Sketches show life in wartime prison camp
Bill Bourke’s sketches give a rare glimpse into a World War II prison camp through the eyes of someone who was there.
The sailor’s drawings show the conditions in the Japanese-controlled camps, striking portraits of his fellow servicemen, and cartoons about daily life as a prisoner of war between 1942 and 1945.
Bill Bourke joined the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1940.
The 26-year-old from Herne Bay was captured by Japanese forces at the end of the Battle of Singapore in February, 1942.
He was held at three prison camps in Indonesia before being liberated at the end of World War II.
Conditions in the camps were dire and by August 1945 as many as five prisoners were dying each day from starvation or disease, Bill’s son William Bourke says.
‘‘My father said that had they stayed another month or two and they would have died. They were extremely lucky to survive,’’ the Glendowie resident says.
The sketches may feature in a future episode of Tony Robinson’s Tour of Duty.
Bill Bourke had worked as a draftsman and stonemason before enlisting in the navy.
Sketching helped to keep him going in the camps, William Bourke says.
‘‘He once told me to pass the time you had to keep busy. He spent all of his spare time drawing and making things.’’
Bill Bourke died in 1984 and rarely talked about the war.
The sketches have helped William Bourke to understand his father’s experiences.
‘‘He and a friend made a pact that they wouldn’t talk about the horrors,’’ William Bourke says.
In later years he has connected with relatives of other prisoners and has shared the drawings with them.
Telling sketch: A self-portrait drawn by Bill Bourke while he was a prisoner of war during World War II. The faint writing across his chest says ‘‘Get me out’’.
Looking back: William Bourke says the sketches his father did while he was a prisoner of war have helped him to understand his experience.