Lodge Life: Orangeman’s harrowing WWII captivity remembered

Florence Graham, Sandra Malcomson, and Sammy Wilson at the memorial dedicated to their late father, William Wilson, recently unveiled in Curley Orange hall
Florence Graham, Sandra Malcomson, and Sammy Wilson at the memorial dedicated to their late father, William Wilson, recently unveiled in Curley Orange hall

The daughter of a Co Down Orangeman has shared the harrowing, yet remarkable, story of her late father’s experience as a prisoner of war.

William Wilson from Curley spent 44 months in Japanese captivity during the Second World War, but never spoke about his ordeal during his lifetime.

Florence Graham, along with relatives, unearthed the truth following a request by Mr Wilson’s lodge, Ardarragh Temperance LOL 765, for information regarding their former member’s military contribution.

To mark the recent 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong, brethren dedicated a memorial to the one-time Royal Naval officer which was placed on the interior of Curley Orange hall. Three of Mr Wilson’s children were among those in attendance.

At the special event, Mrs Graham provided a detailed account of her father’s previously unknown wartime involvement in the Pacific, how he fought the Japanese and served his King and country, so far away from home.

The proud daughter also revealed how the Orangeman’s life was to change forever, on the brink of death as a POW – but somehow survived, to return to his native Northern Ireland and marry his childhood sweetheart.

“It is impossible for any of us to imagine what it would be like, for 44 months, to be almost starved to death, have only two feet of space to live in, have only a loin cloth to wear, be wrecked with illness and disease and have no medical treatment available, to be forced to do slave labour even when ill, to watch our friends dying round about us, have no news from home, never mind the constant brutality of the Japanese,” Florence said.

Having been captured in the winter of 1941, Mr Wilson was interned alongside fellow soldiers as well as thousands of civilians in the Far East.

“In the camp, conditions were dreadfully crowded. In many cases 200 men were packed into a hut designed for 30. The whole place was infested with flies, ants, bed bugs, fleas and many other nasties.

“Many prisoners were tortured in the most horrific ways and others executed for the slightest offence.”

Florence maintained her father only weighed four stone following liberation.

“Many including daddy would return home with their health broken and lives forever changed, shaken by their experiences and the extreme hardships they had endured.”

Despite suffering from ill-health due to his harsh captivity, Mr Wilson would marry Jeannie and the couple had four children. He passed away in 1975, aged 64.

Florence said: “The reason the repatriated prisoners didn’t talk about their experiences was that they were ordered by the government to tell no-one of what happened to them.

“This was supposedly to spare the families of those who died, from the knowledge of how their loved ones met such cruel deaths.”

To read more on this extraordinary wartime story, see the February edition of the Orange Standard newspaper.