Sketch by Jack Chalker

Chapter XIX

When We’re Free

15th August 1945 was a landmark in the eyes of those prisoners of war who had survived a dastardly three and a half years in the hands of the Japs, but at that time it was just another day as dawn gradually eased to daylight, and the camp stirred to life for another workday on the air-field.

Working parties fell in to their usual groups and waited for the guards. I was not in a working party that day as I was sick with jaundice.

The working parties stood on parade for half-an-hour and no Jap turned up, they stood for an hour and no Jap turned up and at that point we knew something was happening.

A Jap officer at last came forward and informed the parade there would be no working party that day and we were to rest and look after ourselves and then he disappeared, never to be seen again.

After the Japs disappeared, the first arrival in the camp was a six-foot swarthy skinned ‘Red Ant’, to inform us the war was over, and a loud cheer was heard over the disease ridden San-Pat-Soo and we went delirious with joy at the news.

We were told the 'Red Ant' was an intelligence officer who had been in the area for quite some time, and it was unbelievable.

We were also told that he and native troops were close at hand and if the Japs had started to shoot us, they were ready to move in and sort the Japs out, in hindsight it was nice to think they were so close at hard and we needn't have had the fear that we actually suffered.

The joy and elation was unbelievable and bonfires were lit twenty feet high and no one slept that night as the air was rent with glorious singing from the skinniest set of men anyone could have seen anywhere in this world. – “The war was over!” we shouted as we lifted our tired, exhausted and starved bodies round and round the bonfire. “When we’re free, when we're free, Oh how happy we will be”, - “Rule Britannia”, - “There'll always be an England”, - “Waltzing Matilda”, you name it, we sang it. We were delirious with happiness and the torment of the past three years wasn’t mentioned once that night. There was no food or drink to celebrate with, but the thought of being free was sufficient at that time, all the other niceties would come in due course.

We had no arms, and although the thought of reprisals against the Japs were foremost in our minds we had to be careful and use what little tact was left in our disease ridden bodies, as it could be possible for some of the Japs to resist capitulation and shot a few of us before we were rescued safe and sound.

The first day of freedom was great and we waited for the Allies to swoop in on our airfield and hordes of our troops rushing to the gates of our camp, and our eyes were continually looking to the sky and our ears listening for the purr of tanks and motorised transport, and we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

Not a sound was heard before lunch which tasted really good as we had got some tow-gay from the natives and it made beautiful soup, it was just simply great, no working- parties, no bastard Jap guards, and we waited, and we waited.

That afternoon was one of the longest I have ever suffered as we waited for the Allies.

Dusk came and not a sound of a plane or tank or wagon had been heard and we were so down hearted as we had heard small arms fire in the distance and felt sure the Japs were on the rampage and we watched carefully for any attack on our camp. Rumour had it that some other prisoners had overpowered the Jap guards and had shot the lot of them, but we had no means of confirmation and maybe it was sheer wishful thinking on the part of lads in our camp, but it was terrible to think we had been free a whole day and nothing had happened

During the day men in our camp had done business with Thai natives and a couple of old bullocks were marched in, in the afternoon and before their feet touched the cookhouse area, they were felled, skinned, cut up and in the stew pot and that evening meal, although we were terribly disappointed our troops hadn’t arrived, was the best meal we had had since the 15th February, 1942, when we were taken prisoners and although we had neither knife or fork, salt or pepper, we just tore into sirloin, T-bone and rump steaks, with oodles of saliva dripping from our mouths as we tore into this strange food.

The bonfires were kept going and that night we were told that an air-lift of food and medicine was to be dropped the following day and we had to prepare a clearing and mark it with a huge cross, and as nothing was to happen that night we went to bed to sleep, the sleep of free men and as we had no sleep the previous night we took no rocking.

Dawn came up on the third day of freedom and we quickly had breakfast and got cracking with the clearing and laid a beautiful cross, which could have been seen from the heavens, and we waited, and we waited, and we waited.

To our utter disgust, not a sound was heard from that beautiful blue sky all that day, and excuse upon excuse was offered by the officers, but the men were becoming frustrated and were becoming desperate that something may happen to prevent our escape, and we decided that if nothing happened by the next day lunch-time we were going to make an attempt to reach Bangkok under our own steam as we felt sure our forces would have at least arrived there, and we were extremely anxious to get under the safety of our own troops.

Another factor that was foremost in our minds were reports from Thais that many Japanese had refused to surrender and were still armed and causing quite a lot of trouble not too far from San-Pat-Soo.

Our morale was low as we crept into our bug-ridden sacks for another night's sleep as we started to wonder what the priorities were with the Allied forces, and we were sure we must be at the bottom of the list.

Another dawn broke and here we were very nearly heart-broken that we were still in this bog on the fourth day of freedom, and after breakfast we made preparations to move off if the relieving forces didn’t contact us before noon, however in mid-morning the drone of aircraft was heard and we rushed out of our tent to gaze in the sky in the direction of the noise and there in the distance was a single two engined plane, which we later discovered was called a Dakota and he was hunting in circles for our camp which he eventually spotted and made a low run over-head. The plane swooped around and came in for a second run, but nothing happened. On the third run in, the doors opened and containers were pushed out to land in the scrub some hundred yards from our cross, and we rushed over to collect the contents. The containers were far too heavy for us to carry so they were opened on the spot and the first package to appear is still very clear in my mind, it was “Victory V” cigarettes.

There was no food in our container as we carried the contents back to the clearing where the other four containers had been dumped, but there was food and medical supplies in the others. The share out began, and we were all carrying a carton of Victory V cigarettes wherever we went that day. I well remember sitting down and chain-smoking the first packet of twenty and they were delicious, true Virginia, and not the rubbish we had smoked for such a long time. The food containers were full of high protein foods and vitamin tablets and we actually had a meal without rice for the first time in three and a half years, bully-beef, dry-tack biscuits and fruit.

Orders were issued we were to leave the camp early the next morning but we had to walk about twenty miles to rendezvous with a convoy of lorries which would take us to our next destination, but where that was we were never told.

The Japanese had vanished into space and not one of them had showed their ugly face for the past four days, but we did see three on our march the next day and it was a most welcome sight as they were hanging from the branches of a large tree with a rope around each neck, and we were told they had been caught by natives and strung up. Rather strange that was the only reprisals we saw after been freed.

The march was difficult, but at least we were able to sing without a riffle butt being smashed on to our bodies. At last we reached the lorries that were waiting for us and they were driven by Thais in green Khaki uniform.

We were transported along tracks and rutted roads and arrived in Bangkok air-port about three in the afternoon amid a hive of activity as there were men, machines, planes and out on a grass area a sight for sore eyes. Approximately a thousand Jap soldiers were herded together and a squad of Gurkha soldiers guarding them and we volunteered to take over the guard.

We were led into a huge hangar building where, there was lines of tables set out, and behind were the most gorgeous blonde WRAF handing out food and clothing and oh! How they started the pulse to beat Wow! This was life anew. Mind you we weren’t allowed to touch anybody and the men and women in uniform weren’t as friendly to us as we were to them. However, at this stage we appreciated we must have looked like something dragged out of a sewer and their fears of contagious disease carrying skeletons must have made them wary of us, so we accepted the situation and sat in groups by ourselves awaiting our next orders.

It was great to be free!!



Next Chapter

Homeward Bound



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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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