The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For details of our activities, and for more information on recent events and current programme, please contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434.

A Child Caught Up in a War: 10th April 2018

The year was 1938 when Company Quarter Master Sergeant Charles Lines - Royal Engineers - was told that he was to be posted to the Far East. In due course he embarked upon the troopship HMS Somersetshire together with his wife and young daughter, Margaret. War clouds were gathering over the skies of Europe but relatives of the family told them not to worry; "If war comes to England you will be well out of it" Could anything have been further from the truth!

Some 32 members and guests of the Foxearth and District Local History Society were present on 10th April to hear Margaret Nice recount how her life changed from a junior school girl in St Helens, Lancs. to life in the tropics on the other side of the world. Two years in the Army School in Singapore was followed by a move up the coast of Malaya to Penang where Margaret went to the Anglo American Girls School in the capital Georgetown. Hitherto life had been peaceful; swimming in the pools, enjoying exotic fruits and the exciting experience of new cultures with Chinese and Indian friends. A bout of a type of typhus put Margaret in hospital for some weeks and she had just recovered - but not yet back at school - when heavy bombing of Penang by the Japanese began. When immediate evacuation was ordered there was time only to pack a small bag and in the ensuing chaos Margaret found herself in charge of a little girl aged 3 or 4 whose mother had just had another child and was being carried on a stretcher. Margaret was urged by her mother to keep up with the rest but complained that her charge kept falling asleep and had to be dragged. It was 3am!

A tortuous journey to the mainland was eventually completed via lorries and a ferry manned by sailors from the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse both of which had been sunk on 10th December 1941. Once on the mainland a train took the crowds of evacuees to Kuala Lumpur station-- where the Salvation Army were on hand to dispense food and clothes - and then on to Singapore. At this point it was found that Margaret's bag of clothes had been left on a lorry in Penang but the army wives rallied around and she was soon kitted out again. Constant bombing took place of the nearby army barracks at Changi and shelter in the married quarters was of the under stairs variety offering limited protection against bombs which produced a lot of shrapnel. Eventually the news came that Margaret and her mother were to go to Australia and they sailed on the SS Narkunda. Even this voyage was not without incident. A mine was spotted close to the ship and marksmen's attempt to detonate it failed until it was perilously close. The explosion caused the ship to tip so that all the passengers on deck ended up in an untidy heap at one end.

In Australia a much more settled and safer life beckoned for Margaret and her mother but the events of the previous year had left their mark. Both were almost bald and Margaret's face was covered in sores; whether this was stress or the long diet of corned beef and tooth-breaking biscuits we cannot be sure; there was certainly no need for a weight-watchers programme! Mention was of course made of Margaret's father. He was captured and held in Changi prison until he was sent to work in the salt mines of Korea. His diaries reveal the extreme hardship that these brave soldiers endured - the totally inadequate and poor diet, the cruelty of their captors who despised them for allowing themselves to be taken prisoner, the malaria and dysentery which was so rife, the extreme cold which meant that the wash rooms were permanently frozen in winter, the list goes on. On liberation by the Americans he was emaciated and taken to Manilla to be built up before returning to the UK. Sadly the ravages of 4 years savage incarceration could not be completely offset and he died in 1957 aged 56.

Margaret brought along some photographs and some shrapnel-damaged Malaysian pewter ware - and was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson for her interesting account.

Referring to the last meeting and the recently acquired 1855 indenture, Clare reported that a connection with a Pentlow family and one of the old names mentioned in the document had been identified.

Next Meeting: 8th May 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Corinne Cox will talk about the Archaeological Test Pit Excavations in Foxearth.

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