Interview with Robert Boocock


Interview with Robert Boocock


Robert Boocock spent three and a half years in Japanese prisoner of war camps. As a young boy, he had a part time job in delivering ladies’ hats. He was conscripted into the Air Force and initially trained to become a wireless operator. After completing his training, he was posted to 242 Squadron on Hurricanes. He then was sent on a ship from Scotland to Java on the 7th of December 1941. Three weeks after getting to Java, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp. From Java he was then sent to Changi and from there to a coal mine in Japan, where he stayed until the end of the war. He was then taken by train from there to near Nagasaki, on the day the bomb was dropped, and evacuated on an American troopship. He gives a detailed account of his experience. Recalls harsh punishment inflicted by the guards and food shortage. Remembers reading a book to the other prisoners in the camp. After the war, he worked for a chemical company before starting his own business.




Temporal Coverage





00:54:26 audio recording


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MC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre on Thursday, the 6th of April 2017. The interviewer, interviewee is Robert Boocock, the interviewer is Mike Connock. The interview is being carried out at the home of Mrs Flora Winter at Brant Broughton. Mrs Winter is also in attendance at the interview. Ok, Bob, thanks for agreeing for this interview. What I’d like to do is just explain a bit about where you were born, when and where you were born. When were you born?
RB: 7th of January 1919, isn’t it?
MC: Alright, and whereabouts was that? Where were you born?
RB: [unclear], oh, and where was I born? Newcastle upon Tyne
MC: And you went to school there?
RB: No, my father got a job down in the city of York
MC: And what did your father do?
RB: He operated machines, we had an aeroplane factory in the centre of York, would you believe? Going back a long time and my father worked there and he was a tool maker and that was a small place, a small factory
MC: But that’s where you went to school
RB: But it’s gone now
MC: Yeah, yeah, yeah
RB: It no longer exists.
MC: You went to school in York then, did you?
RB: Yes, I did.
MC: Yeah. You enjoyed your school days? Did you enjoy your school days?
RB: Well, it’s a long time ago. [laughs]
MC: And what, when did you leave school? At what age were you when you left school?
RB: Where?
MC: What age did you leave school?
RB: I left school at, my, it was called the Knavesmire higher grade school when I left that when I was fifteen and I did another year at the York school of commerce which was in, do you know York at all?
MC: No.
RB: Which was in Clifford Street. And I went there for a year and when I was fifteen, I got a job.
MC: And what was that? Doing what?
RB: Well, I’m trying to remember, the first job I had was a part-time one and I was still at school and did you know that I delivered lady’s hats?
FW: Yes, I did, I did [laughs]. [unclear]
RB: And I had a bicycle with a pannier rack and the bag of things were in the front and I got to know York very well, I mean, I’ve forgotten a lot of it now and it’s grown.
MC: So when, at what stage, what, how did you come to join the Air Force? What step, what age?
RB: I was conscripted.
MC: You were conscripted, yes.
RB: And I joined in February, war started in September
MC: ’39, yeah.
RB: And I joined the Air Force, I put my name down for the Air Force and I was called up by the RAF in the following February, that’ll be 1940
MC: So, you’d been in your early twenties then, were you?
RB: Been what?
MC: How old would you be? Nineteen?
RB: Be about sixteen, I suppose.
MC: No
FW: Getting a bit lost here, I think. 1940 you would’ve been twenty-one.
MC: Thank you Flora. Yeah, that’s fine. Yes, so and where did you first when you joined the Air Force, what was your first posting or training, basic training?
RB: Do you have the sheet of paper with all details, Flora?
US: I don’t know, I’m not sure what you’re, I knew you got it somewhere.
RB: I think I have.
MC: You were on the training for a long time?
RB: I went down to London and I went to the Central Telegraph Office which was near St Paul’s and learned the Morse code [laughs]
MC: So, did you get a choice of being, becoming a wireless operator? Did you get a choice of becoming a wireless operator, did they give, or just tell you that you were going to be a wireless operator?
RB: Just a wireless operator, I volunteered for flying duties but there was a great shortage of training facilities in the early days of the war and I was posted to 242 Squadron and Douglas Bader was a previous commandant, I mean, I never met him, he was already a prisoner of war in France, I think, when I joined up
MC: So when you, that was after you’d finished your wireless operator training, was it? You finished your wireless operator training and then you went to 242 Squadron.
