Hi, everybody, welcome to Dance Knows History hits, I'm really happy you got the opportunity to replay an old episode from our archive today, Dr. William Frankland, one of the most remarkable men that I've ever met. And I was hugely honored to have him on the podcast. He was born on the 19th of March, 1912. He died last year. He was 108 years old just before his death. I was lucky enough to meet him and learn about an extraordinary life and career.
I say extraordinary on this podcast, but this is extraordinary.
He was a medic during the Second World War. He was captured at Singapore. He suffered at the hands of his Japanese captors during the rest of the war. He then came back to the U.K. He collaborated with Alexander Fleming on penicillin. He experimented on himself, as you'll hear, with almost fatal consequences. He pioneered the daily pollen count and he treated Saddam Hussein for dodgy lungs. He retired at 65, certainly from his job in the NHS, but he continued to work well past 100.
He attended conferences and published articles in journals. As you'll hear in this episode, he was still working on an article just before he died. Deep into his 11th decade, we think that made him the oldest working man in British history. But please let me know if you have another candidate, this podcast. It was a long interview, by the way. You'll hear my daughter doing some coloring in the background. Her pennies dropped on the floor. Occasionally I thought it's very cool.
I took her to meet him. So she was born in 2011 and she was able to hang out a few pictures taken and learn some things from a guy who was born before the First World War. Very, very special indeed.
If you wish to hear the second episode of this podcast, it's available like all of our podcasts on history hit Dot TV, it's our digital history channel. You've got podcasts on there. We got TV shows on there. You can watch this interview with Bill Franklin. It was recorded as well. So you can watch the whole thing on history hit dot TV. In this first episode, he talks about life before and during the Second World War for the Saddam Hussein stuff.
You got to head to history at Dot TV, but enjoy this podcast with a very, very special man indeed. Very much missed. Dr. William Frankland.
So tell me about this remarkable man that we're about to go and meet. Well, he is actually quite remarkable, 116 years and a half born two and a half years before the outbreak of the First World War, a man who qualified in medicine 10 years before the NHS. So that's 80 years ago. And then he served his country prisoner of war, the Japanese, for three and a half years on the day before it fell. He made sure many of the nurses actually got out of Singapore onto the safety of a ship, a prisoner for, say, three and a half years.
Then afterwards, he came home, put it all behind him, developed a career in medicine. He developed the whole area of clinical psychology. He worked for two years for a gentleman called Sir Alexander Fleming. He developed the pollen count. And more recently, about 40 years ago, he was summoned to Baghdad to treat Saddam Hussein. And he did that a couple of times. And as he said, that gentleman was my most appreciative patient.
Where did your relationship with him begin? How did you become his biographer?
It all happened about four years ago. I was introduced to him through the then chief executive, the Not Forgotten Association, a charity which was founded in 1919, a historian who introduced me to him. From that, we became friends. And then two years ago, I was asked to do a sort of question and answer session with Dr Frankland at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
And from that it snowballed, as you would say. I asked him who was going to write his biography because I knew it had to be written and he said, you.
And that's been the last two and a half years. The biography is called, by the way. It's called From Hell Island to Hay Fever The Life of Dr Bill Frankland. And to explain that Hell Island is the name that they gave to Blank Komati, which is now you and I know a Sentosa, where more recently Donald Trump met the leader of North Korea and hay fever. Of course, Bill has been instrumental in the development of treatment and prevention of pollen allergies.
And talk to me, I mean, one of the most amazing things of the many remarkable things about this gentleman is that he's continued to work well after his 1998 alone, after his 100th birthday, hasn't he?
He has indeed. He was last seen patients merely an advisory role, as he will tell us when he was 105. He has published for peer reviewed scientific papers since he was 100 and is currently as we sit here or stand here today, he's working on the next one, which is again, about one of his real main interest is the development of how someone discovered penicillin, where these moulds were. And he'll tell you that you can find reference to them in the Bible, in the Old Testament.
So they've been around a long, long time.
So not only is in the Second World War extraordinary, lustrous medical career, he's probably the oldest person currently still working in the UK. Well, who knows? Let us know. Read listeners.
