Caldecot Hill Prisoner of War Camp
Singapore. May 28th 1942
It is so long since I heard you speak - or saw you walk - or do any of the thousand tasks which had become so much a part of our lives together. I often wonder when - (I sometimes wonder if?) - we shall be re-united. It's about seven months now since I last saw you - and since leaving England I do not know if you have received any Communications from me at all.
Perhaps one day you will receive this - by what means heaven alone knows - so I guess I'll just let you know what has happened to me since our last meeting.
Quite a little history - at times almost a tragedy but always with a humorous side somewhere floating round. Even if I'm not spared to tell you the story of my short but rather hectic experience of war in the Far East - perhaps this may in time reach you and perhaps someone will be able to tell you that your husband - and Guys father - did the tasks he was called upon to do - and was not "found wanting".
Well here goes! As you may already know we left Gourock - on the River Clyde on November 12th in the "Empress of Japan" - a wonderful vessel.
Empress of Japan
As officers of course we travelled First Class - cabins good and food simply wonderful. Two days out - and the seas began to be really rough. Fortunately I was not seasick - the high waves lasted about four days. We saw no sign of the enemy - we were in Convoy with twelve other vessels all bearing famous names and one battleship - the "Royal Sovereign" as escort. Without incident we sighted the Azores in about twelve days and soon afterwards put in at Freetown, Sierra Leone.
We stayed there for four days. A hot malarial spot with not much fun apparently. (We were not allowed ashore.) We heard that our escort vessel had disposed of two enemy surface raiders - quite good news to all of us. Setting sail again we rounded the Cape and reached Durban on December 20th - this part of the journey was entirely without incident - except that the seas around the Cape were simply mountainous. It was at Durban that we received our first shock - we had of course heard that Japan was in the war - and were met at Durban with the news that we would be diverted to Singapore and not proceed to Basra. We stayed at Durban for four days - a wonderful seaside town - had shore leave - but had to transfer to a lousy old tub - the "Narkunda" for the remainder of our voyage.
Leaving Durban on Christmas Eve, we of course spent Christmas Day afloat and well out of sight of land - not my most happy Christmas Day by any manner of means. We re-fuelled at Ari Atoll in the Maldive Islands - a really big Coral atoll and a really wonderful sight. Leaving there we passed through the Sundra and Bangka Straits and sighted Singapore just before noon on January 13th. What a welcome! I had just developed "Narkunda diarrhoea" - (a hell of a complaint) - it was raining as it only rains in the tropics - and the Japanese air force made an attack on the harbour. Good welcome eh! Still we got through that OK and disembarked the same day - went to Chickabu Camp - still raining - where we settled down for a week. This was spent in being refitted and getting our guns transport etc - training the men in gun drill etc. On the 20th we Troop Commanders went up into Malaya (after being bombed a few times in Chickabu) to make a "recce". We went as far north as Labis sought out gun positions and returned to Camp. Did about 180 miles that day. Two days later we went up into action. I was given the task of defending the road junction at Simpang Rengam. The first day there over came the bombers - we kept them away. Back they came the next day. My four guns were in great form - kept the blighters off the junction - brought one plane down and damaged two others. More rain - one more day at Simpang Rengam - and then a marvellous night move to the Eastern Front where I had to defend the important river bridge at Kara Tinggi a very pleasant small town on a wide and muddy tidal river. Spent one or two days there without any outstanding incidents and then came another shock - we were to make still another withdrawal (I should explain here that Singapore Island and Malaya are joined by a stone causeway over the Johore Straits). All troops were to be withdrawn to the island and my troop was ordered to cover the retreat across the causeway and remain in position until all troops had crossed. This was an honour much appreciated - although it most certainly meant a very dangerous position.