RB: I, I can’t
MC: Yeah, where was 242 Squadron? Can you remember whereabouts it was?
RB: I possibly got it upstairs, I’ll just go upstairs and
MC: I’m interested to know where your first posting was when you went to 242 Squadron.
FW: Weren’t you not in London then?
MC: You were in London when you did your training, you say.
RB: Yes, I went to the Central Telegraph Office to learn the Morse code and we had to march down Holborn, I think it was. I was just there for about three months, that will be 19
FW: ’41 I think
RB: 19
FW: ‘40, 1940
RB ’42, maybe
MC: And then, then of course you were posted to 242 Squadron you say.
RB: Yes
US: Did you [unclear] that you were in the Blitz
MC: Alright, yeah, and was that in this country? 242 Squadron? Were they here? In the UK?
RB: I can’t remember where I joined it.
FW: Were you still with 242 Squadron when you went abroad?
RB: Yes, I think so.
FW: Right.
RB: The famous commander of 242 Squadron was
FW: Douglas Bader
RB: Famous flier, and he was a prisoner of war already in France, who would that be?
FW: Douglas Bader
MC: Douglas Bader, yeah, you said Douglas Bader
RB: Douglas Bader
MC: Yeah, you said that
RB: I never knew him of course
MC: No, no
RB: He was already a prisoner of war when I was called up
MC: Yeah, yeah. So, what aircraft did you fly in with 242 Squadron?
RB: Hurricanes
MC: Oh, you flew a Hurricane?
RB: Yes, I mean, I wasn’t flying it,
MC: Alright
RB: I wasn’t a pilot
MC: Oh, you, sorry, you were working on the radio, wireless equipment
RB: Yes, don’t quite know what I was doing, it’s a long time ago
FW: Waiting for a flying boat
MC: So, did you ever fly aircrew? Did you ever fly aircrew?
RB: No, I didn’t
MC: No, you say you were wireless operator
RB: I, as a wireless operator, which was in the bombers and I was sent down to the training school of the post office to learn more scole and I still do it [laughs]
MC: Brilliant, yeah [laughs]. So, when did you get posted overseas then?
FW: First trip in 1941, I think, late 1941, because you were in Java in 1942, weren’t you?
MC: What job were you doing in Java, Bob?
RB: In Java?
MC: Yes
RB: Mainly running away.
MC: [laughs] so how did you get there, did you go by boat? Did you fly?
RB: Yes
MC: You went by boat, did you?
RB: We went by boat and we arrived at Batavia as it was then called, now called Jakarta
MC: Alright, yeah
RB: In the island of Java and I was in Batavia first of all and then [unclear] was a long time
MC: So, how long was the boat trip? How long did it take you to get out there?
RB: Well, we were bound, when we left, we left Gourock in Scotland
MC: Alright
RB: And we were due to go to the Near East but virtually on the day when I was called up, when I was called up?
FW: When you [unclear] the ship, I think. Go on.
RB: My brain is.
MC: Yes, I, many of you on the boat? Quite a large boat, was it?
RB: Oh, it was the Empress of Australia and we were in hammocks
MC: Oh yeah [laughs]
RB: Strung up, down below decks, with this hammock and we endeavoured to get a piece of wood to go across, to open it out because, it was, we were all in tucks of laughter when we were told about this you see, because the deck was about this much above and
MC: Did you have trouble getting into the hammock?
RB: Pardon?
MC: You had trouble getting into the hammock?
RB: Yeah, we were all stretched out in hammocks
MC: Yeah, yeah
RB: And when the shipped rolled one way we rolled the other way, and like that
MC: So you
RB: We should’ve gone to the Near East
MC: Yeah, you said and
RB: But on the day we sailed from Gourock in Scotland, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and therefore our destination was changed. I mean, we were never told where we were going until you got there [laughs]
MC: So, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour while you were on the boat, when you were out on the boat
RB: Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour on the day that I sailed, yes
MC: So we know
RB: When we sailed from Gourock
MC: So we know what day you sailed now, cause that was 7th of December 1941, that was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour
RB: Well, that was the day I sailed
MC: Yes, 7th of December ’41, yeah, and so, having arrived in Jakarta, in Java, Jakarta, where did you go from there?
