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Forces War Records Blog


Blogger: GemSen There are many incredible stories wrapped up in military history and the war at sea in particular produced some amazing tales of survival – for example one personal account of war that really sticks out to me is one involving WWII Merchant Navy Officer William Garden's experiences of the Arctic Convoy mission. William Garden’s personal account, which is free to read on our website, details the various enemy attacks he experienced at sea while on what Churchill coined: “the worst journey in the world”, running the gauntlet of potential submarine, air and battleship attacks, and often in sub-zero conditions.
Really topping off many of the extraordinary tales I have heard about so far though, is one about an amazing survival against all odds involving the service of Commander Ian Forbes. You may have even heard the name before as his story made the news and the Daily Mail when his collection of wartime medals went on sale this summer. Survival against all odds… Cdr Forbes who joined the Navy in 1933 nearly went down with every ship (of which there were four) that he had served on during WWII, escaping shark-infested seas, aggressive native islanders, enemy fire and torpedoes. He also survived a Prisoner of War camp. Throughout his military service he witnessed many comrades being killed, but somehow managed to dodge the same fate. By the outbreak of WWII Cdr Forbes was a sub-lieutenant on the escort vessel HMS Bittern which was sunk off Norway in April 1940, after being attacked by German Stuka planes. Later, he was made Lieutenant on battleship HMS Prince of Wales, and witnessed the sinking of HMS Hood and the death of 1,400 men, in May 1941, after it was attacked by the German battleship Bismarck. The Royal Navy officer's vessel would have also gone down if its captain had not withdrawn from the battle. However, the ship did come under attack in December 1941, and sunk off Malaysia. Around 327 men were killed. Surviving this, Cdr Forbes was rescued by a Navy destroyer and taken to Singapore and two months later found himself on the last ship to depart from Singapore Island, during the Fall of Singapore. The river gunboat, HMS Grasshopper, was attacked by a Japanse bomber and then by 30 fighter planes. As featured in an article by the Daily Mail, Cdr Forbes in his official report, later wrote: “I began to realise that I had a charmed life. For some reason I changed position at the last minute a couple of paces to port. “The bomb dropped. Where I had just been was riddled with large holes. I only got a small graze on my right forearm.” Just one of 24 survivors Cdr Forbes and a Malay sailor swam to a neighbouring island which was inhabited by natives  who apparently wanted to kill Forbes, but the Malay sailor helped communicate to them, which saved his life. Then he was transferred to the destroyer HMS Stronghold which, was also plagued by bad luck and was involved in the disastrous battle of the Java Sea and 2,300 Allies sailors were killed. He abandoned ship in a lifeboat and five minutes after watched a Japanese torpedo blow up the vessel that he had just escaped. This time he was captured though, and he suffered three years of hell in a Prisoner of War camp — regularly tortured and beaten. It probably won't surprise you now to learn that yes, Cdr Forbes even endured and survived this. After the war he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his ‘great courage’ while serving on two of his previous ships. Cdr Ian Forbes died aged 73 in in 1992. Source: Daily Mail Did any of your ancestors end up in a Prisoner of War camp? Visit Forces War Records to search over 14,000 names held in Japanese Prisoner of War camps in Japan and Taiwan (along with a few other areas) , free of charge. A new online tutorial called: 'Prisoners of War of the Japanese 1939-1945' has also been researched to give you information on camps, a report of the International Committee of the Red Cross regarding their treatment,  camp general information, POW Life, medical treatment, camp listings, the Burma – Thailand ‘death’ railway, Hellship information, and more...
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