Monty Parking gave us a most informative talk about Fergus Anckorn,
a survivor of a P.O.W. camp, entitled "Surviving by Magic".
Fergus Anckorn was born at South View House Dunton Green in 1918.
At age 4 he was given a magic set by his mother and as a young
boy would perform tricks at parties. By the time he was a teenager
he was quite a skilled performer.
A major Branson saw his act and suggested he try slight of hand
This was so successful that by the age of 18, in 1936 he became
the youngest member of the Magic Circle.
Encouraged by his father and brother, he took a course in Journalism
but despite their efforts he preferred to work at Marley Tile
Co. until the outbreak of war.
He enlisted in the Royal Artillery as a gunner, where he met
artist Ronald Searle.
He became ill with a serious skin condition and spent time in
Joyce Green hospital Dartford where he met his wife to be, Lucille;
while still stationed in the UK he and Searle organised concert
They performed in Liverpool before being posted to Nova Scotia,
thence on to Cape Town & Singapore.
In Singapore he engaged with the Japanese & was shot in his right
hand a & left leg. His condition was so serious that en route
to a hospital camp he had to be operated on in a makeshift first
aid port in a Post Office, where the surgeon prepared to amputate
Fortunately he was recognised as the magician seen in Liverpool
& the surgeon decided against amputation (although he could not
use the hand effectively for 5 years).
Angus returned to the front but had the misfortune to be in hospital
where the Japanese came through bayoneting patients in their beds,
of 76 in the ward only 4 survived.
A total of 200 staff & patients were killed that day.
Fergus was then interned with 15,000 men in Changhi barracks -
nicknamed 'The Black hole of Changhi'.
Fergus lifted moral by entertaining the troops with his tricks
& was also commanded to do shows for his captors.
He soon learned that since they considered him vermin, anything
that he used in his act would be discarded & he was able to purloin
many useful items.
In 1942 he was transported northwards to Malaya to start work
on the Thai Burma railway.
He helped build the 2 bridges which featured in the film Bridge
over the River Quai. At this time Fergus was posted as missing,
but by a stroke of luck the Red Cross handed out postcards for
them to fill in & send him & he was able with his knowledge of
Pitman's shorthand, to send a message in code to his mother saying
'still smiling'. Months later this card was delivered & his mother
recognised the coded message & replied in similar vein.
The Japanese dished out hard punishment for 'minor misdemeanours'.
Fergus was severely burned with creosote & spent weeks in hospital
camp because he was unable to work efficiently with his damaged
hand. He was put to work there dressing & treating ulcerated wounds
& amputations & preparing corpses for burial. Nevertheless he
continued to entertain the troops, & his captors.
He was able to cobble together prosthetic limbs which many survivors
preferred to use after the war because they were so light & comfortable.
After a disastrous bombing raid by the allies in which 400 were
injured & 76 killed, he helped level & mark out a football pitch
which held the message POW so that further incoming allied aircraft
could recognise the site.
After Hiroshima & the surrender of the Japanese the prisoners
were sent to Rangoon for careful "fattening up" before being repatriated;
upon his return to UK, Fergus married Lucille & they had 2 children.
He became a recluse & suffered nightmares for many years until
in 2005 he revisited Singapore & this finally banished his demons.
In 1951 he met again the surgeon who had operated on his hand
previously, who offered to reconnect the nerve & Fergus made a
He returned to work at Marley Tile & lectured at West Kent College.
Now at 92 Fergus is the oldest member of the magic circle.
He says he feels no bitterness.
In all a most fascinating & poignant evening.