Sgt Major Les Spence
Sgt Major Les Spence

Les Spence was a remarkable man who kept an astonishing journal.

For almost four years he risked his life to keep a daily record of hardship, courage and endurance in prison camps run by the Japanese.

He and his fellow prisoners faced starvation, disease and cruelty. They kept up their spirits by playing sport, listening to an illicit radio and by trying to create their own civilised society behind barbed wire.

Throughout the suffering in Java, a perilous journey in the hold of an infamous hellship and the horrors of a forced labour camp in Japan, Les Spence kept writing.

He spent much of his time in a coal mining camp near Nagasaki. There, he was able to record one of the most momentous events in history: the dropping of the plutonium bomb on the city.

We had uneventful train journey to Nagasaki and then we saw the result of the atomic bomb. It was simply astounding, nothing left standing for miles, everything flat and burnt out.

Covering the period from January 1942 to November 1945, the diaries have been annotated to create a record of the Allied forces who many feel were sacrificed on Java.

Les Spence’s work is a first-hand account of how to hold onto hope when all seems lost.

From Java To Nagasaki
From Java To Nagasaki

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:

“Moving and magnificent in its reportage, this is a war story with a difference. The very gut-wrenching rawness of Les Spence’s diary is a reminder of an area of World War Two almost forgotten: the battle for Java and the sacrifice that followed. This is one of those books that once you start you can’t forget it. These secret diaries have been lovingly edited to provide a firsthand account of the rigours of being a prisoner of a cruel enemy is superbly evoked.”
Gordon Thomas, author of ‘Voyage of the Damned’, ‘Inside British Intelligence’ and ‘Gideon’s Spies’

“A remarkable testament to courage and endurance in the face of hardship and cruelty – and a firsthand account of how to hold on to hope when all seems lost.”
Western Mail

“A remarkable wartime document.”
South Wales Echo

“These remarkable diaries cover the period from January 1942 to November 1945, and are a testament to one POW’s moving story.”
Britain at War magazine, September 2012

From Amazon: “My grandfather was in the same camp as Les Spence (Camp 8B @ Inatsuki). He told me stories about his time in camp, but [this] book has provided additional insight into the fear, hope, and dreams of these prisoners. Its value lies in the fact that it is a first hand account (actual diary that was retained by Les Spence throughout his imprisonment) of the day-by-day blows experienced by this POW.”

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Beti and David

Lovely review in the Daily Telegraph for ‘Beti and David: Lost for Words’. The response to the programme has been overwhelming for all involved.

Beti George let the cameras into her home to show people what it is like caring for a partner with dementia. She always intended her story to represent the thousands of carers across the UK who are looking after a loved-one.

Beti told a BBC event today: “People think I’ve been brave but this is the reality. We have to show what’s going on behind closed doors, as honestly as we can.”

The film was first shown on BBC Wales, and was shown in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland last night. It will be on the BBC I-Player for the next 30 days.

Jasper Rees in the Daily Telegraph:

Eighteen years ago, the filmmaker Paul Watson made a ground-breaking documentary about Alzheimer’s called Malcolm and Barbara: A Love Story. It portrayed a wife caring for a husband as he gradually disappeared into the disease’s personality-erasing maw. Ten years ago, Watson went back to film Malcolm’s last days and, controversially, his death. Alas, as seen in Beti and David: Lost for Words (BBC One), the story has not moved on.

For anyone who knows their Welsh rugby, David Parry-Jones was a familiar camel-coated figure whose voice described Llanelli’s famous win over the All Blacks in 1972. His wife Beti George, who hosts a weekly show on Radio Cymru, is a bastion of Welsh-language broadcasting.

David was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009 and ever since has been losing those faculties which made him a consummate communicator. One of the first signs was his reluctance to check over documents Beti composed in English, her second language. Now he emits percussive hoots while the words get blocked in his mouth. Putting him to bed can take three hours. The demoralising business of cleaning up after him never stops. Beti doesn’t want to put him in a home, but worries about the lack of joined-up support for those with Alzheimer’s.

Beti and David: Lost for Words was shown on BBC One Wales last month, and nominally addresses the lack of available support in Wales. But it has a wider application as a moving portrait of love, loss and kindness.

Beti travelled to Scotland, where developments in care are more advanced, to try out a simulation kit which mimics the inhibiting impact of Alzheimer’s on balance, vision and manual dexterity. She returned home better informed and, although this seems impossible, even more patient and understanding. 

