The Price of Freedom

Surrender of Singapore
8 Dec 1941Japanese soldiers made a surprise landing at Kota Bahru, Malaya.
31 Jan 1942Japanese soldiers entered and occupied Johore Bahru. From there, they carried out aerial bombardment on Singapore constantly.
7 Feb 1942The Japanese Imperial Guards occupied Pulau Ubin.
9 Feb 1942The Japanese 5th & 18th Divisions made an amphibious landing on the north-west part of Singapore.
15 Feb 1942Singapore surrendered to the Japanese. It was also the first day of the Chinese New Year.

Part 7

I think we had been there for just over three hours when the wire came down that they were coming - the skunks! A couple of open trucks came first full of Nip soldiers armed to the teeth with Lewis guns pointing over the side, it looked as if they expected some trouble but they needn't have worried. Then along came a car with some navy blokes in and we were all wondering if this was the big cheese - but no, then another one with flags all over it. I only managed to get a glimpse of them inside and I guessed that the one with all the decorations would be his Nibs, he looked just like a shrivelled up ape and just about as pretty. There were another half a dozen trucks coming past full of Nip soldiers including one with some press photographers and that was the lot, and a bleedin' good job too! I was fed up to the teeth, all my clothes were wringing wet with sweat and what with the heat, flies and having to wait three hours for this little sod everybody was in a bad temper. I was heartily glad when we got back to our billets and I could take my clothes off, I just hoped that he doesn't want another one.
One day we had a fatigue party to go outside the wire down by the beach and collect a lot of wire and bring it back. There were about forty of us including a sloppy sod of an Officer called Budengerg in charge, who I had always thought was half Jerry and we had to put our clothes on for this job which was a thing I hated. We got down to the beach allright and began collecting this wire then when we had as much as we could carry we found some poles, looped the wire through and two of us would get the poles on our shoulders and carry off. Well we hadn't been walking long before it started to rain and gosh, it sure rains out here. We were soaked right through, but that didn't worry us much as we could always take our clothes off when we got back and wrap a towel around us as there were no ladies where we lived. Suddenly Bundenberg told us to stop and dump the wire on the side of the road.
"What for?" one chap said "Why not take it with us?"
"Oh, We can come back for it this afternoon." this officer replied.
We were dumbstruck, all we could do was just stand there staring at him, I couldn't believe my ears. Instead of having the afternoon off as we generally do when we work in the morning, we should have to come all this way back again.
"Come on!" he snapped at us "Let's get started!"
He must have heard some of the remarks we made but he never batted an eye. We got back to the billets, took off our wet clothes and had a rubdown. When I told the boys what had happened they said some choice things about officers in general.
A bit later on after I had my dinner and was having a smoke and wearing a cloth, sarong fashion - a shout went up outside. "Fall in, wire party!"
Cor Blimey! He hadn't given us much time. So out I went dressed as I was. About fifteen of us were there, some with gym shorts, some with a towel and some with nothing on at all, but no-one took any notice of that sort of thing except to pass remarks about certain parts of the anatomy. Then out comes Bundenberg looking very clean in a dry suit and a mac as it was still raining, where the hell he got it from I don't know! He looks at us in our dress and says "Where are the others? Give them a shout!"
Somebody hollered out and a chap came to the door with no clothes on and said "We haven't any dry clothes to put on, Sir!"
"Well you'll have to find some, if not then put your wet ones on and you people here with towels on, go and find some shorts or put your wet clothes back on."
Well that was the limit, it was bad enough having to go out again for that lousy swine without having to put wet clothes on. It wasn't as if we were going into the town and we won't be seeing a soul where we were going so we were all quite content to go as we were.
"We can't put these wet clothes back on Sir." I said. "We're liable to get pneumonia."
"I can't help that." he said. "You're not walking around dressed like natives. If you can't borrow dry clothes then put your wet ones on or I'll put you on a charge!"
The lousy git, an Officer of the British Army, eh!
I went back to the house and just as I got there a sergeant came up to me and said "Here you go Pye. You can put these on." And he gave me a pair of gym shorts.
"I don't want the bleedin' things." I said. "Sod him, let him put me on a charge." But he put them in my hands and said "You'd better put them on, it'll save a lot of trouble later."
"Oh, go and get $%^%(#" I snarled at him. I felt wild and didn't care what happened.
Well we started off minus eight chaps who hadn't got anything dry and had refused to put their wet clothes on. Bundenberg said they could consider themselves on a charge.
