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The captured RAF Chaplain-in-Chief’s cross


Many of the objects included in The RAF in 100 Objects offer poignant reminders of extremely difficult times in remote places far away from home. One such object that shows courage under adversity is a standing metal cross that once belonged to The Venerable (Air Vice-Marshal) Alan Giles, the RAF’s Chaplain-in-Chief from 1953-59, who had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese during the Second World War.

At the time Japan entered the war in December 1941, Giles was the RAF’s Senior Chaplain in Singapore and the Far East. With the arrival of Japanese forces imminent, his family were evacuated from Singapore but Giles volunteered to stay behind with the defending troops.

Although he initially managed to escape Singapore just before the British surrender - despite his small boat being hit twice by bombs - he was later captured in Batavia (modern day Jakarta) and spent the rest of the war in captivity.

During his time as a prisoner of the Japanese, Giles was interred in ten different camps, the principal camp being at Sourabaya on the Indonesian island of Java. Worship was forbidden in the camps but Giles continued to provide spiritual welfare to the prisoners. The cross was secretly made inside the camp, using small scraps of metal collected by the prisoners, and for administering the Holy Communion one prisoner carved a simple wooden box to hold communion wafers.

Simply but lovingly crafted, these two objects became in time symbols of faith, courage and hope in a situation of extreme deprivation, hardship and cruelty. They were central to the work of the chaplains in the camp and were successfully concealed from the Japanese guards for the duration of the war. At one camp, Holy Communion was held in a drain while look-outs were posted to warn those prisoners participating of the approach of any camp guards. Many prisoners who would not normally have classed themselves as religious found great strength and comfort in such a horrific situation from the hope that faith gave.

Giles was able to bring the two objects home at the end of the war. In recognition of his conduct as a prisoner of war he was awarded the Order of the British Empire and was mentioned in despatches. After heading the Chaplains’ Branch, he retired from the RAF and was the Dean of Jersey until 1970. Alan Giles died in 1975 at the age of 72. Today the metal cross and wooden box are on display in the RAF Chaplain-in-Chief’s office at Headquarters Air Command, RAF High Wycombe.

By Peter Jacobs

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