The Soul and The Sea- search

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by Saz, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. Saz

    Saz Junior Member

    Hello, I am the grand-daughter in law of a gentleman called Douglas Bowler.
    We knew Doug had been a POW in Burma but he never spoke of his experiences. He was a contributing author in a book called the Soul and The Sea which I read several years ago with a very heavy heart as the contents revealed so much about Doug and the trials of his life during the war. Devastatingly the book (the only one the family had) has gone astray after the death of his wife Kath, two years ago and after searching have found it is no longer in print. Should anyone have a copy they are willing to sell please would you be able to consider us?
    This true story was written by Donald Eyre and tells the story of an eclectic group of service men from UK and Australia who escaped from Singapore (We know Doug was a radio operator and one of the last to get out before the Japanese assailed) made their way across Sumatra and managed to get a fishing boat and set sail hoping to get to India but unfortunately landed in Burma where they were all imprisoned. In the book, Doug was know as "TOM" ("tom Bowler") and another chap was called "Doc" The men spent 6 weeks at sea before their capture and I know Doug visited Burma in his early 80's to lay a wreath at Doc's grave ( he died in camp) .
    I know this is a massive long shot but if anyone has a copy we would really appreciate you getting in touch. Thank you
    von Poop likes this.
  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  3. Saz

    Saz Junior Member

    Thank you so much !:)
  4. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member


    I just noticed this thread. Doug was a POW in Rangoon Jail, which you probably know already. I and another member on this forum have some details and information about Doug and his time in WW2.

    I hope you return to read this post.:)

    Orwell1984 likes this.
  5. Matt Poole

    Matt Poole Member

    13 August 2014. In rereading this Dec 2012 posting, I just noticed that some of the photos I had posted have gone missing, and a couple of those still attached have the wrong file names! (In another of my postings in a different part of the WW2talk forum, I also noticed that two of four posted photos from circa 2012 simply vanished. So there is something strange happening.

    Rather than risk further corruption to this particular posting on Doug Bowler, I will not edit the attachments. Instead, I will add a brand new message dated today, with the missing photos included as attachments. Cheers, Matt.

    Hi, Saz,

    Doug and I became instant friends in November 1993 when we journeyed to Rangoon with the Royal British Legion. A "smashing bloke" is my description of Doug -- one of the finest I've ever met. I was 37 at the time and he was just short of 80, yet there was no generation gap, I swear.

    In Rangoon during a break from formal group activities one afternoon, Doug, Dr. John Richardson (our trip's doctor), Piers Storie-Pugh (the Royal British Legion Pilgrimage Department leader), and I piled into a taxi, intent upon finding the remains of Rangoon Jail. Being a professional mapmaker, I had brought with me two wartime maps of Rangoon, showing the jail and all the streets and buildings circa 1945. The problem was, over the ensuing years the jail and its immense outer walls had been torn down, the adjoining streets had been widened, and the government had fairly recently renamed all streets. Compounding the problem were the one-way streets and our lack of a good modern map.

    The poor taxi driver was harried by the barking commands of Dr. Richardson, a Royal Army Medical Corp colonel, who had more or less assumed command of this historical geography expedition. After losing our bearings more than once, we eventually found a suitable dirt drive which led into the empty expanse of land that we recognized, at last, as being the site of Doug's home decades earlier.

    In Burma, the government, especially then, controlled everything with an iron fist, and one was not allowed to shoot photos wherever he or she wanted. Or perhaps I should say that one was potentially at great risk when running about unannounced, without a government escort, and armed with a camera on private property in the police state that was Burma. However, Dr. Richardson and Piers Storie-Pugh were, unlike me, the confident, full-speed-ahead, adventuresome types. So our party of four exited the taxi, with a very wary (but soon-to-be well-paid) driver waiting behind, and we started snooping among the weeds for any evidence of the site's past incarnation. Some local squatters played the role of vigilant citizens and immediately went to report these apparent Western troublemakers who perhaps were bent upon initiating the downfall of the Burmese government by blowing up the weeds and the already-demolished prison. (There was nothing else around.)

    I must admit that I didn't cherish the thought of being interrogated by the Burmese police, but like a good little lemming I followed (with Doug) behind the fearless bushwackers, Piers and Dr. Richardson. When we found the rubble, Doug trod through the brush to assume his position in front of the rubble, and we three appreciative historians gratefully snapped a scant few photos -- while we could -- of his moment of triumph in Rangoon.