Let us know if that's true. That may well be the case. Certainly he is Britain's oldest doctor. As I say, he qualified ten years before the NHS and people might like to think. Then he'd heard about penicillin from Alexander Fleming when he was being lectured to him, but it wasn't available. He is the oldest former eastern prisoner of war. He is probably the oldest former serving officer in the British army. And certainly he is the oldest former serving military doctor.
I'm not going to meet him now. It's always, always interest to take your advice on how to approach veterans of the Far East, because it can be very traumatic talking about their experiences. What is he willing to share some of those memories? He will and he will share them graphically.
He will tell you, for example, and it is in the book, as he says, When the camp party were in the camp, there was the smell of death. Everyone was fair. Some of it he saw people being killed. He saw people being tortured, and he saw people just dying because he could not provide adequate medical treatment, because the Japanese would not provide the medical supplies that they needed.
Did he have the Japanese even attempt to work with him, give him any status as a doctor, or was he just a just another. No, no, no. Just another prisoner of war.
He was treated as an officer by the Japanese. He was singled out, unfortunately, like many of the other officers, to be humiliated by being beaten in front of the men. This is the way in which the Japanese tried to break the structure within the units. And so he suffered. I'll tell you, one time he came again very close to death because of a beating from the Japanese. And he is the man who was saved from having to work at the Aleksandra Military Hospital in Singapore by literally the toss of a coin.
And without that toss of a coin, he would have been certainly killed on the 14th of February, 1942.
Well. Thank goodness that you've been around to to record this story as his biographer. The book, again, is From Howe Island to Hay Fever. Paul Watkins, thank you very much indeed. Now we're going to go in for Dr. Franklin.
Thank you very much for having me to sit in your world. This is your office as well. It's not just where you live. And I sleep here very often, but because you're still working, I'm still working. Have determined to produce an article on the age of 106. I didn't finish writing it. And then, of course, it has to be accepted by I should have a journal and so on. But it's very interesting learning all sorts of new things about famous people that I've been involved with so well.
I hope I'm still making these shows when I'm 106 years old, that's for sure. So you were born. Let's get this clear. When were you born? In 1912, before the First World War. And I remember the First World War quite well. And that because my father went away, what I remember him coming back and what joyful than usual, you came back from France and you must've been terribly worried about him. Well, I was too young, really, but my mother made it to us.
And so then when he was going, he had a J.B. injection and he went off to Salonika and then Alexandria in Egypt. But when you had this injection, the vaccine, they couldn't everyone, although he was having all the services, were having a him attempt at a very short run. And I remember we were out on the sun, used to go in the bed. You know, he was really ill. Had I thought he'd been wounded.
Well, you know, I mean, was he a doctor in day?
And he did a fashion, but when he married, they had their honeymoon in New York and then he saw it. Some island in Canada for my first two years, my two and my oldest brother and sister were both born in Canada. And they came back to this country and eventually they finished up north in the lake of water. And he did as a padre in the first world, you know, and interesting, he had a brown, which I didn't wear them.
No, but I took it from him. And I have pictures of me where he is in uniform. What's happened to I saw his webbing and you wore his webbing for the first one. Born into the second one. Yes, I did. And did he did he talk about his experiences in the war?
No, almost. All right. I mean, when he was in Alexandria and Cairo is a lovely postcard, sort of the Sphinx and the pyramids. And I love these. I said, remember them coming? And I thought, this is my oldest. And why did you join up in the Second World War? I thought there's going to be a war. And I was doing a locum job to earn some money because people don't seem to realise it as far as the national health is concerned, that when I qualified, they needed job and submerged hospital.
You weren't paid anything at all for six months. They gave you a bed and a room and a telephone, which was they show you what I do again, do locums locum in a psychiatric hospital. Um, and I was there for five months and thoroughly enjoyed it. And then I thought with what was happening politically, it's going to be war. So when September came along, I went back to my old Army hospital, which I had done previously, where they actually paid you a pound today.
And so I arrived there on September the 1st war started on September the 3rd. I remember that very well. Of course, all the regular doctors and other people all left and I was left on my own, the vast number of beds in isolation hospital. And I was working 16 hours a day, but I thoroughly enjoyed. We had an outbreak of meningitis, which I treated 100 patients with one death, and he was he had an abscess in the brain and we also had a very rare disease, just a complication of mumps amongst Australians.
And they presented with this complaint, which is called encephalitis, which is a new treatment for it, that we just put them in bed and and simply symptomatic. We don't remember doctor coming in. And he said, well, they're they present exactly the same way as a meningitis case, which you say is very urgent. And you have to sort the sulfonamide which are available then that these other people who don't even lumbar puncture and you don't give them any treatment, how do you distinguish them?
They're vomiting high temperature. The neck is back in because they've got sweating. And I said it's very easy. They're all Australian and they're suffering from this rare disease of so-called encephalitis, which there's no treatment.
And when did you and when did you get posted overseas with the army? I did.
One year. Exactly. It sort of related with where I had these vast number of beds and there wasn't really for six months. And it meant that I had to do not go to the isolation. I was at six o'clock in the morning and some of the nights of however I was there for one year. And then I went to the roadwork regiment, which is in Warwick and Regiment, and I had my own hospital there and it was overstaffed. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself because I could treat quite sick people because it was possible.
And that was exactly one year there. And then one year, one day I had three letters, two of them telling me that I had to go to somewhere else in England. But the other one was that I was going to go to the outside. I didn't exactly have it. I had to have a tropical medicine course, which was three months. And, you know, I was it was two days. And you said I could recognize you there and said that's exactly two years.
One year. One year I was on the way. So I was what I thought was the middle age. In fact, when we got to Devon years instead of when we got to Cape Town. That's right. Most of the convoy went to beliefs and a small group went to Singapore. And I was on that group.
And you got Singapore just in time for the Japanese to invite? Well, in fact, it was very interesting, having been bombing of London and and Coventry and so on, that when you want to think about all the lights are on and there's no sign that there's a war going on anywhere. And this was actually exactly seven days before Pearl Harbor was started and that particular Sunday. And so was Singapore quite fun initially? Yes, it was. And I was taken to the cricket club to show how they played there for years and years and years.
And Tandyn Club, which is a very snobbish where you could go go there and play tennis and you just enjoy yourself. But I still remember the day it was Sunday night. The Japanese resides at Pearl Harbor. They said they sent three bombers to Singapore and they all dropped their bombs to say, you know, we've sold the war. But one of the bombs. Have you ever heard a bomb coming down? I heard this bomb coming down. I thought the plane was overhead.
It was the only time in my whole war experience that I very quickly went under my bed just thinking that it might be hitting me. In fact, I'm incredibly close. I was lucky it worked. But people always ask me, have I lived so long? And I just say, look, look, look, I've been there so many times, but I've only just escaped and that's why I'm alive. So the first time you were very near death was in Singapore on the BBC on the day of Pearl Harbor.
Well, no. Before then, when we arrived on the third day, I. And. Medical officer just told to go to a field hospital or something like that, and for three days we were I mean, I even had to Batman and I have never had this before. But he looked at about your personal sort of seven. There was everything. And I remember the first evening he came in and he said, I normally undress my schedule.
You might remember your trousers and taking about. I said, yes, I do. And then an officer came from the headquarters in Singapore and said, you two people. But now it doesn't work. This is just the war, another war three days away. And you said there are two hospitals. The ones are called a military hospital and dermatology. And the and the other is is the Alexander Military Hospital, which I was I looked at it looked a little like Buckingham Palace.
It was a vast place. There was a main hospital. And there you will be in the minor operation room giving in to the patient. The other one is a lot of tropical houses and things like that. And I said, well, I I'm a very bad news is I don't want to go there. And I like seeing conventional things like that. I want to do. And the other doctor said the same. So what happened to the officer who had come to tell us where to go?
Put his hand in the pocket. Took the coin out and said Franklin called the coin and it was head. And so I went where I went and that doctor that went into the other place. But however, emerged on the 14th of February 1942. To my understanding, the following is the first time I had a real game changer in my life.
So I think we're going to call this. So we're going to call this the nine lives of Dr. Bill Franklin. So so the one life is you're almost always dropped a bomb on you in December 41. You know, I could even say you have an identical twin with twins and they weighed three pounds, one ounce. And my twin brother, three pounds when one of us and my mother didn't even know she was having twins. But we were very premature in those days.
