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Death and Deprivation on the Forgotten Sumatra Railway (ePub)

A Prisoner's Story

Military > Prisoners of War WWII > Battles & Campaigns > Japan & the Pacific Front

By James H Banton
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 20.1 MB (.epub)
Pages: 168
Illustrations: 33 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399006507
Published: 29th July 2021


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James Henry Banton was born in Burton on Trent in 1920. He worked as a driver of a steam locomotive used to used to transport beer and supplies to breweries around the town. When war broke out Jim joined the RAF, eventually becoming a Leading Aircraftsman as part of the RAF’s ground crew. During this time Jim had met the love of his life Dorothy Mason. Jim didn't know that when he left Gladstone Dock in Liverpool he would not see home or his family including Dorothy for another four and a half years.

Eventually posted to the Far East he was captured by the Japanese in the hills on the island of Java. Used as slave labour, starved, beaten and witnessing death on a daily basis he was later put to work on the building of the Sumatra Railway. The Far East Prisoners of war became known as the Forgotten Army, however there has been little reference paid to the Sumatra Railway compared with other theatres of WW2. With this in mind the prisoners who worked on the Sumatra Railway could be considered to be the ‘Forgotten of the Forgotten Army’.

In August 1945 the world celebrated victory in Europe, however for the FEPOW’s the war dragged on. As parts of the world were trying to return to normality Jim and his colleagues were being made to dig their own graves in the Sumatra jungle. The FEPOW’s lives hung in the balance as orders had been issued to murder all POW’s should mainland Japan be invaded by the Allies.

This book is Jim’s story and it is hoped it will also be a reminder not only of the sacrifice of the Forgotten Army but also highlight the suffering of the ‘Forgotten of the Forgotten Army’ – The Sumatra Railway POW’s.

All in all a very well written and complete account of a life well lived. There are very stark comparisons from peace to war to POW to peace again and rehabilitation. A good read.

Read the full review here

ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)

Don't forget their sacrifices
Read the full review here

Amazon Customer

“An interesting story of one man’s life from early days through his time in SE Asia, the Sumatra Railway, repatriation and later life. Effectively James Banton’s autobiography with help from his wife and sun. Interesting read in that it covers the build up to war and the struggle to survive after it along with interaction from fellow FEPOWS members in later life."


Ex-POW's harrowing story of losing 19 mates in a day on wartime death railway

Derby Telegraph 24/08/21

Ex-PoW’s story of losing 19 of his mates in a day

Burton Mail 23/08/21

James Banton weaves an interesting story, written for the benefit of his family, and read and published after his death. When war was declared in 1939 James Banton volunteered for the RAF. Twelve months later, in Malaya, Leading Air Craftsmen Banton describes the confusion and chaos caused by Japanese aircraft bombing RAF airfields destroying most of British air-cover. This was quickly followed by Japanese ground troops crossing the Thai border into Malaya, their swift advance down the Malaya peninsula, and the Singapore Garrison's surrender 70 days later.

With colleagues James Barton was evacuated to Java, where he was captured a remained a prison of war for three and half years. Much has been written about the death railway in Thailand, formerly Siam but for many people the railway in Sumatra is unknown. The treatment from barbaric guards, death, and deprivation remained the same. When local people rumoured that the war had ended, the camp's British Commanding Officer sought confirmation. His Japanese counterpart attempted to slice him in half with his sword.

What adds to this remarkable story is James Banton description of both pre and post war Britain. Hastily married before he left for Singapore, three and half years later, starved and brutalized he was home, had wife and young child to care for, search for where to live and a job to find. Like many who returned from the war, he said nothing and remained evasive to the question of 'what you do in the war dad.' He did write notes which form the basis of the book which is a page turner.

Richard Gough - Historian, writer, author of the Escape from Singapore, The jungle was Red, Outpost of the Empire, SOE Singapore 1941-42. Waiting publication Tony Poe, CIA Paramilitary in SE Asia.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A truly inspirational book on overcoming and surviving as a POW in Japan and Malaysia during WW2. The hardships faced by the men were heartbreaking. A great read.

NetGalley, Ron Baumer

Started reading the book and found it very hard to put it down.
Highly recommend the book to all those who had relatives as PoWs in Sumatra during WWII. Plus anyone interested in reading about the Sumatra Railway, the book will open their eyes to the nightmare existence under the Japanese.
I have posted a review on the FEPOW Family Facebook Group, which I run. We have many relatives of PoWs who were forced to work on building this railway. The book will add more informormation to their researching loved ones.
Ronnie Taylor - FEPOW Family

Ronnie Taylor

About James H Banton

The memoir Death and Deprivation on the Forgotten Sumatra Railway is published by James H Banton's son, Keith Banton. 
My Dad would never tell us about his experiences during the war so as a compromise I asked him to write about his life and promised not to read it whilst he was still alive. This was done over several of his retirement years and it is only now after his passing in 2003 that I have had his story published.
I have no idea what he would think about this as he was quite a private man however what doesn’t get remembered in history could get repeated.

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