Sketch by Jack Chalker

Chapter XIII

Kon-Kwita (Konkoita)

All the time we were at Kinsayo it rained and we had a most miserable time building the railway. The rains were so heavy it changed the topography of the area and where ravines were rather shallow before the rains they were gorges after it and quite often bridges were completely washed away.

Kinsayo section was completed and once again we had a long march to do before we reached the next camp which was Tomajo, but we stayed there less than a week before we were moved on up to Kon-Kwita, which was only a few miles from the Thailand-Burma border.

During the march from Kinsayo we passed tens of thousands of natives and they were in a shocking condition, far worse even than us. Many Orientals do not believe in medicine and if some caught a disease they were quite happy to sit down and die, and we passed several skeletons at the foot of trees where this had happened. They die and if the 'Shite-hawkes’ didn't eat the body, the jungle insects did the job, particularly ants, and there were millions upon millions of these insects, and they left the skeleton clean as a whistle.

I remember some of the sores that were on natives bodies as we passed and they were so bad to see they nearly made you sick, and the situation was made that much more pathetic as a lot of them were in family units. One young boy of no more than fourteen or so had no flesh on his foot and the toe bones were quite visible and in a gangrenous condition and he was suffering agony as he limped about. Dysentery was racing amongst these natives and thousands had died from the disease and when we arrived at Kon-Kwita it was an epidemic. By some means we came into possession of a quantity of 'Condy's crystals' or as it is more commonly known ‘potpermang’ and to try and arrest the disease amongst the natives we had to dilute it and make the natives drink it to try and sterilise their stomachs, and whether it did any good, I wouldn't like to say, as they were all moved on, I believe, up to Nikki very shortly, after we arrived at Kon-Kwita.

Konkoita2
Prisoners working on the track at Konkoita

The camps Commandant was a pig of a man, whom I am pleased to learn was hung by his neck after the war for his atrocities and his name 'Terramoto' struck terror into everyone who had the misfortune to meet him. I gave a signed affidavit to the war crimes tribunal about this swine, who I saw kick a little Chinese woman, who would be very nearly nine months pregnant, to death, for nothing whatsoever, and he knicked the body all over the jungle like a football.

Kon-Kwita was, my last camp on the construction of the railway and the joining up position from the Thailand side and the Burma end was only a few miles further on from us and we understand the ceremony was performed by the coupling and spikes on the last joint was in gold. When the last spike was driven home it was said that each sleeper laid had cost the life of a prisoner or native, and Kon-Kwita substantially added to that figure.

The work was hard, and the life we had was monotonous as the speedo was increased, and there were occasions when we were at work eighteen hours a day. The food was diabolical and starvation was the root cause of so many deaths as men simply had no strength to fight against illness.

I had two anxious moments with my left leg at Kon-Kwita, the first being a colossal abscess on my ankle, and a little doctor from the Norfolk regiment operated by plunging a knife right into the core but it was unsuccessful and whether a main lead was severed or not, I don't know but instead of my foot being at right angles to my leg, it collapsed and it was in a straight line with my shin. I had to have a right angled splint made out of bamboo and my foot was braced back into position and the foot and leg lashed to the splint, and I hobbled to work like that for weeks and weeks in sheer agony.

One day the doctor came over to me and said he had managed some chloroform and if I came over to his hut, he would do another operation and get if put right. Reluctantly I agreed and I jumped up on his bench of bamboo and he would put a bit cloth over my nose and drip chloroform on it. I had to breath normally and count slowly so off I went, one, two, three, four, five and so on until a deep voice boomed in my ear to ‘count slowly you bloody fool’ forty-nine, fifty, fifty one until I could hear myself ninety six, ninety seven, ninety eight, ninety nine and then whoosh the knife was again stuck into the abscess but I was still conscious. When I came round some hours later an Anglo-Indian sergeant was with me and he was laughing his head off as he told me when the knife went in I shot my leg up in the air and it took four of them to pull it down so that the doctor could get at the abscess and I had collapsed into unconsciousness with blood flying all over the place. It did the trick and my ankle slowly healed and I ultimately threw the splint away.

Cholera hit Kon-Kwita and one of my pals died. John Birchal, Bert the corporal from the Norfolks and I slept on the same bench and Bert was violently sick and had diarrhoea one night, and we rushed over then for M.O. who after examining him made us carry him up the hill from the camp to a tent which had another dozen prisoners suffering from this dreaded disease. Bert died the next day and he along with several others were cremated on the pyre like fire. We had a lot of East Indies troops in this camp and they were causing a lot of bother, mainly through excreting anywhere in the camp and we became fly-ridden with all that ensues from these disease carrying insects. Dysentery and cholera hit the camp like a hurricane and the number of deaths increased considerably and we were very short of workers on the railway, which caused the Japs to be even more vicious than ever before.

One night after darkness fell I was sitting talking to a big blond lad from the Suffolks and he asked me if I could hear music, and naturally I thought he was going ‘bonkers’ as music was the last thing I expected to hear at Kon-Kwita. After listening carefully I actually did hear music and it appeared to be coming from over the top of a hillock at the side of the camp. There was no fence around the camp as we were hundreds of miles from any form of civilisation, so we walked over in the direction of the music to see what it was all about, and we were maybe four or five hundred yards from our huts when we peered over the hill and there in a not too distant position was a huge screen and the Japs were having a film show in the open and I Well remember it was the victory of Singapore they were seeing so we lay down and watched to show. I don't know how long we had been there, but we were so engrossed we didn't hear anyone approaching until a voice whispered in my ear ‘English-ka! eh!’ and when I looked up it was a ruddy Jap guard.

He yanked us to our feet and gave us such a clout on the head with his rifle butt he made me see stars, as he bundled us into the camp and when we got there, the whole camp was on parade in the moonlight as there had been a spot roll call and two were missing. We were manhandled in front of the whole camp for several minutes and then made to stand at attention. The Jap camp commandant then marched up to us and told us to tell the assembled prisoners why they had been made to stand on parade and shouted like a bull ‘Speeko! Speeko!’ We thought our end was in sight as no one before had caused so much trouble, and lived to tell the tale. I said what had happened and a chorus shouted 'O.K. Tommo, we understand’, and that infuriated the Japs as they had expected the prisoners to be really vexed and show it, which would have given the Japs the excuse, if ever any was needed to have a public execution.

The Japs were taken by surprise at the tolerant attitude of our comrades and appeared for a moment to be at a loss just what to do.

The men were dismissed from the roll call parade and my friend and I were left standing to attention for a considerable period and we both accepted this was the end.

At last a half-dozen guards came to us and having fixed bayonets we prayed they would get it over with quickly. They beat us for 'God only knows how long’ and then we were manhandled up to the Jap camp commandants office and the ranting and raving was such that you would have thought we committed murder. We were made to stand to attention and face the wall and with blood oozing from various parts of our bodies we could hardly stand up, let alone to attention, and our poor bodies ached and we felt worse was to come soon. I looked at my mate and he looked like a butchers shop and although I wouldn’t see myself I knew I looked much the same as I felt like one.

At that moment amid all the gibberish amongst the Japs, the camp interpreter Captain Sanderson came into the office and the Japs and he went into a heated dialogue none of which I could understand. Captain Sanderson was from my own unit and how he learned such fluent Japanese I could never reconcile, but he appeared to hold his own in that conversation. He came over to us and said 'You bloody fools, you've got yourselves in a mess here, haven't you?' they were saying you were trying to escape and spying on their troops, you'll be lucky if you get out of this lot mate, I'm telling you’, and he rushed back across the room to further discuss the case with the Japs,

To cut a long story short, it must be stressed that in our opinion, Captain Sanderson saved our lives on that occasion, as he later told us that when he first came in the room the Jap camp commandant bluntly informed him we were to be shot. In front of the Japs he tore strips off us for being so stupid, but, we could see at times by his facial expressions, it was more a charade than a-telling off. He managed to save our lives and our punishment was to be extra work in the camp each night after we came back from the railway, and we had to report to a Jap sergeant within half-an-hour of returning to camp, which meant we had to rush eating our rice and then race up the hill to the Jap compound. One of the Jap guards had given me a hard kick in the left shin and within a few days I had an enormous tropical ulcer.

Actually 'jankers’ wasn't too bad as the Jap sergeant, I feel, appreciated that we had done nothing serious and he wasn’t too bad with his extra fatigues, which generally consisted of washing and cleaning their workhouse utensils and we ate the scraps they left which on occasions was more than our own official ration, and after about three weeks he told us we need not come back any more.