The chances of living premature, small with small. But I knew she had to.
Okay, so that's like let's count. We're going to count that one as well. So being born and surviving the first three days, then going and going to Singapore, getting bombed by Japanese, then tell me about when war when you arrived in Singapore, did you expect there would be a war in the Far East? I did. We had an intelligence officer in the first year of the war and he said it was quite likely the Japanese would eventually come in.
And when they shot it or he said it would be a most peculiar beginning and almost said, you know, someday we so many people to be aware that he is right and.
You're listening to Dance News History, and it's a podcast we recorded a couple of years ago with National Treasure, Dr. Bill Frankland. More after this. So it didn't come as a complete shock to you that the British Empire was at war with Japan. But did their rapid advance surprise you? Yes, of course, the Japanese people or what was going on and we didn't do anything about aeroplanes and airplanes that were better than ours. And we thought we've got some good ones.
But to begin with, the beginning of all of it was an old fashioned airplane, which they stop using in a previously because they said it never trained. You wanted to go to Singapore and you find that was the first defence pegs which were too old and so did so.
Your commanding officer to sort of dismiss the Japanese, they just said they were inferior. And there's nothing to what you said to begin with. And you learn within a few days. Well, you learn from the day that war was declared and when you saw their fighter planes and. They just were so good in shooting down the defense of Singapore, it wasn't impenetrable, very much the same. But you is the airforce that we had defending Singapore. It was just awful.
And as the Japanese then invaded Malaya, did you start having to treat a stream of battlefield casualties? No. No. There. So you came to know them in there. And that's quite a long way off. And most of the better casualties in those days were treated locally. But in fact, the Japanese soldiers advancing. Everyone said there were no roads and then there was one big road. And if and before the war, you could buy a bicycle, ride a bicycle very, very cheaply.
And so then at the beginning, they got on the one road that was there and they went homosexuals. And they just use that as a means of going down successfully, as it were.
And when did you when did you actually think, hold on, I might personally be in danger or I'm going to be on the front line? Was it when the great battleships were sunk off the coast or was it when the Japanese appeared in front of Singapore? They were coming down all the time. And I thought even in the very early days, well and good, you know, get out of this. Really? Oh, but we didn't know then some of the atrocities were happening and so on.
But, you know, even so, you know, everyone and a lot of civilians were coming down to Singapore. I was on the brink of a nice girl. And she said, you can have it for a hundred pounds. I said, no, it's no use at all. I'm not going. So I was not really factual. It just came down and never stopped them. And then tell me about the fighting for Singapore itself. And at that stage, you must have been treating casualties way there, actually, because the front line was on the island.
Is there's another thing. Usually the reason they fought so well was that if they died fighting, they wanted to live in heaven. You can in any other way. And if they were taken prisoner, they wouldn't be allowed to go back to Japan or anything like that. And people don't realize, I mean, how many prisoners did we take in the whole campaign of it? Well, I know we we had four Japanese prison and I looked out in the military hospital and they didn't want to leave.
And three of them had the paratroopers and had been picked up unconscious. And one of them had a medicine that was a close quarters in the jungle. And they both had a pistol. And this man had a wound, which in fact had collapsed lung. And he was just in the edge of his heart and lungs was infected. So I remember this Japanese Japanese who were trying to keep me alive. I don't want to be kept alive. And I said, no, it's my duty to do that at the same time, of course.
So we know that campaign for Japanese prisoners and they got from that finally got away to Colombo, Sri Lanka. And I wish I wish them well in time. But I also looked after we had a terrible superspy. It was also in jail and he had been found guilty of spying for the Japanese. And he have been, you know, a. Surveillance. Oh, yeah, I know more than here because it was so efficient in everything you did and they didn't know what he was, it wasn't it was always going from one unit in, you know, me up in the know what they do is about a year before the war started, they sent him to Japan to learn Japanese.
Well, I should say he was a man who was considered. Was he a spy even then? And what they do and he loved Japanese, but he learned all sorts about how to use cameras. How do you use what I'm told? And so he told the Japanese, when you got back that way, he did them all the strength of the Army and Air Force and or in the plane about how quickly they could go and everything. That's before the rebels came along.
