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This web site page is dedicated to the officers and men of the Royal Engineers who were captured by the Japanese at Singapore in February of 1942. May their courage long be remembered.

1870074 Warrant Officer Class I
Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
2001. All Rights Reserved.


John ("Jack") Firth was born on the 17th of July 1910 in the parish of Toxteth Park, in the city of Liverpool, Lancashire [1]. He was the youngest of seven children of George and Annie Josephine Firth of 22 Upper Park Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. George Firth was a steelworker at the Liverpool South Docks. Besides Jack, the Firths had four daughters (Margaret, Elizabeth, Dorothy and Mabel) and two other sons (George and Simon) [2].

Jack’s father was born at Woolwich Arsenal [3], the son of a non-commissioned officer of the Royal Artillery. His grandfather, Joseph Firth, was born in Kendal (Weston) in Cumbria in 1832. Joseph Firth was serving in the 2nd Battery, Royal Artillery in Nova Scotia and Ontario, Canada when he met Jack’s grandmother, a French Canadian woman named Jane Simpson. Jane Simpson was born in Quebec, Canada in 1831.

Joseph and Jane are thought to have had a total of eleven children; however, the 1881 British Census indicates that they only had 7 in 1881, although one son is thought to have died in childhood. After their marriage, Joseph and Jane Firth had one child while they were in Canada. They returned to the United Kingdom where it appears that Joseph Firth was stationed in Wales, Lancashire and Portsmouth. While serving at home, the Firths had three, possibly four more children (including the one who died). The Firths returned to Canada where another child was born in Nova Scotia. Following Joseph Firth’s final posting back to the England, Jane had two more children in Liverpool.

Joseph Firth finished out his career as a Gunner, having been reduced in grade from the non-commissioned officer ranks, perhaps as the result of a court martial offence [4]. A brief outline of Joseph Firth’s military service is included at the end of this narrative [5].

Young Jack entered the Upper Park Street School in Liverpool in 1915. He was a good student and well thought of by the Head Master. When he left school in 1924 the Head Master of the Senior Boys Department had this to say about him [6]:

"John Firth has been a scholar at this school for about nine years. He is a particularly pleasant and intelligent lad of good ability. His behaviour has been invariably good and he has reached Standard VII."

In the summer of 1924, after leaving school, Jack went with his mother to the Isle of Man to visit his aunt who ran a boarding house there for the summer season. Jack’s first job in life was selling deck chairs on the beach, earning six shillings a week [7].

Jack returned to Liverpool in October of 1924 and attended Toxteth Technical College night school where he studied technical drawing and engineering practice during the winter session. He also began an apprenticeship with Henry Wilson & Co., Ltd. Engineers in Liverpool [8]. Henry Wilson & Co. were makers of the Wilson oil heat boilers and burners, as well as cooking and sterilizing equipment. This firm fitted out major Atlantic ocean-going liners built in the United Kingdom for steam ship companies such as White Star, Cunard, Blue Funnel and Furness Withy.

Jack served a complete craft apprenticeship with the firm to the trade of "Fitter and Turner." He completed the recognized five-year training period in October of 1929 and remained in the employ of the company as a "Fitter and Turner" until February of 1932. During his period of employment, Jack learned all aspects of bench fitting and assembly work, with particular emphasis on steam pressure vessels and marine type oil fired installations. This work was particularly important to Henry Wilson & Co. at this point because they had won the contract to supply the on-board equipment for the "Queen Mary."

Jack was also involved with a period of general plant maintenance and was responsible to the departmental supervisor for testing certain pressure vessels during the last years of his apprenticeship. He also worked on site installations of the equipment. His machine shop training included the following skills:

Jack was forced to leave the employ of Henry Wilson & Co. in February of 1932 when the contract for the "Queen Mary" was suspended for a long while. The firm almost closed as a result of the delayed contract. Many men lost their jobs as a result. The company’s records indicate that Jack was "a progressive minded person; capable of making decisions, even at an early age." [9] The skills learned by Jack would be of great use to him in his forthcoming military career and in his civil career following his discharge from the Army.

Jack did not find steady work after leaving Henry Wilson and Co. Jobs were difficult to come by in Liverpool between 1931 and 1933. Three out of every five men were unemployed. Jack’s brother, who was an electrician, and his father were both out of work. His mother, then about aged 60, went back to work part time as a nurse.

For about a year prior to enlisting in the Army, Jack worked at a number of odd jobs. He applied to the Liverpool Police Force, but they had a long waiting list. He considered joining the Navy, but they too were not accepting new recruits. In order to support himself, Jack finally decided to join the Army. The Royal Engineers were certainly glad to have him, as they always were looking for qualified and skilled men. Jack’s experience as a fitter and turner certainly made him an asset to the Corps.


Jack Firth attested for service in the Royal Engineers at 92 London Road in Liverpool on the 7th of February 1933. He enlisted in the Regular Army for a period of 6 years with the Colours and 6 years in the Reserve. On his attestation papers he listed his trade as "fitter and turner" and that he was not an apprentice. As was customary, he answered all of the standard questions regarding his life prior to enlistment. He indicated that he was not married, that he was not a member of His Majesty’s Forces, that he had never previously served or been rejected for military service, and that he had never been convicted by Civil Power. Jack indicated that his religion was Church of England.

Jack Firth’s description on enlistment, as recorded in his attestation papers, indicated that he was 5-feet 10-inches tall and weighed 124 pounds. His normal chest measurement was 35 inches normally, and 39 inches when fully expanded. He had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. Jack’s distinctive marks included a scar on the back of his right forearm and a mole on the left side of his face [10].

After the approval of his enlistment, Jack was given Army Number 1870074 and the rank of Sapper. He was then sent off to the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, where he was assigned to 161 Party, "B" Company of the Training Battalion Royal Engineers. Jack then spent the best part of 11 months receiving the basic training of an engineer soldier. This training included drill and duties, rifle marksmanship, physical fitness, demolitions, bridging, field works and Lewis gun training. Weapons training took place at the Shornmead Ranges near Gravesend on the lower River Thames. Shornmead was a marshy place and the soldiers training there were billeted in an old fort. The place was also infested with mosquitoes, requiring the men to use nets over their beds to keep the insects away at night while they slept.

