Sketch by Jack Chalker

Life of Riley

This story is not Public Domain. Permission must be obtained before any part of this story is copied or used.

Tanjong Priok Camp

Tanjong Priok docks
Japanese bomb Tanjong Priok docks 1942

At first, the Allied prisoners would make fun of their captors when they lined for parade. When asked to “number off” down the ranks, the men would shout out their number, 1…2…3…etc. After they got to 8…9… changed to JACK…QUEEN…KING.

This practise was soon curbed when every time the JACK…QUEEN…KING was shouted, a particular Jap guard would smash his fist into the face of the nearest prisoner. This Jap could obviously understand English.

When asked their name, they would reply with, BING CROSBY, KING GEORGE, MICKEY MOUSE and any other famous name they could think of. But once again, another fist would draw blood from the nearest unlucky soldier. This practise soon came to a stop.

The Allied troops were soon to find out the international Geneva Convention rules of how to treat prisoners of war, would not be adhered to by the Japanese.

One day while Dennis was walking near a barbed wire fence exercising, a Jap with an Alsatian guard dog shouted across to him. He shouted again and slapped a whip at the side of his leather boot. Dennis didn’t like the look of this situation and as the Jap was on the other side of the wire, turned and ran back to his hut. Once inside he sat on his bed and took off his glasses. Almost immediately the Jap with the dog stormed into the hut.

The “Attention” order was shouted out and the men stood to attention beside their beds. The Jap, still slapping the whip on his boot walked along the line of men staring into their faces. He came level with Dennis who, still without his spectacles, stood stock still and eyes forward. Not recognising him without his glasses, the Jap walked straight past him and to the door. Turning, he shouted something in Japanese to the men, and then left the building. Dennis sat down on his bed with a huge sigh of relief. The Jap was a member of the sadistic secret police, the Kampetai. These men were to become known as the worst of the worst for cruelty and torture.

The monsoon season caused the POW’s all distress when caught without shelter. The force and quantity of rain that showered down on them felt like hailstones on their bare backs and shoulders. A metal tank they used to boil water in would fill twenty four inches in one rainfall. In this tank would be put sulphur to bathe the wounds, sores and ulcers of the men. Sores on their toes were known as Jap Happy Feet and Dennis and Vern would make wooden soles and from the rotten boots, fashion thin straps of leather to fasten around their feet.

Whilst out on a working party one day at a place called the ‘Olive Grove’, they were sent to clear some dense vegetation. The tools they were to work with were pathetic. There wasn’t a decent edge on the axes or machetes. Dennis chopped at a bamboo trunk and the axe bounced off. When the Japs shouted “SPEEDO, SPEEDO,” Dennis complained to the guard but was slapped about the face for his trouble. The work party started to slowly hack at the high, sharp and thorny grass and the guards moved away.

Dennis’ group found an almost buried building in the undergrowth beside a railway track. A couple of men went inside to explore and to their amazement found a brand new Bofor gun barrel in a box and a couple of rounds of ammunition.

The men came out and looked around the area. A few yards away was a steep bank leading down to an inlet from the sea, and on the rail track, was a steam engine with a trail of smoke coming from the stack. Heads were put together and as plan was hatched. A lookout was posted and the men retrieved the gun barrel from the building and carried it to the edge of the bank. With no guard around, the barrel was duly rolled down the slope and disappeared with a splash beneath the water below. The Japs would not be using this gun.

The men returned to their working area as one of the lads picked up the two live shells. Spotting a Jap guard sauntering toward them, he asked his mates to cause a diversion. As the guard got nearer the men started shouting and running toward him, hitting the ground with their machetes.

“SNAKE….SNAKE” they screamed, running wildly in all directions. The Jap turned and ran away from them fearing for his life.

The lad with the live rounds had now reached the deserted steam engine and quickly climbing aboard, threw them into the firebox. Jumping down and running as fast as he could back to his mates, they moved further away into the undergrowth.

All the men were flat on the ground before the engine exploded.

St Georges Chapel

St Georges Chapel

Dennis and Vern Richmond were involved with other prisoners in the making of this chapel.

While at this site he was surprised to meet a lad from the same factory he worked at back in Beeston

On another work party at Batavia docks, they were unloading and stacking aviation fuel and petrol from ships to the dock. If the drums were heavily lowered onto the dock from the crane, the men found the dented drums easier to loosen the caps. These were then stood upside down and the fuel slowly leaked away. Other drums were given an additive of ....sand or earth.

While looking out over the river, a sudden glint under the water caught Dennis’ eye. Peering and squinting into the water on the river bed some ten feet below, he could make out the chrome plated petrol tank of a motor bike. When the ripples on the surface flattened off, he was surprised to see it was a BSA motor bike in good condition. It must have been dumped quite recently as no rust or algae had yet tarnished the shiny tank. Something else the Japs wouldn’t be using in this war.

At these docks they came across a tug with the Jap crew having a tea party on board. They were singing and clapping and slightly drunk. One Jap came onto the deck and dived over the stern with a rope in his hand. The prisoners stood looking down into the water at the man busying himself in the depths. Suddenly he broke the surface shouting up to his fellow crew members. The rope was loop around a winch and slowly a wooden crate was hauled from the water. Once aboard, the crate was levered open and bottles of whisky were passed around the merry crew. They had found cases of spirits under the tug that the Dutch had thrown into the sea before they had arrived. Tobacco had been set afire too to stop the enemy using it. Dennis and his mate found tins of half burnt tobacco in a loading bay and asked the drunken seaman if they could keep it. He waved them off with a cheery smile and told them “OK..OK”

Dennis and Vern would be kept busy fashioning pipes from toothbrush handles. Dennis marvelled at Vern’s ability to make a drill bit out of an old bicycle wheel spoke to drill down the length of the handle.






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[Life of Riley] [Early Days] [Royal Artillery] [Empress of Japan] [SS Narkunda] [Chaos] [Escape] [Sumatra] [Action Stations] [Pladjoe] [Palembang] [Leaving Oesthaven] [Java] [Japanese at Batavia] [Tanjong Priok Camp] [Back to Singapore] [Batu-Lintang Camp] [Glimmer of Hope] [Liberation September 1945] [Going Home] [Back in England] [Mystery Picture] [National Memorial Arboretum]


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