Date of Birth: 30th January 1922 in
4th May 1998 in
Parents: William George Rockcliffe born in
Salford, England 1874 and
(nee Clixby) born in Wadsley, England, 1899.
Joined Territorial Army May 3rd 1939 age 17
Civilian Occupation: Rolling Mill hand - Steelworks in Sheffield UK.
Embodied: 2nd September 1939
Posted: 6th Anti Aircraft division - Royal Army Ord. Corps, Nov. 1939
Posted: 4 Division March 1941 (RAOC)
Embarked to Malaya December 1941
Reported missing in Malaya by telegraph to his mother, January 1942
Liberated September 1945
Awards: 1939-45 STAR with clasp, PACIFIC
STAR with clasp , WAR MEDAL 1939/45
As nothing was heard for
over two years it was assumed that Sidney had been killed in action during the invasion of
Malaya by Japanese forces. His mother received a letter dated 9th September 1944 stating
that he was held prisoner in a Japanese POW camp. Interestingly Rockcliffe is listed
on one roster indicating as having arrived on 19 June 1944 on board the Teia Maru. (POW #
1126) A second record indicates he arrived on 11 February 1945 on the Hioki Maru (Hokko
Maru) which indicates he may have been on Taiwan for a short period en route to Japan.
Here is what we know:
Sidney was based at Bovington Camp, England until December
1941 when the 18th Army was formed and embarked for Malaya via Nova
the South Atlantic.
Photo right and
Sidney is second to last soldier on right (hands clasped in front of him), during happier
I think this is one of the photographs dad managed to keep with him during the time he was
It is battered and stained.
I don’t think any of the other chaps in the
photograph survived, although it would be lovely to think that they did.
It is terrible to imagine that my dad may have seen these friends murdered on the
Burma-Siam railway and to have had to bury them in unmarked graves. It was always his wish
to go back and find them and to make sure they were properly buried, honoured and
Sidney arrived in Singapore in January 1942 just in time to be bombed by the
Japanese Air Force.
Captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore 15th February 1942 and
imprisoned in the infamous
Changi Camp, it was there most of the prisoners were put to work such as repairing the go-downs
in the docks area.
During October 1942 the RAOC were amongst 3250 British troops transferred by ‘Rice Train’
to Ban Pong in Thailand. This journey took 5 days and nights where the men were crammed
into metal containers that were like ovens during the day and freezing at night. Following
their arrival at Ban Pong they were force marched up country to Tarsau and then onto
Kinsayok camp by barge.
From October 1942 until May1944 these men worked in the most horrendous conditions
imaginable to build the “Railway of Death” through
the jungles of Thailand and Burma. Approximately 40% of this work group died during this
period, through diseases such as Cholera, Malaria, Dysentery etc or were starved to death
or murdered by the guards. All of these men suffered with beri-beri caused by the
inadequate food supply which was almost entirely polished rice, vegetable stew and almost
no protein. On completion of the Railway in 1944 most of the survivors had lost about half
of their normal body weight.
In May 1944 Sidney was located at POW Camp Nong Pladuck No.2 at the southern end of the
railway. On 3rd June, 456 of the survivors, including Sidney, were sent on the
Hioki Maru hell ship to Moji, Japan. On this journey they were attacked near the
Japanese coast by the submarine USS Tang but managed to avoid being torpedoed. At Moji,
Sidney was one of about 200 men separated and sent to Fukuoka Camp #17 arriving there on
the 17 June 1944. These men were allocated POW numbers 931-1128, Sidney was POW # 1126.
At Fukuoka Camp #17 the British
prisoners worked as slaves for the Barron Mitsui in his Zinc Factory, they were paid 1 cent
a day – if they received it. The Americans, Dutch and Australians were employed in the
Mitsui coal mine. All of the prisoners at this camp received the most brutal beatings from
the guards and were fed an inadequate diet, often the only meat available was a truck load
of dead dogs. All of this changed on August 9th 1945 as Sidney and most of
the others watched the Atom Bomb explode over nearby Nagasaki, but it wasn’t until
September 16 1945 they were transferred to a Colonel Griffin (I assume of the US Marines).
At this time Camp 17 was liberated.
It was a long journey back home to
England, arriving in Liverpool, December 1945 on the Queen Mary. Sidney finally arrived in
his home in Sheffield in January 1946 – his neighbours described him as a “shadow of a man”
the result of three and a half years of the most brutal and inhumane treatment by his
Sidney used to laugh about being one of the only men on earth to have survived being bombed
by four different Air Forces; The German Luftwaffe in England, The Japanese Air Force in
Singapore, The RAF in Thailand and the USAAF at Fukuoka #17 camp.
When Sidney arrived in
Liverpool in December 1945 aboard the Queen Mary, there were no fanfares or joyous crowds
waiting on the quay side. He did not experience VE day or VJ day and all the victory
celebrations and street parties were becoming memories by then. After disembarking from
the Queen Mary he was sent to Aldershot where, after a few days, he was demobbed
(demobilized). Sidney was 5 feet 9 inches tall and his weight at that time was recorded as
being 5 stone 3 pounds (73 pounds) and this was after he had spent two months in America
being treated for malnutrition and tropical diseases! He walked home to Sheffield from
Aldershot, a journey of some 153 miles. Why he did this we are not sure as he would have
been given money by the army. Perhaps he needed to come to terms with what had happened to
him and to his friends. After demob (demobilization), men like my dad were expected to
simply get on with their lives; to pick up where they had left off as if nothing had
happened. In those days there was no such thing as ‘Post-traumatic Stress Disorder’, no
counseling, no provision for him to grieve for the fallen comrades he had left behind.
There was no heroes welcome waiting for him. Nothing but the grim austerity of post-war
Linda's note: Men such as Sidney did not receive the
financial, physical, or emotional support they so deserved after their military service and
If my website can, at the very east, prevent their sacrifices from being forgotten,
well then, this
is why I do what I do.
Sidney Rockcliffe and Mary Goddard on their Wedding Day 2nd
They were married at St Barnabas Church Highfield Sheffield.
dress and veil were borrowed from a cousin and the cake wasn’t real. Under the top tier
there was a small sponge cake which was all that rationing would allow.
Stephen, with his wife Mary, early 1980's.
NOTE: Before he arrived in
Fukuoka he had already been a POW for 2 1/2 years and had worked on the Burma railway
construction for most of that time. It was during his time working on the railway that most
of his friends died. There were many problems that my father never came to terms with
including the death of so many of his teenage friends through the brutality, many of these
soldiers were just pushed into mass graves and did not even receive a prayer. As you may
imagine my father was a remarkably strong willed man to have endured such abuse and the
many diseases that the Japanese refused treatment for.
Submitted by Stephen Rockcliffe, son of Sidney
Additions by daughter, Yvonne.