Sketches show life in wartime prison camp

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By EMMA WHITTAKER

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.

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