18 Aug 1920 – 21 Sep 1944


This page attempts to describe the final moments in the life of Uncle Jack, after whom I was named.


Jack Kenneth Sunderland Earnshaw was born in Plaistow East London, the second son of Verdi Lindley Earnshaw.


My father told me many years ago that the Japanese had captured Jack at the fall of Singapore. He was being transported by ship to Japan when an American aircraft bombed the ship.


His name is recorded on the Singapore Memorial at Kranji (see CGWC web site) and this gives the date of death as 21 September 1944.


As Singapore fell in 1942, yet Jack’s death was in 1944, I wanted to find out more as to what might have occurred.


He served during World War 2 in the Royal Corps of Signals, service number 2582792 and was an Acting Corporal with the 27th Line Section at the time of his death. The Royal Corps of Signals museum has a casualty card stating



Enquiries were being made through the Army Personnel Centre to obtain more details, but a search of the Internet for “1944 ship sunk prisoners” led to the discovery of “The Hell Ships” and one ship in particular – Hofuku Maru. This ship had sailed from Singapore on 4 July 1944 to Manila, arriving 19 July 1944 with 1287 prisoners on board. She sailed from Manila on 20 Sep 1944 bound for Japan with 1289 British and Dutch prisoners on board. But on 21 September, she was sunk off Luzon north of Subic Bay by US aircraft.


This account matches exactly what my father told me, as well as the date of Jack’s death.


The ship was also known as the Fuku Maru, the Toyofuku Maru and the Fuji Maru.


Figure 1 - Hofuku Maru at Beira in 1938 © National Maritime Museum

Please Note : This photograph is reproduced with the kind permission of the National Maritime Museum and may not be reproduced without their express permission. Please do not save a copy of this picture, as it will breach the agreement I have with the Museum.



There are several accounts available that document what happened to the Hofuku Maru. They are all slightly different, but overall show the same horrible picture.


There are many excellent books that recount what happened in this phase of the war, but by far the most complete and moving accounts of the Hell Ships is in Gregory Michno’s book “Death on the Hell Ships” ISBN 1-55750-482-2 published by the Naval Institute Press.


Gregory Michno obtained a copy of the original hand-written roll of those aboard the Hofuku Maru (both British and Dutch). The Japanese Army had prepared this at the end of 1945 and the original is held in the American National Archives. Thanks to James Erickson for sending me a copy. In this document, on page 26 it lists :

POW Number : 6119

Regimental Number : 2582792

Nationality : England

Service : Army

Rank : Corporal

Occupation : Office Employee

Name : Earnshaw, John Kenneth Sunderland

Age :

Note : none of the ages were completed. I presume the occupations are those from their civilian lives.


Another excellent book, which gives a personal account of his time in the Far East is “An Angel on my Shoulder” by Geoffrey Monument ISBN 1897666 16 0


One account on a German language site states (translated by dictionary.com)


The Japanese transporter "Hofuku Maru" with 1,289 British and Dutch prisoners of war on board belonged to a convoy, which should drive from Manila to Japan, but one attacked before the coast by Luzon of American combat aircraft. 40 machines attacked "Hofuku Maru" and sank the ship, whereby 1,047 of the prisoners died.

Another web site (George Duncan’s http://members.iinet.net.au/~gduncan/) states

(September 21, 1944)

Japanese transport carrying 1,289 prisoners-of-war en-route from Singapore to Japan was attacked and sunk by U.S. torpedo carrying bombers. Loaded with British and Dutch POWs, it stopped at Manila to unload the sick and dying. It sailed again in convoy and was attacked again when only three days out. It took only a few minutes for the ship to go down drowning around 1,047 men who were trapped in the holds. Less than 250 survived. 


Here is an extract about the survivors of the ship

(Curtesy of http://www.mansell.com/ )

23 Sep 1944
221 British and Dutch war prisoners were brought into camp at about 2300, all of which were practically naked. These men were survivors from a ship that was sunk by American planes on the 21st of September outside of Manila Bay. [Hofuku Maru] This ship was one of a convoy of 8 ships bound for Japan with 1260 British and Dutch prisoners from Singapore and D.E.I. aboard. These men state that they have been in the hold and aboard this ship since February, when they boarded in Singapore. They have been lying in Manila Bay since July 17th. 5 of these men were suffering from gunshot wounds and fractures received on the 22nd aboard a Japanese fishing boat which was enroute from Hong Kong and had picked up the survivors. This board was strafed by American planes. A total of 37 men were admitted to wards and the entire draft seem to be suffering from beriberi and dysentery.

