The houses of the town had given way by now to an occasional native and the road was lined each side with coconut palms and umpteen different trees with vines and creepers all over the place. The natives around here seemed different to those we had passed down the road as they were dressed in the barest of clothes. We stopped and had another rest near a group of huts and the natives brought us over plenty of water, and what was more welcome were plenty of coconuts, the milk was delicious. During this time the native kids were scampering up and down the trees bringing the coconuts down. How they went up and down was marvelous, just like a lot of monkeys yelling and laughing all the time.|
Once more we moved on and with every mile the packs seemed heavier, the straps cut into my shoulders like hell and as they rubbed so they rubbed the skin off my shoulders. I ripped some bits of cloth up and made pads to go underneath the straps but they just kept slipping off. My feet were really beginning to ache now and I was hoping that we hadn't much more to do. The whistling had died away altogether by now, instead the only sound heard above the clomping of boots was cursing - and there was plenty of that.
Darkness had fallen now and we stopped for another rest. The relief was simply wonderful just to get these hellish straps off my shoulders and I decided to make my cloth padding a bit bigger. A lot of chaps took their boots off, but as much as I wanted to I told myself it was crazy as I'd never get them back on again. So instead, I lay down and lifted my legs up so that they were higher than my head and it was wonderful for a while. I must have dozed off because I awoke to find Jimmie shaking my shoulder saying "Come on,We're off again!"
I could hear the ones who had taken their boots off cursing like hell because of the pain in trying to force their feet back in. Quite a few ended up walking without their boots on and a lot of chaps threw quite a bit of their gear away, but I thought that since I'd carried my gear this far then I might as well carry on with it.
We had about another six or seven miles to do and I'll never forget those last few miles as long as I live. By now we were all strung out all over the place with no semblance of order at all, chaps were just falling out and resting when they felt like it. All of the yelling and cajoling by the Officers had no effect, even when we were told that anyone that the Nips found on the road after twelve o'clock would be shot! Whenever any of the Officers kept on too much he was told in no uncertain manner what to do.
Our troop commander, Mr Baker who was a decent sort of chap, tried to get us together once and said "Come on chaps, not much further now. Let's see if my troop can show'em how to do it!"
No-one answered, but we did make a try of getting all together and I'm glad to say that no-one fell out unless we all did. I tried to see Jimmie but gave it up as it hurt my neck too much to twist around looking for him. I did see Housey plodding along, all of his body bent forward and eyes staring at the ground. I said to him "How goes it, Housey?" His reply was unprintable.
By now my feet were like two balls of fire and if I kicked a stone or a lump in the ground, a streak of fire would shoot right up my leg and back. My shoulders were so raw and tender that I couldn't bear moving the straps to try and ease them, I think my shirt had become stuck to the raw skin. Afterwards I couldn't feel any pain there from the middle of my back upwards and down to my hands was all dead.
Every now and again I'd stumble against the chap in front, or wobble over against the one at my side, but never a word of apology. I doubt if he even noticed it as we were all stumbling and limping along with our eyes on the ground not caring a sod what happened. The only time I bothered to look up was when we came upon some lights, thinking that they might be the lights of Changi. But after so many disappointments I didn't care anymore, all I wanted was rest. I think my legs were moving automatically now because I didn't seem to have any control over them at all. I honestly think that if we'd had to go much further then I'd have flopped over on to the roadside and to hell with everything. Then the word went round that there was only three quarters of a mile to go and we'll all be there. I've never known such a short distance could be so long.
It seemed as if it would never end and then at long last we saw the lights. Cor, Blimey! Never have lights seemed so wonderful. I managed to find Yank, Oxo and Gamble and without being told where to go we stumbled up some stairs and just flopped down on the floor. Somebody shouted out "There's a cup of char and something to eat down here when you want it!"
"Shove it up your bleedin' arse!" I heard someone answer.
I rolled upright and managed to struggle out of those accursed straps.
Oh Dear! The relief was terrific!
Then off came my boots and my feet felt as if they would burst so I rubbed them for a bit and the pain seemed to ease off. I got my blanket out and as I lay down the whole world seemed to fall on top of me and I was away.
The next morning I opened my eyes and for a time I wondered what had happened and where I was, but slowly it all came back. I went to get up to see where the others were and a terrific pain shot right up my legs and back and finished up at the bottom of my head, Lord it was awful. Then I heard Oxo cursing like hell so I asked him what was wrong.
"Wrong!" he moaned "Everything's wrong. I'm on fire, it feels as if someone keeps hitting my feet with a trip hammer and it feels like my back has been sliced open. What a bleedin' mess! I thought we were never going to get here. What a cowin' hike that was!"
