Photograph of Edwin in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/17/324
(L to R) 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal
Edwin was born on the 10th February 1918 in Salford, Lancashire. His father was called John and his mother was Vanessa W. He had an older brother, who was also called John.
We don't know anything about Edwin's life until the 18th April 1940. The Second World War had been raging since September 1939, and on this day Edwin joined the Army. We don't know whether he was conscripted or able to volunteer. Regardless, he had to leave his family and his home at 21 Dorothy Street in Salford.
Edwin originally joined a Territorial Army unit of the Manchester Regiment. We don't know which. He was given the service number 3534694. At some point after he enlisted he was sent to join the Regular 1st Battalion in Singapore. Their main role was to guard against an invasion of the island. They would do this by manning pillboxes on the beaches with their Vickers Machine Guns.
When Edwin made his will on the 1st January 1941 he was already in Singapore. We believe Edwin joined either Number 8 Platoon of B Company or Number 10 Platoon of C Company. His will was witnessed by Lance Corporal Beech, who was a member of Number 10 Platoon.
The Japanese invaded Malaya on the 8th December 1941, and by the 27th January 1942 the British had been forced back onto the island of Singapore. The island was constantly bombed, and as the Japanese closed in their position became hopeless. The British garrison surrendered on the 15th February and Edwin became a Prisoner of War (POW).
At first British POWs were held in Changi prison, but soon the Japanese began to move groups to work on construction projects.
After he was released Edwin listed all the camps he had been held in, and the dates.
He was held at Tansong Rhu between July and August 1943 and Havelock Road between 'March and July'. These are both in Singapore. At some point he was sent to a camp in Thailand and put to work on the Burma railway.
Edwin recorded that he was held at Chungkai Camp 'many times'. This was a camp for prisoners working on the railway. Their main job was to build an embankment through bamboo thickets for the railway to run along. Chungkai was considered by the prisoners to be 'the best camp in Thailand' as far as the conditions were concerned.
Over time sick POWs from other camps were sent to the hospital there, and this soon became the camps' main function.
Chungkai was also known as Number 2 POW Camp. During his time there he was able to send a postcard home to his family, although we don't know when it was sent or received. He was given a series of printed sentences and crossed out the ones that did not apply. The resulting message was:
I am interned in Thailand. My health is excellent. I am not working. Please see that everybody is taken care. My love to you, Edwin Roberts
It is very unlikely that conditions for Edwin were as pleasant as this card suggests. Sanitation, food, shelter and medical equipment were all in short supply in the camps, and the POWs were expected to work long hours in tropical conditions. Disease was rampant, and if a soldier fell sick the Japanese would no longer feed him, on the grounds that he could not work.
In June, probably of 1944, Edwin was moved to Nakhom Pathom camp. This was a hospital camp that opened in May 1944. We don't know whether Edwin was a patient or involved in caring for the sick.
Although Nakhon Pathom was well built, the drainage was inadequate. This meant the camp could end up under a foot of water when it rained, turning it into a swamp. In contrast, during dry weather there was a shortage of water.
After a few months, the healthiest prisoners here were ordered to begin working. They were used to load and unload barges and repair damage to roads and bridges caused by Allied bombing. Other prisoners were forced to build the Wampo Road through the jungle. There were no medical supplies available for these workers, and many of them soon fell ill.
In January 1945 Edwin left Nakhon Pathom. He spent the next month at 'Tamerican' camp. This could have been Tamakan, next to the railway bridges on the River Kwai Yai. He was then returned to Singapore and held in Changi.
We don't know where Edwin was held until June 1945, when he was in Bangkok. He spent the rest of the war in 'Tarawara', which is likely to have been Tha Rua, near Bangkok.
The war ended in August 1945. Allied forces soon reached the prisoners and began to move them out of the camps. By September Edwin was in Rangoon, the capital of Burma. Almost all the POWs were suffering from malnutrition, and many had other diseases as well. They were returned to the UK over the next few months.
When he was interviewed after his release Edwin noted that Major Read, the Medical Officer at Chungkai, had 'saved many lives by his splendid work'.
He also recalled that 'Kit, when issued, was always given to Warrant Officers and camp workers (camp office, police). This happened at all base camps at which I worked. The majority of the workers (sick men from jungle camps who had recovered) worked in bare feet and had only 'G' strings for clothing'.
On the 3rd April 1946 Edwin was sent home on release leave by the Army. This lasted until the 28th May. He was then given overseas leave, based on the amount of time he had spent abroad. This lasted 62 days, until the 29th July. He was then transferred to the Class Z(T) Reserve on the 28th October.
The Class Z(T) Reserve existed so that trained soldiers could be recalled to the Army quickly in an emergency. If they were not needed then they lived as civilians, with homes and jobs. Edwin remained a member of the Reserve until the 8th August 1952. He was then discharged because he had ceased 'to fulfil Army physical requirements'.
Despite this, Edwin's conduct had been 'exemplary'. He was 'a very good type of man who works hard without supervision. Is of sober habits, honest and reliable. Recommended to an employer of labour for a position of trust'.
We don't know much about the rest of Edwin's life. Between October and December 1946 he married Annie Tench in Manchester. We don't believe they had any children.
Edwin was a Freemason, and a member of Chorlton Lodge, Number 1387. This photograph shows him in his Masonic regalia.
Edwin died in Salford in November 1998. He was 80 years old. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in February 2010. We don't know why Edwin has a France and Germany Star. He was not awarded this medal, and received the Pacific Star instead.