Chapters in Chichester printer’s history

The cover of "Guest" of the Imperial Japanese Army (1942-45)
The cover of "Guest" of the Imperial Japanese Army (1942-45)

A FORMER book binder has given the Observer a glimpse into Chichester’s printing history – and our own.

David Parker, of Windsor Road, Chichester, got in touch after a book he printed in 1993 was rediscovered at his brother’s house in Spain.

The find reminded David of his time working at RJ Acford (RJA) from 1958 to 1988 and he has shared an RJA promotional booklet and his 1993 book – “Guest” of the Imperial Japanese Army (1942-45).

RJA, originally based in Little London, was once the printer of the Observer.

At the time the booklet was printed, the company had moved to the industrial estate.

“RJ Acford Ltd have been producing high-quality books at Chichester for many years,” states the booklet.

“The new factory, purpose-built on the Industrial Estate in 1946 and recently enlarged, now employs 250 people, and has under one roof the complete facilities for letterpress composition, machining and binding of hard-cased, limp and perfect bound books.”

“Lots of people used to work there because it was the best-paid factory job around,” said David.

“Originally, Acford printed the Observer when it was down in Little London and then it became Chichester Press I think.”

David worked at the company for 30 years but in the late 1980s everything changed.

“We all got made redundant in 1988 and the place burned down the following year,” he said. “I think the dairies bought it out who were next door.”

David has few mementos of his time at the factory but his wife’s cousin left with a unique souvenir.

“In the foyer, there was a big plaque sat there and there was supposed to be four gold sovereigns behind it,” he said. “We took the plaque down but we didn’t find any gold.”

After being made redundant, David set up his own book-binding business at St James Industrial estate, running from 1988 to 1998.

“I went out on my own for ten years binding books and doing thesis for kids,” said David.

One of the jobs David took on was for former local football referee Harold Skinner.

David bound ‘between 50 or 60’ copies of Harold’s account of his time as a Japanese prisoner of war.

Harold was a prisoner of war from 1942 to 1945.

As a wartime soldier, after eight months’ training as a wireless and line operator at Catterick, Harold sailed a member of M Division, Royal Corps of Signals in January, 1941.

The book recounts nine months of peace and war in Malaya and Singapore in the form of a poem which Harold wrote during his internment.

It also relates his experiences of prisoner of war life in Changi and Selarang, followed by 22 months labouring on the infamous Railroad of Death in Thailand.

Following his time on the railway, Harold was transported to further forced labour in Japan on the ‘hell ships’, Osaka Maru and – after shipwreck – Hakasan Maru.

Finally, in 1945 he was liberated and repatriated via Okinowa, Manila, Canada and the liner Ile de France.

Here is an excerpt from Harold’s poem, Memoirs from Malaya, written at Changi prisoner of war camp on April 14, 1942.

When we lost the reservoirs we knew the end was near

‘Twas ‘over bar the shouting’; the ‘tomorrow’ our new fear!

As on that fifteenth evening of the second month of the year

We drooped our heads in silent through, as we heard the ‘last all clear’.

Two days later we started on a n’er be-forgotten tramp –

Fifteen miles to Changi, now for us a prison camp:

Having sorted our belongings, slung all across our backs;

With personal possessions stowed safely in our packs.

Now Malaya’s fate decided, nought but contempt is due

the Japanese, who scruples were known to be so few.

For they followed a well earned victory by forgetting we were men,

When Singapore surrendered and was renamed Syonan.

Harold’s book includes a copy of the farewell speech given at No 9 Nagoya Camp Ohirota Camp on September 3, 1945.

Below is an excerpt from that speech.

As Japan has been waging war for nine years, she has become depleted in food, medicines and other materials and is short of all supplies. Before the dropping of supples by air, owing to the isolated nature of this camp among the mountains, Captain Kubo and Sgt Pira have been absent from time to time scouring the country for food, now we are all friends once more and Captain Kubo would like to give you all a present but owing to the shortage of supplies that is not possible, but he feels that if his wish that you all have good health is fufilled, that will be a good present to you.”

The speech goes on to wish all the prisoners ‘health and happiness’ and concludes: “To those that believe in happiness God will grant happiness.”