Another Mans War
Another Man’s War
Ted Tate in Singapore
After eight weeks of square bashing and physical training, I passed out, and was posted to the Royal Air force school of technical training.
This was a twelve months course, which entailed a lot of hard work, but I quickly got into the swing of things, and after twelve months, I passed out, and was posted to a squadron at Mildenhall in Suffolk. I was posted to the workshop, and that was where my RAF career began.
I spent two very happy years at Mildenhall, I made some great friends there, and we were one big happy family. And then one day, I saw on the routine orders board, that I was going to be posted to Singapore.
I felt very privileged to have been chosen to go to Seletar Singapore, because it was well known, that this was a brilliant posting. So, after six weeks embarkation leave, I boarded the ship at Birkenhead. It was a long voyage, but very interesting for a man like me, who had never really stepped foot out of Yorkshire. We disembarked at Port Said, and here, we got our first taste of hot weather.
We eventually arrived in Singapore, and as we arrived at Seletar, there were shouts from the airmen, “Get your knees brown”.
Singapore was another world, I loved it instantly, we had everything, good food, plenty of sporting activities, I played in the squadron football and cricket teams, I played tennis. I explored these wonderful places of Singapore, the Botanical Gardens, the Chinese kampongs, and the harbour.
By this time, war had broken out in Europe, and although I worked very hard at my job of stripping down aero engines, and replacing worn parts, here I was, having the time of my life, but at the same time worrying about my family and friends, and all the people back home, but we were doing the job which we had been sent out to do. We received letters from home telling of the hardships of war, and here we were, living in real good style, little knowing what was to come.
However, my unit had miraculously commandeered a ship, and we managed to get a lot of valuable equipment on board, we were going to Java, and the plan was to set up a maintenance unit with an American squadron at Djokjakarta. We reached Batavia all right, and then went by train to Djokjakarta. The American squadron was working on flying fortresses, and our job was to help them in any way we could.
It was a relief to get out of Singapore, as there was always a faint hope that we would be able to escape from the Japanese, but I was not very optimistic, I thought that we would be taken prisoners.
The Dutch, who ruled Java, did not capitulate until March, so we worked with the Americans for a few weeks, and then suddenly the American squadron was ordered to leave for Australia, so, we were on our own. I think we could have gone with them, but it would have been desertion, I was in the Royal Air Force, and proud of it, no, I could not have deserted my unit.
There were a lot of Dutch soldiers in Java, but I don’t think they were equipped for war, and when the Japanese did arrive, there was no opposition whatsoever. However, they applied the scorched earth policy, they blew up bridges, oil refineries, sugar refineries, they blew everything up in order to make it difficult for the Japanese when they eventually arrived.
We did try to escape, the Dutch had given some information to our commanding officer, that there was a ship lying at anchor at the port of Cheribon, and with a bit of luck, if we could get there, we might get aboard this ship, and away to safety. So we set off by rail, with all our heavy baggage. After about three hours on the train, it suddenly came to a halt. A bridge that had been spanning a river had been blown up presumably by the Dutch, so we had to get off the train, and decide what to do next. Our only hope was to get across the river, so we left our heavy baggage on the train, and just took what we could carry, and then we were ferried across to the other side in small boats. After that, there was no other alternative but to start walking, and even with the baggage that we could carry, it was still rather heavy, because it contained rations, such as tinned food, and that can be very heavy, especially in the heat of the tropical sun. Anyway, we set off, and after several days on the march, and resting in the Kampongs at night, we eventually reached the port of Cheribon, but to our dismay, there was no sign of any ships in the harbour, the Japanese had bombed everything. We were all absolutely exhausted when we reached that port, and we all knew then, that there was no hope, we would all be taken prisoners, as the Dutch had already capitulated. And so, all we could do, was to find a suitable place to live, until the Japanese came. We started walking again, and after about a week, we walked into a town called Tasikmalaja, there was a racecourse, and it was decided that this racecourse would be a suitable place to live until the Japanese came for us, which was about a week, so we made ourselves as comfortable as possible in our last week of freedom.
