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DURRANI

ONE OF THE SIX

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Introduction

This page contains accounts of those extremely brave people who were Japanese POWs and were awarded the George Cross for their conduct. All of these George Cross awards, except the award made to Captain Durrani, were made posthumously.

Mateen Ahmed Ansari

Mateen Ahmed Ansari was a Captain in the 5th Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment, Indian Army, and a member of the British Army Aid Group.

Captain Ansari became a Japanese Prisoner of War when they invaded Hong Kong in December 1941.

For a time he was treated reasonably well, but as he was closely related to a ruler of a great Indian State his captors tried to persuade him to renounce his allegiance to the British and help to spread subversion amongst the Indian ranks in the prison camps. When they found these approaches were useless he was thrown into Stanley Jail in May 1942, where he suffered starvation and brutal ill-treatment. On being returned to the prisoner of war camp he still proclaimed his loyalty to the British and in May 1943 he was again thrown into Stanley Jail where he was starved and tortured for 5 months. He was finally sentenced to death with over 30 other British, Indian and Chinese prisoners and executed by beheading during the period of 20-29 October 1943. Throughout his long ordeal Captain Ansari's loyalty, courage and endurance never wavered and his example helped many others to remain loyal.

Captain Ansari is buried in Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong, reference 1.E.Coll. grave 1.

The award of the George Cross to Captain Ansari was published in the London Gazette on 18 April 1946:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carryingout hazardous work in a very brave manner, to the undermentioned:

Colonel (temporary) Lanceray Arthur NEWNHAM, MC, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own)
Captain (acting) Douglas FORD, The RoyalScots (The Royal Regiment) (Edinburgh 7)
Captain (acting) Mateen Ahmed ANSARI, 7th RajputRegiment, Indian Army.

Mahmood Khan Durrani

Click here to read an article about Captain Durrani

Douglas Ford

Douglas Ford was born on 18 September 1918 at Galashiels in Scotland before residing in Edinburgh. Captain Ford was an officer in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots, and a member of the British Army Aid Group.

Captain Ford was taken prisoner at Hong Kong in December 1941 and whilst in captivity managed, with a number of other prisoners, to gain contact with British agents. They were arranging a scheme for a general break-out when, on 10 July 1943, Captain Ford and several others (also see Colonel Newnham and Flight Lieutenant Gray) were arrested by the Japanese. Captain Ford was interrogated, starved, tortured and finally sentenced to death in an endeavour to make him talk, but he refused to implicate his fellow prisoners.

On 18 December 1943 the group of now physically weak prisoners were taken from Stanley Prison to Big Wave Bay and executed by firing squad.

Captain Ford is buried in Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong, grave reference 1.B.41.

The citation for his posthumous George Cross was published in the London Gazette on 18 April 1946:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner, to the undermentioned:

Colonel (temporary) Lanceray Arthur NEWNHAM, MC, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own)
Captain (acting) Douglas FORD, The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) (Edinburgh 7)
Captain (acting) Mateen Ahmed ANSARI, 7th Rajput Regiment, Indian Army.

John Alexander Fraser

John Alexander Fraser was born in Edinburgh, Scotland during 1897. During the First World War he had served in The Royal Scots Fusiliers, and was awarded the Military Cross twice (MC and bar). He became an Assistant Attorney General (Colonial Service) in Hong Kong, serving with the British Army Aid Group.

When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in December 1941 Mr. Fraser was interned in the Civil Internment Camp in Stanley. He immediately started to organise escape plans and a clandestine wireless service for his fellow prisoners. Eventually he was arrested and subjected to prolonged torture by the Japanese to make him disclose the names of those who were working with him. His fortitude was such that it was even committed upon by the Japanese guards. He steadfastly refused to utter one word, and, unable to break his spirit, the Japanese executed him on 29 October 1943.

Mr. Fraser is buried in Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong, reference 1.C.Coll. grave 1-11.

The award of the George Cross to Mr. Fraser was published in the London Gazette on 25 October 1946:

John Alexander FRASER (deceased), lately Assistant Attorney-General, Hong Kong.

Fraser was interned by the Japanese in the Civilian Internment Camp, Stanley, and immediately organised escape plans and clandestine wireless service. He was fully aware of the risks that he ran but engaged continuously in, most dangerous activities and was successful, not only in receiving news from outside, but also in getting important information out of the Camp. Eventually he was arrested and subjected to prolonged and severe torture by the Japanese who were determined to obtain information from him and to make him implicate the others who were working with him. Under this treatment he steadfastly refused to utter one word that could help the Japanese investigations or bring punishment to others. His fortitude under the most severe torture was such that it was commented upon by the Japaneseprison guards. Unable to break his spirit the Japanese finally executed him. His devotion to duty, outstanding courage and endurance were the source of very real inspiration to others and there can be no doubt the lives of those whom the Japanese were trying to implicate were saved by his magnificent conduct.

