AUGUST 1939 TO SEPTEMBER 1945
The arrival of Lt.Col. E. B. Holmes, M.C., in August 1939 to assume command of the Battalion, coincided with the arrival in Malaya of Force Emu, the first reinforcements to be despatched from India. Prior to this event, life in the Battalion had pursued the even tenor of its way, all training and recreational activities being carried out in a normal peacetime manner. On the outbreak of war in Europe, however, there was a temporary departure from peacetime routine, and the declaration of war against Germany found the Battalion mobilised and occupying its battle stations on the beaches of Singapore Island. After a few days, however, all troops were stood down pending a development of events in the Far East, and beach positions and action posts were kept only partially manned. There followed almost immediately a long and energetic revision and reconstruction of the defences of Singapore Island, in which the Battalion was called upon to play no small part. In addition to this task, training in all spheres was carried on apace, primary considerations being weapon training, seaward firing, operation and maintenance of Lyon Lights (small searchlights with which all beach posts were equipped), transport, and a thorough reconnaissance of the Battalion Sector which covered some nine miles of coastline. This programme entailed long and arduous hours of work and training, but it was carried out by all ranks enthusiastically and conscientiously, with great success, and the efficiency of the Battalion reached a very high standard indeed. It is interesting to note at this juncture that, although war had broken out in Europe, all administrative work in Malaya, e.g. pay, rations and store accounting, etc., was carried on as in peacetime, and administrative staffs were kept fully occupied. In August 1939 the Battalion was called upon to find about 20 Warrant Officers, N.C.O.s and men as instructors to the Militia, and they sailed for England a few days after their selection. Among them were many who had served continuously with the Battalion for many years, notable among them being C.S.M. Jones, of Bisley fame, and C.Q.M.S. Livesey, who had been closely associated with all boxing events in the Battalion over a long number of years. Another batch of instructors was sent home shortly afterwards.
In the whirl of war preparation and activity, sport was not disregarded. Football, cricket, hockey and boxing competitions, both Command and Unit, were held as often as circumstances would allow. This was fairly often, as most games in Malaya were played in the evenings. In the boxing world, the - Battalion soon made its presence felt in Malaya, and remained champions in both team and individual championships right up to the capitulation. The Tolley Cup, open to teams from the Forces, and also civilian clubs, was won on two occasions, and tied for the third time with the Singapore Police. The Command Open Team Championship was won two seasons in succession before the competition was abandoned owing to the war. The Army Boxing Team which defeated the Navy in the Lowther Grant Cup Competition in 1940 contained some eight or nine men from the Battalion, a great tribute to our boxing prowess. Our boxing copybook was somewhat blotted however in 1941, when our Novices team was defeated by 2nd Battalion The Loyal Regiment by 13 fights to nil, a most unusual occurrence in Army boxing. It is interesting to note that a replica of the Tolley Cup is still in our keeping. The A.I.F. salvaged it during the last days of Singapore and returned to us after we had been taken prisoner. It remained safely hidden during our captivity in the capable hands of veteran Pte. Kinsella. It will probably find its way to the present ist Battalion in due course. Hockey was yet another sport at which the Battalion excelled, H.Q. Coy. in particular always playing first-class hockey in the Small Unit Competitions. Shortly prior to the outbreak of war in the Far East, the Battalion cricket, team defeated the 2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders in the final of the Command K.O. Competition. Although not achieving any notable soccer or rugger successes, the standard in the Battalion was quite good. Quite a number of our players were selected to play for Army teams in all branches of sport, and did much to enhance the reputation of the Battalion. Interest in sport was particularly keen, and games were always attended by large numbers of spectators. Every effort was made in those days to encourage as many men as possible to take an active part in sport, and, as a result, the general physique and bearing of the men of the Battalion reached a very high standard. Inter-Company competitions and intense partisanship also did much to bring out that team spirit so essential in combatant troops.
On Ladysmith Day 1940 we trooped the Colour, The parade was excellent and went off without a hitch. It was a credit to all those who took part. Festivities followed, the annual Serjeants' Ball being held the same night. Present at the Ball as guest of honour was Mr. Bates-Goodall, a resident of Singapore. He was a survivor of the Manchester Regiment from the Siege of Ladysmith, and he produced some remarkable mementoes of the siege in the way of canteen price lists, packets of cigarettes and chocolate showing siege prices and normal prices, and large scale maps on which he pointed out the general idea of the campaign, and the siege and relief of Ladysmith. On another occasion he showed us that he could still blow the Regimental call on the bugle. His death in 1941 was rather sudden, and his funeral was attended by a representative party from the Battalion. He will certainly be remembered for his interesting stories of Ladysmith by all who came in contact with him.
The Ladysmith celebrations in 1940 lasted the better part of a week. There were dances, sports, Serjeants' Ball, and finally the Officers gave a dinner party to members of the Serjeants' Mess. We all realised that the celebrations would in all probability be the last we would be able to hold for some considerable time, and everybody made the most of the occasion, and went all out to enjoy themselves. It was a glorious week, and presented a bright relief in a long period of hard work and arduous and monotonous training.
Another popular evening feature of these days was the Beating of Retreat on the Battalion sports ground. The Band and Drums dressed in white uniforms, and complete with silver drums and bugles presented a wonderful spectacle in the powerful beams of our Lyon lights. These occasions brought many sightseers, both civilian and military. They were discontinued late in 1940 owing to the fact that the silver drums and bugles, together with the Regimental Silver, were despatched to Australia to be lodged for the duration of the war in the safe custody of our affiliated battalion, the loth (Adelaide) Battalion Australian Rifles. This move undoubtedly saved the many valuable and historic trophies of the Battalion from Japanese vandalism, and will no doubt be very welcome news to the many people who presented them, competed for and won them, and lastly to all those who had seen them and been acquainted with them over a long period of years. It is to be hoped that they will soon be returned, and again find a home in the Officers' and Serjeants' Messes of the Regiment. When the Australian Forces arrived in Singapore we received news that the Silver Drums and Bugles had been on display to the public in Adelaide, to the great delight and admiration of the population. Yet another link had been forged between the Battalion and its affiliated counterpart some thousands of miles away.
As Xmas 1940 approached, everyone made preparations to make it a success. When would we see the next? If it was to be the last, well it was to be a good last. And it was. The men's Xmas Dinner, the last to be held when they could all be together, was a great success. The annual Serjeants' Dance on Boxing Day was a glorious finale to all official functions to be held during the war. The bright and colourful spectacle of the many and varied mess dresses of the forces disappeared into the past, and the future brought to us an unbroken panorama of khaki drill. Civilian clothing, mess kit and white drill were carefully stuffed with moth balls and stored away for the duration.
February 1941 saw the inauguration of 2nd Echelon, G.H.Q. Malaya, and we were slowly but surely coming closer to a complete war footing. Training, and the reconstruction and strengthening of the battalion sector went on unceasingly. All beaches had been wired, minefields prepared, and tank obstacles constructed. Fields of fire were cleared to the accompaniment of several moans and objections from residents of Singapore, whose bathing pagars, summer residences, and gardens had perforce to be removed or demolished. The last and most stupendous task allotted to the Battalion was the construction of a gigantic anti-boat obstacle designed to prevent landing craft from getting close inshore. All work on this task was carried out at low tide, which meant that parties worked all hours of day and night according to the state of the tides. The obstacle, which stretched for some miles along the sector, proved most effective under test, and was a highly gratifying sight to all who had taken part in its construction. Unfortunately, however, we were never to have the opportunity to judge its efficiency under actual war conditions.
