Sketch by Jack Chalker

Camp on Moena

Prisoner Under The Rising Sun

Camp on Moena (Muna)

 

Makassar Map

Up until now, there had been no signs of malaria, but it started. By the time I got it, all the medication had run out, not that the first cases had much to help them. In fact, there were no official medical supplies for prisoners. All supplies were sparse as every time any ship bigger than a fishing boat arrived it was bombed. Most of the prisoners started to suffer from beriberi, both wet and dry .I don't know which was the worst. The ones who had dry beriberi seemed to become very bad tempered and did not recover. The wet beriberi was very uncomfortable and there appeared to be no means of getting rid of the water. The doctors tried to drain it away, but it was only due to an accident that my own wet beriberi was reduced: the Japanese decided to build a new jetty at the mouth of a river where the water was deep and there was a good covering of large trees. This meant that they could bring in their smaller boats and unload them easier. I was on the working party .All the logs needed were cut to the required size and holes were drilled, it was like a do-it-yourself kit. The upright logs were put in place. It was up to us to put in the bolts, and then the cross pieces were lowered to secure them to the uprights. The water was very cold in the river and after a time I found I was passing water. Following a couple of days of this "treatment" my wet beriberi was reducing. We had a lot of deaths from this form of the disease and the food did nothing for us as there was not enough of it to build any strength in us. When we had the dried fish issued to us it was crawling with maggots. I decided that the fish was better for me than rice, so I used to burn off the maggots and cook the fish until burnt in wafer-thin slices. Night bombing raids started and it was quite terrifying. The little fires we built to secretly cook on had to be kept as dim as possible so that the pilots would not use us as a target.

We had a new diversion on this island, the Japanese needed some beef for a celebration and as there were some wild cows which they were unable to shoot, decided that some of us might do better. There were two RAF armourers amongst us and they succeeded. As a result, the Japanese made us a gift of the offal to add to our rice. It was during our stay on this island that we were forced to start the "Leggi" system, which means an extra portion. The system was that one person issued a spoonful of whatever was extra to the rice. An officer kept a list, and if there was any left, the first on the Leggi list was called and issued another spoonful. I was the Leggi server because I had the only spoon that was an official service spoon. I have kept that spoon to this day and I'm sure it will still be in the family if something happens to me. I did my job well and felt very proud at one of our reunions to be called "The Best Leggi Man In The Business"! I hope I will continue to be remembered somewhere as that.

Our next moves were rather too exciting for comfort! Half of our members were put on a Japanese ship which was to accompany a tanker. They had probably travelled about twelve sea miles when they were attacked from the air .The tanker was set on fire and the other ship had to be abandoned. Quite a few drowned because they could not make it to shore. Those that did make it were soon rounded up and rejoined the old camp - they had many stories to tell us of their adventure. The Japanese guards became very antagonistic and appeared to be always looking for a reason to punish us. I was struck across the head with the butt of a rifle and my hearing was permanently impaired. Several years later, after I had completed my time in the air force, the same blow began to affect my sight and I had to have a major eye operation -I am still having treatment (1984).

On to Makassar. Another move was made. Fifty prisoners and the same number of sacks of rice were packed onto a tiny boat. which was powered by one small engine that made a lot of noise but did not deliver much power.

We sailed by night, close to the coast so that we might not be spotted by allied aircraft. At the slightest sound the engine would be stopped and we would then pray that it would start again as floating at the mercy of the ocean was not a pleasant option! As soon as day dawned, we would steer ashore and hide the small vessel under any available foliage. This routine continued for four days and nights until we reached a large harbour where we eventually tied up at a jetty .The rice was unloaded and our escort handed us over to some new guards before putting out to sea again to return from whence they came. After a ride in the back of an open truck, we were somewhat surprised to arrive at what was the best looking camp we had so far seen. The Japanese were better dressed and seemed more intelligent than those we had previously encountered. Our quarters were furnished, there was even a medical treatment room. We were given the rules of the camp and shown our air raid shelters. The food was excellent, being made, we were told, by the American prisoners. The following day we were taken by a Japanese guard to a large field with a patch of flood water at one end and issued with "chunkels" likened by us to heavy Dutch hoes. They were the ideal tool for what we were required to do. Working in a line we turned over the earth. The guard that we had did not bully us to work harder and gave us a lot of breaks. He was an American born Japanese and told us something of how the war was going in his excellent English. He had been wounded in the battle for Halmahera. He told us that we were at Makassar and went on to tell us that the Japanese had suffered many casualties and were on the retreat. We wondered and hoped that this might be the last camp as we were quite relaxed here. One morning I heard the sound of a large aircraft and saw, what we found out later was a "Flying Fortress" .It was flying just above the palm trees and travelling in a northerly direction. This was repeated each morning for a few days until one day it was met by lots of anti-aircraft guns and came down in the sea. We were told that it had been doing a lot of damage. The aircrew were captured and paraded through the town. There was one more raid before we left and the Japanese end of the camp was hit. There were now only fifty of us left, from the ones who had been left behind at Haruku and we were taken down to the quayside at Makassar. There was a tanker listing towards the quayside and the Japanese were busy pumping petrol out. We were told to wait about fifty feet away. The following morning, many wounded Japanese soldiers arrived. By now, the tanker had lost its list and the soldiers with crutches went aboard first, followed by we prisoners. We were told to settle at the prow end. The soldiers who had boarded first were already seated in the centre of the ship, the remaining crutchless wounded soldiers came aboard carrying as well as their own weapons, those of the soldiers with crutches. They returned their comrades' weapons to them and helped them shoulder their machine guns. As soon as they were settled, the ship set sail. There was a lot of aerial activity but there were no bombs dropped or other attacks made on us. But the risk was there, and I, for one, did not enjoy that exposed trip.

Back in Surabaya. Eventually, we arrived in a harbour, Surabaya, Java. We were back where we had started our grand tour of the Indonesian Islands. Hardship aside, we had seen beautiful sunrises and sunsets, lived on an island, and seen the largest and most beautiful butterflies in the world, according to the Royal Geographical Magazine, of I think, July 1936. Two of the English prisoners and myself had noticed the absence of two types of bird, supposedly indigenous to the area, the Minah bird and the Sparrow, and wondered if this contributed to the number of butterflies? I wonder how much it would cost to do that tour today?

 

Next Chapter

Once More in Batavia

 

 

 

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