Jack Etiemble, Japanese prisoner of war

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From the Jersey Evening Post, 12 May 2006, by Alasdair Crosby

Jack Etiemble in Hong Kong in 1937

As a boy soldier just passed out of the Woolwich Artillery Boys' Depot in 1937, John (Jack) Etiemble wanted to see the world, and he was pleased to be posted to Hong Kong as a trumpeter.

Family

Unfortunately, in 1941, the Japanese Army also 'wanted to see the world', and also arrived in Hong Kong. And so the 19-year-old gunner from Jersey encountered war, and began his time as a prisoner in the most terrible conditions imaginable. The following year he suffered the horrific experience of being starved and then left to drown.

The story starts in St Clement in June 1923, when Mr Etiemble was born, the son of John and Margaret Etiemble, who lived at Eureka on the St Clement Coast Road. His father owned a building company and was involved in the building of West Park Pavilion, the ornate building that replaced the Tin Shack.

In 1937 he joined the Royal Artillery and was posted to Hong Kong. Two years later war broke out in Europe. His father left Jersey to volunteer to join the Army and the following year was one of the many soldiers who were evacuated safely from Dunkirk.

Jack Etiemble as a 15-year-old trumpeter

Hong Kong

At the start of the war Hong Kong was put on battle stations. The Japanese were expected to cause trouble because of their ruthless behaviour in China, which they had invaded in 1937.

When the inevitable Japanese attack on Hong Kong came in December 1941, the 12,000 British and Commonwealth defenders, armed with little more than rifles and machine guns, and with no air support, faced a total Japanese force of more than 60,000.

Mr Etiemble was by then trained as an artillery battery planning room operator. As the Japanese advanced, the coastal defence guns he directed were swivelled 180 degrees to face the infantry onslaught. The British infantry pulled back and the enemy was so close that the artillery barrels were lowered parallel with the ground.

'To be honest, I never panicked,' said Mr Etiemble. 'I always had a feeling that I was going to survive. But they knew our gun positions and they shelled us as they drew nearer. We got a bit of a pasting, and there were causalties.

'To see friends killed was bit heart-breaking.'

Surrender

The Japanese tore through the captured town, raping nurses and even shooting injured men as they lay in their hospital beds. Mr Etiemble only came face to face with the Japanese when his unit surrendered. He blew Retreat and the Last Post on his trumpet, and then stamped if flat into the ground in frustration at the British capitulation.

The survivors were marched to a detention camp. Dysentry took hold and the death rate was hihg. A trumpeter who blew the Last Post every time someone died in the camp was told to stop, because it became too depressing.

On 25 September 1942 a total of 1,816 prisoners, including Mr Etiemble, were loaded into the troop ship Lisbon Maru ready to be transported to Shanghai. They were kept in three holds in dark, humid, conditions.

Jack Etiemble and his wife Ruth

Shipwreck

A few days later, on 1 October, at 7 am, a large explosion tore through the ship's hull. It had been struck by a torpedo launched from an American submarine.

The Japanese handed down three candles and a four-man pump to the british in the hold and said to them: 'If you want to live, you pump.' Then the hatches were locked behind them.

The weakened men could not pump for too long and the Lisbon Maru began to sink. Fortunately an officer managed to get one of the hatches open and the prisoners began to spill from the heavily listing ship.

Mr Etienne recalled: ;I was lying on the deck as the ladder to the hold broke. I was the last one out. I heard an Irish gunner in the hold shout: "We ca't get out. Let's give them a song".'

The trapped prisoners sang It's a Long Way to Tipperary as the vessel sank. In total 846 men trapped in the Lisbon Maru perished.

The Japanese shot many soldiers in the water and hoped that all the prisoners would die. Luckily a number of CHinese ships arrived on the scene and began to pick up some of the survivors. When the Japanese saw this they knew their cover story would not be believed and they reversed their course of action and began assisting the men in the water.

Mr Etiemble was picked up after six hours by the Japanese and taken to Shanghai docks, where he was told that he and the other prisoners were supposed to have 'died like rats in a trip'.

He was transferred from there to a prisoner-ofwar camp in Osaka, where he remained until freed by the Americans at the end of the war.

Army career

He went on to make a career in the Army, lkeaving in 1971 after 33 years with the rank of staff sergeant. In later years he served in the Malaya Emergency and in Northern Ireland.

Afterwards he and his wife spent 22 years in Perth, Western Australia, before returning to live near their family in Yorkshire.

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