1942 May 30th:- (You can see, my dear, that this will be very much in the nature of an "omnibus" letter. I will write a few lines whenever the opportunity presents itself). However, the position I have just mentioned passed off without anything really serious happening - we were certainly bombed - but that doesn't cut much ice with people who have experienced the bombing which Germany has inflicted on England. At 3am on the morning of the 30 Jan I received orders to "pull out" - all troops were through. It's simply amazing that so many troops with equipment etc passed over such a very narrow passage such as the causeway really is, without any serious trouble. I took my guns down to Few Tew Village and stayed there for about a day - then off to defend an important road fork at Somapah Village - for about four days. (One lost all count of time and dates just then) This was a very quiet period - had plenty to eat and fairly long intervals of peace in which to eat them. Too good to last, for I received orders to "recce" gun positions in the Naval Base. We moved into position during a very dark night and then spent about eight days of real hell there. The Japs started shelling the morning after we arrived and soon developed into shelling 24 hours a day - daily bombing - trench mortars and even rifle and machine gun fire from the Japanese just across the Johore Straits. Our own guns were also firing over our heads so perhaps you can imagine just how unpleasant things were during this period. My own THQ was "plastered" good and heavy. I lost 3 cookhouses on successive days through shellfire. My own duties were rendered rather uncomfortable. You can guess! Motorcycling round the gun positions at any hour of the day or night brought with it a direct attack of shellfire, but the job just had to be done. While here, I was almost completely deserted by higher formation - they paid just one visit - that was enough. All this time I had been completely alone - no junior officer to relieve me. I was now presented with an assistant who "cracked" within 24 hours - my Troop Sergeant had already cracked under the strain the day the shelling started - happy position wasn't it? I was however still able to get enough to eat and to be able to snatch a few minutes sleep from time to time..... There were of course incidents that had their own humorous side. For example, I was two days in getting my hair trimmed - every time the boy brought out the clippers Johnny Jap started up and we had to dive for shelter. Then came the moment - (somewhere about the 10th) when I discovered (not for the first time) that the infantry had retreated and that there was no one between my guns and the Japs. So I pulled out this time to a very important junction - that of the Thomson and Braddell Roads. Our withdrawal received a farewell present from Johnny in the shape of a tornado of mortar shells. In our new position we spent one complete day of action - plenty hot too - five planes down. Pulled out again at night again under shell fire and harboured for a short time in a small crescent groove near "Mickey Mouse" corner. Then came our last two days of action - on the 14th and 15th we were attacked by aircraft all day and shelled all night - but four and three planes respectively went to the Japanese version of Hades, and then the crowning blow. I received orders that we were to capitulate and my guns were to be destroyed. My dear, I think my heart was nearly broken! I shall never forget that day - I personally felt on top of the world - and then with that dreadful order I think I have never felt so depressed. Still that's over! Here in a nutshell is the history of my Troop since leaving England. Last November they were looked upon as being the worst troop in the Regiment. When the campaign finished I was Troop Commander of the most successful LAA Troop in Malaya! Net score - 13 destroyed (certs) 19 probables and 6 hits - this in less than a month of actual fighting! What's more I had not lost a man killed or wounded seriously. I still feel a certain personal pride about it all. I shan't get any medals or anything like that but - I did get results! Medals can go to those in the limelight at the Base - but give me the real stuff - right among it all. One doesn't feel any shame then afterwards - it is nice to feel one has done ones bit! .......(Through all this I haven't mentioned a word about you and our son. Believe me, my dear, you have always been in my thoughts. If I am spared to return to you I can tell you just how much your image has meant to me during the dangers of the Campaign - and during my life as prisoner of war. It was just that image which has, right through it all, given me the strength and guidance to do my job - and to keep decent and clean and faithful. You see my dear my love hasn't changed one scrap.) Now for more history! We were all taken to Changi Camp on the 18th Feb - and remained there until our removal here on 5th May. We have, I suppose, been reasonably well treated - but I have often been hungry. Our staple diet has been rice - not as you know it but a lower grade of rice without much food value. We sometimes get a cigarette issue - but I even now certainly miss my English diet. How I look forward to my first meal at home! A hot bath - comfortable and clean quarters - in fact, everything that means England. This isn't a very pleasant life - no news at all of what is happening in the world - don't even know whether you have yet been informed that I am alive. I pray you have because I should hate to think of you worrying all this time. You always said I would get through OK didn't you?
1942 July 3rd:- Back at Changi P.O.W. Camp again! On 27 June we suddenly got marching orders and landed up here much to our disappointment. Rations at Caldecot Camp were so much better - and there is at the moment a cholera scare on - war news is bad - so you can imagine that things are not too happy. Last night I was dreaming about you and the lad. It was so happy and home like that the awakening was pretty bloody! It has made me even more determined to live - and not just give in and die as so many have done already. I do wish that I could get some news of you - it would help to make everything better. While at Caldecot Camp I ran the Officers Mess and we managed from time to time to wangle a good meal. I have now completely beaten my life long distaste for vegetables (have had to - for sometimes I could have almost howled with hunger!) For one meal we had, in addition to meat, no less than fourteen distinct varieties of vegetables and fruit - and I paid each and every one full justice! A really funny incident here was my being attacked by a monkey - a bad tempered old fellow who thought, I imagine, that I was trying to steal his food. No damage done to me, fortunately, for they have nasty teeth! The plant and animal life out here would interest you immensely; and so would the smells! Each native quarter has its own distinctive odour - each more unpleasant than the last!
But the flowers are truly magnificent. Trees laden with heavily scented bloom. Even many of the hedges are of hibiscus - with masses of glorious crimson flowers. In some areas the night is rendered hideous by the bullfrogs - or the tapping of some nocturnal bird or beast. The fireflies are a magnificent sight - hundreds of them flitting about in the darkness. We have now been told that we may be allowed to send a postcard to our next of kin - good news if it comes off. We now receive pay - 25 cents a day for officers (about 6d) - it's better than nothing for we can sometimes have an egg for breakfast, or something to smoke. The battery has now been completely split up - only the Major, a junior subaltern and myself left here - by the way, I am a full Lieutenant now. Shall be an acting Capt I expect some time. So that's another celebration in store for us. By the way, the anniversaries are adding up quickly. We shall be rather busy when I return working off all arrears. I do pray my dear that the strain of this war is not taking too much toll from you. If Guy has kept his promise to be good I'm sure that you can weather the storm - but I'm afraid that he will take advantage. One thing I regret over here is that owing to the capitulation - in addition to losing an appreciable amount of kit, I also lost some rather valuable souvenirs I had acquired for you - one job I must start all over again when hostilities cease - may it be soon!
1942 July 16:- Still at Changi! But rumours have it that a selected party will shortly be en route to one of the Japanese islands, and is anticipated that we shall be among those selected to go. Personally I don't mind, might as well travel at the expense of the Japs while we are out here! It's all experience - not always exactly a pleasant experience though, I must confess! Have been dreaming rather a lot recently - far more than I have ever done before; and they are all dreams of past events - in which you figure rather a lot! The worst point about them is that they do tend to make one feel more homesick than ever. This "not knowing" feeling is rather awful. We have heard that England has been heavily bombed - and none of us know how our loved ones are fairing; that is the hardest thing of all to bear in connection with our present position. We really have no knowledge of what is going on in the world. We certainly see a newspaper - but it is locally printed and under the complete control of the Japanese - so I guess it's just the old propaganda stunt. At any rate we don't place too much faith in the news it contains.
It's extremely warm here at the moment. The climate itself doesn't appear to vary much during the year. I must confess that my own health is pretty good. Can you remember how I used to complain about the heat? I guess I shall be equally bitter about the English winter in years to come.
1942 August 7th:- No move yet! but still plenty of rumours and still plenty of so called news of what is happening in the outside world! It seems hard to realise that another August Bank holiday has arrived and past into the lost limbo! I wonder what you and Guy were doing then - and on every day and night! I'm afraid we all get a little homesick from time to time now - it is so long since we were together - nearly ten months now since my last glimpse of you on Warlingham station. I wonder if that's where I shall next see you! It has been rumoured during the last few days that the postcards which we were allowed to send have reached England. I do sincerely hope so! I simply hate to think of you worrying for the last few months - with no news at all and all the home affairs on your shoulders. I know you can cope with it all, but it doesn't alter the fact that I should prefer to be with you, possibly assisting in some small way. We are all still being treated reasonably well - but by gum, I know what it is to feel hungry - and I mean hungry! Having no cigarettes - and no money, rather adds to the penalty of being a prisoner of war (through no fault of our own). Still why should I grumble? I guess things are very much worse for you at home than for us. All the same, I'm going to keep you busy - very busy - just cooking goodies for us all when I get back. Oh boy! What a glorious "tuck in" I'm looking forward to! And may it be soon.
1942 August 22nd:- Many happy returns of the day, my dear! How I wish the magic carpet was available just now, so that I could slip away to you if only for a few moments! I wonder always at all times how you are getting along. The only thing I guess I really need in this world is to get back to "Catton" so that we can take up the threads again. I have been rather groggy just recently - (due I fear to lack of the proper diet) and I have had more spare time in which to worry about you and the lad. He is now at a very awkward age and I guess your hands are full with other matters. I unfortunately can do simply nothing about it - can only pray that you are getting along without too many financial and other worries. We have heard that the war effort is now proceeding satisfactorily - only hope it's true! We are still at Changi, although one party has already left for Japan - including all the senior officers. We are still under orders to go but up to the present there are no definite instructions. We have during this week received a small Red Cross issue - from South Africa. Soup powder, jam and vitaminised caramels; not much but certainly a very welcome gift. I'm beginning to feel the draught a bit now - shoes and clothing wearing out. I haven't grown a beard though - the open razors I brought out with me have proved invaluable. I shall need almost a complete new kit before I face the English weather again! One never feels cold here - and rain never really worries one - if one is out when it rains - well, we just get wet that's all! No bothering with groundsheet or mackintosh! for they are just worse than useless! I haven't worn a tie now for over eight months - that's another convention that I must in due course get accustomed to! Shan't mind that though if it means that I get my legs under my own table again! I often picture my return - Heaven grant that nothing happens to alter my dreams! We have rather a lot to make up for - I don't think that I shall ever again need any outside interests - so that's the curse of my life removed. I have no desire for the adulation of and popularity with my fellow men! Guess I shall be quite content to be an ordinary sort of fellow whose life interest is centred at home. Perhaps my war record will help me secure a post that will be stable and remunerative. You and I can do the rest eh dear! So here's just once more wishing you many happies my dearest - with just a wee kiss for the lad to make things complete - and with an earnest wish that Aug 22 of next year will find me at home, giving you a token of what you really mean to me. I am hoping yet that I shall be able to bring you home a few small souvenirs of my stay out here - it won't be for want of trying if I fail! Good night dearest and God bless you!
1942 September 16th:- Here I am, back again with the unit after a fortnight in hospital! I had concussion, caused while playing football and was on my back for 14 days, but am feeling fairly OK again now, although I am still on the sick list for another 2 weeks. Anyhow, I guess this has finished me for football for keeps now. Can't grumble - have had a good run eh dear! And how's things with you and the lad? I do wish I could hear something about you both. It's ten months now since I had even a line from you - and that's a hell of a long time, believe me! Life here is not too pleasant. I think food on the island is beginning to get a bit short - salt and sugar rations have been reduced and we think the supply of beef has now been exhausted - not that we have had a great deal of that to interest us. While in hospital I met two interesting people. Major Chapman of the 4th Norfolks, who lives just at the bottom of Philadelphia Lane in Norwich; and a Lt Esdaile of the Indian Army, who lives at Chaldon and was in the local Home Guard until about 18 months ago! You can just imagine that Major Chapman and I had a really long chat over old Norwich, in which we joined by a Major Cross of the S.S.V.F, who was born at Little Fickling in Norfolk and who has been planting over here since the last War. We were just like a Mothers meeting! The rainy season has just started out here so everything is to put it very mildly rather damp everywhere. There are no half measures about it either - about ten hours of a downpour like a cloudburst - gallons a second everywhere.
1942 September 26th:- Today, I suppose, I must just wish from a distance, "many happies" for Guy. It seems incredible that, if God has been good to us all, that he is seven years old! I do hope he has kept his promise, and is being the comfort to you that you doubtless need in these months of waiting and worry. And I sincerely hope that he is keeping up the promise at school too. He certainly has the brains to make a really good show and I can only hope that he will always make good use of the ability he obviously possesses. Here's luck to him anyhow - although this year there will be no presents from "Daddy". And how are you getting along? Just a question that must remain unanswered I fear for some time yet! I am gradually getting better - have to report to the Hospital again on Monday but I don't think I shall be detained this time. All officers over 40 are being marked down to "B" which means I shall have very little work to do - which doesn't appal me in the least! During the week we have had a very pleasant surprise. Some of the Regt who we thought were sunk and all lost came to the Camp and are still with us. They were able to tell us that nearly all the Regt are still safe although as prisoners of war - very pleasant news which rather cheered us all up.
1942 October 17th:- Simply amazing how the time flies! It seems only yesterday since I made my last entry in this screed - and so much has happened since! Most important of all is the issue of Red Cross supplies.
