I am grateful to Fred Seiker for the opportunity to write this foreword, which I do in my capacity as Chairman of the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association and Forces Help Society for Worcestershire.
We have remembered in this year, 1995, the 50th anniversary of VE and VJ Day, both anniversaries rekindling painful memories and raising powerful emotions for those who experienced war. It has been an occasion too for the younger generation to learn a little of the sacrifices which were made by so many to enable us all to enjoy the freedoms of today. This small, but important, book of drawings will have a profound effect on all who see them. They show with stark clarity what Fred Seiker and his fellow prisoners of war experienced daily, but of which so little was really known and understood worldwide. Fred does not use artist's license, he shows only what he himself saw or experienced. I hope that this very special and personal account will remind us both of the heroism of those who were forced to work† as slave labourers and of the terrible inhumanity to man, which existed then and which, perhaps, lurks dangerously beneath the surface of even our modern world.
Late Grenadier Guards
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About Fred Seiker
Fred Seiker was born in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1915. His elementary and further education were accomplished in Rotterdam, culminating in obtaining a place at the Rotterdam† College of Marine Engineering. He served in the Dutch Merchant Navy before and during† the war. In peacetime he mainly served on ships plying the Far East, South Africa, Canada and the eastern seaboard of the USA. In wartime he served on the North Atlantic routes and between the Far East and the United Kingdom.
In 1942 Fred found himself caught up in the Japanse invasion of Java.†Unable to leave the island he volunteered into the Dutch Armed Forces on Java and subsequently became† a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He was shipped out to Changi jail in Singapore, from where he was sent to Thailand to work as a slave labourer on the infamous Railroad of Death.†He spent the remainder of the war years on the railway and managed to survive.
Despite the war ending on the 15th August 1945, the Dutch POW contingent was not repatriated to Holland until May 1946! That same year Fred arrived in England for the purpose of settling in the UK. He has lived here ever since and has no regrets. After a year of recuperation he set out to build a career in engineering. He worked in various capacities with well known engineering organizations and concluded his career at Project Management level.
After his retirement in 1985 he and his wife Elizabeth moved to Worcester.†Fred took up painting as a hobby and is now an accomplished watercolour artist. His usual work covers landscapes, boats, buildings and associated subjects. He has his own style, entirely different from the line expressions depicted in his POW sketches.
The biography of Fred Seiker can be found†at: Liz Seiker, Fred's Journey.
Comments of Fred Seiker
At the time of the VJ 50th anniversary commemorations in August 1995 I held an exhibition at† the Bevere Vivis Gallery in Worcester, entitled 'Lest We Forget'. The watercolour sketches, based† on memory, represent either personal experiences or witnessed events during my time as a POW† of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. I have been urged by numerous people to assemble the† collection of sketches into a published form so that the message contained in the paintings would not be forgotten.
I had for many years harboured a quiet anger at the way in which the Burma and the Thai railway† war theatre were, almost deliberately, ignored by various governments. I wanted to show people what really happened during that dreadful period, particularly the younger generation. If I could alert them to the dangers of appeasement at all cost, then perhaps a repeat of such an† horrendous crime could be averted. The public reception of my exhibition was beyond anything I expected. To witness the emotions, sadness and often outright anger was a very moving† experience for me. It convinced me that perhaps a compilation of my sketches in the form of a book would be a worthwhile enterprise. Another contributory factor was the interest that local media expressed. My story and exhibition were widely reported in newspapers, on radio and television.
The atrocities depicted in my sketches are just some of the inhuman practices carried out by the† Japanese as a matter of course, or just plain amusement. Many Allied POWs are still today† suffering from mental and physical disorders. After many years of peace and civilized living the nightmares continue. In my opinion anyone having survived the Railway of Death is a special †kind of person. Such a person has experienced and witnessed the most degrading behaviour by one human being to another. At the same time he has felt the power of the unconquerable spirit† of civilized man. It is for this reason that, in a strange way, I feel privileged to have experienced† and survived the building of the Thai-Burma railroad. I have seen humanity at its very best and† at the same time at its very nadir. I have seen men of stature in civil life crumble like dry earth, devoid of self-respect and concern for others. But I have also seen little men of ordinary backgrounds suddenly emerge as fearless leaders and giants of mental strength.
I am often asked by well meaning people whether I can forgive or forget. The question of forgiving is perhaps one of religious belief and conscience, but to forget is a dangerous road to tread. It is impossible to make those who have not endured the railroad understand this. It is a very personal and private experience - impossible to share with even your closest confidante. Nothing that life throws at a survivor of the Thai-Burma railroad can ever be as daunting as the building of the Railway of Death. FORGET?†NEVER!†