WAMPO (WANG PHO)
Map of Wampo - December 1942
Map Drawn by J T (Jim) Rea
click on above map to enlarge - it will take time to load as it is a big file
Conditions here were appalling, no huts, no latrines, no hospital, no cookhouses - only for the Nip Railway Branch and the Korean Guards. So POW's had to sleep, eat and stay out in the open, the open being jungle land. This had to be cleared, huts erected, latrines dug, cookhouses built, rice bags weighing 220 lbs to be carried from the river to store houses already erected, and by men already tired, very few who were not suffering from sore and blistered feet, small ulcers, acute diarrhoea or dysentery and malaria, treatment for the above was negligible, medical supplies being only what the ranks had carried. Supplies issued by the Nips were insufficient, men tore up clothing for dressings, putties used for bandages, Epsom Salts and charcoaled rice for diarrhoea and dysentery, Anti-Malaria and Anti-Gas ointment as ointments, Saline, Potassium permanganate and Lysol for dressing.
Two days after arrival, we suffered our first death, cause: - acute diarrhoea, the life could have been saved if proper medical attention had been available. The food was insufficient, consisting of half grained, dirty rice and tea for breakfast with a level dessertspoon of sugar if available, dinner was boiled rice, tea and salt. Tea was boiled rice, thin watery, vegetable stew made of 8 marrows and 5 musk marrows, and tea. The total feeding in the camp, at one cookhouse was 1,584 men.
Japanese Basic Rations, per person were as follows: -
Rice - 750 grams, Tea - 5 grams, Sugar - 3 grams*, Salt 5 grams, Oil - 4 grams*, Vegetables - 500 grams, Meat 3 grams*.
The items marked '*' were rarely available for the first two months.
After two weeks, conditions regarding accommodation became better, huts; latrines, drains, cookhouses and one hospital hut had been built. Work then commenced on the Railway, this meant the clearing of a path 10 meters wide through the thick virgin jungle, intermingled with clumps of bamboo, distance to be cleared, eight miles north and south of the camp. An embankment to be made for a single railway track, all the work was by hand labour, the work commenced at eight in the morning and ended at six in the evening, with a break for "dinner" of one hour. We were given one days rest every ten days, during which time, ranks erected a concert stage and a bathing beach. Concerts were allowed once a week on our day of rest. Concerts were of the variety type, being accompanied by a cornet and an accordion.
The issue of rations by the I.J.A. was very poor, as at this time the only method of bringing rations to the camps was by the river, there being no roads or rail. This conveyance was by barge, but owing to the river not being deep enough during the dry months and too fast flowing during the wet months, consequently, rations were received after long periods. When they did arrive they were partly rotten and in large quantities, therefore when issued to ration scale, it may last eight or twelve days, so that being partly rotten when it arrived, within four days of arrival it was too rotten to use, but still it was issued, so for a number of days no rations, such as vegetables, could be used.
Vegetables issued in most cases were 90% water, such as marrow, mush marrow, cucumber and Chinese radish, or starchy such as sweet potato and other tropical vegetables, so very little vitamin value was obtained from the veg or the rice, and this was the men's main source of living.
No meat or oil was issued until the 20th December 1942, then only a ten stone pig, which had to last two days and feed 1,584 men, and only then after the Guards had taken 1/5th of it.
At this time I was carrying out the duties of the Wampo Camp R.Q.M.S., issuing rations at the I.J.A. Basic Rate, in accordance with orders from a Korean Q.M. also issuing clothing, etc. (if any!). Each week I had to report to him and report how much rations I had issued, and how much I had remaining. He told me that the commodities weighed as follows: - 1 Bag of Sugar - 120 Kilos, Flour - 150 Kilos, Salt 150 Kilos, Vegetables - Marrow, Cucumber, etc. 120 Kilos, Sweet Potatoes etc. - 150 Kilos. After a bag was finished I was always 2 days short of the time allowed, I could not fathom how this could possibly happen, I had issued correctly, this was serious, as it meant that for two days 1,584 P.O.W.'s were short of some commodity.
After two months of this, I was sent for by the Korean Q.M. to check, in front of him was a ration sheet in Japanese, but figures in English, as he called out the rations by name, he would point to a certain line and say in broken English "4 bags Sugar at 100 Kilos" and so on. When we had completed checking, I asked him what the figures stood for; he replied "the weight of the bag or basket of veg". Then I realised why I was always two days short, every item issued had had its weight increased by 20 to 30%. I immediately reported it to the British Camp Commandant, who reported it to the Nip Commandant, who rectified the matter and relieved the Korean of his responsibility. This was not all, the Korean in question, was placed in charge of a subsidiary camp, where he controlled the rations issued through me, one day, he arrived at the P.O.W. Ration Store and ordered me to issue Vegetable Rations to subsidiary Camps at 500 grams and at 200 grams to Wampo Main Camp, which I am sorry to say was not a working camp, but a sick camp, (the sick only receiving half rations), approximately 100 of the 1,584 men being sick and unable to do heavy work.
I argued with him, and finally he went to the Korean Cookhouse fuming. A matter of minutes had elapsed when he called me, I was met by flaying hands being smote heavily on each cheek at least twenty times, he then informed me that he had found a Thai Bargeman with Vegetable rations, and seeing that I was responsible for them, I must have sold them to him. Without being able to explain I was ordered to kneel down and again I was smote heavily on both sides of my face. Then seeing that he did not seem to hurt me, he made me stand up again and strictly at attention, whilst he beat me about the legs with a piece of bamboo, he then made me stand to attention for four hours, without head gear and facing the sun, after this I was released. After four months, I still had black and blue marks on my leg.
For about four months, conditions were favourable, although the food was bad; the work was hard but not killing. P.O.W.'s according to rank were paid: - Officer's 50 to 30 dollars a month (scaled down on rank), W.O's 30 cents, N.C.O's (Corporals and above) 25 cents, others 20 cents per day paid every 10 days, with reductions according to Rank for Medical supplies, Sick and Messing. (No sick received pay and only got half rations), no money was paid to ranks less officers, it went into a canteen fund, to buy extra sugar, oil, meat (Report on the next page), salt, peanuts, eggs, etc., to supplement I.J.A. Rations. With the remainder, Ranks were paid in kind, cigarettes, tobacco, eggs, etc.; therefore the sick were allowed eggs, some cigarettes and tobacco. The serious sick got the organs of pig and cattle, (this was not so at all camps, camps higher up the river were unable to buy any of these commodities, and very little I.J.A supplies). As regards meat: - In late December, the British Camp Commandant, asked the Nips for more rations, especially meat, the sick were increasing, and the Nips continually shouting for men for work. If better and more food and medical supplies were issued then the sick would decrease, therefore more workingmen would become available. The Nips stated that this was impossible, but more men must be made available for work. The British Camp Commandant then asked, if he could buy cattle from the Canteen funds, this the Nip agreed to, so for the next four months we had meat, not a lot but enough to give us nourishment.
POW Far East
Neath the blazing sun in Thailand, somewhere west of Kanburu
There’s a crowd of British Prisoners and one poor devils me
I’ve got ulcers round my ancles and dysentery as well
The M.O. says “I’m fit for work” but am I ? Well
We’ve Shokos and we’ve Gunners and it seems a blinking treat
We’ve bags of blinkin’ shovellin’and blooming rice to eat
I’ve been working in the jungle erectin’ telegraph poles
I’m what they call an Impi man, I dig the blinkin’ holes
And when my work is over, I sometimes sit and think
Of the wife and home in England and my thoughts they blinkin’ stink
But when the war is over, we’ll give three blinkin’ cheers
And we’ll go home as heroes
Aye in fifty blinkin’ years.
The detachment of POW’s, which was sent to WAMPO CAMP initially, was made up of: -
63 Gordon Highlanders,
202 from the 7th and 9th Coast Regiment Royal Artillery,
317 Malayan Volunteers from the SSVF, Kedah Volunteer Force and F.M.S.V.F. and
76 others, some from the 18th Division.
Eventually there were 1500 POW’s in the Camp.
The Camp itself consisted of 11 huts in total. Each hut was 150 ft long by 20 ft wide, with a 6-foot corridor down the middle. There was an opening in the middle of each hut and at each end. The sleeping area was a platform about 7 foot wide and about 20 inches from the ground, each POW was allocated about 2 foot wide to live and sleep in.
