Privileged. That’s the best way that I can describe how I feel about being the granddaughter of Ernest Dixon, writes Jacqueline Hulse. Grandad, aka Erney, was a private in the 2nd Battalion Loyals based at Fulwood Barracks. He was one of 12 children and joined up to serve his county in the Second World War. He was a ‘cheeky chappy’ and enjoyed a pint down the pub with his friends and having banter with anyone he met.
During the war, he was posted to Singapore and he and the other soldiers would go looking for supplies from the deserted shops. One day he was looking around when he was captured, taken on a boat called the Fukai Maru to Japan and held in a prisoner of war camp.
Whilst he was there he saw the plane fly over which dropped the Hiroshima bomb. He even saw the smoke in the distance. He was moved around three different camps according to what work the Japanese required him to do. He worked on the shipyards and in the coalmines digging for 13 hours a day. The conditions were awful. They were starving, suffering with malnutrition and disease, yet were expected to complete hard manual labour for hours every day, in the dark, with the Japanese soldiers beating them if they didn’t work hard enough.
My grandad suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. He was stabbed in his leg and the wound became infected and gangrenous. Another British soldier – a qualified vet my granddad called the ‘horse doctor’ – managed to save his leg by crushing a special tablet onto the infection and getting him to sleep outside for two weeks. Their wooden cabins were full of insects and rats which would have made the infection worse. It was freezing outside at night, but he managed to survive and the infection cleared up just before he turned 21.
On his birthday he was given a hand-made present by another British soldier. My grandad can’t remember if it was made from Khaki or bandages, but it was a little dog and he instantly fell in love. He felt it protected him from the atrocities.
Grandad didn’t like to talk a lot about the prisoner of war camps, but when he did, his eyes would glaze over and he would become distant. Whenever he had a memory about his time, he would have terrible flash backs and nightmares for days afterwards.
After surviving for nearly four years, he was eventually released, suffering severely from malnutrition. He and the other survivors were taken on a trip around the world to fatten them up up as the Army didn’t want their families to see them in such poor condition. He explained that the American people treated them really well, cheering them and calling them heroes. They gave them good-quality food and they even met famous people like American actor Mickey Rooney.
By the time they arrived back in Britain several months later, grandad told me that the British people had started rebuilding their lives and the attention given to the prisoner of war survivors was minimal. He went back to his previous employer, delivering eggs for a local farm. He was awarded six medals but wasn’t interested in them as they only reminded him about his time in the camps. He gave the medals to his young children to play with and they were all lost and sadly never replaced.
Nowadays grandad may well have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the long-lasting emotional effect of the war, but in those days that wasn’t a recognised condition and he didn’t receive any help or support from professionals. He was just expected to go back to ‘normal life’.
Despite suffering horrendous circumstances for nearly four years, my grandad’s favourite saying was: “It’s nice to be nice”. I loved that saying as it showed his strength of character and, despite all his trauma, he continued to have a positive attitude about life. He also taught me about the importance of family and that children are a gift and must be cherished.
Throughout all his time in the prisoner of war camps and his trip around the world, my grandad kept his little dog with him. It was passed to my father who passed it to me. Just before my grandad died, at the ripe old age of 99, I asked him what the dog’s name was. He admitted that his little dog had never been named. So after a few careful minutes of consideration, my grandad called him Lucky – which I think is very appropriate!
My grandad was an inspiration to me and I am proud to be his doting granddaughter and honoured to be looking after a very old – but very lucky – little dog.