If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
Time was drawing near to the end of the hostilities. And one day, as I was working in the timberyard, a Japanese soldier gesticulated to me in a way that led me to understand that Britain had won the war. He laid his rifle down in front of me. I knew in my heart that the Atom Bomb had been exploded on Japan. We were all agog to listen to our wireless at that ‘certain time of day’.
Our Commanding Officer – Colonel Collins told the Japanese Commanding Officer to keep his weapons until our soldiers arrived, and to still run the camp. He explained that he was afraid of what the soldiers, on either side, would do to each other. And so we were reprieved from the dread of going into the jungle to be executed. This state of limbo continued until Lord Mountbatten landed on the island.
Mountbatten was a very matter-of-fact man with his words. He said; “You have been Prisoners-of-War for three and a half years – so don’t get bloody mad at us for not getting you off this island in three or four days. Give us time and we’ll get you all back home again.”
After all that time, we were quite content to just sit back and admit that we could manage better as free men than we could as captives. The elation we felt at being free was something to experience.
The sick were soon flown out from the island, and I had the opportunity to fly out with them as their nurse. However, I elected to go home by ship because I was so thin. I thought that the voyage by sea would build me up a bit and so enable me to see my family again – with a lovely suntanned body. They had never ever seen me with a suntan and I wanted to give them a good impression when I arrived home. They would have been expecting me to be really skinny.
I enjoyed a relaxed journey home – really lovely. Some of my pals had received letters from their wives to tell them that they had a family. As they hadn’t been home during the duration of their imprisonment – they were going mad.
I said to those guys; “You perishers had plenty of sexual activity during your army lives, but fortunately for you – you only supply the kids and don’t have to bear them! Don’t forget; I had to cure a lot of your indiscretions!” I had known a lot of them in England and the rest of the world and they hadn’t gone far short of sexual pleasures. So it was laughable and ironic to hear them all calling their wives.
The male always falls on his feet, whilst the poor female always pays the price.
The relaxing time we had on the ship was a far cry from our previous existence as P.O.W’s, and each day that passed increased our desire to be home again. For the life and soul of me – I can’t recall the name of that ship.
Coming along the Suez Canal, we docked at Aden to be given our uniforms. Believe it or not, the people who gave us the uniforms were GERMANS. I had been called-up to fight them and the very first one I saw was at the end of the war.
We docked at Liverpool and had a meal in some large building. We spent the night there before travelling up to Newcastle.
I was met at Newcastle by my brother who informed me that my Dad had died during my P.O.W. life. I was devastated by the news because I really worshipped my Dad. He was always a happy-go-lucky fellow and I really do believe that I took after him. Army life was never really my cup of tea., and when news like that hits you in the face, one wonders if army life is any good whatsoever.
My Unit Commanding Officer, Major Hutchins, although we had our confrontations and personal conflicts, came to me and said; “When you get back to civilian life, you will receive a letter asking if you want to claim any compensation from the Army. Write in about your leg, and I will come to court and speak up for your case.”
All of our squabbles had come to an end and I was so pleased he came forward. I admired him for that. I thanked him for his concern but told him that I wanted to continue playing football and so wouldn’t be making any claim on the Army.
I continued to play football for my Hospital for a number of years after that with my knee strapped up. I only ever take the bandage off to sit down.
The neighbours, on hearing of my return, gave my mother their ration coupons so that she could buy me things at the shops. They didn’t have much for themselves – bless ‘em all. And there I stood; six feet tall, bronzed and looking like the picture of health. But, when I looked in the mirror, I had to ask myself over and over; could all of the things that I went through over the past three and a half years – really have happened? It was a terrifying experience and one I would wish on no man – no, not even my persecutors.
I later, married a girl whom I simply worshipped in every possible way. But, since I started to write this story I have lost her. Enid died, and my loss I simply can’t express.
My mind often drifts back to those nights in Singapore and seeing those lost souls tossing and turning in their beds. And I realise now, only too well, what they must have suffered when one is parted from his nearest and dearest.
On the 17th of December 1946 I received a certificate from my Commanding Officer, who had been promoted to Full Colonel. It is the first time that I have ever declared this certificate to anyone, but I feel that it will substantiate my story;
“SAMUEL SINNOTT PURVIS: served under my command for three and a half years from 1942 to 1945 as a Medical Attendant at Changi, Selarang and Kranji Prisoner of War Hospitals.
During the first two years he was employed as a Medical Orderly in the Dysentery Section. At that time Dysentery was at its worst. Samuel Purvis refused promotion to non-commissioned rank, preferring to work under the most difficult and distressing circumstances in this gloomy atmosphere. His unselfishness and cheerful disposition did much to cheer the unfortunate sick, and was an example to the rest of the Staff.
When rations were down to starvation scale he volunteered to undertake the hard work of General Duty in the Timberyard.
A good footballer and willing worker, he was one of the small band who, by their example, did so much to keep the morale of the camps at a high level.
Signed: J.C. Collins (Colonel)
God will mend the broken chain
As, in our thoughts, we meet again.
Ray Watson (in memory of Samuel Sinnott Purvis – 197th Field Ambulance)
Extract from poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling