The Hellships Poem

One of the the project that I’m particularly proud to have been involved with is the building of the Hellships Memorial on Waterfront Road in Subic Bay Freeport, a reminder of an atrocity all too easy to forget.

During World War 2 the Japanese rounded up vast numbers of prisoners of war of all nationalities, stuffed them into the crowded, sweltering holds of a variety of ships, and transported them to Japan as slave labour. Not knowing the valuable, suffering cargo these ships carried many were attacked and sunk by the allies in the belief that they were merchant vessels carrying war materiel.

Thousands died, others went mad, still others suffered mining for the glory of the inhumane Imperial Japan.

No nation, including the US, Britain and Australia, had ever set up a memorial to remember that sacrifice. A small team decided that wasn’t good enough and set about putting that right and I was asked to help put together a fund raising DVD for the project.

It presented an interesting challenge because I felt there was a need to set the scene, to emphasise the rational for the monument at the outset. Two dozen nationalities died on the Hellships so waving the Star and Stripes was not an option.

I decided to use an extract, sometimes called the Ode Of Remembrance, from Laurence Binyan’s poem For The Fallen, which is spoken on Remembrance Day, November 11, at the Cenotaph in London, in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. Although apparently unknown in the US and the Philippines, its haunting words were just as appropriate.

Then there was the issue of music. A bugle call was almost mandatory but which to choose? The US Taps or the more widely used Last Post? After a lot of deep thought I decided to use both and created and arrangement in which the two became a call and response, a concept that seemed entirely appropriate for those who had answered the call and responded.

I was asked to read the Binyan poem at the inauguration of the Hellships memorial and a surprisingly large number of people asked me for copies afterwards, including Filipino veterans.

So, you can hear it here

You can watch the inauguration of the memorial on YouTube here.

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