    Seconds, and I do mean seconds, after putting our cameras away, the police showed up, told us to scram, and ordered us to refrain from taking photos of this super-secret overgrown ruin. I made it a point of telling the officer in charge that there was nothing to photograph, as the old prisoner of war camp had been torn down, to our great dismay. I wasn't about to admit to snapping the two photos I'm attaching.

    Anyway, we made it back to our hotel in one piece and never did have to beg, of some evil Burmese torturer, for the life-saving intervention of our own governments. Doug did not face his second round of Rangoon incarceration, nor I my first.

    Finding the ruins of Rangoon Jail was an adventure made all the more memorable by Doug's presence.

    He snuck a brick from the site and brought it home as a memento.

    In one of the attached photos taken at the time Doug is holding one of my wartime map photocopies and the book "The Rats of Rangoon", by fellow Rangoon Jail POW W/Cdr Lionel Hudson, RAAF. It's a book worth tracking down, although W/Cdr Hudson entered the prison in Dec. 1945 and was not held in Doug's prison compound.

    I was with Doug at Rangoon War Cemetery in the heart of the city when we found the grave of Dr. Hugh Kilgour, the Royal Army Medical Corps MD with whom Doug and nine others had escaped Sumatra in a sailboat bound, they had hoped, for India. Dr. Kilgour had worked tirelessly to keep the men in decent health during their arduous sailing ordeal and after capture near Moulmein, Burma, and I know he had helped care for Doug through illness. Doug was heartbroken by Dr. Kilgour's death from dysentery in Rangoon Jail, and to have been able to return to Rangoon to bow his head and pray over Dr. Kilgour's grave meant the world to him, I know. I can assure you there were tears of gratitude for this great man who, said Doug, had saved his life, and they were mixed with tears of sadness. Attached are two photos taken at graveside.

    About 18 miles north of the Rangoon Jail site, Taukkyan War Cemetery (the larger of the two Commowealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in the area) borders the main road from Rangoon northward. Our pilgrimage group visited Taukkyan a couple of times, once for a moving memorial service. I recall Doug staring out at this main road and shaking his head in wonderment at his own survival 48 years earlier when force-marched along this same road in late April 1945. 400-plus prisoners from Rangoon Jail had set out with their guards, in an attempt by the Japanese to escape the rapidly advancing Allied forces. Sicker prisoners were left behind (where those who held on to life eventually were liberated). The geography was such that to escape Rangoon, the marchers had to travel north, then northeast to be able to cross the Sittang River. Once across the Sittang, a southward trek could finally commence. So, in essence, the long, slow-moving string of bedraggled men and their guards marched toward the onrushing Allied forces. The marchers mostly traveled at night due to the constant threat of strafing and bombing by Allied aircraft.

    Just beyond Pegu, Burma the Japanese commander, knowing the POWs were slowing him down, announced to Brigadier Clive Hobson, the senior POW, that the prisoners were, from that moment, free men. And then the Japanese hightailed it out of there, towards the bridge across the Sittang River, and then southward away from advancing forces. Not too long after Brigadier Hobson announced to his men that "We are free!", a Hurricane, from the Royal Indian Air Force I believe, strafed and bombed the prisoners, not knowing who they were. Miraculously there was only one death -- the brigadier, killed by machine gun or cannon fire from the Hurricane.

    Eventually the POWs made it safely to Allied lines without further deaths. (Earlier, before the Japanese set the prisoners free, there had been deaths, but I can't recall a number. Stragglers were never seen again. I know of one other casualty on the march, RAF 22 Squadron Beaufighter pilot 129511 S/Ldr Desmond Hugh Fenton, a relative newcomer to Japanese incarceration. After one sitting break from marching, he did not rise fast enough to his feet, and a berserk guard bayoneted him in the abdomen, killing him.)

    Doug was in the middle of that utter madness. And he survived.

    Finally in November 1993, in failing health (he had already suffered a stroke), he made the long journey to the Far East to face the past one last time. Back in London after the trip, just before our goodbyes, Doug said to me something along the lines of this: "I've fulfilled my last goal in life." This was at the end of November 1993, and he died the following year.

    Fellow Rangoon Jail researcher Steve Fogden (Bamboo43) contacted me when he saw your posting, which I had missed. He has some unique Rangoon Jail items to share with you, and so do I.

