Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

James Ralph Fish

James Ralph Fish :

James Ralph Fish : (L to R) 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

We believe that James was born on the 31st December 1908 in Darwen, Lancashire. His father was called Franklin and his mother was Mary Elizabeth. Frank was the youngest of the 3 children we know of; his sisters were Elizabeth and Annie. The family were Roman Catholics.

In 1911 Franklin worked as a paper stainer and labourer for a wallpaper manufacturer. The family lived at 66 Bolton Road in Darwen. By the time he was in his early 20s James was also working as a labourer.

It seems likely that he wanted more from life, because on the 30th October 1936 James enlisted in the Manchester Regiment. He told the Army he had been born on the 31st December 1911, making him 24, rather than 27. This was illegal, and we don't know why James did it. He was accepted into the Army and given the service number 3528937.

When he enlisted James was 5 feet 4 1/4 inches tall and weighed 113 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, blue eyes and dark hair. When he enlisted his parents lived at 7 Hill Houses in Darwen.

During his training at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne James obtained the 3rd Class Army Certificate of Education on the 5th March 1937. He was sent to join the 2nd Battalion, based at Strensall in Yorkshire, after he finished his training on the 19th June. He arrived at a busy time, as they were converting from an infantry unit to a mechanised machine gun battalion. This meant soldiers needed to be trained in driving, vehicle maintenance and machine gun shooting.

We don't know much about what James did with the 2nd Battalion. He left them on the 3rd January 1938, shortly before they moved to Aldershot, and sailed to Palestine to join the 1st Battalion on Active Service.

A rebellion had broken out amongst several of the Arab tribes living in this territory, and the British needed more soldiers to bring it under control. James served there between the 4th January and the 23rd September 1938. The 1st Battalion was based in the area around the city of Acre. Their roles were to search for gangs of rebels, to patrol the countryside and to guard important areas against attack.

Soldiers who served in Palestine were awarded the clasp 'Palestine' for the General Service Medal 1918-62, however James was not on the roll listing all the members of the 1st Battalion who had earned it.

After serving in Palestine the 1st Battalion moved to Singapore. They began to build defences and train to resist an invasion. Their main role was to man pillboxes on the beaches of the island. James was a member of Number 8 Platoon of B Company during this period.

The Japanese invaded Malaya on the 8th December 1941, and by the 27th January 1942 the British had been forced back onto the island of Singapore. The island was constantly bombed, and as the Japanese closed in their position became hopeless. The British garrison surrendered on the 15th February and James became a Prisoner of War (POW). He had been at Tanglin Hospital when the surrender took place. We don't know whether he was working there or a patient.

At first British POWs were held in Changi prison, but soon the Japanese began to move groups to work on construction projects. We know that James was sent to a POW camp in Burma and put to work on the Burma railway. We don't know when he left Singapore.

Conditions in Changi had been poor, with little food or medical supplies, but in Burma they were far worse. Sanitation, food and shelter were in short supply, and the POWs were expected to work long hours in tropical conditions. Disease was rampant, and if a soldier fell sick the Japanese would no longer feed him, on the grounds that he could not work.

We don't know exactly what happened to James. We know he spent time at Sonkrai work camp and was later moved to the notorious hospital camp at Tanbaya. He died there on the 2nd September 1943 from diarrhoea. He was around 34 years old.

James was originally buried in grave 67 at Tanbaya. After the end of the War the graves of those soldiers who had died working on the Burma Railway were transferred to Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery in what is now Myanmar. James is one of 2995 soldiers buried there. His grave is B3. G. 10.

James' medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in February 2011.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council