I agreed with him and added a few choice remarks of my own, the others were awake now and they added their moans to ours. I tried to get my boots on but gave it up as not being worth it, in fact very few chaps could get their boots on so we walked around in bare feet. I was luckier than most although my feet still felt on fire, but at least I didn't have any blisters for which I was thankful. Some of the boys had huge pieces of raw skin on their heels and soles and it was pitiful to watch them hobbling about.
We went downstairs after hearing someone shout "Any of you perishers want any grub?" and we found quite a decent breakfast waiting for us. Of course we all knew that we couldn't expect much in the way of good grub for long, although everyone had put as much tinned grub in his kit as he could carry and the cooks had scrounged a hell of a lot and put it on the wagon. Still, we weren't concerned much about food at the moment as everywhere I could hear moans, groans and curses and a lot of chaps had to have their grub brought to them as they were too bad to walk.
After eating we decided to move downstairs, it seemed a better room having a tap and sink and we thought we'd be alright for a bath. It seemed that we were billetted in the quarters that the army used in peace time, the buildings consisted of two stories with a kitchen attached to the back including a wash-house and a nice piece of garden at the front of each house. There were about ten houses to a block and a surprising thing was the cleanliness of them, they needed very little sweeping out for which I was thankful. We weren't bothered much by the Officers, I reckon they were too busy looking after their own aches and pains. Mr Baker came round and asked us how we all felt and told us that the M.O. was down the end of the block if anyone wanted to see him. It turned out that he was kept busy for about four and a half hours, he was alright though because he came on the truck the same as McKellar and a few others. I didn't know until later that Mr Baker had made that march with a bad knee, he had given it a nasty knock in action but would rather walk with his men than get in the truck. It's a pity that there weren't a few more like him.
We spent the next few days looking around, finding out where everyone was living and making the room a bit more like home. There were shelves around the walls so we put our kit on these and put whatever photographs we had in suitable positions, a place of honour for the alarm clock that Oxo had picked up. But we ended up taking the alarm clock down after waking us up the second night at about one o'clock in the morning. A bit later I found Jim further over in another Battery.
Oxo and I thought we'd have a stroll around and see if we could scrounge or pinch anything, so we went along Quadrant Road near where we were living and into the Singapore Changi end and down towards the sea through the Chinese village as it was called. There were about fifty shops here, or what was left of them as they looked as if a cyclone had hit 'em. We started to have a look around and I found a hammer, saw, pincers and a bag of nails and then hearing Oxo shout I went into the next room and found him lugging a camp bed out which was in good condition too, although it might want delousing. We also found some old clothes in a bundle which we thought might come in handy and a mirror which would be useful. We carried on for about another hour picking up odd bits and ends and then making a stretcher of the camp bed we piled it up with firewood for the cookhouse and also a couple of buckets we found went back with us.
We dumped our wood and found a meeting in progress about what was to be done about food as the Nips hadn't said anything about rations up till now. After we had been here a day the Quatermaster of our Battery had suggested that all the grub carried up by our boys should be put in a hole in the ground for safe keeping in case the Nips came prowling around, and it was done. It turned out that R.H.Q. hadn't brought a bleedin' thing with them and they suggested at the meeting that all food should be pooled so instead of each Battery feeding apart we should have Regimental cooking.
Oh dear! When the boys found out about this they went crackers. "What! Feed them idle bastards, too cowin' idle to carry grub up."
I suppose they carried all the fags instead, they were always the same in England. Anyway we didn't have much ourselves, only about fifty tins so we told them to feed on their own. But it turned out that when our Quatermaster had our stuff buried, some louse at R.H.Q. had been watching from the roof of their building and they knew what we had, so a couple of their Officers butted in and we didn't have a dogs chance. They told us in those oily tones that I got to hate that we must all pull together, don't you know.
By jove. What a bunch of smarmy faced bleeders! Well, there was nothing else to do but to make the best of it and so we dug up the grub, "And may it choke you, you lousy cows!" we thought.
For the first three days we didn't see any Nips at all and then we were told that we should have a roll call morning and night. We all had to parade out on the road and the Nips came and checked our numbers to make sure they matched with their own, I guess it used to take them about a half hour or so and there wasn't much messing about. Most of us had gotten over our sore feet by now and except for a few that were very bad, we were all o.k.
We used to go to the sea two or three times a day and had some good fun but the Nips put it out of bounds and then started wiring us in. At least they started it but it wasn't long before they got us on the job and pretty soon everywhere I went I could see wire and more wire.
One of the biggest snags now was fresh water, most of the water mains were broken and it was a hell of a job finding one that had water in it. Along the roads at different points were wells, but these soon went dry and the only way we could get a bath now was to wait for the rain. We generally had a downpour at about six o'clock, then we'd get under the spouting and collect what we could in buckets, tins and anything else that would hold water. The biggest trouble was with the cookhouse, but before being wired in we had managed to find several empty forty gallon petrol tins and we used to fill these up first. If there was no rain then there was a water fatigue, carrying water from whichever well happened to have any in it. The first time I clicked for the job we had to walk a mile and a half and after about three hours of this I was just about skint to the wick.
The Nips had just decided to give us some rations, twelve ounces of rice a day and a few mushy greens. This made something that looked like cabbage water after a couple of hours boiling.
Blimey! I don't know how we should have gotten on if we hadn't brought that tinned grub from Singapore. As it was the cook had a rotten job to do but managed to spread about two ounces of bully over our three meals.
Blimey, the bully couldn't be seen but it sure tasted after being mixed with the rice. For breakfast we had a couple of spoonfulls of "gypo" over half a mess tin (about three ounces of rice). I used to go round to the latrine for a piss and bang would go my breakfast, blimey, talk about hungry!
Dinner was the same with maybe a rice biscuit, the evening was a bit better apart from the rice (bless it) and we'd get about an ounce of "cottage pie", at least that was what it was called. How I'd like to find a house made of it, I'd crawl in and then eat my way out again.
Well, after that feed we'd have a cup of char, no sugar or milk as that was needed for the pastries. Still, I didn't mind that a bit and I soon got used to it, and then a smoke of which I had plenty. Then we'd sit down on the verandah yarning until dark and then when it became a bit chilly when we'd go inside and swich on the "electric" light. Our lights we got from oil mixed with petrol with a piece of tape for a wick inside a fag tin; with about a half a dozen of these the room was made nice and bright. We had shutters on the widows with no glass, in fact there were very few glass windows out here except for the larger and European class of house. Sometimes I'd have a walk round to see different chaps who lived in other blocks and so make a change, and then to bed thinking about rice three times a day.
Our people in command thought that it was about time we did something towards getting the water supply going and fixing up the sewage system as everything was in a hell of a mess. So I ended up going down Quadrant Road on a party with an N.C.O. from the R.E.'s in charge, and we started digging a trench and getting the busted pipes out ready for the new ones to go in. We'd been at it for about four hours or so and we thought we'd have a break, so I sat down on the side of the road and light up a fag and started chatting. We'd been like that for about fifteen minutes when a car came roaring along and as it came nearer I could see that a couple of Nips with some Sikhs were inside. As it came abreast of us it slowed down and then stopped, one of the Sikhs stood up and hollered out "Salute! Salute!"
So we took our time getting up and some of us saluted although we didn't have any hats on, but evidently we didn't do it quickly enough to please the Nips, who happened to be Officers. At that time I couldn't tell an Officer from an ordinary soldier as they all looked the same to me. The Nip Officer jumped out of the car with a face as vicious as hell and we twigged that things weren't so good, so we all stood to attention. Up he comes almost frothing at the mouth and then snarls some gibberish at us in his own lingo, we couldn't understand what the hell he was on about and so we just stood there. Then his pal came up and yelled at us "Why you no salute, Eh?"
One of the boys said "What for?"
Then wallop! This Nip brought his clenched hand round and hit this chap on the side of the jaw and he went staggering.
Then the Nip said "You must know we Japanese Officers!"
Of course after seeing that one wallop no-one else was keen on speaking and I bloody well sure wasn't.
Then he said "You know you salute all Japanese Officers all time, you swine dogs!"
My stomach did a quick loop and didn't come back to normal for some time after, then this other Nip started hollering again. He stepped in front of the other chap, yelled something at him and then the Sikh said "Salute! Salute!"
So this young chap saluted a slap happy salute, then around came the Nips fist right across his mouth. Then he stepped in front of the next one and yelled again, the chap saluted and wallop! he stopped one too. There were about twenty of us in a line and the swine was going down the line one at a time. When my turn came I was scared that he might break my teeth so I twisted my head as he hit me but this didn't work very well because he gave me another one for for moving. Still, he didn't break any of my teeth, the little bastard. Then we all had to salute again and they climbed in their car and off they went.
Oh Gosh! The air was blue with language, I don't think we left any words out and even invented a few more too. Well we didn't do any more work then and went back to our billets and reported what had happened. When we'd finished, the Officer told us that we must salute all Japanese Officers, in fact we should play safe and salute 'em all. He said "Well, I'll report the matter but I'm afraid nothing will come of it."
"What about those black bastards, the Sikhs? How long have they been on the Nips side?" I asked.
"Oh them. It seems that quite a lot went over to the Nips before Singapore fell and they're acting as guards at present and there's nothing we can do about it."
Well we had to be content with that and later on talking to the boys they said. "It seems as if there's trouble in store for us if that's a sample of the way they act."
Some of us didn't bother about shaving very often any more and then only when we felt like it, god knows how long we shall be in this mess and I thought it best to economise on the blades. Of course our grubby appearance didn't suit the Colonel's ideas so he gave the order that if we didn't intend shaving and grew a beard then we must give our names in and we musn't shave our beards off once we had grown one. The daft sod! My mates and I decided to grow beards as it was a nuisance shaving anyway and no-one would bother about what we looked like.
We were o.k. for haircuts now that Oxo had pinched a pair of clippers while down at the docks. I knew a bit about hair cutting so I used to do the whole block and anyone else who came along, it was a paying game too. I didn't bother so much about money but the fags were very welcome and I was rarely without a smoke although I had brought about three thousand with me. Yank, Oxo and Gamble hadn't much chance to get any money and of course I told them to clip into what I had but I did get them back in a different way. If they managed to find or pinch anything then it was always shared out and sometimes we managed to come across a Wog or Chinese and managed to buy a tin of fruit or bully.
One day Jim and I were coming back from a stroll around the block when we heard a shout, and looking across who should I see but Pedlar Palmer. Gosh, I couldn't believe my eyes as the last time we saw him was at the Dock. Of course we shook hands and he was grinning all over his comical face. He told us that after coming out of the Dock he had been sent to the 88th Field, they had been put up to full strength again after coming back from Dunkirk and they had been sent over here. In November of '41 they had gone up to the Thai border and then had been chased right down country to finish up at Singapore and they had a rough time of it, losing nearly half of their Regiment. Gosh, it's such a small world after all. We promised him that we'd call round to where he was living after we'd had tea.
The next day we had another shock sprung on us. It seems that the Nips wanted us to have a guard at each barricade gate in the wire at night, and during the day a picket had to be on duty walking round the wire. This was to see that none of us got through to buy stuff in the native places.
What a bleedin' cheek! Wired in and we've got to guard ourselves, against who I don't know, talk about moan!
Oh Dear! Of course this suited our mob as they could have a guard mounting again, complete with inspection. Eight of us used to be on at night, we had to parade on the road and if we hadn't got any stockings, gaiters or a cap then we had to borrow them. We didn't have any blacking for the boots so we had to wipe them clean with water instead.
Cor Blimey! It was almost as bad as being in England.
The Orderly Sergeant first looks us over and also hears a few impolite remarks about "Orderly Dogs" and then down comes the Orderly Officer. How the bleedin' hell he managed to bring his kit I don't know. He used to look a picture, all done up like a dog's dinner and then he'd pass remarks about the slovenly state of our dress, I'm sure he thought he was back home on the square. What a Ponce! When he'd finished, we'd have the usual march past with eyes right or left and away we'd go armed with a stick.
At about eleven o'clock we'd have a cup of cocoa (that was only for as long as it lasted) and luckily we didn't need many clothes at night as it didn't get very cold, but the mosquitoes were a real pest. Luckily for me, my skin is rather thick and I didn't feel them as much as the others. All through the night you could hear the sharp smacks as someone would try to kill one that was biting him, and in between you could hear muttered curses and grumbles about "What the hell are mossies put on the earth for except to torment the likes of us?"
If the two who were on guard saw anything suspicious they had to report it to the Nip as he came round on his bike, and heaven help you if you forgot to salute him. One of the boys did forget one night, so after slapping him about a bit the Nip came and fetched us all out of the tin hut we were sleeping in and made us stand to attention for two hours. The little bastard sat down on the side of the road watching us to make sure that we stood properly. When we had finished he cleared off saying "You no forget next time."
What we called the bloke who caused all the trouble is nobody's business and we made him do an extra two hours of picket. Fortunately for us the Nip guard only came round about once every two weeks.
One time the Nips caught a couple of chaps just as they were getting back through the wire, so the Nips bashed the guards who were on duty for letting them through and took the two that they'd caught down to Singapore and what happened to them I don't know as I never heard of them again. This made us all a bit more careful about going through the wire.
We were told that the Nip Colonel was going to have a looksee at Changi and that all P.O.W.'s must line the roads and salute him. So we all had to get dolled up as best we could and of course McKellar had to have a few rehearsals on the road. After about a half a dozen walks up and down, looking at us from every angle except the ground, he was satisfied and away we went to the Singapore/Changi road. When we got there I nearly had a fit, the stretch we were on was about four miles straight and on both sides of the road troops were lined four deep. God knows how many were out of sight, I never realised that so many troops had been taken prisoner. I must say that although we were prisoners we all looked and marched a hell of a lot smarter than the Nips I had seen.
We finally got to our allotted position and promptly sat down, of course that didn't suit the Colonel so we had to stand up, but after about an hour and a half we soon got fed up with that and sat down again, it's no joke standing in the sun when it's about 120 degrees. The colonel didn't come back again and we reckon he was too busy finding a shady spot to sit down in.