Sketch by Jack Chalker

Really On Our Way Back Home

Memoirs of Reg Bulled

Really On Our Way Home


We sailed across the Mediterranean and the Bay of Biscay and arrived at Liverpool docks almost four years from the day we left. I shall never forget that last night on the boat. We knew we would be arriving the next day so our excitement knew no bounds. A lot of us were sleeping up in the lounge on the floor; Johnny and I were just inside the door. All night long men kept going out and in that door, until one man came back and said quietly “England out there!” We almost got killed in the rush!  It was still dark and all you could really see was a dark smudge but it was England. We had made it.

When we docked, there were crowds of people waiting to meet loved ones, but I had been told I would have to go into hospital immediately for an operation so I asked none of my family to come up and meet me. I just couldn’t have stood seeing them and then being separated again, not knowing how long before I would see them again. Everything now was speed. We were loaded onto trucks and driven to a camp.  The whole way there were crowds waving and cheering.  Once we arrived at the camp we were divided off into small groups and we dashed all over the camp, seeing the dentist, getting documentation, getting uniforms; getting medal ribbons and having them sewn on. Then we had a break for a small meal and were off again. This kept up until early evening when we were told we would see the MO and this would be our last stop.

We entered a building and went into a large room at the end of a long corridor. There were about four doors down each side of the corridor.  The soldier in charge of us told us to strip off and go into any room with the door open. The rest of us stood outside a closed door until someone came out. It was rather embarrassing as the nursing staff was constantly walking along this corridor and we were all in our birthday suits. Finally the door behind me opened and a soldier came out. With much fear and trepidation I went in and as I did I asked God to help me through this last examination. The officer was a very nice and when he saw my name asked if I was from north Devon. I told him no, I was from Exeter, but my father came from north Devon. He asked me about some names and I said they were either my cousins or uncles, and he said he knew them very well and had done so for years. Then he said I guess you are anxious to go home. I couldn’t answer; now for the disappointment. He said I see you need an immediate operation. Well, I tell you what we’ll do, you go home and I will recommend you have your operation in the local Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. I silently said “Thank you Lord, you led me into the right room.”

We spent the rest of that evening getting our train tickets and finding out what time we would be leaving. It turned out that it was going to be very early but we didn’t mind, it couldn’t be early enough. I managed to send a telegram to my parents advising them what time I would be arriving. We hardly slept that night we were so excited and some were not a little fearful of what they would find when they arrived home. So many men had received “Dear John” letters. Next morning we boarded the train into a coach with a large sign on it, “Reserved for ex POWs.” At every station on the way there would be a wagon right outside ready to give us tea, sandwiches and buns, all free. By the time we had travelled halfway there were only three of us left in the whole coach.  When we arrived in Exeter I said goodbye to my two companions, who were travelling on to Plymouth and stepped out onto the platform. There was a sight I had often thought I would never see, my father, my mother, my cousin, and best of all, my fiancée. What a happy reunion!  I was shocked, as we drove home by taxi, to see the havoc the Germans had wreaked on our lovely city.

 It was difficult to settle back into civilian life, the nightmares were terrible, but gradually with the love and tenderness and understanding of my fiancée and family, I got used to being home. I went into hospital for my operation and shortly thereafter we were married. When I stood at the front of the church, with my friend Johnny standing at my side, the wedding march sounded and I turned and saw a vision of beauty and loveliness coming down the aisle. I knew that my bad experiences were all behind me, I could now look forward to a life with the one I loved so much.

 While we were on our honeymoon I received a telegram telling me to report to a Civil Resettlement Unit for ex-POWs in London. I remember one counsellor I saw who was in charge of arranging interviews for employment.  After the malaria had gone again, my wife came and spent two weeks in London and I introduced her to the counsellor who told her that when she first saw me she thought I was one who would never make it. Also, while in this unit I had two treatments to purge my insides of the hook worms; it wasn’t painful to take but afterwards I felt as if a herd of wild elephants had jumped all over my insides.

 On the way up on the Wednesday, I felt really ill and spent the last half of the journey in the toilet. I came home again on the Friday and when I woke on the Monday morning I was in the grip of malaria and was taken to a veteran’s hospital. Despite treatments by a psychiatrist and other doctors it was still very hard to relax after living with fear for three and half years, not knowing what fresh horrors or ill treatment the next day might bring, or even if you would go through the night without another sadistic beating.  Having terrible nightmares almost nightly, I became very depressed and wondered if anything like a normal life would be mine again.

 After a year of hospital stays and regular treatments the army decided to finally discharge me as medically unfit for further service. On the way home we had been interviewed three times by Government agents and told we were not to talk about our experiences as it could jeopardise the war crimes trials. Subsequently I believed that this was nothing but a load of rubbish. A shroud had been placed over the actions of the Japanese in the prison camps, by the allied governments. They say the Japanese signed a token of unconditional surrender, but I often wonder what deals were made before they signed. Were our governments, tired of war, only to happy to accept anything to end it? They knew exactly what had happened in the camps but they decided to ignore it; extending the sufferings of the ex-POWs for the rest of their lives. You never hear anything about the Japanese war, not even on Armistice Day. Did it really happen? Did 16,000 allied servicemen and over 100,000 civilians really die building that railway? Did all those men die for the want of food, medication and understanding?  It all seems as if it must have been just one huge nightmare. We hear all about the holocaust and rightly so, but the Japanese holocaust was just as bad however it is never mentioned. When we were told not to discuss our treatment, they never took into account what it would mean to the ex-POW. We had to live with all this bottled up inside, and it was not until I was able to talk about it, many years later when my grandsons were teenagers, that I got any relief from the nightmares.

 All the visits to the psychiatrists didn’t help; we needed to get this out of our minds and systems by talking about it. Knowing how quickly the Japanese changed after their surrender, I find it very hard to believe that one day, when the time is opportune, they will not start again. I have learned to live with the younger generation of Japanese, but please don’t ask me to meet any of my own age. There are too many memories of the atrocities committed to either forget or forgive.

 One last note, after the war a document came to light from Japan that stated that on September 6th, all POWs were to be murdered. We came that close!  It just goes to prove that the Japanese knew they had brutally mistreated the POWs and broken all the bounds of decency. They were determined not to leave behind any POW who could tell the world about the treatment they had carried out in the prison camps. For many years I still woke up after a nightmare wondering whether I would ever feel free of the bonds of slavery.

 Perhaps there are some young people who will read this, those brought up in homes where they have always had access to a Bible. My young friend, don’t just own one but read it, and memorize it, for you never know what tomorrow might bring. As I look back on the life I had to experience I can only say thank you God for watching over me. I feel sorry for any of those men who had to face those days without the Saviour. I also remember those men who left home and loved ones as perfectly healthy young men, but came home, some with no arms, some with no legs, others with one limb missing; all because they were denied medical attention.

 In closing I wish to say this is not intended to be a work of literary art but a putting down in print my memories as they have come to me. The most asked question and still is “How did you feel when you were told the war was over?” Absolutely stunned! We had no idea that release was anyway near, we did not even know that the war in Europe was over. Maybe in the large camps they had more information from hidden radios, but in the working camps we had no such thing.  It just shows how completely cut off we felt from our loved ones which led to the feeling that the government did not care about us. They had written us off as  expendable. The fact that I am alive to tell this story is only through the grace of a loving heavenly father who still watches over me, and the love and devotion of my wonderful wife.  



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[Memoirs of Reg Bulled] [The Story Behind the Story] [The Road From Freedom To Captivity] [Life in the Camps] [Freedom at Last] [Really On Our Way Back Home]


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