Sketch by Jack Chalker

By Rail to Thailand


By Rail to Thailand

One left Changi with what belongings one still had and much misgivings. This time we were put in trucks, crammed in, as usual, but it was better than walking. On arrival at Singapore station the trucks went into the goods yards where there were a row of steel sided covered wagons, normally used for transporting rice. The wagons had sliding doors and no ventilation. We, the human cargo, were shepherded into the steamy hot wagons 30 to 40 per wagon.

Thus began a journey of hunger, stifling heat, cold nights and sheer misery and we will never forget the stench of human excrement and decaying flesh as the doors of our wagon were closed. You stood or sat if you could and it was impossible to lean on the sides of the wagons as the steelwork was blistering hot in the tropical sun. Some lads managed to force open the doors a fraction and we took turns at the gap to take air into our lungs. No water was made available and thirst became a major problem.

During the journey we were shunted into sidings to let other trains through and we were not allowed to get out. Around mid-day we stopped and were given a drink and allowed off to relieve ourselves and stretch our cramped legs. Then the Japs produced some sloppy rice with a green liquid but it was eat it or go hungry. Even after eating this concoction we were still hungry.

Nightfall came and apart from one stop for a small ladle of so called tea, we had no more food. Just one bite of food in 36 hours. The wagons were cooling down and now one started to shiver,  unless you were lucky enough to still have a blanket to keep warm, otherwise, without warming food, one had a constant chill running through your body.

Next stop was Kuala Lumpur where some stewed rice (no salt or sugar) and a cupful of tea awaited us. Even as early as this dysentery was taking its toll as no-one had washed mess tins or hands for at least two days. Apart from the stifling heat we had to cope with sand and dust blown into the cracks of the wagon.

Arriving at Penang we were given rice and a stew!! We gobbled it down as nothing else was being offered. We were fast growing "rice bellies", which belied our stomachs. It was a relief to get out of the trucks for an hour.

We were feeling the effects of boredom, lack of exercise, hunger, the awful stench of the crowded wagon, dysentery making it unbearable and men being struck down with malaria. The atmosphere was oppressive as we were herded back into the trucks; the heat was such that breathing was becoming difficult, hi the corner a young lad was dying, his respirations laboured and no-one could help him. Perhaps it was that moment it came to me - if I ever get out of this mess I will help and give the care that the sick need. Men were being sick or having to relieve themselves wherever they could and as long as I live that stench of rotting bodies, the smell of human excrement, urine and sweat will still haunt me. Like others, I had already suffered bouts of malaria and dysentery. The body was weak and undernourished. One's thoughts turned to ending it all but, strange, something held me back - probably cowardice.

Little did we realise what was in store for us and the heat seemed to increase as we laboured up country into Thailand. The days and nights of this hell went on relentlessly. Men dying daily and death became a part of your life. One was glad to survive.

After six days stuck in these wagons we arrived at Bam Pong. It was a pathetic sight to see men, unable to walk, semi-conscious, suffering from starvation, dengue, dysentery or malaria and no medical supplies to help. Stretchers were made from bamboo poles and blankets or rice sacks, but we were not really fit enough to lift these poor chaps too ill to help themselves.


Next Chapter

Railway of Death



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