My Memories of Life as a Japanese Prisoner of War
By Albert Henry Warne (Bert)
Born 10th December 1919
Son of Percy Leslie and Mary Louise Warne
Occupation Boat Builder
Enlisted 3rd September 1939
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
After leaving my job as a boat builder and signing up, I found myself being Transported from Liverpool with the 18th Division to Singapore. Carrying troops and supplies to reinforce the defence of Singapore. I was travelling on the S.S. Empress of Asia.
On 8th February 1942 as we approached Singapore we were hit by a bomb, caught fire and ended up on a sandbank. I was in sick bay at the time and we could not get up the stairs because of the fire. An officer asked who could swim and helped us through large portholes into the sea. A lifeboat picked me up in Singapore Straits and dropped me off at Sultan Shoal Lighthouse. Launches were sent out from Singapore to pick us up and I was taken to Alexandra Hospital with dysentery. After two or three days all walking wounded were told to get down to Singapore town because the Japs were coming. (The Japs later went into the hospital and killed everyone they could find).
After we surrendered we were all marched to Changi barracks, where we stayed for 2 months. My Jap PoW No. was M-4102.
After capturing four PoW who had tried to escape, on the 30th August the Japs wanted us all to sign a ‘No Escape’ document and as we wouldn’t they made us all go to Selerang Barracks, where almost 17,000 PoWs had to survive. The escapees were executed but this did not alter our resolve, we did not sign it until our officers could see the overcrowding was causing health issues and we were told to sign under duress. The names we put on the document varied from Micky Mouse to Errol Flynn but we signed.
While working in the large car park I got Beriberi, due to lack of Vitamin B, and was sent to Changi hospital.
Eventually the Japs told us that we were going up to Thailand, which they called ‘The Land of Milk and Honey’. We travelled overland by train 31st October 1942 as ‘R’ Letter Party under Lt-Col. A.A. Johnson, 4th Suffolks. This was the 23rd train from Singapore to Thailand. I then became Jap PoW No. I-24953.
There followed five days in cattle trucks, packed in so tightly that there was not room to lie down, after which we finally arrived at Ban Pong reception camp, which was very dirty. We were split into groups and I finished up on the notorious railway, working on making the embankments. Others were building bridges and cuttings. I was attached to 5th Suffolk Regiment, which did not help as I did not know anyone. We would be given an allotted section to do and when it was done we could go back to camp earlier – not a good idea because they would then increase the task area. There were 200 of us then. When we had completed an area we were moved on up.
As we progressed the monsoons started and the malnutrition, dysentery and malaria became worse. The Japs then introduced something they called Speedo, which meant working from dawn to dusk. What food we did have was brought to us and we consumed it while working. It was usually boiled rice with a little veg. Breakfast was pap rice, which was rice boiled down to form a porridge with maybe a little sugar if you were lucky. The monsoons were the worst for many years and we were working in sludge up to our ankles, how we survived I will never know.
This photo of the three of Australian POWs was taken by an Australian who managed to hang onto his camera until he was freed.
We eventually arrived at a place called Konkuta, which was on the Burma border in October 1943. I became very sick and, with others, I was put on an empty barge with a Jap in charge and a Thai steering. We just floated down the River Kwai with the current, passing many disused old camps. At one point we floated onto a sandbank because the barge was leaking. Then the Thai filled the cracks with mud and when it had dried we proceeded on our way.
Late in the afternoon we pulled into a very large Japanese transit camp. We found that the Japs were quite friendly and they gave us food. This transit camp was a staging post for Japanese soldiers. They had to come all the way up from Singapore. The soldiers were on the way to Burma to fight our lads near the Indian border. While we were in the camp the Japs had a film show out in the open, which was for the soldiers on their way to Burma. We were invited to see the film, which was Japanese propaganda. I remember that towards the end of the film there was a scene of Japanese cycling and the background music was “Daisy, Daisy give me your answer, do”, to which we sang the words. To our surprise the Japs were not annoyed and took it all in good part. If this had taken place in one of our camps we would have been told to shut up or given the boot!
The next day we left the camp and travelled overland for a few hours each day. We stayed in other POW camps and sometimes we would meet old friends. We travelled like this for about five days and then stopped at a very large camp which was a railway siding. The camp was called Nong Pladuk. There were about 3000 men, mostly British with some Dutch, in the camp. The camp was very near a large marshalling yard and we were taken to hospital huts in the camp. I cannot tell you very much that happened after that because I did not realise how sick I was – most of us were only 6 ½ stone. We were cared for by our own doctors, but they had to improvise a great deal. I was in the hospital and sick bay for many months. The best thing was that I did not have to work.
In 1980, after a lot of research, we discovered that the Thai authorities had smuggled drugs into the hospital for us. When I became fit enough I was given a job in the camp with another chap called Reg Williams. We were given the job of keeping a very large hut clean. The huts held 300 men and were well built. They stood on stilts, the wood floor was 2 feet above the ground and the windows and doors were just openings. The roof was atap (palm leaves) and around each hut was a metre deep malarial drain.
The camp of Nong Pladuk was administered by us. The Japanese officer in charge of the camp was educated in the UK and he was satisfied as long as we supplied him with a workforce. The camp hospital was very good, operations were carried out there and our doctors and staff were marvellous. Out of 3000 men in the camp there were a lot of well-educated people and craftsmen. In fact we had our own bugler for reveille in the morning.
