Sketch by Jack Chalker

Thailand

There was no way of escape from this ordeal, the jungle was the perimeter and the Japs knew that, even though the order was given that if anyone tried to escape they would be brought back and shot. Four P.O.W.'s did try to escape, but unfortunately were recaptured and the Japs kept their word. They were made to dig their own graves and finally shot. Our C.O. asked if they could be buried in the makeshift cemetery in Chungkai, but this was refused.

So, here we are now working on this railway, twelve hours per day. Our ration of rice and tea etc. was totally inadequate for any human being to work on as hard as we did, and finally sickness came to all of us in one form or another, and with medical supplies practically nil, death began to take its toll. The doctors did all they could to save lives, but it was an uphill task for them, scratches from bamboo turned to ulcers and these caused loss of limb, etc. Malaria was common and the lack of quinine did not help any. There were maybe two funerals per day for the unlucky ones, and once again prayers were on our minds, who was next?

Day after day the same old routine, roll-call in the morning, collect our rations and off to work, but then to speed the work up the Japs thought of a different scheme. They gave us a task to do. We were working on an embankment. The tools they gave us were very primitive. The main tool was called a Chunkel. A sort of large hoe. This tool was to chop and dig soil from the siding and then it was carried by two men to a stretcher made of rice sack and bamboo, and then onto the embankment. Our guards always made sure the task was big enough to last the said amount of hours, but one day we finished our task two hours before time and we were allowed to go back to camp earlier than usual. The next day the task was made longer and we got wise to that so there was no point in getting on with it, only you had to, because if a guard saw you slacking it was punishment when you got back to the guard room in camp. One of these punishments was to stand outside the guard room with your arms outstretched and a brick put on each hand. In time these bricks got very heavy and the arms could not stand it any longer so in the end they finally dropped. This meant a hiding from the Japs in no uncertain manner, and with one's stamina such as it was, one finally succumbed to such treatment and was eventually helped back to his hut extremely ill.

The Japs got a kick out of this, good entertainment for them and the annoying thing was there wasn't a damn thing you could do about it, only wish that one day the boot would be on the other foot, then again the normal British Tommy would not think of causing atrocities to his fellow man, but this is not the way of the Japanese.

I remember one day, after finishing our day's work, going for a swim. This was always appreciated as it was the only form of entertainment we were entided to, and believe me it was not much of an entertainment as we were very weak, ten strokes of the breast stroke and that was that. But to return to the story. One day I developed a tickle in my nose and before I could stop myself I sneezed and to my disgust, out came my false teeth and into the water they went. 'Oh my God,' I thought, now what am I going to do? My life at the moment was bad enough without this happening. You may be thinking that this was a small worry, but how was I going to digest anything without having stomach trouble, although the amount we had did not take a lot of digesting but it did cause a worry.

Now losing my teeth did cause a bit of excitement, I had some of my mates dive under the surface of the river hoping to find my teeth, but no such luck, so there I was, for the rest of my P.O.W. days without top teeth. Believe me in the state I was in I was not a pretty sight even with teeth, my God you should have seen me without teeth. This meant that most of my ration of food went down without chewing and this caused problems with my well being and I had to visit the loo more than I needed to. Eventually I had to report sick to my doctor, I was on a fruitless mission, what was a sore stomach as to having legs off?

Next Chapter

Yasme Day