After the Japanese had sorted everything out, and got all their jobs done, they took us to a Dutch army camp at Surabaja, there must have been about nine or ten thousand troops already there, including Dutch. It was there that it really started, they kicked us around, and if you forgot to bow, you got a punch in the face, and a Japanese punch in the face is something to be remembered, and you can imagine that in the early days of captivity, it was very easy to forget to bow when you saw a Japanese or Korean guard, but he never forgot, and he would stop you, and shout something in Japanese, and then punch you in the face, sometimes with his fist, and sometimes with the butt of his rifle. The men in command here, were a different breed, they were guards, and there were a lot of Korean guards here too, a different breed of men altogether. Our first impressions of this camp was that it seemed a bit like a slaughter house, men were tied to posts outside the guardroom, and all the prisoners had shaved heads and we could tell straight away, that we were in for it at this camp. We spent about nine months at this place.
Shortly after we had got settled down, all our party were ordered on parade, and we were taken to a large building, and ordered to sit on the floor cross-legged in a circle, and the Japanese surrounded us with fixed bayonets. We were given a questionnaire to fill in about Australia, what was the number of aeroplanes and ships that they had, how big was the armed forces, and we were given this questionnaire and a pencil, and then ordered to start writing. If anybody looked up, he got a nasty jab in the ribs with the butt of a rifle, so the thing to do was to keep our heads down, and the pencil on the paper. The question were absolutely stupid really, and of course, we hadn’t a clue as to the armed forces of Australia, I certainly hadn’t, I didn’t know what they had, so I just wrote “No knowledge” to all the questions, and that was it, but I had to keep my pencil on the paper until the interrogation was over. The officers resisted writing anything at all on these papers, and they were beaten up by the guards who were ordered to by the Japanese commanding officer, they got a real nasty beating, and then they were dragged out of the building. We continued to write, and after about an hour, the papers were taken from us. We were literally kicked out of the building, and ordered to stand to attention on the parade ground for a few hours in the boiling sun till they dismissed us. I suppose that it is difficult to understand why the Japanese had to treat us like this, but they were obeying orders from the high command, the orders of Prime Minister Tojo, he was the arch villain really, and he paid for it after the war, he was executed as a war criminal.
Working parties were set up, and we had to go out on different projects, sometimes it was an oil refinery, or a sugar refinery, it was hard work, and we hadn’t a lot of energy, as there was simply not enough food.
However, we soldiered on, hoping that some good would come out of it, and we hoped that the allies would come soon. As a matter of fact, religion played a big part in the life of a prisoner of war, there were chaps who had never been to church in their lives who turned to religion for comfort, and the Roman Catholic and Church of England priests did their utmost to get services going, and say the Sunday mass, but the Japanese just made a mockery of it, they used to swipe all the sacramental things off the alter, and kick the priests, so they did it in secret, they used to come round the huts, and administer holy communion, they were very brave men in deed.
This camp was fairly clean, and so far, there was no diseases, only malaria, we had no mosquitoes nets, and anybody was likely to get malaria, the mosquitoes used to come out at night, you could hear them, they were like little dive bombers buzzing down on you, and if a female mosquito bit you, then you had a jolly good chance of getting malaria, but I never heard of anybody dying of malaria in this camp because there seemed to be a good supply of quinine tablets, and as far as I know, quinine was the only drug that was available.
I did know of people dying from the ill treatment by the Japanese, I actually witnessed an incident at the oil refinery, a chap just stood up for a minute, and a guard attacked him for taking a breather, he stumbled, and when he fell to the ground, this guard kicked him everywhere, and when we went over to help him, we discovered that he was dead. I will never understand why the Japanese treated us like this, because they wanted us for work.
As if the ill treatment, and the poor food were not enough, they tried to demoralize us further by telling us that they had won the war, and they produced a newspaper called “The Dia Nippon”, it was printed in English, and we read that the Japs had landed in Australia, they had landed in Burma, they had landed in India, they has sunk the Queen Mary, but we didn’t really believe this, I don’t know why, but I didn’t believe.
As I say, we were at Surabaja for about nine months, and then we heard that there was going to be a big medical parade, and then a draft to an island in the Molluccas.
