Sketch by Jack Chalker

Infamous Railway

The railway progressed rapidly from base camp. Many more troops had come up from Singapore in groups of 600, and passed through Bang-Pong to camps further up the line. The next big one called Kamburee. At Bang-Pong the camp had settled into a well established routine. The Japs. in charge had accepted a lot of the suggestions put forward by our officers. One of these was the formulation of a Police Force to keep Law and Order, and as we were Military Police, Cpl. Fairhead was promoted to Sergeant, and with Doc. Grant and I formed the nucleus of the force. We were responsible for keeping to the rules as laid down by the Nips, such as lights out by 10pm, although these only consisted of what we called ‘Flicker Lamps’, a piece of rag placed in a can of cooking oil and lit. Sometimes coconut shell was used and nearly every bed space had its own ‘Flicker Lamp’, used for playing card games or even just sitting around talking.

We were allowed to patrol the camp at night and often met the Korean Sentries, who usually shouted out ‘Nanda’, meaning ‘who goes there’, our reply being ‘O.K. Kempy-ga’. He would come close up to us to check our M.P armbands, and with great respect say ‘O.K. ga’. These armbands we had hung on to proved invaluable throughout our lives as P.O.W.s. The Korean soldiers had a great fear of the Japanese ‘Kempies’.

At this point I must clarify a very serious misconception with regards our Japanese captors (or Nippon as they preferred to be called). It had now become apparent to us that all our sentries were a rather non-descript lot. In charge of our camp was a Japanese ‘Guns’ (Sgt.) who had a walrus -like mustache and was christened by us, Joe after Joe Stalin to whom he bore a very striking resemblance. I had many friendly conversations with him, he could speak and understand enough English sufficient to carry a meaningful conversation. He told me one day his wife and family were interred in Australia and he had received letters from her saying she was being very well treated. He was so pro-British I think the following story will help to illustrate his true contempt of his sentry staff of Korean Troops. In our camp was a canteen like a N.A.A.F.I. Our troops were allowed exclusive use at certain times of the day and the Koreans at other times, never the two to clash. However one day, ‘Joe’ caught the guards infringing the rule and punished all the guards not on duty by making them double round the camp in full kit ( and it covered quite a lot of ground) in front of our troops, much to their delight. They never infringed again, but certainly took it out on our lads in many overt ways if catching them committing minor infringements.

One of the Korean guards was christened ‘The Undertaker’, he was tall, had very long arms and big hands. On the spot punishment was a Japanese way of life, I think it was ‘Joe’ who told us that when Japan had overrun Korea back in 1935, they took over their Army. At the start of hostilities with the Allies the Korean Troops under Japanese command had not come up to Japanese standards and as punishment they had been put in charge of us P.O.W’s, under the command of Japanese senior N.C.O’s such as ‘Joe’. In other words they had no honour of fighting on the front line and were therefore virtually as much prisoners as we, except they were in charge of rations etc. All the resultant atrocities during the construction of the railway was meted out by them.

The really intelligent Japs. who were in charge of the building of the railroad were civilian engineers, nothing to do with the military , but if they required extra manpower they would send their requirements to meet their demands. Even the hospital huts would be combed , and anyone fit enough to stand, was turfed-out, to make the numbers up, although in many cases, they were not fit and comrades had to stretcher them out. All workers received pay, O.R’s got 10 cents per day, and N.C.O’s got 15 cents. Paid every 10 days, so our weeks consisted of 10 days. This money was spent in the canteen, although only base camps had canteens. Groups of men used to ‘kitty’ their money. Appointing a Chief Cashier, who was responsible for supplying titbits, which everyone shared equally, such as tins of ground coffee, duck eggs, tins of condensed milk etc. I was elected our group cashier/supplier and during night duty, I was once foraging in the Jap. cookhouse looking for pieces of meat, when I accidentally knocked over a cooking pot, making a loud noise. I froze when I heard a sentry exclaim, but at that precise moment , a wild dog ran out of the shadows. We used to get many of these dogs scavenging at night and this one certainly saved my ‘bacon’, the sentry assuming he had made the noise.