Hector Bertram Gray

Hector Bertram Gray was born in Gillingham, Kent, on 6 June 1911. He was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, and a member of the British Army Aid Group. Flight Lieutenant Gray was also the holder of the Air Force Medal (AFM).

Flight Lieutenant Gray was part of a group taken prisoner (also see Captain Ford and Colonel Newnham) in Hong Kong during December 1941. During his captivity he did all he could to sustain the morale of his fellow prisoners. He smuggled much needed drugs into the camp and distributed them to those who were seriously ill, and he also ran a news service on information he received from people outside the camp. He was tortured continually over a period of nearly 6 months to make him divulge the names of his informants, but he disclosed nothing.

On 18 December 1943 the group of now physically weak prisoners were taken from Stanley Prison to Big Wave Bay and executed by firing squad.

Flight Lieutenant Gray is buried in Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong, grave reference 1.A.59.

The award of the George Cross to Flight Lieutenant Gray was published in the London Gazette on 18 April 1946:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve a posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carryingout hazardous work in a very brave manner, to:

Flight Lieutenant Hector Bertram GRAY, AFM, Royal Air Force.

Lionel Colin Matthews

Lionel Colin Matthews was born in Stepney, South Australia, on 15 August 1912. He was a Captain in Australian Corps of Signals, Australian Military Forces.

Captain Matthews was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. After Signapore's capture, the Japanese sent several thousand British and Australian POWs were sent to camps in Borneo, mainly in the Sandakan area on the eastern coast. Once here, they were forced to work on constructing airfields.

In October 1943 most of the officers were separated from their men and sent to Kuching. During his imprisonment, he was continually interrogated and tortured in an attempt to make him give information which would have implicated his comrades and been beneficial to the Japanese. Over a prolonged period, he refused to give them any help at all.

The conditions for the men left behind at Sandakan greatly worsened, and they were routinely beaten, starved and overworked by the Japanese.

In February 1945 the Japanese, anticipating Allied landings in Borneo, decided to force the remaining POWs, more than 1000, to take part in the "Death March to Ranau". Only 260 POWs reached the destination of Ranau, 160 miles inland from Sandakan. Of these 260 POWs, only 6 (six) survived to see the end of the war. These 6 only survived due to escaping and living with the natives in the jungle.

Captain Matthews was executed by the Japanese at Kuching on 2nd March 1944 and even at the time of his execution defied the Japanese.

Captain Matthews is buried in Labuan War Cemetery, Malaysia, grave reference J.B.15.

The award of the George Cross to Captain Matthews was published in the London Gazette on 28 November 1947:

Captain Matthews was a prisoner of war held by the Japanese in Sandakan, Borneo between August 1942 and March 1944. During this period he directed personally an underground intelligence organisation and arranged through native contacts for the delivery into the camp of sorely needed medical supplies, food and money, factors which not only kept up the morale and courage of the prisoners but which undoubtedly saved the lives of many. He was instrumental in arranging a radio link with the outside world and was able to send weekly news bulletins to the civil internees on Berhala Island.

He was also responsible for arranging the delivery to a secret rendezvous of firearms for future use. Although a prisoner of war, Captain Matthews was appointed to command the North British Armed Constabulary and at great danger organised that body, together with the loyal native population in Sandakan into readiness for a rising against the Japanese. He gained contact with guerrilla forces in the Philippines and successfully organised escape parties. He continued these activities at the greatest peril to himself until arrested by the Kempei Tai. Captain Matthews, although subjected to brutal torture, beatings, and starvation, steadfastly refused to make admissions to implicate or endanger the lives of his associates. His conduct at all times was that of a very brave and courageous gentleman and he worthily upheld the highest traditions of an Australian officer.

Lanceray Arthur Newnham

Lanceray Arthur Newnham, born on 3 August 1889 in India (the son of Son of Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Tristram H. Newnham and Ekaterina Newnham) before moving to live in Cornwell. Colonel Newnham was an officer in the Middlesex Regiment.

While a prisoner of war in Japanese hands, Colonel Newnham tried to gain contact with British agents, and early in 1943 he succeeded in doing so. While correspondence was being exchanged and plans for a general break-out being arranged, the Japanese discovered the organisation and on 10 July 1943 Colonel Newnham and a number of others (see Captain Ford and Flight Lieutenant Gray) were arrested.

The group of three were taken to Stanley Prison and interrogated under torture. Colonel Newnham, together with the other two, refused to implicate anyone else. Colonel Newnham repeatedly insisted that he was entirely responsible for organising the attempted escape. Colonel Newnham was severely beaten up, starved, allowed no exercise and no communication with the outside world.