RB: Well, I was taken to prison
MC: So, how soon were you taken prisoner after arriving?
RB: Oh, fairly quickly
MC: Oh, really?
FW: About three weeks, wasn’t it?
MC: Is that all? That was [laughs], goodness me!
FW: Because Singapore had fallen
MC: Yes, I know, appreciate that, yes
FW: Singapore fell on his way there and that’s why he went to Jakarta, they were meant to be going to the Near East and then gradually the thing was extended
MC: Yes, so you went
FW: Singapore they couldn’t go to
MC: I understand now that you were originally going, as you say, the Near East but when Singapore fell,
RB: Well, we were bound to Singapore
MC: Yes
RB: But
MC: Because the Japanese took Singapore
RB: Well they, on the, yes, I’ve forgotten the dates but they landed up in Thailand, they didn’t land directly in Batavia, Batavia being Java,
MC: But you were only there for a matter of weeks before you were taken prisoner
RB: Short, for a short time, yes
MC: So you didn’t get the chance
RB: Then we went by boat, called in at Cape Town
FW: This is on the way out
RB: Calling at Cape Town and from there taken by the Japanese I suppose
US: From Cape Town
MC: You went from Cape Town to Java.
RB: Java, yes.
MC: Yes, you finished in Java
RB: Yes
FW: They were meant to be, I’m forgetting the Near East, they were, no, they were meant to be going to the Far East at Singapore, but they couldn’t go to Singapore cause I understand Singapore had fallen
MC: Yes, yes
US: And three weeks after that the Japanese arrived in Java where he was already
MC: So, having been taken prisoner, how many of you were there that were taken prisoner at that time, you know?
RB: Well, in my squadron, 242 Squadron, which was Douglas Bader’s own squadron,
MC: Yes, yes, yes
RB: He was already a prisoner of war in France
MC: Yes, yeah
RB: And
MC: So the whole, getting comoodle, the whole, [unclear] was taken
RB: Yes, yes
MC: Prisoner of war
RB: We were all taken prisoner
FW: Was it something like two hundred and fifty-seven of you in the squadron?
RB: Well, two hundred and fifty I think, well that was a round number
MC: Round about that, yeah
RB: Two fifty, so of that two fifty, my squadron, 242 Squadron, only, I think, fifty-one of us came back
MC: Really? So, what happened when you were taken prisoner, did they, did you stay there? Did they keep you prisoner there or did they move you on?
RB: Oh, we were taken prisoner in Java.
MC: Yes
RB: And we were in Java I thought about eighteen months
MC: Really?
RB: Lovely country [laughs]
MC: Just a shame about the accommodation [laughs]. So what was, how can I put it? What was life like, you know, once you’ve been taken prisoner, how were you, what was, how were you treated?
RB: Pretty harshly, the main problem was shortage of food
MC: They weren’t keen on feeding you then.
RB: Well, it was a rice diet, we never saw bread for three and a half years
MC: So, in Java for eighteen months but you were prisoner of war for three and a half years.
RB: Three and a half years, yes
MC: So, from Java
RB: It takes a lot of remembering
MC: Yeah. No, it’s ok, it’s not a problem, you know, you just take your time. So, you said you were in Java for eighteen months,
RB: Yes
MC: Yes, so you
RB: Then we went to Changi in Singapore
MC: So you were in Changi, were you?
RB: We were in Changi, yes. And Wilf Wooller was there, I don’t know if you ever heard of Wilf [unclear], he was an international rugby player from South Wales
MC: So, in Changi where were you, were you, you were you on working parties? Were you given tasks the joe do?
RB: Yes, we, used to do varying work in Java for the Japanese, under the direction of the Japanese, but they were a bit sappy, I don’t they’d been out of Japan for very long and we had to salute all the Japanese whether they were, privates or generals, not always only generals
MC: Any punishment if you didn’t?
RB: Pardon?
MC: And what happened if you didn’t salute them?
RB: You got your face slapped and it wasn’t a gentle one.
MC: No.
RB: Almost knocked your head off.
MC: So how many were in the camp you were in Changi then?
RB: [unclear]
MC: At Changi, was it a big camp?
