Soham Grammarians - Leslie J Audus MA PhD (Cantab) ScD FLS

Seat dedication in Leslie's boyhood village, Isleham, Cambridgeshire, 9 June 2012
Service of Celebration, 26 May 2011
Obituary in the Daily Telegraph, Friday 13th May 2011
Leslie Audus the scientist


Seat dedication in Leslie's boyhood village, Isleham, Cambridgeshire, 9 June 2012

Fiona Pushman, Leslie's daughter, writes: 'Isleham was not only where Leslie was born and raised, but it remained a place that mattered to him throughout his long life. So the family wanted to have something permanent to commemorate this lasting link.

On one visit when Leslie walked around the village with Chris and me, we rested for a while on a memorial bench. This seemed so suitable, in keeping with the village and we were pleased that the Parish Council have approved our request for a similar bench in his memory.

Therefore, on 9 June 2012, Leslie’s ashes will return to Isleham. At 11:15 am a bench will be dedicated to his memory at the top of Pound Lane (opposite The Griffin) and at 11:45 his ashes will be interred in the Isleham Cemetery .

There is also an area (just under an acre) of Priory Wood at Burwell dedicated to his memory, but the Woodland Trust site does not allow for any actual dedication plaque so is only known to those who know!'

We are grateful to Fred Eden, a wartime schoolboy at Soham Grammar School, for attending on behalf of the Soham Grammarians and for these photos of the occasion.

The seat is inscribed
In Memory of Professor Leslie John Audus 1911-2011. Botanist and Far East Survivor. He loved this village.

Leslie's daughter Fiona (4th on left) and members of Leslie's family at the seat.
The Welcome Home banner was put up by Leslie's mother for the day he returned from captivity in the Far East.
Fred Eden SG44 is the one wearing the Soham Grammarians tie.

Leslie Audus died aged 99 on 5th May 2011 and was cremated on Thursday 26th May 2011. The service of thanksgiving to celebrate his life was held at Basingstoke Crematorium, followed by a buffet lunch at Bolton Arms Old Basing.

A Service of Celebration
and Thanksgiving for the life of

MA PhD (Cantab) ScD FLS
9th December 1911 - 5th May 2011

Spes Vivat
Fides Inspiret
Amor Vincat

Basingstoke Crematorium
Thursday 26th May 2011

Order of Service

Entry Music
Mahler - 5th Symphony - Adagietto

Jeremy Caddy - Funeral Celebrant


Abide with me; fast falls the eventide

Early Life [to be added]

Linden Lea
Soloist Joan Warren with Harp accompanist Judith Philip

POW Years (1942 - 1945)
Followed by music
Brahms Piano Concerto B flat Major - 4th Movement

FEPOW by Meg Parkes
Followed by FEPOW Prayer

The following tribute, written by RAF Medical Officer Richard Philps at the start of his memoir, Prisoner Doctor was published in 1996:

“The men who survived Haruku and subsequent camps have reason to be extremely grateful to Leslie J Audus, Professor Emeritus of Botany at London University. Professor Audus was with us as a prisoner, having joined the Royal Air Force as a scientist and become a Radar (then called Radiolocation) Officer.

During our first critical time at Haruku, with deaths from beriberi mounting and blindness from Vitamin B deficiency on the increase, he, at first single-handedly, and later with a Dutch botanist, Dr (now Professor) JG ten Houten, devised a method of producing yeast, an abundant source of Vitamin B.

This was against almost impossible odds and with the most primitive equipment, but it was so successful that the onset of blindness was halted in those already affected, no new cases occurred, and other changes due to Vitamin B deficiency began to improve – a remarkable feat of biological manipulation.”

I would add to Dr Philps’ words that those of us with an interest in FEPOW, that is Far East Prisoner Of War, history, be it academic or family-inspired, also owe Leslie John Audus a huge debt of gratitude.

Not only did his expertise and practical ability save countless lives between 1942 and 1945, but by committing his experiences to print as he later did, he ensured that future generations would also gain a better understanding of the circumstances of their survival.

After their liberation and repatriation during the autumn of 1945, most FEPOW found it very difficult to share their experiences with others. They were not encouraged to do so; some men never did. As a consequence, even today their part in World War Two history is still relatively little known.

The public perception of Far East captivity is generally centred around the building of the railway through the jungles of Thailand and Burma. But thanks to Leslie’s decision to publish a paper in 1946 entitled, Biology Behind Barbed Wire, in the scientific journal Discovery, the facts were set out while they were still clear in his mind.

This article became the basis for a book about Far East captivity in the Moluccas (commonly known as the Spice Islands), published initially by Dutch prisoners of war. Years later this book was translated into English by Leslie and became Spice Islands Slaves. Now we could learn about the equally appalling circumstances endured by over 2,000 British FEPOW who were shipped from Java to build airfields on the Spice Islands in April 1943 – truly a voyage into Hades.

I first met Leslie in 2003 when I bought his book through the Java FEPOW 1942 Club. He was a long-standing and valued member of the Club (and also the London FEPOW Club). Indeed, some of the other Java Club FEPOWs had directly benefitted from his ingenuity and skill. I had just recently joined the Java Club and was attending the annual meeting in Stratford-upon-Avon. My interest in this history stemmed from my father’s FEPOW captivity in both Java and Japan (though to my knowledge, the two never met).

I subsequently had the great good fortune to visit Leslie on two separate occasions at home in his Earl’s Court flat, where I listened to his vivid recollections of those days. He showed me some of his vast collection of drawings and memorabilia, recorded, hidden and eventually brought home.

What a treasure trove!

In 2006, Leslie wrote a Foreword for the Java FEPOW Club’s book, Prisoner in Java, a compilation of articles extracted from twenty-two years of the Club’s quarterly newsletter, The Java Journals. The Club not only looks after the few remaining FEPOW veterans, but also their widows. Both the book, and the ongoing work of the Club, honour all these courageous men and women.

My own interest has grown into academic study and I am based at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. During the research for my dissertation, I came across an interview that Leslie gave, in August 1986, aged 75, to Dr Charles Roland from McMaster University in Ontario. I quote:

“… mental attitude played such a vital part in survival. This is why I think
I’m so lucky in that I had something to interest me. I had this yeast-stuff to make…”

Something of an understatement, I would say.

In January 2009, Leslie agreed to give me an interview about his long-term perspective of those years in captivity, as part of the Liverpool Tropical School’s FEPOW oral history study. It was such a privilege to listen to and record his recollections.

On behalf of all the members of the Java FEPOW 1942 Club - FEPOW history researchers everywhere - and from me: Thank You, Leslie.

FEPOWs Cpl Arthur E Ogden and Victor Merrett

And we that are left grow old with the years
Remembering the heartache, the pain and the tears,
Hoping and praying that never again
Man will sink to such sorrow and shame.
The price that was paid we will always remember
Every day, every month, not just in November,
We Shall Remember Them.

Academic Years (1948 - 1979) by Professor WG Chaloner [items in italics were in Prof Chaloner's draft
but omitted on the day as they overlapped with what Leslie's daughter Fiona covered]

It is my privilege, my honour, to be invited to give a very brief account of Leslie Audus’s life as a botanist and as a professor of London University. The main part of this was as Hildred Carlile Professor of Botany in Bedford College, the most delightfully rural college of London University set in the middle of the greenery of Regents Park, and complete with its own botanical garden. When he retired in 1979 I was lucky enough to be appointed to succeed him in that Chair, and this is my rather frail qualification for offering these brief notes.

Of course Leslie’s involvement and interest in plant life goes back long before his Bedford days. He did Botany for what has now become “A Level” at Soham Grammar School, and on to become an Exhibitioner at Downing College Cambridge where he got a First in Botany. He went on to do a PhD with one of the great luminaries of plant science, FF Blackman in Cambridge. His thesis was on the seemingly rather obtuse corner of plant sciences, the senescence metabolism of leaves. I think he would be entertained to realise that many years later this kind of research has recently received a lot of attention from the big supermarket chains. As they stopped selling lettuce, and started cutting up salads and putting them in plastic bags, they have funded quite a lot of work on just those lines, to establish the best conditions to maintain crispness in such senescent leaves!

While at Cambridge he met, and later married, a fellow student of botany Rowena Ferguson.

On getting his PhD he took a job as assistant lecturer in what was the University College of South Wales, teaching plant science on a very broad front. This included teaching practical bacteriology to medical students – experience highly pertinent to his activities in yeast culture that was to be so relevant to survival some years later.

Well, while in Cardiff he joined the RAF volunteer reserve, and was duly enlisted in August 1940 and after brief training in radar techniques he was posted to Malaya in January 1941. In what he described as a “kicking his heels in peace-time Malaya” he worked with John Corner, a man who long after the war was to become a leading Professor of Botany at Cambridge. Together they explored the rainforest in Johore, and Leslie prepared some outstanding drawings of grasses, later published in the Flora of Malaya. With the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore, as you have heard, he escaped in Feb. 1942, but was eventually captured by the Japanese a month later.

As you have heard, he applied his laboratory skills to culturing yeast to supply vitamin B for his fellow prisoners, and making Tempeh from soya beans as a protein supplement to a miserable POW diet. His skill in these physiological processes undoubtedly saved the sight – and in some cases the life – of many of his fellow prisoners.

On being demobbed in the spring of 1946 Leslie joined what is now Cardiff University, attached to a soil research unit, working on the physiology of herbicides. But by 1948 he was offered the Chair of Botany in Bedford College, and moved to London.

There were initial difficulties: the Botany Department was in cramped, temporary accommodation with little equipment. But in 1952 it moved into the new Darwin Building in Regents Park and Leslie embarked on an investigation into the nature and mechanism of plant “hormones” (or “growth regulators” as they are now generally known) in roots, so resurrecting an interest in plant responses to gravity, a research theme which had been largely neglected for some 30 years.

The following year he published Plant Growth Substances, a book which subsequently went through two more expanded editions (1959 and 1972) and became the standard text on the subject for many years. In 1964 he edited The Biochemistry and Physiology of Herbicides, which was still the main reference book on that subject when he retired. He was also involved in a range of editorial activities, most notably editing the Journal of Experimental Botany from 1965-74.

Audus published over a hundred papers on various aspects of plant science, and of course especially on plant physiology.

His research in that field was of the highest standing, and received world-wide recognition, and he was awarded a DSc in recognition of that work. He was invited to act as external examiner in no less than 23 universities both in Britain, from Brighton to Cambridge, and in a wide spread of overseas universities from Kampala to Trinidad. His research on plant growth regulators had an impact in the applied aspects of plant physiology, particularly in forestry, agriculture and horticulture.

This led to numerous scientific visits overseas; he gave advanced courses in some 15 major universities in the United States, was made visiting Professor of Botany at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958; at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, in 1965; and was created Life member of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1953. Rather more unusually at that time, Audus lectured extensively in the USSR and in Poland, in the 1950s and 60s.

For all this, Leslie never neglected his departmental or collegiate commitments. He was a fine teacher, and active in student affairs, both social and scientific. As head of department he was approachable and kindly. But possessed of the same strength of character and tenacity that brought him through the horrors of war, he did not flinch from expressing his views forcefully against injustice or political expediency when they conflicted with academic interests. His experience and sound judgement contributed much to the lively debates taking place in the sixties and seventies concerning the role and status of universities. This was a time of flux, when Bedford College (hitherto for women students only) first opened its doors to men as undergraduates. London University was radically revising its course structure, financial pressures were increasing and academe at large was going through a period of student unrest.

It all sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it ?

Leslie’s own considerable technical skill as an experimentalist extended to his extramural interests too. He enjoyed, for example, the construction and restoration of furniture. He also built his own short-wave radio equipment in those pre-email years, as that constituted the only medium that enabled him to maintain contact with former wartime comrades and fellow scientists in remote parts of the world. It was one such fellow prisoner who, during Audus’s time in captivity, had managed to preserve 36 of the records he had initially taken out to Malaya with him. Leslie heard the strains of Brahms’s Piano Concerto in B Flat Major in Jakarta after being liberated and, pointing to his scratched signature, claimed that record and its fellows as his own. He kept them for the rest of his life.

A man of immense courage and fortitude, Leslie’s commitment to the living world, both of plants and of people, earned him the respect and affection of the very wide body of students and colleagues with whom he came into contact. Many of them are, happily, with us here today.

'All is Well' by Canon Henry Scott Holland
Read by Ian Philip

Family Memories
Grandsons [to be added]

Quiet and Reflective time
The Ash Grove - Harpist Judith Philip

The Lords Prayer

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done;
on earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom,
The Power, and the Glory,
For ever and ever Amen.

The Committal

Final Words

Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams
Played by Nicola Benedetti

The family would like to invite everybody
to join them after the service at
The Bolton Arms, Old Basing, RG24 7DA
for a Carvery Lunch.

Donations in memory of Leslie
if desired in aid of
'The Woodland Trust' or 'The Java FEPOW Club'
may be left as you leave the chapel or sent c/o
Co-operative Funeralcare
1 Buckland Avenue
RG22 6JW

The family are grateful for all the comfort and support
that friends have given to Leslie over the years.

Obituary in the Daily Telegraph, Friday 13th May 2011

A self-portrait by Audus in his 'laboratory' at Jaarmarkt PoW camp, central Java, c. 1943 Photo: Handout

Leslie John Audus, an only child, was born on December 9 1911 at Isleham in the fens of Cambridgeshire, a part of the country for which he retained a deep affection for the rest of his life. Educated at Soham Grammar School, in 1929 he won a scholarship to Downing College, Cambridge. After completing his degree he carried out postgraduate work until 1935.

From Cambridge he progressed to University College, Cardiff, where he combined further research in plant physiology with teaching across a broad spectrum of plant science. Having joined the RAFVR in 1940, he trained in radar and in 1941 was posted to Malaya as a flight lieutenant.

In the brief interlude before fighting hit Malaya later that year, Audus used his free time to explore the rainforest in Johore with John Corner (later a renowned Cambridge botanist), who was then assistant director of the botanical gardens there.

Audus made himself popular by bringing with him a turntable, loudspeakers and a collection of records. On the fall of Singapore, the discs accompanied him as he escaped with his unit by ship to Jakarta. He even managed to hang on to them after being captured there by the Japanese, leaving them behind (with his initials scratched into the centre of each record) only after being sent to a camp on Haruku island.

Audus’s book Spice Island Slaves (1996) records the horrors of this time. Prisoners were forced to work in blinding sunlight to build an airstrip from coral. As well as suffering regular beatings, they were badly afflicted by beriberi and malnutrition-induced conditions which affected their eyesight. Knowing of Audus’s expertise, senior captive officers asked him to produce yeast to supply vitamins that were missing from the men’s wretched diet.

Under conditions of extraordinary hardship, and with makeshift equipment, Audus had first produced yeast – with the help of Dutch fellow prisoners – at Jaarmarkt camp at Surabaya on Java. But when transferred to Haruku he faced a problem: maize grain, which had previously been used as a raw ingredient in the process, was not available.

Instead he isolated a mould fungus that, in addition to producing the needed vitamins, allowed him to manufacture an easily digestible protein by fermenting soya beans. These supplements, together with the building of a sea latrine that halted an outbreak of dysentery, helped reduce prisoner deaths from 334 in five months to just 52 in the last nine months before liberation.

On August 1 1945 Audus commanded the last party of six men out of the camp. Ironically, however, when he was taken to hospital it was discovered that he himself had already suffered irreversible retinal damage. Remarkably, he overcame this disability in his subsequent distinguished botanical career.

After the war he returned to plant physiology as a scientific officer with the Agricultural Research Council unit of soil metabolism at University College, Cardiff, focusing particularly on the action of phenoxyacetic acid herbicide. From there he moved to the Hildred Carlile Chair of Botany at Bedford College, University of London, which he held until retiring in 1979.

There were initial difficulties: the Botany department was in cramped, temporary accommodation with little equipment. But in 1952 it moved into the new Darwin Building, and Audus embarked on an investigation into the nature and mechanism of plant “hormones” (or “growth regulators”, as they are now generally known) in roots, so resurrecting an interest in plant responses to gravity, a research theme which had been largely neglected for some 30 years.

