Sketch by Jack Chalker

Chapter XIV

Repair Work

The railway work continued and at last the lines were connected a bit further on than Kon-Kwita and at that time I was little more than six stone in weight and getting lighter each day. The railway now connected Bangkok in Thailand to Moulmein in Burma, but the Japs would find it extremely difficult to use the line as the Allies at last started to bomb strategic points and we were grateful to them although it made more work for us as we had to carry out the repairs.

Although the line was laid there was still back-breaking work to be done and in the rain or boiling sun we hammered ballast under the sleepers with fourteen pound hammers while making our way back down the way we had come some two years previously.

We pulled in at Rin-Tin for about a week still ballasting and met up with some old friends for a few minutes before they left to return direct to Non-Pladuk. Speedo had subsided, but not the continual beatings, and if you went a whole day without being clobbered you considered yourself extremely lucky.

The railway at the Burma end seemed to get less attention than the Thailand end as train loads of Jap wounded started to come through areas where we were working and that cheered us up no end, as at last we knew the Allies were in action and the Japs were suffering heavy casualties. The Japs were a queer barbaric race of people and they had no time for sick or wounded of any kind not even there own and we witnessed some strange happenings. At one small siding south of Rin-Tin a train with a dozen carriages stacked chocker block with Jap wounded pulled up at the time we were having meshi-meshi (lunch-rice) and below the railway was the river. The train stopped and the wounded piled off making a bee-line for the river but those troops with only one leg were offered no help from any other Japanese, and it was strange to see British prisoners of war lending a hand to the amputees to get down the embankment for a wash and to clean their utensils, its just not in a British person's blood, even after the atrocious treatment that had been meted out since capitulation to refuse assistance to those less fortunate than themselves, and at least we had two legs.

The war was hotting up after the long, long lull, and while we were still in a very difficult position, we waved whatever we had when Allied aircraft came over, and now there wasn’t a day when the skies were clear of them. The Japs didn’t have any planes and the Allies were flying unmolested but I am sure they mustn’t have had too much information about the location of us prisoners of war, and they nearly caused a catastrophe on one occasion. We were being transported back down the line one day when two of our own aircraft swooped down on us and strafed the length of the train on their first run in, by the time they zoomed around to attack again the train had stopped and we scattered helter-skelter into the jungle but they strafed the jungle and several of our own men were wounded and needed medical attention when we pulled in at Kinsayo again.

We did more ballasting at Kinsayo and then were moved down to Kanburi where we found life much more pleasant and the camp was the best organised from the prisoner of war point of view I had been in, and here there was a hospital that had a small amount of medicine and medical equipment.

It was at Kan-Buri that I came into possession of a pair of scissors and a Naafi knife which I sharpened on a stone and then stropped it on a webbing belt and had it sharp enough to shave. I had a great business cutting hair and beards off with the scissors, and then shaving after the rough had been removed and I always had a queue waiting to be done!!

The head is a difficult thing to shave as the skin is soft and not as tight as the face and many a time I had heads flowing with blood but the patient didn't mind as long as the lice-ridden hair was removed and after a good dip in the river they all looked like Kojaks, and happy even though they had lost a drop or two of blood.

At Kan-Buri we found our ten cents a day pay was buying more than up the railway and we were now able to buy bananas or limes or chillies each of which had something that would do us good and how we needed it.

Kan-Buri was an ancient town and quite the biggest we had seen in Thailand and the people were anti-Jap and helped us whenever they could, they charged us as little as they could when we were buying from them and they kept informing us the Allies were winning the war and the Japs were getting a real good hiding in every theatre of war they were engaged in, and we could see that Burma was one of these as thousands of wounded were now coming through to Bangkok and possibly home to Japan.

Air raids were now quite common and we were told about bridges being blown up and lots of damage being done to the railway. Flights of planes were going overhead and we had to dig slit trenches in case our camp was attacked. The Japs made us dig holes for them like an inverted mushroom to house single persons.

