THE letters are brief and give little away of the writers’ emotions – as you might expect from correspondence sent between prisoner of war camps.

“My darling…hope all well with you all. Everyone here well, cheerful,” writes Frida Dunlop, nee Bull, to her husband Robert.

“Attending classes organic chemistry, English literature, nutrition, biology, between weeding, watering and various lectures.

“Hope some sticks! Longing be with you again…”

Glasgow Times: Copies of the letters Frida and Robert exchanged. Pic: Colin Mearns

Frida was one of the first graduate engineers in metallurgy at Glasgow University – ideal for her work at her father’s family firm Bull’s Metal and Melloid Company in Yoker.

The company made propellors for ships – like these, pictured, for Swedish warships – from bronze and their own metal, melloid and other bronze alloys.

Glasgow Times: Propellers for Swedish warships being made in Yoker in 1936. Pic: Herald and Times

Less than 20 years later, Frida was giving metallurgy lectures in a POW camp in Hong Kong, hoping against hope she would survive to see her husband and her family in Glasgow again.

Eric Flack, a regular contributor to Times Past, uncovered the story of how a talented and groundbreaking engineer from Glasgow ended up in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two through his own family records.

“Bull’s Metals was our family business – my grandfather and Frida’s mother were brother and sister,” he says.

“Your picture of the propellers – my father would have been one of the moulders on these. It was a highly skilled job.

Glasgow Times: Eric Flack, with copies of the letters Frida and Robert wrote to each other.Pic: Colin Mearns

“When this photo was taken, my grandfather would have been managing director. Harold Bull, son of the founder was works manager at the time.”

He adds: “I remember Frida – she was tiny, at around five feet two, and a very bright lady.

“She was a real pioneer in what would have been a very male world in the 1920s.”

Frida married Robert Dunlop in Glasgow – his father, says Eric, was a Red Clydesider from Dennistoun – and the couple moved to Hong Kong to work for the Hong Kong Electric Company.

There are many fascinating strands to the Bull/Dunlop family story - “we should really write a book,” laughs Eric - not least of all the fact that ‘old’ Bull set up the Norwegian Boy Scouts, or that his cousin was the first man to set foot on Antartica, or that Robert’s father was invited to Moscow in 1937 to meet Stalin.

(In addition, during WW2 he was Glasgow Civil Defence Medical Officer and he received an OBE from the Queen around 1942.)

But the most remarkable story is the capture of Frida and Robert during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during World War Two.

Frida was sent to the civilian camp at Stanley, and Robert – who was an army captain who had served in WWI - was taken to the military camp at Sham Shui.

“Frida thought Robert was dead and vice versa, until by chance, a mutual friend, Professor W Brown, discovered they were in separate camps, and wrote to Robert to tell him,” explains Eric.

The letter reads: “Frida well, optimistic, busy and useful in many ways. Her metallurgy lectures highly appreciated….”

Eric is in touch with Frida’s grandchildren, who are researching their grandparents’ incredible lives.

“I remember Frida and Robert arriving in Drumchapel after being released from the camps,” he says.

“I have a photo of their meeting in Hong Kong, just after their release and they are both suffering from malnutrition and beri-beri.

Glasgow Times: Frida and Robert after being released from the POW camps in Hong Kong. Pic: Courtesy of Eric Flack

“Robert had lost his hair, and Frida has a wig on. She did not recognise her husband when she first saw him, the story goes.”

Eric adds: “They turned up on my grandfather’s doorstep, must have been 1945, and they were so thin, with shaved heads and just the clothes they stood in.

“It must have been a terrible ordeal for them both, despite the picture painted by those letters which would of course have been heavily censored.”

After the war, Frida and Robert and their two children Gillian and Rob moved to British Columbia. Frida died there, aged 88.

“They had quite a story to tell,” says Eric.

“I remember Robert had a large scar on his shoulder from where a Japanese soldier had hit him with his sword.

“He told terrible stories of his time in the camp - the men had been forced to dig their own graves.

“He always said they had been saved in the nick of time.”

Share your family stories with Times Past - email