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Dartford beekeeper recounts his war ordeal

PUBLISHED: 12:11 14 February 2013 | UPDATED: 12:39 14 February 2013

Archant

In May 1944, William Mundy was being treated in hospital at Changi Prison during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

It was his second year being held as a prisoner of war and the appalling conditions he had suffered while being transferred across the Far East from one overcrowded camp to the next had left his health in shreds.

He was admitted to the prison hospital with an acute case of the vitamin deficiency disease pellagra.

One day, while lying in his hospital bed, some bees were flying overhead and he decided he would catch some and put them in a box.

It soon grew into a bustling beehive and every two weeks William would collect the honey, deposit it into a jar and donate it to the hospital where it was used for its anti-bacterial properties in healing wounds, ulcers and burns.

William MundyWilliam Mundy

“The doctors were pleased to have it as medical supplies were very short,” he says.

When discharged from hospital, William returned to long days locked in a cell but in the evenings, to while away the time, he would give talks to other prisoners about keeping bees.

William’s passion for bees went back to before joining the air force to his teenage years in Dartford where his father had first bought a single hive in 1935.

Now aged 91, William still lives in the house he grew up in and still, many years on, keeps bees in his back garden.

He joined the Dartford branch of the Kent Beekeepers’ Association in 1936 and has been chair for more than 40 years.

His mission is to increase the number of people keeping bees in the area but also to make everyone aware of the importance of these insects.

“Bees are so important. If it weren’t for bees we would be short of food. It’s really critical that we look after them,” says William.

Declining bee populations are a big problem in this country.

In 2008, a virus wiped out huge numbers and many Dartford beekeepers gave up on them.

“We lost all our bees and then a lot of people decided not to carry on because it was too much bother,” William says.

From about 100 members, beekeeper numbers locally dwindled to just three.

Through giving lectures, William has helped raise interest in bees once again and there are about 25 people storing hives around Dartford now.

The Dartford beekeepers group has had an apiary, also known as a bee yard, for 80 years and it’s now a visitor centre, offering lessons in bee-keeping history.

Among the modern hives, the apiary has wall of bee boles – cavities in a wall in which a skep (a straw basket) is upturned. The bees enter the skep and form a hive within it, after which honey is collected.

Technology has progressed and even plastic beehives are now popular, but the tradition of beekeeping and collecting honey is one that must not die out, says William.

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