The following year he published Plant Growth Substances, which went through two more expanded editions (1959 and 1972) and became the standard text on the subject for many years.

In 1964 he edited The Biochemistry and Physiology of Herbicides, which was still the main reference book on that subject when he retired. From 1965 to 1974 he edited the Journal of Experimental Botany.

Audus’s research on plant growth regulators had an impact in the applied aspects of plant physiology, particularly in forestry, agriculture and horticulture. This led to numerous scientific visits overseas, and he gave advanced courses in some 15 major universities in the United States.
He was appointed visiting Professor of Botany at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958; at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, in 1965; and was created a life member of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1953. Unusually for that time, he lectured extensively in the USSR and in Poland.

For all this, Audus never neglected his departmental or collegiate commitments. He was a fine teacher, and active in student affairs, both social and scientific. As head of department he was approachable and kindly. But the strength of character and tenacity that had brought him through the horrors of war meant that he did not flinch from expressing his views forcefully against injustice or political expediency.

His own considerable technical skill as an experimentalist also extended to his extramural interests. He enjoyed the construction and restoration of furniture, and built his own short-wave radio equipment at a time when it was the only medium that enabled him to maintain contact with former wartime comrades and fellow scientists in remote parts of the world.

It was one such fellow prisoner who, during Audus’s time in captivity, had managed to preserve 36 of the records he had taken out to Malaya. Audus heard the strains of Brahms’s Piano Concerto in B Flat Major in Jakarta after being liberated and, pointing to his scratched signature, declared that this record and the others were his own. He kept them for the rest of his life.

Leslie Audus married, in 1938, Rowena Mabel Ferguson. She died in 1987, and he is survived by two daughters.

Leslie Audus and Soham Grammar School

[to be added from Leslie's unpublished biography]

Leslie Audus the scientist

Leslie John Audus was born on December 11th 1911 and was educated at Soham Grammar School, leaving, it is thought, in 1929. He went up to Downing College Cambridge where he was Exhibitioner, 1929–31. SGS records show he gained a Part I, Class 1, in the Natural Sciences Tripos and that he was appointed Frank Smart University Student in Botany, at Cambridge, 1934–35. In Summer 1937 it was reported that he was a lecturer at Cardiff University, and had proceeded MA (Cantab) and had obtained his PhD. Dr Leslie J Audus and Dr Rowena M Ferguson married at Sheffield in 1938, she died in 1987. They had two daughters.

He was Lecturer in Botany, University Coll., Cardiff, 1935–40. During WW2 he was a Flight Lieutenant RAFVR, serving in the Technical Branch as a Radar Officer, 1940–46. He was PoW of the Japanese 1942-45. SG Spring 1943: Prisoner of War: F Bye (Egypt), LJ Audus (Java). SG Autumn 1945: Following POWs back in England: CF Tabeart (Singapore), LJ Audus (Java), JR Cogbill (Hong Kong)

His skills as a botanist enabled him to "save lives and the eyesight of many men" - see below

He was Scientific Officer at the Agricultural Research Council's Unit of Soil Metabolism, Cardiff, 1946–47 and Monsanto Lecturer in Plant Physiology, University College, Cardiff, 1948.

In the same year he was appointed Professor at Bedford College, London University. The Botany Department at Bedford College had been destroyed during the bombing of London, and the Departments of Botany and Zoology were housed in the former mansion of a member of the gentry on the edge of Regents Park. Professor Nielson-Jones retired and Professor Leslie Audus was appointed in his place, and he started up his well-known researches on the hormonal control of root growth, geotropism, and other topics. He was Hildred Carlile Professor of Botany, Bedford College, University of London, 1948–79.

He was Recorder, 1961–65, and President 1967–68, of Section K of the British Association for the Advancement of Science: Visiting Professor of Botany, University of California, Berkeley, 1958 and University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1965.

He was Vice-President of the Linnean Society of London, 1959–60 and made Honorary Fellow in 1995: Life Member of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1961; Editor of the Journal of Experimental Botany, 1965–74.

Lesley Audus died on 5 May 2011.

Papers by LJ Audus

Prisoner of War

from Death in the Spice Islands, compiled by Amanda Johnston

Heroes of Haruku There were many heroes in the Pelauw camp in Haruku whose day-to-day acts of brotherhood and compassion surely alleviated the suffering of their friends under these diabolical circumstances. The doctors, amongst them Dr. Buning, Dr. Springer, Dr. Philps and Dr. Bryan, saved many lives using the crudest of contrived instruments and effecting what cures they could in the absence of medicines or even vegetation to concoct alternative means of healing.

One of these heroes was not a doctor, but a botanist by training who went on to become a Professor of Botany at London University some years after the War (now an Emeritus Professor), and who was serving as a radio officer in the RAF when taken prisoner: Leslie Audus used his skills to manufacture yeast from 'next to nothing', providing the very sick, and eventually all the men, with a source of vitamin B, the absence of which in their scant diet was worsening their state of malnutrition and causing beriberi and pellagra as well as optic neurosis, the result of which could be irreversible blindness.

A good summary of his cultivation methods can be found in Dr. Richard Philps' book, Prisoner Doctor as well as in his own definitive work on the Moluccas drafts - Spice Island Slaves. Without a doubt he saved many lives and the eyesight of many of the men by developing his cultures, and they were most fortunate indeed that he was in the Haruku draft where conditions were so appalling. He was only permitted to continue with his yeast-making activities because one of the by-products was alcohol, which was then commandeered by the Japanese guards.