During his recruit training period, Jack demonstrated excellent prowess with the service rifle. He was a member of the "B" Company Rifle Team and won the 2nd Prize Silver Cup in the Command Young Soldiers’ Competition. The team also won the Wouldham Shield for "B" Company.


Service at Longmoor, Hampshire (1934-1939)

Following the completion of his engineer recruit training at Chatham, Sapper Firth was assigned to the Railway Training Center at Longmoor Camp in Hampshire. At the time that Jack was assigned to Longmoor there were two Royal Engineer Railway Companies serving there, the 8th and the 10th. Upon his arrival at Longmoor, he was assigned to No. 5 Section of the 10th Railway Company.

The decade of the 1930’s was known as "the years of growth" at Longmoor Camp. During this period many new programs were begun that included increased emphasis on movement control, rebuilding the camp, construction of a new headquarters block, the construction of a signal school with a school model railway, and trials dealing with wireless control of trains. Most of this work was initiated prior to Jack’s arrival at Longmoor by Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) Lionel Manton, R.E., an officer of immense ability and drive. In the late thirties, while Jack was serving there, other changes took place at Longmoor Camp. For starters, in 1935 the camp railway was given the official title of the "Longmoor Military Railway." The year 1936 saw the despatch to Palestine of detachments of the 8th and 10th Railway Companies to operate railway installations for the British forces serving there, although Jack was not one of the men selected to go to Palestine at this time.

Jack spent almost five years at Longmoor where he worked as a Fitter and Turner. His major duties involved the maintenance of locomotives, wagons and coaches. During the summer months at Longmoor Jack’s company was charged with covering all fire turnouts. At the time, Longmoor was mostly moor land and each summer when there was a heat wave the moors would be set ablaze. The fires were so stubborn to extinguish that sometimes a team from the company would be out for two or three days and nights trying to put out fires that burned under the heather in all directions. The fire-fighting teams sometimes blamed the late night train drivers for these fires. Some of them had the tendency to increase their speed and the locomotive would send our showers of sparks. This was particularly dangerous on the section of line between Liss Forest and Longmoor Downs, an area very susceptible to brush fires.

In addition to these duties, Jack was involved each year with the training program of his own company. This training was designed to have the men maintained their proficiency as soldiers while they worked at their technical skills associated with the railway work. A particularly interesting training exercise for the men was the map reading training. One Saturday morning per month the men would dress in civilian clothes and take a carefree stroll with their maps to locate features at certain pre-designated coordinates. The senior non-commissioned officer who planned these exercises usually had a keen sense of humour. The terrain feature that the men were required to find was very frequently a pub.

In addition to their own training, the men of the 10th Company were also involved with the training of the Supplementary Reserves from main line railways who came to Longmoor in the summer for two weeks of training in operating and signalling. Sometimes a Lieutenant or a Captain in the Supplementary Reserve would turn out to be a porter in civilian life. Sometimes a senior railway official would show up for training as a Lance Corporal. They were a very democratic lot of men, many of whom wore medals from the Great War of 1914 to 1918.

The Special Reserves training had been done with marked success since 1924 when the main line companies agreed to form military units. The units created were known as the Supplementary Reserve (Railway Units) with regimental headquarters at Longmoor where a full-time regular adjutant was stationed. In 1937 it was decided to have an operating company and a construction company of the Supplementary Reserve in camp concurrently and to organize their training jointly. At this time, the Supplementary Reserve consisted of No. 1 Railway Operating Group R.E. (S.R.) and No. 1 Railway Stores Group R.E. (S.R.). No. 1 Railway Operating Group consisted of a Headquarters, three Railway Construction Companies (Nos. 150 through 152), two Railway Operating Companies (Nos. 153 and 154), and 155 Railway Workshops Company. No. 1 Railway Stores Group consisted of a Headquarters and 156 Railway Stores Company [11]. In 1938 there was the enlargement of the Special Reserve and the 157th Docks Company was expanded to form No. 1 Docks Group to be joined in 1939 by No. 2 Docks Group formed by the Port of London Authority and other southern ports [12].

The association of the military and civilian railway and docks organizations begun in 1924, and in which Jack Firth participated during his years at Longmoor, was a long and vital one for the Royal Engineers. As each unit came successively to Longmoor to train and practice their respective roles, a strong bond of friendship developed between the Regulars and the Reservists at all levels. This common bond of interest in railways would prove of great value in the later years of the decade as Longmoor began preparations for a war the seemed inevitable. From 1938 the emphasis at Longmoor switched to preparations for war, work which occupied the staff of the Railway Training Center fully. In addition to training the Supplementary Reservists that year, Jack also participated in a major annual training exercise involving both the 8th and 10th Railway Companies. The 1938 training season included an ambitious exercise in which both companies were deployed together to operate the Longmoor Military Railway as a complete military line of communication. Another series of trials to determine the effects of air raids on railways were completed in 1938 at the time of the Munich crisis.

By early 1939 war preparations were uppermost in the thoughts of all connected with the Longmoor Military Railway. Maintaining the skills of a soldier in preparation for the coming war was as much a part of Jack’s work as any railway duties. To that end he participated in route marching (while wearing a gas mask) in the area of Greatham Village, Hampshire, and in bridging training at Wyke Regis in Weymouth. But Jack was not to remain at Longmoor for much of 1939. On the 1st of February 1939 Jack, then a Corporal, was posted to the 30th Fortress Company, Royal Engineers. The 30th Company was then stationed at Changi, Singapore. Jack was granted leave prior to his embarkation for the Far East. Thinking back on his days at Longmoor, Jack remembered that the ". . . years at Longmoor were the most happy of my career. The solid companionship and trust, including all the ‘leg pulling,’ I shall never forget. All ranks were great." [13] Ironically, some of the worst days of his military career lay just ahead.