At this time there were still serving in the Battalion some two hundred W.O.s, N.C.O.sand men who had sailed from England with the Battalion in January 1934, nearly eight years beforehand, and who had never been to England on leave during that period. Many of them were due for posting home, and others for discharge or transfer to the Army Reserve. They accepted their ill-luck with good heart, and made the best of what, to most of them, must have been a big disappointment. Many of them have since returned to England as repatriated prisoners of war, having been away from England for close on twelve years.
The face of Malaya was rapidly changing— reinforcements were arriving steadily from home, India and Australia, and by November 1941, two Indian Divisions and an A.I.E. Division were present in Malaya, in addition to the normal Fortress and Garrison troops who had also been reinforced. In late November, owing to increasing alarm regarding the rapidly developing situation in the Far East, all beaches were manned and final preparations made to meet any emergency likely to arise. Posts were fully manned by night, and partially manned during the day when the troops were rested. This state of tension existed until the fateful 7th of December 1941, when the Japanese unleashed their undeclared offensive in the Far East. Singapore was subjected to a surprise air attack by nine enemy planes, about 4 a.m. on the 8th December, and we all knew then that at long last the balloon had gone up! On the same day all Japanese nationals in Malaya were rounded up and placed in custody. It was, to most of us, our first experience of attack from the air, and gave us an insight into the future. The bombs fell in the town, and except for personnel of the A.A. defences, no troops were involved.
Fighting by ground troops in the early stages was confined to Northern Malaya, the Japanese having filtered in via Siam, and also by sea. As time went on, however, our forces were steadily pushed back towards Johore, the southernmost tip of the mainland of Malaya, and the fortress of Singapore was threatened. It is worthy of note that the Battalion by now was the only unit of the original beach defence forces remaining on the island. East Sector had been our special province from 1938 onwards. Other regiments, who with the Battalion had formed the original Malaya Infantry Brigade, had been moved from their beach positions and sent up the line in Malaya, to the bitter envy of most of our men who were fairly itching to take an active part in the battle. However, the powers that be decreed that we were to remain in possession of the East coast. In addition, the Battalion had also to take over certain defence posts in other sectors, e.g. Blakang Mati Island (covering the entrance to Singapore Harbour) and the Naval Base. " B " Company was entrusted with both these tasks until relieved eventually by other units.
From 31st January to 7th February, Singapore was tense and expectant. All Allied troops were now on the Island and Johore Causeway had been blown up to impede the Japanese advance. " B " Company, in the Naval Base, came in for some fairly heavy shelling. On the 5th February we sustained our first battle casualties of the war during an air raid over Telok Paku Beach, which was manned by " D " Company. Two N.C.O.s were killed and several N.C.O.s and men wounded. On the 8th February the Japanese launched a large-scale landing operation on the West and North-West coast of the island, and soon gained a footing. The Battalion still remained in occupation of the East coast and awaited developments, and it was not until loth February that orders were received to move into inland positions on the outskirts of Singapore Town to face the continued advance of the Japs from the West and North-West. By this time our air force was to all intents and purposes nonexistent, and Jap bombers and dive-bombers continually raided the island, the only opposition they encountered being from A.A. positions and all available L.A.A. automatic weapons.
Much damage and many casualties were daily inflicted upon the city of Singapore, and fires were numerous. Detachments of the Battalion came into the battle proper on 13th February in the Geylang area. Casualties were sustained on the 14th and 15th February, on the latter day two M.G. posts of " B " Company being completely wiped out, not a member surviving. Their guns were kept firing until they were completely overrun by the enemy on all sides. Enemy aircraft raided Singapore Town at about 2 p.m. on 15th February, causing very heavy casualties and a great deal of damage. Oil storage tanks were ablaze in the Naval Base and also on adjacent islands, and a heavy pall of thick black smoke hung low over the whole island; a very depressing and gloomy picture to us all. As the day proceeded, events moved from bad to worse, and on the evening of the 15th February came the disastrous news of the capitulation of the forces in Malaya. Even though the situation had been deteriorating so rapidly, there had been little thought in the minds of the troops of any possibility of surrender, and the news was stunning in its effect. Among the troops were mingled feelings of disappointment, rage and humiliation. We all felt that the fall of Singapore Fortress was bound to have detrimental and far-reaching effects upon the people at home, and also on the Allied Forces who were busily occupied in other theatres of war. When the initial shock had worn off however, the situation was accepted as such, and the troops regained something of that cheery optimism which is always associated with British troops in their darkest hours. The Battalion marched from Singapore into the P.O.W. Concentration Area at Changi on 17th February, led by the Commanding Officer with a huge picture of H.M. the King on his back, and the men singing " There'll Always be an England M to the accompaniment of an accordion. Altogether a memorable sight, and one which must have completely amazed and mystified our captors.
The reader is no doubt wondering what had happened to the families stationed in Singapore at the outbreak of the war, and it would be well to digress a little from the main theme to unfold the following details. Quite a number of our ladies were employed in military offices as clerks, etc., as auxiliary nurses in hospitals, and also on P.A.D. duties in the Tanglin Barrack Area, and remained at their duties until evacuated from the island. The evacuation of married families to Australia, South Africa, India and England had commenced at the end of December and continued up to 8th February (approx.) when the last of the families were safely evacuated from the island. It was a great relief to all concerned when this object was achieved, because the presence of women and children on the island was a source of much worry and concern to the authorities.
Another evacuation took place on the night 13th-14th February with more disastrous results. A specialist party of 26 members of the Battalion and three attached R.A.O.C. personnel, together with a similar party from 2nd Battalion The East Surrey Regiment, embarked at Singapore on H.M.S. Dragonfly for an unknown destination. The Dragonfly, a small river gunboat, when a few hours out from Singapore was attacked by nine enemy planes. The first stick of bombs scored a direct hit on the messdeck, and she quickly sank with very few survivors. Of our original party of 29, only four were saved. Many of the survivors were in the water for very long periods (in some cases nearly 36 hours) before finally reaching the coast of Sumatra. This news was conveyed to us in Changi P.O.W. camp by Lt. Shellard, R.N., when he was transferred to Singapore from Sumatra as a prisoner of war. Until this news was received the whereabouts or safety of this party was unknown, and when news of their fate reached us it was indeed a sorry day in the history of the Battalion. Many old and trusted members of the Regiment were lost to us forever.