On another occasion, I was in the canteen at dead of night, surrounded by ‘Coolly’ staff, all asleep on counters and tables, using blocks of wood with a depression for their heads as a pillow. I had just filled my shirt with uncooked duck eggs, and stealthily making my way to the back doorway, which was only a gap in the ‘Attap’ wall, when I smelled tobacco smoke and froze. It was a sentry having a sly smoke. I waited my heart pounding. It seemed loud enough to be heard by the sentry. He moved away eventually and I made my way back to our hut. My comrades thoroughly enjoyed a good feed the following day unaware of my close encounter.

The railway line had progressed rapidly from this base camp, many more troops had come up from Changi in groups of 600 and passed through Bang-pong to camps further up the line. The next big camp was at Kamburee. It was at this camp I became friendly with Gwynne Richards from Wales a L.Cpl. in the R.A.S.C., one of Major Sykes company. He had been seconded to our Police force, which was now about 6 strong, and we became very close pals, sharing intimate family details, and exchanging addresses, vowing to keep in touch and sharing food and monies we possessed. This was quite a good period in our hum-drum life although, things happened daily. One very comical interlude, was when we camp employees were having a big ‘boil-up’ of our bed blankets, in a big ex-oil drum, to get rid of the lice which we were becoming infested with. These blankets were army type of the brown variety and the water was boiling nicely and looked for all the world like tea. A working party, back in from toiling on the railway, dived in with their Dixie’s and took a good swig. When informed what they were drinking, some threw-up, others turned round in a blind rage, wanting to ‘slug’ someone, but when informed "You should have asked", things simmered down, but it was a good joke for many weeks.

Another outstanding incident which happened during this period, was an invasion of ‘Bedbugs’. These very annoying creatures were fully grown and about 1/4" long, dark brown in colour. The floors of the huts were solid planks about 12" across and when first laid by us building the camp, under the guidance of our expert joiners from civvy. street, they looked perfect, as were the walls. Only the roof was a reversion to the local type of construction, and was the usual ‘Attap’, palm fronds doubled and laid, one on top of the other , starting of course from the bottom. They were very good for keeping out the sun, but tended to leak a bit when the monsoon came. The bedbug incident started about 6 weeks after we had moved into our new billets. I had made myself a bed of timber like the ‘Sharpoys’ we had in India. Many slept on the floor under communal mosquito nets, rolling up the nets during daytime. The bugs apparently bred in the floor board joints and climbed up the inside walls of the ‘mozzie.’ nets, and started nesting in the top corners and breeding at a terrific rate. The funny thing was they were never visible by day, but when night came, they all came down to feed. We were at the bottom of the hut and could hear the mutterings during the nights, starting at the top end of the huge billet. Some 200 of us were in this billet, and chaps had started upping their sleeping kits and going outside to sleep on the bare ground, this of course was early or mid-summer time long before the monsoons. As the upper end gradually moved outside , so the bugs had to move down to find humans to feed on. When about a quarter of the hut had been vacated, the bugs must have gathered force and made a concerted attack, and this particular night there was such an upheaval, panic took over and chaps were screaming out, grabbing their bedding and running out. In hindsight it was very comical, but not at the time. After that we had a blitz on the bugs, even taking up the floorboards, scraping out the big nests, swabbing them down with parafin and boiling the ‘mozzie’ nets. I managed to get some small tins, filled them with paraffin and put one under each foot of my bed, and gradually peace was restored.

I had another rather terrifying experience just after this bug episode. I didn’t have a proper ‘Mozzie’ net, but managed to acquire a large piece of fine netting and fashioned myself a personal net. This was achieved by fixing two hoops of strong wire at both ends of my ‘Charpoy’, draping the loose net over the bottom hoop, tucking the net under my blanket at the bottom, laying down drawing the net over me as I laid down, and then tucking it in at the top. I was in like a cocoon, safe from both bugs and ‘mozzies’. This happy state of affairs went on for some time. Then another scourge was to ‘rear its ugly head’ in the shape of rats. I had at this time a pyjama top, which I used to put on, as the nights could turn a bit chilly. This particular night I had just settled down, after saying good night to my buddy Gwynne, when I felt something move at my feet. I kicked my feet only to see a big rat run up my bed, straight up the sleeve of my pyjamas. I bent my arm quickly trapping it between elbow and shoulder, but as I was trapped in my cocoon-like coffin with the rat jumping about in the loose arm of my pyjamas, and me unable to even sit up. It flashed through my mind a story my father told me of a pal of his who used to keep ferrets in his shirt for rabbiting. When asked if they ever bit him, he replied rodents wont bite in the dark. I eventually managed to scramble out of my bed with the rat still trapped in my sleeve. In trying to get my jacket off, it got away, and incidentally did not bite me.

It was soon after this incident that a very traumatic thing happened to one of our room mates. I forget his name, but he was a lovely lad about 21 years of age, beautifully built physically, when he suddenly started coming out in lumps all over his body, just like ‘blind’ boils. Then after a few days he went into a coma, from which he never recovered, and he died. The M.O’s were unable to treat him, as they had no idea what the illness was. Later it was diagnosed as ‘wheals disease’. A complaint caught from rats urinating in his mess-tin. After this the M.O’s instituted all mess-tins had to be swilled in boiling water, supplied by the cookhouse, before each meal.

August 1942

It was also about this time, we heard that a ‘Red Cross’ boat had been allowed into Singapore with food and provisions for issue to P.O.W’s in individual parcels. Unfortunately our 1200 advance party on the railway construction had been overlooked, but we consoled ourselves we weren’t doing too badly. The mainline passenger train from Bangkok passed close to our camp, and if one of our work party happened to be working nearby, upper class passengers would toss ‘goodies’ like packets of cigarettes, or even rolled notes (money). It had to be out of sight of the Korean sentry, because it wasn’t wise to be seen or you were likely to receive summary punishment like a clout round the head They believed in ‘on the spot punishment’, also whatever you picked up was confiscated, and this was to us worse than the punishment.

September 1942

On September 2nd to the 5th, the Japanese had issued ‘No escape’ forms to be signed by every P.O.W. This being against the ‘Geneva Convention’ ruling concerning Military Personnel’, we were advised by our officers not to sign, but the Japs took a dim view of this and immediately took reprisals. Back at Changi there took place, what became known as the ‘Selerang Incident’. There, 1700 men were concentrated in an area of some 200 yards by 150 yards, which had to include everything, being cookhouses, toilets and if necessary medical equipment. I have read the first hand account of this incident in the very graphic description, printed in the book ‘ One for every sleeper’, written by Jeffrey English who was a major in the 11th Indian Division Signals. Apparently the deciding factor was the execution of 4 men accused of trying to escape, and the outbreak of Dyptheria and Dysentry. All this took place in the space of 4 days, when the order went out to sign under duress. The way this affected us at ‘Non-Pladuk’ (the name of our newly constructed camp), was that all officers were called out on parade at 8am. and made to stand to attention all day long in the blazing sun. We O.R’s were not affected, except no cooking was allowed and no interference. Even when our officers began collapsing, we were made to stand and watch, but still not allowed to interfere. It was a very traumatic day, with machine guns mounted, facing the 25 or so officers. This lasted all day, until news must have come through the capitulation of Changi, and about 8pm. all hostilities ceased, meals cooked and everything was soon back to normal. I think we had our Japanese ‘friend’ Joe (Stalin) to thank, for the only slight upheaval we experience, to what apparently happened in other camps up and down the line. After this our camp settled down.

December 1942

The next big incident involved the weather. We had now entered the monsoon period, October to December. Every day with monotonous regularity the heavens opened up, water fell in sheets, almost like a curtain. At first this was great, we were able to take a daily shower under the eaves of the overhanging Attap. It was very interesting watching chaps disporting themselves in complete nudity, and a sorry sight some of us were, all skin and bone. Its amazing looking at your pals and thinking ‘look at that poor sod’, little realising you looked exactly the same. This was an experience I was to be confronted with some months later. We were in transit from one camp to another , and were allowed to spend a night in a disused Holiday Hotel. Passing down a corridor , there was a full size mirror on the wall side, I just glanced in the thing as I passed and looked round sharply to see who the skinny old man was behind me, and there was no one but me. What a shock, no hair, all had been close cropped by order of the Nips long ago, and my shoulder blades stood out like wings. It was a very sobering experience.

