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Stroud resident releases book on the incredible story of her parents’ time in a WW2 prisoner of war camp

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Author: Thomas Hadfield, Posted: Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 09:00

Ronny, Pat and Catherine. Photo: George Stewart Ronny, Pat and Catherine. Photo: George Stewart

It would be fair to say Merilyn Brason had something of an unorthodox childhood.

She experienced a nomadic upbringing in countries all over the world, including China, Nigeria and the Channel Islands, before studying in London at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and then emigrating to Australia aged 21.

But perhaps the most astonishing part of her childhood came right at the start.

That's because Merilyn was born just six weeks after her parents arrived in England, after being liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Now living in Eastcombe, near Stroud, she has written a book detailing her mother’s experiences in the camp.

“My mother spent my childhood writing notes about what she’d been through,” explained Merilyn.

“When she died my sister Catherine – who was born in the camp – began collecting her things together.

“Sadly my sister died around 5 years ago which is when I came across the notes, and I thought it was important to compile them and write the book my mother always intended to.”

Merilyn’s mother Ronny Rynd grew up in Gloucestershire and attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

In 1941, she and her husband Pat were in the Philippines – Pat was working in the capital Manila whilst Ronny, who was six months pregnant, visited the northern mountain town of Baguio.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbour they were caught up in the Japanese attack on the Philippines, which at the time was United States territory.

They and thousands of other British, American and European citizens were interned in prisoner of war camps, with Ronny six months pregnant.

Ronny was forced to raise Catherine in unimaginable conditions, living in degradation with starvation and disease rife.

“My mother was an extraordinary woman, survival was the name of the game,” said Merilyn, who worked for many years as a psychotherapist before retiring.

“She was incredibly vulnerable but risked confrontation to get permission to be moved to the Manila camp to be with my father.”

Following the American liberation of the Philippines in 1945, Ronny, Pat and Catherine returned to England where Merilyn was born.

And Merilyn says that whilst she knew of her parents’ experiences, they told her about the community and friendships they built in the camps, rather than the hardship they went through.

“Growing up my parents would always talk about their time in the camps,” she said.

“But they would also put a positive slant on things – I never heard about the horrors.”

It was only when Merilyn started her research for the book that she realised what they had really experienced.

“It was extraordinary,” she continued, “I learned far more about them than I thought I would.

“I managed to get in contact with people who were in the camps with them and found photos of them.

“They were mostly from America but I actually even met two people here in Gloucestershire who were imprisoned there too.”

After spending close to five years compiling research and Ronny’s notes, Merilyn is excited to share her mother’s story with the world – 2020 also marks the significant anniversary of 75 years since the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the prisoner of war camps.

‘The Bamboo Bracelet’ is the first book she has ever written – “I have absolutely enormous respect for people who write for a living after doing this!” she laughed.

It will be published at the end of April, thanks in part to a Kickstarter campaign which raised over £2,500.

“I was talked into doing it (crowdfunding) by my son,” added Merilyn. “It was very successful, we raised well over what we were aiming for.”

“To receive support from friends and family was one thing, but for complete strangers to donate and believe in the book was extraordinary.”

Other Images

Ronny Rynd
Catherine after the liberation of the camps. Photo: George Stewart
Catherine (front) with friends (Left to right) Wendy, Jim, Judy, Michael and Mary Frances following liberation. Photo: George Stewart
Aerial photo of Santo Tomas

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