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M/O. Jack Plant M.i.D.

M/O. Jack Plant M.i.D.
Born: May 24th 1918, West Bromwich. Died: January 28th 2011 Age 92.

When the Japanese forces overran Java on March 8 1942, nearly 4,600 RAF men were taken into captivity and used for slave labour. 


Initially, Plant and his fellow prisoners were used to repair airfields; but once the Japanese advance in south-east Asia had been stemmed, the PoWs were transported great distances throughout the Japanese empire to undertake much heavier work.

On April 22 1943 Plant was among 1,000 British PoWs crammed into the cargo ship Amagi Muru.

There were some 250 men in each hold, deprived of adequate food and water.

After 10 days at sea, during which many died, the prisoners were landed on Haruku in the Moluccan Islands .

There the men were put to work building an airfield.

By November, 363 had died and 800 had contracted dysentery.

Plant and his few medical colleagues made heroic efforts to look after the sick despite their own desperate conditions.

With the airfield complete in July 1944, the survivors were herded into ships transported to Sumatra; 415 of their comrades had died at Haruku.

Fearing an Allied invasion on the west coast of Sumatra, the Japanese decided to build a railway through the centre of the island for the transportation of supplies.

Five thousand Allied prisoners and 30,000 Indonesian Romushas (forced labourers) were put to work on the 140-mile, single track railway from Pakan Baru to Muara, which had to cut through swamps and mountains covered in equatorial forest.

It was completed on August 15 1945 — the day the Japanese capitulated.

Seven hundred PoWs and more than 10,000 Romushas had died, most from malnutrition, beriberi, malaria or dysentery.

Plant’s services as a medical orderly were in great demand throughout his captivity, but his efforts took a great toll of his own health, and when the war ended he was close to death.

He finally arrived back in England at Christmas, and was mentioned in despatches.

John Plant, always known as Jack, was born on May 24 1918 at West Bromwich and educated at Cronehills School.

He worked in a bakery for four years before attending technical college, where a study of first aid encouraged him to take up patient care at New Cross Institution in Wolverhampton.

In March 1940 he joined the RAF Medical Branch and served on the Bomber Command station at Marham, Norfolk.

He left for Singapore in August 1941 and was attached to a Blenheim squadron based in the north of Malaya.

When the Japanese attacked on the night of December 7/8, the squadron was virtually wiped out.

As the enemy forces swept through Malaya to Singapore, Plant was attached to the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and by March 1942 he had arrived in Java, shortly before the Allied forces capitulated.

It was two years before Plant fully recovered. Soon after resuming his work at New Cross he met his future wife, whose care and devotion helped to restore his health.

Plant spent the remainder of his career as a senior manager with the Delta group of companies.

His final year before retirement was spent on secondment to the CBI, encouraging youngsters to take up apprenticeships, particularly in engineering.

A dedicated supporter of the Far East Prisoners of War Association, at the age of 82 he launched a project to create a memorial to the PoWs and Romushas, who had died on the Sumatra railway.

It was eventually dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in 2001, on the anniversary of V-J Day.

Plant was philosophical about the suffering he had seen and endured, harbouring no bitterness. He often gave talks to children about the value of helping and supporting those to whom life had been unkind.

Jack Plant died on January 28. He married, in 1949, Lily Taylor, who died in 1988; he is survived by their son and daughter.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 01 January 2014, 00:00