As the months passed, and the monsoons increased in intensity, the centre of our camp became a big pond. Our route to the cookhouse was cut off and we were forced to go outside camp, down a dirt road a distance of about a 1/4 mile. Every mealtime became a ‘bind’, as two chaps were detailed daily to fetch the food, by the time we got it, it was stone-cold.

At Christmas time our cookhouse staff surpassed themselves in what they provided by way of Christmas Fayre. Rice rissoles and vegetable stew, with a little meat. Even a little pork in batter called Pork fritters, also sweet potato fritters. These were real luxuries and much appreciated by the lads. This was when ‘Leggie’ queues had to be very carefully vetted, and it was our duty as the police to evolve a fair system, which we did by issuing numbers to different huts who took it in turns. This lasted about 6 months.

June 1943

The railway was moving further and further away, and a big base camp had been established at a village called ‘Kanjamburee’, we shortened it to ‘Kambree’, and parties were being sent up the line from our camp, and I was selected to go in one party. My pal Gwynne was very upset as we had heard some lurid stories of conditions in camps up country. He wanted to volunteer to go with me, but I advised him not to, however he insisted on sharing everything we had, even half his pocket money ( a few Jap. printed dollar notes). So up country I went, I suppose I made new friends, but none very special. I remember vividly going over the rickety bridge (later to become famous as ‘The bridge over the river Kwai’) at a controlled speed of 5 m.p.h., riding on top of wagon loads of railway lines and sleepers, very uncomfortable close behind the wood burning engine, covered in smoke and sparks. A greater feat of engineering was to follow called ‘The Wampo Viaduct’. This was built round a cliff face, round a bend in the river, and the wall of the cliff high above us. It was 1/3 mile long made mostly of tree trunks and railway sleepers held together by huge ‘U’ shaped metal spikes. They see-sawed as we passed over them. I’m sure everyone held their breath until we were safely over. One could look down between the wagons and see sand bags piled at the foot of the structure to prevent the river washing it away.

We finally disembarked at a base camp immediately below the extent of the finished laid line, opposite another base hospital camp called ‘Tarso’, where all the worst sick from camps higher up were sent. I later learnt that they were amputating up to 40 legs a day at the peak, caused by jungle ulcers, and we heard very few chaps came out alive. It was now, after the last of the monsoon period, thousands of Tamil Indians had been force-marched up from ‘Bampong’ to work on jungle clearing and rock cutting. I have learnt from reading Jeffrey English’s book, that lots of our troops were to follow later including the remnants of our own 18th Division. Just ahead of our camp was a place called the ‘Three pagodas Pass’, consisting of 3 peaks, through which the railway line was being cut, through hills and spanning valleys. It was a terrific feat of engineering, only possible with forced labour. It was in these conditions that the Korean guards really vented their "spleen’ on the really sick, having to keep up to the requirements of the civilian engineers. In work parties we had seen whole families of Tamils pass through, walking in a continuous line for 3 whole days. Man walking in front carrying his umbrella and wife and female members walking behind, carrying all their belongings on their heads. Many times when we went out on working parties, we saw evidence of bodies hastily buried at path sides, arms and leg bones sticking up out of the ground, probably uncovered by marauding animals.

One day we passed what we thought was a native laid fast asleep at the roadside, however on returning after our days work, the body was still there, but now it was twice the size, blown up and looking in danger of bursting and the smell was atrocious. We were certainly glad it had been removed the following day. Life was very cheap on that railway construction.

It was at this juncture that my M.P. arm band and cap badge became very useful. The Korean guards had made a lot of rules and regulations for the conduct of our troops in our camp, only a relatively small one of about 200 men and again constructed by ourselves. I built my own hut and shared it with someone, but I can’t remember his name. Some units were under canvas and we didn’t have any officers in our particular camp. Our senior N.C.O’s asked for a police man to carry out these rules, and as I was the only genuine article in the camp, I was duly elected. I was thoroughly accepted by the Korean sentries, so much so that as my duties commenced with lights out by 10 pm., I was virtually on guard throughout the night. The sentries used to come up to me and ask me to give them a call, pointing at their wrist watches ( mostly obtained from P.O.W’s), saying ‘Nanda’ (shake my arm) ‘Go-punci’, meaning 5 am. The numbers in Japanese are 1-itchi,2-nee, 3-san, 4-shee or yon, 5-go, 6-roku, 7-stitchi, 8-hatchi,9-ku, 10-ju, and then for 11-ju-itchi, 12- ju-nee, and so on, then add punci for o-clock and there it is in Nippon. Easy when you know how, and I had become well versed in Nippon by now. Officers at times had to go up the line , usually with pay for the workers, and they had to change from full railway engines to a smaller version for negotiating the unfinished section. There was always approx 3 hours between trains, so they would get their heads down, and ask me to wake them in time. I had this off to a fine art and never missed getting my own head down for 2 to 3 hours. I just made a practice of saying my prayers, a practice I never missed, then concentrated on whatever time I wanted to wake, and never over-slept once. Fortunately I was the only one in camp who had a reliable watch, it was a gift from my wife Sue for my 21st birthday, so was one of my most cherished possessions.

I also started a very welcome and paying racket in this camp. I was able to obtain lots of raw rations and uncooked rice, raw veg. and ‘Chee’ (raw fat), and started making my version of Cornish Pasties. I had managed to obtain a hard teak board and a bottle and with these I ground the rice into a flour, kneaded this into a dough, semi boiled the cut up vegetables, molded the dough into pasty shapes, put the veg in and fried them in the boiling fat. When the lads came back into camp ravenously hungry, I sold them for 5 cents a time. I even had to make them to order, as many as I could manage. At 20 pasties to a dollar I didn’t make a fortune, but had a very good time in that camp.

I had made myself a uniform, white shorts and a white peaked cap. All out of white tent canvas, which I scrubbed and better scrubbed and bleached in the sun until it was drip white and soft. My tools were a needle made out of bamboo, more like a darning needle, and my thread was from strips of canvas. My elastic tops for my shorts was made from strips of inner-tubes sewn into a hem at the top. My peaked cap was the result of experiences when first out on detachment with the 18th Division Provo. Co. back in blighty. The ex-guardsmen in our unit all altered their peaked caps by slitting them down the side of the peak, pushing the peak right in until it was straight, up almost till it touched their noses. Re-sowing like this made you keep your head back to see where you were going, this was how the guards got that head-back posture and very effective it was. My white hat was a very fair replica, I had sewn a ring of bamboo into the top to make a stiff crown, then shaped a piece wider at the front, sewn in a straight piece of bamboo to make it stand up at the front. I also managed to get a small piece of red material, burnished my military police cap badge till it shone brightly, stuck it in the front with the red cloth behind and the whole effect created an aura of authority that earned respect from both our lads and the Korean guards, and especially the true Nips.

I had always been a bit given to sketching, and talking one day to one of the Nip. civilian engineers, he asked me to do a sketch of him to send home to his wife and family (he provided the materials). When I handed him the finished article he was very pleased, and said in broken-English "you go London, me go Japan, shake hands O.K." He had been educated in the equivalent to our college, and had been taught the English alphabet and could sing one of our hymns.

It was about this time my old pal from ‘Non-pladuk", Gwynne Richards came into our camp, he was with a party on its way further up country. By good fortune they had to stay overnight to catch the smaller engine from higher up country, so I was able to look after him for the night. He would of preferred to have stayed, but sad to say that was to be the last time I was to see him until after I was to return home and boy what a reunion that was (more of that later).

I also got news about this time of my old company the 18th Div. Provo. Coy. They had been sent up country as everybody available was being sent to speed up the finishing of the railway. I suppose, in hindsight, this was when they were beginning to have reverses in Burma and it was becoming imperative to have the means to get supplies up to the front line troops.