RB: Oh yes, Changi was big, yes, it was, and I wasn’t there very long
MC: Oh, you moved on from Changi, did you?
RB: Well, into Japan.
MC: Oh, yeah.
RB: Called in it at, oh Crickey! [laughs]
FW: I can’t [unclear] with this
RB: It’s very difficult to remember, so
MC: It’s alright, so you then finished, you went to Japan then, you were taken to
RB: [unclear]
MC: Really. And whereabouts in Japan were you, can you remember that?
RB: We were in the South Island of Japan called Kyushu and I was there for the rest of the war. It was a coal mining camp we went to
MC: So that where you finished up as a coal miner, coal mining for the Japanese, did you?
RB: Yeah
FW: Fukuoka province, wasn’t it?
RB: Pardon?
FW: Fukuoka province, is that right?
RB: I can’t hear you.
FW: Fukuoka
MC: The name of the place, province.
RB: Kyushu is the island,
FW: Yes
RB: It’s the South island of Japan
FW: Yes, but then Fukuoka, is that the province?
RB: [unclear]
FW: Yeah, well, we’ll just have to skip that
MC: So, you were actually doing mining for the Japanese then? You were mining for the Japanese?
RB: Yes, well, I was in the mining camp.
MC: Yeah
RB: And whether I was fortunate or unfortunate, I was one of only six people who didn’t go down the mine, I mean, I went down once or twice, we were a squad of just six and our job was to push little trucks around on a very narrow gauge railway and we had to take mainly electric motors and pumps to the mine and we used to bring them back to the workshops, we were based on the workshops [laughs].
MC: So, I mean, what was punishment like if you didn’t do what you were told?
RB: Punishments?
MC: Yes
RB: You got your face slapped
MC: Yeah, you said face slapped, you didn’t, how can I put this? You come across any
RB: Almost knocked your head off
MC: More, no more extreme punishments? You didn’t see any more extreme punishments? Any worse, any worse than that? Anything worse than that, Bob?
RB: Not that I saw
MC: So, who was
RB: Except that, we came back from the mine one day and we were in shifts, you see, and we came back on our shift at about half past five and when we came back, there was a crowd of men from the previous shift, they were all on their knees, and I don’t know what they’d done wrong, but they didn’t look very happy
MC: Really, yeah. So the, you mentioned, was it, captain Williams?
RB: Yeah, Peter Williams,
MC: Yeah, was he in Japan with you?
RB: Yes, he was and Peter Williams was a captain in the army
MC: Yes
RB: And he was a first-class officer and I actually visited him once, when I came back home. Captain Peter Williams
MC: Cause you mentioned about how the Japanese pronounced his name.
RB: Wriliam [laughs], wriliam, and they used to come, we were in, I think I’d been a [unclear] with some huts there for the prisoners and Captain Williams represented us, there were also a fairly large number of Dutch people so vetje vellen kan vetje Holland sprate? [laughs]
MC: If I knew what you said, I’d say yes [laughs]
RB: [unclear] Ein bisschen, nie veil. Yeah, he was a good man, I visited
MC: He looked after you
RB: I visited him after the war,
MC: Yes
RB: Some years after the war and his wife gave me a meal at lunch I think, I don’t remember much
MC: Yeah. So you, you talked about the number of people who were on the squadron, and only fifty or so came back
RB: Yeah, there were two fifty I think on the squadron when we left Gourock in Scotland and in the early months of my coming back home I learned that in my squadron only fifty-one man had come back, so it was very heavy
MC: Losses
RB: Losses, yes
MC: Do you know the reasons for those losses?
RB: The what?
MC: The reasons for those losses, why they failed to come back.
RB: Oh well, it was bad treatment, overwork and above all, lack of food. Food was very scarce, and it consisted, never saw bread for three and a half years, just rice and the rice varied sometimes, sometimes it was yellow, sometimes a dark colour, but it was never white like rice in England, never
FW: [unclear]
RB: We had three meals a day of rice of various calling
MC: Lots of other things in the rice, as well as rice
RB: Yeah, well yeah, well the rats in the ship that we went there, you could hear them scratching up in the rafters somewhere which, well, you got used to it,
MC: If you say so, Rob [laughs].
RB: Yeah
MC: So, how do you, so you’re in Japan, how did you get, were you in Japan when the war ended?
