It appears that we were heading for the coast, but the Dutch government had capitulated, and one of the terms was that all troops on the Island of Java should be disarmed and interned. The convoy had been stopped from reaching the coast by Dutch Authorities who were carrying out these terms.
I remember we had stopped on a bridge over a small river, and the boxes of ammunition and grenades were taken off the lorries, opened and thrown into the water.
There was a great deal of speculation as to what would happen to us as prisoners, various theories being put forward, but I’m afraid all were wide of the mark.
Later we were moved on for a few miles, and stopped for the night. I slept on the road under one of the lorries in case it rained. The following day, Monday 9th March 1942 we were ordered to place all our arms in one place and throw the remaining ammunition away. We were also told we were free to leave the Unit if we wished in order to escape from the Japs. Those who chose this of course did so at their own risk, and those who remained were later to become prisoners.
I chose to remain with the Unit, considering the chances for escape too great, but Walt and a few others took the chance and left us. They set off across country and padi fields, with natives directing them at intervals, but it wasn’t long before they were picked up by Dutch Police and returned to the Unit within a few days.
In the meantime we had moved off the road to buildings on a tea plantation. Here Dutch money was taken away from us and later uniform amounts were issued to each person. We lived on our own Army rations, augmented by goats etc. purchased by the Officers.
We stayed in this place until the 19th March without seeing a single Jap. Then on that date we set off, with a white flag on each vehicle, and after leaving the Unit on the roadside, were given rations, and ordered to take the vehicles to a rendezvous. It was on the way to this place that I saw the first Jap face to face. We were a long convoy of vehicles, and came to a roadblock manned by Jap soldiers. After passing through the obstruction, each driver had to get out of his truck and it was then searched for arms by the soldiers. I was driving a car and could have carried anything in the boot because they didn’t look there. I don’t suppose they knew that it existed. I was told that one of the Jap soldiers gave his rifle to one of the drivers while he searched the vehicle.
It is said that first impressions are often wrong, and this was the case with the Japs, because they were quite jovial.
That night we slept in our vehicles on the roadside, and through the next day and night remained in the same place without the japs taking any notice of us.
Then on the Saturday afternoon, with a Jap soldier to about every fourth vehicle, we set off for Bandoeng. It was late when we got into the town and the convoy came to a stop in the main street. The Japs didn’t worry about that and let us stay there all night. Next morning they actually sent breakfast, a bucket of cooked rice, but we didn’t eat it because we still had army rations, and I remember going to a native house and getting a tin of sliced bacon fried, between a couple of us, the last taste for 3½ years.
Japs drove about as we remained in the streets, but took no notice of us and we were even able to buy fruit in the shops. Later in the morning the Jap soldiers returned and we were taken to a park where all the vehicles were left. On leaving the vehicles most of us either took the switch key or did something else to inconvenience the Japs when they came to use them. We all got aboard a lorry and were taken back to our Unit on the roadside.
We found that they had put up the tarpaulin covers which had been taken from the lorries to make tents, but the chaps were very congested in them and Walt and I decided to make a hut for ourselves. We set to work cutting bamboo trees and, with the help of a few natives, built a small hut, just big enough for us to sleep in, on the side of the road.
One side, nearest the road, was movable, and the floor was made of bamboo which had been opened out by the native. Wilf was in one of the tents across the road and spent several evenings with us. It was here that we started cooking little extras for ourselves. Walt had acquired a small solid fuel stove, and I think fried onions must have been one of our first evening meals, because I remember having to give up cleaning them on account of my eyes watering, but Wilf and Walt finished the job.
One evening a R.O.A.C. Unit abandoned a number of vehicles on the roadside near us, and of course we made a raid on them. Amongst other things which we took was a battery, bulb and some wire and I fixed up a light in our tent. When we moved I sold the lot to a native.
It was here we started trading with the natives. Some chaps syphoned petrol from the lorries and sold it to them. They would buy anything, apparently realising better than we did, what Japanese occupation would be like.
One amusing incident related to Walter’s blanket which was of the bid white hospital type. The natives had been giving 3 and 4 dollars for blankets, and our chaps were parting with one of their two, but Walt was asking 5 dollars and refused to sell under that. We had settled down one evening and were almost asleep when a small voice was heard outside our little hut, ‘Johnny, Johnny’ it repeated, ‘I give you 5 dollars for your blanket’. It was one of the natives who had been trying to buy it during the day. Walt considered ‘Shall I tell him to bugger off or shall I let it go?’ Eventually our need for money weighed the balance in Walter’s mind, and with a great effort he roused himself, and parted with the blanket for 5 dollars, but we always had a laugh about this in our idle moments afterwards.
It was early on Saturday 28th March 1942 that we gathered our belongings together on the roadside and marched to the railway station some short distance away. Here we were counted by Jap soldiers and boarded a train, similar to those already described. We set off on the journey back to Batavia and to the camp at Tandjon Priok.
During this journey we were enlightened as to the methods and conduct of the Jap soldiers which were to become familiar to us as prisoners.
Japanese soldiers accompanied us on the train, but remained at the rear and didn’t trouble us. However one of our chaps was eating a banana, which he had purchased probably at the roadside, and brought with him. As he finished the fruit he threw the skin away, but the train was then stationary outside a station, a Japanese soldier was passing and by a chance in a thousand, it hit him. This sent the Jap into a raving temper; he sorted the unlucky culprit out and gave him a few sharp smacks to the face. This type of conduct was of course foreign to us, and we were very indignant, to say the least, but they held the rifles and we could do little about it.