Service in Singapore (1939-1942)

In addition to the 30th Fortress Company, the following units of the Royal Engineers were also serving at Singapore at the time Jack Firth was posted there [14]:

34th Fortress Company (a searchlight unit)

35th Fortress Company (at Pulau Brani) [15]

36th Fortress Company (at Penang)

41st Fortress Company (employed on coast defence) [16]

The units were generally employed on the operation and maintenance of coast defence lights and engine room operations for the coastal defence guns. The 30th, 34th, 35th, and 41st Fortress Companies were all under the Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) Fortress Troops, Lieutenant Colonel H.M. Taylor, R.E. The 36th Fortress Company came under the command of the C.R.E. Penang, Lieutenant Colonel D.A. Rendle, R.E. [17]

Jack departed from Southampton aboard HMT Etterick and sailed via Gibraltar to Port Said in Egypt and thence to Aden, Bombay, Ceylon and on to Singapore. As the Spanish Civil War was going on at the time, Jack’s ship picked up a Royal Navy escort in the area of Gibraltar.

After joining the 30th Fortress Company at Bukit Timah racecourse in Singapore, Jack was assigned to searchlight operations, motor transport duty and stores accounting. He and his maintenance group were attached to 13 Searchlight Battery, 5 Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery and served with the battery’s technical staff until the Royal Artillery finally took over searchlight duties from the Royal Engineers in 1941. As a result of this reorganization and reassignment of roles between the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, the remainder of 30th Fortress Company became a Bomb Disposal Company and moved to Changi. While in Malaya Jack received promotions to Lance Sergeant and Staff Sergeant.

On the 8th of December 1941, three Japanese divisions, later increased to four, landed at Kota Bharu in northwestern Malaya, on Penang, and in southern Thailand. The Japanese divisions pushed General Percival’s 9th and 11th Indian Divisions southward in a rapid advance through the Malayan jungle and took Ipoh, 150 miles to the south, three weeks later. The forces under Percival made a short stand at Kuala Lumpur, but not even the British and Australian reinforcements that increased his combatant strength to 70,000 enable him to counter the enemy’s efficient jungle fighting tactics. Percival evacuated the Malay Peninsula entirely on the 31st of January 1942 and retired to Singapore island.

As the British forces retreated across the Johore Strait they destroyed the causeway connecting the mainland with Singapore and hoped for some breathing space after their retreat down the length of Malaya. Jack Firth and his company were moved into positions near Changi Prison when the fighting reached the Johore Straits causeway. The British 15-inch guns fired over Jack’s position towards Johore. Meanwhile, men of the 41st Company destroyed the large arsenal of ammunition at Changi.

The Japanese began to shell Singapore island, repaired the damaged causeway, and began crossing 25,000 troops and light tanks by the 9th of February. In addition to firing from Johore, the Japanese also began to shell Singapore from gun positions on Pulau Ubin Island. Under the cover of this shelling, the Japanese spearheads advanced inland and seized the reservoirs in the centre of the island [18].

In the period of waiting for the Japanese assault on the island, the engineer units were busy improving the defences and repairing damage to essential services caused by enemy bombing. Once the Japanese gained a considerable foothold on the island, the fighting spread in extent and intensity and gradually all soldiers capable of bearing arms, the engineers well to the fore, were swept into the fight. Gradually the British forces were driven back. Jack Firth and his company left the Changi area and moved back into Singapore town where they took up positions in a pineapple factory.

While Jack was awaiting the inevitable onslaught of the attacking Japanese divisions, Flo was filled with apprehension by the news from the Far East. In a postcard dated the 12th of February 1942 (postmarked Liverpool, 13 February 1942) Flo wrote these words to Jack [19]:

My Darling,

At this time of hard work and great danger for you there isn’t very much I can say, my dear. Where you will be when this card reaches you – if it ever does reach you – I don’t know. I can’t even guess – but wherever you are my dearest, this card will tell you that you are always in my thoughts – and my heart! I pray every minute that you will come back safely to Ann and me. Yours always, dear,

From Ann X


The prescience of Flo’s statement "if it ever does reach you" is eerie, since the card was returned to her stamped:


One can only imagine the distress that Flo must have experienced at receiving the postcard back with such an impersonal message stamped on it.

In spite of the efforts of the Royal Engineers, Royal Australian Engineers, Indian Engineers units and the Singapore municipal engineers, the water supply was badly damaged and began to fail. Many ammunition magazines and stores situated in outlying parts of the island fell into enemy hands, and the military reserves of food had almost disappeared. The obsolete aircraft that had been available in Singapore had been of little use in stemming the Japanese advance, and when new aircraft did arrive they were too little too late. On the afternoon of the 15th of February 1942, General Percival, the Commander of Forces in Malaya, was obliged to surrender to the Japanese [20]. Jack Firth was in the pineapple factory at the time.

Prisoner of the Japanese (1942-1945)

Jack Firth became a Japanese prisoner on the 15th of February, along with the rest of his company. Most of the officers and men of the other Royal Engineer fortress companies were also captured on that same date. Initially, the British prisoners of war were marched off to Changi on the eastern end of Singapore Island where the jail and big groups of Army barracks were located. Changi also sported a beautiful beach where Jack and his friend Corporal Marsh would take walks and enjoy the scenery and the warm sun before the Japanese capture of Singapore. After the fall of the island, Changi beach would become the horrible scene of the execution of many Chinese prisoners [21].

The military prisoners were marched the 15 to 20 miles to Changi in the hot sun in long columns headed by at least four files of brigadiers and colonels. The Chief Clerk of Jack’s company died en route to Changi. He was the first man of the 30th Company to die in captivity.

The barracks shortage at Changi was acute, but the food shortage was worse. The prisoners went hungry and had to manage as best they could until the Japanese issued them sacks of rice during the first week of captivity. At Changi the men were crowded to the extent of 200 to a space meant to house only 20 people under ordinary conditions. It was assumed that the accommodation would be temporary. The prisoners were soon organized into work parties, some of which, for the sake of convenience and not comfort, were moved into quarters nearer their place of work. All sorts of accommodation were utilized including schools, empty buildings of all kinds, tented camps on cricket fields, and thatched huts constructed by the prisoners [22].