And I was very worried when the prince of Wales and we were doing badly and everything was going on. But here, what was he doing in Java? And Smarter and the Japanese were in charge here on of the papers and everything that I love, all sorts of secret things in that regard, things which in those days was unproper. And they said if it was attacked by a plane, they knew it was coming from and so on, when they when they actually were attacked, the response was actually hit by a bomb on the very first three plane that came over and that it hit this area.
And I think the Prince of Wales was attacked from every side. The planes came in with each other, as it were, and the carrying danger and some of them had crashed. It was a certain death for them. And very interesting because in the papers here, when they arrived, these two battleships, they were all that. If it kept quiet about it, everyone would have known. I thought that was wrong. And then they went on to this.
I'm not sure whether the spy that I was involved in gave them and gave this phony message that Captain Phillips, who is in charge of the principle that a lot of they were told that had a lot of Japanese were arriving on the East Coast in November and that's they went to without any level of protection and so on. So they went they went to the dorm, as it were, out of it. And it's very interesting because I remember reading it that we had in that particular episode, we destroyed 34 Japanese planes.
Now, I also read the book was it when the price of war that I read how many planes they lose? And they said something in 79, I think it was. Yes, that's right. Seventy nine planes and not a very long way. And they ran out of petrol and that's why they didn't crash. But they were willing to die for their never Naprosyn.
So tell me about the fall of Singapore, the fighting, the vicious fighting just in the hours before, and then the surrender. What do you know about that? What could you see going on?
Well, the question was whether they were in Holborow, which is the main thing that this very narrow vision of seemed to cross to Singapore and where they come. And there was there was this one bridge which took over everything in Singapore to the to the mainland. Would they come to one side, this side of it on the other side of it? And the person or who was the commanding officer thought to see the whole thing, right? That's right.
In fact, he came on the other side, interestingly, when I was actually a prisoner of war, an officer, a Japanese officer came along and he told me the day before they had come out of the mainland on the Singapore island, he had himself come over to Singapore to see where they should where they were in danger. And he did. And he came back again with these sort of little things, you know, jumpsuit. And he said just swamps and.
Yeah, and he made quite a few drunken troops. And he said, this is the place where they to go. And then and she said. Blew up the bridge, but the Japanese invasion. I think they did, and they just came over with with tanks. There's another thing that you stand for even in the north of. Well, there was one very good ridge from the north, right to the south. And that's what they use, those vehicles and tanks.
We couldn't do it. And what what do you remember of the fighting? What did you witness it? We walked away with casualties. I was a surgeon. I was a physician. And I was looking after their people at the time. And I can't remember what day it was, but I knew it was a very special having landed in Singapore and doing very well. And finally at long distance mortars and I was at a military hospital and the reach Goodrich's.
So the frontline of the Japanese are very close to me. And I finally left. But I was in the last lorry that actually left where they came from. But I still remember the driver. He was a local driver and he didn't have shoes. And of course, the motors were coming on the road that we road you saw just in front of you a of a hole in the road, which is smoke. And this was a moment when the mortars and we hope for get hit.
So he said, instead of going slowly, are going fast and most terrifying journey I've ever been. And you should remember seeing his big toe on the accelerator went down as far as he would go. But we went back to and I finished up on the right sort of side of Singapore and had my own hospital there. And it was it was full of that. It was very like I said, he loved it when it was empty. So that's where my patients are very sick patients, basically, as it were.
And we survived.
I put it down as another one of your lives. So I think we're on four so far. But my cousin, who was some marvellous regular doctor and time he had, just as I was leaving, was hit in in the office. He was able to move. He got in the mood for but he literally lost his head, so to speak. Was that so that his widow is in Perth, Australia, wasn't there for a year, that her husband had been killed?
And on the question and she she finally said, I know what I'll do. I write to the British Medical Centre and more of it to see if Captain Franklin was still alive. And can you read the contract? He was full of duty in the letters that she received in Perth. So much about the bridge. You get all sorts of things. But when he was using his car, he lent it to me and I could use your car and go about which I had never met a girl who was willing to do this to a lowly captain.
