If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you cam meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
Football, lectures and lodgers
Enventually we moved to Selarang. The place was like a palace compared to ‘Shanty Town’. We were billeted in a large ‘ATTAP’ hut. The beds on which we were to sleep were just four legs and a frame, strung together with very strong rope.
Throughout the first night there was a lot of shuffling about and muttering. We had no buckets on the verandahs in which to urinate, like we had in Changi. We soon noticed that everyone was scratching.
Daylight broke and the weather was so hot that we only wore shorts. Every one of us was horrified to find huge weals all over our bodies. Bugs had been having a real feast during the night and we were their hosts. They had all come out of the ropes on our beds. We immediately carried all the beds outside into the scorching sun and the sight that met our eyes astounded us. There were bugs everywhere – thousands upon thousands of the blighters. We set about trying to kill them all. Their blood-gorged bodies burst all over the place under our dancing feet and left the ground red with our own blood. It was eerie. Every morning for weeks on end we repeated that exercise, putting our beds outside until we cleared the camp of the blood-sucking vermine. I shudder to think of that – even now.
We soon began to think of providing ourselves with some sort of entertainment and so committees were formed to produce each type of show. The committees covered; football league games, lectures and shows. We applied to the Japanese authorities for permission to do this and it was granted. Everyone worked so hard to ensure that our leisure time was both informative and pleasurable.
I was asked to lecture on football, and the pleasure that gave me was extraordinary. I gave quite a lot of lectures and it always did me the power of good at the time. I felt glad to be alive because in such a place – occupation of the mind was essential. Most of the men knew of the professional footballers of which I spoke, and they were given a rare insight to the game. The pleasure on their faces was a joy to behold.
Question time was fabulous and one could have given any answer and still receive a standing ovation. And so, life had its rewards during such hard times. I enjoyed those lectures so much and I gained a lot from doing them. So too did my colleagues who were given a new lease of life.
People who have not seen that camp in Selarang can have no apprehension as to its enormity. Thousands of men had been captured and the crowds were hungry for anything that would occupy their minds. The stories of my times with Sunderland – as an amateur – Middlesbrough and Watford, were thoroughly digested by the P.O.W’s. I only wished that I had more stories to tell them.
A Leggi Queue was a queue for second helpings, the prisoners took it in turns
Throughout my time in Changi, Selarang and later Kranji: I was asked to give lectures. In the end, my stories were mainly fiction – but who cared anyway? Everyone would have an enjoyable evening and to give pleasure to one’s fellow sufferers was the whole point of the exercise.
One blessing on Singapore was the weather. Sunshine made the whole fiasco more bearable than it was for our unfortunate counterparts in the German camps. They must have gone through hell during those terrible long winters. So, we had the lesser of two evils. When rain fell on Singapore, it was never less than a deluge and we couldn’t even see through the rain because it was so heavy. It was torrential, every time.
One day, whilst at the hospital, we had a ‘mini’ typhoon – at least that what the inhabitants called it. To me; it was a bloody great Typhoon, or hurricane, or even a tornado. It uprooted enormous trees and buildings. My previous curiosity as to why the drains were so large was satisfied that day. Even with their massive proportions – those drains overflowed. It stirred the blood to the extent of curdling it..
Tropical climates just seem to have one thing in their favour – Sunshine. The Germans, we were told, were just as barbaric as the Japanese. And at the end of the day, no P.O.W. camp is any good. We all used to say the same thing; “I wish I was home!” Our only food was rice, and not much of it either. Maybe our lads in Germany had a little more variety – but at least we in Singapore could boast the fact that we were the greatest urinaters in the world between the years 1942 to 1945. But, no prizes were given for that.
Extract from poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling