If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools;
The footballers’ ally - Yashata
Besides football, we had some outstanding people when it came to staging plays for the theatre. We had some really ‘lush females’ – a sight to behold. Scripts were written by fellow P.O.W’s who were professionals and our enjoyment was terrific. Even our captors came and applauded the efforts of our players. This continued for quite some time and those lads, who put on those shows, are to be congratulated for the sheer enjoyment that they gave us. How they ever got the materials and other props for those shows remains one of the mysteries of my life.
Officers in our unit gave lectures, and no matter the subject, they were always given to a full house. In spite of all this, I think the biggest morale booster of all, was football. The crowds that came to the matches were magnificent, and all the players seemed to reach a higher peak than they had ever before achieved.
Lt. Collins gave permission and we played the full ninety minutes. It was organised football, with a League. From within the League; we picked International Teams and the crowds by the thousands came to those matches. Oh yes! Football was a great incentive to live.
The matches went on from May 1942 until November 1943 when Lt.Col. Collins issued an order that there was to be no more football matches because food rations were so low and energy needed sustaining. And so, it was goodbye to football – the best thing we had. It was the saddest day since we ever became prisoners. I know that the decision was made for the best intentions – but it struck a dire blow to our morale.
I have retained the names of the Leagues and their Players. Many died a short while later, and nearly all of those men, I have never heard of since the day of our release. Never mind though, for nineteen months we had great entertainment. I can still hear the cheers today – just as if we had won the World Cup. I would sincerely wish to thank all those men and footballers of the camp for their Herculean efforts to provide such entertainment and on such a meagre diet of Rice.
It was the 18th of August 1943 when we were moved to Selarang from Changi. No-one was sad to see the last of that Hell-hole. It was a mass exodus – in fact – we all gave three cheers when we left Changi. And so, we wended our weary way to pastures new. Selarang wasn’t far away and we had taken with us all our prized possessions for what they were worth.
I remained with the massive converted hospital and we continued to lose our patients by the thousands. Being a nurse changes you. You become more caring towards your fellow men. And if they gave a load of abuse, we had to grin and bear it. Oh yes, I was greatly affected by my role in life.
During our time in Selarang, we had a secret wireless set and so we kept in touch with the events happening in the outside world. None of the news we heard was of any encouragement to us.
We continued to carry out minor operations. If any major ones were done, then our patients had very little chance of survival because we still had only rice to eat. Ad so, our people died of malnutrition.
Once again fear was to strike me when I heard that dreaded word ‘Kurrah!’. I stood rigidly to attention and faced my interrogators. It so happened that a certain Japanese soldier had taken an interest in me personally. I was to understand, through the medium of his interpreter, that he thought that I played football very well and had watched me many times in Changi. He wanted to know if I would teach him to play football.
I told the soldier that I was not in a position to decide on the matter and that I would need to consult the Commanding Officer of my Medical Unit – Major Collins. I asked him to come back the next day, meanwhile I would see what my C.O. had to say. Before the soldier left, he told me that he had heard the crowds always shout; “SAM” after me. And so, he was to call me “MISTER SAM”.
Major Collins’ immediate response was; “Certainly not!” and “What the ‘ell do you think this is?”
I said; “That’s alright with me Sir! I’ll bring him – with his interpreter – and You can tell him. I’m not going to!”
When the Japanese pair arrived the next day, I introduced them to my C.O. and Major Hutchins. “It will be quite alright for Private Purvis to teach you to play football,” he said. After all, we were the prisoners. Let me add the fact that Major Hutchins was an excellent Doctor – even though we did have our differences of opinions during our time together.
I commenced my efforts to teach this unkown soldier to play football. I was never ever to learn his rank, but I always had the feeling that he was someone very important. He always seemed to be around the camp and no high-ranking Japanese Officers ever said anything to stop him. They all showed him their greatest respect. He was a mystery alright. He always addressed me as “Mister Sam” and when I asked him what it was that he wanted of me, he just said; “To make me as good a footballer as you are Mister Sam.”
In the weeks that passed, I told the soldier why my Major didn’t want us to play football again – ‘because of the food scarcity’. He immediately replied; “I will see that you are well fed Mister Sam – and if you need any more for your men, I will see that they are well fed too.”
I told my Major about this and he said that the Soldier could have as many men as he wanted under those circumstances.
The name of the Soldier, I learned was “YASHATA”. He was always very friendly towards me, and we never ever had any cross words. I had really landed on my feet, because he was to provide my football colleagues and I with much food. Needless to say that the majority of this supplied food went to the patients.
Yashata became a well-known figure in our barracks. He would just march in as he pleased – shouting the only words of English he knew; “Mister Sam!” We now had to be very careful because we couldn’t put our wireless on without a lookout. We never knew when he was going to pay a visit. I guess that my name was “Mud” with the officers. But my name was OK with my mates because they were now enjoying tinned-food.
Yashata had a motor-cycle and sidecar. After the training I was invited to climb into the sidecar behind his interpreter. We would go to his camp by the seashore and they would go swimming. I would just go through the motion because I still struggled to stay afloat. It was lovely. We would have a meal afterwards and I would return to the billet with a huge sack of food and to the applause of all my mates. This routine happened every time he came, and so we managed to stay alive at the expense of our Japanese ‘friend’.
I always had to be available whenever Yashata came for his football lessons. He always came in the afternoon just as the sun was at its highest. There seemed to be no malice about him. He had only one aim and that was to play football. Yashata was by far the best Jap I ever met, but there again he didn’t have much to beat to deserve such an accolade.
The most pleasing part of the whole business was that he did show great improvement. The more he improved, the harder I worked on him because it gave me so much satisfaction. So too did my colleagues who would tag along for the food they were to receive. I always had a fair band of followers with me. Besides giving me food after the training sessions, Yashata always brought along a bag of food for my colleagues and he took great delight in handing it out to them.
When we went for our usual swim, I always remembered coming down that rope on the side of the ship which was bombed offshore. Although I used to try to swim in England, I could never manage it and I used to get very annoyed with myself. I could play most ball-games, yet I could never find the confidence to swim. After a few sessions with Yashata I found that I could swim with no bother at all, just so long as my hair didn’t get wet. And now, every time I go swimming in the sea, my mind goes back to Singapore and my P.O.W. existence.
Extract from poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling