A FORMER Lord Mayor of York who was a prisoner of war in the 1940s is being remembered by his family as the nation commemorates VJ Day.

Jack Milnes Wood was a medic in the First Royal Army Medical Corps, working at the British military Alexandra Hospital in Singapore when the Japanese invaded on February 14, 1942.

He escaped the massacre which killed up to 200 patients and staff, but he was imprisoned in Changi Gaol, Singapore, until 1945. His personal account of the ordeal features among almost 300 items he collected during that period.

Jack, who lived in Heworth with his wife May and served as Lord Mayor in 1973-4, never spoke of his experiences to his family. However, after his death in 1978, aged 62, they found a wooden box containing diary entries and artefacts including military orders, newsprints, manuscripts, musical scores and pictures recording the events of those years.

His family had the collection photographed, transcribed, catalogued and bound in leather volumes.

York Press:

The Jack Wood Collection: Newpaper reports were included in Jack Wood's box of artefacts from his time as a prisoner of war in Changi, Singapore.

They went on to create the online Jack Wood Collection, and are keen ‘to share its message of kinship, compassion and co-existence through the power of art, theatre and literature’ as the nation commemorates the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, which marked the end of the Second World War.

Barbara Wood, who is married to Jack's son Richard, of Scoreby, Gate Helmsley, near York, said: “We felt we needed to do it in case anything happened to us, the memories would be lost.”

The collection be viewed at https://jackwoodcollection.org/

York Press:

Picture: The Jack Wood Collection

His granddaughter Sophie Wood, who was born after he died, said: “I have been looking at these leather-bound volumes my entire life. He died in 1978. None of his three grandchildren ever got to meet him but he has been such an inspiration. To read his stories and account of it all, it is heartbreaking and astounding what they went through. It is a really important story to tell.”

In a note introducing the first volume featuring artefacts from 1942, his family writes: “Particularly harrowing is Jack’s recollection of the panicked massacre at Alexandra Hospital, followed shortly after by an anonymous account of the chaotic, bloody fighting at Kranji.

“Then, scribbled on the back of old medical paper, we find snippets of life inside Changi POW camp. Miraculously, a glimmer of light returns: in the form of ‘The Chunkel’, a magazine written and illustrated by the prisoners.

"As we turn the pages, we find uplifting articles, dramatic short stories, and witty cartoons – all of which inspired further plans for concerts, scripts for raunchy plays, and even a hand-drawn pin-up or two.”

A further memoir, written by Jack, pointed to the fact that he intended to write a book about his experiences: “I do not intend to harrow with gruesome details of the brutality and degradation to which we were subjected. No doubt all of you know of this from T.V. and Radio, from book and films, and from serials in the popular press. But let me say that none of these reports to my knowledge were exaggerated.”

York Press:

The Jack Wood Collection

During his four-and-a-half years in the prison camp, he was a leading figure in camp theatre productions.

Following his return to York, after the war, Jack was actively involved in city life. He was Sheriff in 1961-62, was associated with sporting organisations ranging from York City Rowing Club to Heworth Cricket club and was also president of York Light Opera Society and vice-chairman of the governors of York Theatre Royal.

When he died, Australian author, Russell Braddon, a fellow prisoner and author of The Naked Island – a vivid account of the hell faced by thousands of Allied troops – said that Jack had risked his life daily to help fellow-prisoners, after being captured by the Japanese during the Second World War.

York Press:

This is the tribute he wrote about Jack, which was published in the Yorkshire Evening Press on Friday, January 5, 1979.

“Jack won the respect of the citizens of York, with his achievements in sport, his career in local politics and his stoicism in adversity.

“He won the respect and affection of thousands of others (Britons, Australians, Malayans, Indonesians and Americans) with his war-time services to them as they built a railway line for the Japanese through Thailand and into Burma. For none of those thousands, in their scattered jungle camps, was existence ever less than hideous; but when cholera began to ravage their already emaciated ranks, it became a nightmare.

Always a fearsome epidemic, cholera, in Thailand in 1943, inflicted upon almost all its victims an excruciating, filthy and undignified death. Worse, it was a solitary death, because each man who contracted it became too lethal even to approach, let alone to accommodate in the same tent as his skeletal comrades.

"He was, of necessity, therefore, isolated in what was known as the cholera tent – soon to die there of dehydration in a few days at most, unless there happened to be in his camp either a doctor or a medical orderly who would enter the fatal tent and fight for his life. Jack Wood daily risked infection and death doing precisely that.

"To the hundreds of men whom no amount of care could have saved, he gave the priceless gift of company as they died, while, upon dozens of others, by reversing the apparently irreversible and mortal process of dehydration, he worked the miracle of a cure.

We who were there, in camps where he served, will therefore remember him neither as an athlete nor as a one-time Lord Mayor of the admittedly famous city of York. We will remember him as a powerful young man – fair-haired, fresh complexioned and bluntly cheerful – who somehow, in the filth and frightfulness of Thailand, contrived always to look clean and unafraid.

That he has now died comparatively young does not surprise us: he, after all, was one of those few who mortgaged their future health to purchase our immediate salvation. Now that he has finally paid the price, however, we would be doubly sad were his services to us be enshrined only in our memories. When all of us are gone, in short, we would wish that Yorkshiremen should not forget that 10,000 miles away, during a long captivity, Jack Wood brought eternal credit to the country that bore him.”