Spice Island Slaves by Leslie J Audus The little-publicised story of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in the Moluccan Archipelago (The Spice Islands) In Eastern Indonesia from May 1943 onwards is comprehensively recorded in this book. This chronological history has been compiled from contemporary diaries and records from a large number of British and Dutch sources, including those of the author.

It is illustrated by 25 drawings of camp scenes and personalities, maps, camp lay-outs and graphs. In those slave-labour camps on the islands of HARUKU, AMBON (at Liang) and CERAM (at Amahai) and during the final disastrous attempts to return them to Java, half of the 4,110 servicemen (2,827 British and 1,283 Dutch) were to die from starvation, disease, brutal thrashings, execution and drownings.

The multiplicity of the sources ensure that there are no significant gaps the story traced from from the initial assembly of the drafts in Java to the final piecemeal return of the living skeletons of survivors during the last year of the war. The tragic transit camp on the island of MUNA at the south-east corner of Sulawesi is fully covered.

ORDER FORM/CONTACT: Leslie J. Audus, c/o Lesley J. Clark, 5 Barrons Close, Ongar, Essex, CM5 9BJ
E-mail address: Lesley Clark -

PRICE: £10.25 per copy, plus UK postage & packing of £1.70 per book
(for overseas postage & packing, please add £ 4.55 for Air Mail or £ 2.15 for Surface Mail)

Audus, Leslie J, Spice Island Slaves, UK repr. 1998: Essential reading for Haruku Island, Liang, Ambon, etc. Interesting account of synthesising vital B vitamins from rice. Good maps and illustrations. Straightforward writing for general reader.

From RAF boy apprentice to prisoner of the Japanese, by Amanda Johnston (WW2 People's War, BBC)
"Later, in April 1943, large numbers of men were marshalled at Jaarmarkt Camp in Sourabaya, Java. Eric was one of 2,070 sent on a draft to the Moluccan or ‘Spice’ Island of Haruku. Docking at Ambon in early May 1943, just before his 23rd birthday, they arrived on the muddy shores in the monsoon season to find that they were to build their huts from bamboo and set up what meagre facilities they could. A full account of this and the other Moluccan drafts is given in accurate and stark detail in the excellent book, Spice Island Slaves by Prof. Leslie Audus, but I will continue with the bare details here.

The British commanding officer requested permission from the Japanese to build a latrine over the sea to avoid the spread of disease. The refusal of this request meant that the overflowing latrines and the generally cramped and foul conditions of the makeshift camp led to a general outbreak of dysentery, which along with the other diseases from which the men were suffering — malaria, beri beri and diphtheria to name a few — along with the general state of malnutrition, saw to it that of the 2,070 men who arrived on this draft, around one fifth died within the first few months. On top of all this, we have yet to mention their reason for being there. They were forced by the Japanese to hack an airstrip out of the coral of the island in order to build an airstrip (allegedly within range of Australia). The weakened state of the men meant that, six months into the draft, there were only around 300 to 400 anywhere near “fit” enough to go on the working parties to the airstrip.

When they were eventually allowed to build the sea latrine some months later, the dysentery epidemic was brought under greater control and the death rate slowed down. The Japanese sergeant responsible for this atrocity, Gunso Mori, was later held accountable for this and other war crimes at the post-war Far East War Crimes Tribunal and was hanged in Singapore in 1946, along with the camp commander, Lt. Col. Anami. It has been estimated by Prof. Audus that sadly only 40% of those sent to toil as slaves on Haruku would have returned to the shores of England in 1945, and Eric was fortunate enough to be one of them."

Prisoners in Java - Accounts by Allied Prisoners of War in the Far East (1942-1945): Foreword by Leslie J Audus

"And now, 65 years after our incarceration, we have a single book representing the quintessence of nearly twenty years of the quarterly [Java Club] journal, a true memorial to all those who suffered and died under the Nips in those distant lands".
Professor Emeritus Leslie J Audus (Ex RAFVR)

First published in Great Britain by Hamwic Publishers, 116 Woodlands Road, Ashurst, Southampton, SO40 7AL
Tel: 44 (0) 2380 292266; Fax: 44 (0) 2380 292382 email:
ISBN: 978-0-9547228-8-3
This compilation © Java FEPOW 1942 Club 2007

Leslie Audus is also referred to several times in Brian MacArthur's book - in this link the author talks briefly about it Surviving the Sword: Prisoners of the Japanese 1942-45 .

The following extracts are reproduced by kind permission of the author:

The book is available in the UK - Amazon.

p266 - Entertainment
The prisoners' affection for their records was shown by the example of Flt. Lt. Leslie Audus. When he moved to his radar station on the Malayan mainland in 1941 he took with him an amplifier, turntable, a pick-up and loudspeakers, as well as a collection of records. After being captured in Java, the collection was driven into captivity, but the Dutch provided a gramophone and recitals were given for hundreds of prisoners. When Audus was sent to Haruku the records were left behind, but he had scratched his name with a sharp nail on the smooth surface between the label and grooves on every one.