July 1943

All this coincided with the outbreak of the dreaded ‘Cholera", and soon we were hearing terrible stories of the death rate rising rapidly. Just on the other side of the railway down by the river was the base hospital called "Tarso", and it was from here we were getting our information. As many as 40 to 50 deaths a day were now occurring and numerous legs were being amputated daily. Lurid tails circulated about atrocities being carried out by the Korean guards. Whole camps of Tammils being closed and burned to try offset the spread of disease. The guards were equally as scared as we of the dreaded Cholera and used to go about wearing face masks, and no doubt had their own casualties, but as they were not suffering the malnutrition of P.O.W’s, not as great an extent. I had the unfortunate experience of being detailed to a burial party of a native. Four of us, one at each corner of the improvised stretcher (2 bamboo poles and a piece of canvas), and as we made our way into the jungle, well away from camp, I noticed the native on the stretcher move his knee up, a sure sign of the Cholera. This only caused shouts of "Speedo" from our sentry. A hole was speedily dug and in he went.

Another grim event also happened at this time. A body of a soldier was found on the line just outside our camp. He had obviously been run over by a train and decapitated. His body was placed at the side of the track, his head placed at the side of his body, and we all had to march past to identify him. It turned out he was from another camp nearby. It was suspected he had committed suicide, quite a number of chaps did, some just wandered off into the jungle and were never seen again. One such casualty was one off our lads called Bobby Dance, a very likable and popular member of our Coy. back in England. He used to be the R.S.M’s office boy and used to make out our passes, not a very robust type and certainly not up to the rigors of P.O.W. life.

It was amazing how different characters reacted to the hardships of manual labour. My impression was that the further North you got in a Britisher, taking Scotland as the far North, the more resilient the general character became, making ‘Gordie’, ‘Yorkies’ and Lancastrians on a par in second place.

Whilst in ‘Wan-Yai’, water became very scarce and getting a daily wash was a problem. Some ‘bright-spark’ had discovered a pool of water about a mile into the jungle, up a dried up river bed. We started going up to this water hole which had been left behind as the river dried up. It was a natural swimming pool, about 15 X 10 yards, and one high bank about 6ft. high and ideal for diving. Very enjoyable it was, the water seemed very good to us, very clean and cool. We never even thought of getting disease from it . It was while walking up the river bed one day, with only towel and water buckets, when we were suddenly shocked to a standstill by the sight of a large female panther appearing out of the jungle with a young cub following behind. It was about 30 yards ahead, it just looked round at us with very little interest, crossed the river bed and disappeared into the jungle at the other side. We were used to seeing smaller animals such as monkeys, chattering and swinging through the trees. Also some smaller animals we took to be Jackals, but the panther was the biggest yet. I think our interest waned from then on and not many excursions happened after this. A very interesting thing happened with the cans of water we had brought back. During the night we used to be awakened by scratchings at the cans, and it wasn’t until one chap found a dead rat in his can the next morning, we realised it was the rats trying to get to the water. These jungle rats were like big mice with big ears. We did hear tell of some lads cooking these rats and eating them with their rice, I never fancied cooked rat but I have eaten roasted snake meat, also cooked monkey meat in a stew supplied by the Nips on one working party I happened to be on.

August 1943

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events after this, but my next memory is back at Kamburee, I recollect the railway construction coming down was far more substantial, especially the ‘Wampo Viaduct’, also the "Kwai Bridge’ had concrete columns. We spent a few weeks at the now enormous camp, going out on sundry working parties.

Their was a big upheaval a few days before we left to go back down country to Singapore. The ‘Kempi’ had apparently found a wireless set in operation, they had three P.O.W’s in a hut next to ours, and they were giving them the treatment. Sounds of heavy beatings and loud cries. The ‘Kempi’ were trying to get more names of others involved. The story was that a signals Sgt. Major was beaten to death, how true, we didn’t stay long enough to find out. As a consequence, on August 28th 1943 after a thorough search, due to the radio being found at the ‘Kamburi’ Camp all diaries, maps, knives or anything sharp, were confiscated, whilst we were kept out on parade, with a strong Nippon guard over us. Then the Nippon ‘Gunsa’ a Kempi Sergeant (their Military Police) appeared, followed by our officers carrying arms full of books etc., dumped on the ground in front of us. We gathered round whilst the Nippon Kempi sorted it all out. It was with saddened heart I noticed my much variegated collections of diaries and sundry other scrap books compiled through the long weary months, eloquent by their very detail of our sufferings and privations.

