- Second World War (1939-45)
Douglas Heywood OAM was just a teenager when he discovered hundreds of letters written by his father Scott to his mother Marge during the Second World War.
Many of these letters were written when Scott was a prisoner of war, and they outline in immense detail what life was like for him and his friends.
Listen as Doug unpacks this incredible love story and recounts what it was like to learn about his father through the letters.
LAURA THOMAS: Hello and welcome to the Shrine of Remembrance podcast, where we explore all aspects of military history…
My name is Laura Thomas, and I’m the production coordinator here at the Shrine…
The Shrine of Remembrance acknowledges the Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we honour Australian service men and women; and we pay our respects to Elders, past, present and emerging.
For this episode of the podcast, we will be following quite a remarkable story of love and loss, all set against a backdrop of letters.
My guest today is Doug Heywood OAM, who many of you may know from his many musical endeavours as the conductor of the Camberwell Chorale and also the Choral Director for Channel Nine’s Christmas Eve production of Carols by Candlelight.
But I’m speaking with Doug today for a slightly different reason – he was just a teenager when he found, hidden in the back of a wardrobe, almost 600 letters his father Scott had written to his mother Marge during the Second World War.
Many of these were from Scott’s time as a prisoner of war, where he outlined in great detail the daily going on’s of life.
Some letters were cheerful and really hopeful of the future, others were heartbreaking and incredibly distressing, recording in great detail the horrific treatment and conditions he endured as a POW. But there was a common thread that ran through them all – Scott’s unwavering love for Marge and the hope that one day soon he’d be walking through the front gate and back home…
Doug worked over many years to transcribe these letters into quite the monumental book that was privately published for his family. But the story of Scott Heywood and his love for Marge has also recently been detailed in the book A Week in September by Peter Rees and Sue Langford.
Doug joins us now to shed more light on these letters, and how he came to know his father through them…
Hello Doug and thank you for joining me…
DOUG HEYWOOD: Laura, it's fascinating to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
LAURA THOMAS: Now tell me a little bit about Scott and Marge, your parents, how did they meet?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Scott lived in Stawell. His father owned a lemonade factory in Stawell. And Scott was going in fact to continue working there. And he met mum. I don't know exactly where or how, but she was the daughter of the upper social part of the town of Stawell, and her father was a policeman. They met and fell in love, even though Scott was Mum’s senior by a number of years. And his parents, particularly his mother, was not impressed with the fact that her son had fallen in love with a policeman's daughter.
LAURA THOMAS: Oh, wow
DOUG HEYWOOD: Wow. Absolutely. But it was love at first sight because all the correspondence with between Mum and Dad is just sheer love from the very beginning.
He had to go to a Deb Ball without Marge, without Mum, and he was didn't want to go there without her. There were tough times, particularly from the social point of view, because Mum became pregnant with my brother before they married. Imagine, go back to 1941, 1940, and imagine the effect that in a country town, where the son over the well-respected lady in the city, or in the town, her son got this policeman's daughter pregnant.
LAURA THOMAS: What was the reaction to that?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Not a social outcast, but definitely frowned upon back in those days. To have to have a child out of wedlock was just not on, It wasn’t seen as at all the right thing to do. So Mum was pregnant with my brother, and they’d been obviously still madly in love. And there was a period in time where Mum said, Dad, I think we should not go ahead with it, because she was obviously feeling a lot of pressure.
And Dad wrote to her a lovely letter saying, “Well, look, if this is what you want, I'll still love you. Thank you. If you want me to still be your friend or be your friend for life, but I am broken hearted” and it is a really touching letter.
But he understood the situation and then they resolved that family problem and they got married in Dandenong. Mum was by that stage I think eight months pregnant. Only a very small number of people that attended. Not her parents.
LAURA THOMAS: Her parents weren’t at the wedding?
DOUG HEYWOOD: I mean, not Dad’s parents. But her parents, the Hawkins's, where there at the wedding. And it is a very small affair, written up very discreetly in the papers and they were married. And then a month later, my brother was born, and then thirteen months later, I was born. And Dad missed both births, one he had a broken leg, the other, he was at camp at couldn’t get there. But the point about that is that they were two people sufficiently in love to defy the social norms.
LAURA THOMAS: And they were writing letters throughout this whole time?
DOUG HEYWOOD: All the time, all the time, because Dad would often be away on camp. She's a young woman, she’s 20, 21, and they didn’t see a lot of each other, of course, because he was at camp and she was living in Dandenong at the police station with her father. They left Stawell by this stage. And their way of correspondence through the phone call when they could get one, or by letter. I suspect the amount of time they spent together, actually together, from 1939 would be the small amount of time.
LAURA THOMAS: Scott joined the forces before he met Marge…
DOUG HEYWOOD: He joined the militia first of all. And then he went from the militia to the regular army.
LAURA THOMAS: And why did he join up? Was there a family history there?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Yes, there was a family history, but on the on the Heywood side, his uncles fought in the Boer War. So there's a strong family history from the Heywood side of the family. And he also just felt it is the right thing to do.
LAURA THOMAS: And how did Marge feel about all of this, him being away and not being there for your and your brother's birth? Was she okay? Was she coping with it okay?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Oh yes, it's as far as I can gather. Of course she hoped he would be there, but no, no, it was difficult. It was difficult. And she would sometimes go up the country and stay with friends there. But no, Mum coped. No different I suppose to the wife of any person in the army at that stage going to training camps, going to Sydney pr Randwick or wherever. There would only ever only be a small amount of time that they could get leave, particularly the outbreak of war, that they could get leave to go and see their loved ones.
LAURA THOMAS: And they had a little ritual, didn't they? A 9:00 ritual? Tell me about that.
DOUG HEYWOOD: As far as I can gather, if they could they’d ring at 9:00, it would be a phone call. Any time that Dad would ring here, if he could get to the phone, it would be 9:00. And they also made I suppose, a pact that at 9:00 every night, they think about each other.
LAURA THOMAS: Isn't that just beautiful?
DOUG HEYWOOD: And that continued all the way through, even as a POW, that enduring love was there. And even in, not only the letters from Malacca, which was the army to, 8th division, before the fall of Singapore. Every letter is, of course, love to the to the bairns, he calls us, and every letter, even as a POW, every diary entry, was written as a letter to Mum. Every diary entry would say “Dear Marge” and end saying love and kisses to her and the two bairns. So, it is a love that was absolutely strong.
LAURA THOMAS: Tell me about Scott heading overseas. When did that happen?
DOUG HEYWOOD: That happened in ‘41 about August ‘41. They went across to Malacca, and I believe some thought the boys are there having a good time because they weren’t in the war,they were just in Malacca. And if you read through the letters of Malacca, he had a great chance to explore the city, the people, he became the choir master of a choir. Dad was a tenor apparently, so he became the choir master of a choir.
And there’s some lovely descriptions of how he tried to teach these people of all nationalities, to sing a hymn for the service. And this lovely story on one occasion, after the service, one of the congregation, a pregnant woman collapsed, and Dad went and looked after her and did all those things. And there are some really terrific stories about life in Malacca.
And the 120-odd letters Mum got from him, a lot came with photos of the life of the people Malacca. From their religious ceremonies where they would walk across hot coals and get themselves whipped to the end to save them for salvation, to shots of a Chinese wedding, to military work where the camp was. So all those photos mum kept in the big album and they give a good insight to what the boys in Malacca, in the early stages at least, were having a really nice time.
There was nothing going on, all the things were happening elsewhere in the world, and they were just exploring the city and getting used to the heat and the climate, which would be quite a shock to the system after living in Australia, going across to the heat in Singapore.
LAURA THOMAS: I bet, it would be quite the adjustment.
DOUG HEYWOOD: Oh, absolutely was. I am sure they drank copious amounts of beer to keep them, keep them liquid up. But Scott was interested in the people and the culture and the letters, apart from being love letters to Mum, give a really good insight into the life of the civilians around that time, before the fall of Singapore.
LAURA THOMAS: And how often was he writing back?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Oh, every second day. I'm just having a look. The first letter was Monday the 11th of August ‘41, then Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Monday
LAURA THOMAS: So very consistently writing about what he was seeing?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Yeah, three or four times a week, and there's 116, the last one was written on the second of February ‘42 just before the fall of Singapore. So they were at least three times a week.
LAURA THOMAS: And was Marge able to send letters over as consistently?