We were marched down to the docks, where we boarded a ship called the “Magi Maru”, it was only a small cargo ship, and we were herded into the hold. Well, we were absolutely amazed when we saw what was in the hold, there were 50 gallon drums of petrol, and 250 pound bombs stored in the hold, and we had to get in somehow, and that was our bed, for a fortnight, amongst the bombs and petrol. The latrines consisted of a box which was slung over the side of the ship, there was one on each side, and when you needed to go, you had to climb up into the box, but first of all, you had to bow to the guard, and say “Benjo”, and then he would allow you to go, and that was the only fresh air that we got for about a week. Our officers protested so much, about the terrible heat in the hold that eventually, about fifty of us at a time were allowed to go up for half an hour at night. The only food that we got on this voyage, was a bowl of rice, and water to drink. There was always the fear of the ship being bombed by the Americans, because they would not have known that the ship was carrying prisoner, it would have gone with a real explosion, if we had been bombed, with all the bombs and petrol in the hold.
We eventually landed at the island of Haroko, and we were ferried across to a small pier, it was raining, it was absolutely pouring it down. And then, we saw what we had to live in. The camp had been started, but it hadn’t been completed, some of the huts had no roofs, and some had no sides on, and the huts had just muck floors. It was raining, and we were almost up to our knees in mud, and we had to put up with these conditions for weeks.
The food on Haroko was shocking, and for the first few weeks, we hardly got any food at all, because there was no cookhouse, and all the wood that would have been used for making a fire was absolutely wet through, I don’t know how we got through those first few weeks on that island. We eventually learned how to supplement our diet, well, on Haroko, there were quite a lot of dogs, you could hear them barking at night, but after a few months, you never heard a dog barking at all, because the Dutch used to make traps, and caught all the dogs, so we actually ate dogs, and snakes too, there were quite a lot of pythons roaming about, we were very glad to have them. We never got any Red Cross parcels in this camp, there may have been some, but the Japanese probably kept them for themselves, I certainly never got any at all.
The guards in this camp were particularly nasty, they were mostly Korean, they were absolute beasts, really they were, we used to call them “The Bashers”, because they really enjoyed lashing out at us. The commanding officer was called Lieutenant Kashima, and the senior sergeant was called Sergeant Mori, and a Japanese interpreter was called Kasihama. Now the Lieutenant was a lazy sort of a chap, and he left the running of the camp entirely to Mori and Kasihama, he couldn’t have cared less what went on, and it so happened, that these two villains were actually responsible for hundreds of deaths on Haroko, Sergeant Mori was a real beast, he was not very tall, but he was broad shouldered, and when he landed out with his feet or his fists, you certainly knew about it. I heard years later, that both these men were executed as war criminals.
Haroko was a very beautiful island, it had been a Dutch spice island, and in peacetime, it would have made a lovely place for a holiday, it was very nice indeed. There was plenty of vegetation, there were nutmegs, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and chillies, and all kinds of other spices. The camp had been constructed on the plantation, and most of the trees had been cut down, but there were still some of the trees left there, the nutmeg trees in particular, were still there, they were very large trees, and very beautiful, and they bore a yellow flower, they really were magnificent trees.
There was no need to fence us in on the island, because there was no way that we could have escaped, it would have been a very long swim.
It wasn’t long before Sergeant Mori organised working parties to where we were going to construct the aerodrome, he didn’t even wait for it to stop raining. Well, about 1500 of us went to the aerodrome; to start work there, and the rest were employed in the camp. The latrine trenches had been dug along side of the huts, but they had to be dug again some distance away because dysentery had broken out. After it stopped raining there was the problem with flies, there were millions of them, and they were a real hazard. As time went on, dysentery became more prevalent, and then, people started to die, and you can imagine, that these dysentery cases were having to go to the trenches about thirty times a day. There were extra rations for the men who were going to work, but there were no rations at all for the men who were sick, that was made evident right from the beginning, no work, no food, so there weren’t many malingerers. The extra rations were nothing much, just rice and perhaps a few vegetables, but they didn’t go very far, because we had to share our rations with the men who were sick, we all had to have smaller helpings, in order to make it go round, otherwise, the sick would have got none.
As time went on, it became difficult to meet the demands of the Japanese, if they wanted 1500 men to work, and we hadn’t got 1500 men to supply them with, they used to go round the huts, and get men up from their sickbeds, even if they had dysentery, and make them march along to the aerodrome with us, they didn’t care, as long as they got their number of men. It was better to go to the aerodrome because we knew what we had to do, and they left us to get on with it, and if you stayed in the camp, you were menaced with Sergeant Mori. We had no mechanical tools at all, all we had were the old fashioned tools, we had no spades, they didn’t use spades, we used something that looked like a Dutch hoe, but these were bigger. We had to drill holes with iron chisels, and the Japs used explosives to blast the hills and the coral, and there were lorries to take the rubble away. It took eighteen months to do the job, but during those eighteen months, the numbers that went to the aerodrome went down and down, I don’t think that there were any more than 500 men on the job when it was finished. Dysentery was the main cause, men were dying at about twelve a day, and sometimes, when we came back from the aerodrome, we had to dig these men’s graves, and there was always a British officer there to say a few prayers, and there was always one of the staff from the Japanese there too, He would be present, but the only reason why he was present, was just to make sure that they were dead and buried, that job was very upsetting for all of us.
During the time we were at Haroko, a high ranking Japanese officer came to inspect the camp, and our officers told him about the conditions which prevailed, and about the dysentery cases, and about the number of men that were dying, and all he could say was, “If you kill all the flies, and cut your fingernails, it will cut down on all this disease”.
Well, how did I get through it? It is a question that I often asked myself, I didn’t get dysentery, and I think it was because I was always very careful in what I ate and drank, I never drank water that had not been boiled, and I was always dubious about things that I ate. Some chaps would eat anything, and then, their thirst would be so terrific, that they would drink water from a stream, but I never did that, I was always very careful in what I ate and drank.
I made a lot of friends on Haroko, and under those circumstances, they were very close friendships in deed, there was always somebody who was cheerful, and I think the ones who were cheerful, survived better than the ones who were not. We used to pretend that we had just enjoyed a good dinner, and a few pints of beer, and we would have a bit of a singsong, some of us did try to keep cheerful. I lost quite a few of my close friends at Haroko, and dysentery was what killed them, they were just like skeletons, and they were dying in front of our eyes, food was no good to them, oh it was awful, and nothing could be done for them. I used to go and visit them when I got back from work, and try to cheer them up, some of them went blind, during their illness with dysentery, but they always knew my voice, coming from Yorkshire, my ascent stood out.
By 1943, I was just ticking over, I managed to go to the aerodrome every day, but the work I did was negligible, I only went through the motions of working, as most of us did. The dysentery cases increased, and then there was berri berri, and tropical ulcers, one day, I was up at the aerodrome, and I cut my knee, and it turned into a tropical ulcer. And a tropical ulcer can soon form into a very serious sore, I couldn’t walk, as the pain was terrible, and it was a real worry, because I knew of chaps with tropical ulcers, which had turned to gangrene, and they had died, I was very worried about this. Anyway, I went to see a Dutch doctor, and he examined it and told me that if I allowed him to scoop out all the puss, there was a good chance that my leg would heal, so I agreed to let him do it, and three men had to hold me down, but it did the trick, There were no bandages, he wrapped it up with a banana leaf, and told me to bathe it in the sea twice a day, and eventually it healed up.
While we were working on the aerodrome, we used to see American planes flying over, groups of about twenty-four bombers flying over, and we used to shout “Americano”, and I used to think, and wish that one day, they would have observed what was happening, and that they would be back, and this came true. One day, there were about six Japanese bombers on the aerodrome, I was lucky to be in the camp on that day when the Americans flew over and dropped their bombs. They blew the aerodrome and the Japanese planes to smithereens, and it almost blew the camp down also, all the roofs were blown off the huts. Some prisoners were killed, and also some natives, and some of the Japs also. We were delighted about this, as it was the first indication that the Americans were fighting back, it bucked us up no end. Anyway, the camp broke up after that, and we were ordered to board another ship.
Eventually, we boarded a ship, and the destination was java, we were all going back to Java. The ship was very overcrowded; there must have been about three thousand of us in the hold. It was to be a voyage that would last for six weeks, and a voyage that I shall never forget; the conditions were absolutely atrocious on that ship. It was even much worse than the ship which brought us to Haroko, and the men were in a far worse condition, disease was fife, there were dysentery cases in the hold, and tins had to be lowered down for them, and sometimes they would spill as they were pulled back up, oh, it was awful! During the voyage, I should say that about five hundred men died, and they just dumped their bodies into the sea. There was always the danger of the ship being bombed, because we heard aircraft flying over.
As time went on, the water supply ran out, and we were only allowed a third of a pint of water a day, and men were actually dying of thirst, their tongues would come out black, it was a very serious situation in deed.
Anyway, after about five weeks on this ship, we sailed into a port called Makassar, which is in the Celebes, and the Japanese must have been concerned about the water situation too, because they decided to go ashore and see what the water situation was like in Makassar. Now Makassar had been bombed very heavily by the Americans, and there was no water in the pipes, there was no water supply there at all, because it had been bombed so heavily. A volunteer party was required to go ashore, and try to find out what we could do about it, and I volunteered straight away, because I was getting really desperate. It was decided to roll some big fifty-gallon drums ashore, and find out through conversation with the natives, whether we could get these drums filled with water. We were directed to a hillside where water was running down, and due to their efforts with the use of bamboo, splitting the bamboo, and making spouts, we were able to fill these fifty-gallon drums. We had taken as many water bottles as we could carry, and we filled those up too, and had a glorious drink ourselves. We also took the opportunity to have a good wash, but we had no soap of course, I hadn’t had a wash with soap for two years, so you can imagine how filthy we must have been. We used to bathe in the sea and in the streams, and wash ourselves down, but it wasn’t like washing with soap of course.
When the drums had all been filled, we rolled them back to the dock where the ship was anchored, and all the chaps were waiting for their water bottles. It really was a very serious situation, I shall never forget that, I think that thirst is more serious than hunger, you can go without food, but you can’t go without water for long, especially in such incredibly hot weather, and we used to think about having a pint of beer or lemonade, all these things used to flash through our minds, oh it was a terrible time. It was awful having to get back on the ship after having had a brief stretching of our legs, we did feel a little better, but we were all in a poor way, the diet which we had to live on, which was totally deficient in the essential vitamins, had taken it’s full toll on our hungry bodies, we used to say that we were living off the marrow in our bones, all that we got was rice, dirty filthy rice, and crawling with insects. At the beginning of the voyage, it was cooked in water, but later on, as the shortage of water became apparent, they started to cook it in seawater, well, that was absolutely unacceptable even to our hungry bodies, it made us more thirsty than we already were, we just couldn’t eat it, all we wanted was a drink, and we wondered how much longer we would manage to survive, and of course, by then, there were so many diseases prevalent, and we were really suffering, there was dysentery, beri beri, malaria, tropical ulcers, and there was a terrible disease, where all your skin dropped off your body, but I can’t remember what this disease was called, all these diseases are associated with vitamin deficiency, I don’t know how we existed, honestly I don’t.
Eventually of course, the voyage ended, and we were back in Surabaja, we were taken off the ship, and marched to a railway station, and we were put on a train, we had no idea where we wee going, until we started seeing the names of the stations. After about two hours, the train stopped, and we were given a meal, which was wrapped up in a banana leaf, and it consisted of rice and curry, it was like a menu from Heaven, we all really enjoyed it.
After our meal, we continued our journey, we were going to Batavia, it is now called Djakarta, we got out of the train, and we were marched to a camp, it had been a Dutch military camp, and it was called “The Cycle Camp”. This camp had been in existence for quite a while, and it seemed to be well organised, except for the food situation.
There were a lot of prisoners already there, Dutch, British, and Australian, and when we arrived, they couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw us, we looked such a sight, all I had to my name, was a tattered pair of shorts which I was wearing, that’s all I had, in the world, in fact, we were just ghosts of our former selves.
There was running water here, and showers, and we were glad to get our filthy cloths off and have a jolly good wash.
Anyway, we settled down in this camp, the Cycle camp, it was evident that there wasn’t much food about, because all the chaps in this camp were in a poor state, they were all very thin, and you could count their ribs, but they were in a better condition than we were, but we did manage to pick up a bit of strength. We needed a good rest, and we got it. The doctors attended us, and gave us some good advise, and after we had rested, we started to feel a bit better, although the food rations were very small, rice and a few vegetables, it was clean and well cooked.
Christmas 1944 came and went, and it was at Christmas time that I met an Australian, with whom I became very friendly, and he was in a very poor condition, he was about six feet tall, and he had once been a strong and healthy young fellow, and we became very close friends. I got a job in the cookhouse for a short time while I was recuperating, and I managed to steal a bit of food, and I used to share it with this Australian, his name was Fred Newman.
However, the brief respite came to an end, and then one day, believe it or not, I actually dug my own grave. Around the perimeter of the camp, we had to dig trenches, deep trenches, about six feet deep and about thirty feet long, and machinegun posts were dug too, and the machineguns were set up and pointing inwards towards the camp, and it’s an absolute fact that they intended shooting us, we would have been lined up along side of these trenches. The Japanese had been ordered from the high command, that if the allies were to invade, the instructions were to shoot us, and drop our bodies into these trenches.
From the brief glances that I caught, Singapore seemed to have changed a bit, all the beautiful green lawns had gone, and they had been dug up, and vegetables had been planted on them.
Anyway, we were taken to a camp called “The River Valley Road Camp”, this had been a notorious camp, and I met all kinds of fellows there, that had worked on the Burma railway, and I got to know a lot of information from them, as to the conditions they had to put up with on the railway. They had a rough time, they had outbreaks of cholera on the railway, and that was a deadly disease, but I don’t think that it could have been any worse than dysentery because, dysentery took some time to kill you off, where as cholera, it was almost instant death if you got cholera.
Well, we were soon put to work, and they set us on digging tunnels, and the Japs would hide in these tunnels, and come out and attack if there had been an invasion, there were tunnels and fox holes all over the place.
The rations were about the same in river Valley, and we were getting weaker and weaker by the day, and I think that we must have had something special to have come so far I suppose, but I wasn’t too good by this time, my eye sight had started to deteriorate, and I was really worried about this because I had known men become blind through vitamin deficiency, I was really worried about my eye sight, and not only that, there were signs of beri beri starting in my ankles too, I could push my finger down into the flesh, and it would leave a big hole, that was one of the first signs of beri beri.
Anyway, we soldiered on at River Valley until June 1945, and then I was transferred to Changi Jail, in the good old days, I had visited this jail, and I never thought for a moment, that I would become an inmate.
Well when we arrived at Changi, after the various camps that we had been in, we thought this was a rest camp, a convalescent home even, because everything was organized at Changi. Changi holds the most notorious reputation, but in my opinion, it really was a rest camp, after the camps that we had been in.
There were about 12.000 men in the Changi district, there wasn’t just the prison, Changi was a big camp, beyond the high walls of the prison, and in normal times, the jail itself would hold about 500 prisoners. I was put into a cell along with nine other men. The cell would have been about ten feet by eight feet, it had a concrete floor, and it was clean, and we didn’t suffer from lice, and when it rained, there was no fear of getting wet in the jail, so I thought that I was very lucky indeed to be put into the jail itself.
I didn’t witness any beatings while I was there, I think that the attitude of the guards had changed, and that was encouraging for us, but the Japanese still didn’t believe in us idling our time away, we had to go out to work, helping with these tunnels, although the bit of help that we could give them was insignificant.
There were secret radios in Changi, and we heard some good news about the war in the Far East, which gave us fresh hope, and we eventually got to know that the war in Europe was over, it bucked us up no end hearing that, although, I suppose that we should have been very worried, wondering what the Japanese would do with us, if there was to be an invasion, but whether it was the good news which gave us a bit of hope again or whether it was that we had reached the point of no return I don’t know, our feelings were mixed.
By August, we were at the end of our tether, absolutely at the end of our tether, I know that I was, I know that I could not have lasted much longer, by then, men were just dying from sheer exhaustion, in fact, three of the men who lived with me in this cell died, we woke up one morning and found them dead, and we used to wonder when it would be our turn, because we were absolutely at the end of our tether, absolutely.
And then one wonderful day, we heard unofficially, that an American bomber had dropped two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima, and the other on Nagasaki. Then we started noticing a change in the attitude of the guards, we used to see them huddled together and conversing very quietly, and they look quite bewildered too. However, we were advised to go about our business in the normal way, as though nothing had happened at all. And then, the great day arrived, when we were told officially, that the Japanese had surrendered, we couldn’t believe it, just couldn’t believe it.