    There is another essential book for you or your family to get ahold of: "Quiet Jungle, Angry Sea" (subtitle: "My Escapes from the Japanese") by the late Denis Gavin, also one of the 10 men who joined Doug on their epic sea journey. You should be able to find a copy of this very well written book recounting the escape, then capture and imprisonment, then the forced march, then liberation.

    I also have a typewritten 25 page memoir by Doug Eastgate, another of the intrepid sailors. And some other odds and ends such as a 1959 newspaper story on your father and his book (with a photo), and two local news stories on Doug after his 1993 Rangoon trip. I'm posting a scan of the 1959 cutting and a photocopy of one of the 1993 stories here, now.

    I see that CL1 (Clive) has pointed you towards a copy of "The Soul and the Sea", which is hardcopy, but there is also a softcopy version, printed in 1960, with a different title: "Ordeal by Endurance". It is also by "Donald C. Eyre in collaboration with Douglas Bowler". I have found a couple of cheap copies listed on-line -- perhaps cheaper than the ebay auction. Rather than post the link here, please send me a private member-to-member message through this site, or I'll try reaching you first. I'll give you details this way, and hopefully you can secure a copy or copies before someone else grabs them.

    I used to correspond by e-mail with Doug and Kath's daughter, Penni Douglas-Bowler -- your aunt? -- but I've lost all access to those archived e-mails and don't know her whereabouts any longer. She sent me a fabulous photo of Doug in uniform, which I'm posting here. She must have given me the 1959 newspaper cutting, too. I hope she is well -- you might know.

    Wow...I've just rambled, but I just had to get this out to you. And I'm happy to share with the entire board. Doug was magnificent. His smile was infectious, and children in Rangoon took to him like he was their beloved grandfather. I swear it seemed magical. He survived amazing adventures and horrible ordeals, and he led a pretty long life. Just not long enough for family and friends. I'm honored to have known him, even for a brief time in 1993 and by mail until his death.

    Warm regards from Maryland, USA,

    Matt Poole

    Attached Files:

    Owen, von Poop, 4jonboy and 3 others like this.
  6. Saz

    Saz Junior Member

    Oh Matt you have made me cry :-(
    I first met Dougie in 1980 when I used to be in the same amateur dramatics group has him and we bonded straight away. It was a bizarre coincidence that i met his grandson 2 year later and married him ! The trip to Burma was indeed very important to him and indeed he had hung on we think to make the trip. He was a truly lovely man and although his grandchildren used to moan about him as children do ( he would never give up the TV remote !) he was a fine honest man who was particularly good to me. It is with regret that I have to tell you that Penny died from a brain tumour about 6 years ago and Kath two years ago. Today would have been her 96th birthday . She adored Doug . His other daughter ( my mother in law) Tink, is going very strong ( fitter than me for sure!) Thank you for the information and photos. I am going to buy the hard back on ebay as it is inscribed or dedicated to someone and I am hoping it is Doug, although the seller can not be sure. I read Mr Galvins letter to Bosuns mother and having read the Soul and The Sea I recall the passing of Bosun with great emotion.
    Doug had two daughters and Penny was an apres war baby and didn't have any children of her own. Tink had three children. Judith, Philip( my husband) and Mandy and between us we have 5 children. Doug s great grandchildren are all doing very well in life and he would be very proud of them as they are of him. Please keep my details to hand should you come across any more information apertaining to Doug I am off to share all this with his daughter and grandchildren. Thank you so much Matt and Steve. A wonderful Christmas gift .
  7. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    It's fantastic when thinks work out like they have done today.:)
  8. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    It's fantastic when thinks work out like they have done today.:)

    I agree Steve.
    Well done Matt, such a beautiful story.

    Isn't the forum wonderful when members have information to share like this:).

  9. Matt Poole

    Matt Poole Member

    Oh, Saz, you have made me well up, too. This forum is amazing -- the benefits can come fast and furious! Thanks so much for your wealth of new details. I'm shattered to learn of Penni's death, though. Kath, already in failing health, endured that shock -- a mother's anguish in losing a daughter. Rest in peace Penni, Kath, and of course Doug.

    If you received my e-mail sent to you via this website's member-to-member service, and can respond directly to me in return, then I'll have your address and can send you more information.