DOUG HEYWOOD: I assume so, yes. And he would refer them and he'd say “I haven't heard from you for a while, what's happening back there?” And so, yes, she kept in contact with him and they always end up with, for example, all my love, my beloved and lots of kisses from your loving husband, Scott. Kisses for John and Doug from Daddy, for a precious one God bless her and our bairns and keep safe and well. And that the tone of the end of the letter was all the way through from the time he departed in ‘41 until the last letter, which was in March ‘44.
LAURA THOMAS: So talk to me about when things started to escalate and that life of Malacca and kind of that relaxed lifestyle was gone. What was happening then?
DOUG HEYWOOD: The war had broken out and they’d gone through Johor. which had fallen and Dad comments on the destruction, on seeing young children maimed. He was distressed, as any anyone would have been, seeing the destruction to humanity as well as to the city. He stopped writing the letters on the second of February, just before the fall of Singapore, where he describes what's what Johar was like at that time.
And that was February ‘42. And Mum heard nothing more from him until 1943, early ‘44, she heard nothing from him, because he's now a POW.
LAURA THOMAS: So where was Scott as a prisoner of war and what was he doing?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Singapore fell. They went to Changi prison and then from there they were dispersed. Some remained in Changi. And I believe that was the better of all the places to survive. And then he went first to Victoria Point, then went up to different positions on the Burma railroad - the 105 Kilo camp, the 75 Kilo camp, further and further up into the jungle. So, he went from Changi to Victoria Point and then the six other camps beyond that.
He was a warrant officer and Dad pulled no punches. He was a very strong willed, caring man. He care for his men more than his position, and he wouldn't go join the officer's mess because there were too many white Japs there, that's what he used to call the officers who associated with the Japanese for favors. And the men loved him, he was very strong with them. And so Dad was showing his strength of mind, commitment and his love.
He had no doubt in his mind that he would return. So he was coping as a POW, he was leading his men, helping his men. Those that were too ill to work on the camp, Dad would do their shift for them. So he would go dig the rails and do all that work to help those of his men who were sick and couldn't do it, who would have been belted by the Japanese and forced to work. He was just incredibly strong.
The other side, back at home, and I can't remember much about it because I was I was far too young, but I can imagine Mum, living at Hamilton at the police station just receiving letters. From first of all, nothing for quite some time, and then the letter saying your husband is a POW, and then (one saying) no, he's is missing believed dead. Oh, no, sorry, he's alive, he's on this camp. Emotional roller coaster for a young married woman with two young kids. I can't imagine. I actually can't imagine.
LAURA THOMAS: Scott stopped writing for a while when he first became a POW. Doug said he wasn't exactly sure why. Maybe it was because he didn't have a chance, or maybe it was because he was becoming accustomed to his new life in captivity. But one horrific event spurred him on to put pen to paper once again. Bob Goulden was a 24-year-old private who attempted to escape the aerodrome prison camp at Victoria Point on the seventh of July 1942. He was found four days later, and despite an appeal, Bob Goulden was marched past the Australians and then executed. Scott, like the other Australians, was angry, and so he did what he knew best and picked up a pen and started writing to Marge again.
DOUG HEYWOOD: For many weeks I have been going to start this, my darling, and at last to you I am. This is on Friday, the 17th of July 1942. Perhaps Sunday's affair has hurried me up after reading the last letter written by Bob Goulden to his wife. Poor devil, I don't think he realised even then he was going to be shot. Not that I'm getting morbid or anything, but one never knows. And it's a long time since I've written. Maybe I can put some of my thoughts down here better than I can in the in my diary. How are you my precious? I am certain that you are well. At night, very often I can feel you with me and can see you at all hours a day, playing with and feeding the bairns, etc. I guess he’s all over the place now, and he goes on describing how he imagines family life to be, but that was what got Dad writing. And we have a tendency to think all Japanese guards were bad and they weren't. He goes on to say. As I write this, Henry, Japanese guard is sleeping in my bed. He’s not a bad stick and very like a lad in lots of ways. And Henry and Ishihara did what they could at Victoria Point, this is Dad’s first camp away from Changi, did what they could to help the POWs. So much so that the Dad had said to Henry that when he got back to Australia, he would invite them over to meet the family. So it wasn't always negative. You know, Dad through these letters always looked at to that which was good as well as that which is bad. And Dad also took time all the way through to look at the beauty of nature.
LAURA THOMAS: Okay, so he was looking at the location around him?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Absolutely. He would write absolutely love the descriptions of the valleys, of the temples, of the butterflies, of the birds. All the way through he would thank God for the beauty and then say “Well, why the hell are we fighting when there's so much beauty around?”
LAURA THOMAS: And how was he getting the materials to write?
DOUG HEYWOOD: He got as much paper as he could going to Johor and the writing, the handwriting is always beautiful, the quite large and as it would have been, just normal writing. And then because you as a warrant officer, you had to write reports. So you had access to paper and a lot of the diaries in the later stages is written on naval paper. So he had access to paper. He had access to ink, powdered ink, whatever was available. Because he had to keep records. So the paper eventually began to run out. But the paper wasn't an issue for him to have something to record. In contrast to other diaries, a very dear friend of Dad’s squadron leader Keith Burrill, he gave me his diary that he kept, and that was a small little book, little, small diary with just a sentence every now and then. Dad’s was a 5000, 8000 word description of the day. And that's what makes this this particular journal fascinating, because it's in the time. It's not a reflection when you get back after the war and all this happened. This is a record of the time, at the time. That I think is absolutely unique. It is. It is.
LAURA THOMAS: And where was he keeping these letters? He'd probably have to be quite crafty.
DOUG HEYWOOD: Absolutely. Because, they weren’t supposed to keep them. Late in the camp you'll see some of the letters have been eaten out in the middle. He used to keep them and every now and then then the guards would raid the camp and so people would hide things that they were hoarding or keeping being cameras or whatever. And there's some gorgeous stories in that when they're raiding, one block had headlights of cars and God knows what he kept. Dad has his in a bundle and used to bury them. And then in one of the letters about the third camp, he wrote in dismay that he picked up the letters and they’d been eaten by ants. Because Dad never reread them, he just kept writing and that’s how the entries were done. And the middle part of the book had been eaten by ants. And so, the story goes, that Dad got sick of, bcause it was quite a pile of letters by this stage later into the camp, he got sick of trying to hide them. So the Japanese would raid the place looking for those things, so he’d leave it on the table. There it was.
LAURA THOMAS: He left them there and they were never taken?
DOUG HEYWOOD: No, because it was too obvious.
LAURA THOMAS: Wow. Isn't that amazing? And sheer luck as well
DOUG HEYWOOD: Yeah.
LAURA THOMAS: So he left them there during the raids and they remained?
DOUG HEYWOOD: He left them there and they were fine. That's the story that came back to me. And as you can see in the copies I've got in the big book, there's a copy of each of the pages. There's a period there with the pages are eaten by the ants and then after that, nothing. And then the final camp of papers was a small little booklet he picked up in Johor, he’d run out of naval paper, and was recording the words in there. But there’s thousands and thousands of words written on naval paper or whatever paper he could get.
LAURA THOMAS: Further down the track, Scott left Burma for a Thai prisoner of war camp, and then he was sent to Japan. But before he left, he handed the letters over. Tell me about that.
DOUG HEYWOOD: Well, the story goes and I never spoke to the person. But Doug McFadyen's was a great friend of Dad's, and the fit people, and Dad was fit, were going across to Japan to work in the factories. In fact, Dad ended up working in a Toshiba factory in Japan. The news had been circulating that ships going across from Singapore to Japan were being sunk. So he didn't think much of his chances of getting through with the ships being torpedoed by the Americans. So, he said to his friend Doug, “Here's the letters for my wife. I don't know whether I'll get back, I don't know whether you'll get back, but will you look after them and if you survive the camp, can you give them to my wife?”
LAURA THOMAS: On the sixth of September 1944, Scott left Singapore on board Rakuyo Maru, a Japanese freighter that was set to take him over to Japan. Zigzagging across the South China Sea in a bid to avoid submarine attacks proved futile. From the outside, there was no indication that the ships in this convoy were carrying prisoners of war. And on the 12th of September 1944, another ship, Harado was torpedoed by an American submarine. Just a few hours later, Rakuyo Maru was struck and started to sink.
DOUG HEYWOOD: From all the stories that you hear and they’re verifiable by letters to Mum, that Scott and Keith Burrill, stayed on the boat, killing as many Japs as they could, throwing them overboard and getting his men on the lifeboats.
LAURA THOMAS: And this is all while the boat is sinking?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, while it’s sinking. He's one of the last ones to leave, he wanted to make sure all the men, his men, were safe on boats. And the next bit I don't know whether it's true or not but I can imagine it. A money that they would be able to save or get, they were paid a certain amount of money by the Japanese, Dad would keep the to buy fruit and stuff for the sick people. And so, he had the pocketful of money in a money belt. And there’s a lifeboat down in the water and one of the men said “Scotty, throw me the (money) belt” and he said “No, she’ll be right!” So he jumps in the water. And the story goes that the belt was too heavy, so he had to let it go. And he got on the boat with his mates and they made sure the China coast, where obviously they would have been safe. And they got picked up by the Japanese patrol just before they reached the coast and then went across and worked in the factories.
At the same time, Mum is getting letters from the army and published in the paper, Your husband's missing believed dead. Another letter, no he’s alive at such and such. No sorry, he’s dead. And that’s really, really difficult. And Mum and the family unit kept obviously a lot of this away from my brother and I, because I don’t, and I don’t think John my brother had, he’s passed on, have any recollections of any really bad times. They must have themselves, spoken about that. But it wasn't brought into our lives. We were in a sense sheltered from it. Just that Dad was a good man, he fought in the war and he died.
LAURA THOMAS: Do you remember his absence or is it just kind of a fact that you know, he was over at war?
DOUG HEYWOOD: No, I never remembered his absence. And I didn't really think of his absence until I came across the letters. And because Dad wasn’t in our lives then, except Anzac Day, we’d go and pay our respects then, but that was all. It wasn’t until I found these that I began to get to know him and understand him.
LAURA THOMAS: After Scott was rescued by the Japanese, he was sent to work in a Toshiba factory in Yokohama, manufacturing parts for industrial motors and radio transmitters Meanwhile, at home Marge waited eagerly for news of Scott's whereabouts and soon received confirmation that he was alive. She knew that some POWs were being transported home, and so she made plans to travel to Melbourne to reunite with Scott.
DOUG HEYWOOD: Mum told me some years after I started, her final letter from the army was, this was in Hamilton, was that he was going to return in September. So Mum is about to leave the police station in Hamilton and she told me the dream she had on the Friday night before she left. And Mum was religious but she wasn’t overly religious – she used to go to church on Sundays, as you did in those days. And she recalls that she had a dream on the Friday night of Saint Peter walking toward her, shaking his head with an envelope. Mum left on the Saturday morning, going to the police station, as she she's going towards the front gate the postman came with the telegram. Your husband's dead. Pretty tough. That's a hell of a shock. So, she didn't seem.
LAURA THOMAS: And how was he killed in the war?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Just before the war finished, and I mentioned Keith Burrill before, squadron leader Keith Burrill, they're both in hospital, but Dad was having his appendix out. And Keith said, this is just before the war finished, Keith said the Dad “Look, Scotty, stay in hospital, the war is about to end, it’s all over, it’s going to end soon.” And it did, six weeks later. And Dad said “No, my duty is with my fellas, with the men. I'm going back.” And Keith said “Don’t be silly, Scotty” and Dad said “No, I’m going back”. So Dad went back to the camp, and it was all being heavily bombed by this stage. So, he went back and the story goes, and again, I don't know the truth but it's a lovely story. The men really loved Dad. No question. So in any of these barracks is will be a prized bed, the best bed.
And the boys knew that if they said “Scotty, that's your bed,” he wouldn't take. He'd say, “No, no, no, no, I'll take another one”. So, they decided to play cards, but to make sure that he won. So, he won the bed, and he was quite happy that, (he thought) “Well that’s fair enough, I wont that fair and square.” So he took the bed, and then the Americans went over with a spare bomb as was often the case and they just dropped it on the factory. And Dad’s bed was the one that is blown up. That was the bed that got thrown up onto the roof, and end of story.
LAURA THOMAS: Can you take me back to Marge getting that telegram and how she coped in the weeks and months and years after?
