Don’s Journey

Don’s journey – Thailand and Singapore

‘I want to go to Thailand’. These are not the words you expect to hear from an 88 year old man! Well, not unless the 88 year old man was my Grandfather!

Don was an ex POW and had found out about the National Lottery Good Causes providing grants for ex servicemen and women to return to the places they had seen service during the war.

Being 88 years old didn’t seem to matter to Don. He was packed and ready to go before the ink had dried on the grant application form!

So we applied.

 We were successful and we were granted enough money for Don and a “carer” – that would be me, although Don preferred to call me his “keeper”!!! We decided my Husband should accompany us too.

In October 2005, we set off for our Thailand adventure. A very different adventure for Don than 60 years previously.

We met up with Don’s cousin, whilst we were there. She lives in Australia and made the trip to Bangkok to be with us on this very special journey.

We saw some amazing sites, but more than that, we heard first hand what had happened all those years ago. Yes, there were memories of suffering but as Don said, “The nature of memory being what it is, ensures that the bad recollections fade fastest. The happier memories are the ones that are retained”. We were entertained with funny stories and interesting facts. He certainly knew how to build a railway!! My camcorder was running non stop – I didn’t want to miss any of Don’s tales. 

My Husband and I have wonderful memories of our trip to Thailand. We laughed with Don. I cried. Don didn’t. In fact, he was incredibly strong, both mentally and physically. We will never know how many private thoughts he had whilst revisting places he was once was held against his will and suffered, but I do know we all came home slightly different people. Don seemed to find comfort in the fact his return in 2005 was in better circumstances and also was extremely pleased to find the grave of his best friend, Stan Moult, who died aged 23. I will always remember standing at Stan’s grave, just me and my Grandpa, and Don saying, “that could’ve been me”. Such a short sentence but such powerful words. We came back with a sense of achievement too. We had accompanied a very special man on a wonderful trip. Life’s everyday problems seemed so trivial compared to what we had witnessed and heard about.

And so we were home. Don enjoyed taking a look at the photographs and videos we and taken and we all enjoyed regaling the rest of the family with our memories. 

“I want to go to Singapore”. These are not the words you expect to hear from a 93 year old man! Well, not unless the 93 year old man was my Grandfather! Heard this before?!! Yes, you’ve guessed it! In 2010, Don found out about a 2nd round of grants, and yes, he was packed and ready to go to Singapore in an instance!

This time it was a little more difficult for for my Husband to accompany us, as we had 2 small children! He did, however, take the week off work and, with the help of my Mum, they enabled me to become a “keeper” again!! 

So off to Singapore we went. 

Now who do you think was the first one of us to sample a Singapore Sling cocktail…… on the plane?! He loved it!

This trip seemed different to the last. Yes we were heading to Singapore not Bangkok, but I think Don was more at ease on this trip as the suffering wasn’t as intense in Singapore, first time round, as it was in Thailand.

We met Don's cousin again and she accompanied us on the entire trip. We saw some fascinating sites and again enjoyed countless tales of what Don got up to before the fall of Singapore. I particularly remember one story. The night before they capitulated. It was raining. The soldiers took refuge in a Catholic church but were unceremoniously thrown out into the dark, wet night. Don found a flat stone to make his bed. When he woke the next morning he found the "flat stone” happened to be the grave of a lady who had died a few years previously! He enjoyed telling us, and the TV crew  & the journalists that were following us around, about the night he slept on top of “Mrs whateverhernamewas”!!

Another truly memorable moment was when Don laid a wreath at the Singapore Cenotaph. The night before, we had enjoyed a lovely dinner, in the presence of dignitaries from the British High Commission. The Defence Adviser, was rather taken with Don, and asked me if he would lay a wreath the next day at their remembrance service. Initially, I thought Don would say no. He wasn’t one for pomp and ceremony. I was wrong! He said yes without hesitation!

On 11th November 2010, I captured on video the moment he laid the wreath, for the thousands who, like him had suffered but had not be as fortunate to return home. It was fortunate I recorded this moment, as I had tears rolling down my face as it happened. Yes, it was a moving occasion and Don was the ambassador for the fallen, but my tears were for the man that stood before us – my Grandpa – my hero – I was bursting with pride!

All too soon it was time to board our plane bound for the UK. Don and I had shared special moments together and I had learnt so much about him. 

I thanked  him for giving me the opportunity to visit these amazing places with him. 

One day I shall return to Singapore. It won’t be the same. I won’t be a “keeper”. He’ll be with me though. He will guide me whilst I re tell his fascinating tales to my family and show them the places I once spent a very special and unique trip with a very special and unique man.