It wasn’t long before food started pouring into the jail, lorry loads of all kinds of things came in, the gates were wide open. We still had to live in the prison, but in no time at all, the British Navy arrived, they must have been horrified when they saw the condition that we were in, it must have upset them, coming into a camp like that. I received a cooked meal, and I can still remember what it was, it was roast turkey, potatoes, and other vegetables, and all the trimmings. It was the best meal of my life, really it was. They also brought me some chocolates and cigarettes, and one of the sailors, even gave me some clothes, a white shirt, white shorts, white stockings, and white shoes, they didn’t fit me exactly, but after I had been for a shower, and had a good wash with soap, I felt like a new man, it was wonderful to feel clean, just being able to have these things again, such simple things like soap, which we had not had for so very long.
I think that the most exciting moment in my life was when I saw the Japanese flag lowered, and the Union Jack raised, tears came into my eyes, and tears came into the eyes of all the other prisoners too.
After seeing so many men die, I felt so thankful, and extremely lucky to have survived, I never thought that I would make this time, and be free. I never thought we would get back, because we had sunk so low, we couldn’t have lasted much longer, well I know that I certainly could not have done.
The clergy organised a thanksgiving service, and there were all denominations there. We all congregated on the parade ground, and it was amazing to see how everybody flocked to this thanksgiving service, possibly even men who didn’t believe in anything at all. Everybody who was able to walk were there, and some hobbled down on crutches, and the men who couldn’t walk at all, were carried down on stretches, it was a very moving service.
We eventually began to recuperate, and of course, we had to readjust to a normal diet again, we could only eat small amounts at first, some of the chaps ate too much, and it made them sick. We were allowed to send telegrams to our families, to let them know that we were free at last. And then the great day came, I think it was towards the end of September, when news came that we had to depart from the prison, we were loaded up onto lorries, and on our way, we passed Japanese working parties, and they were working at the double, and the lorries would stop for a few minutes, just long enough for us to clap, and shout “Speedo”, it was great to see the Japanese doing exactly what we had been forced to do, it was a great feeling.
Then we boarded the ship for home, it was called “The Tegleburge”, a Dutch liner, a real nice vessel. We were all given £11.00 to spend on the ship; and we could buy cigarettes, chocolates, and all sorts of nice things.
The first port of call was Colombo, and as we sailed into the harbour, there was a tremendous reception for us, all the ships in the harbour were hooting as we disembarked. The WRENs were there to meet us, and escort us to a club, where a glorious meal had been provided for us, and we kitted out there. After a look round the town, it was back to the ship and off again.
The next port of call was Port Suez, The weather was glorious, and we were sipping lemonade, whisky, gin, vodka, or beer, we could have had anything we wanted, just as we used to imagine it to be, when we were in the camps.
We eventually arrived at Liverpool, and the reception there, was absolutely fantastic, the Lord Mayer of Liverpool, and some other dignitaries were there to greet us, and the Red Cross gave us some clothes, all kinds of things. I could hardly believe it when I stepped ashore, and it was there, that I saw my first WRAF, I had never seen a WRAF before, there wasn’t a Women’s Royal Air force when I was last in England.
It took a long time before I regained my health, I got married in 1946, and I owe a lot to my wife, she helped me so much, she did everything that she could to build me up, she used to walk miles, going round the farms to buy fresh eggs, nobody could have had a better wife.
It took a long time to adjust to a normal life, and all these terrible times prayed on my mind, I used to have bad dreams and nightmares, for a long long time after, but not anymore, it has all gone now, it is all in the back of my mind.
After being here about 2 months, I realized that Margaret had been right. I had got many new things here, and my life was at least different. I felt I could adjust to the local culture, in fact, I feel very comfortable here, in the middle of the mix of several Asian cultures. It was definitely a big positive change. So I could accept the idea that I could live here or somewhere in this part of the world for more than just those 6 months planned originally, maybe stay here for several years, however it's meant to be.
Regarding this Another Man's War site, technically, I didn't do very much, just the raw html coding and adjusting the size of the pictures. I am happy to hear Margaret saying she is grateful that I encouraged her to finally write her father's story, and publish it on the Internet. I wanted to encourage her to do it, because I think the story is really worth sharing.
I have the feeling that this is not all, maybe there is still something we want to hear, and I am sure there is something we definitely have to see. Margaret has never visited Singapore, and I think she should get the opportunity to walk on the places her father had walked, and to take pictures: Raffles place, Botanical garden, Changi jail...