The Rising Sun On My Back
The train moved out on to the main line at Bampong and four days later we rolled in to Kuala Lumpur, now a filthy run down station, where rice was carried aboard. It was late June when we crossed the causeway back into Singapore and from the station we marched to the transit camp. Our clothes had become filthy and torn and most straw hats discarded.
My physical condition had worsened, several stinking ulcers on my legs were full of pus and my legs were still swollen through beri-beri. My chief concern though was partial blindness caused through vitamin deficiency. My vision was restricted to about ten feet, and everything within that distance was blurred. I was assured by those who had experienced the same complaint, it was only temporary but my fears were not allayed, the prospect of blindness scared me more than anything else.
The camp lay on both sides of a foul little stream. One side was River Valley Road, the other was Havelock Road. There were rows and rows of dilapidated atap huts, with two tiers of bamboo platforms running down each side. On these slept hundreds of men, whilst in the bamboo supports and decks and the atap roofing there lurked many billions of bed bugs. As well as the huts and bugs there was a morass of mud due to the recent rains which had caused the stream to overflow. Over the whole scene hung a cloud of depression caused by our evil guards. We worked in the docks at Keppel Harbour, loading ships bound for Japan with pig iron, scrap, rubber and copra, and unloading stores from Japan. Then one day we unloaded a mixed cargo. For eight riotous hours, as we worked under the suspicious eyes of our guards we ate chocolates, cod-liver oil and cough drops. We applied hair tonic and face cream and we ate handfuls of sugar and of herrings in tomato sauce. It couldn’t last, of course, but by the time we were caught we had all of us stored up patent medicines, concentrated foods and flavourings where they could never be retrieved. Though severely beaten we were happy.
Day after day, sixteen hours a day, we staggered under the weight of pig iron ingots, railway lines, scrap metal and bales of rubber. Towards the end of a long day of ceaseless violence from our guards, I began to long for the mud and bugs in River Valley.
One morning some prisoners from Tarsao arrived in camp, and when I returned that evening from the docks a marine who was a friend we had known in Changi came to see me. He had been a patient in the hospital at Kanchanaburi and used to visit Dad every day. On one such visit Dad had asked him to fetch a container of drinking water which was kept at the end of the ward, and on returning his first thought was that Dad had fallen asleep, but after a closer look he realised that he had died. He closed his eyes and left him on his side, the position in which he finally lay. After calling an orderly he returned to his ward and later that day was able top attend the burial.
The camp became infested with rats which were so bold one could almost stroke them. We slept with our heads where the roof and the four feet high walls adjoined. At first they disturbed our sleep but we soon became unaware of them as they skipped lightly over our foreheads and faces. Waist-bands and “G” strings were breeding places for body lice, which caused scabies. These bites always festered and progressed into ulcers which we could never heal. Weeping sores on the “bum” were particularly unpleasant for me at this time. Flies were the great “spreaders” of disease and the most difficult of all to control.
A bamboo sliding door was almost fly proof was developed and fitted to bore hole latrines. They were box shaped with a lid, and inside was a net which completely filled the inside of the box, with a drawstring at the neck. The drawstring was pulled tight and tied around a funnel with an outlet just narrow enough to allow a fly to crawl down the funnel into the interior which was baited with a small amount of very “high” food. When the net was full, the funnel would be withdrawn and the drawstring pulled tight. The bag of buzzing flies were then lowered into a large can of water which was kept continually boiling. A dozen of these traps would be emptied four or five times a day, and although we were killing billions of flies each day, there was no apparent decrease in their numbers.