When we arrived at the place where we had left the wire we humped it up on the poles and away we went with Bundenberg marching on in front looking nice and dry and he didn't carry any wire because he was an Officer - the Bastard! I guess if he heard it once he must have heard a dozen times the things we said about Officers and the Army in general. He did turn around once and said "I shouldn't do so much grumbling if I were you, it won't get you anywhere."
Maybe not, but it helpeed to ease our feelings as there's nothing like a good moan and curse when a bloke's feeling down in the dip.
We got back to the R.E. dump and piled the wire there then went round to the billets and found that the eight who had refused to go had got to go up in front of the C.O. that night, and three of my mates were amongst them including Twill. I was rather anxious to hear how they got on and as soon as they came back I asked them.
"Oh, the old cow gave us eight days C.B. and short rations. He said that it was nothing short of mutiny refusing to obey an Officer, the old bastard!" said Twill. "Still, what's the use of arguing as we knew we shouldn't have a chance. Anyway the grub can't be much less than it is now else we'll get sod all!"
So one room over at R.H.Q. had to be turned into a guardroom and Blimey if the Colonel didn't say that there must be a guard on all the time that these "very dangerous criminals" were there. The very first night I clicked for it, but the six of us who were detailed made sure that there was no bullshit about the guard. We didn't bother to put any clothes on except for a pair of shorts as that was all that we had that was dry.
Oh dear! When we turned up at the guardroom an Officer said "What are you fellows doing here?"
"We're the guard, Sir."
"Well where are your clothes?"
"Haven't got any Sir, they're still wet."
"Hmmm, I'll see what I can do."
He was back about an hour later with shirt and shorts.
"Use these until morning and let me have them back then, I've borrowed them off some of the men."
I thought that was pretty good of him, but it didn't alter the fact that we still had a guard to do. We layed our blankets out and started yarning and then someone pulled out a pack of cards and we played until the "prisoners" decided to turn in. No-one came round to see if everything was in order and even if they had they wouldn't have found anyone on guard as we were all asleep. We all woke up the next morning and so ended the easiest guard I've ever done - what an Army!
We started doing fatigues over at Roberts Hospital now and that was one fatigue that I didn't mind because the place was in a hell of a mess. Everything was upside down, dirt and filth everywhere, no electric light and any operations that had to be done after dark had to be performed by the light of hurricane lamps, there was no fresh water, it all had to be boiled, the cooking facilities were awful and so was the food for a time, in fact I've never seen such a horrible balls-up in all my life. I said a silent prayer hoping that it would never be my misfortune to have to have an operation or treatment there.
There used to be about forty of us from around our area and various parties from other areas. Each party had a different job, our first job was carrying water from a huge malarial drain about five hundred yards away. Sometimes we had buckets or four gallon petrol tins and sometimes big urns which we had to roll these the same as the porters back home roll the milk churns on the station, and believe me it's no joke trying to roll a fifty gallon can of water up a slight incline. If it toppled over as happened many times it meant another trip. The very first time I clicked for one of those big cans, I'd filled it up and was trying to heave it over onto it's edge so that I could start rolling it away when my foot slipped on the wet earth.
Oh Blimey, what a mess! I went off balance and the tin with me right into the drain and the daft sods around me just stood there laughing their eyes out. I stood there in the drain water up to my waist and cursed them, their parents and everything else I could think of. But I found that I didn't worry too much as I would soon dry out in the sun. I made about eight trips that morning and I made sure that I didn't fall in again. We had to take this water that stunk to high heaven round the various wards for the patients to wash in. Cor! I wouldn't have washed in it for a pension, the poor sods!
I had the job of looking after a Dysentry ward and it almost made me sick, the stink was vile! I think there were about ninety to a hundred chaps in this ward, some had it very bad and others only mildly but most of them were bed patients and there were just fifteen bedpans. Some were using tin helmets, some were using nothing and so they made the mess in the beds. I wanted to ask some of them if I could help in any way but I thought "What the bleedin' hell can I do!"
I couldn't find anything to use as everything that that could be turned into a bedpan had already been used and other wards were worse off than this one - heaven help 'em. There were about five orderlies in this ward and they were sweating "gobs of blood", the poor sods had their feet run off them, but I admired their cheerfullness as they were always ready to do everything they could to help the chaps in bed.
I dished the water out and asked one of the orderlies if I could help in any way.
"Yeah," he said "You can help me change some of these sheets and blankets."
Cor Blimey! As the chap in bed rolled over and we lifted the top sheet off, the stench rose up and nearly choked me. I couldn't help saying "What a bleedin' mess!"
"Oh, you'll get used to it in time." the orderly replied.
