics. My work, which is quite interesting , takes me to many different parts across land and water. I belong to a small band of Ordnance known as Instrument Artificers, and we are responsible for the maintenance and repair of many very delicate instruments used for range finding etc. Unfortunately one has to be very experienced in this type of work before promotion comes along. However, I am at present content in the knowledge that I am doing a very useful job of work which is more than I can say for some people in higher positions.
One gets used to being constantly wet through with sweat and rain, and if worry can be avoided the life is just bearable. This is a part of the world I shall never return to --- that is a certainty !! One gets heartily sick of seeing native faces, and a hundred and one other things.
Father writes me concerning the ever growing difficulties of business, with the distinct possibility of having to 'close down' shortly. That is indeed startling news but I guess there are thousands of British families in the same or worse positions.There are far greater issues at stake now than making money, and it is up to each and every one of us to pull our full weight. Money will be of little use if the savages from Germany take control.
War is likely to break out here at any minute, in fact it seems inevitable. Well let's have it all over at once I say!!
Letter Dated 30th November 1941 to Mother and Father.
Your letter of August 31st , father, was very interesting, though the news regarding the position of the business is somewhat startling. I cannot easily imagine the old place being completely sold out and deserted, but if money is coming in at the rate of roughly £400 weekly then it is obvious what the situation points to. You can well imagine how I felt reading that part of your letter -- with visions of becoming a bus conductor when I come home!! However, I feel sure you will find some way of battling through, provided the war doesn't last too long. I only hope that you are not allowing yourself to get upset and worried about it. It is very difficult not to worry with our particular dispositions, but after all it does not the slightest good.
Last week I met two chaps who came from Batley, -- they had both been in our shop many times! Such meetings make the world seem very small -- provided you keep your eyes off the map.
Life continues with the same old daily routine, broken by an occasional "scare" . Yesterday we had the biggest "scare" since I came out, and everyone quite thought the Japs had started. The situation out here is is very critical indeed, and I still think we shall be lucky to see Christmas over without a complete state of war. If the worst comes to the worst, I shall be so busy that letter writing will be almost impossible , but I shall endeavour to keep sending you monthly cables. did enjoy having those snaps of you all. Still can't get over Marjorie's amazing increase in weight, but she looks very fit on it. ( I wonder is she trying to compete with Auntie Mollie at Barrow ?? ! - Alright, Marjorie, I only dare say such things when I am 12,000 miles away!!! ) Wait until you see me arriving home with a complexion like a Chinaman ! You'll be able to get your own back then.
Last night was the first time for nearly nine months that I set foot in a house and enjoyed the comforts of domestic surroundings. I felt like a fish out of water !! Needless to say I enjoyed the visit very much.
Sometime early in the New Year I shall apply for a fortnight's leave to visit one of the many rest camps now inaugurated. It will be very nice to get a change of surroundings, but I shall need some money -- so watch out for another cable. !!
Letter Dated 3rd December 1941 to Father and Mother
Malaya is at present in a state of emergency, which means we have to carry full fighting equipment
around with us everywhere we go. Can you imagine what a joy that is in this climate ?? !!! I am more of a grease-spot than ever -- but we are all in the same boat.
Letter Dated 6th December 1941 to Marjorie
I have just received a record mail - which is the envy of all the other chaps in the room. No less than 16 letters and two parcels. I had a long chatty letter from Evelyn and this was something of a surprise as you can guess! There's little new to report from this part, though war appears just around the corner. We keep expecting the balloon to go up any minute, but the dirty Japs still hesitate. They can keep on hesitating as far as I'm concerned.
Letter Dated 13th December 1941 to Mother and Father
This is short note with the main object of warning you to expect fewer letters from me in future. The reason is obvious to all of you I feel sure -- as I am kept very busy working all hours of the day and night now that the fight has begun out here.
At 4am last Monday the surprise attack on Malaya started, and it was so swift that most of us couldn't believe it at first. However here it is in stark reality, and we are going to face our new enemy with the same resolve as do our armies in the west. You may well imagine the shock we felt after the rapid sinking of our two battleships, which had only just arrived here . But the spirit of the men is the true British type, and soon recovered from the sad news. All decks are now cleared for the terrific assaults we expect, and I cannot say I am really sorry that I am once again in the battle zone sharing risks equally with you all at home. The blackout here is far far worse than in Blighty as the buildings are all half open, and have to be kept open for ventilation -- the result being no light to read or write by. We have approximately twelve hours in twenty four of darkness -- which is not very pleasant, I can tell you ! While there is light we work. When there's no light we --- , well we haven't quite found out what to do yet !!!