RB: Yes
MC: When they dropped the bomb?
RB: Yes, and I was evacuated from Nagasaki which had the second atom bomb dropped, the first one was on Hiroshima
MC: Yeah
RB: And the second one was Nagasaki and we were taken by train from our camp in Kyushu to Nagasaki by train and the swain drew all the blinds, we couldn’t see Japan at all, we got glimpses, that was all and
MC: So, Nagasaki, were you there when they dropped the bomb?
RB: Yes
MC: You were?
RB: Yes, I mean, I wasn’t, no, must get it clear, I was in Japan, I wasn’t at Nagasaki, I was about forty miles away I think but we were evacuated from Nagasaki by the Americans on an American troop ship
MC: So, when you evacuated, I assume you got well fed on the ship
RB: Never so full [unclear]
MC: I can imagine, especially the Americans
RB: Oh, the Americans, it was good food but there was so much of it, you got as much as you wanted. I suppose we got special treatment
MC: Yeah, of course, yes.
RB: Yeah, Oh, Crickey! You’re stirring my memory.
MC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, there, obviously you got evacuated by the Americans on their troopship, where did that take you to?
RB: To San Francisco. Went across the Pacific and we went to San Francisco and from there the Americans took us by train up to, is it Toronto, in Canada?
FW: Yeah [unclear] Vancouver?
MC: Yeah, you might have gone up to Vancouver first and then across
US: And then across Canada by train to Toronto, didn’t you?
RB: I went by train from San Francisco
FW: Yes
RB: Up North
FW: Yes
RB: In an American train
FW: Yes
RB: And when we got to the Canadian border, we were transferred to a Canadian train and taken from there across the Rockies, very spectacular, to Montreal and from Montreal down to New York again, back into the United States and I came home, can’t remember
FW: Was one of the [unclear]
RB: Yes, the Empress of Australia
FW: No, no, that’s what you went out on
MC: I think that’s probably, that’s what you went out on I think
FW: I think you came back on either the Queen Mary or the Queen Elisabeth, you always thought it was the Queen Mary
RB: It wouldn’t be the Queen Elisabeth
FW: Well, the Queen Mary you used to talk about
MC: Probably the Queen Mary cause they used to use it as a troopship
RB: I thought it was the Empress of Australia
FW: That’s what you went out on
MC: It’s not, no, so you came back from New York and you came back to the UK from New York. Having got back to the UK, how, I mean, what was life like back in the UK?
RB: Life?
MC: Yeah, how did you manage to settle basically?
RB: Oh yes, well, both my father and mother were alive and
MC: And pleased to see you, no doubt [laughs]
RB: Well, it was incredible, my mother had, was one of five sisters, they had big families and had five sisters and, oh Crickey!
MC: She was pleased to see you, how did she know that you were a prisoner of war?
RB: Oh yes
MC: She did, so, were you able to write home then to her?
RB: Well, I think we had cards and there were fixed sentences
MC: Yes
RB: And you picked a sentence that you wanted to have go back to your parents, I think I’ve still got that
FW: [unclear] somewhere, yes, I’ve been looking after very well here, that sort of thing
RB: Yes
MC: But so, she was aware that you were a prisoner of war.
RB: Oh yes
FW: I don’t think at first
RB: Eh?
FW: I don’t think at first she was.
MC: No, I mean, when you were first taken prisoner obviously, she wouldn’t know
FW: No
MC: Initially what happened to you
RB: Oh, been quite sometime afterwards
MC: So, having got back to the UK, you then obviously, you went back into civilian, you were demobbed once you got back?
RB: Yeah, I mean, before the war I was working for ICI, if that means anything to you
MC: Yeah, ICI, yes, I know ICI, yeah. And what were you doing for ICI?
RB: Well, I went as an office boy
MC: Yes
RB: And I was eighteen at the time, actually I’d worked somewhere else, I can’t remember
MC: That was after you were delivering hats, after you were delivering ladies’ hats
FW: That was just part-time [laughs]
MC: Yeah, I realised that, so, you went back to ICI
RB: Yes
MC: And what did you do when you went back to ICI?