The American official chronology of US Navy taken from


21 September, Thu. --
TF 38 (Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher) begins strikes on Japanese shipping in Manila and Subic Bays, Clark and Nichols Fields near Manila, and the Cavite Navy Yard. At Manila, planes from TG 38.1, TG 38.2, and TG 38.3 sink destroyer Satsuki, fleet tanker Kyokuto Maru, oilers Sunosaki and Okikawa Maru, tanker No.2 Horai Maru, army cargo ships Norway Maru, Yozan Maru, China Maru and Tsukubusan Maru, merchant tanker Niyo Maru, cargo ships Hioki Maru, Risshun Maru, and Rozan Maru, 14°35'N, 120°55'E; army cargo ships Nansei Maru and Yamabuki Maru, 14°45'N, 120°12'E; army cargo ships Toyofuko Maru, Wakashiro Maru, Eikyu Maru, and Fukuei Maru, cargo ships Amahi Maru, Soerabaja Maru and Yamakaze Maru. Navy carrier-based aircraft also sink Coast Defense Vessel No.5, passenger-cargo ship Hofuku Maru, tanker No.1 Ogura Maru, army cargo ships Surakaruta Maru and Yuki Maru, merchant tanker Shichiyo Maru and cargo vessel Nansei Maru north of Masinloc, 15°25'N, 119°50'E; destroyer Hibiki is damaged by strafing and by collision while attempting to save No.1 Ogura Maru. Planes also damage army cargo vessels Yuki Maru, Tsukubasan Maru, and tankers Horai Maru and No.1 Ogura Maru.


The treatment and deaths of these poor wretches is terrible enough. What is horrifying to read is that during 1944 allied ships and aircraft sank so many ships, full of allied prisoners. Didn’t anyone realise what was happening? Obviously the prime blame for the thousands of deaths lies with the Japanese for their cruel treatment of the prisoners and also for not displaying the Red Cross on these prisoner ships as required. But there must have been some knowledge in Allied HQs that something terrible was occurring. In fact there are some accounts that this was indeed the case, but the benefit of destroying Japanese ships, munitions and forces outweighed the loss of allied POWs.

And then I read that Churchill tried to cover up the loss of Singapore as near cowardice, stating that it was surrendered to a force a quarter the size of our own. Yet the actual numbers recorded appear to suggest that the garrison surrendered due to the overwhelming numbers attacking (nearly double our numbers) and so there were fears for the lives of not just allied troops but also the local population.


A few web Sites


http://www.cofepow.org.uk/index.html A site dedicated to the Prisoners of War in the Far East. This includes a list of those lost on the Hofuku Maru on page



http://www.roll-of-honour.org.uk/ is dedicated to British and Commonwealth troops who died in the Far East. It includes a roll of honour of those killed on the Hofuku Maru and also the names, plus details, on the Singapore Memorial.


http://www.west-point.org/family/japanese-pow/ contains information on the ships, their voyages and their human cargo and what became of them – some photographs also. Gives the dates of 2 voyages of Hofuku Maru.


http://www.mansell.com/ A lot of information about Japanese POWs. See the “Kentner Journal” regarding survivors of Hofuku Maru – under Bilibid Prison on the prisons and camps page(http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/kentner_journal.html)


http://www.far-eastern-heroes.org.uk/Hell_in_Five/ has a description and book by Jack Symon who was also on the Hofuku Maru


http://www.powtaiwan.org/index.html Although specific to those imprisoned in Taiwan, it recalls the search for information about a prisoner who was on the Hofuku Maru and survived the sinking – for a few days.


http://history1900s.about.com/library/prm/bljunyomaru1.htm The voyage of Junyo Maru with references to the Fuku Maru (an alias of Hofuku Maru)


http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/USN-Chron/USN-Chron-1944.html A chronology including the sinking of the ship.


http://www.aa.cyberhome.ne.jp/~museum/ This Japanese language site has descriptions and photos of ships lost during the war, but it does not include the Hofuku Maru. The ship shown as lost on 21 Sep 1944 is the Awaji Maru.


http://people.tamu.edu/~jwerickson/POW/POWindex.html is Jim Erickson’s web site building information on the POWs of the Japanese


http://www.conductunderfire.com is the web site of John Glusman who has published the book “Conduct Under Fire”. Although related to US Forces in the Philippines, there are references in the book to the “Hell Ships”. Also on this site is a list of links at http://www.conductunderfire.com/links.htm


There is now a Hell Ships Memorial, unveiled in January 2006 at Subic Bay in the Philippines. The web site for this memorial is http://www.hellshipsmemorial.org/. It is most appropriate for Jack that the memorial is at the nearest place on land to where he died.


There are many more links available, but the ones above point to most of them.


I managed to obtain a copy of Jack’s death certificate from the GRO, but it just gives the same very basic information that we knew – He was killed in Action “At Sea” on 21 September 1944.


The army records for Jack didn’t add much to the period between his capture and death. But did add information as to his overall war record.


He enlisted into the Territorial Army (into the London Corps of Signals, part of the Royal Corps) on 25 April 1939. At the time he was a Compositor and was described as 6ft tall, weight 160lbs, blue eyes and fair hair (little did my parents know when I was named after him that at the same age my description would be identical!). His first posting was on 17 December 1939 with No. 10 Line Section to France with the British Expeditionary Force. On 30 May 1940 he was evacuated (from Dunkirk) and arrived back in UK on 4 June 1940. He was posted with 3 Comm Signals on 5 July 1940 and made Acting Lance Corporal on 4 February 1941. He embarked for Singapore on 28 July 1941 and was made Acting Corporal 8 Jan 1942.


I have a copy of a letter dated 6 Sep 1945, stating that he was among the missing from a Japanese transport, conveying prisoners from Thai to Japan. It was thought that the sinking was in Autumn 1944. The information had been supplied in an official report from the Japanese Government. There was presumably later correspondence stating that he was presumed dead, but that letter was not part of the Army record.


He was awarded, posthumously, the 1939/45 War Medal, 1939/45 Star and the Pacific Star in October 1947. It was the 1939/45 Star that had confused me as that relates to Dunkirk. Now I know that he was with the British Expeditionary Force in France and evacuated at the end of May 1940 it makes more sense.


So Jack was part of two major WW2 tragedies, Dunkirk and Singapore. Everything located to date leads to the confirmation that he was on board the Hofuku Maru when it sank off the Philippines on 21 September 1944. It would appear he had been involved, somehow, in the building of the Burma Railway. Will I ever get any more information on his time as a POW?


2006 Updates


The first additional piece of information obtained has been the discovery that there is a photograph of the Hofuku Maru at the National Maritime Museum (many thanks to Jim Erickson for passing on this information). The photograph was taken at Beira in 1938. It is stated that Kokusai Kisen KK operated the ship and it was built in 1918. I have purchased a copy and it is reproduced above, and my great thanks to the National Maritime Museum for giving me permission to use it in this way.


I have also found a reference to the Hofuku Maru on a French website that lists ships (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/cdasm.56/dictionnaire/323.pdf) .

This states :


Kokusai Risen K.K.; 1918; Kawasaki Dockyard Co.; 5,825 tons ;

385x51x36; 436 n.h.p.; triple-expansion engines.

The steamship Hofuku (Hohuku) Maru was sunk by U.S. carrier-based aircraft on September 21st, 1944, off the west coast of Luzon Island, Philippines.


The final additional information is that there are boxes of approximately 56,000 POW record cards at The National Archives in Kew under reference WO345. These cards state which camps the prisoners were in, which ship was used to transport them etc. Box WO345/16 contains the card for John Kenneth Sunderland Earnshaw, and includes the designation of Hofuku Maru (KA27).


Most of the required information – camps and dates – is in Japanese, but some is in English and there are also dates and lat/long locations that confirm all of the above. I have had the card translated and the contents is as follows.


Front of the card

Top left hand corner is a file reference number JH282. This is the same for all known casualties of the Hofuku Maru

“Camp” : The first two characters (crossed through) stand for Malaya POW Camp. The third character stands for Thailand. Meaning that he was transferred from the Singapore POW Administration to the Thai POW Administration.

“No.” contains two characters (also crossed through) that stand for Malaya POW Book. Then comes another character plus the Roman numeral II. This means he was transferred to Thailand as part of Work Party 2. There are three numbers, two crossed through that seem to be his POW number – that obviously changed as he was moved around. 6372, then 8809 and finally 6119. The last of these is the number used on the index of those who died on the Hofuku Maru (see above).

Neither of these boxes mentions a transfer to Japan as the Thai characters are not crossed through. Hence he was probably still under the Thai POW authority during the voyage.

The characters in the left hand margin near the bottom states “additional information”. The characters in the bottom right hand margin state “it has been telegraphed” and the characters inside the “Remarks” box state “dead”.

The front of the card has a red line drawn across it, signifying that the prisoner had died.


Back of the card

The first line states that he left Singapore on 4 November 1942 (Japanese date 17 11 4 – 17 is the year of the reign of Hirohito). Apparently this was “N” party under the command of Lt Col S C Scott OC 2/17 of the Dogra Regiment (Indian Army).

The second line states “transferred to the second annex of the camp in Thailand” (in year 18, i.e 1943). This means that he was transferred to the Railway (construction of the Thai-Burma railway)

Line 3 states “Ship carrying the men was bombed and contact lost, Toyofuku Maru” – this is one of the other names that the ship was known as.

Line 4 states “time of shipwreck 19 9 21 10:32 – 10:38” and the number KA27. (19 9 21 is the Japanese date for 21 September 1944). All cards seen for those lost on the Hofuku Maru have the number KA27. But apparently twodifferent numbers appear for those lost on the Lisbon Maru, so the significance isn’t totally obvious.

Line 5 states “point of shipwreck N 15o 1’ E 120o 2’ (is the exact location on the map) Westnorth end of Philippines off shore of Bataan”.


There is also a group of 3 registers of some 15,000 POWs at the National Archives under reference WO367, but I could not find an entry for Jack. However, the discovery of the record card is the breakthrough I needed, as it not only confirms what was known or suspected, but explains where he went in the intervening two years between capture and death.



In case you came here straight from a Search Engine then you can see the entire family history site at http://jearnshaw.me.uk . If you came from my site then just close this page.