Finally all three members of the group were sentenced to death. For 18 days they lay in their cells with no medical attention, no hope of reprieve, and forbidden to write a note of farewell to relatives and friends. During this period, the Japanese had hoped that it would break their nerve, and that the group would divulge more information. They failed in this attempt.

On 18 December 1943 the group of now physically weak prisoners were taken to Big Wave Bay and executed by firing squad.

Colonel Newnham is buried in Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong, grave reference 1.A.58.

The award of the Middlesex Regiment's only George Cross was published in the London Gazette on 18 April 1946:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner, to the undermentioned:

Colonel (temporary) Lanceray Arthur NEWNHAM, MC, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own)
Captain (acting) Douglas FORD, The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) (Edinburgh 7)
Captain (acting) Mateen Ahmed ANSARI, 7th Rajput Regiment, Indian Army.

Colonel Newnham's Medals

Colonel Newnham's Medals at the Imperial War Museum (Stephen Stratford 2005).

Colonel Newnham's George Cross and other medals, are on display in London's Imperial War Museum. Colonel Newnham was the highest decorated Middlesex Regiment soldier of World War Two.

Major Seagrim

For an account of the posthumous award of the George Cross to Major Seagrim, please click here or navigate to my page on the Seagrim Brothers.

Stanley James Woodbridge

Stanley James Woodbridge was born on 29 August 1921 in Chelsea, London, he son of James Henry and May Ashman Woodbridge, and the wife of Florence Edith Woodbridge, of Chingford, Essex.

At the time of his death, Flight Sergeant Woodbridge was a member of 159 Squadron, RAF(VR).

The events concerning this extremely gallant airman only emerged after the war, during the British war crimes trial of the Japanese persons responsible for the torture and death of Flight Sergeant Woodbridge and his fellow crew members.

To quote from his citation in the London Gazette: "... His fortitude, loyalty to this country, and complete disregard for his own safety constitute one of the highest examples of valour in the annals of the Royal Air Force".

Flight Sergeant Woodbridge was a wireless operator in a Liberator bomber of No. 159 Squadron which crashed in the jungle in Burma on 31 January 1945. Together with five other members of the crew he was captured by the Japanese. All six were subjected to torture in an attempt to make them disclose information which would have been of use to the Japanese Intelligence Service. When they refused to speak, all except Flight Sergeant Woodbridge were beheaded with the Japanese officer's own sword.

The Japanese thought that Flight Sergeant Woodbridge, being the aircraft's wireless operator, was in a position to give them information about wireless equipment, codes and wavelengths. They therefore subjected him to a further period of most brutal torture. His final interrogation was arranged at the place of execution so that Woodbridge would have been in absolutely no doubt that if he refused to talk he would meet the same fate as his comrades. When all efforts to make him speak were fruitless this very brave young airman was beheaded on 7 February 1945.

Flight Sergeant Woodbridge, aged 23 years' old, is buried in Rangoon War Cemetery, Myanmar (Burma) in Collective Grave 3.F 6-9.

The posthumous award of the George Cross to Flight Sergeant Woodbridge was published in the London Gazette on 24 September 1948:

Flight Sergeant Woodbndge was a wireless operator in the crew of a Liberator aircraft which crashed in the jungle in Burma whilst engaged in an operation against the Japanese on 3ist January, 1945. Together with five other members of the crew he was captured by the Japanese.

All six were subjected to torture at the hands of their captors in an endeavour to obtain information which would have been of use to the Japanese Intelligence Service. Eventually the four non-commissioned officers were separated and conveyed by motor transport to a forest, where they were put to death by beheading.

Three officers and three non-commissioned officers of the Imperial Japanese Army were subsequently brought to trial by a Military Court charged with the torture and murder of the four airmen, they were all found guilty: Three were hanged and three sentenced to terms of rigorous imprisonment.

At the trial it was revealed that the Japanese concentrated their efforts on Flight Sergeant Woodbridge, the wireless operator, in an endeavour to obtain technical information regarding wireless equipment, secret codes, wavelengths, etc. A Japanese technical officer was detailed to make the interrogation and the services of two interpreters were engaged, but, in spite of repeated torture, including kicking, beating with belts and with a sword, Flight Sergeant Woodbridge steadfastly refused to reveal any information whatever.

The final interrogation took place actually at the place of execution, when it was obvious to the unfortunate prisoner that he was to be put to death, even so he maintained his courageous attitude to the end, merely remarking that if the Japanese were going to kill him they should do it quickly. After all efforts to make him speak, including further torture, were found to be fruitless this gallant non-commissioned officer was beheaded on 7th February, 1945.

Flight Sergeant Woodbridge behaved throughout with supreme courage. His fortitude, loyalty ito his country and his complete disregard for his own safety, even unto death, constitute one of the highest examples of valour in the annals of the Royal Air Force.

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