"I sure hope." I said.
I think I helped to change about forty beds and it was enough to make a man cry. The poor sods were too helpless to move out of the bed and with no pan to use just had to lie there and make the mess in the bed. Then they had to wait a few hours or maybe a day or more before they got clean clothes on the bed again and to make it worse quite a few had legs or arms in plaster-of-paris. Blimey, if I had to stay in this place for long I'd go crazy and yet these orderlies and the M.O's. went about with smiles on their faces. All the time we were here, there were cases coming in of all descriptions, some with war wounds, some with illness and some through accidents they had got while out working and there seemed a hell of a lot more coming in than were going out. I don't know how many were in this place but every building was inhabited, even the outhouses, to me it was just one big mess. It made it worse when the M.O's. asked the Nips for some medical supplies and the answer was no. How on earth they managed to do what they did was a miracle to me and some of the things they did were miracles!
I was back and forwards on this job for about a week and I soon became used to the sights in the wards, and very slowly order was beginning to appear out of this awful mess.
Oxo had decided that he'd get a job looking after the boilers in one of the cookhouses and in no time he'd wangled himself a nice cushy job. Stories were going round now about working parties going down to Singapore for a day, the Nips would take us down in lorries and bring us back at night. Some of the boys that I saw after one of these trips told us what a good time they had, plenty of fags and food from the natives who were mostly Chinese. I forgot to mention before but when we were in action they were wonderful to us, always a cup of char if we happened to halt near where they lived and they'd do anything for "Tommies". After hearing of these things we were all pretty keen to get there ourselves and then one day our turn finally came to go. There were about fifty of us and we had to take haversack rations (what a joke) in our mess tins, this meant rice that had been cooked overnight, sometimes a few peanuts, a bit of fish or a couple of rice balls. What the hell they were made of God only knows because I don't! That had to last us until we got back at night.
We finally got down there after having the daylights scared out of us by the Nip driver, I'm sure that they're mad when they're behind a wheel or anything else for that matter. Forty men in a Ford tonner, most of 'em standing up and holding on for dear life to the bloke next to him. I think he forgot that he had brakes the way he barged around the corners and if anything or anyone was in the way it was just too bad, and in Singapore he used to take delight in brushing the side of the truck against the carts of the native hawkers knocking the hawker and his goods sky high. I could hear him laughing and yelling "Oh very good, very good. Number one Eh!"
The louse!
We had the job of clearing up a bombed garage and making it servicable again. I must say that the Nip with us didn't bother us at all, he just told us what to do and then cleared off to the nearest brothel. As soon as he'd gone everyone stopped work and started cadging fags and food and selling whatever stuff they had brought with them. It was alright as long as you dealt with the Chinese as they would give you a fair price, but those Wogs, the black bastards! They'd rob you blind if you let them. I tried to flog a cigarette case, it was worth five bucks easy but I thought I'd be satisfied if I could get four so I walked over to an open fronted shop, got near a wog who had already bought several things, showed him the case and said "O.K. Johny, four bucks, very good!"
He took it from me, looked at it, gave it back to me and said "One dollar."
Well I was dumbstruck, I didn't think he'd go that low. "Why you chiselling black so and so, I'll put my toe up your dirty arse, it's worth four at least." I said.
"O.K." he said "I speak Nippon soldier."
As soon as he said that I knew I was finished because if the Nip caught me at it I'd be in for a bashing. I couldn't clout him either because he'd just wait for the Nip to come back and tell him the tale, so after saying a few more nice things to him I walked away. A bit later on I came across a Chinaman who gave me seven bucks for it and I bought some fags, a few loaves of lovely white bread and some tinned stuff. Incidently, when the Nip came back half-pissed, he told us that we could buy whatever we wanted from the shops.
"But no changee, changee with Chinese"
He meant that we weren't to flog anything. He didn't rush us with the work either and we all went back quite satisfied with our day out, except for the ride.
A few days later we went down again and this time we had to bring in all the derelict civvy and army cars that had been left lying round since capitulation. About six of us went with a Nip who was the biggest one I have seen, he was about five eleven and as wide as a house, we nicknamed him "Charlie" and he answered to it as well. We had rather a good time with him, he'd let us buy stuff from the numerous stalls along the roads. I don't think he knew how to drive very well as he always seemed to start off in second gear, anyway whenever we spotted a derelict we'd bang on the roof of the cab and point it out to Charlie, then he'd whizz around the corner nearly throwing us out and then jam his brakes on a few yards from the wreck. Down we'd go and fix tow chains to the wreck, one bloke would get in the drivers seat and do his best to keep the wreck on an even keel. This would go on until there were about six cars in tow with one of us in each car and I've never seen such a crazy show or had such a ride in my life. Some of the wrecks had no tyres, some had only one wheel at the font or back, one had no wheels at all, another had no steering wheel, some had no roof or sides.