This has without doubt saved the lives of literally hundreds in this camp - myself among them! We received Bully - Meat and Veg - Soup powder - Biscuits - Condensed Milk - Sugar - Cocoa - Cigarettes - Mabela (a South African breakfast food) and several other items of a similar nature. They arrived in the middle of a combined epidemic of dysentery and diphtheria - with fellows dying like flies. These foods (we are still eating them) are giving health and strength to us all. I guess those of us who live through it all will bless the name of Red Cross for the rest of our lives! Another item is that the Japs are now issuing official pay. I draw about ten dollars a month - a dollar at par is worth 2/4 - now of course it's worth considerably less - so you can see I'm not living exactly like a ****** of the aristocracy! However, when available, it helps to purchase an egg per day and an occasional smoke. Last night we had a lecture by the representative of the Australian Red Cross - mighty interesting too! He told us of the work being done on our behalf. We were also told that mail is awaiting shipment from ********** Marquis and also that an individual parcel is on its way for every man. But all I want while here is the mail! It's now a year since I last was with my wife - and it's a long long time. I guess we all - and myself in particular! - want our homes again - want the wives we left behind us - want to be back again in the family circle! War and travel can be very exciting and interesting - but always in the background is the feeling that our loved ones are undergoing greater anxieties and hardships than we. I do pray it isn't so in your case! And that all you have to do is just keep things going till I return and that even that task is not made any harder than necessary. I must confess that I miss you terribly - miss the lad too, for I realise that there are many occasions when it would ease you if I was home and able to look to him when necessary. However, the war seems to be going along fairly satisfactorily and we all can only pray that it is very rapidly brought to a finish.
1942 November 19th:- New Britain. Many happies returns to myself eh dearest? But what a hell I've had to live through since I last wrote! On 19 Oct we embarked - 600 of us, all sick! - in a smallish cargo steamer for this place. Eighteen days - days we shall never forget. 400 of us in the hold of a ship in the tropics - allowed on deck only for the lats - no water for washing or shaving - and so cramped together for space that there was not sufficient room to lie down. You have heard of the sufferings of the "Altmark" victims. Theirs must have been a picnic compared to this - for this is the real tropics. Anyhow, after arrival we were bundled into invasion barges and taken ashore. After broiling in the sun for hours we were marched with kit to a place in the virgin jungle where in the rain we erected shelters and spent the night. The following day we were brought to this place which is roughly 30 kilometres from Rabaul. Although sick we have been used as a working party - with beatings etc until 3 days ago when we were ordered to abandon our kit and embark once more. After working all day, about 80 of us were left behind here as being to weak to be of any use to the Japs I expect. So here I still am - alive but not much more. If ever I am able to get home to you and England I'm sure that no one will believe that white men could have lived through the past month - and still be alive and sane. I guess my home life has seemed very desirable just lately, my dearest. What has made life a bit interesting is the air raids at Rabaul - we can hear them plainly. So we do know that the war is still proceeding. There's a new crowd of Japs in young fellows who are not quite so cruel. Will write again later. Goodnight dearest. Love to Guy!
1942 December 26th:- Boxing Day 1942. New Britain.
So another Christmas has come and gone - and we are still apart, and oh! how I'm longing for the day to come when I can greet you again!
I don't know if telepathy can work - if so you must have felt yesterday a little message of love coming through the ether to you. I have now been rather ill for a long time - (in bed nowadays) - but yesterday for our special Christmas meal had my fish and chips and fish party with the photograph of yourself and the lad perched up facing me - so I wasn't completely alone, you see dearest! I was wondering then - (as I am doing always) - how you were getting along. It's so damnable - it's now 13 1/2 months since I heard a word from you - and probably nearly a year since you heard from me. Sickness has now been my portion for a long time. I pray that you and the lad are keeping OK. This is the tropics with a vengeance - and so dreadfully unhealthy. We have buried four of our small number since I last wrote. I'm doing my best to keep alive so that I can one day return to "Catton" and everything that it holds. Guy of course will be a big laddie by then. I hope he takes after his Mammy and is now being a good companion. Since I last wrote, we have had three earthquakes - one severe - and several air raids by the Americans we think.
One nice thing yesterday - there is on the island a German medical missionary (and we hear about 60 German Roman Catholic nuns) and he sent us 100 local cigars - I was lucky and had two (am smoking one now). That has been our sole reminder of Christmas. I miss Taylor very much - he went away with the last ship - but haven't much kit to worry about now! It's all gradually going west - so it appears that I shan't take part in a return march looking dapper and smart - all very minor things though compared with getting back to you. We get no news here at all - so have no means of guessing how long we shall be in this state. It's rather hellish too! It's terribly hot always - my dress at the moment is just a breech cloth (must close now darkness and rain are falling and the Japs are about).
So, Good night dearest and love to Guy as always..................................