Two days later we were on the move back to Singapore. I don’t remember any outstanding incidents, except we pulled up at our old ‘Non-Pladuk’ camp alongside another loaded train but this was full of Japanese wounded. Whether from the battle front in Burma, or just casualties from the railway I couldn’t be sure, but they seemed to get very little attention from their own people, in fact our own blokes started throwing things out to them, like cigs. and other titbits, and they were received with open hands. We also saw what was a very familiar sight, a burial party leaving camp, this we were told later was our old O.C. Major Sykes being taken to his last resting place in the now enormous cemetery. It transpired the camp had been subjected to a raid of American Lockheed Lightning’s dive bombing and strafing the huge sidings that had sprung up since we had built the camp. We heard that over 100 P.O.W’s were killed in that raid.

October 1943

It was also about this time, I think it was October, that we received our first mail from home. I got 33 letters all together, fortunately for me I managed to read some of the later ones Sue had sent first, telling me about her and Alan. Also she had included some photographs of them both. Then as I delved deeper into the pile of letters, I discovered the grim truth of the sad and traumatic fact of the miscarriage of our expected new baby, which I knew she was expecting when I left England (and of all the dates, it was Friday the 13th.).

Picture of Alan and Sue

Received in my first letter from home as a POW

From then on my nightly prayers had to be changed as I always included our unborn child. Fortunately most of the lads received their quota of mail, so there was no difficulty in getting away on your own to savor the contents. It was not until many days after that chaps began to disclose some of the intimate details included in their letters. Many were the grim tidings some had received, especially those living around London. Whole homes and families wiped out and stories of wives remarrying, thinking their husbands had been killed. I am afraid these stories were inclined to leave one cold and one found oneself very selfish. Lots of my pals came home to broken marriages. I am thinking of my old friend ‘Laurrie’, who was to become a close friend after the war.

These were very harrowing times, I think the war was at its lowest ebb at this time. Our chaps were dying like flies. It was just after this I got news of the fate of the remainder of our 18th Div. Provo. Coy. who had been sent up the line with almost the last batch, right into the ‘teeth’ of the Cholera epidemic. Of the 75 who had been sent up, only 9 remained to come back down after the line was finished. All the news was gleaned from parties of casualties coming back. Train loads of sick were stopping at our camp and I managed to contact a couple. One was a ‘Geordie’ called Young, my draughts partner in the photograph in India. The other was Corporal Roberts from Cannock, whose home I had visited. They told me of the terrible sufferings the remnant of our company had endured. It was now I realised the ‘Favour’ our O.C. had bestowed on me when he had sentenced me to joining the advance party, way back in June 1942. I would have been part of the holocaust. As it was being on the advance party had allowed us plenty of time to adjust, before our bodies had become weakened by very poor diets.

November 1943

In early November the railway line was completed at a place called ‘Konqueta’, joining up with the line built from Burma. The ‘Nippon High Command’ made a big thing of the occasion, and a train of ‘Big-wigs’ passed down the line. We were all granted the luxury of a tin of sardines as our reward and very tasty they were too. Evacuation of camps higher up the line began. Daily train loads of very sick troops began passing through our camp, mostly stopping at our camp to refuel etc. I met every train possible and came across a few of our lads in very poor physical condition. I managed to get a fairly full casualty list and stories of how some of my old colleagues had died. My old friend and partner on the troops train to Scotland ‘Tiny Molloy’ only weighed about 5 stone at his end. Sergeant ‘Tait’ another big pal had lost a leg before he died, they had come up from ‘Changi’ at the very last and flung into the heart of the Cholera epidemic. I have made a list of casualties at this stage.

December 1943

First Letter Home

December 1943

January 1944

Second Letter Home

January 1944


Next Chapter

Back to Singapore



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