Henry Wiltshire

Henry Wiltshire

Henry Wiltshire was born in Oxford England on 16th January 1906 and was one of eight children. He became a sheet metal worker at the Morris car plant in Oxford. He married Elsie Wheeler in December 1927 and they had a son, Donald, in August 1930.

He volunteered for the RAF at the start of the war in Europe working at various airfields in the UK as part of 153 Maintenance Unit RAF, attaining the rank of Leading Aircraftsman (LAC). His service number was 750347.

The unit was shipped to the Far East in November1941 and arrived in Java in January 1942.

Captured on 8th March 1942 on Java, Henry was hospitalised between May 1942 and June 1943. He was then in POW camps at Bandung, Cimai and Batavia until being put on the Kisa Maru cargo ship bound for Singapore on 19th May 1944. On arrival he was moved to the Havelock road POW camp.

772 prisoners were transferred to the Tamahoko Maru cargo ship bound for Nagasaki on 18th June 1944. There were some 500 Japanese soldiers on board and Korean guards. Life belts were provided, but not issued, despite protests, and were stacked against the ship’s side forward of the guards. There were a number of balsa rafts on deck secured to the guardrails.

The ship was torpedoed by a US submarine at 11:50 pm on 24th June 1944. The ship sank in under two minutes killing many on board.

The other Japanese ships picked up their own men but left the POWs in the water until a whaling ship picked them up around 7am. The ship arrived at Nagasaki around 12:30 pm and lorries transported the survivors to Fukuoka 14 POW camp near the Mitsubishi factories. It is thought that around 560 men lost their lives.

Henry did not talk about this or life at the camps very much. It was too painful for him to recall things; his friends dying of disease and malnutrition and experiencing the brutality of some of the guards.

He did remember the bomb though and said he was lucky to be digging shelters when it happened and so was not in the open. As the camp was only a mile away from the epicentre his survival was a miracle.

Henry was liberated from the camp on 8th September 1945 and he weighed less than 6 stone with serious back injuries and a recurrence of malaria which he never recovered from. After a long journey back to the UK, he was eventually de-mobbed on 11th October 1946.

After the war, Henry returned to the Morris car factory and helped to run the disabled workers unit. He was a keen gardener, spending a lot of his time perfecting Dahlias.

He believed in looking forward and leaving the past behind, making his peace with the Japanese people and hosting a Japanese family while they were visiting Oxford. He kept in touch for the rest of his life.

He never recovered fully from his health problems and like many other ex POWs had recurrences of malaria fever and many nightmares.

He was always there to help his daughter in law, Eileen, who was widowed in 1958.

He lived to see the birth of some of his great grandchildren and they still say he made the best scrambled eggs.

Towards the end of his life he lost his sight but bore this stoically, enjoying listening to audio books.

Henry died on 26th August 1986 after a stroke 

Henry Wiltshire
Henry Wiltshire - Photo at son’s wedding 1951
Translate »