By October of 1942 Jack and many of the other prisoners of war from Singapore and elsewhere were being used as forced labour by the Japanese in dozens of camps in Burma and Thailand on the infamous Siam to Burma Railway. Jack was transported to Siam by rail in a car packed with 32 other men. The journey to their destination took 5 days. Several sailors from HMS Prince of Wales died en route.

The construction of a section of the Siam to Burma Railway was dramatized (although not accurately) by the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The route of the railway stretched from Ban Pong in Thailand (then Siam) to Thanbyuzayat in Burma, over 415 kilometers of mountainous and virtually virgin and inhospitable jungle. Ban Pong was located at the junction between the east-west line to Bangkok and the north-south line to Singapore. Jack Firth was first sent to a camp at Non Pladuk in Thailand, along the Ban Pong to Bangkok line, just east of Ban Pong.

Squalid and disease-ridden as Changi might have been, the men who were sent to camps to work on this railway suffered a much worse fate. The causes of death and sickness in the camps along the route of the railway were starvation, climate, hardship, accidents, occasionally personal violence, neglect, poor physique, despair, neurosis and disease. The diseases included malaria in all its forms, recurrent fevers, dysentery, cholera, scurvy, pellagra, beri-beri, sleeping sickness, hookworm, ringworm, jungle ulcers and abscesses and general toxemia. The fatal casualties of all troops in captivity totaled about more than a third. Nearly every prisoner had some sickness, many had several diseases, and because of their poor diet every man lost weight, and consequently resistance to disease, to an alarming degree. They were always crowded together, so that contagion was inescapable. Washing was difficult, as water was in short supply. In some areas bathing in nearby rivers was allowed only rarely. Dirt encouraged swarms of flies as it was hard to keep eating utensils clean and in the damp heat of the jungle remnants of previous meals quickly went bad. The prisoners became vermin-ridden. The river water held the fearful risk of cholera unless it was boiled. Resistance was low so that the will to live was low too. Sick prisoners often preferred to lie down and die, for death for some was so much easier than going on under such conditions.

During the period of Jack’s captivity, the POW camps were mistakenly bombed by the Allies and many prisoners were killed. In 1944 Jack and many other prisoners were moved to a camp near Tamuwan [23], about five miles from the infamous bridge of the River Kwai. Their work at Tamuwan involved digging stone out of a quarry for use as ballast on the railway line. While Jack was at Tamuwan, there was an increase in activity by Allied Air Forces. On the 4th of June 1945 Jack saw the first daylight raid of allied bombers fly over the POW camp en route to Bangkok. His health, by this time, had seriously deteriorated as a result of hard work, poor food and ill treatment by the Japanese [24].

In August of 1945 the Japanese surrendered and the prisoners in Jack’s camp were liberated. He was transported to Bangkok and then was flown to Rangoon by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He then proceeded to Colombo, Ceylon where he arrived on the 25th of September 1945 [25]. The final leg of the voyage home was made from Ceylon to Liverpool aboard a Dutch ship. Jack arrived in Liverpool Bay in a thick fog and had to remain on board ship at anchor in the bay for 16 hours. One can imagine his impatience and frustration at having to wait so long to disembark and see his loved ones after so many years of separation.

For his service during the war, Jack was awarded the 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal and War Medal. These medals hardly seem sufficient reward for the service performed and the hardships endured; however, they were the medals authorized for all the officers, non-commissioned officers and men who were taken prisoner in the Pacific theatre of the war. Jack once commented to the author that "they don’t give medals for being a prisoner of war." Well, perhaps they should have done. It took a great amount of courage to endure and survive the treatment imposed by the Japanese in the camps on the Siam to Burma Railway. Kate Caffrey put it very well in her book Out in the Midday Sun when she wrote the following:

"Courage in battle (which may be the courage of the fool who does not see the risk or the higher kind that shrinks from the terror and still goes ahead) is, rightly, recognized and awarded with decorations. But there is a higher kind still – that of solid endurance, when there is no way of knowing how long one must go on, when there is no sign of light at the end of the tunnel, and always the inner fear that one is forgotten. Sometimes ex-prisoners have felt almost ashamed to admit that they were in captivity, not realising that as prisoners who managed to survive they can justly be regarded as being in a special category of bravery. News, action, hope, company and the cheers of the multitude reinforce the soldier in battle; no such comfort is available to the soldier in enemy hands, whose daily companions are silence and despair."

Home Service (1945-1948)

Following a four-month period of recuperation, Jack was posted to the School of Military Engineering at Ripon in North Yorkshire [26]. His duties there consisted mainly of plant demonstrations for Young Officers training classes. The demonstrations mostly dealt with pump assembly, internal combustion engines, water works, chorination for water purification plants, and pipe lines. He was also involved in making regular visits to the water works in York. The York water works system consisted of one large ground-level reservoir of river water and three different types of pumping units. The water works supplied about two million gallons a day to a nearby sugar beet factory that used the water to hose down the beets prior to the production of sugar. One of the main problems associated with the water works was the constant threat of being flooded due to its location.

On the 23rd of October 1946 Jack extended to complete 25 years of service with the Colours [27].

Service in the Middle East (1948-1951)

Jack served at Ripon until 1948 when he was assigned to the Middle East by way of Barton Stacy Camp. He sailed to Egypt and then to Cyprus and Southern Greece. He was posted at Athens to serve with British support troops and American forces in operations against the communist insurgent forces operating in Greece at that time.

It was shortly after his arrival in Greece that Jack made a formal complaint about the separation from his family again so soon after being repatriated from his imprisonment by the Japanese. He also complained about the lack of promotion since returning from the war. His complaints were considered justified and his family was flown to Greece almost immediately. On the 8th of April 1949 he was appointed to the rank of Warrant Officer Class II while serving with the Royal Engineers Establishment South Greece.

Early in 1949 all British troops were moved out of Greece. Jack anticipated a posting to England. Instead he was posted back to Egypt and then on to Benghazi for Garrison Duty with the Royal Engineers Works Service under the Commander Royal Engineers in Benghazi.

