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From the Folkestone Herald Published 13 January 2000

Born survivor.

DOUG ‘Denny’ Denham, a retired Folkestone businessman who was once the biggest electrical retailer/contractor in the town, is a born survivor, having cheated death several times.

Denmark Street 1939

DENMARK Street where Doug Denham started on his way as a self-made entrepreneur, in the basement of Sharp’s Dairy’s milk shop, on the left run by his father, making bicycles. He later took over the workshops of the property opposite and eventually opened up a shop in the property adjoining. Snow was lying on the ground when this picture was taken in 1939. By the time Doug decided to retire, his business had opened 17 shops in Kent. He sold 2 Denmark Street in 1981.


He survived the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore, only to become a PoW in the death camps of Sumatra.

He was a survivor too of one of the worst sea disasters of the war 1944 when a British warship torpedoed and sank a cargo ship carrying 7,000 prisoners of the Japanese including PoWs.

Nearly 6,000 died. Doug was one of 273 British PoWs among the 1,000 odd survivors, made up of Australian, Dutch, Javanese and Brits. Survivors lived to endure the horror of Japanese death camps.

Doug, 83, who lives in Wimbome, Dorset, also survived a bad attack of malaria combined with other tropical diseases and his remarkable recovery from diptheria in one camp he put down to ‘Lady Luck.’

That was in the unlikely form of four dairy cows which had been kept by nuns. Their milk - rare in that part of the world - was the one thing that saved him, he believes.

And it was probably his illness and slow recovery from diptheria -with a spell in an isolation ‘ward’ -which saved him from death at the hands of the brutal Japanese army on the Sumatra railway.

This was built by the PoWs at the cost of many hundreds of lives.

Then he cheated death again when a fellow PoW, Ken Billington, dived into a river to free his unconscious body from where it was trapped among the submerged roots of a fallen tree while swimming. And he was miraculously revived.

He also survived devastating Japanese bombing attacks on RAF air fields in Malaya and then again, just before capture, when his lorry ran into the rear of a stationary armoured car in the dark while carrying a load of booze they were trying to keep out of enemy hands.

He escaped with broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder.

Doug Denham cartoon

This cartoon figure of Doug Denham appeared in the Electrical & Radio Trading magazine of September 1953 in which his business success was reviewed. Trained as an engineer in the RAF his flare for business took off when he entered the radio, television and electrical goods trade.


Missed the boat.

A man of initiative - Doug began work before he left school building bicycles and selling them to fellow classmates. But it was initiative that nearly cost him his life, for it led to his worst ever mistake in the War. He and his best pal literally ‘missed the boat’ - to freedom.

Serving in the RAF"s No 488 NZ Squadron and looking for something interesting to do, as the Japanese came ever neater, he and his best pal Jimmy Delap, volunteered for the job of training Dutch Indies Army troops to be dispatch riders, but it was some distance away from their camp at Batavia (now called Jakarta, capital of Indonesia.)

When the chance came for their RAF Squadron to pull out aboard the Blue Star Line’s 'Empire Star' to escape the Japanese invasion, Doug and his mate were left behind. They were unable to get back in time to join their comrades who escaped to New Zealand to fight again.

The two men spent three and a half years as PoWs of the Japanese.

But Doug survived the building of the railway of death during which so PoWs a day were dying and being buried as starvation, disease and brutality took its toll. More than half the PoWs died in the first two years in the Sumatra death camps.

Doug recalls it was the day war officially ended that the Sumatra railway was completed at Moera with the joining up of the last rails with ‘gold’ sleeper ‘dogs’ - actually made of scrap brass by his mate Bill ‘Jock’ Gunn in the workshops.

But it wasn’t until the next day the prisoners heard the Japanese Emperor had surrendered his forces and the war was over.

Doug remembers huge baskets of fruit were being dished out to prisoners and at first PoWs thought this was to show how pleased the Japanese were with the railway.

Truth began to dawn when Doug, escorted by a Japanese army sergeant, went through the army’s barrack block to retrieve his watchmaking tools from the store where he worked and Japanese soldiers, burning private papers, stopped to bow.

He told the PoWs’ commanding officer and soon the Japanese commander admitted the war was over.

If confirmation was needed, it came in the form of canisters of food and leaflets quickly dropped by the Allied Forces’ Liberator aircraft. These gave the PoWs advice on what to do until the Allied troops could take over.

Doug treasures a copy as a memento of the war.

But sadness was to follow his release. News leading aircraftsman Doug Denham survived the fall of Singapore, did not reach his family until an official letter addressed to his wife, Kathleen, arrived at the end of September 1945. (They were married in 1939.)

Sadly, while Doug had been a PoW his wife had contracted TB. He did not know because the Japanese had held back all the prisoners’ mail.


Flown home.

Two weeks after the war ended, on September 24, Doug and fellow PoWs headed for home on board the SS Antenor. Reaching the Red Sea his homecoming was speeded up. He got star treatment. After getting a train to Cairo he was flown home via Malta to be re-united with his sick wife but she died on Boxing Day 1945.