The railway was getting such a pounding the Japs were virtually unable to use it for their war effort and to get ammunition and rations up to the Burma front they had to carry them through Jungle tracks away from the railway and prisoners were to be used for this job.

I was to be in a party that was going back up the line to do ration carrying and we entrained and taken back up to Wampo and we just arrived in time to witness a sight we would never forget. As we got off the train there was a tremendous noise in the sky and what appeared to be hundreds of planes came into sight and whilst we were as pleased as punch, we were going to be on the receiving end of this lot. For the first time in our lives we saw great big four engined bombers and they looked formidable as they flew towards us. The Japs shouted for us to scatter and we did just that and I with a few others ran nearly half a mile away from the Wampo viaduct, the shelf around the hill was to be one of the targets and as part of the flight veered away to the left getting into single file, the others flew on in the direction of Bangkok.

There would be about thirty planes flying in a circle around Wampo and they did three circles before they came in to bomb the viaduct and we had a grandstand view as I said about half a mile away. There were no Jap planes and no ack-ack and the Allied planes had the easiest of jobs to pick their spot absolutely unmolested. The first plane came in and released its first bomb, which appeared like a ball of fire falling from the belly of the plane and whether it was a ball of fire or the glint of the sun, they looked beautiful as they smashed down on the target and then bang! and what a bang!! it was so loud it nearly deafened us. The flight of planes took nearly two hours to release their whole load and then as they flew off all was silent again.

Slowly we reassembled near the train, which had remained untouched, and when we got close to the viaduct there was hardly any railway left and even the shape of the hill was different.

That raid caused us to be reformed for more railway work but the Japs were different now and the raid had frightened them to death and they were far more scared than the prisoners.

One guard came to us after the raid and said, ‘Americano losing war, not plenty fuselages for planes, see aeroplanes today, four engines on one fuselage, Nippon plenty fuselage one engine one fuselage, Americano finished-ka!!’

We repaired the viaduct in a fashion and a test engine crawled around wobbling like hell and we were pleased when we immediately marched away a bit further up the line and crossed the river to a camp on the track where merchandise was being humped up to Burma.

The camp was prepared and for the first time we had reasonable accommodation in the form of new tents, and the evening was the most pleasant we had spent in the whole of our prisoner of war life. The only noises, which could be heard, were the animals, insects or birds in the jungle, and there was only one guard with us and he appeared rather subdued by the latest events. We had been separated from friends once again and on this occasion only Bill Lowes and I had been posted together on this mission.

After the days work had been finished which was purely camp duties, we lay in our tents reminiscing about the good old days and how long it would be till we were free, and the word 'free’ on this occasion brought to our lips a song and for the first time for a long time we sang to cheer up our skinny, emaciated bodies and it looks funny when you see skeletons sing. The first song to break the silence was one which I believe was composed by a Gordon Highlander who had many years service in Singapore before the war and its origin arose through a tremendously tall Eucalyptus tree being charged with dynamite half way up its trunk and the top half being blown off to prevent the Japs from ranging on Changi from out at sea from their warships. The tree was alleged to be over a hundred foot high and was being used as a landmark by the Japs to bombard Change’s area.

The words of the song were: -

“When we’re free, when we’re free

 Oh how happy we will be

 When we see the last of Changi tree

 Oh what a wonderful day that will be

 When we sail away, o’er the ocean blue

 And the palms and the rubber trees fade from view

 We’ll give three cheers, and one cheer more

 For we’ll have seen the last of Singapore”

And we sang it over and over again sensing soon we would sail away from the Changi tree, and as tomorrow was Christmas day 1944, we had a carol session just in case tomorrow never came. ‘The First Noel’, ‘Good Christian men rejoice’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, and the best of all which we really enjoyed and everyone seemed to remember the words ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’.

 

Next Chapter

Chilly Valley

 

 

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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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