RB: Well, I was a clerk
MC: Yes
RB: In the order section, in the order section of the Northern Region of ICI
MC: Yeah
RB: They divided the country into regions and I, we were in the northern region
MC: And that’s, how long were you with the ICI? How long were you with ICI?
FW: Well, you became a representative, didn’t you? When you got back to England, you became a representative for ICI in the North East.
RB: Can’t hear you from
MC: You were a representative for ICI, were you?
RB: Yes
MC: Yes. And what were you representing, were you, was it chemicals, was it, chemicals? Was it? Cause I know ICI did chemicals. What else did they do?
RB: I was in the Northern Region sales office and we dealt with the customers of ICI and took enquiries
MC: Yes, yes
FW: It was building materials and paints, wasn’t it?
MC: Yeah. Building materials and paints. Building materials and paints and things like that for ICI products.
RB: Yes. Cement was an important product because you can’t build anything without cement and there was a great shortage of it immediately after the war and ICI produced cement from the and it was a sulphuric acid plant and it was called Pioneer cement and we used to deal it by the ton and one of my jobs was allocating cement to our customers in our region so wherever I went, I was very popular in that because cement, you can’t do anything without it when you’re building houses and
FW: People don’t realise now what shortages there were of basic things at that time
MC: No, quite right, yeah. So, what did you after ICI? Where did you go after ICI? Cause you mentioned you had your own business.
RB: Yes
MC: At what stage did you set that business up?
RB: Well, I had a friend, Jack Matthews, did you meet Jack Matthews?
FW: Yes, I did, yes.
RB: Yeah. He only had one leg, he’d lost a leg in the war and he was engineer and we formed a small engineering business, well, just the two of us and I think we gradually increased our employees, at one time we were employing about eighty people [unclear]
MC: [unclear] business
RB: Quite a business, yes, and turnover was close to a million but we never topped a million, that scenario
MC: Some time ago which wasn’t bad
RB: Yes, because cement was like gold and when I became a representative of the company, I was very popular [laughs]
MC: Yeah
RB: Cause I was able to, you know, influence the amount allocated to various customers
FW: Then when you left and started your own business
MC: Yeah [unclear]. Yeah, so your own business was manufacturing, you said, [unclear] plant?
RB: Yes, we started to manufacture gas cutting nozzles, little [unclear] like that
MC: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah
RB: Made out of copper and copper is a difficult material in which you machine, very difficult and we made cutting nozzles for cutting torches
MC: Yes
RB: And then eventually we made the cutting torches. I’ve still got one at home [laughs]. Yes, we made the best in the land
MC: So, then you say you got rid of your business, eventually?
RB: Yes
MC: Was that when you retired or
FW: He didn’t retire
MC: He didn’t retire [laughs]. So you never retired, did you, Bob?
RB: Not really, but the business was sold, now I can’t remember, I’ve got the details [unclear]
MC: Yeah, yeah
RB: I don’t look at them anymore
FW: It was in the nineties or late nineties, I think.
RB: Yes, because the nozzle is only about that big, but made out of copper and we had to drill very fine holes
MC: Yes
RB: And the outer ring provided the temperature at which, if you then applied pure oxygen, which was done through a central hole, that would pierce steel and the ones that we made would cut up to, well, if you use the right cutting nozzle, up to twelve inches
FW: Was a very precision
RB: Interesting
MC: Yes, indeed, yeah, that’s a very skilled job doing that as well
RB: Yeah
MC: Yeah, so, I mean, if I was to sum up, if we look back now, I mean, what’s your feelings about your period in the war, because obviously most of the war you spent as a prisoner of war
RB: Yeah, well, three and a half years out of six
MC: Yeah, yeah, so, what’s your thoughts about how you were treated, what you did, you know, the war itself?
RB: Well, it was a great experience, really
MC: I mean, when you heard that the bomb had been dropped
RB: Well, on the day, the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima
MC: Yeah you said
RB: And the next one was on Nagasaki and we were about forty miles
MC: And you didn’t see anything, you couldn’t see anything
RB: No, but I was evacuated by the Americans from Nagasaki and we were taken
FW: To Manila
RB: Can’t remember
FW: Manila?
MC: Was it Manila?
