Sir Mark Rylance traces his grandad’s steps back to Hong Kong and a Japanese POW camp in this week’s My Grandparents’ War on C4
Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance was close to Osmond Skinner, his maternal grandfather, but rarely heard him speak about his time in a Japanese POW camp, as we hear in this week’s My Grandparents’ War on C4.
Osmond was working in Hong Kong when war broke out and ended up – with no military training – in the volunteer defence corps.
On Christmas Day 1941, wounded by a bullet to the stomach, Osmond was captured and marched to his first holding camp.
With the help of historians and diaries of those who were there alongside Osmond, Mark (pictured above in Hong Kong) is able to piece together a comprehensive picture of what his grandfather went through.
A moving tribute to a brave soul, which makes Mark reflect on the futility of war from all sides.
Here, peace campaigner Sir Mark, 59, tells us more about his beloved grandad…
Can you tell us more about this episode of My Grandparents’ War and how Osmond was involved in World War Two?
In 1921, he had moved from England to Hong Kong to work for HSBC, and there, he married my grandmother, Hazel.
In 1941, he served in Hong Kong’s Volunteer Defence Corps and was one of several thousand British soldiers defending Hong Kong from Japanese invasion.
He wasn’t a trained soldier, he was a civilian being thrown at battle-scarred warriors.
So how did Osmond become a prisoner of war?
On Christmas Day in 1941, he was shot in the stomach and separated from his fellow soldiers.
He was reported missing in action, and it was assumed he had been killed but he was actually taken prisoner.
He was taken to Argyle Street Camp, where he spent three years before being moved in 1944 to Sham Shui Po, which was the largest and harshest POW camp in Hong Kong.
The suffering was immense.
Prisoners were tortured and executed and diseases like diphtheria, cholera and dysentery were rife.
Thousands died there.
How do you think it affected him?
My grandfather was a very just and Christian man – he believed in forgiveness, but he could never forgive the Japanese.
He had witnessed things that had disturbed him terribly and that he carried inside him.
I don’t think he ever imagined human beings were capable of such a thing.
When he was in the POW camp, he had a dream that if he survived, he would love to have an orchard and grow apples and that’s what he did.
He moved back to England and bought a house in Kent.
Did you spend time there growing up?
I was very close to my grandfather and I was fortunate to spend most of my Summers there as a child.
He died in 1980 and I still miss him terribly.
Warfare is horrific – if we care about what happened to our ancestors, we have to work towards a world where that kind of suffering doesn’t occur.
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