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Whittaker, James

Document Type

Oral History

Date of Interview



James Whittaker was born on 20 June 1921 in the industrial city of Manchester, England. After leaving school at fourteen, which was not uncommon at that time, he had several odd jobs before deciding in 1938 to continue a family tradition and enlist in the British Army. When Britain went to war in 1939, Jim was serving with the Royal Corps of Signals; stationed in London, he survived the 1940-41 German air attacks on the city, and in November 1941 was posted to Singapore. When Japan attacked throughout Asia in December 1941, Jim was among thousands of Allied troops captured by Japanese forces. Jim spent the next three-and-a-half years, until August 1945, as a POW, most of it on railroad construction projects in the jungles of Burma and Thailand. Horrendous conditions, miserable treatment, and malnutrition caused the deaths of many thousands of Allied POWs; Jim's interview provides insights to the difficult existence in Japanese labor camps. Following Japan's surrender in August 1945, Jim was liberated from a camp in Thailand; he returned to Britain, got married, and completed his military service, being discharged in 1947. With Britain's peacetime economy recovering slowly, though, jobs were hard to find, so Jim took a chance and in 1948 moved his family to the United States, working on railroads and settling in Minnesota. He became a US citizen in 1953. Jim worked many years for the railroads, retiring from Burlington Northern in 1981. At the time of this interview he lived in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.


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Jim Whittaker - Transcript.pdf (702 kB)
PDF Transcript of Interview with Jim Whittaker