‘Finest man I have ever met’

 

Ben Wheeler (1910-1963) is a celebrated WWII hero and doctor that acted as “life, parent and guiding star” for his fellow prisoners at the Kinkaseki POW Camp in Taiwan.
Major Wheeler, like Murray “Iron Man” Murdoch, was born in eastern Canada but came to Edgerton as a young child.
He attended the Edgerton School until he left to study medicine at the University of Alberta in 1935.
Wheeler served as a doctor in World War II and was taken prisoner by the Japanese Imperial forces during the 1942 Fall of Singapore. He would spend the following three and a half years as a POW.
Ben acted as chief medical doctor for all Commonwealth and Allied POWs, working under inhumane conditions and brutal guard treatment until the camp was liberated by the Americans in 1945.
Despite the camp’s high death toll, Wheeler is credited with saving hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners and providing what comfort he could to countless others.
Ben Wheeler’s young family had no idea he had been taken prisoner until they received a telegram from him following the camp’s liberation.
They remained in Edgerton and through community spirit and family support maintained their hope and faith that he was alive.
Their story, typical of so many, was later memorialized by celebrated Canadian director and Order of Canada recipient Anne Wheeler, Ben’s daughter. She detailed his experiences as a POW in A War Story, using the diary he secretly kept in Kinkaseki, and her mother’s struggle as a single parent in Edgerton with Bye Bye Blues.
Ben Wheeler enjoyed an illustrious medical career following the war, going on to become head of medicine at the Royal Alexandria Hospital.
Testimonials from fellow POWs in the camp described him as a “man sent from God” and “the finest man I have ever met and the greatest doctor,” leading to him receiving the award of The Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.).
Major Wheeler maintained ties to Edgerton his entire life and was forever grateful that the community cared for his family as he suffered in the baking Taiwanese heat.
Ben wrote in his wartime diary that “I dislike the bowing as much as anything. How good little old Edgerton would look now, and how one has been made to realize that the greatest of all things is freedom and all that it means.”
Edgerton is immensely proud of our many men and women in uniform, past and present, and we look forward to sharing more stories as we move towards our 100th Homecoming celebration.