I shall now endeavour to send you cables every three or four weeks, providing you can see to it that some of my money is sent regularly. I cannot afford many cables on my present weekly pay.
Try not to worry, I shall look well after myself, and you can rest assured I shall not fail to pull my full weight on this side of the world. l will be home with you all next year.
Letter on Christmas Day 1941 to Mother, Father, Marjorie and Sylvia
Allthough we are working right through the usual holidays, I am snatching a few minutes to send you all a Christmas Day Greeting.
I hope you all are having as jolly a time as possible under the circumstances. My thoughts are with Mary and you all at home -- wishing I could be there to enjoy the usual good fare !! However, next year will bring victory and a return to normal life -- then will be the time to celebrate.Keep smiling, and don't worry a bout me -- I'm fit and well and ready for anything.A Happier 1942, and love to you all.
The above was the last letter received from Eric while he was in Singapore.
The family became aware later that Eric was a P.O.W. in Sumatra and were in contact with him. However they had no news of him following the Japanese surrender.
The Following "News of Eric" was sent out by Sydney to family and friends on November 1st 1945.
As we were keenly seeking news of Eric we were advised to have his photograph posted in the P.O.W. Club , Leeds. This we did a few days ago. Early last night we had a phone message to say that one of the Leeds men who had recently returned from the Far East recognised the photo at once, and had to give us the sad news that Eric had been quite well until only a short time before supplies were flown in, and our men released. He died just before relief arrived, and was buried at Palembang , in Sumatra, where they had been since very soon after the fall of Singapore.
We obtained the name and address and went over to see him last night. We took other photos of Eric, and there was no doubt about him knowing Eric well, in fact he was a special pal of Eric's. He was so ill himself and would not have lived more than a few days had not the RAF supplies arrived in time. When he got on the boat he weighed less than 7st. and when he began to pull round asked about Eric , and the other boys told him what had happened -- he died from lack of food , and finally dysentery. We came away convinced that the news was only too true. Mary is on her way home and is expected any day.
Extract of letter from L/C T.L. Roberts who was a P.O.W. in Singapore, to his brother Fred Roberts in Leeds who was Eric's friend [in the Round Table]
Hospital, Bangalore, India
"Eric appears to have died about the 17th August this year, after the Japs surrendered, but before the P.O.Ws were released. There are several men in this Hospital who knew him including one who helped to carry out the final ceremonies. He has given me addresses of the Camp Commanding Officer, the man responsible for personal effects , another who was said to be a close friend , and a fourth of an artist who made a portrait of Eric at the time he had a beard. --- Let me express my sympathy to you for the loss of a good friend who must have been a sterling bloke. The prisoner of war bestows his admiration on those of sound character only. Eric certainly received that admiration.
Latest News of Eric
Yesterday we had the official news from the War Office that Eric died in Palembang in Sumatra on the 20th August this year.
The date is just five days after the surrender, and makes true what we were told, that he had lived up to a few days of the RAF supplies being flown in, which might have saved his life. -----------
Eric's wife has been delayed a week at Naples, but is at last on her way home. We now have to face the sad time when we break the news, as she is so looking forward to their reunion.
Extracts from Dewsbury Papers -- November 1945
Death Of Pte E. Diss
Buried in Sumatra
Sad News for Dewsbury Family
Official information has been received by Mr & Mrs F.S.Diss of Ashfield, Oxford Road, Dewsbury , that their son Pte. Eric Diss (31) who in February 1941 went out to Singapore, died in Palembang Camp, Sumatra , on August 20th five days after the Japanese surrendered. Pte Diss who was educated at Wheelwright Grammar School , Dewsbury was a Director of F.Diss & Sons Ltd, Jewellers of Market Place Dewsbury and a Fellow of the Gemological Association. He was founder-secretary of Dewsbury Round Table and joined the army in June 1940.----------
---------Mr & Mrs Diss on Tuesday contacted a great friend of their son in the Palembang Camp, Harry Warburton of Brierfield, near Nelson, who brought back Eric's personal effects with him. The package contained a diary which is truly amazing , showing a most courageous fight all along against great odds and great powers of endurance. ----------- It was two years before he received any mail from home or his wife. These letters are now all in Mr Diss's hands again along with a number of charming crayon sketches his son made of parts of Palembang.
