A Piece of History

I seem to have lost all my drafts. It doesn’t really matter in most cases as I rarely actually go back and use one, despite my good intentions. On the other hand I did write half a post last night that I wanted to finish it this morning.

Instead, I will move on to the next subject I had in mind. Prepare to be saddened.

We bought 5,000 cards plus assorted ephemera last week, the stock of a retired dealer. It has been gone through and is really just the leavings of a lot of mixed lots that he bought. It’s taken us the best part of two days to sort it – work that out on an hourly rate if you are interested in the hidden costs of running a collectors’ shop. We have found a few decent cards, but it’s mainly dross. However, they all needed going through and they are all sorted into counties now, which is always a test of general knowledge.

One interesting card we found was a pre-paid card addressed to a prisoner of war in Japanese hands. It has a positive message on the back, as you can see from the photo.

The Message

It was posted nine days before VJ Day, so it looked like a happy ending was imminent. However, many people were so ill by then of the war that you can’t guarantee a happy ending, even at that point. I decided that after I checked it on the Prisoner of War roll I’d check the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, just to see if he made it home.

I didn’t need to do that, as it happened. The first POW roll I checked had all the details I needed to close the story.

The list

I suppose the “Return to Sender” stamp on the front should have alerted me to the outcome.

649850 AC1 Victor Ernest Gordon never made it home. As you can see from the print-out behind the card, he was buried at sea on 6th November 1943, a year and a half before the postcard was posted. He died of beriberi, which is a variety of thiamine deficiency brought on by existing on a diet of white rice.

Another roll narrows his place of death to “off Formosa”, about halfway between Java, where he seems to have originally been kept, and Japan, where he was probably bound.

His father would not be the only parent in this situation- the entry appears on British Page 284 of the roll entitled “Unreported Deaths of Allied Personnel”.  He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, which commemorates 24,319 British and Commonwealth Servicemen who lost their lives and are not recorded elsewhere.

The next stage is that it will be put on eBay. This is what we do, and although it seems disrespectful to consign such a sad and historical document to an auction, that is, when you think about it, exactly what his family did when they sold it. We could give it to a museum, but museums have  a habit of locking things away where they are never seen again. at least we are able to tell the story and move it on to a collector who will value and cherish it, and possibly give the story a new lease of life.

It’s a moral question I’ve often had to face in many years of collecting and dealing, but the fact to bear in mind is that nothing comes up for sale before the family, or even the recipient, decides to sell it.

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “A Piece of History

  1. Pingback: A Day of Contrasts | quercuscommunity

  2. Helen

    Such a sad story – how horrible it must have been for his family.

    On a lighter note, another moral of the story is don’t eat too much white rice!

    Reply
  3. GP

    It is right that you have preserved the card to have him remembered. I would not have known about Victor otherwise.

    Reply
    1. quercuscommunity Post author

      It always seems a good result. I once went to a talk where a collector of postal history bought a selection of letters from a Japanese POW. He actually bought them directly from the man himself, as his mother had saved them all, not knowing that there were features about them that made them rare. The collector had made a great display and talk from them and, as he revealed at the end, the ex-POW had a week in a luxury hotel at the seaside as a result. Ours isn’t particularly rare or valuable, but it is a story that should be preserved.

      Reply

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