Home Service (1951-1955)

In 1951 Jack was posted home and assigned to the office of the Commander Royal Engineers at Catterick Camp in the Northern Command. He was involved with a variety of jobs at Catterick, including the conditioning of river water and piping the water many miles to Catterick Camp and nearby villages. His duties also included the Command Workshop, laundry, bakery, sewage works, housing and barracks areas. He served there as Clerk of Works (Mechanical) until his discharge in 1955.


Military Education and Qualifications: Jack Firth’s military education and qualifications are summarized in the following table:


Training Programs and/or Qualifications

7 February 1933
(11 months)

Engineer Recruit Train, School of Military Engineering. Won the bronze medallion for Fieldworks. Qualified as a Turner, Group E, Class III on enlistment [28].

19 April 1933

Passed the 60-yard swimming test at the School of Military Engineering [29].

15 June 1933

Awarded a Second Class Certificate of Education at the School of Military Engineering [30].

4 January 1934

Passed Drill and Duties Class, Part II at the School of Military Engineering. Grade: "Average" [31]

10 August 1934

Remustered as a Turner, Group A, Class III at Longmoor Camp [32].

10 October 1934

Awarded a First Class Certificate of Education at Longmoor Camp [33].

19 March 1936

Remustered as a Turner, Group A, Class II at Longmoor Camp [34].

19 January 1937

Remustered as a Turner, Group A, Class I at Longmoor Camp [35].

2 March 1938

Passed Fieldworks Course at the School of Military Engineering. Grade: "Excellent" [36]

22 August 1940

Passed Course of Instruction in Technical and Motor Transport Duties in Malaya [37].

8 September 1947

Passed Course of Instruction for Military Mechanist at Ripon [38].

Civil Education and Qualifications: Jack Firth took part in many educational and training programs in civil life and earned the qualifications shown in the table below:


Training Programs and/or Qualifications

October 1929

Completed 5-year "Fitter and Turner" Apprenticeship

January 1932

Qualified to Render "First Aid to the Injured" [39]


Passed in the Second Class the Intermediate Exam-ination in Heating and Ventilating Engineering Practice [40].


Passed in the Second Class the Examination in Motor Vehicle Mechanics’ Work [41].

12 May 1951

Awarded the Benghazi Services Sailing Club Helms-man’s Certificate, Class C.

31 August 1951

Awarded the Benghazi Military Sailing Club Helms-man’s Certificate, Class B.

July 1969

Passed an Examination in First Aid [42].


Promotions: During his 22 years of service, Jack Firth rose from the rank of Sapper to Warrant Officer Class I. The following table indicates the dates of each of his promotions:


Promotion or Appointment

7 February 1933:

Enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a Sapper.

17 January 1936:

Promoted Lance Corporal.

4 February 1938:

Promoted Corporal.


Promoted Lance Sergeant.

30 June 1941:

Promoted Staff Sergeant

8 April 1949:

Appointed Unpaid Warrant Officer Class II.

29 April 1949:

Appointed Acting Warrant Officer Class II.

26 August 1949:

Promoted (Substantive) Warrant Officer Class II (Clerk of Works Quartermaster Sergeant).

30 December 1953:

Appointed Acting Warrant Officer Class I (Mechanist).

Conduct: Jack Firth’s final conduct assessment was "Exemplary." This evaluation was made by the Commander Royal Engineers at Catterick, at the completion of Jack’s final assignment in the Army. He was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal with gratuity on the 21st of March 1952 by authority of Army Order 13/1952 [43].


Jack Firth suffered cruelly during his captivity by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. By the time he was released from captivity, he had contracted malaria, amoebic dysentery, shingles and beri-beri. After his arrival home, and prior to his posting to other military duties, Jack was given four months of sick leave.

The effects of his war time illnesses and poor treatment by the Japanese plagued him long after his return from the war. They became especially acute in late 1951 after he was posted to Catterick. He had a severe recurrence of dysentery, but the local Medical Officer did not seem to think that his illness warranted any aggressive form of treatment. His medical problems continued until he was ultimately forced to cut short his enlistment and take his discharge in order to seek better medical treatment.

Jack sought treatment at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine where he was diagnosed as having serious damage to his bowel and digestive track as a result of the diseases contracted while in the prisoner of war camp in Thailand.


Jack Firth met Florence ("Flo") Edith Edwards at Toxteth in Liverpool. At the time they met, Flo was working as a schoolteacher at the Seaman’s Orphanage, a job she held from 1932 to 1937. Both were members of the Independent Labour Party [44].

Jack and Flo were married on the 11th of December 1937 at St. Christopher’s Church on Broad Lane in Norris Green. Their wedding was announced by Flo’s mother, Mrs. C. Gibson of 15 Lorenzo Drive in Liverpool [45]. Jack’s brother acted as the best man at the wedding [46]. The wedding reception was held at the West Derby Village Hall [47].

The Firth’s first child, Ann, was born in Walton Hospital Liverpool on the 27th of February 1939. At the time of her birth, Jack was on a troopship in the Mediterranean, just passing Gibraltar, when he received notice of the happy event [48]. Jack would not get to see his daughter until his release from the Japanese POW camp and his return home in the Autumn of 1945.

For Flo the years of Jack’s captivity were very stressful, but despite her constant worry about his well being, she managed to work as an officer of the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department and served in the Home Guard [49]. She also was active with organizations that met to exchange information on Far East prisoners of war. Once such organization that Flo met with was the Joint County Committee for West Lancashire War Organization sponsored by the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Flo would attend meetings of the committee to meet and exchange information with other families who had relatives in the Japanese camps, specifically in Thailand [50]. News of prisoners of war was agonizingly slow in reaching family members, so every little bit helped. As an example, Flo did not receive the first postcard from Jack until 2 years after his capture, so she was obviously desperate for any news about him from other people with relatives who had been captured.