The Hospital Hut was about 70 feet long with a wider central gangway. The sides of the hut were filled in and the roof was slightly higher. The nearest Latrines were some 50 yards from the huts. These were some 18 feet long by 5 feet wide by 10 feet deep.
The Nip Cookhouse was by the river and the Camp Commandants house was on stilts near the river. There was a larger hut for the Guards with the closest POW hut being about 150 yards from the Nip Cookhouse. The Camp itself was built on the high ground.
The Nip Commandant was Lt. Hattori Hiroshi.
The British Commandant was Lt. Col. H.H. Lilly
The Senior N.C.O. was Sgt. Takeda, he was an O.K. sort of a fellow.
Christmas Treats 1942!
XMAS BREAKFAST – RICE with 2 spoons of Sugar, TEA and 2 pieces of Peanut Toffee.
DINNER – 3 Pigs Issued. Extra Veg and peas, Pork Stew, Veg , Pork Dumplings, and Rice Tea.
TEA – Pork Stew, Veg, Pork Dumpling, Rice, Tea, [?] 20 Cigs per man. 2 Eggs from Canteen.
“The Gunner’s Revenge”
At Wampo, whilst building the Viaduct, the first task was the removal of hundreds of tons of rock from the rock face alongside the river. it was here that father told me they had “The Gunner’s Revenge”. What happened was that some large rocks from the Cliff face, had to be removed, so it was decided by the Nip’s that rather than just use the POW’s brute strength and ignorance, dynamite would be the best way of doing it. The POW’s would drill the holes using the normal method of hammering into the rock a ‘Chisel’ until they had mad a hole deep enough to drop a charge of dynamite into, this then had a fuse placed in it and the fuses were then lit, mainly from a cigarette and the ‘lighters’ then ran like ‘buggery’! There was a section facing across to the Camp, which was ‘allocated’ to the ‘Gunner’s’ as it was considered that they may be able to limit any damage caused with the explosions, which would, as usual, result in ’spare’ flying debris. [A number of POW’s had already been slightly injured by stray rocks smashing into both the Camp area, and where they had been working.] The work was, as usual, tedious, hot, slippery and dangerous for the ‘drillers’, as it was a matter of holding this ‘lump’ of long, thin, steel, supposed to be a chisel, and having it struck on the end by your work-mates. The metal was not always, very solid and so chips and splinters would fly off, causing lacerations and other minor injuries, any of which could soon turn septic in the environment we were working in. Also the end of the ‘chisel’ could slay and splinter in such a manner that it was difficult to remove from the hole. As an added impetus, if you were to loose your footing on this section of what was to become ‘The Wampo Viaduct’, you would fall some considerable distance to the river, either hitting the rocks which had been thrown down already, or by falling into the river. Either way, you stood little chance of surviving and the Nip’s could not care less about your end result, it would be one less to feed, their worry was one less to work! However in the case of shifting this specific part of the rock face, it was important to us that we made a ‘Good Job of it!’ So the job was set too and completed within the time laid down by the Nip’s. Come the day and along with other stretches of the cliff face, the charges and fuses were laid. Then the fuses were lit, some earlier than was necessary, by the Nips in order to make our life even more difficult. The area was cleared and we moved as far as possible away from the possibility of falling debris. All waited for the Bang! Funnily, everybody had moved away as far as possible from the site of the Camp! Then came the clouds of dust, followed closely by the bang and every body ducked for cover. From across the river, a shower of quite large rocks and other assorted debris, descended on the Camp, primarily around the Nip hut emplacement. There had been quite a bit of damage done to their huts and surrounds! Not our fault, The Nips had laid the charges and set them off! What had it got to do with us? The Cheers said it all! They should never have given a job which involved, Predicting Trajectory, Estimated Weight of Projectile, Explosive Charges and Destination and Distance to target, to an ‘organisation’ who had spent years training to fire large calibre, Coastal Guns! Just for once, we could see the results of our efforts from the Blood Sweat and Tears that had been expended. That was the Gunner’s Revenge!