Sketch by Jack Chalker

Road to Changi

A friendly match

I said my goodbyes to my colleagues at the Singapore Hospital Camp because I was picked out to rejoin my own Field Ambulance Unit.

Our Company was ordered to go to a little out-of-the-way place to look after some Japanese.  Why we went there – no-one ever knew.  We didn’t seem to do much, but it turned out to be the nicest time I was to spend as a prisoner-of war.

Everyone was heading for Changi Camp.  As we marched up the roads to our final destination, the most amazing sight was to meet our eyes.  The Japanese and the Chinese have always been sworn enemies, with no love whatsoever between the two races.  To see them in the most amazing situations was a most horrific sight to behold.  Laughable maybe, if it wasn’t so serious.  All the lamp-standards were quite high, and, starting with the first standard, was a Japanese strung up high on it.  The next was a Chinese, and so it alternated at every one – Japanese, Chinese, Japanese, Chinese…

That unnerving sight went on for hundreds of lamp-standards.  I t was not the most encouraging thing to see on approaching a prison camp.  Further along the road the lamp- standards continued again and so the corpses recommenced their deadly presence.  When we had passed all of the standards we had become quite accustomed to the sight.

As we wearily trudged along our way to the prison camp, the Japanese Commanding Officer came to see our own C.O. and informed him that he wanted a detachment of our troops to accompany a Japanese detail.  For how long and where too, no-one said.

Two of our officers and thirty of our troops were detailed and we broke away from the main party.  Seeing all those people hung from lamp-standards gave us no hope whatsoever as to what we were being led into.

We stopped at a place, very much like a river, which led off from the sea at Singapore.  Submarines and small craft used the inlet every day.  We were most concerned when we broke away from out unit and we still didn’t know why the Japanese wanted R.A.M.C. non-combatant personnel to go to that inlet.

There was a big house, in which the Japanese were congregated.  The only job we were given to do was to take down the Union Jack Flag and replace it with the Japanese Rising Sun Flag. 

Obviously, the inevitable row broke out with objections as to who was to hoist the Japanese Flag.  We were all privates except for two doctors, so I automatically took over and started to issue orders – saying, in no uncertain terms, that I intended to return to England and that we must do as they say – until the situation changed.

Once again I heard the word; “Kurrah!” and so up went the flag whether anyone liked it or not.  Tremendous cheers went up from the Japanese who had stood with their rifles at the ready.  Incidentally, as our flag was being lowered, the Japanese soldiers mocked us but we managed to control our tempers and emotions.  They gave us two great bags of food for being so cooperative.

On the site were houses that we could turn into barracks in which we were to stay for five weeks.  We had the use of a sports field and they gave us cricket and football gear.  And so, we continued cutting the grass and enjoy ourselves by doing any little odd jobs for the Japs.  We communicated by gesticulations.  They only had one interpreter and during all my P.O.W. life I never ever heard one Englishman speak Japanese.

Each time we cut the grass on the field, the Japanese gave us more food, and so that existence was right up our street.  Surely P.O.W. life couldn’t have been that good and so we made the best of it whilst we could. 

We started to worry about our colleagues we’d left in Changi Jail.  I never ever found out exactly where we were but that place always brings back fond memories for me.  We continued to play football and cricket and it was just like a holiday camp.  All of us had our fair share of sunbathing or, in my case; sunburning.  I had a very fair complexion and whilst I was in England I was never able to sunbathe.  I always turned bright red and peeled terribly – and I suffered from it.

That five week escapade was strange because if the Japs wanted anything at all done they came straight to me and by-passed the officers.  So, we had plenty of laughs, because if these small, complicated people wanted anything done, I made damned sure that it was done straight away.  Maybe it was because I was over six feet tall that it gave them some sort of kick by coming to me.

One day the Japs came and indicated that me and five colleagues to accompany them.  As always, one’s thoughts were on whether or not we would return.  We followed them because they could be happy one minute and just as likely to kill us the next.  Still, these Japs seemed to be somewhat different to the others that we had met previously.  Nevertheless, we were scared enough not to trust them at all.  Worse still, they gave us spades to carry and that meant that we would have to dig – but dig what?  They led us down to the water-edge where a small platform acted as a mooring point for small craft.

The Japs were very quiet.  They stopped.  They pointed to some trees and led us into them.  My immediate thoughts were that we were going to dig our own graves.  To our surprise we were shown the body of a white-man.  They indicated to me to dig a grave in which to bury him.  We did as we were told.

We dug the grave amongst the trees for the unknown man.  God knows where his head was.  I decided that it was only right to say a prayer before we committed the body to the grave.  I politely indicated to the Japanese soldiers that they should remove their headgear.  They immediately did as I requested of them.  I said a prayer and my colleagues helped me with a rendering of ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Abide with Me’ before we covered him up.  The Japanese soldiers applauded us.

We were then taken to the camp of the Rising Sun and they gave us enough food, in sacks, to supply all of us in that camp with many good meals.

Although our stay in that camp was only five weeks – those Japanese soldiers would have been quite happy for us to stay with them.  However, we had to go to the main P.O.W. Camp – Changi.  We packed all our gear (which wasn’t much) and we set off on our journey into God only knew what..  That was the very first time that I had ever been in charge of a burial party and the experience of playing a ‘Reverend’ has stayed with me.

I will say that up to that stage, the Japanese had treated us quite well and nothing could make me hate that last bunch as much as I did after the previous encounter.   Just why we ever went to that camp we never knew but we made sure that we enjoyed it because we knew that that wasn’t to be real P.O.W. life.  When we left that small place, all the Japanese soldiers broke camp to escort us to Changi.  Their goodbyes were very touching as I humped my cigarettes and quite a few tins of food.  They had chipped in to give us a fair quantity of tinned food.

 

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Welcome to Changi

 

 

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[Mister Sam] [Kick Off] [Nurse Sam Purvis] [Skipper of the 197th] [SS Washington] [Empress of Asia] [Singapore] [Singapore Hospital] [Road to Changi] [Welcome to Changi] [Shanty Town] [Selerang] [A Good Jap] [Walking Dead] [Kranji] [Timberyard] [The Last Post] [Setting of Rising Sun] [Acknowledgement] [The Last Laugh] [The Quest]

 

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