The Firth’s second child, John Charles, was born on the 7th of February 1947. In 1948 Jack was posted to the Middle East and Flo and the children remained behind in England. Later in that year Flo and the two children flew to Rome and then on to Athens where Jack had been able to secure the Naval Commanders Married Quarters at Glyfada in which they would live for a time. Jack’s good luck in being able to secure these quarters was due to the recent posting of the naval officer who had occupied them.

Early in 1950 Jack was posted to Benghazi. The family traveled by sea from Athens aboard the Empress of Australia to Port Said in Egypt. They then traveled to Moascar with other British families where all their passports were collected. Jack then proceeded to Cairo dressed in civilian clothes, to have the passports stamped for entry and exit from Egypt. Once this typically "efficient" Egyptian operation was completed, Jack and his family went back to Port Said and embarked on the Empire Windrush for the next leg of the trip to Tobruk where they disembarked on the 17th of March 1950. From there they traveled overland by road, a distance of 140 miles, to Benghazi, after an overnight stay in Derna.

Tragedy struck the Firth family in Benghazi the following year. Little John Charles, then just four years old, died on the operating table on the 10th of February 1951 during a routine tonsillectomy [51]. Full burial ceremonies were performed by the Royal Engineer troops at Benghazi, and young John was buried at the Benghazi Military Cemetery. Shortly before John died, Ann, then 12 years old, went home to England on her own to attend school.

Jack and Flo returned to England shortly after Ann’s return. They resided in the Catterick area of North Yorkshire until Jack’s discharge from the Army. Following his discharge the Firths resided at 15 Sandringham Road in Formby, Liverpool.

Flo died on the 24th of November 1999 leaving a devastating void in Jack’s life. In early May of 2000 he moved in temporarily with his grandson near Manchester and in late May of that year he took up temporary residence in Worcestershire with his granddaughter Janet and her husband Adrian in anticipation of moving into a new home with his daughter Ann [52]. On the 19th of June 2000 Jack and Ann moved into their renovated historic home at 1 Court Barns on Bredicot Lane in Crowle, Worcestershire [53]. Their new home has been entered in the Schedule of Monuments for ancient monuments and archaeological areas. The monument includes the buried earthwork remains of the moated medieval monastic retreat at Crowle Court. It was an estate of the Bishop of Worcester from the 9th century. It later formed a manor of the Priory of Worcester, which is believed to have acted as a summer residence or retreat during the 14th to 16th centuries and acted as the retirement home of Prior Moore on the eve of the Dissolution [54].

The site of 1 Court Barns is located to the east of a tithe barn and open yard and was originally in a range of single story 19th century animal sheds and farm buildings. The buildings have been beautifully restored as dwellings.


Although he had originally enlisted for 6 years with the Colours and 6 years in the Reserve, Jack had extended his enlistment to serve for 25 years. As his war-related health problems became more acute, and since he was not receiving adequate care from the military medical authorities, Jack decided to resign three years of his 25-year enlistment in order to obtain proper medical attention. This decision cost him 100 pounds. He was discharged from the Army on the 6th of February 1955 with a total of 22 years of service. He was awarded a 22-year service pension [55]. A 20% war pension was granted to him in 1956 after his discharge from the Tropical Ward of the School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool.

Notification of his pension from the War Office was registered at the R.E. Record Office at Brighton on the 11th of February 1955 [56]. At the time of his discharge, Jack Firth’s military service was reckoned as shown in the following table:




Period of Service


7 February 1933

23 February 1939

6 years and 16 days


24 February 1939

14 February 1942

2 years and 356 days

Prisoner of War

15 February 1942

12 October 1945

3 years and 240 days


13 October 1945

13 September 1948

2 years and 236 days

Middle East

14 September 1948

28 September 1951

3 years and 15 days


29 September 1951

6 February 1955

3 years and 131 days

Total Service:

22 years exactly


Following his discharge from the Army, Jack was offered the position of Mechanical Clerk of Works in Brecon, Wales. Instead, he took a position as a civilian employee with the office of the Commander Royal Engineers for the Chester Area in Cheshire [57]. After 2 years he transferred to a job with the Garrison Engineer at Merseyside, Liverpool where he worked on the development of workshops and barracks for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Daysbrook Barracks.

Jack’s final change of civilian employment was made when he left military-related service and joined the Liverpool Regional Hospital Board Engineering Department as a Technical Assistant Grade I. On the 1st of July 1972 Jack was regraded to the position of Technical Officer [58]. Jack found this work to be most interesting as he was in a supervisory role on all engineering projects in the Merseyside Hospitals. He worked in this capacity for the Chief Engineer and was involved with projects dealing with boiler houses, piped medical gases, air conditioning, water supply, heating and ventilation and kitchens. He continued to work for the Mersey Regional Health Authority and Liverpool Regional Hospital Board until his retirement on the 16th of July 1975 [59].


Following his retirement from his civilian job, the Firths continued residing at 15 Sandringham Road in Formby, Liverpool. Jack maintained his connection with the Army by attending Veteran’s Weekends at Brompton Barracks. Jack and Flo frequently attended the Royal Engineers Association (North West Group) Dinner Dances at Southport as well as the Royal Engineers Reunion in Pakefield, Suffolk.

The Firths also enjoyed traveling and visited many countries including two trips to Australia, and trips to Portugal, Greece, Austria, Switzerland, France, Norway, and Ireland. They made regular visits to the Isle of Man [60] and spent many summer holidays in North Wales.

Jack and Flo celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1987 and their Diamond Wedding Anniversary in 1997. On this latter occasion they received a telegram from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, date Windsor Castle, 10 December 1997. The telegram read:



Jack Firth died peacefully in bed on Friday, 19 August 2005, a month after his 95th birthday and shortly after the 60th anniversary of VJ Day.


Joseph Firth was the father of George Firth and the grandfather of John (Jack) Firth. The following information regarding Joseph Firth’s military service was compiled from information researched by G.M. Hughes, a Record Agent from Teddington, Middlesex.

Sergeant Joseph Firth of the 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery married Jane Simpson (a spinster) at Kingston, Ontario, Canada on the 22nd of August 1859 [61].

