Jack Sharpe

Jack Sharpe was sent to Singapore just a few days before the Japanese invasion there, and captured by the Japanese. He was sent to Thailand to work on the notorious Burma Railway and was nearly executed over an attempted escape. Before his court martial for escape, Sharpe defiantly proclaimed that he would live to see all of Japan surrender and that he would walk out of the prison on his own two feet.

Sharpe was sent back to the Outram jail in Singapore; almost no one survived it for two years, and it was from this infamous prison that Sharpe was liberated in August 1945 with the dubious distinction of being its longest survivor. True to his words, he walked out of the gates on his own two feet, and collapsed immediately afterwards. During his captivity, plagued by scurvy, dysentery and scabs, Sharpe saw his weight decreased from 70 kilograms to less than 25 kilograms. In September 1945, the world was stunned by the publication of Sharpe’s skeletal figure cheerfully smiling from the end of his bed. The photo told the story of appalling Japanese treatment of their prisoners, and also the indomitable spirit of Jack Sharpe, who eventually lived to be 88.

One in three POWs under the Japanese during the war perished — seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians. In fact, around 90,000 Asian labourers and 16,000 Allied POWs died on the Burma Railroad alone. The Japanese, coming from a shame culture which would rather commit suicide, never understood the concept of surrendering, and treated their prisoners with the greatest of contempt.