We had quite a few bruises to nurse for a while and my worst turned out to be the tropical ulcer on my left shin, which grew and grew and grew. It was a nasty wound and at one time would measure nearly four inches across, and the flesh was so eaten away that the bottom of the ulcer was a couple of inches below the shin bone, which was clearly visible. The treatment for such ulcers was carried out by a Dutch doctor and his surgical instrument was a table spoon sharpened, on the edges which he dug in and scooped the pus and rotten flesh out with until he got down to the good flesh, and it bled and all the time the patient was being held by an orderly with the sweat oozing out of the whole body in sheer agony. No anaesthetics were available and ulcer sufferers simply dreaded the treatment room. After the treatment the leg would be bandaged up with dried banana leaves or something similar and off we would hobble to the railway.

My shin got worse and worse and at one time the Dutch doctor said it had to come off, and that thought nearly drove me crackers and, I prayed as I have never prayed before for my leg to get better.

Konkoita, Thailand, 25 October 1943
Konkoita Station

The railway work was progressing as quick as the guards could force us to work but this was deteriorating fast, as we were nearly incapable of standing up never mind working.

We were horrified one afternoon to see another party of men marching past our section as these, had been the chronically sick when we left Singapore and they were in a shocking condition, but had marched all the way from Ban Pong and were going up past our camp which I believe turned out to be Nikki. From reports of those few who survived Nikki I was delighted to hear that our Battalion medical officer, had been absolutely marvellous looking after the sick and injured, as he never appeared to us to be a man who could have managed to survive let alone show such bravery, and we often laughed about the Doc who in Blighty rarely had anything but a No 1 or No 9 and who was jovially nicknamed 'Pill Willy’ but he had proved us all wrong and the Nikki party had nothing but praise for him.

I had another bashing to suffer at Kon-Kwita and this gave us more laughs than suffering. Jap troops were passing through our areas every day on their way up to the Burma front and they carried everything but the kitchen sink. They humped guns and ammunition, kit and food, kitchen quallies and dixies but they walked in their bare feet with a pair of boots slung over their shoulders, they appeared right jungle wallahs. A party of one star soldiers who are the lowest of the low came marching into the area I was supposed to be in charge and we were humping railway sleepers and laying them on the track ready for the line laying gang to do their bit.

One of the Japs scoffed at us needing two men to carry a sleeper and said one, Jap, one sleeper, which we challenged him to prove. He stopped his party and they started to show us how to do it, and true to his word they were each carrying a sleeper, so I told my blokes to sit down and enjoy the scene. Unfortunately we didn’t post guards and unknown to us a Jap sergeant from the hated Engineers happened to appear from nowhere and he went, as usual berserk. He waded into the Jap soldiers with his sword stick and knocked the living daylights out of them for quite some time, before chasing them on their way to Burma and then!!

He lined my party up in single file then asked for the leader to step forward and made me kneel down in front of him and I waited. He stepped beyond me and he hit each man two tremendous blows on the side of the head so hard I heard the crunch of teak against bone and it sickened me. There were ten men in the party and those twenty blows echoed through the jungle and then it was my turn and he made me bend my head forward and lifted his sword stick up in the similar manner that other Japs had when beheading someone.

The blow was never struck but his boot came up in my face in a vicious kick and I heard a snap in my mouth and blood trickled out of between my lips as he had broken the pallet of my teeth which cut into my gums and my teeth fell out onto the ground, and the Jap halted in his tracks not knowing what the hell had happened. He came forward picked up my teeth and after examining the two pieces, flung them on the ground and told me to get up shouting 'Dammie, Dammie soldiers, speedo work-ka’ and fortunately he didn't pursue the beating, and I am sure my broken false teeth saved me from being beaten to death as his mood was vicious when he had started. My mouth was sore for months and it was so awkward without my teeth, but fortunately we never had anything more tough than rice to chew, so I managed for a considerable time until I returned to Kan-buri where I managed to get them repaired in a fashion.

 

Next Chapter

Repair Work

 

 

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[The White Flag] [Chapter I] [Chapter II] [Chapter III] [Chapter IV] [Chapter V] [Chapter VI] [Chapter VII] [Chapter VIII] [Chapter IX] [Chapter X] [Chapter XI] [Chapter XII] [Chapter XIII] [Chapter XIV] [Chapter XV] [Chapter XVI] [Chapter XVII] [Chapter XVIII] [Chapter XIX] [Chapter XX] [Chapter XXI] [Chapter XXII]

 

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