Ronald Searle (1920-2011) had been captured by the Japanese just a month after arriving in Singapore, having enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1939. He would pass the time by sketching and even started a secret POW magazine with a couple of other inmates. After 14 months in Changi he was sent to work on the Siam-Burma Railway.
An archive relating to the camp and the building of the railway came up at auction at Tennants (20% buyer’s premium) of Leyburn on June 30.
It was collected by Changi prisoner Captain Harry Edward Witheford (1912-2008) and included sketches, hand-drawn greetings cards and a calendar by Searle, his friend.
Witheford – also captured at the fall of Singapore – made many friends among his fellow prisoners. They included the Australian author Russell Braddon, then a gunner in the 2/15th Field (Artillery) Regiment who later recounted his experiences in the bestselling memoir, The Naked Island (illustrated by Searle). The book was one of the first to describe in grim detail the appalling treatment the POWs received.
Books by Braddon plus Witheford’s medals were included in Toovey’s archive, which sold just over top estimate at £4200 to a private collector from the Far East bidding online.
Witheford survived the war and spent time working in Kenya during the 1950s before he and his family returned to the UK, settling in North Yorkshire. The vendor was from the north of England, a friend of the Witheford family, to whom it had been left.
Another lot revealing life as a POW was sold at fellow North Yorkshire saleroom Elstob & Elstob (22% buyer’s premium) on June 19.
Relating to 2nd Lt Clarence Banyon Pickard of the 22nd Durham Light Infantry, who was captured by the Germans in the First World War, this collection revealed a rather different experience to Changi, however.
It included a photograph and postcard album, containing many black and white images of an amateur dramatics group formed by servicemen at the Schweidnitz POW Camp.
Pickard’s medals and three postcards and three letters sent from Schweidnitz between June-October 1918 and addressed to his sweetheart, Gwen Johnson of Hartlepool, also featured.
The letters detail how Pickard was shot through the hip on the battlefield and hospitalised, his mother mistakenly informed he had been killed in action. One letter had been cut by a censor but had a note The British Censorship is not responsible for the mutilation of this letter.
Guided at £100-150, the archive sold for £550 to a collector in Australia who bid online. The vendors are based in the Durham area and relatives of Pickard.
A signed framed and glazed watercolour by Raphael Drouart (1894-1972) of Lt Lewis Pash Renateau (d.1978) was offered in a timed online auction ending on July 25 at Thimbleby & Shorland’s (12/10% buyer’s premium) Reading saleroom.
Lt Renateau, an officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, was taken prisoner near St Julien, near Ypres, on April 24, 1915. He was transferred to the Giessen prisoner of war camp, where fellow prisoner Drouart took his portrait.
A second portrait of Renateau by Drouart is held in the National Army Museum’s collection. This one sold within estimate at £145 to an online bidder, believed to be a private collector.