THE END OF OUR WAR
Morning came, and in the distance the sound of many planes. Nearer and nearer they came, was it a raid? Were they ours?
We all dashed outside and gazed at these planes which were now circling over the Camp.
Then suddenly the sky seemed full of parachutes, hundred of them, gradually floating earthward, bringing us necessities that for many years had been denied us. Clothing, boots, food, soap, cigarettes, matches, medical supplies, etc., now our minds were easy, it must be true.
Parties were detailed to collect these packages, then all the Camp were paraded into batches of two hundred, medically classified and issued with articles of clothing, boots, cigarettes, matches, soap, razor etc. Shortly afterwards we were all washed, shaved, booted and walking about dressed like soldiers and not the coolies, the Camp had in so many hours changed, we were once again, MEN.
Gradually the strength of the Camp decreased as parties left on their first stage of the journey home. On the morning of the Eighteenth of August 1945, our party was ordered to parade in the Japanese Compound, with our kits. Here we were inspected by our own officers, with our 'Old Friends', the Japanese guards looking on. We then marched, singing all the old songs we knew, through the streets of Nakom Patan to the railway Station, divided into parties of twenty, we entrained into open cattle trucks. With a mighty cheer, we were off on the tedious journey to Bangkok.
Lt. Col. Coates Declaration 18th August 1945
It was not what you would call a comfortable journey. It was a nightmare. But we did not mind now, we were on the first part of our journey home. It started to rain, which did not improve matters, then to crown all, the train stopped and we had to detrain. We had arrived at a bridge, the original one having been bombed and blown out of existence, but now standing in its place stood a rickety, wooden one. We were told that this bridge would not stand a loaded train, and that each truck would have to be pushed across separately and rejoined at the other side and that we should have to walk across in single file.
It was a treat to be a spectator and to watch the Japanese Guards pushing the trucks across the Bridge. But they did not have anyone shouting at them or urging them on with the aid of a bamboo pole or a rifle butt, as we should have had less than a week ago.
Our turn now came to cross this terrible ill-constructed bridge. Some walked, others crawled. The sleepers were just laid on supporting beams, and not at even distances, sometimes they were anything from two to three feet apart, and seeing that this bridge was built across a chasm about fifty feet deep and with a roaring, rapid stream running under it, could you wonder that we felt windy!
Once we were across and spirits strengthened, we entrained again and were off, with now only the thoughts of that terrible bridge, which was now well behind us.
It was dark and raining very hard when the train entered the Riverside Station of Bangkok, we detrained and marched to the river ferryboat, which took us across the river to the City of Bangkok. Our first view of civilisation for two and a half years. By lorry we were driven through the streets to the University Buildings, which was to be our home for two days.
Next day we were allowed out, what a treat to be able to roam about without interference, to be able to go into a Cafe and order a pint of beer and drink it in comfort. To be able to converse with friendly people, and the food without rice and with plenty of meat. Even this day was a day never to be forgotten.
On the Twenty First of August 1945, we en bussed and arrived at Bangkok Airport. Debussing we were divided into parties of twenty and directed to the Dakota which was to take us on our next stage to freedom. Getting aboard we were instructed in the use of the parachutes and given a few hints, the plane then taxied to the runway and we were off.
Flying fairly low and being able to look down, we saw ourselves flying over familiar ground. Rice fields, jungle and the Burma-Siam Railway, which we had been forced to build. Were we had spent long hours of torture, agony and starvation. Where we had left thousands of our comrades in unknown graves, but although we should never forget, we were gradually leaving it all behind us and our thoughts should be of joy not sorrow. We flew on, over the mountainous country, through fog, rain and cloud. Even the throb of the propellers seems to say, "Home, Home, Home".
Orders were given to fasten our safety straps; this meant we were nearing our destination. Gradually descending, we could see a winding river, aerodrome, lorry parks, hutted and tented camps. The plane finally came to rest and another portion of our journey had been completed and we were among friends and miles away from our late bosses. The Japs.
Entering a N.A.A.F.I. Canteen, we were provided with a hot cup of tea and two or three familiar rock cakes. We were then immediately driven by lorry to Hospital, detailed to Wards and beds, and ordered to prepare ourselves for Medical inspection.
Here we had our first glimpses of English Nurses, where they real? Could they speak? But the most embarrassing moment was still to come, we were ordered to undress ready for examination by a 'Lady Doctor! Could it be possible, could we endure it? What would we feel like being mauled about by a woman after not seeing one for several years? Luckily for us, it passed off naturally like things of this nature do. Soon we should know whether we were fit enough to be able to travel on the final stages of our journey.
After several days in Hospital, we were told our fate, some were for India, some to remain in Hospital, the lucky remainder to be transferred to the Base Transit Camp, to be requipped with further clothing and gifts and to stand by for the ship to take us to home and peace.
Thousands of Prisoners of War had been flown to Rangoon from Camps in Burma, Siam and as far away as French Indo China, so there was jubilation and handshaking for you met friends whom we thought had long since passed away, experience as we related, and of course, questions asked about missing pals.
During our stay in Rangoon, we had the Supreme Commander (Lord Louise Mountbatten), and his Satellites talk to us, and to inform us that every effort would be made to bring our past masters to heel and that they would be given swift trial. This was excellent news, but would this compensate us for what we had been through, or bring back to life those twenty five thousand comrades we had left behind us. It would not.
Indopura - Dutch Liner
On the morning of the Twenty Seventh of August 1945, we left Transit Camp on our way to the Boat. We drove through the well-bombed City of Rangoon to the Docks and embarked on the . After being detailed to our sleeping quarters and dumping our kit, we crowded the decks to have a long last look at the country that none of us wished to see again. We also saw the new seaboard armour, which had been concentrated ready for the attack on Malaya. We now all believed that we were free and that it was all over.
Gangway were hauled aboard, the siren blew, the anchors were weighed and we were off on our long awaited voyage.
We had an excellent journey, the weather was perfect, the food good and plentiful. Everything possible was being done to take our minds off past years. Concerts were held, Lectures given about conditions in Britain, what arrangements had been made for our welcome, our rejoining civilian life, how we were to be treated medically, etc., in fact, everything dealing with our selves.
Arriving at Ceylon, we were given a marvellous reception, being entertained at a Naval Barracks with plenty of Wrens in attendance, along with the Bands, outings, Cinema performances, more Red Cross Gifts, and not forgetting most of all, letters from home. Some got photographs of their children playing in the snow, but snow, however deep did not or would not bother us at present, we were inwardly too happy to worry about snow!
All good things must at some time come to an end, re-embarking again, we left Ceylon, we arrived at Aden, sailing through the Red Sea until we finally docked at Port Suez, where a still bigger reception awaited us. We went ashore in parties and were issued with our winter clothing, Battle dress, seeing that most of us were regular's this dress was strange to us, we had been used to the Pre-war type of dress with plenty of buttons to clean, it was a treat to see the lads looking like a load of Tailor's Dummies, after they had, for a number of years been used to wearing a Jap Happy or loincloth and nothing else, not even boots.
Leaving Port Suez, we sailed through the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, past Gibraltar, we were now getting close to our Homeland, we started to count the days, then the hours and finally minutes. Concerts, Lectures, etc., became a thing of the past, all our interest was now centred on our loved ones who were not far away.
With Flags flying, sirens blowing, Bands playing, we entered Southampton Docks. There were crowds on the Dockside cheering and shouting. But no Cheer was returned by us, we were too dumbfounded. All we were thinking about was could we stick this kind of welcome after having been subdued for so long a period of time. Disembarking, we drove in buses through the streets of cheering people to our reception Camps.
After a day of Ceremony, feeding and the general familiarities of Army Routine, we entrained for home and the meeting of our loved ones.
It was the 22nd of October 1945.