A wife who is on her way from Italy to Yorkshire hoping to see her husband after nearly four years, will not know until she lands that official news was received today that her husband -- a prisoner -of-war -- died five days after the Japanese surrender.
In Dewsbury Rotary Club Bulletin Rotarian Jim Taylor writes to the members:-
" You will all deeply sympathise with Past President Syd and Mrs Diss and family in the very sad news they have had concerning Eric. Eric had come through his grim ordeal with courage and his chin up until the very end, and then ,like so many more of those brave lads, succour came too late and Eric lies in a little mound in Palembang , Sumatra, a place which will for ever be British. We grieve for Syd, Nan and Mary, Eric's wife, yet those boys who have sacrificed so much count it not. They would have us be of good cheer and light of heart. To be killed in action is tragedy, but to come through the rigours of Jap imprisonment almost to the bitter end is the biggest tragedy of all. The uncertainty and hope of all those years. What cross could be greater.
While he was a prisoner of war in Sumatra the late Eric Diss , son of Mr F.S.Diss of the firm of F.Diss & Sons Ltd , Jewellers of Market Street Dewsbury, secretly kept a record of his experiences on torn sheets of an old, faded exercise book with pieces of card board backing. When the bookshelves , gift of the Wheelwright Grammar School Old Boys Association, in memory of former colleagues who died during the 1939-45 war , were unveiled at the school last October the first book placed on the shelves was a copy of the diary . Now a limited number of copies are to be printed and bound so that personal friends shall be able to have a permanent record of the time Eric Diss spent in Palembang Prisoners-of -War Camp and the fighting spirit which carried him through nearly three years of confinement.
In November 1945 Sydney received a letter from A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes that gave the background to his time with Eric both in Singapore and as Prisoners of War on Sumatra.
54 , Bicester Road
17th November 1945
Dear Mr Diss,
I have only just returned from a short holiday, hence the delay in writing. I am very proud to have numbered Eric amongst my friends, and we have been together since he arrived in Singapore until his death in Sumatra. I will try and give you an outline of our adventures together.
Upon arrival in Singapore, Eric was posted to Changi Workshops and became my workmate, he often said that this was the first time since he enlisted that he had had a real job of work to do, and I found his assistance invaluable, as we were overwhelmed with work. We had some very happy times together although his heart was in Dewsbury. He often spoke of his wife and was very proud of her achievements.
When the Jap War started, we were in closer contact than ever, as we used to live as well as work together. We had a very narrow squeak when the Changi Magazine blew up, we were in a slit trench right on top of it, quite a number were killed on that occasion. Another time, we were trapped in a blind tunnel when the bombers came over and bombed us, setting our Camp alight and the wind blew the flames up our tunnel, we had a bad ten minutes lying on the ground to avoid the flames and fumes and just outside was a hand grenade dump, these livened up the proceedings by exploding as they warmed up. We finally made a dash when the flames had died down a bit with the grenades still exploding around us. We were bombed out of three workshops and finally evacuated Changi on the 12th February, 1942, with the Japs sending over shells from the beaches where they had landed. On the 13th February, we had a very busy day working on the very badly bombed Anti-Aircraft sites in Singapore. When we arrived back in our billets at 7pm, we just snatched a hasty meal , and were told to fall in with full fighting order. We thought that we were going into the trenches as the Japs were then in the town, the mortar fire was coming over fairly heavily with occasional bullets from snipers in buildings. We marched through Raffles Square, Singapore and were surprised to get the order 'right
turn' which led to the docks. Upon arrival at the docks, we were told we were sailing to Java to set up an Ordnance workshop , and Eric and I with about 80 others, boarded a small vessel named Pula Sugi. We sailed at 1pm with about a dozen other craft - we had no escort. When we looked back at Singapore, it was one pillar of flame, rubber warehouses and oil installations blazing fiercely. We had an uneventful voyage until the night of the 15th when we ran against a Japanese invasion fleet in the Banka Straits. They opened fire on us and sank us without our having any means of reply.
We were seperated in the confusion, myself swimming to the Island of Banka, it took me 14 hours. When I arrived, I was captured with many of the survivors of the other boats which left with us, these boats were all captured or sunk. We were immediately taken to the Airdrome at Muntok where the Japanese Captain said to us " You make my Airfield and I give you your life " When I arrived I was delighted to see Eric safe and well ----- A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes' letter continues later after Eric's letter dated 14 th March 1942.
In November 1945 Mary received a letter from a lady who had been interned in Sumatra for the duration. She enclosed 3 letters from Eric written in March 1942.
4 Hill Crest
17th November 1945
Dear Mrs Diss,
Your husband gave these letters to post you should I get home, or rather free from the internment camp in Sumatra where I remained for the duration. Somehow we thought that women and children may get away, but we didn't. The Japanese opened your letters, but gave them back to me, which I forward now.
I didn't reach England until 27.10.45 and was then too ill to unpack what little I had left. I hope your husband reaches home safely.
These letters were written in pencil on scraps of paper with Chinese writing etc. on the reverse.
Japanese Prison Camp
Dutch East Indies
6th March 1942
My Dearest Mary,
God has brought me through a terrible ordeal, during which I faced death many times, and I am safe. It must have been a dreadful shock when you heard of the fall of Singapore. I can well imagine you all think I am dead. That is my great immediate worry -- that somehow or other, I must get the news to you that I am living.
There are several women prisoners here, and I am counting on their early release -- so am giving one of them this note to post to you as soon as they are free, also two or three others have got your address to let you know I am living.
Darling, a few small boats left Singapore just before it fell, and I was on one of them. However we couldn't manage to break through the Japanese net, and our ship was sunk by gunfire two days out. We lost three quarters of our men on board, but I was one of the lucky ones, who was able to jump for it, and cling to a raft for 14 hours, until I was picked up and brought ashore. Imagine how I felt after being in a shark infested sea for that time, and given up all hope of rescue. God evidently intends me to return to you dear wife.
The Japanese have been quite reasonable in their treatment so far, and as long as we can keep alive, that is all we ask, Rice is our sole diet, with an occasional bit of sugar in it, but never any milk. Still, I guess we shall all hav e to try to live on it.
I have been down for a fortnight with dysentery, but I managed to pull through alright in spite of lack of medical supplies. I shall fight through it all, dear, so don't despair, I will be with you again. Keep faith, and know that I'm thinking of you and loving you always. If this ever reaches you -- let the folks know immediately, won't you. dearest.
God Bless You and Keep You Safe For Me.
12th March 1942 Same Prison Camp
The previous note was written just prior to an impending move from this place to another island. However , owing to a further outbreak of hostilities , the move was cancelled.
I am beginning to feel much stronger now, though a little plain boiled rice doesn't give one much of a chance. Five days ago, I resumed my voluntary work with our primitive 'Hospital'. I am at present working on the Women's Isolation Ward. There have been a few deaths, but amazingly few really under existing conditions. I will be able to tell you all someday.
We all continually dream of food -- sausages and eggs etc. etc. and at times it becomes quite an agony this lack of food we are used to. What about hiring an American Clipper, and bring me a few dozen eggs with chips and fish? Darling, I shall go crazy when I see food again.
When I'm off duty, I get plenty of time to dream of you, and I live the memories -- such heavenly ones -- of our life together. Be of good cheer, my dearest, we shall soon be starting a new life together.
All love and fondest thoughts
13th March 1942 Same Prison Camp
Four weeks ago to-night, we left ill-fated Singapore, but I thank God once again that I am alive -- after seeing so many of my friends killed there, or drowned during that unsuccessful attempt to evacuate at the last minute.
Well dearest, I am still keeping my pecker up, though at times it is difficult when one is so hungry. I am hurriedly writing this further note, dear, because it seems we are moving in a day or two and may get separated from the civilians.
Just to illustrate my wonderful luck in the Army dear-- I was made a full Corporal a fortnight before we left Singapore, but as one has to keep that rank for three months before it is permanent -- old Pinkie loses them, and returns to rank of Private! We have the Japanese to thank for that.
am constantly wondering how you are, sweetheart, and all the folks at home. It is Hell being cut off from all news like this, but I feel sure you are still wearing a smile -- as I am trying to do.
Tomorrow is my 28th Birthday. What a place to celebrate in !! Still it only goes to make our future celebrations more exciting. We'll make up for all this, my darling. If God will give me life and strength to come through safely -- then I shall dedicate myself to bring you all the happiness within my power for the rest of my life.
My thoughts and fondest love are always with you.
God bless you Dearest.
A.Q.M. Sgt Joyes' letter continues
[I was delighted to see Eric safe and well,] ------ he had managed to grasp a raft and clung to it for 15 hours when he was picked up in the morning by the Japs, and had preceded me to the Airfield. We had a very tough time , and in a few days Eric went down with dysentery. We only had rice for food, and many other victims of this terrible scourge could not make their recovery on this diet , however, Eric made a great fight of it, and pulled through.
About six weeks after this , we were sent to Palembang, Sumatara, where I got a fairly convivial job driving the Camp Ration truck, after a week or so, I managed to wangle Eric out with me, and we had the happiest nine months of our imprisonment. We were fairly free, and more important, got plenty of food from friendly Indonesians. We have plenty to thank them for, some of them were splendid. We finally lost this job through refusing to sign a parole form. After that we maintained our friendship and kept together through some very trying times. Eric had several bouts of fever which sapped his strength , and when he finally contracted dysentery again, it was too much for him. and despite his never failing optimism, he died on the 20th of August 1945. I would add that never for a moment did he let himself think that he was going under, and the Doctor said that he made one of the greatest fights for life that he had ever seen.
He always kept me posted on his wife's adventures, and he received quite a reasonable amount of mail after waiting two years for it. He learned of her being pushed back to Alexandria and going on to Italy. I always felt as though I knew her, and although he always said that she was going into too much danger, he was extremely proud of her. He often spoke about the business, and one of his favourite jokes was how you used to break your pipes in the safe door. -----------
A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes' Letter continues after Eric's Diary
Transcription of Eric's Diary February 1942 to December 1944. Kept in secret at the Palembang, P.O.W. Camp Sumatra, consisting of torn sheets from an old faded Exercise Book, with pieces of cardboard backing.
It would appear from the above that May 9th 1944 was the turning point - lethargy was begining to take over. After May 9th the diary bcomes spasmodic eventually ceasing on Dec 20th -- when in previous years he would be looking forward to Christmas. No doubt the increasing death roll played its part.
Harry Warburton who lived in Brierfield near Colne, Mary's home town, was in the Record Office at Palembang and he it was who sent all the papers from Palembang on to Singapore, whence they were eventually sent on to the families. Harry met both Eric's Mother and Father and his In-Laws shortly after arriving backin England.
From information given by Eric's great friend Harry Warburton, who was in the Camp's Record Office , Palembang , Sumatra.
Things took a serious turn in May this year ( After Germany's Surrender). The Japs took 400 of the strongest men from the Camp to Singapore. Soon after they left an order came through cancelling all entertainment and sports in the Camp, and the rations were cut by half -- approx. 6 oz. of rice, per man, per day. Our boys knew that it was to be a fight for their existence, and as the doctors had practically no medicine or drugs left, the death rate in the Camp went up rapidly. Our boys were kept informed of the war news by the use of a secret radio, and Eric lived to know of the Jap surernder and the use of the Atomic Bombs.
Eric was in Hospital again, appeared to be making good recovery from another attack of dysentery. the Hospital was a bamboo shack, and the beds made with bamboo strips -- the bedding and covering were rice sacks. It appeared that Eric had improved to the extent of having been moved into the convalescent hut.
On the night of Aug 19th , Eric's friend (Harry ? ) was beside his bed -- they had a cigarette and coffee together, and he was shocked when he heard that Eric had passed away in the early hours the next day. Eric was then less than 7st. (Original weight 12st.10lbs.) and his hair was almost white.
ERIC DIED 20th AUGUST 1945 (AGE 31)
FIVE DAYS AFTER THE SURRENDER, AND ONLY THREE DAYS
BEFORE THE AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE FLEW SUPPLIES IN.
AMONGST ERIC'S PAPERS RETURNED TO MARY WAS A CRAYON PORTRAIT OF HER DRAWN BY ERIC ON 27TH JANUARY 1943 AT PALEMBANG. ON THE BACK WAS WRITTEN THE FOLLOWING POEM.
Letter from A.Q.M Sgt. Frank Joyes continued
Confidential reports were kept of individual conduct during captivity, and our C.O. told me that Eric's report was one of the best. Many men fell down during this testing time in their lives, but Eric never once lost his self respect, or let his fellow men down. You will find enclosed a duplicate of an application made by Eric to confirm his promotion to Corporal. I, personally, would like to see it forwarded, because apart from monetory benefits, I know that he merits this small recognition of his services to his country. It was always my endeavour to get his rank to Staff Sergeant, and if Singapore had not fallen so quickly I am sure that he would have attained this rank, at least. The address to which this application should be forwarded is :- R.E.M.E. Records Office, Tichborne Street, Leicester. The signature on the back is that of Lieutenant Colonel Morgan. If I can add to any details, or clear up any points you might wish to know, I will be very pleased to do so.
May I convey my deepest sympathy to all of you in your great loss.
A.Q.M. Sgt Joyes
P.S. We were able to get news secretly on the Radio, and Eric knew that the War was over, and that his sacrifice had not been in vain.
P.P.S.I did not write to you on arrival in England, as I felt that it would be better for you to receive the news officially first. F.G.J.
Copy of letter enclosed re Eric's promotion.
Lieut. Col. Morgan R.A.O.C.
P.O.W. Camp, Palembang.
Subject:- Promotion to rank of full Corporal Instrument Mechanic.
During the early part of December , 1941, I was informed by A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes that notification had been received from Major Koe, R.A.O.C. Fort Canning that a vacancy existed on the strength of the 9th Coast Defence Regiment , Changi, for a full Corporal Instrument Mechanic. This vacancy had existed from October 1941 and I had been attached to the H.Q. of the above Regiment since July 1941. Lieut. Bormond, O.M.E. Changi, mentioned that he had recommended me for this appointment, and later , I was informed that Lieut. Fleetwood D.O. Changi had added his recommendation. As A.Q.M.S. is now in this camp, he will be able to bear out the above statement , and add more exact details. During the latter period at Changi, it was impossible to keep in touch with orders, but as my appointment appears to be war substantiated, I hereby respectfully request , Sir , that my case be investigated when circumstance permit.
I remain Sir Your obedient servant
Pte. Diss E.S. 7634791 R.A.O.C.
To Officer i/c R.A.O.C Records Ref, Reverse [Above]
I interviewed No. 7587442 Armt. Q.M.S. Joyes, R.A.O.C. on this subject , and he states that the facts are essentially true. Major M.B.Coe, R.A.O.C. occupied the appointment of D.A.D.O.S., (E) and would conduct correspondence on such matters. Armt. Q.M.S. Joyes actually saw the original letter of recommendation , and subsequently heard that the promotion to Corporal had been promulgated.
Affairs were in such a turmoil during the latter stages of the Singapore Campaign as to render it impossible for normal routine procedure to be followed. Detached units were constantly moved due to enemy action, and correspondence was delayed. Although I have heard from several sources that large batches of promotions were promulgated. I can trace very few individuals who actually saw them, and these are hazy with regard to details.
Armt. Q.M.S. Joyes speaks highly of Pte. Diss's work, and as he has conducted himself in an exemplary manner since he came under my attention, I consider that he is eminently suitable for the rank of Corporal. ( The War Establishment of 9th Coast Defence Regiment should be available to ascertain if the vacancy existed in October , 1941
Letter to Mary enclosing a sketch of Eric as the writer, a fellow P.O.W., remembered him.
227 Chester Road,
January 26th 1946
Dear Mrs Diss,
Yesterday I returned from Falmouth in Cornwall, where I have been staying with an ex-P.O.W. friend before returning to work.
Thank you for your photographs and letter. Today I have done my best with the sketch of Eric as I remembered him towards the end of those grim days in Sumatra. I am afraid that he looked old and very thin. His hair, of course , was shorn close, his eyes were sunk deeper, his nose rather pinched and his checks hollow. His expression I have tried to make determined as he always was. Actually I'd rather you remembered him as he was and destroyed the sketch -- but that is up to you.