    On the great-niece of an American B-24 Liberator airman who died in Rangoon Jail has posted some footage of newly-liberated prisoners who were on the forced march from Rangoon to the Pegu area in late April '45. I have detailed notes to accompany this footage. I think I posted it in the POW sub-forum at one point. Mostly the identified faces are those of Americans, though. I have no idea if Doug is anywhere to be seen. The link:

    No more for now, Saz...just another thanks for using this forum! Steve and Lesley, thanks for your kind words, too.


  10. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    This thread is ww2talk & the internet at it's very best !

    My heartiest congratulations to all concerned for this beautiful tale.

  11. Saz

    Saz Junior Member

    I've had a good look at that video and there are a couple of chaps that could be Doug but hard to say. I will watch it again with my mother in law to see if she spot him. It is an amazing video and the sight of their smiling faces after all they have been through is just inspirational. I am always shocked at the age of some of these young men and think of my own 21 year old son having to endure what they did for all of us. Thanks again Matt x
  12. A great thread. Very nice. Now my long shot...

    ...did any member of the party escape capture when landing in Burma?
  13. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    A great thread. Very nice. Now my long shot...

    ...did any member of the party escape capture when landing in Burma?

    I cannot say for sure, but one of the men, Corporal Ernest Forty (Australian) was not captured with the main group on the Burmese coast. I cannot remember if either author mentions his fate, but I cannot find him on the CWGC, so.......................
  14. Oh my goodness!

    I got him!

    Tucked away in an SOE Burma file I have read his account of what happened to him. I guess I must get out of bed and find the file and my notes as I am away early in the morning.

    Wait out...
  15. Matt Poole

    Matt Poole Member

    Hi, Saz,

    It could be difficult to positively ID Doug in that video. After three long years as a prisoner, he likely looked different than even a few months later, after liberation, and good eating again. On the other hand, some characteristics may stand out, making a positive ID easier. I hope your mother can be of help.

    The Australian War Memorial's on-line photo collection includes one of Vic Hudson, better known to Doug as "Titch". He joined Doug on the epic sailing voyage, in Moulmein Jail for their early days of incarceration, in Rangoon Jail for the bulk of their POW existence, and on the forced march. The AWM photo shows Titch with his parents and family when he returned home. The link:

    Sandy Lissenberg was another of the eleven who set sail from Sumatra (on 17 March 1942). He and RAF F/Lt "Dicky" Dykes were the only ones from the eight surviving voyagers to be left behind in Rangoon Jail when the Japanese abandoned the city with the forced-marchers. I have attached a photo of a grinning, just-liberated Sandy taken on 3 May inside Rangoon Jail. Also attached is a circa-1995 newspaper (Melbourne?) story about Sandy, which includes another grinning photo of him -- only 50 years after the earlier one.

    In my first posting of this thread I mentioned the essential book for you to find, "Quiet Jungle, Angry Sea" (Lennard Publishing, 1989) by fellow sailor & POW Denis Gavin . I have a copy in front of me, and there is a wonderful description of Doug, better known as "Tom":

    Doc had an orderly, Douglas Bowler, a Leading Aircraftman and another big man, with a hideous scar running like a sword cut from his mouth across his cheek. The wound was still open and undergoing daily treatment but Bowler was as active and untiring in his duties as medical orderly as Doc was. The name, Douglas Bowler, in the services of course, could only become Tombola and typical service irrelevancy had dropped the Bola, so, he was 'Tom'.

    Tom was big, as I have said, and with his big frame came the most placid disposition of our gang, and an all-tolerating outlook on life. He had an optimism that never wavered, and could adapt to the worst conditions with his conviction that things could have been worse, and would soon be better. The only trouble was, his optimism was so great that he never felt it really necessary to better his own lot. He left it all to fate. However, he was with Doc and with Doc he came to 'Our Gang' where he at once gravitated to the other airman, Dicky Dykes.

    As is described in great detail in "The Soul and the Sea", Tom was, indeed, gashed in the face by shrapnel when the coastal steamer he boarded in escaping Singapore was bombed by Japanese aircraft. He took to caring for the wounded, and later, when he met Dr. Hugh Kilgour, he volunteered to be a medical orderly. But his training was as a Wireless Operator -- note the sparks insignia on his shoulder in the earlier photo of him in uniform.

    Saz, I'm sure you remember Doug's facial scar well. For all others, take a close look at his lower left chin in the earlier photos I posted from 1993. Fifty one years after he was ripped by shrapnel, that scar was instantly recognizable.