Doug made up for lost time in the field of business, after the war and had four companies under his belt in East Kent when he made the decision to retire 30 years ago.

At 83 he can look back on three marriages, and has two sons, three daughters, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Over Christmas he visited his eldest son Martin, 52, of Tormore Park, Deal, and his sister Joyce, 79, living in Folkestone. Joyce is the widow of John Reynolds who was manager of Denhams former contracting company. Sadly, he died about a year ago.

For more about Doug’s story see Memories next week!



Lucky escape as fishing boat sunk by ‘Frenchie’.

A FOG bound Channel a Hythe fishing boat was run down by a French trawler which, fortunately, was: able to rescue the crew. But there was an anxious time for the families of the men until news came hours later that they had been landed in Boulogne from the trawler. Work was under way to give all the Channel steamers a Marconi wireless telegraphy system, Including those sailing between Folkestone and Boulogne. The local militia, or volunteer reserve, numbering 1,100 men had all volunteered for service in Africa. But when it was learned they had been posted to Malta some 70 disillusioned members of the militia withdrew their offer to give up their civilian jobs to fight. They were only prepared to volunteer, they said, If they were needed In South Africa. Major Bell-Irving in command of the 2nd Field Battery at Shorncliffe was appointed chief of an ammunition column to serve In South Africa and was due to be succeeded by Major Slee, brigade major of the Royal Artillery, from Woolwich. James Holloway, the last headmaster of Folkestone's British School, died. When the school was closed, following the setting up of School Boards he became one of the local officers of the Folkestone Board and remained so until his death.



Theatre group outing ends in a tragic road accident.

THERE was a shock for a party returning to Dover from Folkestone Theatre In a charabanc driven by owner Mr R Delahaye, of Folkestone Road, Dover after a show. Near the Plough Inn the driver swerved to try and avoid what appeared to be a sack In the road. On stopping he found he had struck the object, which turned out to be Edward Penfoid, 37, of the Coach & Horses Yard, Tower Hamlets, who was badly Injured and later died in Dover Hospital after an operation. Mr Penfold had been on the way to a slaughter house with two horses from Dover Priory Station, and how he came to be in the road was a mystery, the horses being found some distance away. The coroner hazarded a guess that he may have had some difficulty with the horses and was left stunned, In the road. Mr Delahaye was exonerated from blame by the jury. By eight votes to seven the Council's general purposes committee agreed to 15,780 additional work at the Folkestone Sports Ground to include a cricket pavilion, 725 groundsman’s cottage, wood framing for terraces, 1,570 approach roads, 1,750 bowling green, 420 grass tennis courts, 600 hard tennis courts, repairs to covered stand for football and new equipment. Some of the work would provide jobs for the unemployed.



‘Scandal’ over Xmas carol collection for Labour party.

THREE Folkestone men and one from Dover who had each completed well over 50 years service with the railway marine service were presented with gold medals at a ceremony aboard the steamer Invicta in Dover Harbour. They were G.M. Spree, of Coolinge Road, F. 6. Hogben, of Fernbank Crescent and L Saunders of Wear Bay Crescent. After the Christmas and New Year celebrations were over there was a row at a Town Council meeting over a street collection made by the labour party during the singing of carols In the town. Conservative Cllr C.E. Neate, told Labour had obtained consent to make a collection for Its funds, retorted: “I have never heard anything so monstrous In my life, I think It is absolutely scandalous." But he in turn was criticised for trying to make political capital out of it. The death of ex-Pollce Inspector Frank Lawrence, 38 years In the force, recalled the remarkable First World War riot of Canadian soldiers In the town, In 1915, In which he was badly hurt and left lame. That riot was only put down when a cavalry regiment from Shorncliffe took charge. Firemen had teen called in to assist the police but the rioters seized their hoses and cut them up to use as truncheons or coshes. Charles Tribe, one of six brothers well known In local soccer circles a century ago (from 1896 to 1910) was mourned In the town. ‘Old Char- once kept goal for Folkestone FC.



New Year opens with bad news for bus commuters.

THE East Kent bus company began the New Year with plans to cut back bus services, particularly in the summer, it was revealed at a meeting of company representatives and town councillors. The firm spoke of shortage of experienced labour and equipment supply of new buses could take up to three years and there was difficulty in getting parts for old vehicles It complained. Only six of 20 buses ordered had been delivered oh time and the others were not expected before April or May. On top of this commuters heard of a hefty rise in rail fares from the end of January, season tickets to London going up by more than 44 a year, while the average fare rise was 12.5 %. With temperatures rising to 60 degrees F, the District had Its mildest and windiest Christmas in 22 years; Gardens were blooming and new growth was appearing even on lupins and delphiniums, but this was little consolation In a week of continuous gales and storms, with heavy rain. The conditions didn't deter the bargain hunters, however, Debenhams reporting 5,000 customers on the first day of the sales. At Lydd the Friends of the Rype were renamed Friends of Lydd Town to avoid confusion. Backed by the promotions of the Daily Mail Lord Edward Grosvenor offered a challenge cup and prize money to encourage flights from Lympne airfield by light aircraft in the early 1920s, the Herald reflected in a looking back article.


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