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SURVIVING BY MAGIC
A Talk by MONTY PARKING

 

 

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 illusions.
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 parties.
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 his hand.

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 complete recovery.

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.

Shoreham And District
Historical Society
Affiliated to
The Shoreham Society
The Kent History Federation and
The Kent Archaeological Society

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Amanda

Last Updated

November 17, 2014

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Shoreham And District Historical Society