If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one game of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
Eat our dogs and die
On the 28th of May 1944 we were ordered to move to KRANJI PRISON CAMP. We took 1200 patients and 466 staff, so our figures were low and the war would have to end soon if we were to take anyone back to our homeland.
During our time in Changi we had combatted lice and all manner of vermin, so we were seasoned campaigners and we were ready for anything. We were not to be disappointed.
The huts we were given appeared to be lovely. Again we had ‘ATTAP’ beds with rope strung across – but we were sure that we could make them comfortable. The first night in bed was an exact repetition of Selarang. Every one of us was scratching, and huge weals erupted all over our bodies.
Buckets were placed at either end of the huts for urinating. We were all prodigious urinaters owing to our diet of rice. And so, again, we put our beds outside in the sun, and but and lice appeared everywhere. We then had a right carry on de-bugging.
Every one of us had a medical check, but we had no medical means of killing lice. The only thing that we had going for us was sunshine, and the only place the parasites had to nest was in the hairs on our heads and pubic areas. Every bit of hair on our bodies had to come off. After all, we had all the time in the world in which to grow it back again.
After a few days, we were back to being a normal medical unit and having our doctors was a blessing. We eventually achieved some degree of cleanliness and hygiene.
Krangi turned out to be the worst camp of them all. Strange though it may seem; it was also the nicest in which to bury our dead colleagues. We buried them on top of a hill and our bugler played ‘The Last Post’. He was poised right on the crest of the hill. It was lovely and tranquil to stand and listen to his rendering. That scene always stands out in my mind. Whenever I hear a bugle playing – the tears well up in my eyes and I weep a silent prayer for those poor souls for whom the bugle played.
Now began the ritual of going on parade every day. Staff was about five hundred all told and we had to fall into ranks and number off; 1 to 500. We had to call out our respective number in Japanese. As you will imagine; everyone wanted to be in the first ten places. I was fairly lucky as I was able to pick up the lingo quite easily. That was OK providing the chap before me gave the correct number translation. Many men were not so fortunate in being able to remember and so many of them received a rifle-butt on the groin. I’ve seen some terrible injuries through that method of punishment.
The Japs were a barbaric race of people and I was sorry not to have the protection of Yashata since we said ‘Cheerio’ to him in Selarang. After a few weeks everyone became quite versatile with the numbers game an so fewer of them were punished in the groin to remind them on. However, if the guards on the perimeter fence felt in a devilish mood – one’s private parts were in great danger of becoming very sorry looking meat. The Japs were obsessed with that particular part of our anatomy and it was always there, that received the brunt of their venom.
I put forward the suggestion that we all go on parade to practice the number conversions in order to avoid further maltreatment – but our officers said “No!”
One day I happened to be working in one of the huts with Lt. Col. Collins. The hut had been converted into a hospital ward as we hadn’t brought any dangerously ill patients with us. Suddenly, I heard that feared word again “Kurrah!” We immediately stood rigidly to attention. It was Yashata with his old sidekick. I felt very relieved to see him because he was our only means of getting any food other than rice.
Yashata took me to one side and gave me a sack of food, not very big, but most welcome it was. First, he gave me some very good news – he told me that we were winning the war. Then he told me something that seemed to tear my guts out with terror. His interpreter conveyed the message that if we were to win the war – the Japanese Officers were under strict orders to ‘Obliterate all their prisoners.’ We were all to be beheaded. He told me to try and find my way into the jungle. He also said that he would keep me advised because he would be the very first person to know.
Again, I began to wonder exactly who this Yashata person was. We also learned, from our wireless, that we were winning the war. Yashata later confirmed that the Japanese would hand back – only Dead Prisoners Of War.
Yashata was a good friend to me and had risked a great deal for him to tell me of the time and date of the forthcoming massacre. He would most certainly have been executed for telling an enemy what he told me.
At the time, all I wore was a pair of shorts tights on my bum. And, right across the centre was a great big Red Heart. Yashata had told the Japanese guards about our football arrangements in Changi, and so I was to become well known to our new captors. I was again to be referred to as “Mister Sam”.
There are always the few in every walk of life who push against the pricks – just as some of my colleagues used to ‘wind up’ the Jap guards. Then they cribbed when they received the inevitable rifle-butt treatment. Don’t get me wrong – I had no love whatsoever for the Japanese – but they were our overlords and we had to toe-the-line or suffer the consequences. I toed the line alright, and it was “Yes Sir – No Sir - Three bags full Sir”. Yes, some of our lads really were provocative and received many unnecessary blows for their trouble. I could never see any sense whatsoever in that.
About that time; we had problems in the camp – we had rice, as usual, but no fuel with which to cook it. Volunteers were called for – to cut timber. I was fairly fit so I volunteered. As I have said; I wore these tights with the big red heart across the bum. I was six feet tall and tanned to hell. It delighted our lads to see me striding about the pedang (field) wearing those.
Beyond the pedang was the jungle into which we were to try to escape should the Japs try to behead us. All eventualities were given one hundred percent and thanks to Yashata, we were prepared for everything that spelled disaster.
In Kranji, we really were on the bones of our backsides and at our wits end as far as food was concerned. Being in a new camp, we knew very few men. I never knew if Yashata was ever to call at the camp again, so everything looked very bleak for us. Improvisation was to be our common denominator and so we decided to commence killing animals.
The Japanese had warned us, under the penalty of Death, not to kill any of their animals. We were being starved to death, so their animals started to disappear one by one. They had quite a few cats and dogs around so these were hunted, killed and eaten by ravenous prisoners. Cat tasted very much like rabbit and dog was a good substitute for beef. They say a cat has nine lives and I really do believe that is true. Obviously we weren’t allowed to have knives and so in order to execute these animals and keep everything quiet; we had to strangle them.
I took a few of us to hold a cat down in order that one of us could strangle it. And, just as we thought it was dead, the sod would leap up and tear lumps out of us. A dog is also quite a problem to kill and usually that would take the only weapon at our disposal – a brick.
It gave me no pleasure whatsoever to kill those poor animals, but when one is faced with starvation, it was everyone’s duty to do what had to be done – or die. We ate frogs, tree-rats, snakes and almost anything that crawled into our web. We noticed that all the dogs and cats, whenever they saw a human being, just scattered and vanished out of sight. But at least we had meat and it was wonderful.
Extract from poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling