Unwritten Letters to Spring Street by Jacquelyn
Title: Unwritten Letters to Spring Street
Author: Jacquelyn Frith
Release Date: 30th July 2020
Page Count: 474
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
December 1941. Jack Frith left his family and his life to go to war like so many others, uncertain whether he would come home. Whilst in a convoy bound for the Middle East the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, triggering Allied entry into the Pacific War. Hastily regrouped and ordered to the Far East, the now ill-equipped convoy peeled off for Java and elsewhere. Slipping the moorings, Jack could not have known that years of captivity and brutality, starvation and forced , and yet worse, awaited him.
This is no cry for revenge but justice, laying bare actions and exposing inaction, demanding long overdue apologies and uncovering past atrocities. It is also a moment of reflection on the forgotten armies of the Far East, in remembering each subsequent generation owes a great unpaid debt of gratitude to those who gave so much for our present freedom. The price of that freedom was by no means free.
Jacquelyn Frith is a postgraduate archaeologist and writer previously in medieval metallurgy and scientific finds analysis, and although she has written many papers, articles and an MPhil thesis, this is her first actual book.
She begins PhD study on the International War Crimes Tribunals in the Far East 1945-1949, and the of British Far East Prisoners of War from Java and Ambon: Suez Maru case study, in the autumn. She has also begun her second book, on the so-named ‘D-Day Dodgers’ of Salerno, which may also take ten years to complete.
1. When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
I’ve been writing since I was small, I wrote plays and scripts with my brother when we were about seven or eight, and I won a regional school prize for a short story I wrote in 1979. I’ve always written, whether academically for my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, or in museum and conservation work within my archaeological and conservation career. I’ve written dozens of short stories, papers and articles but not until discovered the truth in 2010, about my namesake great uncle did I seriously consider writing a factual novel. I expected it would probably not be a long book, but the published 474 pages of Unwritten Letters to Spring Street would seem to say otherwise.
2. What inspired you to write this book?
I describe the dawning of this story in my book, Unwritten Letters to Spring Street as I walked across the railway track at Tha , and later as I came to understand the Far East story at Kanchanaburi museum in Thailand. That evening I sat on the deck of my rented wooden house overlooking the Indian Ocean and discovered injustice heaped upon tragedy piled upon war crime, concealed and concealed again, then forgotten and I knew at that moment I would write this story.
3. If you could sell this book in one sentence what would it be?
Jack Frith and the of Ambon were forgotten men, on a forgotten island, part of a forgotten army subjected to forgotten atrocities, if this book can help shed light upon those lost crimes and offer remembrance to these brave men, their sacrifice will be all the less in shadow.
4. What are you up to next?
I begin PhD study on the International War Crimes Tribunals in the Far East 1945-1949, and the memorialization of British Far East Prisoners of War from Java and Ambon: Suez Maru case study, in the autumn. I have also begun a second book, on the so-named ‘D-Day Dodgers’ of Salerno and southern Italy, which will probably now also take ten years to complete, this is based on the forgotten armies of Italy; the D-Day Dodgers who dodged nothing and of which my maternal grandfather was one.
5. Who is your biggest inspiration?
Without a doubt my parents. With little money but a fierce energy for learning, reading and adventure they brought me and my brother up to know no bounds of your dreams or goals, whilst also being loving and fun parents. One of my first memories is walking barefoot through the Sistine Chapel, aged four and looking up at the incredible frescoes. I am following their lead daily in bringing up my son, Joe.
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- 29 November 1943 -
Jack hesitated for a moment, breathing heavily. Through his mind passed a lifetime of consideration and terrifying visions. Within a few frantic displaced seconds his thoughts swung from demanding he leap into the boiling sea to distractedly wondering if he would survive the fall. His mind swam with images of home and his family, and of all he had endured, all he had survived. Now all to be washed away. Disconnected to the unfolding horror before him, he pondered in that single blink, the dark depth of the water and worrying height of the deck, the inevitable long plunge and the lurching list of the ship. He was not aware if he spoke yet he noticed his mouth flapping open like a fish suffocating in air. Frighteningly, his thoughts became magnetically absorbed by the ominous throb and sucking power of the ship’s propeller. Its laborious heaving rumbled unseen, deep under the ship, vibrating the metallic hulk and pulsing every cell in his body. He breathlessly imagined himself exposed, drowning, being helplessly drawn face to face with its hypnotic danger as a second explosion abruptly caused its shuddering halt, shattering his thoughts. He gathered himself, his mind wild and alight with indecision. He hardly noticed peripheral flickering fire and spectres of men leaping in the edge of his vision as he swayed unsteadily, terrified to make his choiceless decision. Then, clear through the cacophony a solitary voice pierced his frightened deliberation. “Abandon ship!” it screamed in Japanese. Jack didn’t understand the words but heard their desperate meaning. He had fumbled to the conclusion that the unknown ocean depths and sickening fall were marginally safer than the imploding deck of their torpedoed ship.
Off guard and caught in immobile motion as the voice rang out, Jack startled into action. He began the deep inhale, the drawing of breath in preparation for his plunge, but was cut short as a final fireball explosion rocked the ship, sending a bellowing reverberation along its length. The concussive blast hurled Jack overboard so ferociously he had hardly taken breath in his lungs and had no understanding he had fallen until he was deep underwater, falling in a cascade of light and fire. The slowing of time and the drawing out of each action happened simultaneously. The fearful hesitation, decision to jump, shout to abandon ship, inhalation, explosion and plunge, all punctuated by wrenching doubt. And yet throughout, not once had he considered the temperature of the water. It had been hot and clammy as the ship lurched somewhere on the Flores Sea. Sweat had clung to him like a damp rag, and Jack could not have imagined the sea would be so numbingly cold. Darkened time washed over him and he was lost.
In that same moment the ship shuddered, the inky sea swallowed him instantly, just one greedy gulp and he was gone. He could not grasp he was underwater or that he was sinking as he dropped down and down, a falling deadweight. The slight impact of his thin body slicing the thick surface of the water disassociated itself from the sharp sting of salt clenching his eyes shut. He keenly sensed the cold, oily sensation of water as it slid over and completely covered his parched sunburnt skin but he watched from another place, some other life. A moment earlier he’d watched himself arc overboard, bare feet high in the air, buckled knees bent, hands rounded as if still gripping the gunwale rail. Jack had watched himself, mute and expressionless as the rail fell away, disappearing into sparkling black, as the ocean submerged him. The thick water thundered round his ears like a steam train in a tunnel, all oil and smoke and exploding fire, and hell it was cold.