As my fitness improved Reg and I took on extra jobs and I becasme Jap PoW No. I-16513. In September 1944 air raids started but not too near us and we used to shout “Give it to ‘em”. Then one early morning my mate was sitting by the doorway and said “I think we had better get out of here” and we dived into the malarial drain, only just in time. A stick of bombs was accidentally dropped in the camp, killing 90 POWs, mainly Dutch and British, and many more were injured, which put us on edge. After this incident we were allowed to dig trenches, though we could not go down very deep because the camp was built on a disused paddy field.
Not long after this I was passed fit and then went out on working parties. Then, in December 1944, our working party had just come back in the late afternoon when there was an air raid by 8 Flying Fortresses (U.S. planes). We all made for the trenches and malarial drains. They dropped thousands of incendiary bombs, targeting the marshalling yards and petrol pumps. Fortunately there was no loss of life.
It was now the New Year of 1945 and in March I found myself on a working party of 12 POWs, including an old friend, Harry Phillips from Plymouth. We had 3 Jap engineers in charge of us and we travelled up country, using the railways, to a jungle area where we were putting up telephone cables, looped to the trees. We were there for about 10 days and had to make shelters with whatever we could find, plaiting leaves together to make a waterproof roof. The guards were not bad and got talking to us and told us about the sinking of a large warship and the death of Mr. Roosevelt. Later I discovered that the death was in April 1945.
When the job was finished we were dropped off at a river camp and then moved on to Bangkok, where we found that the guards were very touchy as they had been bombed by allied aircraft. We were only there for two days before we were loaded onto cattle trucks driven by a steam loco fuelled with wood because they had no coal. We did not move at night because the fire in the loco would have given away our position. When we arrived at a place called Saburi, a small town on the border of French Indo-China, we marched nine miles to a place called Pratchai. We followed the river, passed a temple and arrived at a brand new camp, which was lovely and clean with views towards a range of hills.
The next day working parties of 12 were sent out and the sickest man was in charge of the 4 gallon tin to boil water to drink. We drank nothing unless it was boiled. This was about July 1945. They used to bring rice out to us where we were working and if the guard was in a good mood we got a 15 minute break. We went into the wood for toilet and used leaves for toilet paper.
One day when we went out we saw a Jap officer in full uniform sitting up on a hill. We were kept there all day before we were eventually allowed back to the camp. The men already there were washed and in their best rags and the sergeant said “You are free”. The next day the sergeant told us that Mountbatten had sent a message to say that the Japs had to guard us but they then left and the POWs posted guards on the inside of the wire in case bandits attacked us.
A parachutist arrived and told us not to celebrate too much as we were in the middle of a Japanese division. Plans had been in place to invade Malaya in late August and the Japs planned in that event to shoot all POWs. On the second day after I was freed I was able to send a letter to my mother. The sergeant said he would try to find a pencil and if I could find a piece of paper he would try to get a letter out. I wrote in pencil saying “Safe and sound, free and OK” on the letter my mother had sent me in 1944 when she was told that I was a prisoner in Number 1 Camp Thailand (when I found the letter again many years later my mother had written over the pencil writing as it was faded). The letter was delivered in two weeks. We stayed in the camp for 10 days and my mate and I walked around the hills and met some Buddhist monks, who showed us their temple and statues.
One day we saw what we thought was a dust storm but it was a convoy coming to fetch us. We just picked up our gear and were taken to Bangkok airport, where we were told to leave everything except personal items and boarded a Dakota to go to Rangoon. The plane had no door but no-one fell out! When we landed we were just given tins of fruit to eat and taken to a school that the RAF had taken over as a hospital. I spent one night in the hospital and was told “You are OK, out you go”. We spent 10 days on the coast waiting for a ship to take us home.
On 20th September we left aboard the Orduna (16,000 tons and built in 1913). It carried 1,600 troops at 14 knots doing 300 miles per day. We arrived at Port Suez on 6th October and went ashore, where I was able to send 2 cables home. We were kitted out with winter uniforms and, because my name began with a W, I was “Tail End Charlie” and they had a job to get a uniform for me where both halves matched. I was the last one back on the coach to go to the ship, not helped by the fact that there was a group of about 40 WRNS, who were a wonderful sight after 4 years without seeing a woman!
We sailed onwards through the Suez Canal, then through the Mediterranean to Gibraltar. On board we were given a medical examination and the food was very basic, though that was probably a good thing we did not have any rich food after living for so long on rice and not much else.
The ship arrived in Liverpool on 20th October after a rough trip up the Irish Sea, which caused me to become seasick. The dockers were on strike, but when they heard that the ship was carrying ex POWs they returned to work to deal with us. We were put in a warehouse and at 8.30 am we boarded the trains, 500 to each train The troops were divided into 4 groups and I was in group K to travel south. When our buddies got off, after being so close through such a difficult time, they just waved and were gone. When we arrived at Euston there were only 12 left on the train and we were taken by truck to Waterloo. When reached Southampton Central I was met by my parents and my girlfriend Freda and a taxi was waiting to take us home to Merryoak, where the neighbours had put out the flags to welcome me home and the Merry Oak Pub took up a collection for me.
I did not let the grass grow under my feet and on 1st December 1945 I married Freda in Bitterne church.
Japanese Index Card - Side One
Japanese Index Card - Side Two