A fascinating look at prisoners of war. Brave, surviving and hard to imagine what they went through. Well written read that leaves you thinking about the horrors of war.
This was an interesting way to recount the experiences of these men who found themselves prisoners of the Japanese during WWII. I read the book because I did not know much about the British who served in Hong Kong and were captured. Victor starts with his own father and then he meets the children or the men who also found themselves in the same position. Amazing so many survived.
There is no shortage of books about the second world war. Some take as their backdrop the wide sweep of history. Some, like Anthony Beevor’s excellent Stalingrad, home in on a particular place or battle. What Vic Ient does, in his commendable volume These Valiant Men, is to look at the war through the experiences of eight men who served in it.
This approach eschews the politics, the military tactics, the diplomacy. Instead it paints a picture of what life was like for the ordinary British serviceman, in this case eight who were stationed inn the Far East and found themselves overrun by the Japanese.
Vic Ient is only just in time. The number of those still living who went through this experience is fast declining, and their ages are fast increasing. By capturing their testimonies, the author has performed a valuable service for posterity.
One of the eight was his father, Sgt Albert Victor Ient (somewhat bizarrely named after the Victoria and Albert museum), and the personal details we are offered add both authenticity and poignancy.
How it must have felt for his wife to receive a telegram from the War Office in January 1942 to tell her that her husband, a signalman in the Hong Kong Signal Company, was “missing presumed lost”, and then to receive notification via the Red Cross in July 1944 that he had been found alive in a prisoner of war camp.
The everyday horrors and deprivations are set out in a matter of fact way, which makes the observations all the more powerful. The story of hundreds of soldiers being transported to Japan, crammed into the hold of a ship for 28 days, is particularly harrowing.
The brutality of the Japanese soldiers is never far from the surface, though it is placed in a cultural context which serves as a partial explanation. For example, we learn that to stand with your arms crossed was for the Japanese was a highly aggressive pose, hence what appeared to be an over-reaction from them to this.
Vic Ient’s father was in one sense one of the lucky ones- he survived the armed conflict, the ghastly transportation, and more than three years in a prisoner of war camp. Around half his colleagues did not.
These Valiant Men is given life not just by the personal testimonies, but also by the extensive use of maps, photographs and artefacts such as reproduced telegrams. It is a worthy and necessary addition to the library of works on the Second World War in the Far East.
by Norman Baker
Vic Ient is a blogger, hiker & cyclist. A supporter of the 'underdog' and fair play. A one-time politician, Vic is an avid reader of history books. He listens to and watches programmes about history and the state of the planet both from an historical and current affairs point of view. He is keen to understand what really happened in decades and centuries past. Vic is a campaigner to protect our world's natural countryside, cultural & historical heritage. He is currently campaigning to try and persuade government and industry to significantly increase their efforts to mitigate the human causes of climate change and cut out the reliance on fossil fuels.