The Nightmare Ends
Back at our little camp all sorts of rumours were going around. We had finished our meal when a Jap officer came into the hut. Speaking in perfect English he said that we would be returning to group HQ in the morning and he said the fighting was over. I didn’t get much sleep that night.
Next morning back to group HQ. My mate Bertie Perkins was the first person noticed. We had got off the trucks, lined up and coming towards me was Bert. He must have thought. Bugger the parade, there’s my mate, and he hurtled across to me and said, “it’s all over Sheriff”. At last I knew it was true after all those long weary days, approximately 1228 in fact, we were free. Very soon Bertie and I were having a real natter. Just to be able to see and talk to a real mate again was a real shot in the arm.
An Aussie major was put in charge of sorting and distribution of supplies as they came in. Food and clothing was sorted into batches for various camps and as soon as possible the supplies were sent out. The major asked for volunteers to help with this work and I was one of his little band of helpers. The first thing he did was give us a carton of cigarettes as he said that he knew if he didn’t we would just help ourselves.
The Japs still had arms and ammunition and were responsible for or safety, so someone said. It should have been the other way round, as I would have loved to settle a few scores. As it was the bastards nearly settled mine. While down at the water hole for a swim one day the Japs opened fire on some natives who were carting off some timber. The bullets flew just over our heads.
Blokes had been, and still were, dying from lack of quinine. The day after we were told that the fighting had finished boxes and boxes of quinine were delivered, that made me really mad. I had malaria heaps of times and knew the pain it caused. How many thousands died through lack of quinine?
The major took us to a huge store one day to check POW Red Cross supplies. We found huge piles of food and clothing there. All the food was useless and I recall most of the clothing was too. What a heart rending sight that it was knowing what those supplies could have meant to the blokes in the railway camps.
It only seemed a short while after that I was told my name had been picked out to leave on the next boat. Any emergency cases were considered and priority was given where warranted. We went somewhere in a truck for clearance and then out to the airport. Rough weather over the mountains caused a delay fro our flight, but once airborne I felt a sense of relief, of a new beginning. I was trembling with excitement. As we flew over the rail camps I felt a deep sadness for those who wouldn’t be returning home.
Arriving in Rangoon we were whisked off to hospital, documented and then taken to a bed. The staff at the hospital were wonderful and were a great help in getting us settled in. The bed was somewhat out of this world, the first since a spell in hospital at Changi. After the first evening there we were given a large drink of rum, the real McCoy, thick as syrup and strong enough to soon have you enjoying that warm glow in your stomach.
Four of us were playing cards on a bed near a window, which opened onto a verandah. After a while the wind got up and started to flip the cards over. We stuck with it for a while then one of the players got up and closed the door and still the cards flipped over with the wind. Feeling a bit heavy eyed we decided to call it a day. The next morning we found out there was no glass in the door or windows!
Our tests complete we were sent out to a holding camp where we lived in tents. It wasn’t long before a familiar figure arrived – Jim Quadling had made it. I think Jim was the first mate I’d seen since leaving Bangkok.
The Corfu docked at Rangoon and was soon loaded to the gunnels with ex-POWs. The captain promised us we would be the first ship back to Southampton and he was right too. One person I met on the boat was Jack Race, I hadn’t seen him for years. Putt(?) Barnard was on board too and I hadn’t seen him since early Changi days. Of course there were other 5th Norfolk’s on board but I can’t remember their names now.
Coming through the Bay of Biscay we ran into a gale and were confined below decks. Jim Quadling and I spied our chance and nipped out to the bow of the ship. The old girl was going downhill one minute and uphill the next. We stood with our backs hard into the bow, watching the spray come over and blot out the bridge of the ship. Very soon we were taken back inside.
Southampton welcomed us and very soon we were on our way to London where we changed trains enroute for Norwich. Our arrival at Norwich was an eye-opener, the station was packed solid. Men were shaking our hands and I have never been kissed by so many ladies before or since. It was certainly a breath taking experience.
Eventually Jim and I found his sister Trudy and Molly Sheldrake, who was to drive us home to Dereham. My home was first and was decorated with welcome home banners. My family was at the gate to meet me.
My next task was to try and settle down again.