To revert back to Changi P.O.W. Camp. The first few days in our new home were, to say the least of it, somewhat chaotic. All units had been concentrated in the Changi Area regardless of accommodation or feeding requirements. The water supply had broken down, and the question of sanitation had to be given immediate priority. We were indeed grateful that the I.J.A. left us to our own devices, and these problems were tackled by our own staffs, and using our own methods. One shudders to think what would have happened had the Japs tried to clear up the mess using their methods. When we arrived in Changi Camp, H.Q. Malaya Command and subordinate Division and Brigade H.Q.s still functioned as such, and so an administrative organisation was already in being which simply made a transitionary change from British to Japanese requirements. Having this administration lent itself admirably to a grouping system which was retained until the great trek to Thailand took place some months later. Such an organisation was necessary, too, for the I.J.A. called for multitudinous returns, casualty rolls, etc., and the fact that we adhered to something like ordinary British peacetime procedure simplified matters considerably.
In a few days the scanty accommodation allotted by the I.J.A. for the housing of British and Australian prisoners of war had been distributed down to units by Command H.Q. on as equitable a basis as possible. Accommodation was utilised to the fullest possible advantage; troops were living in barrack blocks, married quarters, out-houses, shacks and tents. Anything that offered any sort of roof was appropriated and brought into use to alleviate overcrowding. Feeding in the early stages presented yet another problem. We were entirely dependent upon our own meagre stocks of reserve rations which we had been allowed to bring with us into captivity. Obviously, according to where they had been in action, some units had more than others, and all units were ordered to hand in their reserves of rations to a hastily formed R.A.S.C. Supply Depot, so that all food supplies could be pooled and issued daily to units on a pro rata basis. This system was eminently satisfactory, and ensured that all prisoners received a fair share of the available rations pending the issue of supplies by the I.J.A. When the Japanese scale of rations was received (practically all rice) we would have been grateful indeed to have reverted back to the ration of bully and biscuits previously issued to us from Base Supply Depot.
The troops by now had settled in and made themselves as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances. A cheerful camaraderie was evident everywhere, and after a few days in the Changi area things began to assume something like a shipshape condition. R.E. personnel made great efforts to increase our very scanty water supply. Many of the pumps and pipes upon which the supply of water was dependent had been destroyed during action, and an emergency water supply was introduced while rough repairs were effected. Water was drawn by units from central water points in containers for cooking purposes, while water for washing could only be obtained by queuing up with thousands more wherever water was available. This state of affairs was only temporary, and before very long most buildings had a limited supply of water laid on, but it was only available during prescribed hours. In " A" Block, Changi, where the Battalion was accommodated, we were lucky to possess showers, and it was a boon to us when there was sufficient water to use them. "A"
Block normally accommodated about. 100 men on a peacetime scale, and it will give the reader some idea of living conditions when told that . nearly 800 individuals - were quartered in this building. Every available inch of floor space was utilised for sleeping purposes, verandahs, doorways, stairs, etc. No lighting of any description was available. Sanitary arrangements were practically nil. Existing lavatories, etc., besides being too few, were mostly out of order owing to lack of water, and the first task of all units was to concentrate on sanitation. Any slackness in this direction with such a crowded community would undoubtedly- have led to epidemics of disease. The famous "borehole" was evolved which proved itself fairly sanitary and lent itself more easily to anti-fly measures. Flies under existing conditions were a menace, and every available means was used to combat them, small prizes of cigarettes being given to the men who collected the largest " bag " for the day.
The general state of health of the Battalion at this time was excellent, the majority of men in hospital being battle casualties. All personnel who had been in hospitals in Singapore Town when captured were evacuated slowly to Changi P.O.W. Camp, the process taking some two or three weeks. A central hospital was formed for the whole camp, and was situated in Roberts Barracks, previously the home of the Royal Artillery in Changi. The new hospital was known as Roberts Hospital, and as time went on, grew to massive proportions, some 2,500-3,000 beds being available. Later in the year, even this large number of beds was insufficient to meet the needs of the camp. The hospital was' staffed by R.A.M.C. doctors and orderlies, supplemented by additional orderlies drawn in from the various units. Drugs and supplies in the early stages were reasonably sufficient, all doctors and M.I. room staffs having been permitted to bring their available medical supplies into the camp, but as time went on, and supplies dwindled, drugs and medicines were available only for serious and urgent cases. The situation later on (October-November, 1942) was to become far more serious, as the hospital was called upon to supply drugs and supplies for all parties proceeding into Thailand for the construction of the railway. In the early stages, every opportunity was taken to introduce social and recreational amenities into our new sphere of living. Cricket, football and swimming were very popular. Inter-Divisional, Brigade and Unit games were played and keen interest was displayed by all. Swimming was carried on as an organised unit bathing parade at the Changi Swimming Pagar, which in peacetime was a favourite Sunday bathing venue for many Service people from Singapore. We received rather a blow when the privilege of using this bathing beach was withdrawn by the Japs as they required the area for training. Concert parties and orchestras were soon formed in the various areas, and some really good shows were soon in course of .production. Crowded houses were, the order of the day. The number of female impersonators we discovered living in our midst was surprising. Variety shows, revues and plays were produced almost weekly, and the excellent fare provided was keenly appreciated by all. Many an otherwise empty hour in our somewhat dreary existence was spent at one or another of these well organised entertainments. The majority of these shows were produced by men with long theatrical experience, and considering the lack of materials and instruments available, their efforts achieved an astounding degree of success, being comparable to many shows one had seen under far more congenial conditions. A male voice choir was another innovation which was warmly received. Perhaps the most interesting item of all at this stage was the inauguration of " Changi University". This seat of learning was staffed by professors and many other legal and scholastic experts. A great variety of subjects were taught, including Higher Mathematics, Languages, Economics, Law, Literature, and Engineering in all its branches. Attendance was voluntary, but the numbers wishing to attend were far more than could really be catered for. The Army Educational authorities also organised regular daily classes for candidates for Army certificates of education and every opportunity was given to men to study for these certificates, and to further advance their educational proficiency. As very little work was required from us by the I.J.A. in the early days, a great many men were enabled to attend these classes, but later in the year (October) owing to the large-scale movement of prisoners to Thailand from Singapore, both the University and the Army school had to close down.
Our work in these days consisted mainly of erecting a perimeter wire around the P.O.W. Camp Area, the removal of wire, mines, etc. from the beaches, the provision of small daily working parties for work in Singapore, and our own sanitation and woodcutting parties for work in the camp. Gradually, permanent working parties were detached from Changi, and sent into Singapore and other places, where they remained whilst employed on the reconstruction of airfields, removal of Japanese war booty, erection of shrines, etc. In most cases they were accommodated in hutted camps. Others were not so fortunate and found themselves in dirty native buildings. These outside working parties certainly received better rations than were issued at Changi, as the I.J.A. considered them to be employed on "heavy" work. The question of food was complicated with many anomalies throughout the whole of our P.O.W. existence. The general Japanese outlook regarding sick men was that as they were not working they required less to eat. British policy was entirely opposed to this idea, and all rations received (on different scales for fit and sick) were pooled and issued to units and hospitals on an equitable basis.
With the departure of working parties to Singapore, overcrowding in Changi Camp was more or less eliminated, and something akin to decent barrack-room living space was restored. Beds, of course, were non-existent, all available Barrack beds having been withdrawn from units for use in Roberts Hospital. Many weird and wonderful beds were made from old timber, string and sacking, etc., in an effort to raise one's weary bones from the concrete floors.
Coal was not available, our only fuel for cooking being wood. Each unit had an area allotted for wood gathering, and large parties of men were fully employed in the felling and cutting of timber. It was a full-time job keeping cookhouses supplied. We were also issued with transport! This consisted of a motor vehicle minus everything but four wheels, a brake and a steering wheel, and a long rope wherewith to pull it. Our wood supply was conveyed from our woodcutting site to the billets on this very much debunked and decrepit vehicle, until such time as it sank to its knees outside the Q.M. Stores and gracefully expired. Thereafter our wood supply was trundled down the roads by hand in the form of tremendous logs.
Food was our greatest bogey. The issue of rice as the greater part of our ration presented a real difficulty to our cooks, none of whom had received any training in Asiatic cooking. After some initial upsets and misgivings, initiative and imagination conquered, and a great variety of new ways of cooking and serving rice were discovered. Bread, which we had not seen since early February, came back into being, the main ingredients being rice ground down by much hard work into a flour, and yeast which was manufactured in the camp. Food exhibitions were held, primarily to discover and introduce new ideas and methods of cooking, and devise more varied and tasty menus. The lack of variety in our food was a great problem, and the ingenuity of messing officers and cooks was taxed to the full. Every effort was made with the funds available to purchase extras in the way of tinned fish, salt, rice polishings (an essential in combating deficiency diseases) and oils for cooking. The first meat-and-potato pies produced in the cookhouse proved to be a popular and immediate success. They were baked in old fish tins! Rissoles fried in oil were another favourite but owing to shortage of fats could only be produced about twice a week. Our ration of meat and vegetables were entirely inadequate, and the lack of good food was to have serious repercussions later on. The supply of fresh vegetables was very small, and, to help in this respect, gardening was undertaken by all units where possible. Efforts were concentrated on growing sweet potatoes, kong-kang, spinach, onions, chillies, and Chinese radish. H.Q. Southern Area, of which the Battalion was a component part, started an Area garden of considerable size, and good results were obtained, but most of us, however, were to disappear into Thailand before we could enjoy the fruits of our labours. When possible, parties were organised (with I.J.A. permission) to proceed outside camp to collect coco-nuts. These were very acceptable and provided a welcome change in our diet. On the Emperor's birthday, the I.J.A. graciously (?) provided us with a small tin of pineapple between 3 or 4 men. This was indeed a treat although the occasion which brought them was very unpalatable to us all. Where we all wished the Emperor while we ate his • pineapples was nobody's business, but at the same time I think we all rather hoped that he could have had at least one birthday a week!
In May 1942 the Japanese introduced what was known as " Amenity Pay ", the daily scales being Officers 25 cts. (6d.), W.O.s and N.C.O.s 15 cts. (4d.), and men 10 cts. (2.5d). Working parties outside the camp received ''working pay " on a somewhat higher scale. This money, small as it was, was very acceptable, and a flat contribution of one day's pay was made by all ranks to Hospital Messing, and a further day's pay to Unit Messing, for the purchase of items supplementary to the Japanese scale of rations.
On 22nd June 1942, 20 men of the Battalion, under command of Lt. M, 0. Stevenson, were transferred to Thailand as a part of what the Japs called the Mainland Party, which was, in effect, the advance party for the big move of P.O.W. from Singapore to Thailand for work on the projected Bangkok-Moulmein railway.
From then until the end of August life was uneventful, except that on the departure for Japan of Lt.Gen. A. E. Percival, G.O.C.-in-C. Malaya, Lt.Col. E. B. Holmes, M.C., was selected to take over command of all British and Australian P.O.W. in Malaya. He left the Battalion and took up his new duties at Command H.Q. Captain J. Flynn (Adjt.) accompanied him. Major G. D. Cooper and Captain J. L. L. Perez assumed the appointments of C.O. and Adjt. respectively. Captain J. Reilly was still acting as Q.M.
In the late days of August, we experienced our first taste of Japanese " bloodymindedness ''. The I. J.A. issued instructions that all officers and men were to sign a " non-escape " form, which in itself was a flagrant breach of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, On this form one was required to promise not to escape or help anyone else to escape, and to acknowledge that it was understood that the penalty for any contravention of this promise was death. A real " heads I win, tails you lose " proposition from the Japanese point of view. This order was bitterly opposed by Col. Holmes and his staff officers. Officers and men were paraded and the situation fully explained to them, and unanimously all agreed not to sign. This was general throughout all units in the camp. Working parties in Singapore Town, etc., delayed action until they could get a line on our reactions to this order. On our refusal to sign came a Japanese ultimatum giving us about 24 hours to sign, after which time, if we had still not signed, all troops in Changi Camp were to be concentrated in Selarang Barracks, the peacetime home of 2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders. From the thousands of P.O.W. in Changi Camp, only four men signed. The ultimatum was put into effect, and the concentration, which was to be completed by early evening of the same day, commenced. This entailed the movement of all troops, both fit and sick, reserves of rations, cooking utensils and containers, kits, bedding, etc.
Owing to lack of transport, anything on wheels was commandeered to assist in the great trek. Perambulators, bogeys, home-made carts, wheelbarrows, all were utilised. R.A.S.C. Transport helped to the best of their ability from their small pool of de-mechanised vehicles. The scenes on the roads leading to Selarang defy description. Thousands of troops making their own way there, laden with all their belongings, and in many cases with the belongings of sick or weaker comrades who could not manage to carry them. As many men as possible tried to get in two trips to ensure that the absolute maximum amount of food, baggage, etc., would accompany us into our incarceration. By evening of the same day, all troops (less Roberts Hospital) were confined in the new area. Seven double-tier barrack blocks, and a barrack square some 250 x 150 yards, were allotted for the accommodation of approximately 14,000 troops. The peacetime accommodation of one of these barrack blocks was approximately 100 men. They were now required to house 1,600 or 1,700 men, several hundreds being required to sleep on the flat roofs of the buildings. Ironically enough, the 2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders and ourselves had to toss up to see who was to sleep on the roof and we won. The Gordons slept for the next few nights on the roof of one of their own peacetime barrack blocks. About half the barrack square was occupied by temporary kitchens, stores, sleeping accommodation, etc., the remainder being dug up to provide latrine accommodation. Parties worked day and night to cope with the demands of the latter situation. It could be seen by all that the space available for latrines would be exhausted within a few days. It was, as one can well imagine, a most inhuman and insanitary situation. Our guards were mainly Free Indian troops, and they, together with our Japanese captors, took every opportunity to hand out beatings on the slightest excuse. Machine-gun posts were erected at all points covering our small area, and the penalty for stepping on to the roadway encircling us was instantaneous death.
In the face of this adversity,- however, everyone was exceptionally cheerful. It had been bur first real tilt at the Japs and I think we all felt that we had gained a moral victory. After a couple of days, however, the Japs threatened that if we persisted in our refusal to sign, Roberts Hospital, complete with some 3,000 patients and staff, would be moved in to join us in this diabolical situation. Things were bad enough already, and to have brought so many sick and diseased men into such a crowded and insanitary community would have been nothing short of criminal. . Disease was spreading rapidly, dysentery and diphtheria being among those most likely to cause epidemics. On the third day we were ordered by our superior officers, most reluctantly, to sign. Our signatures were given under duress, and I doubt if there was any intention in the mind of anyone to abide by the conditions given a suit-able opportunity of escape. After signing we were all ordered to return to our original billets throughout Changi Camp area.
Within a few days we received a very welcome surprise in the arrival of food and clothing from the South African Red Cross. The scale of issue was liberal, food consisting of tinned meat, meat and vegetable, peas, carrots, fruit, jam, biscuits, sugar, milk, cocoa, sweets, etc. There were also included approximately 70 cigarettes per man.
In the matter of clothing, we received a number of hats, boots, shirts and shorts, but as these were insufficient to warrant an issue to everyone, they were handed into the R.A.O.C. Clothing Store, and issued as necessary. The receipt of these gifts was indeed a boon and blessing to us all, especially from the point of view of our hospital patients, who were now assured of a fairly adequate supply of milk, a commodity which previously could seldom be procured. The supplies of food were issued to units for distribution. Certain items were issued individually, but in most cases, these stores were used economically; to help out the existing diet over a period of some, three or four weeks, to the great benefit of all concerned.
It was also in the month of August that the I.J.A. introduced a new pay code for officers. They were credited (on paper) with a sum roughly ; equivalent to British Army pay, but received only a small portion in actual cash, the remainder being banked (?). Small as these amounts were, they increased the amount of cash available for circulation in the camp. In addition, the officers introduced a scale of contributions to be made monthly from their pay to' a fund for the care and welfare of hospital patients. Hospital patients, incidentally, were ineligible for the grant of "amenity pay " referred to previously, but with the introduction, of officers' contributions, they were enabled to receive a small sum regularly, each week with which to purchase cigarettes, etc.
During the month of October 1942, the I.J.A issued instructions for the transfer, of all fit. P.O.W. (in Changi) to Thailand to take part in the construction of the railway. Every available fit man was taken. At this time approximately 450 officers and men of the Battalion were detached on working parties in Singapore, and of the remainder in Changi approximately 220 officers and men were selected to proceed to Thailand. They formed part of a composite working battalion composed of Loyals, Gordons, Manchesters and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. About 80-100 sick officers' and men were to remain behind, the majority being hospital cases. We moved on the 27th October.
The first stage was a journey in tightly packed motor vehicles from Changi P.O.W. Camp to Singapore Railway Station. Prior to entraining, the Jap commander of the train delivered himself of the usual oration about behaving ourselves, sort of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours ''. We were then herded into closed goods trucks, the average number allotted to each truck varying from 32 to 35 men complete with kits, bedding, food containers, and any other stores we had managed to get through with us. The long trek had started. Our journey by train was to cover some goo miles from Singapore to Ban Pong, and would last five days and four nights. We were to appreciate what this meant long before we reached our destination. It was impossible to lie down and sleep. Rest could only be obtained by sitting on a kitbag or valise and just closing one's eyes. The feeding arrangements throughout this nightmare journey were indescribably bad, and sanitation arrangements did not exist.
We were indeed glad to reach Ban Pong, only to find we had hopped straight out of the frying pan into the fire. We were temporarily accommodated in a flooded staging camp. Conditions were filthy, and in all parts of the camp stagnant flood water was level with the sleeping platforms. Swarms of blow flies hovered about the camp, spreading disease and dirt. Our new Japanese, captors we soon discovered to be -cruel and vicious. Much to our relief, we-moved on to Kanburi after two nights in this haven of '' bed and breakfast''. We stayed there one night and then moved on to Chungkai, some 5 kilometres further on. This camp was the headquarters of No. 2 P.O.W. Group, of which apparently we were to form part. The camp was pleasantly sited on the banks of the Kwab Noi river, and was adjacent to several kampongs (native smallholdings). Bathing was allowed, as also was the purchase of fruit, tobacco, etc., from native stalls, a great favourite being banana fritters served up on a banana leaf. The camp was about half completed when we arrived but the building programme continued. Our accommodation buildings were entirely constructed of bamboo frames covered by attap. The huts were some 100 metres long and about 8 metres wide. A sleeping platform of split bamboo ran the full length of the huts on both sides, each man being allotted about 30 inches of space. 450 men were accommodated in each hut. This was overcrowding to the nth degree. The huts were anything but weatherproof, as we very soon discovered, for a few days after our arrival we found ourselves in the middle of the rainy season. The river overflowed its banks and the camp flooded. Again we had the experience of sleeping with the water slowly rising beneath our beds. Half the men in our hut had to be evacuated, the water being some five or six feet deep at one end. These had to find temporary homes elsewhere, in the canteens, offices, tents, and in many cases out in the open, until the floods subsided. It will be readily understood that such conditions were entirely favourable to mosquito breeding, and in a very short time large numbers of men were down with malaria. We were eventually issued with a number of mosquito nets of a communal type, eight or more men being able to sleep under each, and, although there were insufficient to afford protection for everybody, they were very acceptable, and the incidence of malaria decreased considerably.
The men at this stage were reasonably fit and strong, and, as working hours were not unreasonable, found themselves quite up to their allotted task, the construction of the railway embankment. Slowly but surely, however, the Japs applied pressure and demanded greater efforts from us. Working hours became longer and the tasks more strenuous, and increasingly unbearable. The Japanese engineers were cruel and vicious in their general attitude to the prisoners. On one occasion, after an incident, the Battalion working party, under command of Major Buchan, downed tools and marched back to camp, followed by three more working battalions, The sentries just stood there helpless —that we could ever. do such a thing had probably never occurred to them. This was our second mass refusal to accept the Jap point of view. A third instance was to arise shortly afterwards when the officers refused to perform manual tasks'. They all stood fast on parade and refused to go to work when the Japs ordered them to do so. The guards were immediately doubled, and with rifles loaded covered the parade while the Jap Commander read out the riot act, and informed them of the consequences which would follow any further refusal. True to Japanese form, he threatened collective punishment of the whole camp, reduction of rations, withdrawal of privileges, etc., and the officers had, perforce, to back down. This collective punishment was to prove a favourite Japanese method of coercion, and one against which we could never successfully compete, as in most cases it was always the sick men who would suffer if their threats were carried into execution. The welfare of the sick was always a sort of pistol to our heads, and in nearly every case of contravention of Japanese orders we had to bow our heads and accept the inevitable. An officers' working battalion thus came into being, their particular tasks being bridging and anti-malarial work. Our first death on the railway occurred on 20th December 1942, Pte. Walker, of "A" Company, succumbing to dysentery.
In January 1943 we moved farther up the line to Ban Kau, where we remained about six weeks. The work was the same, but becoming far more arduous, and the men were fast losing their reserves of energy. The incidence of malaria arose, and stomach complaints also became evident. It was in this camp that Major Buchan had yet another crack at the Japs, and he again marched his working party back to camp without permission. For this breach he was subjected to a most cruel and outrageous beating by the Japanese officer in charge of the railway engineers.
After a short rest period of three weeks, we carried on further up the line to assist No. 4 Group to complete their sector near Tarsoa. This task was completed in six weeks, and we were again on the move, this time on a hundred kilometre march to Tarkanun (206 Km.). There were no vehicles to transport us it was always a case of " shanks pony "and each party had to carry their essential baggage and cooking utensils. In May 1943 we eventually arrived at Tarkanun, which was to be the new H.O. of No. 2 Group. The only accommodation provided was a few leaky tents each capable of holding about 12 men in comfort. We had to cram about 30 men in each, which still left about 120 of our working party sleeping in the open under appalling weather conditions. The continuous heavy rains made our situation more uncomfortable and miserable than" ever. Tents were useless, and the men began to erect little shacks of bamboo and grass to keep themselves dry. The food question was now very serious, our rations decreasing inversely with the lengthening of our supply line as we advanced along the railway. The roads were impassable owing to the heavy rains, and our lifeline was the river alongside which the railway was built. This river was in flood for long periods at a time, and it was often impossible for our ration barges to reach us. No fresh meat or vegetables were available, the diet now consisting of rice, dried meat or fish, dried vegetables and boiled water for drinking. Working hours increased to about twelve hours a day in all weathers, and the men visibly weakened. Spirits were beginning to flag, and the incidence of sickness and disease reached alarming proportions. Medical supplies, particularly quinine, were running very short, and there was no indication from the I.J.A. that any further supplies would be forthcoming. Malaria was rife, and exposure also began to tell its tale. Towards the end of May cholera broke out, and the death rate was very high. The epidemic was brought under control but broke out again later in July and August.
Work on sanitation was practically at a standstill, all fit men being taken by the Japs for work on the railway. Flies abounded everywhere and they did much to spread cholera and also dysentery. Jungle sores and ulcers began to appear, nearly everyone being affected. Scratches from bamboo and other jungle scrub became infected immediately and turned into very painful ulcers, for which there was no treatment other than bathing with hot water. There were no dressings or bandages. Lice, bugs and scabies were other scourges we had to contend with, no remedies being available. As previously stated, we had started out in November 1942 as a mixed battalion of 650 officers and men. In July 1943, after our serious sick cases had been evacuated back to Chungkai from the several camps we had occupied, this number was reduced to approximately 180 officers and men. They proceeded yet further up the railway to Kran Krai. In October 1943, when the railway was completed, the number surviving from our original working party was 37!
At this point in our story we must revert back to Singapore. It will be remembered that we had left some 450 officers and men on working parties in Singapore. In April 1943 the Japs moved another 10,000 men from Singapore to Thailand for work on the railway. They were moved in of parties known as "F" and "H" Forces. A detachment of approximately 320 Manchesters, commanded by Major Hyde, formed part of this force. They proceeded to Thailand under much the same conditions as we had, and on arrival were greeted with a march of some 190 miles up the railway. The greater part of them were to work on the centre section of the line, in the vicinity of the Three Pagoda Pass, where the joining up of the Thai and Burma sections of line was due to take place. They suffered the same privations and hardships as we did, but whereas we had been " gently " broken in along the line, "F " and " H " Force, on completing their long march, were launched immediately into the same awful conditions to which we had gradually become accustomed. Major Hyde's party passed our camp at Tarkanun one night in May, and although we were penned in behind a bamboo fence, several contacts were made by those who were near to the road, and fortunate enough to be awake. This was the first we had heard or seen of those we had left behind in Singapore.
This party appeared to be fairly fit as they passed through, but within a very short time the privations of their long march and the primitive conditions of the jungle existence into which they were driven, began to take toll. As they arrived at their camp cholera broke out, and their casualties were colossal. It must be remembered that " F " and '' H '' Forces were operating some 100 kilometres farther up the line than we were; they were thus so much farther from their source of supplies. Sad as our plight was, that of Major Hyde and his men was far worse. They were without medical supplies, food was atrocious and insufficient to keep men going under Japanese " speedo " methods, and as men went down with sickness their rations were reduced. Men already suffering from deficiency diseases and starvation were helped into their graves by the deprivation of half their already meagre ration, a measure diabolical and barbaric in its very inception. Back in Tarkanun, we began to receive long casualty lists from Major Hyde's party, and we could appreciate the seriousness of their plight, but we did not receive complete lists, and it was not until some time later than we heard the true story of the calamitous fate which had befallen them. When they returned to Singapore in December 1943, one officer and two hundred and twenty-two N.C.O.s and men had died out of the original party:- over 70 per cent. In the Thailand Groups we had lost one officer and forty-eight other ranks out of some two hundred and fifty Manchesters who had worked on the railway - only 20 per cent. Among those who died was Major G. D. Cooper. He passed away on 26th June 1943 after a serious operation, and his death was a really big blow to us all. His cheery outlook and kindly and sympathetic treatment of the men had done such a lot to help us along our difficult way, and he was greatly missed by all.
The railway was completed in October 1943, and by December most P.O.W. had been returned to their base camps throughout Thailand. We returned to Chungkai. Conditions were now vastly different, food being more varied and plentiful and fresh meat and vegetables available. Cooking staffs were given unlimited scope, and their efforts to vary our diet with such delicacies as tamarind jam, marmalade (from limes), bread, coffee, fruit, eggs and cakes were commendable, and thoroughly appreciated by all. A real live canteen came into being, and we could now buy such things as soap, tooth powder, toffee, cakes, fried eggs and many other little items 'we had been deprived of for such a long time. Profits from this canteen were used to supplement hospital messing. Cigarette "factories" were also introduced, most of the tobacco being smuggled illegally into the Camp during the night by our very clever smugglers. Another '' delicacy '' which they illicitly brought into camp was Thai whiskey, which although of the "fire-water" vintage, was always in great demand. In the camp hospital, which contained some 2,500 patients, not including about 2,000 malaria patients who received outside treatment, every effort was made to alleviate the sufferings of the sick. Surgical appliances, operating tables, dentists' chairs, and innumerable other items were made in the camp workshops, and special dietetic treatments were introduced. Funds for this purpose came from the Camp Central Fund to which all officers and men contributed. Approximately 4,000 blood transfusions were carried out in this hospital, a really remarkable left achievement considering that the apparatus used carried the trade mark of Mr. Heath Robinson himself. The work of the medical staffs throughout the construction of the railway merits real praise. Their efforts to save life and ease pain in the face of severe handicaps and without equipment were, to say the least, wonderful and heroic. Many of us who still live have much to thank them for.
For the next six months we had a restful and recuperative existence, and there was plenty of sport and entertainment. Concerts, plays, band concerts, art's and crafts exhibitions, football, basketball, and cricket, etc, A very popular feature was our racing meetings. These - we had three - were organised by men who had had much experience in horse racing, and the meetings were exceptionally well run. The horses were men as also were the jockeys. A camp sweepstake was held on the main event and thousands of tickets were always sold. Horses were auctioned and sold with keen interest. Champion-jockey at these meetings was Pte. "Tich" Hill of "C;' Company. The Man-chesters were always on him to a man, and he proved a real money-spinner for us.
Even in this pleasant and happy state of affairs, death still stalked us. Men still died in large numbers from dysentery, beri-beri, malaria and malnutrition, the results of our terrible months on the railway. The camp cemetery, planned in December 1942 for 160 graves, now contained nearly 1,400.
In May 1944 we received our first issue of American Red Cross parcels. What luxuries! Spam, cheese, butter, bully beef, cocoa, coffee, jam and real Virginian cigarettes. Parcels were issued on a scale of one per six men, and they were the last Red Cross gifts we were to see until our liberation.
Our fattening up and recuperative period, however, we discovered to be the prelude to yet another big move, for in May 1944 we received our first intimation that large numbers of P.O. W. were to be transferred to Japan. In May and June some 10,000 P.O.W. from camps in Thailand were medically inspected and passed as fit to proceed. Among these were Capt. N. K. Evans and about sixty men of the Battalion. Their tragic experience has already been recorded in full in our gazette of April 1946 and is reprinted on page 19. Fifty men died, mostly in the destruction of Japanese transports by Allied planes near the Philippines, whilst a number died from disease and sickness due to the terrible conditions of their voyage. The survivors were picked up and transferred to Formosa. Several men had been disembarked in the Philippines as unfit to proceed further, and were eventually released by the American forces.
At this stage we must hark back once again to Singapore. On 25th April 1943, a party of 32 Manchesters embarked with a '' heavy'' working party for Borneo. They did not reach Borneo, but found themselves at Formosa on the 9th May. They sailed a couple of days later for Japan, and when 42 hours at sea, the ship was blown up and sank rapidly. The Japs abandoned ship and left some 1,500 men to their fate. After about four hours in the water, the survivors were picked up by a Jap destroyer and ultimately reached Nagasaki. They were then transferred to Aomi Camp on Honshu, one of the main islands of Japan. Here they were joined by another party of 25 Manchesters. Of the 57 men of the Regiment in this camp, only four died, a much better state of affairs than befell their comrades in Thailand. Whilst in Japan they were employed in quarries, coal mines and factories.
After the Japan parties left Thailand, we were to experience our first Allied air raids. About June 1944, during an air raid on Non Pladok railway sidings, hundreds of P.O.W’s. were killed and injured in the camp adjacent to the sidings. Air reconnaissance was active thereafter. In September 1944 leaflets prepared by S.E.A.C. were dropped. Apart from giving us a very good idea of the world war situation, these leaflets carried the " V " sign and also the very cheering message " Hang on boys, we're coming ". This was indeed good news. About this time, working parties were being sent back up the railway on maintenance work, the line being in a very bad state of repair owing to the heavy rains. Work consisted mainly of ballasting and relaying the track. On 8th December 1944 Allied planes attacked the railway throughout its entire length, causing much damage to rolling stock, bridges, etc. Thereafter raids by Fortresses and Liberators became almost a daily occurrence, and though we suffered quite a number of P.O.W. casualties in these raids, they were regarded by us all as a necessary forerunner to our deliverance.
Our officers had been with us throughout our captivity, but in February 1945 they were withdrawn from all camps in Thailand, and concentrated in a large new camp at Kanburi. There was a general attitude of'' shakiness'' among the Japs at this stage, searches of our belongings being frequent and sudden. All pencils, pens and writing materials were confiscated, as were also open razors, knives, screwdrivers, watches, bits of wire, nails, diaries, etc. With the departure of the officers we were deprived of our weekly radio news bulletin. The officers had operated a carefully hidden set all the time we had been in Thailand, and we have to thank them for keeping us in touch with developments in the outside world at great risk to their own personal safety. Had the operators been caught, there is little doubt they would have been executed. Nearly all base camps in Thailand were in possession of these radio receivers, ingeniously constructed inside, water bottles. Through the medium of these receivers, we knew about the great victory in North Africa and Italy, " D " Day in Europe and the collapse of Germany, and the slow but certain strangling of the Japanese in the Far East. When the officers left us, we did occasionally receive news flashes passed on verbally from work party to work party, but in the main we became entirely dependent upon leaflets dropped by Allied planes. Leaflets were frequently dropped over Thai towns and villages, and more often -than not copies of these leaflets were passed by the Thais to our outside working parties, who smuggled them back into the camps. They were printed in Japanese, Chinese, Thai and English, and provided us with up-to-date news of the progress of the war, which needless to say, as the days passed, gave us more and more hope of an early release.
In June 1945 it was very apparent to us that the Japs could see the writing on the wall. All base camps were improved and generally smartened up. Working conditions were much easier and food moderately good, but our captors were jittery and irritable, and began a strafe on our social life. Concerts were severely censored, no talking other than announcing the entertainers being permitted. Gatherings of five or over were forbidden other than at concerts and religious services. We could not play sport, as the sports ground was now outside the camp perimeter. It is interesting to note that during December 1944 and January 1945 all camps were surrounded by deep moats (without water) with sentry boxes at strategic points. These ditches, constructed by P.O.W. labour, were about 12 feet deep, and 10 feet wide, with strong bamboo fences running along both sides. The whiskey and tobacco smugglers and black market men ultimately proved, however, that these obstacles could be surmounted, regardless of the vigilance of the Jap sentries.
As the end of July approached, our feelings were tense and expectant - there were rumours of impending truces, capitulations, and ultimatums. Within a few days we heard of the Russian entry into the Japanese war, and then, rather quicker than we anticipated, came the news we had so long waited for. We were free, exactly three and a half years since we were captured. One can imagine our reactions on hearing this good news. Our long pent up feelings broke out without restraint. British, American, Australian and Dutch flags were hoisted in the Camp, and the different National Anthems sung. On the evening when the news was received, the whole camp was present at our usual Jap censored weekly concert. The script was immediately dumped, and out came our long hidden " victory" programme which had been specially prepared for this event. We cheered ourselves hoarse and made a grand night of it. The whiskey men did a roaring business, the demand by far exceeding the supply. Next day we carried on as usual with our normal camp duties, while we eagerly awaited further news and developments. The Japs handed over to us all rations, clothing stores, etc., and we more or less assumed control of the camp pending the arrival of advance troops to take us over. It speaks well for the discipline and restraint of all prisoners that, after receiving news of our freedom, there were no incidents or reprisals against the Japanese. They were severely left alone to be dealt with in due course by Allied military tribunals. Within a few days we received stocks of food and clothing from the rolling air, one package killing a cow! Administrative officers and other ranks, equipped with radio receivers and transmitters were sent into all camps, and preparations for the evacuation of P.O.W. from Thailand were immediately put in hand. We were soon moved to Bangkok, where the Thai population gave us a wild reception, and in early September Bomber Transport Command started ferrying us over to Rangoon. On 12th September, 21 officers and 120 other ranks of the 1st Battalion were concentrated in Rangoon awaiting embarkation to the U.K. At the same time, stationed some 15 miles or so outside Rangoon, was " C " Company of the 2nd Battalion. Colonel Orgill, who was then Commander of No.I Area, Rangoon, organised a reunion, which took place at his H,Q., and as can be imagined, a good time was had by all.
A few days later, having been partly fitted and equipped, the first parties left on their sea trip home. Excellent arrangements were made for our reception at Colombo, Suez, and at the ports in England. Presents of food and clothing, and many other gifts and kindnesses were showered upon us by the various Red Cross organisations, and their efforts to make us happy and welcome are deserving of the highest praise. Similar arrangements were made for parties proceeding home from Singapore and Japan. Parties from Japan travelled home via Manila to Vancouver, thence overland across Canada, where they received a most magnificent welcome, to the boats waiting to bring them home.
Within 24 hours of landing in England, everyone had proceeded on leave to then homes, a credit indeed to the organisation set up to receive us and look after our welfare.
We were lucky to have survived, but of the 43 officers and 906 other ranks who were in Singapore on 8th December 1941, 6 officers and 432 other ranks failed to return. They had made the supreme sacrifice either in battle on land or sea, or in prison camps throughout the Far East. The brave, stoical and uncomplaining manner in which they met their fate will live forever in the memory of those who were their comrades. We who are fortunate to have survived the terrible ordeals of those years can only thank God for our deliverance and hope that the deaths of so many friends will ultimately prove not to have been in vain. They proved to the world that British courage and cheerfulness in the face of great adversity remains supreme and indomitable, and their sad but glorious fate will forever remain an epic in the annals of the Regiment. Let us not forget them! To the relatives of these brave men we can only tender our most heartfelt sympathy, and assure them that wherever possible they were laid to rest with military honours in the presence of their own comrades, and in accordance with their religious beliefs. Their graves were well tended and cared for, and accurate records of all burials were preserved, which have since been handed over to the Graves Registration Dept.
And so ends the story of the 63rd, now almost completely disintegrated by casualties and releases from the service. The few remaining survivors will no doubt become associated with the new 1st Battalion and join with them in adding to the already many noble and historic traditions of The Manchester Regiment.
From Singapore to Formosa in 1944
During May and the early part of June 1944 the Japanese authorities in charge of working parties in Siam received orders to form seventy-two parties, each consisting of one hundred and fifty prisoners intended for work in Japan. I was posted to one of these parties which, together with some others, left Siam on June 6th. We travelled by train to Singapore, where we stayed in a transit camp until June 26th, when we embarked on the Japanese transport Hofoku Maru, a ship of approximately 6,000 tons. The total number on board was 1287, of which 63 were members of the Regiment. We were divided between two holds and were so crowded that it was impossible for everyone to lie down at once without overflowing on to the centre hatch, which had no protection from the sun or rain except a very old and inefficient tarpaulin which the Japanese seemed to consider was unnecessary until everyone was wet through. The majority of the members of the Regiment were in a different hold from myself, and it was not until we had been on board for the best part of a month that I was able to arrange for us all to be together.
We stayed in Singapore harbour until July 4th, when we sailed in a convoy with seven other ships escorted by two destroyers. On July 9th we arrived at Miri, in Borneo, having broken down for six hours on the way. On arrival we were told that repairs to the engines would have to be carried out, and that we would therefore be stopping there for a few days. Until this time we had been receiving two meals a day of rice and vegetable stew, but unfortunately during our stay here the fresh vegetables, taken on board at Singapore, ran out and the Japanese serjeant in charge of us said that it would be impossible to replace them. We were therefore reduced to rice and salt in the morning and rice and a level tablespoonful of dried fish in the evening. The issue of dried fish was one about the size of a kipper between sixteen men. We continued to exist on this diet, except that on our arrival in Manila the dried fish was replaced by an equal quantity of sweet potato, until September 21st— a total of seventy four days.
We were picked tip in Miri by another convoy and sailed on July 14th, arriving in Manila on July 19th. Once again we were informed that the engines were unsatisfactory and that further repairs would have to be carried out. The Japanese civilians who were on board were disembarked and part of the cargo was unloaded. Despite numerous alterations and repairs, however, the boat was not considered fit to put to sea until September.
As can be imagined, our diet, and the fact that after our arrival in Manila we were not allowed on deck, soon began to have serious effects. Fortunately at this time I was able to arrange for the remainder of the Regiment who were on board to come up to the forward hold where I was, and the example that the majority of them set did a lot to keep everyone's spirits up.
Repeated requests to the Japanese to allow us to go ashore were refused, the only concession being that we were allowed to send fifty of the sick ashore to the American P.O.W. Hospital in Manila. Cpl. Newman, L.Cpl. Mahoney and Pte. Ashton were amongst those whom the doctor selected. We also received a small quantity of Red Cross drugs from this hospital, but the majority of them were stolen by the Japanese guards before they reached us. During the whole of this time the doctors, assisted by volunteer orderlies, did excellent work. Three major operations were carried out with absolutely no equipment except what they could make themselves, and I am glad to say that all three were successful. I would particularly like to mention one incident that took place. The doctors decided that it was necessary to give certain of the patients blood transfusions, but were worried because they did not consider that any of the prisoners on board were in a fit condition to spare the blood. However, they decided that they .would have to take this chance and, after explaining all the dangers, they asked for four volunteers. I am glad to say that the four who stepped forward were all members of the Manchester Regiment.
During our stay in Manila Bay a total of ninety-seven deaths occurred on board, five of these being members of the Regiment, On the day before we sailed, over a third of the officers and men on board were unable to walk unaided, and there were a number of mental cases. This was entirely due to underfeeding and to the insanitary and confined conditions under which we were living.
We eventually left Manila on September 20th and sailed with a convoy of seven freight ships and tankers escorted by two destroyers. After having anchored that night we sailed again next morning, and at about eleven o'clock between sixty and seventy planes were seen overhead on their way, as we subsequently learnt, to bomb Manila. A number of these planes left the formation and flew down the convoy, machine-gunning each ship in turn. They then returned and sank all seven ships and also one of the two destroyers. Our ship received three direct hits amidships, broke her back, and sank in under two minutes, taking the majority of the people on board down with her. The behaviour of everyone at this time was really outstanding. There was no panic, and everyone did exactly as they had been instructed. There were insufficient life belts to go round, but those who were lucky enough to have them put them on and everyone made their way to the two small ladders that were the only exits from the hold. As I have already stated there was not enough time for many people to get out before the boat sank. As soon as the first bullet hit the ship all the Japanese guards and the crew, including the captain of the ship, jumped over the side. This was several minutes before the first bomb was dropped. They made absolutely no attempt to release the prisoners.
The majority of the survivors were picked up by the Japanese after having been in the water for about two hours. Some were taken to Manila in fishing-boats which were attacked on their way back, several of them being again sunk. The balance, of which I was one, were taken to Formosa in two Japanese naval vessels. There were approximately thirty prisoners and seventy Japanese who had also been picked up from the water with me on one of these craft. The majority of the prisoners were without any form of clothing, and we were placed on the open deck, in the bows of the destroyer, where we stayed for four days and five nights. During this time we were given nothing to drink and very little food. Despite repeated requests, the Japanese refused to give any medical attention to the prisoners who had been wounded during the sinking. As a result of this, two of them died before reaching Formosa, and two others within twenty-four hours of being landed.
It is extremely difficult to state exactly how many prisoners were lost owing to the fact that all the lists and papers were destroyed when the boats were sunk, but I think that two hundred and, fifty were saved out of the one thousand two hundred and eighty-seven who originally embarked on the Hofoku Maru. Fourteen of the survivors were members of the Regiment.