John Thomas Stiles
POW Christmas 1941
By Ted Stiles

      John Thomas STILES was born 4th December 1913 at Plumstead, Kent, the third child of William Ewart STILES and Phoebe Hannah STILES (nee WEEKES). His father William, sold fruit and vegetables from a market stall but, unfortunately, just 9 days after John's birth, William died of pneumonia in the local infirmary. This left William's wife Phoebe (my grandmother) with a babe-in-arms, two toddlers and no source of income. It would appear her married sister, Charlotte, came to her rescue and probably looked after the children while Phoebe worked as a laundress. The photo shows two of Phoebe's sons, on the left William George, then aged 30, and on the right John Thomas, aged 25. The picture is from a group labeled 'Hopping 1938' ? the family's annual working holiday was a visit to the hop fields of Kent to help pick the annual harvest. Living conditions there were fairly primitive ? usually either huts or tents. John had married Elsie Florence ODGER in 1935. Their first child Jean had been born in 1936, but sadly, she had died within a few days of birth. The couple's second child, Helen, was born 20th July 1939, but their bad luck continued when complications resulted in the death of mother Elsie just 3 days later.

      Apparently, John was extremely upset ? he took baby Helen to his mother Phoebe, then immediately joined up with 1/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, Notts & Derby Regiment. I don't know why he chose this regiment, maybe he had a pal who served with them ? The next reference to John I have discovered are two letters sent to his mother, Phoebe, which I found in her collection of papers. The first is dated November 5th, but I am not sure which year ? either 1940 or 1941. The letter was a greeting to all his family back at home, and had been written while he and his company were at sea. He says they had been on the water for a week, 'good food & no work.' A censor had signed it to indicate the content had been checked. The second letter is dated Nov 13th, just 8 days later, and John confirmed the company were still at sea, but they had been transferred to a larger vessel after ???? days. The number of days had been carefully cut out with the censor's razor blade. He says, 'the weather was getting warmer every day, the food was good, but very unusual, the cigarettes were very cheap but tasted foul.' He expressed frustration at not being able to say anything other than sending his greeting. As before, this letter had been signed by the censor The next document is a telegram sent 'Via Imperial' to Mrs. P. Stiles from John Stiles, with what appears to be a standard message, 'Loving Wishes for Christmas and New Year, My thoughts are with you, Family all well.' What is unusual is there is no mention of place or time of origin. As before, there is a censor's stamp. The only clue is printed on the form which states it was ? 'Printed in England Oct 1941.' This tells me it must have definitely been sent in the approach to Christmas 1941. The reason I can be sure of that date is because I know John was amongst the 100,000 British Commonwealth troops who were captured when Singapore surrendered to the Japanese on 15th February 1942, the greatest ever defeat in the history of the British Army. It would appear John was amongst men put to work at No. 4 P.O.W. Camp, Thailand. Surprisingly, he was permitted to send the occasional post card home ? I have attached an example. My grandmother received 5 of these post cards, but only 2 of them have been dated - 16th January 1944 and 10th June 1944.

John was to die later that year 12th September 1944 when he was amongst 2000 prisoners who were being transported back to Japan. They had been crammed aboard two Japanese troopships, the Kachidoki Maru and the Rakuyo Maru. John was aboard the latter ship ? see Hell Ships Click Back to return to this page

      They were unlucky when they were engaged by U.S. Submarines whilst crossing the South China Sea ? I believe the U.S. Vessels were the U.S.S. Growler, U.S.S. Pampanito (currently preserved as a museum located at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf ) and U.S.S. Sealion-II. The event is documented in - SAGA Click Back to return to this page

      John's mother, Phoebe, was not officially notified of his death until 6th March 1945, a full 6 months after it occurred, but she had already heard the bad news from one of John's pals who had survived the sinking.

John is remembered at - War Dead Click Back to return to this page

      My grandmother would never discuss the death of her son, John, so everything I have discovered is the result of my own investigations. My Dad and our family used to visit Phoebe, her daughter & husband, and grand daughter Helen most weekends. I remember, on a number of occasions, when I was a teenager, I chaperoned cousin Helen (who was more than 3 years older than me) to several London shows. Later, when she married Arthur, on 15th March 1967, the 'best man' failed to arrive at the wedding. I found myself 'roped-in' at short notice to help with the ceremony. Sadly, her grand mother, Phoebe, died on the day of her wedding. Later Helen & Arthur produced 3 delightful children - Linda Anne was born in 1969. Martin John was born 1971 and Karen Joyce was born 1974.

      Unfortunately Helen contracted cancer and died in 1981. I recently discovered that her husband Arthur had died in 2003 We lost contact with their children about 1993, and believe them to be still living in the London area.

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