Dead in The Water
Itu was beginning to feel the pain in his leg now as they came closer to the point of departure for Singapore, and he looked up at Kojima, who seemed to be walking along in a kind of pleasant dream. “Why are you acting so pleased?” Itu asked
“Kojima scratched the back of his head and gave a goofy smile, “Maybe it is because the next battle will be the last”
“Do not fool yourself with that notion” Itu advised as he adjusted the rifle and pack which were digging into his shoulders, “Who knows where we will be after Singapore, maybe we will be sent on to Burma or India”, he paused thoughtfully” and maybe you could be back in Japan with no legs”
Kojima began to laugh “can you imagine me standing outside the veteran or old soldiers club begging for money”
They were close to the point of no return now and Lieutenant Shigiro shouted for everyone to prepare for battle. Kojima pulled at Itu’s arm and pointed to where three men were sat in a shallow bottomed boat, and which seemed to be leaking like a sieve. “Come on” he shouted and waded into the water. Without thinking, Itu ran to the boat, followed by gunso Yashio and two men of the Imperial guards. He knew before they had sailed more than five meters that they would never make it across. Tracer bullets appeared, coming directly for them, then they seemed to veer off and hit the water with a swish and a bang, mortars began to fall and from the shore in the direction they were taking several machine buns now started to blaze away firing belt after belt. He remembered his first baptism of fire when they had landed in the north, but this reception was even greater and he began to fear for his life once more. He could not remember if he had dispensed with his God or not, so he whispered a prayer and blessing in his mind, hoping that the others would not notice that he had fallen silent. Just as he was saying his final eulogy, it happened. In the centre of the Johore Strait ,the craft just sunk beneath them, it didn’t give a last gasp or wallow for a few seconds, it simply sank like a heavy stone. Itu had slung his rifle over his shoulder before getting into the boat, the others had simply carried theirs, and the whole lot went down at the same time as the boat.
Paddling water as he looked around, Itu decided that the nearest point would be where most of the machine guns were, between him and them the water was full of commotion as other boats sunk, either by having been hit or because they had been sabotaged by the departing enemy.
Others had decided to risk the long swim across, and the closer to the Singapore shore line the greater the number of men in the water, some screaming in pain or for help, others shouting orders to what was now a complete rabble of men, each with his mind set on the spoils of Singapore, the Jewel of the east. To most, there would be rich pickings and beautiful girls, they were soldiers in name only, and would sooner fornicate than fight. Close by Yashio called out his name, “Itu, Itu, I can not swim, help me" slipping his rifle from around his neck, he swam behind Yashio and grabbed him by the shirt collar and then began to swim toward the shore line, after a while he could hear Yashio gasping for breath and spluttering, then realised that Yashio’s shirt was now tightly round his neck, releasing his grasp of the shirt, he grabbed at the leather map carrier strap and continued to pull for shore. Gradually the shore line got nearer, but so did the risk of being killed, as the bullets from the machine guns splattered in the water all around. As he swam others who were on the point of going under grabbed at his body and clothing, screaming and shouting for help and he decided to complete the last few yards under water, forgetting about Yashio, he struck out with both arms keeping below the water creating some further small protection from the bullets.
The water became shallow, as he fell forward onto the shore, his hands felt the sticky efflux of slime excreta and blood and without conscience of doing so, he added to it with his own convulsive vomit. Just fifty yards above him machine guns of the Manchesters were spitting out their defiance.
With the natural constant thoughts of self preservation he slithered and crawled along the beach away from the threat of the guns in an easterly direction and as he crawled the bodies of invading Japanese soldiers lapped the shore line. In all his life including the invasion of Malaya, he had never observed so much destruction and such a massive loss of life, no matter which way he looked there were bodies. Suddenly from the water came the sound of boats and small craft, and as they came into view, he saw that they were full to capacity with Japanese soldiers, but instead of heading for the shore line, they were travelling east. Itu walked back into the water and as one of the craft came close, a soldier put out his hands, which Itu grasped, being pulled along through the water, other hands came over the side and he was hauled on board a boat filled with men of the 3rd Imperial Guards. Once settled and identified, he was informed by one of the men that they were heading for Changi beach which was being held by the remnants of the British 54th Brigade, Their objective being to take the east coast of Singapore which was now unprotected and advance south to the airfield at Kallang.
Within minutes they arrived at Changi, where without any sign of defence from the enemy, they just walked ashore.
As they came ashore, several people mainly men, rushed to meet them shouting greetings and offering food and refreshment. It seemed that the whole of the village wanted to greet them. As soon as possible, Itu reported to the quartermaster of the 3rd group landing party and requested a rifle and equipment, making the excuse that he had lost everything when the craft which was carrying him across was sunk. As soon as he showed his army record book, he knew that he was in trouble. “What are you doing here?” asked the quartermaster “Your regiment are miles from here on the west coast” Itu hesitated before replying “I caught a wound in Johore Bharu, the regiment went off without me, so I assigned myself to the nearest group” What he had said was partly the truth, he missed out the fact that he joined the group which was attacking the easiest position. The quartermaster looked at him for a few moments, then decided to go along with Itu’s request, giving him complete exchange of clothes including a bar showing his rank as gunso, which was something he had never worn before, and a map case complete with carrier and a Japanese Asaaka rifle.
Itu swaggered toward the Changi village, the shops in particular, hoping to obtain a souvenir, but he was completely out of luck. According to the native shopkeepers, the Enemey soldiers had looted all the shops before retreating south. There were odd broken bits and pieces but which were of no interest, so he made his way to where a group were sat around drinking, eating and singing. As there was no one he knew among them, he introduced himself to a young gunso, he thought looked to be about his own age. Gunso Hayashi. Hayashi however was an old hand, having enlisted in the Imperial Japanese army in 1938, his first posting was to Shanghai, where he was taught the art of killing in any form. Having realised that he had most probably made a bad choice of companion, Itu tried to melt away, but it was not to be. Hayashi had assumed that Itu was a young blood similar to himself . “Lets go into the village and watch the fun” he suggested. Holding on to Itu’s arm, he led the way to where a group of houses and shacks were formed round an open space, in the middle of which the so called Samurai warriors had begun to perform their sacred acts of Bushido. Itu made as if to move away, but as Hayashi sat down on the ground, he dragged Itu with him. “Watch and learn” he advocated, and Itu sat down to watch. In the centre of the opening there were several small footstools in front of them the ground was wet with blood. To the rear several poles had been erected and deposited on each, the head of a Chinese man.
The crowd were beginning to become restless as they waited for a further performance.The from one of the small houses emerged two officers, each had disposed of his coat, but had secured a red cumberband round his waist with a white towel round their heads and a further towel hanging from their belt, each took up a stance by the side of one of the stools. Within minutes three soldiers led a procession of six Chinese males. The noise and general hubbub drowned out the reading of the sentence awarded to each Chinese man. As the first two were made to kneel behind the stools, there was a dramatic hush. In unison the two swordsmen lifted their large swords and in unison they brought them crashing down onto the flimsy neck of their victims. Four soldiers rushed out and hurriedly dragged away the two bodies, leaving the heads where they had fallen. The next two and the next, received a similar fate, by which time Itu was feeling totally disgusted, but could not show it for gear of being considered a coward. There was singing and shouting coming from one of the larger houses and Hayashi pulled Itu from the ground and was went running to where the noise was coming. There was a long file of soldiers leading to the rear of the house, inside Hayashi was informed were two Malay and four Chinese comfort girls, provided by the Imperial Japanese Army.
Hayashi and Itu walked inside. There was three rooms, two small ones with one girl in each, and in the larger room two beds were occupied, while two more couples copulated on mats on the floor. “Do you want one” asked Hayashi. Itu shook his head, “I prefer to find a local one during our travels, in this way there is no need to hurry”
“Come on then, lets go and find ourselves some comfort for the night” suggested Hayashi. Half heatedly, Itu followed as they walked toward the beach at Telok Paku. As they walked they could feel the eyes of hidden people staring at them, occasionally they would swing round in the hope of catching one , but they were never quite successful, Arriving at a small kampong, with about five small dwelling houses, they each appeared to be empty accept the one closest to the beach, from here came the sound of voices talking quietly. Hayashi pushed open the door to reveal five people, an old woman, a woman about thirty years of age, one about twenty years and two children. Hayashi introduced himself and Itu, and the women smiled timidly, neither understanding what the other was saying. Itu let Hayashi do all the talking. “Saki” said Hayashi, pointing to a bottle sat on a shelf. The woman must have known the word Saki and she smiled as she shook her head. “Minum?” (Drink) she asked, and Hayashi nodded his head walking forward to take hold of the bottle. Seeing that it only contained condiment he replaced it with a grimace. “Dari Nippon”( are you Japanese) she asked, and Hayashi nodded, assuming that the woman was being friendly , he put out his hand and grabbed her by the wrist, she screamed, then the other woman started to scream and cry, followed by the children. Itu started to move toward the door and Hayashi shouted out to him “Stop that stupid woman screaming” he shouted, at the same time pulling out his revolver and pointing it to the woman he was holding. "Dami dami” he implored. “Apa Ini” (What are you doing”) she screamed back. He pulled her toward him , placing her arm up her back and pushed her toward the small room at the back, at the same time the younger woman continued crying and screaming. “Shut her up” shouted Hayashi. Itu grabbed the girl in the same manner, but not having a revolver, he took out his bayonet and pointed it to her throat. Just as the screaming subsided, the door was flung open and Young Chinese men came running in. Hayashi released his hold on the woman, pointed his revolver and began firing, hitting first one and then the other, as they fell to the ground, he stood over them and continued firing.
Without realising it, Itu was squeezing the arm of the woman he held and she started to scream and cry once more. “Dami” said Hayashi once more, then pointing to Itu, he said, “bring her in here” at the same time grabbing the woman he had held and pulling her into the small room. all the time the children were screaming and holding on to each other. Pointing the revolver, Hayashi ordered the woman to undress, then proceeded to rape her. Itu watched, then taking the younger woman outside he raped her also. There was the crack of a revolver, then Hayashi walked out of the house smiling broadly. as Itu stood up, Hayashi pulled out his revolver and offered it to Itu, seeing Itu’s reluctance, he pointed at the woman’s head and fired. Then returning into the house, he fired three more shots. Although Itu had himself been involved, he realised that he was in the company of a psychopath and he waited and watched Hayashi dragged the young woman into the house, “Itu Bring fuel “shouted Hayashi. between them they collected anything combustible, Hayashi then threw the contents of several paraffin lamps inside the house before setting light to it.
In order to separate himself from his new found comrade, Itu volunteered to go out with the next patrol, The evening of Friday the 13th February the patrol of ten men, followed the east coast road to the cross roads at Tampines, from where they went into the jungle and the scrub. Ten miles south the enemy were setting up their last defensive lines known as the Serangoon line. The spear head being situated at Paya Lebar. Although there had so far not been very much fighting in this area, the number of bodies lying around gave witness to the damage which had been inflicted on the enemy by the Japanese artillery and airforce. They were mostly young men, and of most significance was the fact that they practically all were wearing new tropical clothing . From an open space, probably about a mile away, Itu watched through his binoculars as the enemy soldiers, set about the task of erecting machine gun nests, assuming that they were being unobserved. A mortar section of the Imperial Guards, commenced lobbing over their two and four inch mortars, and Itu smiled as he watched the enemy soldiers run for cover of the monsoon drains.
The patrol leader sent his report back to headquarters stating that the patrol would remain where they were until the following morning, when they would form up with their units. At nine o’clock the following morning, rumours were abounding that the enemy had asked for a cease fire, it was at this time that Itu was instructed to report to headquarters of Ogawa Tomatsu for assignment. On arrival at HQ he was immediately taken to see Colonel Tomatsu. The colonel was a shortish man, even in Japanese standards, and Itu felt like a giant in his company. After formal introductions the colonel offered itu a cigarette, “We will shortly become the victors of Asia” he said smiling, “we have the job of taking over the administration of all enemy prisoners. To do this, I require man I can trust. In the past we have had no regard for prisoners of war, we have eliminated them on the spot, unfortunately in this war, there are rules which we must follow, so it will be our task to collect all the prisoners and move them all to the north eastern end of Singapore island.” He went on to give more detailed instructions which lasted for several hours, then as Itu left the headquarters, news came in that the enemy had surrendered without conditions. At last thought Itu, I can now go home to my Fujika and restart my life, at last I can make my own decisions and design my own life. But that was not to be. At six thirty on Monday the 16th February Itu was awakened with instructions to join colonel Tomatsu, who was now about to take command of the enemy soldiers concentrated on the east coast of Singapore. An enemy truck arrived being driven by an enemy soldier, sitting by the side of the driver colonel Tomatsu, Itu climbed onto the truck and took a seat behind the driver. The first assignment was at the Singapore pineapple factory close to Kallang airport, and as they drove along the road, Itu was surprised to see the number of badly damaged buildings, with the streets littered with the dead bodies of humans and animals, the stench of rotting flesh, unwashed bodies and cordite permeated the air, as they turned to enter the factory he looked at what had once been a well kept airport. It was completely covered with damaged aircraft and bomb craters. The enemy soldiers were all congregated in the factory yard and as they got down from the truck, they could feel the pent up animosity of the defeated men. The commander of the enemy soldiers saluted and called out an order, and the soldiers obeyed to a man. He then told them to relax and turned and saluted colonel Tomatsu, who returned the salute with a very shallow kiri.
As Itu began to take notes, he looked into the eyes of his one time enemy and wondered what would have been the reaction had fate dealt the opposite hand. His eyes were looking into those of Chuck Stewart, looking through them, it was as if he could read the mans soul, which seemed to be saying, "my people will not allow this to happen, they will come and they will avenge us, every one, and throughout life unto eternity, they will hold you at arms length knowing of your treachery, that you may never inflict such deceit on man ever again.