The 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery was stationed at Woolwich for the Quarter beginning on the 1st of January 1869 and ending on the 31st of March 1869. 286 Sergeant Joseph Firth is shown on the rolls of this unit at that time [62].

A child, Henry, was born to Joseph and Jane Firth about the beginning of 1872. A son, Joseph, may have previously been born but had not survived. Sergeant Firth was still serving with the 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery at this time [63].

In 1875 Joseph Firth, now a Gunner, was serving in the 2nd Battery, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery. The brigade was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Firth’s eldest child is due to be struck off the married roll upon reaching the age of 14 years. Sergeant Firth was removed from the Sergeants’ Married Roll and placed on the Married Roll of the Rank and File on the 1st of July 1874. The reason for Firth’s reduction from the rank of Sergeant to the rank of Gunner is unknown [64].

In 1876 Gunner Firth was serving with the 6th Battery, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery at Halifax, Nova Scotia. A further child named John had been born to the Firths by this time. Gunner Firth’s time in service had expired and he and his family embarked for England on the 25th of July 1876 [65].

In 1881 six of Joseph and Jane Firth’s children were baptized [66]. The 1881 British Census shows that the Firth family resided at 22 Copperfield Street, Toxteth Park, Lancashire. Joseph Firth (aged 49), a Pensioner working as a Porter, was the head of the household and lived at the above residence with his wife Jane (aged 50). The Firths had seven children living with them at the time [67]:



Place of Birth

James Firth [68]


Quebec, Canada

Mary Firth


Pembroke, Wales

George Firth [69]


Ulverston, Cumbria

Henry Firth


Portsmouth, Hampshire

John Firth


Nova Scotia, Canada

Elizabeth Firth [70]


Liverpool, Lancashire

Arthur Firth [71]


Liverpool, Lancashire

Another interesting entry appears in the 1881 British Census for a George Firth (born at Kensington, Middlesex in 1849) married to an Annie Firth (born at Hythe, Kent in 1850). Their residence at the time is given as the School of Musketry, Hythe St. Leonard, Kent. This George and Annie Firth had one son, George G., born at Hythe in 1877. The entry is interesting because the names are all so similar to those of Jack Firth’s family. Furthermore, it is even more interesting that George Firth was a soldier and Orderly Room Clerk at the School of Musketry [72].



CAFFREY, K. Out in the Midday Sun: Singapore, 1941-1945 – The End of an Empire. Stein and Day, New York, 1973.

KINVIG, C. Scapegoat: General Percival of Singapore. Brassey’s, London, 1996.

PAKENHAM-WALSH, R.P. The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, 1939-1948. Volume IX. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1957.

HARBOTTLE, T. Dictionary of Battles. Stein and Day, New York, 1971.

MERRIAM WEBSTER. Geographical Dictionary, Springfield, MA, 1997.

RONALD, D.W. and CARTER, R.J. The Longmoor Military Railway. David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1974.

SEARLE, R. To the Kwai – and Back: War Drawings, 1939-1945. William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., London, 1986.

SWINSON, A. Defeat in Malaya: The Fall of Singapore. Ballantine Books, Inc., New York, 1969.

VERMA, S. & ANAND, V.K. The Corps of Indian Engineers, 1939-1947. Historical Section, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, 1974.


Letter from J. Firth to the author, dated 17 June 1984.

Letter from J. Firth to the author, dated 13 June 1986.

Letter from G.M. Hughes to J. Firth, dated 25 September 1987.

Letter from J. Firth to the author, dated 25 August 1987.

Letter from J. Firth to the author, dated 20 July 1989.

Letter from j. Firth to the author, dated 9 July 2000.

Letter from J. Firth to the author, dated 18 September 2000.


1881 British Census. Mormon Family History Library Film 1341872, PRO Reference RG11, Piece 3641, Folio 23, Page 41.

1881 British Census. Mormon Family History Library Film 1341241, PRO Reference RG11, Piece 1014, Folio 24, Page 42.

Army Certificate of Education, Second Class, Army Form C.309, Chatham, 15 June 1933.

Army Certificate of Education, First Class, Longmoor, 10 October 1934.

Attestation Papers, Army Form B. 271A.

Benghazi Services Sailing Club, Helmsman’s Certificate, 12 May 1951.

Benghazi Military Sailing Club, Helmsman’s Certificate, 31 August 1951.

Certificate of Qualification (R1749), The St. John Ambulance Association, Liverpool Centre, January 1932.

Certificate, The St. John Ambulance Association and Brigade, Liverpool, July 1969.

City and Guilds of London Institute, Department of Technology Certificate, 1948.

Death Certificate of John Charles Firth, Benghazi Military Hospital, 12 February 1951.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport Batch Number: 10625. File Reference: AA 92633/1.

Letter of Recommendation for J. Firth from Henry Wilson & Co., Ltd. Engineers, dated 20 March 1961.

Liverpool Education Committee Memorandum from the Head Master, Senior Boys Department, Upper Park Street School, Liverpool, dated 10 October 1924.

Liverpool Regional Hospital Board letter dated 15 August 1972.

Married Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, circa March 1874.

Married Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, 30 September 1875, WO69/558.

Married Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, 1 July 1876.

Mersey Regional Health Authority letter dated 16 May 1975.

Pay List and Muster Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, WO10/2553.

Pension Certificate, Army Council, War Office, 11 February 1955.

Postcard, Mrs. J. Firth to Staff Sergeant J. Firth, dated Liverpool, 12 February 1942.

Record of Service, Army Form W5258.

Register of Baptisms, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, 1881.

Resolution to Officers of the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department, December 1945.

Royal Artillery, Register of Marriages (7th Brigade), WO69/557.

The St. John Ambulance Association and Brigade First Aid Certificate, Liverpool, July 1969.

Soldier’s Service Book. Army Book 64.

Ship Letter Telegram from J. Firth to Mrs. J. Firth, dated 3 March 1939.

Telegram from J. Firth to Mrs. J. Firth, dated Colombo, 23 September 1945.

Telemessage from H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, Windsor Castle, 10 December 1997.