As the nation ages, there will only be more of this. The more people that watch this profound film on the iPlayer the better. Beautifully filmed by director Will Davies, it illustrated the consoling Larkinesque idea embodied in David’s enduring kisses and cheerful smiles: when everything else has evanesced, all that remains of us is love.

 

 

 

Beti and David. Photo: Barry DaviesThere has been an incredible reaction to ‘Beti and David: Lost for Words’, an hour-long film broadcast this week on BBC One Wales (and still available on the BBC iPlayer).

Filmed over the course of many months, the film is a record of two people facing a terrible illness together. Since David’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, his long-time partner Beti has become his carer.

The reaction on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere showed that the couple’s story struck an emotional chord with many.

David Parry-Jones was once one of the best-known faces in Wales – a news broadcaster and the voice of Welsh rugby during its glory days in the 1970s.

Beti George is still a broadcaster. Now she juggles her working life with looking after David and with campaigning for a better life for carers.

Through Beti’s experience the film reveals the challenges and frustrations faced by tens of thousands of carers across the UK, and questions the way society supports dementia carers.

Beti’s message is clear. ‘We need a revolution in dementia care’, she says.

 

Shadow Warriors 1st coverLovely new review for Shadow Warriors of World War II from Mid West Book Review:

“The result of an extraordinary and comprehensive research, “Shadow Warriors of World War II: The Daring Women of the OSS and SOE” is impressively informed and informative. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, Shadow Warriors of World War II is strongly and unreservedly recommended as a critically important contribution to community, college, and university library World War II Military History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.”

Many thanks to Angus Wallace of WW2 Podcast

Aberfan

Posted: December 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

Lovely article about Gaynor Madgwick’s ‘Aberfan’: “a remarkable and powerful book”.

Stirlingretail

aberfan

At a period when there seems to be an anniversary at every turn, on the 21st October there will be the 50th remembrance of a truly shocking event – Aberfan.  Seared in the memories of individuals and communities, especially across South Wales, Aberfan stands as testimony to collusion, cover-up and ‘corporate’ mis-management.

On the 21st October 1966, thousands of tonnes of coal tip waste slid down a mountainside and devastated the mining village of Aberfan.  The black mass crashed through the local school; 144 people died, 116 of them young children.  Only 25 children from the school survived.

I lived in a different part of South Wales, but this anniversary resonates personally like few others.  I suppose this is due to the sheer scale of the event at the time, the television pictures which seem vivid in my memory, that in later years I would often have…

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Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE

KIRKUS REVIEW

A group biography of the fearless young women who became secret agents during World War II.

Award-winning journalists Thomas (Operation Exodus: From the Nazi Death Camps to the Promised Land: A Perilous Journey That Shaped Israel’s Fate, 2010, etc.) and Lewis (A Bullet Saved My Life: The Remarkable Adventures of Bob Peters, 2006, etc.) bring their talent for telling detail and brisk pacing to an engrossing history of women who worked for the United States and Britain as spies, cryptographers, analysts, couriers, and resistance fighters during World War II.

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Drawing from official records, memoirs, diaries, and letters, the authors detail the recruitment, training, and daring escapades of women who infiltrated enemy lines and carried out sabotage operations, ranging from stealing documents to blowing up railroad tracks. Risking their lives repeatedly, the women proved themselves ingenious and fearless.

Betty Pack

      Betty Pack

They were also, as the authors portray them, uncommonly attractive: slim, vivacious, charming, intelligent, quick-witted, and multilingual. Among them was the irresistible Betty Pack, who took countless lovers and became known as “the spy who slept her way to obtain information”; and Evangeline Bell, “intelligent, beautiful, mysterious, and ethereal,” who had the “demanding responsibility of ensuring there were no inconsistencies in the forged documents” and articles of clothing given to French agents. Any detail could result in arrest. French clothing, for example, was sewn “with parallel threading” rather than cross-stitches, a detail for which Bell had to be alert. Spies were taught how to pick locks, reassemble documents from scraps in trash baskets, live off the land, manage a safe landing in a parachute, make a cast of a key in a bar of soap, and canvass surroundings using a shop window’s reflection.

SOE radio set

          SOE radio set

Some training centers taught forgery, microphotography, and safecracking. Not all agents were successful: some were arrested, executed, or died in concentration camps, never seeing the victory for which they worked. The authors make a strong case for the importance of these women to the course of war, offering a fresh perspective on military history.

A welcome addition to WWII literature.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/gordon-thomas/shadow-warriors-of-world-war-ii/