If this is a silly question. So I apologise. But when when your commanding officer has been decapitated, when you're driving on a road with mortars going off you, are you terrified? Are you thinking about the job you've got to do?
Are you thinking about survival, what's uppermost or what was uppermost? I thought about how long a road journey I've ever done in going to an expansion of all these potholes. And you are very much personally involved in that, where you're going to reach the far end and where is it going to be?
Tell me about the surrender to the Japanese. When did you hear about it? Well, certainly because of the 15th of February, 1942, by Black Friday and Friday the 13th of February, 1942, you come all over the world because in a Singapore city and they had you in charge of the reservoirs and the water and the water was being extremely scarce and got four years later on. It's very annoying when you've only got what was in your water bottle that had to last you for two or three days.
You could wash your face and you know that your hands. No, you drink. What is it? We have Friday the 13th. The war is all over, but on the 15th, they capitulated and told people that was the day that I was officially a prisoner of war. I didn't see a Japanese for 15 days. They were quick. They went to into some outrage and so on. And they had no plans. And I didn't realize what was really happening.
I had no plans that they could take a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers to do that to me then and then. And I was in my thoughts and didn't go out to the main camp, which the Australians and the British were in until I was 14 or 15 to 17 miles. But I didn't know where it came from. But I was in an already with some sick people. But earlier on in the old regime, people had to march 17 miles and that was a total prison.
So I was lucky I stopped to chat and so on and had visited, given a job to look of the second job because we had a lot of very good physicians and surgeons, actually. And when did it become clear that this was going to be a pretty brutal experience as a prisoner of war? Well, the main thing that happened in the early days and certainly subsequently we had a very, very poor diet. And the main thing you thought about when you're starving and this happened very quickly, food, food, food, food and was going to happen to you and so on.
And we didn't hear about all the atrocities on the railway death railway, which is another thing. I was, in fact, down to go and watch it for whatever was in your letters, and 50000 people who had to suddenly and go in several JLG up to towards Thailand. But certainly when people came back from down from the railway, when it was all getting up, we heard about all the atrocities. But the other thing is that if you tried to escape, they said you would be shot.
Well, in Britain, there was nothing to stop them trying to escape. Every now and again, I first of the five people tried to escape. What were you going to go? You had to cross seemed to whole room with jungle tyres and things. And how could you live and how they were all shot that they were shot. And then about six months later, another five people were killed, three of them were shot and they got thrown to the mainland or let them or trying to get back to safety in the war camp.
And one of them was slashed by Japanese sword. The officers always had their families ordered and it left hanging useless with the skin. And he actually got back and another boat got back. How they got back to safety, I don't know. But Japanese looked upon him as someone that was very, very lucky. And he'd done the impossible thing trying to escape. And everyone answered that shoot him. So I. I end up when I got him, he couldn't walk and couldn't do anything, just a skeleton.
But after two months, I finally said, in three days time you can go back to your unit because he could walk in and join. But what happened can be awful. Japanese police. One man came along and he came along to me, as it were, and this man was really upset and he got to go outside and dig your own grave. Well, he was too weak to do that shit, but they had brought a boat with him sink.
There were six or seven, six Japanese. They were made to dig it. And then the next thing. He was granted that he could have deported before his last few days, so we knew what was happening. The policeman said he got seven, six, and he said, no, you can shoot this man. And it was only one bullet, in fact, shot, which involves his leg. And all of those were missing. We were all set to shoot the next French and German.
And so it's a firing squad of his own. His own mates. Yeah. And at the age of 16, 17, 18 members said, of course. And then he came up and just shot him in the back of the head of the pistol and put him in a grave and and had to set up the pavement. So that was a very personal tragedy, because when you've been with a man every day for two months, you get to know them in some well and just been hit.
He's taken from you. And just then, you know, he shot you see what happened afterwards?
And allow us to create a strong bond in the history of our country. Paul. Just a quick message at the end of this podcast, I got a little tiny favor to ask if you could go to get your podcasts, if you could give it a five star rating, if you could share it, if you could give it a review. I really appreciate that. But from the comfort of your own homes, you'll be doing me a massive favor.
Then more people list the podcast. We can do more and more ambitious things and everything will be awesome. So thank you so much.