Tue, Aug 15, 2006 - Page 2 News List

POW rights campaigner Jack Edwards dies

NOT FORGOTTEN Edwards, who survived brutal conditions in a Japanese POW camp in Taiwan, spent the rest of his life working to win recognition for fellow POWs

AFP , HONG KONG, WITH STAFF WRITER

Jack Edwards, at the time 79 years old, is seen flying a Union Jack flag at half-mast from his 27th floor flat to mark the death of Princess Diana in this photo from September 1997. Edwards, a British World War II prisoner of war who dedicated his life to tracking down Japanese war criminals and defending the rights of veterans, died on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Jack Edwards, a British World War II prisoner of war (POW) who dedicated his life to tracking down Japanese war criminals and defending the rights of veterans, has died at the age of 86.

Edwards, who spent four years in Japanese prisoner of war camps -- initially in Singapore's notorious Changi prison and then a camp in Chinguashi (金瓜石), Taiwan, from 1942 to 1945 -- died on Sunday, the anniversary of the former British colony's liberation from Japanese occupation.

A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong and China branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL) said yesterday that Edwards had died in Prince of Wales hospital, a former British army treatment center, after battling the after-effects of a stroke suffered five years ago.

Doctors had yet to indicate the exact cause of death, she added.

The president of the legion branch, Brigadier Christopher Hammerbeck, hailed Edwards.

"The Hong Kong and China RBL deeply regret the passing of Jack Edwards, a man who made a major contribution to the legion and to the wellbeing of Hong Kong's war veterans and particularly their widows," Hammerbeck said.

"He was not only a leading figure locally but also internationally within the legion and the British Commonwealth Ex-Servicemen's League, whose conferences he attended until illness prevented him from doing so," he added.

Edwards' career as a soldier was cut short when he was captured by Japanese troops while defending Singapore in 1942 after serving in the doomed Battle of Malaya.

Taiwan camp

He won his freedom when US troops liberated Taiwan, then called Formosa, where he had been held as a slave laborer in the the Kinkaseki POW camp in the town of Chinguashi during the latter years of World War II.

Prisoners at the camp worked under brutal conditions at a copper mine. They endured malnutrition and were subject to frequent beatings by guards. Many died.

Edwards detailed the horrors of his time at the Kinkaseki camp in Chinguashi in his book, Banzai You Bastards.

Following a brief spell in his native Wales after the end of the war, he returned to Chinguashi in 1946, as part of a team that was investigating war crimes to help track down and prosecute Japanese war criminals.

Edwards returned to Taiwan several times, and in 1997 led a tour of the site of the camp and mine in Chinguashi. The success of the event helped lead to the establishment of an annual POW memorial event in Chinguashi.

Edwards never fought in Hong Kong but it was here that he made his greatest post-war achievements, most notably winning Hong Kong's war widows the right to British passports when the territory's sovereignty switched to China in 1997.

In recognition of his efforts, Edwards was informed of the decision in person by the then British prime minister John Major at Government House, which was the official residence of the colonial government.

Honors

Decorated with military and civilian Member of the British Empire honors, Edwards' efforts extended across the Asia-Pacific region, where he badgered governments for the establishment of shrines to fallen Allied soldiers.

The RBL is planning a commemoration for Edwards following a funeral at the Anglican cathedral in Hong Kong.

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