Author Tags: War
NAME: Cowling, Anthony Henry
DATE OF BIRTH: 6th May 1924
PLACE OF BIRTH: Singapore
ARRIVAL IN CANADA: April 1939
ARRIVAL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: Same
EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: Teacher Librarian
My Life with the Samurai, Kangaroo Press, (Simon & Schuster), Sydney, Australia. 1996. 184 pages.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS: Educated in the UK, Canada and the USA. B Ed., UBC., M Ed W.Washington State. After the Japanese attacked Malaya, he joined the RAF at age 17 and was captured six weeks later. Mentioned in Despatches for distingished service whilst a prisoner of the Japanese during the Pacific War. Canadian Forces Decoration for service in the Militia 1953-1973. Teacher librarian in the Richmond School District 1967-1984. Cowling visited the Imperial War Museum in 1986 only to find there was no record of his POW camp, located in the Moluccas Islands of Indonesia where detainees suffered an 85% death rate. He felt there should be a record of "our incredible suffering at the hands of a fanatical enemy." Cowling promised the IWM that he would write a factual account. My Life With the Samurai (Kangaroo Press, 1996) recounts the 44 months he spent in Japanese slave labour camps. Published in Australia, his book was well-distributed in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand. "For some reason, not known to me, the Canadian distributors were not interested in handling my book. In spite of this over 3000 copies have been sold in the Pacific Northwest," he wrote in 2004.
[BCBW 2003] "War"
My Life With The Samurai (Kangaroo $20)
At 15 Tony Cowling was salmon fishing off the coast of British Columbia, enjoying an idyllic summer at Qualicum Beach. When war threatened England, he stayed in Vancouver and attended St. George's School.
Sent to join his father in the Far East, Cowling celebrated his 17th birthday in Shanghai with champagne at The Mandarin nightclub. Upon his arrival in Singapore, he stayed at the famous Raffles Hotel and was fitted for his first tuxedo. Then war with Japan was declared.
Cowling traded his tux for an RAF uniform on January 23, 1942, lying about his age to enlist. Captured in Java soon afterward, he was one of more than 50,000 British servicemen taken prisoner when Japan overran the Far East.
In Cowling's cryptically titled My Life With The Samurai (Kangaroo $20), he recalls 44 months in various Indonesian slave labour camps. A mere 9,000 miles away from the action, Winston Churchill had advised troops via a loudspeaker system that they must fight to the last man.
“We were staggered,” Cowling says, “Did this war mean that we were to be sacrificed on the cross of foolishness, of politics?... My faith in the British Empire was being shattered rapidly.”
At nightfall on May 6th, his 18th birthday, Tony Cowling had his head shaved. “I was the last man in camp to do so but I felt that on this special day for me this was the only special thing I could do. It also turned out that I was the youngest of the 4,000 POWs in camp.”
POWs who attempted an escape were tied to trees in a local park and bayoneted hundreds of times. One civilian woman and 22 female Australian nurses were ordered to stand in the sea to be executed by a firing squad. The Japanese soldiers had no qualms about using prisoners as labourers on military targets.
“The Geneva Convention meant nothing to them,” Cowling says.
One Japanese commander suggested rather than burying their dead, they should eat them. “To the people they subjugated,” he writes, “the only proven legacy of the Japanese Empire in the Far East [1942 1945] is one of uncontrolled brutality, murder, torture, rape and plunder.”
By war's end, Cowling had to have one of his kidneys removed as the result of a beating. He was one of the lucky ones. Approximately 80% of Cowling's comrades had died while building an airstrip with primitive tools on a tiny island called Haruka.
Upon visiting the Colonial War Museum in London in 1986, Cowling, who now lives in Richmond, was amazed by lack of references to war in the Far East. Hence his memoir has been printed by Australia's Kangaroo Press and is available in some B.C. bookstores for $20. (Simon & Schuster will distribute Kangaroo Press through Distican later this year.)