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Conjuror on the Kwai (ePub)

The Incredible Life of Fergus Anckorn

Military > Prisoners of War WWII > Battles & Campaigns > The Fall of Singapore

By Peter Fyans
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 5.8 MB (.epub)
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781844682324
Published: 28th November 2011


£4.99 Print price £19.99

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Radio interview with Peter Fyans and Fergus Anckorn on BBC Radio Sussex (starts 02:35:00 and finishes at 02:58:23). Check out the footage of Fergus doing a bit of magic while he was there on the BBC Radio Sussex Facebook page.

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The Conjuror on the Kwai is the incredibly moving story of Gus Anckorn, a British soldier who was captured by the Japanese and held for over three and a half years. Before the war, Gus was a magician and throughout the war, entertained both fellow soldiers and Japanese guards with his tricks.

Gus had a brilliant sense of humour and a 'tell it as it is' attitude which got him into a number of scrapes with both the Japanese and his own side. He had a remarkable humility to his character and was extremely endearing, both in the book and in person.

Gus experienced terrible ordeals that no one should have to face. He should have been killed on four or five occasions, but remarkably survived due to quick thinking and good luck. Gus also reveals the heartache of leaving his fiancee behind and not knowing if he would ever see her again. This is an incredibly moving book and will surely be considered as one of the classic Far East POW stories.

Gus remained active until he passed away in 2018, aged 99. During his lifetime he held the unique claim of being both the youngest and oldest ever member of the Magic Circle and was also a member of the Masons. Gus appeared on BBC TV when they arranged for him to meet a Japanese POW camp guard on the bridge at Kwai.

Featured in

CoFEPoW Quartely - Issue 100, January 2023

'[Fergus Ancorn's] remarkable story is wonderfully told; Peter has remained loyal to Fergus' own words, pulling the reader into the struggle for survival that was his everyday experience during the war.'

'This is an exceptionally interesting read and reminded me what a fascinating , vivacious and courageous man Fergus is.... Conjuror on the Kwai will make a superb autumn read that will linger in the memory for years.'

Sussex Living

As featured in.

COFEPOW Quarterly July 2016

As featured in.

International Express 8/6/16

As featured in.

The Daily Mail 30/5/16

As featured in.

The Daily Express 31/5/16

An incredibly moving story.

Best Seller Ranking.


As featured in

ETC Magazine

Remarkable but chilling story.

This England

The past decade has seen the publication of a number of interesting and informative accounts of POW experience and survival in Japanese captivity in the Far East. This account, in it's content and presentation gives a different insight on what it was like and the effect on the man involved.There is insight into the mindset of captor and captive. Fascinating, if somewhat disturbing reading.


A new book tells the story of a PoW whose survival of World War Two is simply a miracle.

Your Tunbridge Wells

Captivity, Slavery and Survival makes a virtue of his (Fergus Anckorn) ordinariness, even of his dislike of the Army and his fear of dying. Now the oldest member of the Magic Circle, he recounts his tale with a raw honesty that makes it highly readable.

Mail on Sunday

Remarkable Story.

International Express

This very readable book is well illustrated with drawings made at the time by fellow prisoners.

Dover Express, Folkstone Herald, Deal Express, Whitstable Times

The survival of prisoner of war Fengus Anckorn…could truly be described as miraculous.

Kent News

A new book tells the story of a PoW whose survival of World War Two is simply a miracle.

Kent on Sunday

The incredible story of a British prisoner of war who cheated death six times has finally emerged after nearly 70 years.

The Sun

For 70 years, a British prisoner of war has kept the horrors of his River Kwai experience to himself. But now Gus Anckorn, 93, from Kent, has decided to share his story, recalling how he was bombed twice, buried alive and even lined up before a firing squad.

Mail Online

A British POW who survived the horrors of slave labour on the River Kwai raliway under the Japanese has finally told his remarkable story. Gus Anckorn has revealed how he cheated death after being bombed twice, buried alive and lined up before a firing squad.

The Express

It is the ideal time to pick up this book and find out whether an ex-PoW ever recovered from his unimaginable ordeal.


Not only did Fergus Anckron endure the ordeal of being left for dead in a storm drain in Singapore during the Japanese invasion, but he went on to survive the infamous Alexandra Hospital Massacre and the following years of incarceration in Japenese PoW camps and life on the Death Railway. This book is remarkably moving, thought-provoking and candid account of his experiences.'

Britain at War

Mr Anckorn's story is astonishing, always uplifting and most poignant, even in his darkest hours. A most remarkable man and this is as honest a tribute to his bravery and integrity as one could imagine.

Kensington and Chelsea Today

Not many soldiers who fought throughout World War II are still alive. But one group in particular have almost gone now – the men who fought in the Pacific and were captured by the Japanese. So to have a brand-new memoir from a man who endured the atrocities of the infamous Burma 'Death Railway' feels almost like an illusion. Among the memoirs of these terrible events, this one must rank highly for its courage, modesty and cheerfulness. 'Keep smiling' is Anckorn's constant advice. And reading his story, somehow, against all odds, we do.

Daily Mail

When you find someone like Fergus, you know you've found a treasure – and the further you go, the more you realise that he's a national treasure. I always wanted to write a book but it was a case of finding somebody whose story I wanted to tell.

Sevenoaks Chronicle

Fergus is still performing magic tricks and his remarkable story is has been written by Peter Fyans. Fergus lights up a room with his warm-hearted smile and laces his frank story with humour.

Mid Sussex Times

This is an incredibly moving book and will surely be considered as one of the classic Far East POW stories.

Doncaster Star

This book is a remarkably moving, thought-provoking and candid account of his experiences.

Britain at War

An informative and moving, yet entertaining, publication.

Best of British Magazine

An incredibly moving book. Will surely be considered as one of the classic Far East POW stories.

The Star

We get the authentic sounding voice of the straight-talking, chirpy, sometime chippy Gus. He was starved, enslaved and one more than one occasion left for dead. Compelling.

Daily Express

This is a tale of remarkable courage about a POW surviving against all odds. During the Second World War, 59 members of the Magic Circle were in the armed forces. Gus Anckorn the Circle's youngest member was badly wounded and subsequently by the Japanese following the fall of Singapore.
Training as a gun lorry driver, the regiment became part of the 18th Infantry Division and seconded into its concert party. Anckorn travelled the country entertaining the troops with his magic as 'Wizardus'.
Of course, the quiet life couldn't last and after a stay in Bombay, his unit was sent to Singapore to fight the Japanese.

Best of British

After the war, as a lecturer in subjects including English and economics at West Kent College. Fergus often pepped up his lessons with anecdotes about his extraordinary wartime survival. Now 92, he has decided to record everything in a new book, Captivity, Slavery and Survival as a Far East POW.

Mail on Sunday

Fergus Anckorn, the subject of the book, is a remarkable man with a remarkable tale to tell. To call him the luckiest man alive might seem odd, given the horrors he endured. But luck and chance are threads that run through this book. In Singapore he was saved from being slaughtered in his hospital bed by the Japanese. He avoided the amputation of his hand, enabling him to carry on entertaining both his comrades and captors, securing priceless extra food in the process. He lost and recovered a gold ring - a precious reminder of home - on three occasions, risking life and limb in the process. But his luck came at a price, with hospital visits to treat his battered body continuing for six years after the war.

Author Peter Fyans has packed a lot in, as the bibliography at the back testifies. It is part autobiography and part history, and the two don't sit particularly well at times. Fergus Anckorn's narrative at times seems overlong and perhaps could have been more tightly edited. But it has the realistic ring of the man himself, who has opened his soul and his memories, so that we might learn what his generation faced.

The book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the Far East campaign and wants to understand why veterans have such an enduring bitterness of the Japanese. Anckorn provides the answer.

Peter Weedon

About Peter Fyans

Peter Fyans met Gus Anckorn at a charity concert and overheard him telling his wartime stories. He introduced himself and the pair became close friends. Gus’ story was told by Peter but in his own words. Gus was extremely active until his death in 2018. Peter lives in Surrey.

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