When he returned to Batavia in July 1945, he heard a familiar sound - the scratchy strains of the Brahms Piano Concerto in B Flat Major - and was able to claim the record as his. Thirty-six records had survived in total, and Audus still had them in 2004 in their original paper sleeves - a tribute, as he says, to the loving care with which they had been preserved by an emaciated young radar officer.

p283-286 - Ingenuity
One of the most remarkable examples of ingenuity occurred in 1944 on the Spice Island of Haruku. The men were working in blinding sunlight to build an airfield from coral, and optical neuritis was causing partial and even complete blindness. (See Chapter 23 for a full account of the horrors of Haruku.) Flt. Lt. Leslie Audus, who had just emerged from hospital partially blind himself, was urged by Flt. Lt. Dick Philps, one of the medical officers, to start producing yeast to provide the vitamins that were missing from the men's diet. Audus had performed the same function earlier in Jaarmarkt camp at Surabaya on Java.

Two Dutch prisoners, Dr van Papenrecht (who had helped Audus in Jaarmarkt, supplying him with raw materials) and Dr ten Houten (who had used Audus's methods on Ceram), were asked to join him. Van Papenrecht provided his microscope, haemocytometer and a supply of reagents for testing for sugar, and allowed Audus and ten Houten to use his `dispensary' for experimenting.

But there was a major problem to be solved. Maize grain had previously been the raw material in the process. But on Haruku no maize was available. Audus's thoughts turned to his preliminary experiments in Surabaya on the use of mould enzymes to produce a nutrient medium from steamed rice. Picking up where he had left off in Java, he soon isolated a mould fungus that was extremely efficient in converting starch into sugar. This mould turned out to be Rhizopus oryzae, the species used in the production of tempeh kedelai.

Audus described how he finally succeeded:

Kedelai is the soya bean which we were sometimes given to eat but long boiling did nothing to make it digestible in the stomach. Dr Pieters, an Indonesian prisoner arriving with the Amahaiers [Dutch prisoners who had been previously been held at Amahai on Ceram], instructed me in the method the natives use to make it digestible by growing a fungus on it producing tempeh kedelai, a cheese-like material which was then fried in oil. It is an acquired taste but very nutritious. After we had acquired the technique we regularly made the product whenever the beans were provided. The prisoners undoubtedly profited from this protein-rich product.

Then followed weeks of crude but intensive tests to determine the growth conditions for the mould on steamed rice and the optimum temperature for the subsequent killing of the mould with release of the effective enzymes. In this, fate and my dormant optimism had played a crucial part since I still had the thermometer I had made in the Jaarmarkt. The optimum temperature for sugar production determined thereby turned out to be 55 degrees C. Thus encouraged we turned our attention to finding the source of the yeast and following that deciding the final method of bulk production and the assembling and construction of equipment for it.

Yeast was easily isolated from the surface skin of a ripe banana by putting a small piece in some rice digest fortified with cane sugar. The fermentation which followed yielded a healthy suspension of yeast cells.

Bulk production started about Christmastime. For the mass production of the essential rice/fungus mixture we simply `stole' the tempeh kedelai technique. Wooden trays, with sacking bottoms, were filled with inch-thick layers of steamed rice inoculated with the tempeh kedelai fungal spores and sandwiched between layers of large leaves to keep them moist. The fungus was left to grow for 38 to 40 hours, when it had turned the rice layer into a grey, spore-covered 'blanket' which could be lifted entire from a tray. A small portion with its spore content was retained, dried and powdered to provide inoculum for subsequent trays.

'Blankets' were mashed up with a small quantity of water in a large wooden tub and the resultant `porridge' put in 25-litre earthenware carboys originally containing soya sauce for the guards. To this porridge was added boiling rice-washings to dilute it and bring the temperature up to 60 degrees C. The carboys, closed with sterilised wooden bungs, were incubated for 22 hours in 'hot-boxes', old tea chests lined with layers of empty rice sacks, after which up to 80% of the starch had been turned into sugar by the fungal enzymes. The digest, strained through mosquito netting to remove fungal threads and rice cell debris, was diluted with three times its volume of water and sterilised by boiling. After cooling for 22 hours in large steel drums covered with sterile sacks it was inoculated with the yeast culture. The supply of that inoculum had been the province of Dr ten Houten who had maintained it on a concentrated rice digest fortified with cane sugar.

The final drum fermentation lasted 48 hours and was virtually complete by then, thanks to a massive inoculum. That milky suspension of yeast cells was sterilized by heating to 70 degrees C for about 15 minutes in a wajang [large iron wok], cooled and issued in 100 ml doses to the hospital patients and, ultimately, to the whole camp. At that time my central retinal scotomata [blind spots] had become so extensive that all microscopic observations and cell counts had to be done by ten Houten ... The final yield for the bulk production was 50 to 75 million yeast cells per millilitre. That `medicine' was received with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the prisoners since it was not particularly palatable but, as far as I know, no one rejected it.

When the Japanese discovered his secret activity, Audus was hauled up before Lt. Kurashima, the camp commandant, to explain why rice was being wasted to make alcohol. When Audus explained, tongue in cheek, that sterilisation by boiling removed all the alcohol and that the sole aim was to combat avitaminosis, he was excused, on condition that six bottles of the yeast suspension were provided every day for the guards. 'This we did for some days until no empty bottles were forthcoming and the Nips had either forgotten their proviso or lost faith in the efficacy of our product,' said Audus.