DOUG HEYWOOD: How she felt at the time, I have no idea. I can't imagine what it would do to a young mother or the family unit. But also, Scott's father, Frederick Heywood, he loved his son, and he died six months after, I think of a broken heart. I don't know a lot about the Heywood side because we didn't have a lot to do with them, but Mum's dad and their family, I don't know how you would cope with it. I really don't. I can't imagine what it would be with all the excitement and the anticipation of seeing your husband who you've not seen, you've heard about but not seen. And you walk out and you're fully elated because all the telegrams saying, he was dead, no, now he's alive. To walk out, and you see the postman coming with the letter. I don't know. The impact on the family, would have been immense. Heart-wrenching.
LAURA THOMAS: And the letters did eventually arrive back into her hands. How did they get back to her?
DOUG HEYWOOD: So, Doug luckily did survive. He had a lot of sickness. But he did survive, and when he got back from the end of the war, he spent three months in Austin Hospital and then came down and gave Mum the letters.
LAURA THOMAS: Do you remember? Did you meet him?
DOUG HEYWOOD: No, no. I would have been four. Mum never married, and you can see her photo she's a beautiful looking woman. And she had suitors. My brother and I used to say to her “Mum, why don’t you marry him?” (and she would say) “No, I married your father. End of story.” And when she moved down to Williamstown, she obviously had to get work. So, she became a law clerk. She kept up with her singing. She was a lovely singer. She took a course in commercial art, ended up doing lots of paintings. And so she was a very creative woman. And she also had her moments of, which we didn't understand of young kids, of depression. Mum would just go to the hospital and we’d think “Oh, she's not well”. It wasn't until we got a bit older we realised that she’s having a time where she needed just to readjust. She because she never forgot. Didn't happen.
LAURA THOMAS: I mean, you couldn't. With a love that was illustrated so strong between them, it would be something that would stay with you and be in every corner of your life at all times. I can definitely understand, you know, that she never remarried and she kept that love. And I think that that's a really beautiful thing as well, that she did.
DOUG HEYWWOD: Absolutely. She was a very strong, loving, caring person. The house was always open to people, someone in the street would be starving (and she would say) “Come in, I’ll give you a meal” or someone would find a bird with a broken wing, bring it to 15 Anzac Crescent, Mrs Heywood will look after it.
LAURA THOMAS: She was that person in the community for everyone.
DOUG HEYWOOD: Absolutely
LAURA THOMAS: Marge never read the letters from Scott's time as a POW. Doug guessed that this was probably because it would be too hard for her to comprehend the awful conditions he encountered. Instead, Marge bundled up the letters in a shoe box and lay them to rest in the back of a linen press. And it wasn't until many years later that Doug stumbled upon them himself.
DOUG HEYWOOD: As a young teenager, I was going through the linen press, as you do, found the box of letters and said to Mum “What are these?” And she said “They’re letters from your Father”. Even as young kinds we’d ask about Dad and Mum would say “He’s a good man. He’s a loving man and I loved him very much. End of story”. And so, she never spoke about Dad, or the war, the war actually wasn't mentioned a lot. So when I found this box of letters I said “Can I read them?” and she said “Yes, of course you can”. As a young teenager, I decided to type them, pick and peck with my two fingers on the typewriter. And lot of white out. In those days I used to use duplicating paper, and this is really a messy job, but nevertheless, I started because I thought as a young kid, they needed to be typed because the original letters, written on what paper Dad had or naval paper, and they were falling apart. “No,” I thought, “They had to be typed”.
And I’d do a few pages of it and then then nope, too hard, so I go to the next camp. I’d forget about that camp and go to the next camp. And so I kept doing opening pages of all the different camps, and it wasn't getting any easier. And things were getting much tougher for the boys on the railroad and I was getting angrier. I got very angry. At one stage as a 17, 18, 19, 20 year old, I was really angry with the concept of war. I was exceptionally angry with our governments at the time. And I didn’t become a pacifist, I just couldn't understand the thinking of why we as a human race need to do this, except for greed. And so, I was a angry, rebellious young teenager.
And I was up at Bendigo in the P&G, working on the exchange there, and I went and saw the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. I got thrown out because I got so annoyed with this English officer bowing down to the Japanese doing what they wanted, building a bridge for them. And I'm in the theater, young teenager, saying “That's not right. My father died over there. What right has he got to help the Japanese?” And I'm doing all this and I've got thrown out of the theatre.
