Dr William Frankland

Dr William Frankland MBE
Born 19 March 1912
Hirohito ~ Alexander Fleming ~ Saddam Hussein
Bill survived them all. IMAGE → GARRY RIGBY © 2019 Royal Academy of Music London.

He appears to be breathing normally. Should be prostrate in an oxygen tent or entombed in one of those iron lung machines; at least have the decency to be in a wheelchair. It’s really quite extraordinary. He is more than twice my age and getting a bigger smile from the Japanese girl than me. And I introduced him. I imagined if one were to reach the ridiculous age of one hundred and six, life would be a commode on four wheels, dribbling both ends, interspersed with the occasional scream. But here he is before my eyes, chatting to a girl at the Royal Academy of Music and drinking wine: I’m expecting the paramedics to rush in at any moment, cervical collars, suction units, defibrillators, incubators and ventilators at the ready. Bill however, comfortable with advanced age blithely continues his schmooze with the Asian lady. Not that Bill doesn’t look old; they’d run terrified in Beverly Hills screaming Max Schreck. But not that old. And surely a man that old shouldn’t be so vertical, so… alive. In the good old days we’d walk Gramps up the mountain (Obasuteyama in Japan, Mount Throwing-Grandma-Away) and leave him there when he got too useless. Bill on the other hand would undoubtedly pass us on the way down ~ us having just stopped for a quick ciggy, tweet and marmalade sandwich, while Alex Munthe like, the good doctor marches on.

“I was born in 1912, six weeks early. My identical twin brother and I weighed three pounds one ounce each but we both survived – he died in 1995, at age 83. As an early baby, that’s the first time I survived against the odds.”

Yeah he’s a tough cookie. I’d better keep my gimlet eye on him. Should I call him out ~ he’s getting pretty familiar with my Japanese friend. Perhaps the sly fox has developed some potion, elixir, or god forbid taking PCP where they just go nuts and the situation requires 20 cops from the LAPD. Or a Zen master, Kung Fu, Samurai Johnny; Ninja skills he secretly acquired from his Japanese captors during the war. Blimey…

CUT TO: Super wide-screen, technicolor close up on Bill’s eyes as they dart right. Absolute silence. In one movement and with lightning speed Bill draws the katana from his long coat, slices my wine glass in half, returns sword to scabbard and continues his tête-à-tête, a bead of sweat dripping slowly from the end of his nose and into his drink (Ha), the only witness to that dazzling performance.

Crikey, you just don’t know! He survived Emperor Hirohito’s unorthodox accommodation. Wasn’t shot by Saddam Hussein or life cut short by some loopy self-experimentation. Come to think of it, that Japanese girl looks like a Ninja as well. Perhaps they’re in it together? Oh no, it’s Master Pai Mei and his Palm Exploding Heart Technique which he only teaches to his girl student. I’ve gotta get a grip. I just can’t think straight with these nefarious Jedi mind tricks binding me slowly, but surely to their will. Damn you and your abominable covenant with Yama, God of death and his oxen from hell. Or, I could just foul the waters. That would be a lot safer. Lets not forget Bill was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps when he was cruelly interned by Hirohito for three and a half years. Lets see if that wipes the smile from that Japanese Jezebel and her new boyfriend. You can’t bamboozle me that easy. And, If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen… and things are about to get very hot. Ninety five degrees to be precise.

“It’s just luck. There are many, many times when I really might, or should have been killed and each time I escaped.”

Singapore ~ British Crown colony. 09:00. Sunday 15 February 1942. 95°. 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops prepare for surrender to General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya and his 30,000 front-line soldiers. Four days earlier in a cable to Allied Supreme Command, Winston Churchill had stated… “There must be no thought of sparing the troops or population; commanders and senior officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Empire and the British Army is at stake.” Yamashita’s defeated opponent, clipped moustache and bucktoothed Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival, CB, DSO & Bar, OBE, MC, OStJ, DL, marches under a white flag to the Old Ford Motor Factory in Bukit Timah. At 18:10 it is agreed the British Empire troops will lay down their arms and cease resistance at 20:30. Churchill called it “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”. I told you things were gonna get hot. Its always hot in Singapore. Renamed Shōnan-tō; Southern Island gained in the age of Shōwa, the Japanese sought vengeance against the Chinese. Overseen by the Kempeitai secret police from 18 February to 4 March 1942, The Sook Ching massacre would number over 50,000 executions. The Japanese referred to Sook Ching as the Kakyō Shukusei ~ purging of Overseas Chinese. The Alexandra Hospital Massacre four days previously, saw two hundred staff and patients murdered. The Empire of Japan had never signed the Second Geneva Convention of 1929 and its adherence to Bushidō (the way of warriors), honour and ideals that dictated the samurai way of life, led each soldier to accept as the greatest honor to die for the Emperor and a disgrace to surrender; Seppuku (cutting belly ~ ritual suicide) was the only honourable death for a defeated warrior… not that Winston shied away from sacrificing lives when our honour was at stake.

Southern Island gained in the age of Shōwa accommodated many internment camps each varying in their brutality. Captain A. W. ‘Bill’ Frankland was confined to Pulau Blakang Mati (Malay: island of death from behind), its beach infamous for the countless executions of Chinese and today known as Sentosa; home to 14 hotels, Universal Studios theme park, 2 golf courses and witness to the historic meeting between Donald Duck and Rocketman in 2018; Donald likes his heroes not captured so he’ll have no empathy for Captain Frankland. Like many of the Empire soldiers taken prisoner, Bill, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps lived in circumstances he would later describe… “Medically, as a prisoner of war, we saw conditions which are now unknown”. Thousands more were shipped out for work on the Siam–Burma Death Railway and Sandakan airfield. Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya was tried by a US military commission for war crimes and hanged in the Philippines on 23 February 1946; the first to be charged solely on the basis of responsibility for an omission ~ the Yamashita standard. Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival, CB, DSO & Bar, OBE, MC, OStJ, DL died at the age of 78 in 1966. He was not awarded a knighthood.

“My life was saved for the second time during the war – all thanks to the flip of a coin. I was stationed in Singapore during World War II, and another doctor and I decided to spin a coin to determine our assignments. I called heads and won. The man who lost went to Queen Alexandra Hospital where he was brutally murdered.”