Contributor corner: Chris Chapman

Chris’s media career began after gaining a spot of work experience on illustrious daytime game show Supermarket Sweep. He has subsequently worked for several indie production companies, design agency Red Bee Media and the BBC, and has produced educational films for the young people’s charity YouthNet. He now produces films for the Wellcome Trust.

Twitter: @chimpy

Chris previously produced Voices in the dark for Mosaic.

What is your story about?

It’s an audio documentary about British prisoners of war who, during World War II, were captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the construction of the notorious Burma-Thailand railway.

During three and a half years of captivity they endured terrible living conditions and the daily threat of infectious disease: malaria, cholera, bacillary dysentery, diphtheria, as well as the physical effects of malnutrition. Surviving on measly rations of rice and forced to undertake backbreaking work from dawn till dusk exacerbated their malaise and were significant reasons for such a high rate of mortality.

The medical officers and orderlies in the camps did their level best to battle these devastating conditions, but with limited supplies often had to use the ingenuity and skills of their comrades – engineers, plumbers, conjurors and tinsmiths – to help treat and rehabilitate the infirm.

The feature is a collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – namely Meg Parkes and Geoff Gill – who, eight years ago, began interviewing former Far East prisoners of war across Britain as part of a oral history research project. A total of 66 men were interviewed, of which eight appear in this Mosaic feature. Many more perspectives and regions of Far East POW imprisonment are covered in their book, 'Captive Memories'.

What surprised you?

The sheer number of people killed for the Japanese war effort was absolutely staggering. Not only did Allied POWs suffer high numbers of casualties during imprisonment, but the number of rōmusha – a Japanese term for labourer – who were forced or coerced into work from across Southeast Asia was vast. Many of these labourers, which included many women, died in the tens of thousands. This is a part of the story that I sadly haven't been able to cover in much depth, but is a vital part of this terrible story. Read more about rōmusha recruitment, their work on the railway and further afield, as well as their repatriation.

Hear Chris’s documentary on Mosaic and the Mosaic podcast from 8 December 2015.