According to Dick Philps, Audus achieved a triumph against seemingly insuperable odds. Almost single-handedly, he saved the eyesight of hundreds of men. No cases of optic neuritis occurred after the men went on the yeast ration. The remarkable story of how Audus, ten Houten and van Papenrecht created yeast is an inspiring example of how prisoners in Japanese prison camps used their scientific knowledge and ingenuity to triumph over the most squalid and primitive conditions. Audus went on to become a professor of botany at London University after the war.

p358 Haruku
Flt. Lt. Leslie Audus
described how Mori used a cudgel of split bamboo to beat his victims unmercifully. Kasiyama used a doubled-up length of rope for the same purposes, 'like a crazy man'. At the first tenko after Mori was told that his quota of prisoners could not be met because so many men were ill, the officers were lined up alongside the men and slapped about the head. James Home explained precisely what this entailed: Being slapped by the Japs should not be confused with the playful slaps that may be exchanged by Westerners ...

p360 - Haruku
Work on the airfield was hard, especially for men who weren't used to manual labour, said Leslie Audus. The shadowless, shimmering surface of the projected airfield was baking hot when scorched by the tropical sun but unpleasantly bleak when it rained.

p365-372 Haruku
The number of fatalities continued to mount. By the beginning of July 200 had died. When Mori was feeling generous, he would allow purchases for the hospital. But when one doctor got some eggs, Mori distributed one egg to ten patients. Dr Shimada told the medical officers that if they had no medicines, they must treat the sick with `spirit'. In Japan nobody died of dysentery, he said. So the misery - 'filth, disease, emaciation and death', as Audus put it - continued. By the end of July 243 men were dead.

When Mori had sent all the men who transported food and water to the hospital to work on the airfield in August, one doctor wrote eloquently in his diary:
Now even more difficulties have been placed in our way, notwithstanding the fact that the state of the sick is becoming simply frightful. Extreme emaciation down to skin and bone, numerous infected wounds, skin parasites; pellagra, mental disturbances, gross filthiness, chronic diarrhoea, impaired movement even to the extent of complete paralysis, swollen stomachs and legs due to the enormous accumulation of water, that is the human suffering here, the like of which beggars description. Many howl with pain and abject misery under these hopeless conditions. The fact that there is still a young British soldier who begs me shortly before his death to tell his mother that he `died like a soldier' testifies to the strength of spirit which exceeds all comprehension.

We have nowhere near enough ordinary bandaging material and we experience increasing difficulties in treating innumerable tropical ulcers, infected sores, fungal infections and skin lesions. We just have available a little iodoform, a mixture of tooth powder, aspirin, boric acid and ichthyol and also a little dermatol. The tropical ulcers have gradually become so extensive that we have to admit men to hospital for treatment. Then for a few days they can be tended with bandages soaked in a solution of rivanol, chloramine or potassium permanganate. The only salves, which we sometimes receive in the form of boric and ichthyol ointments [used to treat skin complaints] are presumably made up in unpurified lard so that when we use them eczema is often the result.

The doctors improvised. One 'concoction', used to coat ulcers, was made from Japanese tooth powder, coconut oil and chalk. It formed a hard seal but it was sometimes necessary to keep the patient off his feet. Surgery was often then possible, using a deep incision near the ulcer to drain off stagnant blood; borassic powder was used as an antiseptic. Some men had to have this treatment ten times, but once the battle against infection was won, recovery, as with appendicitis and war wounds, was often rapid. Nonetheless, by 5 September, the death toll was 284.

But it was also in September that Mori finally authorised the building of a bamboo jetty out to sea to serve as a latrine - a request first made by Pitts when they had arrived four months earlier. The 'superloo' was a major landmark in the history of Haruku, said Leslie Audus: its effect on morale could not be overstressed: 'Compare the pleasure of squatting over gently lapping water and gazing out over the blue sea to the beautiful, jungle-covered island of Ceram, with the revulsion and misery of similarly squatting over a trench filled with a stinging writhing soup of yellow faeces and fly maggots.'

Don Peacock was another satisfied customer: The opening of this masterpiece was a great occasion for the Gunzo. He looked on with pride as the first customers arrived and crouched on their haunches over the holes like a troop of bare-bottomed monkeys. The British clutched bunches of leaves; the more practical Dutch each carried a bottle of water suspended from a finger with a piece of string. The Gunzo appeared to consider for a moment these primitive Western ideas of hygiene, then he strolled benignly along the line of squatting men presenting each with a square of Nip toilet paper. As he stood back to see his gifts put to good use, each man, British and Dutch alike, carefully folded up the precious piece of paper and stowed it carefully away. The British used their leaves, the Dutch their water. The Gunzo scratched his head and walked away. Every scrap of paper on the camp, including even the odd Bible, had been used to roll the local tobacco into cigarettes. Toilet paper was certainly much too valuable to be used on backsides.

As Audus observed, if it hadn't been for the 'short-sighted bloodymindedness' of the Japanese, the dysentery epidemic could have been averted and the airfield finished earlier.

The arrival of a party of mostly Dutch prisoners from Amahai in Ceram in October had several effects on Haruku. It also had an effect on the men from Amahai, who were shocked by what they saw, as one naval officer recorded: When we came into the camp through the dank steaming jungle a clammy fear gripped us. There was something indefinably cruel in all the trees and climbing plants which grew over them ... threatening to engulf the damp palm-frond huts of the camp to form a green hell. It was forbidden for the healthy to go into the dysentery huts; a sort of parody of a rule of hygiene, but one day a sailor came and asked me, 'Will you go to visit our big marine sergeant for a while? He would be so happy to see you before he goes.' I slipped into the hut of the `serious dysentery cases' and there, naked, lay a man I once knew as a strong robust chap. Only the eyes were still alive. Maggots crawled over the immeasurably befouled baleh-baleh [bamboo sleeping-platform] and over his dying body. It was impossible for the two orderlies to clean those Augean stables, and it was no use contemplating more orderlies. Everyone had to go to the airfield. Mori took good care of that.

