IT might be more than 70 years ago but Barbara Anslow can still clearly remember what it was like to be a prisoner of war.

Aged just 23 Barbara, her mother, and two sisters, were sent with 2,500 others to Camp Stanley in Hong Kong where they would remain for almost four years.

She kept a diary throughout and now, as she approaches her 100th birthday in December, she has achieved a long-held hope of having it published.

As well as her daily thoughts, worries and hopes from that period Tin Hats and Rice also features personal accounts from her younger sister Mabel and their mother, Mabel Winifred, who were, respectively, VAD and civilian nurses during the Japanese attack on and capture of Hong Kong in 1941.

Barbara, who now lives in Kirby-le-Soken with her daughter Maureen Rossi, explains the family were living in Hong Kong where her father William Redwood was posted as a Naval Electric Engineer.

During a scare in 1940, his family had been evacuated to safety but when they reached Manila they learned William had died suddenly, aged just 47, and they turned back to deal with matters.

They were not re-evacuated and on Christmas Day 1941 Hong Kong fell and they were seized and taken to separate locations.

Barbara says: “They were awful little dingy rooms which now I realise were probably brothels.

“My mother and sisters were in other places, I didn’t see them for about a month.

“Pre-war we had a Chinese Amah, a housekeeper that lived with us and looked after us, her name was Ah Ding and she was allowed to come and see me and bring me some things.

“And I asked her to bring me my 1941 diary when she next came, which she did and I am so grateful to her for that, as it had many empty spaces which I used for camp diaries.

She would remain in Camp Stanley for the next three and a half years, living with 25 others in cramped rooms more suited to a family of four.

“It actually was not as bad as it could have been.

“There were mainly women and children and some men in our camp.

“There was far more brutality in the men’s prison camps but there was always that feeling of fear, and the risk of malnutrition because there wasn’t much food.

“It was mainly just rice twice a day for almost four years.

“You could draw it dry and cook it yourself but it was hard to get the equipment going to do that.

“We did have terrible stews, and chives in the rice but I never really liked either of those before and I have never eaten rice since.

“It was very crowded in the rooms. My mum and my sisters and I were all in one very small room and that is how we lived for the entire time we were there.”

She says some people who misbehaved were beaten.

“At one stage some secretly used wirelesses were discovered by the Japanese with some of the prisoners and they were taken away and beheaded.”

But she says it was the uncertainty of what might happen that kept everyone constantly on high alert.

“There was that feeling there might be a massacre at the end if the Allies tried to attack Hong Kong and we feared we would be gonners,” she says.

Barbara filled her days by throwing herself into camp life.

“We got quite well organised setting up a school roster for the 200 children and putting on concerts and talks.

“I wrote plays for the children, anybody could get on the stage.

“There were 20 children born during the time we were there and I registered their births because I also worked in the camp’s hospital office while were there.”

Later two of those babies, now grown up, would come and track her down.

Barbara, who had been in the ARP Dept office before she was imprisoned, and her sisters went from living what she describes as quite a pampered life to living a very basic lifestyle.

They had little soap and what was issued was actually the kind you wash clothes with.

“It dissolved quite quickly and we didn’t have baths, just strip washes.

“Occasionally we could walk to a nearby beach and wash in the sea, which was just lovely but it was a heavy walk there and back and we were all very weak so it was not always possible to go.”

During the time they were at Camp Stanley it was bombed.

“We were bombed, by the allies, by mistake and 16 people were killed.

“That and the beheadings made us realise how helpless we were there.

“There was no-one to appeal to, it made us all very nervous.”

On August 17 1945, after rumours had circulated, they heard the news the war was over.

Despite not knowing at first what would happen to them, the family were released and left Hong Kong.

“I thought I would never go back but within a year I had gone back again.”

Her younger sister, also called Mabel, married her fiancee on her return journey to England. Barbara met Frank Anslow in the Government hostel and the two became friends.

When he went to Australia to visit his parents, he sent for her to join him.

“We weren’t really courting even but I hoped he was asking me to marry him, even though the telegram didn’t say that,” she says.

After an uncomfortable four week journey on a container ship they did indeed marry - going on to have five children and remaining together for 53 years.

Ten years ago she took her children back to Hong Kong and in 2015 read a commemorative poem at a special VJ celebration in Horse Guards Parade, London, to mark the 70th anniversary of VJ day.

Extracts from her diary were published online after an appeal from Hong Kong-based David Bellis which led to a publisher expressing interest in turning it into a book.

* Tin Hats and Rice by Barbara Anslow is available from Caxton Books in Frinton and online priced at £13.99.