Carluke man’s unique memorial to POW grandfather

Lanarkshire Yeomanry at Lanark Racecourse (pic submitted by Robert Cunningham)
Lanarkshire Yeomanry at Lanark Racecourse (pic submitted by Robert Cunningham)

The dreadful wartime experience of a Carluke man has recently had surprisingly pleasant and positive results more than 70 years later!

The late Roy Russell of Hillhead Farm (Tao Ha Riding School) had been a Sergeant in the Lanarkshire Yeomanry (155 th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery) when the Regiment was taken prisoner after the fall of Singapore in February 1942.

Roy Russell, as a bombadier

Roy Russell, as a bombadier

He suffered terribly as a POW and slave to the Japanese Empire in the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway, the infamous Railway of Death, which was driven through the disease-ridden jungles at horrendous cost to the lives of the unfortunates who toiled there.

Now his 21- year old grandson, Robert Cunningham, also of Hillhead Farm, has used the story of the suffering of his grandfather and his mates to positive effect.

For his Honours Dissertation, Robert, a final year student at the University of Glasgow, had decided that he would explore the factors which influenced the survival of some of the men of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry while POWs.

The attrition rate of Far East POWs had been significantly higher than POWs held by the Germans- something like 33% as opposed to 4%.

Surprisingly, although the Lanarkshire Yeomanry lost more men as POWs then they did in action, their losses were still significantly lower than other allied regiments held by the Japanese.

This was the purpose of Robert’s dissertation- to try and identify the reasons why.

His diligence and research has now paid off and he has learned that he achieved a First Class grade for his Dissertation entitled, ‘We’re no awa’ ta bide awa’.

Carluke readers will recognise the quotation as the marching song of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry which is inscribed on their memorial in the Market Place which served as the inspiration for the project.

In just over a week’s time, Robert will graduate with an Honours Degree in Law and History (LLB) at Glasgow University.

Said Campbell Thomson of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry Memorial Group, ‘Robert has done a tremendous job in telling the story of the survival of so many local men of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry.

“I am aware that there is great interest in his dissertation and the Java Fare East Prisoners Of War Club have asked if they can publish it in their Journal.

“It is a very fitting memorial to his grandfather and his mates of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry.

“They would have been very pleased and satisfied.”

“Sadly I never knew my grandfather, but I know he was one of the Carluke characters,” said Robert. “I can rarely venture down the High Street without bumping into someone who says something like ‘your grandfather taught me to ride’. But few knew anything about is life during the War; this was part of the reason for beginning this project.

“He fell into the Riding School business by accident.

“When he returned from the Far East, he was deemed unfit for service in the Police Force and Fire Brigade, partly because people didn’t understand these men’s stories; there was a stigma attached to them, not helped by the fact they were instructed on their return not to talk about their experiences with anyone.”

With the law degree Robert, a Lieutenant in the 4th Carluke BB, plans eventually to become a solicitor.