Sketch by Jack Chalker


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The Will to Live



We were disembarked by the same method used by the Japanese in Singapore when loading us on the ship. We willingly came ashore carrying our sick as many could not walk. We filled our lungs with clean fresh air again. The punishment we had taken was beyond the imagination, It amazes me what the human body can take.

Formosa looked like a paradise to us with its lush crops of sugar cane, sweet potatoes and marrows. The Jap guards handed us over to Formosan soldiers who, although still brutal, were gentlemen compared to our previous hosts. Before starting on our long march to our new camp, we were given a small stale rice loaf and a drink of weak tea. Our spirits rose quite well, anything being better than on that “hell ship.”

Soon we were on the march, the Formosan civilians did not show any interest in us - only the Japanese civilians did. There was very little in the way of brutal beatings given to the POWs on this march, only lots of shouting. We arrived at our new camp in the late afternoon. The Japanese Commander gave us a talk through a Japanese interpreter, who informed us that we were here to work hard for the Japanese Empire and that the war would last a 100 years. After several counts and a lot of bowing, we were dismissed.

On hand to help us were a few POWs who had arrived with General Percival, the Governor of Singapore Sir Shenton Thomas, and a few other high ranking British officers. One American, General Wainwright, was also in this camp.

There were six huts in all - l00 men to each hut, and one was a hospital. In charge of the hospital were one Australian and one British doctor. I do not know too much about these doctors, and the less said about them the better. They were not too highly thought of by us.

In this camp we were issued a rice bowl, a small mug, two very thin blankets, one shirt and a pair of shorts made out of bags and a Japanese POW number. Life in this camp was bearable. Our work was cleaning land for cultivation, mostly carrying rocks. Brutality was common in all POW camps under the Japanese, but here it was not as brutal as in other camps such as in the story “Through the Valley of the Kwai” or the film “The River Kwai.”

1 must now pay tribute to the high ranking officers in our camp. Their deeds were not the glories of winning battles but of examples to their men in desperate situations. I have seen these officers stand over broken men protecting them from the Japanese rifle butts, and they would stand there until beaten to the ground themselves. The Japs delighted in making the officers run at bayonet point with food to the work parties, the officers were forced to wear coolie hats. The sole purpose of the Japanese was to degrade these officers in front of the rank and file. This all had the opposite effect on us. We admired our officers in the way they bore their burden patiently in front of us. Their words of encouragement to us were a real morale booster. Yes, these officers suffered immensely more than we men did. We took courage from them.

The Japanese Commander ordered that all POWs were to speak Japanese. Only a few of us managed to pick up this language. The Formosan guards were only too keen to learn English. We received a small rice ration three time a day, weak tea, and on occasions were served seaweed. Our greatest enemy was hunger, dysentery and malaria. In this camp we were allowed to write one postcard home. Of course, the words were composed by the Japanese. My card never did reach its destination.

I remember that a European Red Cross official entered our camp one day. As far as we were concerned, he did not see us. He did not inspect the camp or see the sick and dying. He entered the Japanese officers quarters and there was no attempt by this Red Cross official to contact any of us.

I will never forget the face of a young soldier from the Manchester battalion who was caught trying to escape from Formosa. After being caught he had been given a terrible beating, then forced to parade in front of us with his hands tied behind his back. We could do nothing to help the lad as we were held back by well armed guards. We were blankly told that this would be the last time we would see him. In his pain this young man could afford us a smile and marched away between four Japs escorting him. We never did see him again.

There is one incident I will mention about a soldier whose name was Bunny Bain. Bunny, I think, was one of those happy-go-lucky men who did not like the word “work.” He had never worked in civilian life, nor in the army, and he swore he would never work for the Japanese. Well, Bunny never did work for them. The Japs beat him continually, hut he would not lift his finger, even we implored him to do some work for his own good. After many beatings and some broken bones, Bunny contracted beriberi. This disease, caused through malnutrition, made the body swell up with water and made the legs go all rubbery. The Japs refused to allow him to go to the camp hospital. Undeterred, Bunny got himself sticks and hobbled to the latrine, refusing help. He would come back crawling and cursing the Japs, beaten up and without his sticks.

One night, Bunny did not come back. We looked for him and found him unconscious and badly beaten about the head. We carried him to the hospital, but the doctors could do little for him. That evening the Japanese 2nd in command who could speak English, visited the hospital. Bunny had regained consciousness so the Jap asked him what he would like to have. Bunny asked for an orange, the Jap told him he could not have one but he could see the plan of the cemetery where we were all going to be buried and the spot where he was going to be buried soon. Bunny looked up and said “You yellow bastard, I will come back and haunt you.” Bunny died quietly that night. The following afternoon the Japs gave him a military funeral. We lined the roadway on the inside of the camp and saluted Bunny. The Japs presented arms and Bunny was carried from the camp with a Union Jack round him. A brave man had gone to rest.

That night every man in the camp received an orange. The Jap officer’s attitude changed in our favour, but he was removed somewhere else shortly after Bunny’s death. I wonder sometimes if Bunny’s death preyed on this officer’s mind or did Bunny have the last word and come back to haunt him?

Since the capitulation of Singapore. a year and a half had gone by, and I was destined to move once again.

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