RB: We were in Manila, yes
MC: Yeah. So you saw a few places then
RB: Yes, but most of the war we were in prison camp
MC: Yeah, of course, yeah
FW: Cause on the day the dropped
RB: I recon if I’d not been taken a prisoner of war, I probably wouldn’t have been here today, because I had volunteered for aircrew, I was a wireless operator,
MC: Yeah
RB: So, I’d be going, flying in very slow aircraft but I didn’t get as far as that
MC: No
RB: Gosh!
MC: So, you was, about the day the bomb was dropped
US: Yes, do tell Mike about the day the bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, what happened to you all. On that day, on the day the bomb was dropped at Nagasaki, tell him what happened to all of you, you were pushed in a tunnel, weren’t you?
RB: Yes
FW: Yes, and explain
RB: Yes, well, we were in a coal mining area
FW: Yes
RB: And we were in coal mining camp
FW: Yes
RB: But I wasn’t hewing coal, I was one of only six men when the bomb dropped
MC: When the bomb dropped, what we are trying to [unclear], when the bomb was dropped, you were on a train.
RB: I was what?
MC: You were on a train.
FW: No,
MC: Alright, they moved, you went into a tunnel? They took you into a tunnel?
RB: No, we
FW: When there was a raid, what happened? When there was an air raid, what happened to the prisoners? What did the Japanese do? Where did they put you?
RB: Oh yes, oh God!
MC: Don’t worry about it, Bob, that’s great, you know. Appreciate what you, I mean, it’s a long time ago
RB: Well, it is a long time ago
MC: And I appreciate what you’ve told us and I thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us, I think we’ve covered most of your life and I think we’ve covered your experiences, I mean, the main thing was your experiences as a prisoner of war and you know, we tried to cover that and how you were treated and, you know, what sort of food you had and all that, so we’ve covered all that and I thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Thank you very much and thank you Flora.
FW: [unclear]
MC: So this book we’ve got here, Bob, you say you took all around the world
RB: Yes
MC: And you used to read it to the prisoners? This
RB: Yes, they’d come and ask me to read it from it, cause there weren’t a lot of books in the prisoner of war camp in Japan
MC: No, I’m amazed that you had to take it, they allowed you to keep it. Or did you hide it?
RB: Put it in a kit, we had kit bags, not [unclear] cases, kit bags, and it was just a matter of putting it in with all the rest of it and they would probably look at it, couldn’t understand it but nothing wrong with it and put it back
MC: Alright. And so you used to read it to the other prisoners
RB: Yeah, because not many of the other prisoners had books and I had this one which was bought for me by one of my mother’s sisters and I thought at the time fancy giving me SE 2 [unclear]
MC: Poetry book
RB: But really, it was, it was a great
MC: It was a godsend
RB: It was a great book to have
MC: And I’m sure the rest of the prisoners
RB: [unclear]
MC: I’m sure the rest of the prisoners enjoyed it
RB: Pardon?
MC: The rest of the prisoners enjoyed it.
RB: Oh yes, well, they used to come and ask me to read from it.
MC: Yeah
RB: Cause not all of them had taken a book.
MC: I mean, you are going back again, we are covering old ground a bit but going back to what we were saying about Nagasaki and when the bomb dropped, you were saying about how the prisoners were taken in
FW: [unclear]
MC: Yeah, that’s right, Flora, you were saying about prisoners were taken into a tunnel when there was an air raid.
RB: Yes, that was during the war, not after the war
MC: Yes
RB: And we were taken into this tunnel. I mean, they were short of labour, and our labour was very valuable to them, I think and of course, if we were in a tunnel when the Americans invaded, they said, they told us that we would be killed in this huge hole dug outside and that’s where we were going to end up [laughs]
MC: So there were Japanese there with machine guns
RB: Yeah. Yes, with machine, if you can imagine, a round hole, about the size of that window, and we were pushed into there and in front of that there was a wall built. Now, the wall was about four feet, I suppose, from the entrance of the tunnel and on the outside, because there was a wall there, there were two exits or entrances and each of those exits, they put a machine gun, you know, with two or three men manning it I suppose, pointing it at the exit of the tunnel so if we endeavoured to come out, knowing that the Americans were flying over, they could do something about it
MC: And they already had a hole dug for you [laughs].
RB: The big hole was for us [laughs]. So they told us. But of course, the atom bomb stopped all their plans, because there was nothing they dared to do when the Americans arrived but obey orders. And the orders were that if they interfered with us, they would be in trouble. So we had to put on our huts POW in large letters on the roofs of our quarters, POW and the Americans dropped, well, principally, food, that’s what we wanted
MC: Yes
RB: But also clothes, I was walking around in American suntans as they called them
MC: Yeah [unclear], so as far as you were concerned, the dropping of the atomic bomb saved a lot of lives
RB: Yeah, yes
MC: It was
RB: Oh yes, indeed
MC: And shortened the war
RB: Yes and that was my private possession
MC: That poetry book is quite amazing, the fact that you carried it round and to be able to read it to the other prisoners of war, you know, which, I mean, must have been a great help to them as well
RB: Well yes, and a lot of I think were almost illiterate
MC: Yes,
RB: You know, the standard of schooling pre-war was quite minimum compared to what they get today
MC: Yes
RB: And that was an anti book for me and I’ve kept it all that time and it’s very precious to me
MC: I’m sure it is
RB: [unclear] I did, simply by reading it, learn some of the things, forgotten verse,
MC: You said, you remember
RB: When I am dead, my dearest, sing no sad songs for me, plant thou no roses on my chest, nor shady [unclear], shay cypress tree, be the green grass above me, with showers and dewdrops wet, and if thou wilt, remember, and if thou wilt, forget, [laughs], that was printed when I got back home somewhere but there it is, the same one, when I’m dead my dear,
MC: Oh, right
FW: [unclear] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wasn’t it? [unclear]
RB: See, that and that
MC: Alright, yes
FW: very sad
MC: So, I mean, you, from what you said, I mean, you quoted Robbie Burns
RB: Yes
MC: You know, you obviously remember a lot of the poems
RB: Oh yes
MC: By heart
RB: Yes, Robbie Burns, oh to a mouse, wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie, oh the panic’s in thy breastie, I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee with murd’ring pattle, still mousie, thou are no thy-lane in proving, foresight may be vain, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, for promised joy
For promis'd joy!
MC: I love it, yeah, it’s great. You, earlier on, you spoke in Dutch cause you said you were a prisoner of war with the Dutch?
RB: Yes, Ja, I kann ja bitchen Hon sprate. Nie veil, [unclear]
MC: So you learned quite, you learned, was that, you learned to speak Dutch when you were with the [unclear] prisoners of war?
RB: Yeah
FW: Was that in Java?
MC: Was that in Java?
RB: Yes, Java was Dutch before the war
MC: Of course, yeah
RB: Yeah. And of course, they weren’t so many of them
MC: No, no
FW: And when he speaks Dutch, [unclear] set up because you [unclear] speak in English [unclear] speak Dutch, apparently it’s very good Dutch that he speaks, I think it was some professor of the English school who helped to teach him. One thing you haven’t thought about is how they got from one place to another, it was those hell ships
MC: Yeah, Bob, I mean you, we were just talking about how you moved from one place to another on the ships they called them hell ships? Moving on the ships when you moved from place to place.
RB: Yeah
MC: They called them hell ships? You know, what they were like, the boats they were like when you were moved around.
RB: When we came home, you mean?
MC: No, no
FW: No, when you moved from Java to Singapore and from Singapore to Japan
MC: Japan
FW: That sort, what were the ships like?
RB: We were down in the hold.
MC: Yeah, not very good.
RB: Not very good. And there were rats running on the rafters above us [laughs]
FW: From what he says, they were just like sardines
MC: Yes, and you were packed in tight, were you? You were packed in tight.
RB: Oh yes. Well, the accommodation that I remember, particularly we were in hammocks and I think this must have been in a British ship and we were strung up
MC: Ah, that would’ve been going out or coming back
FW: But this was when you are on the
RB: No, when we came back, we came back by America
MC: Yeah, you said that, yeah. I’m thinking about when you were on the Japanese ships, were you able to lay down or you stood up all the time?
RB: No, we could lie down, but you were touching each other at each side, very crowded. And very hot.
FW: I should think very smelly as well.
RB: Yeah. Yeah, wasn’t very pleasant.
MC: No.
RB: Oh well
FW: [unclear] really, isn’t it?



Mike Connock, “Interview with Robert Boocock,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 14, 2024,

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