Overcoming their sense of shock, the Amahaiers determined to improve the morale of the Haruku men. So they decided to work hard on the airfield so that it was completed quickly, encouraging the Haruku men to hold on in the hope of returning to Java. They sang and whistled as they marched to the airfield and their attitude impressed the guards as well as the Haruku old-stagers. The guards saw the work accelerating and behaved somewhat more reasonably, said Audus, while the original Haruku men felt themselves challenged and uplifted.

At the time of the Amahaiers' arrival the dysentery epidemic on Haruku was largely over and the main killers were now the vitamindeficiency diseases beri-beri and pellagra. Optical neuritis was also still causing partial or even complete blindness. On 25 November a party of sick men, 'emaciated, naked and several unable to speak or see properly', and 'in rags', left Haruku for Java. The Japanese had at last taken notice of Pitts's appeals to evacuate them from the island. They travelled to Ambon, where many were transferred to the 4600-ton Suez Maru, which sailed on 25 November with about 550 British and Dutch prisoners from Haruku and Ambon. Four days later the American submarine Bone Fish torpedoed the ship. Seven Japanese were rescued; everyone else died, some machine-gunned in the sea by an escorting Japanese corvette. Another 280 sick Haruku men, who sailed the same day, arrived in Java on 21 December. Twenty died on the journey.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the Amahaiers with their determination to work had spurred Mori to improve the camp. New roads with storm gullies, new huts, a parade ground, a new hospital with three wards, and a parade ground were built by officers and men classified as 'sick-in-quarters'. Nursing became easier. The men were also allowed to build fires in their huts and could cook food. There were about eight acres of gardens which grew tomatoes, maize, katella (manioc), sweet potatoes, lambok and other vegetables. The Japanese took the vegetables; the men were given the katella leaves. The men also dug a 20-foot well which then had to be lined with stones and boulders brought back from every visit to the river. If they failed to bring a load back, they were made to return and as a punishment to hold the boulder over their heads. ....

By mid-January 1944, there was no more dysentery and only one or two men were now dying each week. However, on 5 May, a year and a day after their arrival on Haruku, the bombers were the only 'bringers of hope', said Audus. There had been no fruit or fish in the shop for a week and avitaminosis was increasing again. There were no medicines. Most of the men wore only a Jap-happy. ...

During their first five months on Haruku 334 men died. After the seriously ill men left, the sea latrine was constructed, yeast was produced (using the techniques described in Chapter 18) and the gardens started, 'only' 52 died in the last nine months. If only the Japanese had listened. Haruku was gradually closed down in July and August 1944. As the prisoners left the camp, beside the road, hidden in the bushes in the half light, the local population of Haruku had turned out and were playing a tune on bamboo pipes. It was the tune to When this bloody war is over / Oh! How happy I shall be.

Leslie Audus recalled the scene: One will never know whether they chose this tune because of the singularly appropriate words or whether it was a happy chance because the tune is also that of the delightful Salvation Army hymn, Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam and they had clearly been visited by Dutch missionaries. As they understood almost no English, it is probable that it was a happy accident, possibly the happiest accident of a lifetime. Or perhaps - engaging thought - they had heard the men singing it as they marched to work and thought we went to work singing hymns. It was clearly an act of sympathy, of solidarity, because they too had had their share of maltreatment by the Japanese. It was a touching and moving experience.

The last party of half a dozen men, commanded by Audus, departed for Ambon on 1 August, and the gate of the Haruku camp was closed for ever. Had all the sweat, pain, beatings and death been in vain? Audus wondered after the war. It was unlikely that the airfield played any significant role in the Japanese war effort.

15 Sep 20 Geoffrey Glover writes: I found this page yesterday when I was checking on the internet about Professor Leslie Audus. He was my father's best friend [from SGS days together] and they kept in touch until my father died on May 28th 1987, aged 76.

I have the original framed photograph that you have as Late 20s School Photo. I assume my father and Leslie Audus visited Soham in the mid 1980s and were given it.  Unfortunately there is no date on it. On part 5/9, Row 3, no.3 is my father Albert John Glover, and no.4 is Leslie John Audus.

They were both at Cambridge together - my Dad went to Fitzwilliam while Leslie was at Downing. We used to see them annually. My family stayed in touch with him after my Dad died and I last saw him at his 80th birthday party (1991). He stopped writing to us some years later after, I assume, his eyesight deteriorated to the extent it was no longer possible to see. Unfortunately we lost touch then as he must have moved and his family did not stay in contact. In fact I only found out he had died when I looked him up a few years afterwards.

I know my mother wrote to Soham Grammar School when my father died. It had changed name by then but someone did write back to her with condolences.

[Soham Grammar School Admission Register 1922-1926
School Year 1922-23:  406 Albert John Glover
Leslie Audus is not listed - perhaps he entered SGS in the School Year 1921-22, before this volume of the Register.]

Sources: the Internet, Who's Who, The Soham Grammarian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, FE POW Association, The Java Club, BBC, Brian MacArthur

If you can add to this page or correct it, please contact the editor
page last updated 23 Jun 12: 17 Sep 20