It took some time to read them in their entirety and then to type them. And so I just got angry. Put it away for quite some time, the letters. And then my son Thomas, in 2010 said “Dad, are you ever going to write those?” (I said) “Yeah.” (He said) “Are you?”, (I said) “Okay”.
My Father would have turned 100 in 2011. My son said “Let's get to work and go into the archives, photocopy or scan all the letters, and you can start writing”. So, we went in, and we scanned all the letters and we had to scan them for two reasons. A, to have a permanent record of them. But secondly, Dad's handwriting became, it was always absolutely beautiful, but the writing became so small you have to read it with the magnifying glass. And in 2011, I started to type them. And said “OkaY, Dougy. This time don’t shirk responsibilities. Type them”.
And I started and I was okay for the first camp and a bit. I was definitely okay typing up the letters for Malacca because they were really interesting and they were full of positivity and all the photos, I really enjoyed that part of it, I was learning a lot about the people.
Then we got onto the first letter where Bob Goulden was shot. And I was okay with that, I typed that one, that’s fine. Then as we keep going further up, railroad and further with the camps, I became more aware of what was going on and things Dad would write would strike a chord and I’d go walkabout. I would say “Nup, I’m out of here. I’ll leave that until tomorrow or the day after”. And I might get to bed at three or four in the morning and Alex, my wife, would say “You okay?” (and I would say) “Yeah, just doing a bit of typing”.
You know, because a person who never knew his father, it is great to get to know him, but also, it was a very emotional journey at times. No question about that. And particularly as I got to the end of the camp, I knew what the result was, of course, and reading what he is writing and the positivity of the man, it was a moment. No question about that.
But the positive side is I got to know him, and that's important, and I learned a lot about him and also learned a lot about what deep love can mean between two people.
LAURA THOMAS: How long did it take you from start to finish to get them all done and in a book that you’ve published for your family?
DOUG HEYWOOD: Ten years, just over ten years, and that was fairly constant. But it was a journey and it was done so the family would have a record of it. The record is up at the library. And Dad’s story is there.
LAURA THOMAS: And how do you feel now after that ten years of putting all these letters together, and now recently, with A Week in September being published? How do you feel knowing that that story is there and it's permanent and people can read it for decades to come?
DOUG HEYWOOD: I’m absolutely thrilled. I don’t know what will happen to the bug tome, the 1300 pages, nearly 700,000 pages. That's a lot, I suppose, when I think about it now. But I'm just thrilled that people get a chance to know a bit about what love means, but what the destructive quality of war and that it's out there for people now to understand. And also to understand it from Mum’s point of view. Because the dear girl, she had a lot of put up with apart from two young kids who were bit rebellious at times. But she just exhibits her own strength and the deepness of love. And I found that going through all the letters and everything that Mum kept in this quite extensive study, the true meaning of love. It stands by everything. Really does. So, it was a journey that was really, really interesting, no question about that. And I grew up a lot in the last ten years, you know, since I've been doing it.
Can I just read you something right at the end?
LAURA THOMAS: Of course
DOUG HEYWOOD: Although I never knew my father, the discovery of his diary and his letters to my Mother allow me to get to know him in a very unique way. I came to understand the deep loving bond that he and my Mother shared, and to understand why my mother never remarried.
I admire and respect my father's inner strength through all the suffering he endured. His honesty, his integrity is beyond doubt and his sense of duty unshakable. The thoughtfulness and care for others is frequently apparent, and his love for his wife and family is unquestionable. He was a remarkable man. I’m honoured and I’m proud to be his son. That's it.
LAURA THOMAS: Well, Doug, thank you so much for joining me and telling me this incredible story of love and loss. I really appreciate you taking the time. Thank you so much.
DOUG HEYWOOD: Thank you, Laura, for inviting me and allowing me to share this, it has been a real privilege. It really has. I just hope the people who read Peter's book A Week in September, more people will begin to realise the actual stupidity of war and the suffering it causes to all people involved, not the cause you’re fighting for, the people who are maimed or hurt or lost. That's the toll that we can never measure and it need not be there. We don't need it. We just need to smile to someone and say G’Day and be kind. It’s not asking a lot of humanity to be kind and just think of others rather than anything else.
Reviewed 21 March 2022