William Sargent


William Robinson Clarke

‘Grieving dad was returning from visit to son’s war grave’

1894 - 1988

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When William Sargent boarded the Empire Windrush in Trinidad, he was on his way back from a gruelling journey that had taken him to the graveside of his son, Don, who had died in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in 1945.

Don, aged 22 when he died, had served as an aircraftman with the RAF in the Second World War and was posted to the Far East as part of a search and rescue team. He had grown up in the coastal town of Llandudno in Wales, where his father owned a boat, and as a result of his familiarity with the sea, he was deployed in fast motor launches to rescue downed aircrew.

When Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942 Don tried to escape but was captured by the Japanese navy. He was held in POW camps in Sumatra for more than three years. Conditions were horrific and many men perished, including Don who died on August 4, 1945, just 11 days before the end of the war.

He was buried near the Sungei Ron POW camp where he had last been held, but after the war, his remains were reinterred at Jakarta War Cemetery.

Grieving William was determined to visit his son’s final resting place and he left London on board the SS Ranchi for Singapore on September 25, 1946. After completing his mission, he began the arduous journey home but found himself stranded in Trinidad in May 1948. He was told the next available ship to England would not arrive until September. But after complaining to the Governor’s office, he found a space on the Windrush, which was setting off from Port of Spain on May 20.

Born in Birmingham on April 3, 1894, William married Elsie Brittain in King’s Norton, Birmingham, in March 1918. The newlyweds moved to north Wales, to Llandudno Cum Eglwys Rhos, and it is here they had their first child, Margie, in October 1919.

The family relocated to another part of the town and Don, christened Arthur Donald Sargent, was born on October 18, 1922. Daughter Doris came along in 1931, followed by another son, David, in 1937. William ran his own radio shop in Lloyd Street, Llandudno, and Don used to work for him as a radio engineer.

William kept a journal of his voyage on the Windrush and claimed in it that about 50 stowaways managed to board the ship in Kingston. Elsie was at Tilbury to greet her husband. William joked that this ‘was to make sure that I had not brought back a Black woman with me’. William was living at Pant Uchaf, Pant y Wennol, Bodafon, Llandudno, when he died on April 11, 1988.

William Sargent – Courtesy of William Sargent’s family

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