Tanjong Priok docks
Seven or eight months would pass before the troops were ordered aboard a ship at Tanjong Docks, to be taken to Singapore. Dennis thinks this ship was named “BOSTON MARU”.
Life aboard was appalling as the men were loaded like cattle into the stinking holds of the ship. The voyage to Singapore took three days and they were fed once a day with a diet of different coloured rotten rice, or a string like vegetable leaf in hot water. This food was lowered down in a bucket to the packed like sardines captives. Men were brought up on deck in groups once a day from the almost unbearable hot and humid, dark stinking hold. These men were to use this time to use the toilet which meant using one part of the deck near the scuppers. This deck was then hosed down when the men had finished relieving themselves. They were then put back down into the hold and others brought up.
These ships were to become known as “hell ships.” Some ships sailed to Japan and if the conditions aboard didn’t kill the unfortunate captives before they reached their destinations, some would drown. Due to a strange oddity of war, as Japan had refused to sign up to the Geneva Convention, they could not fly the Red Cross Flag when transporting POW’s. This resulted in the Allies mistakenly sinking thirteen ships by torpedo from subs, shelled by warships or bombs from aircraft. Many prisoners were trapped in the holds because the Japs locked the hatches.
They were glad when the ship arrived and they disembarked. From the dockside they marched to the town of Changi and were held in an old army camp.
Incident at Selerang Square
September 1st 1942. The Japanese captors informed the Australian and British Army officers that a document was to be signed by all captives under their control. This document was a declaration that the captives were not to attempt any escapes. Needless to say, they all refused. Twice. This infuriated the Jap command and around 16,000 POW’s were assembled into the square. The men stood their ground, and then civilians were brought into the square too as Jap machine gun posts were assembled at each corner of the square. The captives were kept in the square in the blazing sun for three days and dysentery was to spread. British officers who were taken to see four POW’s shot for trying to escape, advised their men to sign and the British Army would not recognise it as a legal document as it was signed under duress.
The No-Escape Document
Jack Scrivener of the Cambridgeshire Regiment wrote this account of the Indian Sikh’s treachery in his memoirs.
‘Thousands of Indian troops on Singapore never fired a shot, and at the first opportunity went over to the Japs to join a Free India movement under a man named Chandra Bose. The Sikhs, who fought so well in North Africa, joined the Japs and were guards over us at Changi and were cruel bastards in the months to come.’
He also mentions that Indian troops manned the corner machine guns guarding the prisoners herded into Selerang Barracks.
In March 1944, the fittest of those who had survived the building of the infamous Burma Railway were sent back to Singapore to await shipment to Japan - to work in equally horrendous conditions down the mines. Jack Scrivener, the survivor, observed: "One afternoon low-flying bombers (American) passed overhead, and Indian troops who had gone over to the Japs fired Bofors guns at them."
In 1946 their leader, Chandra Bose, was killed in a plane crash whilst trying to get to Russia.
Dennis told me that the cruelty by these turncoats was shown when a young lad who had not shown ‘respect’ to them, was bundled off into a workshop. Word went around the camp that they had squeezed his head in a vice until he died.
Dennis was on ‘stick picket’ at a gate to his compound, when a weary figure approached the gate. Recognising the man dressed only in a loin cloth as from his compound, Dennis let him through without challenging him. The man shuffled passed him and after a few steps turned to Dennis and asked why he hadn’t saluted him.
It was then that he recognised the man as Lt Lloyd. But wearing only a loin cloth how was he to instantly tell.
Before he could answer, the officer rambled on about the Kings Army regulations and told Dennis that he was on a charge. He then wandered wearily away, talking to himself. He clearly was suffering some kind of metal breakdown.
After his stint at picket duty he was called before the C.O. Listening to the charge of not saluting an officer, Dennis was then asked to explain his reason for such insubordination.
“Because Kings Regulations state I am to salute the rank and uniform. Not the man,” Dennis replied. “The man was not wearing a uniform and I saw no rank.”
The C.O. thought for a moment, and then agreed with Dennis’ answer. But knowing of the officers failing faculties, advised Dennis that he was giving him seven days ‘confined to barracks,’ as a punishment. He was to inform Lt Lloyd if he was asked by him.
The C.O. smiled as he returned Dennis’ salute, both men knowing that the confined to barracks punishment meant that Dennis could not leave the camp. That’ll teach you, Dennis.
Anyway, where was there to go? It also kept him off the heavy duties of the working party.
After a couple of months, the prisoners where once again taken aboard stinking ships and set off to sea. There next stop would be Kuching in Sarawak, Borneo.