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Title: Interpreting memories of a forgotten army : prisoner of war narratives from the Sumatra Railway, May 1944-August 1945
Author: Oliver, Elizabeth
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2014
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In this thesis I set out the rarely-documented life history of the Sumatra Railway, which was constructed by prisoners of war (POWs) of the Japanese during the Second World War. I bring to light the personal narratives of former POWs, based on diaries, memoirs and sound recordings held predominantly within Imperial War Museum (IWM) archives. By doing so, I use some of the most powerful and comprehensive narratives from the men who survived the experience to address the gaps in current historical literature about the Sumatra Railway. Following this, and most substantially, I read these archival materials for what they tell us about the ways in which the captive experience has been represented by former POWs (and how their audiences have responded to their stories). Informed by interviews that I have carried out with the relatives of former Far Eastern POWs, I examine POW life-writing in the context of current cultural debates about forgotten histories and familial remembrance. By focusing on the different genres of POW life-writing, I explore how specific narrative components shape the representation of captivity. Further, I establish that literature, and literacy, were key to maintaining a POW’s imaginative freedom even when he was physically confined. My examination of the linguistic choices made by former POWs finds that the world of the camp was embedded into their words, and that a camp discourse developed as a means of forging bonds between men, and resisting oppression. This leads me to consider the physicality of incarceration – what I term the 'body biography' of the POW – and its impact on post-war responses to Far Eastern captivity. I conclude by reflecting on the transgenerational transmission of POW history (its postmemory), and question whether a new role is emerging for the third generation in exploring the affective impact of postmemory itself.
Supervisor: Prosser, Jay Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available