Home at Last!

Wilfred Batty POW - by his son, Adrian Batty

5,102 men of the Royal Air Force had fallen into the hands of the unsympathetic Japanese. 1,714 did not return home. Wilf was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. 

Wilf brought home some memorabilia, including postcards, letters, drawings, a piece of paper signed by most POWs in the camp, a sketch of Churchill also signed by most of the POWs and a photograph of Doris, which he had kept throughout his incarceration. It appears Wilf met up with Doris immediately on his return and they were married very quickly on 23 December 1945, at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. The Marriage Certificate stated Wilf was a Corporal in the RAF, age 27, living at 52 Grange Street, Hull, and Doris Gertrude Griffin was a machine operator, age 24, living at 51 Bury Road, Royal Leamington Spa. 

The married couple moved into 52 Grange Street, Hull, with Wilf's parents for 9 months, while Doris visited the council's housing department every day looking for their own property. Housing in Hull was, however, in short supply, due to the intense bombing Hull suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe; 95% of houses being destroyed or damaged. Eventually, in September 1946, they were offered a requisitioned hairdressers shop at 128 Great Thornton Street, Hull, not far from The Valiant Cycle Company on Hessle Road, Hull, where Wilf had resumed his career on leaving the RAF.

They bought a german sheperd dog to 'protect' Doris and called it 'Dominion Monarch' but had to re-home it when it became too protective of Doris. Avril, 7 April 1948, and Adrian, 29 January 1950, were born at 128 Great Thornton Street, and in May 1950 the family moved to a new council house at 219 Anson Road, Bilton Grange, Hull. Doris didn't want to buy a house in Hull as she always expected to move back to her beloved Leamington Spa. 

In the early 1950s, Wilf successfully applied for a job at Blackburn Aircraft, Brough, East Yorkshire, where he was to remain until he retired in 1982. He helped in the design of the Blackburn Buccaneer and the Hawker 'Jump jet' vertical take-off plane. He made and tested models in the low speed wind tunnel and rose to the position of Head of Precision Engineering, Aerodynamics Laboratory.

On his retirement Doris and Wilf bought a lovely detached bungalow in Newport, East Yorkshire. I have some interesting memories. Wilf could and did smoke his favourite cigarettes, plain Park Drive, down to an eighth inch, while still attached to his lip, and he could transfer his cigarette from his lip to the tip of his tongue and hide it in his mouth. He also carried on stealing for some time! Sadly, all his teeth were removed in the 1950s due to malnutrition/vitamin deficiency, and he had to wear false teeth. Wilf also shrank 5 inches in height in his later years, which the medics put down to the same reasons.

As stated, Wilf rarely spoke of his experiences and it was a surprise to him when he found out Doris had been in touch with the FEPOW Association c.1994, having read an article in the press. At first, Wilf resisted any attempts at a reunion but relented and after several chats on the phone with other surviving POWs he agreed to attend the FEPOW 50th Anniversary weekend celebrating VJ Day. Here, Wilf met many fellow surviving POWs, including a tearful reunion with several fellow 'Genki' boys. The reunion was very good for Wilf: he was able to arrange a twice-yearly visit from an armed forces psychologist to help with his mental issues and found out he was eligible for a war pension! 

As mentioned Wilf did carry on thieving for some years, silly things like packets of razor blades, which must have become a way of life! He was very good at it, though, for he was never caught. After the 50th Anniversary meeting, many POWs were surprised that Wilf had surfaced after so long and he received a letter from 'Swede' Moulson in Australia, which started: 'Dear Wilf, well after all these years you finally surfaced. We often wondered what happened to you when you got back. We couldn't get a lead on you at all. I hope you don't mind this joke, but the standing joke about you was that you were so damned good at breaking and entering Jap boat stores that you may have taken it up full time!'

Wilf did agree to a chat with a reporter from the Hull Daily Mail and a short article and photograph of Wilf and Doris was published on 25 January 1995, when he stated he weighed 6 1/2 stone on his release and described how he was beaten unconcious by 5 Japanese soldiers when caught bartering with a native, an attack he related to the War Crimes Commission in 1946. Wilf stated he still felt bitter towards his former captors.

One final point of interest occurred in the mid 1960s when Wilf was in The Crown public house on Holderness Road, Hull, when he was approached by a man he didn’t recognize. The man shook Wilf’s hand and thanked him for saving his life. Apparently he had given up all hope and had lain down to die, but Wilf had harangued and kicked him back into reality until he had changed his mind. Wilf had then ‘employed’ him to give him focus. Sadly, we no longer know his name.

This brief history of my father’s early life has been put together from several sources. Any errors are entirely mine. Additional information will be added if it becomes available.

- Adrian Batty

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