Charles Smailes Caisley
Fusilier Charles Smailes Caisley, 9th Bn. Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Service No. 4273542, died on September 12th 1944, aged 23.
Charles was the son of Charles and Mary Margaret Caisley who lived in the first cottage on Dunstanburgh Road, just around the corner from West End.
Charles joined the colours on September 2nd 1939 and he served in the H.Q. Company. He was present at the fall of Singapore on February 15th 1942 and became a Japanese P.O.W. His parents received a letter, dated June 15th 1942, some four months later, saying that he was posted "Missing" on the date of Singapore's capture.
Charles continued in captivity until the Japanese decided to transfer some prisoners to Japan in the autumn of 1944. It is known that he was a victim of what is now known as 'friendly fire' when the ship carrying him was sunk by an American submarine.
Given the date of his death, it is likely that he was among those British P.O.W.'s who died in the attack in the South China Sea, east of Hainan Island, on Convoy HI-72, which sailed from Singapore on 4th September 1944. 1,317 British and Australian P.O.W.'s were on board the Rakuyo Maru, the Kachidoki Maru carried a further 900 prisoners, all British. The convoy was attacked by American submarines on September 12th; the Rakuyo Maru was sunk by U.S.S. Sealion at 5.00am and the Kachidoki Maru was sunk by U.S.S. Pampanito at 10.40pm. More than 1,159 prisoners were lost on the former and 400 on the latter . The American submarines only realised that the ships were carrying Allied P.O.W.'s when they stated to pick up survivors.
Billy Lumsden knew Charlie's uncle Jimmy Smailes and he remembers Jimmy telling of how, after the war, a survivor of the sinking visited Charlie's mum. The visitor, from Alnwick and like Charlie a Fusilier, said that he and Charlie were pals and were together on the day of the sinking. He recalled how on two occasions they had both climbed the ladder out of the hold where they were kept to get some fresh air. The visitor said that he climbed up a third time, but Charlie said that he would stay where he was. When the torpedo struck, those still in the hold had little chance of escaping because there were only two ladders and many men. The visitor said he survived because he was able to get clear of the ship before it went down.
A letter to the family, dated March 23rd 1945, said "With respect to previous notification I have to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office that No. 4273542, Fusilier Caisley, Charles Smailes is now reported missing at sea date not known. It is not known whether this was the first report that the family had received or whether it followed other reports.
This was reported in the Northumberland and Alnwick Gazette on March 29th 1945:
A letter dated December 7th 1945 told the family: "It is my painful duty to inform you that, no further news having been received......Caisley Charles Smailes, who has been missing since 1944, the Army Council have been regretfully constrained to conclude that he is dead, and that his death took place on the 12th September 1944."
Charles was awarded the following medals, from left to right: The Pacific Star, War Medal 1939 to 1945 and the 1939 to 1945 Star
Charles is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial in the Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore.
The award of the medals was accompanied by a commendation from the government.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Charles Smailes Caisley
Our thanks for source material go to the following:
Never Forgotten - the website of the Taiwan P.O.W. Camps Memorial Society
The Roll of Honour
The Rising Sun on my Back - A survivor's story
Wreck Site - The Kachidoki Maru
Children and Familes of the Far Eastern Prisoners of War - A survivor's story
San Francisco Maritime National Park Association - U.S.S. Pampanito