    Come to think of it, that scar might help to identify him in the YouTube video. I just realized that. I have not studied the film again, but keep the scar in mind when next you view the footage.

    Wishing you the best from the DC metro area,


    Attached Files:

  16. Found it.

    Not in an HS file at TNA, but in IOR M/4/2801

    My notes: (no photos in the BL)

    Sapper EH Forty, 2/10 Field Coy, RAE.
    Letter to Burma Office

    Escaped Singapore 16/2/42
    Escaped Sumatra 17/3/42
    Washed up Burma, near Amherst, south of Moulmein 17/5/42

    Evaded Japs and Burmese for 10 weeks until they gave up searching. Passed on by Indians to Karens.

    Karens were raiding Burmese villages. Got weapons, ammo, food, clothing. Raided Japs in charge of railway POWs.

    HQ at Megazit. April to Dec 1943, all villages in 7-10 mile radius occupied by Japs, but continued raids.

    Oct 1943 HQ attacked. Let the Japs into the HQ to ambush. Approx 180 Japs and Burmese killed. Reprisals.

    Was recaptured when decided to leave the Karens and make for Lashio. Taken to Moulmein.

    Wanted the Karen leader with whom he fought to be tracked down and his bravery recognised; coolest man he has ever met. only name he had for him was Ondwey.

    Was trying to find the Karens in June 1946.

    Says served at Gallipoli and Mount St. Quentin in WW1.

    As I recall it was about three typed pages, but that was all I scribbled down.
    bamboo43 likes this.
  17. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    As suggested this thread is now in the POW section of the forum.
    Far too good to be left in 'User Intros'.
    We're getting some excellent threads on a varity of topic sof late.
  18. Matt Poole

    Matt Poole Member

    Great find, Force 136 Rich!

    Doug "Lofty" Eastgate, one of the eleven escapees on the sailing journey, wrote an unpublished memoir of the adventure and subsequent POW experiences. It is dated 28 Nov 1945. At the very end he added this about Ernie Forty, the one you have found as having escaped capture when the other eight survivors fell into Japanese hands:

    I learnt, when I got back to Australia, that Ernie Forty, who escaped when the Japs captured us at Moulmein, was picked up after 18 months with the Karens and became a P.O.W. in Thailand. He is home now and perhaps his story will be told one day.

    I know I have seen additional info on Ernie Forty's amazing adventure. There is a little about his escape at Moulmein in "Quiet Jungle, Angry Sea":

    Even now the Japanese were closing in on us, hundreds of them in a wide semicircle to hem us in with the river at our backs.

    On this river they brought their patrol boats and when all was ready the Burmese gave the signal and the villagers around us started to disperse.

    . . ."The river," Ernie said, "Come on!" and at that moment the motor boats roared into life.

    The last of the Burmese were still slinking away and Ernie threw off his clothes. "I'm off," he said, "who's coming?"

    I think we all estimated chances in one brief moment while Ernie hesitated, then he turned to me. "Come on Gabby," he pleaded, "you and me."

    I wish I'd known Ernie better, I wished I'd gone earlier and again Ernie beseeched me. "Come on Gabby," but I shook my head and then he was gone, strolling off with the Burmese, tanned almost to their colour and dressed not very differently to them.

    "Put your hands up," called the leading Japanese officer running forward towards us. "Walk out here with your hands up."

    Now we were eight.

    Boson gone.

    Snowy dead.

    Ernie gone - and it looked as if we might be gone too.

    I don't think there is any more about Ernie's experiences from that point onward.


  19. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Oh my goodness!

    I got him!

    Tucked away in an SOE Burma file I have read his account of what happened to him. I guess I must get out of bed and find the file and my notes as I am away early in the morning.

    Wait out...

    Well remembered F136R, if you're anything like me, these sort of things rattle around in the brain and then, like today, they are drawn out by a trigger point of reference.

    Brilliant to have more on Corporal Forty after al this time.:)

  20. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member


    We are beginning to double up on information for Sarah, which I think was always going to happen. I have sent her photos of Lissenberg, Gavin, Eastgate and Hudson mostly the ones from Gavin's book.

    I will also send the Japanese index cards for Dainty, Dykes, Lissenberg and Gavin plus the pages from WO208/1022. After that I will leave the rest to your good self.:)

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