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Loin-cloth flag recalls POWs’ plight for VJ-Day commemoration

16 August 2020

St Mary’s, Swansea

The Far East Prisoner of War Union Jack on the north wall of the nave of St Mary’s, Swansea. Behind it are the regimental colours of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards

The Far East Prisoner of War Union Jack on the north wall of the nave of St Mary’s, Swansea. Behind it are the regimental colours of the 1st Battalion...

A CHURCH in Wales is honoured to house a Union flag made by prisoners of the Japanese during the Second World War, its Rector said last week.

The flag was sewn using materials salvaged from a camp in Indonesia. The men were held there while they worked on the Sumatra railway, known as the “Pekanbaru death railway”.

The flag was presented to St Mary’s, Swansea, 50 years ago, by the president of the South West Wales Far East Prisoners of War Club, Captain Sydney Armstrong. Today, it hangs on the north wall of the nave. Next to it, there is a short description of its history, which was researched by Paul Murray, a parishioner of St Mary’s.

“The Pekanbaru railway became known as the ‘forgotten death railway’ because it was outside the battle area,” he said. “It is not known how many Indonesian forced workers, or ‘romushas’, died in the construction of the railway, but it was many tens of thousands, and they were buried on the spot where they died, often by the side of the railway.”

In all, he said, “706 PoWs died before VJ Day, with a further 110 deaths in the following months. There were 182 deaths among the British. After the war, all these bodies, apart from one, were exhumed and now rest at the Jakarta War Cemetery.”

The white in the hand-made flag came from the prisoners’ loincloths; the blue came from mosquito nets owned by the guards. The red came from the lining of the straw hats of the Indonesian native troops. The flag was used in the burial ceremony for troops at the camp after it was liberated.

The Rector of St Mary’s, Canon Ian Rees, said that the church was honoured to be able to preserve and display the flag. “It reminds us of the great sacrifice made by others, and the struggles they faced.”

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, in an address for the National Service of Thanksgiving for VJ Day held at Llandaff Cathedral on Saturday, paid tribute to those held captive by the Japanese. People should “continue to work for and call for a world where brutality and ignorance lie in the dust, defeated by the noble quest for justice and truth, and for freedom from tyranny in any shape or form”.

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