You ask me if Eric ever thought he wouldn't come back, but that is rather difficult to answer. It was the thing nobody ever mentioned. We were all of us very optimistic --always -- that the Boys would be landing "soon" but during those last months, when the Japs cut the rice down to less than half a pound a day and failed to send any meat or fish at all, then it was that men started to merely fade away and collapse as they walked about. Each day then, or more especially each evening you felt a little weaker than the day before and candidly you knew roughly how long you had left. Even so, you tried not to think that way and, above all, never mentioned it to anybody else. However, it was rather difficult as ten to twelve men were going "through the gate" , as we used to call it, each day. Moreover , darkness used to fall about 8 o'clock each evening and as conversation had "petered" out in 1944 sometime, there was not much to do but lie on your bed and think. I know that on two occasions I went "cold all over" at the prospects and had to tell myself to "snap out of it" and I suppose at times everybody must have thought the same thoughts, especially if they fell ill with beri-beri or dysentery, knowing that there was little if anything , that the doctors could give them.
My friend in Cornwall was the principle "orderly" in the dys. ward and apparently Eric had recovered from actual dysentery and was moved to the "convalescent" hut but died as did most , from absolute lack of everything. Frankly most of those who died did so from Starvation with an enormous capital S.
I know that some little time before Eric went in with dysentery , he collapsed one evening from sheer
weakness on the way to evening parade --- in fact I carried him back to his hut and I remember how terribly thin he was. I myself was down to 7 stone when the war finished and I knew very well that I had about 10 to 14 days to go.
Well,I'm afraid I've been horribly frank and probably written too much: it is better forgotten naturally.
However, I hope the sketch is something like what you wanted. If ever you are in this dirty city of Birmingham I wish you would ring ERD 3108. I should always be glad to meet you and have a chat.
I am Yours very Sincerely
Memo from the War Office E2c/1 dated 10 th September 1947 to Mary.
Ref. Dutch East Indies 10-14?A.G. 13
A later report has been received from the Graves Registration Services Overseas which states that
Your husband 7634791 Corporal E.S.Diss of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. is now buried in Plot 1 Row E Grave 12 in the Palembang Military Cemetery, Sumatra, Dutch East Indies.
---------- having been moved from the temporary grave in which he was buried to a permanently maintained cemetery.
p.p. Director Graves Registration and Enquiries.
Letter from Commonwealth War Graves Commission dated 30th April 1962 to Mrs M. Diss 11, River Street, Colne , Lancs.
It has been agreed with the Government of Indonesia that the Commonwealth war graves in Java and Sumatra, and in the adjacent islands, should be transferred to a new site made available by that Government at Djakarta, the capital of the Republic.
The purpose of this letter is to advise you that the grave of the late Corporal E.S. Diss, R.E.M.E. has now been moved with care and reverence to Djakarta War Cemetery and that the new location of the grave is Plot 5, Row A, Grave No 1
This next letter is from Russell Braddon, an Australian, who may have been a P.O.W. of the Japanese. He was frequently on the radio and T.V. after the war but gave it up to write a book on the Japanese.
C/O 294 Earls Court Road,
22 February 1952
My dear Mr Diss,
Many thanks for your letter and for the enclosure of your late son's diary. I found it absorbing ---- and tragic, as all these things are. I am accused of lack of taste and delicacy in harrowing the feelings of such bereaved parents as yourself with my book. I can only reply that many people don't know what heroes lads like your son were; most don't care what fiends the Japs were; and practically none will appreciate that Nippon is already on the rampage again (viz: their trade tactics: their aircraft factories: their fantastically large armed " police force" and their renascent merchant marine ) . If, to point all this out, I must harrow the feelings of some parents I do so without compunction because to remain silent would be criminal and ----- in any event ---- I feel those same parents would prefer the truth known rather than forgotten so that it may happen again.
Once again thanks both for your letter and the diary.
Letter from a good friend of Eric's after receiving a copy of Eric's diary which Sydney distributed in 1954.
The Daily Mail (of London)
50 Rockfeller Plaza
Don Iddon New York 20, N.Y.
May 10 1954
Dear Mr Diss:
I was deeply moved to read the diary of your son Eric which he wrote in the Japanese prison camp. It is a heroic document . He was a very gallant man. I should like to pay tribute to him in print when a suitable occasion arises. Eric was a good friend of mine and all of us at the Wheelwright will never forget him.
With kind regards to yourself and family.
Mary's "Story" -- Letters dated 11th February 1996, 8th March l996 and Telephone Conversations about this time. -- [ continued ]
I was in Taranto when I learnt that I was to be sent home. Unbeknown to me , Papa Diss had written to his M.P. demanding I be returned home as Eric would be coming home from the Far East. I got home on the 11th of November 1945 and after being demobbed was met in Leeds by my In-Laws and my Parents. I was not told until the following day that Eric had died.
