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A local history and genealogy site for Wimpole, a village and parish in South Cambridgeshire
Curated by Steve Odell

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John William Law
Remembered with Honour
The Wimpole and Arrington War Memorial.
A local history and genealogy page for the Parish of Wimpole.
Cambridgeshire Regiment In memory of
John William Law
Private 5831012. 2nd Battalion,
The Cambs, Suffolk Regiment.
Died 21 September 1944, aged 27,
Prisoner of War on board a Japanese 'Hellship'.
- Lest We Forget -
Born: 19 February 1917, Whaddon, Cambridgeshire. Son of George Philip Law (1885-1947) and Mary Elizabeth Titchmarsh (1883-1964) of Arrington (both born Croydon-cum-Clopton).
Baptised: at Wimpole 6 January 1918 [PR incorrectly gives date of birth as 19 February 1916].
Married: Doreen Ethel Jarman (1918-2009) at Whaddon on 26 October 1940.
Died: 21 September 1944, aged 27.
How Died: Following the fall of Singapore, John William Law was a Prisoner of War being transported on the Japanese 'Hellship' Hofuku Maru when it was sunk by American fire on the morning of the 21 September 1944.
Theatre of War: Far East/At Sea.
Will Probate: 18 July 1946. Left effects of value £418 11s to George Philip Law (Carpenter).
Military History:
The 2nd Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon Thorne, was sent to Singapore in early 1942 and reinforced the 15th Indian Brigade at Batu Pahat. The brigade held the town for ten days against attack by the Imperial Japanese Army; some 500 troops from the battalion fought their way back to Singapore and were attacked on all sides at Braddell Road in Singapore before being ordered to surrender.
[The Battle of Singapore was fought when Japan invaded the stronghold of Singapore, the major British military base in South-East Asia. The campaign was a decisive Japanese victory, resulting in the allied surrender on the 15 February 1942. About 85,000 British, Indian and Australian troops in Singapore became prisoners of war. The British prime minister, Winston Churchill, called it the "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history".]
The two Cambridgeshire Battalions were both lost during the fall of Singapore so perhaps we can assume John William Law became a Prisoner of War at this time. Indeed, one Japanese reference gives his date of capture as the 15 February 1942, the date of the allied surrender. Many of the servicemen captured by the Japanese in Singapore were taken to the infamous PoW workcamps in Burma and Siam (the 'Death Railway') and to the Philippines.
In 1942/3 the Japanese began moving Prisoners-of-War to Japan by sea.
On July 4 1944, John William Law was one of 1286 PoWs (British and Dutch prisoners of war from Singapore and the Dutch East Indies) put aboard the Japanese ship 'Hofuku Maru' in Singapore. The ship suffered engine problems en route and was diverted to Manilla for repairs. The men lived in the ship's holds in appalling conditions for over ten weeks, suffering terribly from disease, hunger and thirst.
On the morning of 21 September 1944, Convoy MATA-27, consisting of the 'Hofuku Maru' (the only one carrying PoWs) and 10 other ships, left Manilla heading for Japan. The convoy was attacked by more than 100 American carrier-aircraft some 80 miles north of Corregidor. At 10.35am the Hofuku Maru was sunk and 1047 of the 1289 British and Dutch prisoners on board lost their lives.
The 'Hofuku Maru' (Japanese Hellship):
The 'Hofuku Maru' at Beira in 1938
The 'Hofuku Maru' at Beira in 1938. Image © National Maritime Museum.
The Hofuku Maru (sometimes also called the Fuji Maru or the Toyofuku Maru) was a 5825 ton unmarked cargo ship used for carrying prisoners and troops to Japan. On July 4 1944, 1286 PoWs (British and Dutch prisoners of war from Singapore and the Dutch East Indies) were put aboard the Hofuku Maru in Singapore, for a voyage to Japan. The men lived in the holds in appalling conditions.
The Hofuku Maru left Singapore as part of convoy SHIMI-05 and made for Miri, Borneo which it reached on July 8. The convoy consisted of 10 ships - five of which carried PoWs There were about 5000 PoWs in total, making this the largest group of PoWs shipped at one time during the war.
At Borneo, the Hofuku Maru left the convoy and sailed on to the Philippines arriving around 19 July with engine problems. She lay in Manila harbour until mid-September while the engines were repaired. The PoWs on board suffered terribly from disease, hunger and thirst.
On 20 September 1944, Convoy MATA-27, consisting of the Hofuku Maru (the only one carrying PoWs) and 10 other ships, sailed from Manila heading for Japan. The following morning, the convoy was attacked by more than 100 American carrier aircraft some 80 miles north of Corregidor. At 10.35am the Hofuku Maru was sunk and 1047 of the 1289 British and Dutch PoWs on board lost their lives.
At the end of 1945, the Japanese Army prepared a hand-written roll of those aboard the Hofuku Maru (both British and Dutch) and this original document is now held in the American National Archives.
John William Law's name was recorded on the list.
Sunken Japanese Ships carrying Allied PoWs (with Location Map)
(PoW Research Network, Japan).
The Singapore Memorial in Kranji War Cemetery
Kranji War Cemetery with the Singapore Memorial at the top.
The Singapore Memorial in Kranji War Cemetery:
John William Law is commemorated on Column 59 on the Singapore Memorial(above) in Kranji War Cemetery (22 kilometres north of the city of Singapore, on the north side of Singapore Island. The columns on the memorial bear the names of soldiers and airman who have no known grave.
The cemetery dedication reads "1939-1945.  On the walls of this memorial are recorded the names of  twenty-four thousand Soldiers and Airman of many races united in service to the British Crown who gave their lives in Malaya and neighbouring lands and seas in the air over southern and eastern Asia and the Pacific but to whom the fortune of war denied the customary rites accorded their comrades in death".
The 'Hellships' Memorial at Olongapo
The Hellships Memorial in the Philippines.
The full text on the four monoliths.
The Hellships Memorial:
The 'Hellships' Memorial is located in the Philippine Islands at Olongapo on the shores of Subic Bay, Luzon, and was dedicated on January 22, 2006. This beautiful memorial honours all the Prisoners of War that were transported by the Japanese on unmarked ships that became collectively known as the "Hellships.
The 'Hellships'
"Only a few months after the fall of the Allied territories in the Far East, the Japanese began moving PoWs by sea out of all the areas they had conquered - Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Java, and other places, and sending them to Japan, Taiwan, Burma, the Dutch East Indies and other areas to be used as slave labour. PoWs were crammed with little or no water or food into stinking holds, filthy with coal dust, congealed sugar syrup or horse manure left over from previous voyages. The vessels became known as the 'Hellships'.
Thousands of allied prisoners were transported on dozens of Japanese 'Hellships', and many thousands of those perished from murder, starvation, sickness and neglect - or were killed when the unmarked ships were attacked unknowingly by friendly forces. Some of the cruelty the prisoners experienced was extraordinary, even for prisoners of the Japanese."
Hellship Rolls
The Wimpole and Arrington War Memorial
The Wimpole and Arrington War Memorial pictured in 2011
© Photographed by Lorraine and Keith Bowdler
The servicemen and women are listed under the Parishes of Arrington or Wimpole
as shown on the Cambridgeshire County War Memorial in Ely Cathedral.
War Memorial research by Steve Odell.
The War Memorial Project would welcome any additional information, research,
photographs or memories of John William Law for this page.
Please contact the website.

This page was last updated on: 25 July 2020.

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