How Blackpool families prepared for the return of loved ones held as Prisoners of War in the Far East

The wives and mothers of Blackpool soldiers captured in the Far East made it their business to find out how they could help their men when they returned home.

They had been in captivity for three-and-a-half years, survived the most appalling coniditons, were severely malnourished and the emotional pain was unbearable.

Professor Brian Maegraith, who advised Blackpool families on how to care for their loved ones on return from captivity in the Far East

Professor Brian Maegraith, who advised Blackpool families on how to care for their loved ones on return from captivity in the Far East

But they wanted to be prepared and invited Professor Maegraith, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to Blackpool to find out what they could do. The professor spoke at the Free Library in Blackpool, at a meeting organised by the Blackpool and Fylde Far East Prisoners of War Association.

The cutting from the Gazette on September 28 1945 reported him saying: “This is the first time that I, or any staff, have been asked to talk about the care of the returned prisoner of ward. And to the best of my knowledge, Blackpool is the only city or town in the country which has any kind of organised proposition to present to the returned prisoner.”

Next of kin packed the hall to capacity. Among them were two families with three sons in the Far East. Young wives were preparing to be nurses, if necessary, and they made notes, their tears splashing on the pages and around 20 fathers, one of them a Boer War man, listened intently. In firm, convincing tones, the professor’s talk was based on what the men had been through and what they would be like when they cam home.

He talked about diet and how they would have had rice for breakfast, dry rice for lunch and dry rice for supper.

Sometimes it would be vegetable soup and once a week, enough meat to cover a thumbnail.

he said: “As a result there may be wasting, loss of weight and rice sickness. Foods have been wrongly balanced for the European and the irritant has produced mental symptoms and loss of appetite – almost as serious as a lack of food. The medical facilities of the camps have been quite often disgusting.”

However the professor went on to give a note of encouragement. He said that the men would return in a relatively good condition and gaining wait. He urged the women to be patient when they wondered why they hadn’t come back sooner.

“He will get double rations when his leave comes, but don’t let him overeat and avoid irritant foods like green vegetables and curries.

Professor Maegraith dealt with the main diseases from which the men may have been suffering from including stomach ulcer, dysentry, sprue (malabsorption) and malaria.

As for their mental adjustment he said: “Remember your man has been browned off, fed up but never discouraged, he emphasised.

“Don’t bottle him up, let him talk about himself out about the horror stories, about everything he wants to.”

Questions from the

families included the efficacy of dried milk, boisterous Blackpool’s atmospheric effect and the man who won’t talk, to the danger of infection to young children.