Sketch by Jack Chalker

Up Country

PART TWO

UP COUNTRY

On the 12th October 1942, two Battalions, each of 650 men (a total of 1,300), marched from Havelock Road and River Valley to Singapore Station. Here we were entrained in steel covered trucks, un-swept, 32 men with their kit to a truck, only allowing 15 men to lay down at any one time, therefore one train carrying 1,300 P.O.W's moved out of Singapore Station for an unknown destination. This was to be our last sight of Singapore and principal civilisation for a very long time.

The journey lasted for five days and four nights, only having one meal a day issued by the Jap's, this consisted of: Boiled rice, thin watery vegetable stew and a bucket of water. The ranks slept in shifts, one side for four hours, then the other side, no one was allowed out of the trucks, washing was an impossibility, and we urinated and passed motion out of the truck doorway. The heat inside the truck became unbearable owing to the heat of the sun making the steel covering of the trucks untouchable. Anyone attempting to get out of the trucks whilst the train was stationary was beaten by the Nip guards.

After five days and four nights of unbelievable hell, the train stopped at Bang-Pong, Thailand. We detrained and paraded outside the station, where the Jap P.O.W Commander 'Colonel Ishie', gave us a lecture. He informed us that we had come to Thailand to construct a Railway from Thailand to Burma, if we worked well and obeyed the I.J.A. orders and regulations to the letter, we would be well treated, if we did not, we would be severely treated. After this nice talk, we were marched three miles to the Transit Camp. Just try to imagine what it felt like, to march that distance, after being cooped up for 5 days and 4 nights in a truck, and with a large kit bag and valise, it was just sheer grit and willpower, aided on by Jap threats.

To enlarge please click on mapRAILWAY OF DEATH JUNE 42-AUG 45-tn

Map of Thailand-Burma Death Railway

click on above map to enlarge - it will take time to load as it is a big file

The Transit Camp was just a collection of tumble down huts with no latrines and no water. If you wanted a wash, you first reported to the Nip Guard Room, where you bowed and scraped to get permission to go out, and then only in 30's. The next lot leaving when the first lot had returned. Then you had to walk two miles for your wash, food had to be drawn the same way, some neither got food or a wash.

The condition of the huts was terrible; the Hospital Hut was so bad that Doctors and Orderlies had to wade through a foot of water to attend to the sick.

After one days rest, we were ordered to march, all heavy kit to be left behind. These the Nips promised would be sent on later. We marched that day for 28 kilometres, don't think that was easy, Thailand is not England nor are the roads. It was scorching hot, men became exhausted and collapsed, or became lame through foot sores, but still they were made to carry on, we finally arrived at the next Transit Camp, but to find it was to be for one night only. No meal had been prepared, volunteers had to be asked for, to prepare and cook a meal, and to stay up all night and get the breakfast ready and then to march again. Conditions in this Camp were good, including food and water supplies; Ranks having their first good wash down for 8 days.

At 7.00 am, 21st October 1942, Battalions commenced the next step, 29 kilometres, to the main  P.O.W. H.Q. Camp, Kan-Chan-Buri. This march was hellish; ranks fell out and lay down on the roadside to exhausted or to foot sore to move. The Jap's then allowed one lorry to pick up these men and bring them to the Camp. The last man being brought in at 8.00 am the next morning. On arrival in Camp, ranks were accommodated either in tents or in huts. Before getting a meal, volunteer cooks had to be found, the food was good but wasted, owing to the fact that ranks were too exhausted to eat, they just lay down and slept. We were allowed one-day rest, most of the day the Doctor's and orderlies spent in dressing sores and blistered feet, treating diarrhoea, etc.

At 7.00 am 23 rd October 1942, the Battalion paraded for Roll call ready to commence marching the third stretch, this was not to be by the roadway, but through the jungle and along a newly, partly constructed railway banking which the Thai's had started, but which they had refused to finish. After marching 23 kilometres, we arrived at the first jungle Transit Camp, Sajah, there was only one large hut in which 1,000 P.O.W's were ordered to sleep. This was impossible so ranks bedded down outside the hut and in a small Buddhist Temple which was situated in the close proximity, (permission to do this had been granted by the priests). In this camp we got our first taste of Jap discipline, the food was vile, the meal given to us after marching was just slightly cooked rice and watery tea. This we got both for supper and for breakfast. During the night, the Jap guards finding men sleeping outside the hut started kicking and striking the sleeping men, forcing them into the overcrowded hut. Consequently very little sleep was got, four times at approximately two hour intervals, all ranks were ordered to parade for a Roll call. This was not a Roll call, but a beating up parade, for nothing at all, ranks were slapped or struck with rifle butts or the flat of swords, all ranks were pleased to see 7.00 am arrive and the next stage of marching commence. This next section was in single file, through thick jungle, through rice paddy fields, feet deep in mud, through and along streams, over rotting jungle bridges to a camp without any cover. Fires were allowed to be lit, then it started raining, torrential tropical rain, it was grand! After four days marching, tired, foot sore and now wet through and without any food down came more rain. Rice and tea were issued, and the final stage of the march commenced, 32 kilometres, the conditions were the same as the previous day, jungle, but raining. At times up to the knees in mud, our boots just collapsed, ranks finished the last part of the march bootless, we finally arrived at Tarsao, HQ of IV Group. Of course in effect only half of us, the remainder just straggling in and arriving in small groups. At 4.00 am a meal was issued, rice, thin watery stew with tea an hour later. After this a large search party was organised, carrying stretchers made of two bamboo poles and rice sacks, to bring in the men who had fallen by the wayside. Here we were accommodated in newly erected huts, given one days rest and then moved by barge to Wampo P.O.W Camp, our home until May 1943. So finished a journey by truck for five days and four nights, and five days march of 136 kilometres or About 85 miles}, a period never to be forgotten, the journey commenced on 12th October 1942 and ended 15 days later on the 26th October 1942.

Extra Notes:-

Prior to leaving ‘Up Country’

OCT. 10th 1942. Issued with Red Cross [South African] SHIRT – 1, SHORTS – 1, SOCKS – 1, TOWEL – 1, BOOTS – 1, TINS OF MILK – 4, TINS CORNED BEEF – 3, TINS MEAT AND VEG – 3, TIN OF VEG – 1, TIN OF JAM – 1, CIGS. – 60[v]. BISCUITS, VITAMIN A & B SWEETS, TIN OF FRUIT – 1.

 

Next Chapter

Wampo

 

 

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