A recollection of a POW's experiences of life at BCGH in 1953.

Sam Mercer MBE

Gloucestershire Regiment.

This article has, in the main, been about RAMC personnel and their memories of working at the British Commonwealth General Hospital. However it would not be complete without, at least, one point of view from a patient. Here Sam Mercer (ex Glosters) tells of his brief experience of care at BCGH, 26th April to 3rd May 1953.

My brief sojourn, at BCGH, began on Sunday 26th April 1953, the day after my release under ‘Operation Little Switch’, repatriation of sick and wounded POW. Our first night of freedom was spent in an American hospital in Seoul and on the 26th we were taken to an airstrip (Kimpo perhaps?), boarding an RAAF Dakota that flew us to a small airfield at Iwakuni.

From there we were put on a train (steam hauled), under the watchful eyes of several Red Cross ladies. Off the train at Kure and by ambulance to BCGH. Some swift military admin and then my first bath for two and a half years! What bliss, I just lay there supine, satisfied and steaming. During the journey to Kure I had eagerly looked forward to seeing lots of Japanese ladies in kimonos, surprise, surprise, they were all wearing western dress. A big let down. During the next six days I was given a thorough medical, no doubt the basis of my subsequent medical dossier (does it still exist I wonder).

During our brief stay we were seldom left to our own devices for long. Even the old army adage ‘why are we waiting’ was forgotten! One day and under the supervision, again, of those wonderful Red Cross ladies we were taken out, by bus, into the countryside. The scenery was breathtaking. The ladies also did our shopping for us, as we were not allowed out of the hospital on our own. Not having seen a westernised woman for two and a half years the reason was, I suppose, obvious!

My memory, after the passages of time, of the days in BCGH are rather sketchy, however, one incident comes to mind. On arrival we were wearing combat kit given to us immediately on our repatriation and now we were issued with other items of clothing. Amongst these I was given two woollen vests but they were so badly shrunk that they would not fit a ten-year-old boy, never mind a grown man! I complained and very soon Matron entered the ward with a very determined step. Matron was Australian, a lovely lady but not a person to be crossed. Taking one of the vests she made a comment to the effect ‘leave this to me, someone will pay for this’. Very swiftly new vests, of the correct size, arrived. I can only suppose that some unfortunate in the Quartermaster’s stores sizzled under her rough tongue. Rather him than me!