Hey guys. Today is my stop on the blog tour for Unwritten Letters to Spring Street by Jacquelyn Frith and I am bringing you a guest post by Jacquelyn herself. Enjoy!
Title: Unwritten Letters to Spring Street
Author: Jacquelyn Frith
Release Date: 30th July 2020
Page Count: 474
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unwritten-Letters-Spring-Street-Jacquelyn/dp/191356827X
Summary: December 1941. Jack Frith left his family and his life to go to war like so many others, uncertain whether he would come home. Whilst in a convoy bound for the Middle East the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, triggering Allied entry into the Pacific War. Hastily regrouped and ordered to the Far East, the now ill-equipped convoy peeled off for Java and elsewhere. Slipping the moorings, Jack could not have known that years of captivity and brutality, starvation and forced labour, and yet worse, awaited him.
This is no cry for revenge but justice, laying bare actions and exposing inaction, demanding long overdue apologies and uncovering past atrocities. It is also a moment of reflection on the forgotten armies of the Far East, in remembering each subsequent generation owes a great unpaid debt of gratitude to those who gave so much for our present freedom. The price of that freedom was by no means free.
Five Favourite Things About Main Protagonist
In fact the main protagonist is my great uncle Jack Frith, after whom I am named. He was murdered in an untried war crime committed in 1943. I never met him, but of those that knew him say we share various traits, such as an almost belligerent commitment to justice, standing up for what is right and not being afraid to challenge the limitations put upon us.
The Jack Frith in my book was built from various people in my family, mostly his brother, my grandfather, George and his nephew, my dad, Alastair. Essentially, the five things I like about Jack Frith in my book probably stem from my grandfather and my dad.
The Jack Frith in the book is unwavering in his desire to do the right thing, to stand up to bullies and face the consequences, come what may. But in the face of an enemy who tears down any sort of honourable chance to defend oneself, Jack finds himself in a situation where he simply cannot be true to himself and his ideals. He cannot rise up or fight against the oppression, he simply must endure it.
And endure he did, for over a year in camps in what was then, Batavia, Java. He worked hauling cargo by hand at the docks on poor rations with inadequate clothing, medical supplies and constantly under the yoke of Japanese brutality. He boarded one of the notorious Japanese hellships in April 1943, for the unbearable voyage to the Moluccan island of Ambon, packed in the cargo hold with one thousand other desperate Allied servicemen. These hellships transported Allied prisoners of war all over the Far East in terrible conditions and many died en route to their destinations due to lack of food and water, disease and beatings. The Japanese ordered those who had died to be simply dumped overboard, however the PoWs would try to observe dignified burials at sea.
On arrival at Ambon, Jack and the thousand men disembarked the ship and were force marched for two days across the island to an unmade camp in the dense forest. The journey was reminiscent of the notorious Bataan death marches, as the men walked with no food or water, little rest or shade from the beating sun. They were goaded along their path with bayonet threat from the Japanese soldiers. I visited this tiny island in 2012, tucked between Papua New Guinea, Sulawesi and Borneo, and found a beautiful paradise concealing its horrific past. Sixty-nine years previously Jack Frith had struggled across the island, where I now drove in a few hours, the glassy sea lapping and the fragrant buzz of humid spices creating a backdrop so painfully serene it was hard to conjure up the terror this 22 year old Manchester lad must have felt. He was force worked, along with his thousand brothers, to build a runway in the scorching heat, whilst wracked by untreated disease, malnourishment and vicious, unprovoked violence at the hands of the Japanese.
They struggled on for seven months, cutting down a swathe of coconut trees, and hollowing the hard coral earth, clearing a path for a mile long runway, for strategic use in the planned Japanese invasion of Australia. Seven months later, even their captors realised the toll, as there were almost more sick and diseased men in the camp sick hut
than working on the almost complete runway, as well as over three hundred and fifty of the thousand marchers buried in the makeshift graveyard of Boot Hill, and a return draft was arranged to take those worst off back to Java. This moment, this voyage, boarding the fateful Suez Maru, begins my book, Unwritten Letters to Spring Street.
The five things about Jack Frith in the book I admire would therefore be sacrifice, honour, bravery, service, and duty. All of which I will remember and thank him for, as I lay my Lady Haig poppy wreath at my towns war memorial on VJ Day 75, 15 August 2020.
Jacquelyn Frith is a postgraduate archaeologist and writer previously specialising in medieval metallurgy and scientific finds analysis, and although she has written many papers, articles and an MPhil thesis, this is her first actual book.
She begins PhD study on the International War Crimes Tribunals in the Far East 1945-1949, and the memorialisation of British Far East Prisoners of War from Java and Ambon: Suez Maru case study, in the autumn. She has also begun her second book, on the so-named ‘D-Day Dodgers’ of Salerno, which may also take ten years to complete.