He was ordered to march 20 miles to Changi where he was kept as a POW in a disused shop for eight months. He was then transported to Thailand on trains filled with other POWs in horrific conditions, crammed in like cattle, with barely any food or water.
It was a living hell but had been assured his conditions would improve once they go to their destination, Ban Pong. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The camp was flooded by monsoons and they slept on beds sunken in rain water.
After a few days, Tom and his fellow POWs were moved to Chungkai base camp where they started work on the Burma railway line. They worked from daybreak till dusk with just a 30 minute break for lunch – “jungle stew” which was basically green water. There was no respite at weekends, as they literally worked every single day in unbearable heat with little food to survive on.
They tried to overcome the shortage of food by cooking rice for their meals which often tasted horrible – during his time as a POW Tom’s weight fell to six stone.
Many soldiers died through exhaustion or starvation, others committed suicide unable to cope with the conditions.
After 15 months of working to complete the railway and he was moved to Phetchaburi in Thailand to help build a new airstrip.
During his captivity, Tom contracted malaria 32 times, not to mention several bouts of dysentery. He said the only way to survive was to stay positive that this nightmare would come to an end one day.
“You had to have will power to survive. If you couldn’t overcome the desperate situation then you’d die,” he said. “You either thought I’m going to get out or I’m going to die.”
Tommy Boardman with the ukulele he built whilst a FEPOW in the Second World War.
In his camp there were a number of professional actors and entertainers so they tried to provide some light entertainment. Tom, who was a keen ukulele player, made one out of Red Cross wooden cases and telegraph lines for the string.
In August 1945, he remembers everything going quiet – he didn’t know about the atomic bomb but a few days after the Japanese surrendered, he saw paratroopers landing in the camp to drop off supplies and inform them that the war was over.
Tom celebrated by eating spam with his comrades – it was the best meal he’d had in a long, long time!
Dakota planes flew Tom and the other prisoners to Singapore and he returned to England on 7 October 1945.
“It was the most joyous day of my life.”