War Organization of the British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Joint County Committee for West Lancashire, Meeting Announcement, Liverpool, 23 May 1945.

Wedding Invitation, Florence Edwards and John Firth, Liverpool, 11 December 1937.

Welcome Home letter from H.M. King George GVI, Buckingham Palace, September 1945.


Formby Times, 18 December 1997.

Formby Times, 12 February 1998.


Wedding Photograph, Jack and Flo Firth, 11 December 1937.

Wedding Photograph, Jack and Flo Firth, Best Man and Maid of Honour, 11 December 1937.


[1] Attestation Papers, Army Form B.271A.

[2] All of Jack’s sisters and brother George lived into their late eighties. Simon died as a baby.

[3] There is a controversy over the place of George Firth’s birth. Jack remembers his father telling him that he was born at Woolwich Arsenal, however, the 1881 British Census shows him as being born at Ulverston in Cumbria.

[4] Letter from J. Firth to the author dated 20 July 1989.

[5] The research on Joseph Firth’s military service was performed by G.M. Hughes, Record Agent, of Teddington, Middlesex, in September of 1987.

[6] Liverpool Education Committee Memorandum from the Head Master, Senior Boys Department, Upper Park Street School, dated Liverpool, 10 October 1924.

[7] Letter from J. Firth to the author dated 18 September 2000.

[8] This firm later moved to the Kirkby Industrial Estate near Liverpool during World War 2.

[9] Letter of Recommendation for J. Firth from Henry Wilson & Co., Ltd. Engineers, dated 20 March 1961.

[10] Attestation Papers, Army Form B.271A.

[11] RONALD, D.W. & CARTER, R.J., p. 78.

[12] Ibid., p. 79.

[13] Letter to the author from J. Firth dated 25 August 1987.

[14] Letter to author from J. Firth dated 13 June 1986.

[15] Most of this unit was lost at sea trying to escape to Java after the fall of Singapore.

[16] Some of this unit managed to escape to Sumatra and returned home after the fall of Singapore.

[17] Corps History, Volume IX, p. 135.

[18] HARBOTTLE, T., pp. 172 and 260.

[19] Flo was living at 15 Lorenzo Drive in Liverpool at the time that she wrote this postcard.

[20] Corps History, Volume IX, pp. 153-154.

[21] Photograph of Jack Firth and Corporal Marsh on Changi Beach, c. 1939.

[22] CAFFREY, K., pp. 187-190.

[23] On some maps Tamuwan is spelled Tamuang.

[24] Letter to the author from J. Firth dated 18 September 2000.

[25] Telegram dated 25 September 1945.

[26] The School of Military Engineering at Ripon closed in 1948 when all military engineer training activities were concentrated at Chatham.

[27] Army Book 64. Soldier’s Service Book.

[28] This medallion is in the possession of Jack Firth’s grandson Andrew.

[29] Army Book 64. Soldier’s Service Book.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Certificate of Qualification (R1749) issued by The St. John Ambulance Association at the Liverpool Centre of the Association, 5 Wellington Buildings N., South Castle Street Liverpool, dated January 1932.

[40] City and Guilds of London Institute Department of Technology Certificate dated 1948.

[41] City and Guilds of London Institute Department of Technology Certificate dated 1948.

[42] Certificate from The St. John Ambulance Association and Brigade, Liverpool, July 1969.

[43] Army Book 64.

[44] Formby Times, 18 December 1997.

[45] Flo’s maiden name was Edwards. He father died when she was two years old and her mother subsequently remarried and became Mrs. Gibson.

[46] Wedding photograph postcard with Best Man and Maid of Honour.

[47] Wedding photograph postcard and wedding invitation.

[48] Ship Letter Telegram dated 3 March 1939 and the Formby Times, 12 February 1998.

[49] Resolution to Officers of the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department dated December 1945.

[50] Meeting announcement dated 23 May 1945.

[51] Death Certificate dated 12 February 1951 prepared by Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Sullivan, RAMC, Officer Commanding Benghazi Military Hospital, Benghazi, MELF.

[52] Ann had married Kevin Gorman and they had three children; Andrew, Janet and Peter. Kevin Gorman died on the 6th of April 1993 after a short illness. The Firth’s granddaughter Janet married Adrian Coleman on the 11th of May 1996. The Coleman’s, and their sons James and Timothy, presently live next door to Jack and his daughter Ann in Crowle, Worcestershire.

[53] Letter from J. Firth to author dated 9 July 2000.

[54] Department for Culture, Media and Sport Batch Number: 10625. File Reference: AA 92633/1.

[55] Army Form W5258 and Letter of 18 September 2000.

[56] Certificate issued By Command of the Army Council.

[57] Letter to the author from J. Firth, dated 17 June 1984.

[58] Liverpool Regional Hospital Board letter dated 15 August 1972.

[59] Mersey Regional Health Authority letter dated 16 May 1975.

[60] Jack’s sisters Elizabeth (Lil) and Mabel are both buried at Port Erin on the Isle of Man.

[61] WO69/557. Royal Artillery, Register of Marriages (7th Brigade).

[62] WO10/2553. Pay List and Muster Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery.

[63] Married Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, circa March 1874.

[64] WO69/558. Married Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, 30 September 1875.

[65] Married Roll, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, 1 July 1876.

[66] Register of Baptisms, 7th Brigade, Royal Artillery, 1881.

[67] 1881 British Census. Mormon Family History Library Film 1341872, PRO Reference RG11, Piece 3641, Folio 23, Page 41.

[68] Relatives of James Firth are believed to be still living in Ontario, Canada.

[69] George Firth, born in 1870, was the father of Jack Firth. There is some confusion as to whether he was born in Cumbria or at Woolwich Arsenal as he told Jack.

[70] Elizabeth married the owner of The Turks Head pub in Toxteth, Liverpool.

[71] Both George Firth and Arthur Firth are buried with Jack’s mother in Holy Trinity Church Yard in Wavertree, Liverpool.

[72] 1881 British Census. Mormon Family History Library Film 1341241, PRO Reference RG11, Piece 1014, Folio 24, Page 42.

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