My Father had got in contact with Harry Warburton, mentioned in one of the papers, a great friend of Eric's who lived in Brierfield, Nr Colne. Father had taken the Disses to meet him and that was when he said that he had been drinking coffee with Eric the night before he died and was shocked when he saw the following morning that he had died. He was in the Record Office and had sent all the papers on to Singapore whence they were sent on to the family.
When Eric died Father Diss said he had paid Eric's salary into the Bank and I could have it. I offered to give it back but he said no but that he would like the shares back . This I did through the bank. I received about £3,000 for his salary from the war years. He told my father he would see I was well provided for but I never received anything from him --- not that I expected anything from him.
One thing I would like you to know. When I last went through Dewsbury Park with Eric he said ' I wonder if my name will be on that memorial when the war ends'. It did not appear, so in the end I went to see Mr James at the Town Hall and created a stir because no names had been added. I went back several times until he promised something would be done. After many months I had a letter saying it was to be done and they would send me an invitation at Taunton to attend the service of unveiling but I never received one.
Mary then joined the Overseas Nursing Association and was posted to Singapore where eventually she became Matron. She hoped always that she could get to Sumatra to see Eric's grave but never got there as it was considered unsafe. Mary had a chance of going to Eric's grave thanks to Mrs Thatcher when she was Prime Minister but by that time her second husband John Birkett was suffering from Cancer and Alzheimers and she could not leave him. Mary had met John Birkett, a tea planter, on a boat while coming home on leave.
Mary cutting the cake with John Birkett
They had married in 1957 and returned to England in 1960. On the way to our holiday in Torquay in 1963 Reardon, Michael and I stopped off for lunch with them. At the time they were living in a large house, in the Taunton area, that had extensive orchards and were apple farming as a business.
John and Mary were finding it very hard work and after a few years they retired to a smaller house in a nearby village. We stayed with them for a night some years later. The house was in the most fantastic position half way up the steep hillside of a broad valley. A landscape I will never forget. Out of one of our bedroom windows we looked over the bottom of a sunlit valley with the hay being cut and a steam train winding its way along the valley floor. Out of the other bedroom window the hillside sloped up steeply and the cows grazing appeared to be doing so right outside our 1st floor bedroom window. The first thing I saw when I woke up!
We did intend to call on them again some years later when in Devon on a New Year Bridge Holiday but by that time John was too ill for visitors.
A long standing friend of Mary, also at one time Matron in Singapore, was Mollie McDanagh one of the two Sisters in the Infirmary at Stonyhurst when Andrew was "in residence"after his accident. At "Great Academies", Lindsay Allen, our Doctor and also a parent, had been so worried about Andrew that he wanted him brought home. As a compromise it was agreed that he would live in the Infirmary until he took his O level exams -- with a scribe. Many years later Mary and Mollie were talking about the name "Diss". Mollie said that the only Disses she knew were at Stonyhurst - she had had no idea they had any connection with Mary.
G.D.D. September 1996
Nan died in 1954 after a fall in Harrogate, when she fell hitting her head on the kerbstone. Sydney died in 1965 a few days after the business had been sold. Marjorie died early in 1996 and Bunty (Sylvia) went into a Nursing Home in Dewsbury. I came across Eric's correspondence and a transcript of the Diary while sorting out the contents of their bungalow. After I suggested to Mary that they ought to be deposited in a Record Office, she sent the original Diary, drawings and correspondence she had kept to be included. In May 1996 all the relevant items were deposited with Cumbria Archive Service at the Record Office in Barrow -in-Furness. I was told by Ms Elizabeth Mullineaux of the Barrow Record Office that diaries kept by Japanese Prisoners of War were very rare. Mary, now 86 (1999) and nearly blind, lives on her own in Colyton, Devon where Andrew and family visit her as often as possible now that Amanda is at Exeter University,only a few miles away.
Photo of Mary in 1999 with Michael and Amanda
G.D.D. July 1999
Eric wrote some notes on Malay Customs & Superstitions and made several small pictures of the area . These are in the Record Office. The notes and the story of Bombadier Hall's effort to escape were on loose pieces of paper at the back of the diary.
On one of our visits Mary had mentioned that she was not sure whether Eric's name had been added to the War memorial in Dewsbury.
. I did a recent check online and was pleased to find his name.