The Prisoner List is largely based on taped interviews with the author's father, who is referred to in the book simply as 'Ben'.
Here we show a few short clips from those conversations.
Ben, a 25-year-old Londoner, is called up for active service – expecting to fight against Nazi Germany. But in 1941 he is abruptly posted to Singapore, amid concerns that the British colony there is under threat from the Japanese.
These fears prove to be well founded. On Ben's tenth night on the island, Singapore is attacked by Japanese bombers – the same night as the raids on Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong.
The position is hopeless: the British have insufficient resources to defend Britain, let alone to send out to distant colonies. The Allies are left to protect Malaya and Singapore with no tanks, practically no air force, and soon no navy. Many of the defending forces are raw recruits who have only just arrived from home; they are not acclimatised to the gruelling tropical conditions and are untrained in the jungle warfare tactics of the invading enemy.
Hong Kong surrenders on Christmas Day. Singapore holds out for several weeks longer but, on 15 February 1942, the island falls to the Japanese.
Churchill calls it "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history", as a staggering 130,000 Allied troops become prisoners of the Imperial Japanese Army.
(Sorry - the sound quality is better on the remaining clips!)
Six weeks later, Ben becomes one of the first thousand prisoners to be shipped into slavery. After six days at sea, the men reach Vietnam (at that time part of French Indochina), where they are put to work on the docks in Saigon.
Conditions are overcrowded, the work is hard, and the rations meagre. Beatings are routine and dysentery is rife. The men are constantly hungry and soon begin to steal food from the docks.
Breaking into crates and sacks becomes a way of life. The men scavenge for anything they can find to eat, and occasionally – as we shall see in this next clip – they stumble across something unexpected.
A group of prisoners (including Ben) have just stuffed their pockets with stolen fish heads ...
A year on, there have been many deaths among the Saigon prisoners – two executions, and the rest mainly from dysentery and malnutrition.
There has also been this incident on the docks:
The seven hundred fittest of those at Saigon are moved to Thailand, where they will be forced to build the infamous 'death' railway into Burma.
Life here proves to be far, far worse:
Twice a day the prisoners assemble on the camp square for Tenko (roll call).
Sometimes the headcount is followed by an announcement by the Japanese officer in charge:
The Burma Railway is completed towards the end of 1943.
The camp is now a place of mainly sick and dying prisoners. The rations continue to deteriorate and the death toll rises.
Ben – now unable to walk – starts to compile the prisoner list.
The men wonder what the Japanese plan to do with them next:
As the months go by, the growing numbers of wounded Japanese troops seen coming down the railway from Burma suggest that the tide may have turned. This impression is reinforced when American aircraft appear overhead and begin to bomb the railway.
The raids escalate and the prisoners – including some of the sick – are sent back onto the line to repair the damage. The work is not as intense as before, but the bombers pose a new danger.
The Japanese, now clearly on the back foot, grow increasingly suspicious of the prisoners and start to search them and their huts feverishly. The men have no concealed weapons, but several of the prisoners are found to be hiding radio sets. They are removed from the camp and handed over to the Japanese military police for torture.
Ben, meanwhile, is concealing a number of forbidden items – including the prisoner list and a secret cash box containing illicitly obtained local currency for the benefit of the camp's sick.
A year after completion of the railway, almost a third of the seven hundred fit men who arrived in Thailand sixteen months earlier are dead.
The remaining prisoners are forced to dig a vast rectangular trench around the outside of the camp:
Word filters through to the prisoners that Germany has surrendered. The rumours are true and, for the vast majority of the British public, the war is over. The Allies still in the Far East – not just the prisoners but also those fighting in Burma – have been all but forgotten.
There seems to be no end in sight for the men. But three months later, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan unexpectedly surrenders.
This final video clip presents a point of view which is rejected by many today. However, it is an opinion shared by the overwhelming majority of over 100,000 survivors of these camps. Most of these were decent people, forced to endure some of the worst hardships of World War 2. Their side of the story should not be forgotten:
(20 seconds in, he says "Fepows". FEPOW stands for Far East Prisoner of War.)
The men wait for relieving forces. Ben, as camp adjutant, will be in the last batch to depart.
The war is over, but the prisoners' problems are not. Very many are sick and not all will survive the journey home. Others will return to their families only to die soon afterwards, and many more will be plagued by disability and psychological trauma for the rest of their natural lives.
Few in Britain will understand what the men have gone through and not many will seem to care. The British prisoners will each be entitled £10,000 from their own Government – but not for another 55 years (if they live that long).
There will be no proper apology – let alone compensation – from Japan.