What a bleedin' show! We might as well have tried steering a tank without any caterpillar tracks. Twist the wheel one way and the wreck would go the other way until the pull of the tow chains yanked it back in line again and the poor unlucky sod on the end was having the shit scared out of him, he kept swinging madly from one side of the road to the other. He didn't have a tow chain behind him, only in front and by the greatest luck in the world we didn't have any cars coming against us otherwise it would have been too bad for him and the bloke in the end car. We did end up hitting a few bicycles and hawkers carts and once the end car went clean over and it was a wonder the poor sod in it wasn't killed. The wheels without tyres were making the most horrible shrieking row I've ever heard and we must have been heard for miles away.
During that day we made five trips and each one was as bad as the first, these Nips were very impatient and if a truck they have happens to be stubborn in starting, they just get another driver to give them a bash up the arse of their truck and so start it that way. It doesn't matter to them whether the radiator is knocked into the rear of the front truck and it seems that slap happy system applies throughout their Army. How they ever got this far I don't know, I reckon that they're in for a shock when the odds aren't so much in their favour. After this we had a rest from these jobs and went back to doing any old jobs that were required.
Colonel McKellar decided to start a bit of bullshit now and said that all the grass in the vicinity of our billets had to be kept cut so that the mosquitos couldn't breed. The silly sod! Of course it didn't matter so much about filling in all the stagnant ponds and holes around the place. No, just to find us something to do and give the Orderly Officer something to find fault with on his rounds, he even issued an order that we would have to pay more attention to the saluting of Officers. I was told on good authority that the clerk of R.H.Q. was sent for by him and asked what the casualty list was of the Regiment.
"Twenty one Sir." said the clerk.
And all the Colonel said was "Hmmm, is that all?"
The lousy bastard!
I suppose he would have liked to have had all of the Regiment wiped out except for himself and then he would have gloried in the telling of what a wonderful fight his men put up. I wonder if he'll tell any of his cronies when it's all over, about finding his R.S.M. down in Singapore during the action, blind drunk. And then having to send him to the 148 Field R.A., and the most crappy part of it is, the bloke who came to us in his place from the 148 had been guilty of the same thing. I wonder if he'll tell about the other three Sergeant Major slit-trench heroes and not to mention the Sergeants too. What a bleedin' mob!
Just before the capitulation there was what we were told was an "Official escape party", among them was our own B.S.M. The bullshitting little sod! He wouldn't walk around to his guns unless the two A.A. boys followed him around, talk about being scared, he went on this party because he was a good instructor, Oh dear!
Then there was a Sergeant out of our troop, an Officer and two more N.C.O's. and that was the lot out of our Regiment. We heard that they had reached India, they left the island on the 12th or 13th, I'm not sure which.
As we didn't have a B.S.M. we were all wondering who it was going to be, I thought that Blackie might have a chance, but to our surprise and disgust we found that a red headed Sergeant out of A Troop had been appointed as our new B.S.M. This was the same one who had tried to give his gun crew orders while he was hiding in a slit trench and now this yellow git was made our B.S.M. by McKellar. I reckon this is the first time a man has been promoted for cowardice.
Parties were being made up now to go down to Singapore and expecting to stay for a few months. Yank was put on the first party and knowing that he could get stuff down there, we gave him quite a few dollars and then he could send the stuff back with any of the drivers that were now coming back and forwards in the fatigue lorries and so away he went and away went our money for I never saw him again for months. About a fortnight later we were told to pack our bags and prepare to move down there.

We piled aboard some lorries and off we went for about two hundred miles and after the usual nightmare ride we arrived in at a place in Towner Road consisting of about six huts made of bamboo with attap roofs. They were nice and airy and rather clean too, there was space about a couple of feet off the floor and above that was another tier. The huts were about fifty or sixty yards long so we had plenty of room, we sorted a spot out on the top floor, sod sleeping on the bottom because you get all the shit from the floors above. We had arrived here at about five o'clock and our first job was to erect barbed wire all around the camp. There were quite a number of houses on two sides of the camp so my mates and I made a beeline for one lot of them and started to put the wire up. We hadn't been there long before the natives came out to watch us, mostly Chinese and out came packets of fags and little parcels of food. They had to throw them over a big malarial drain and unfortunately some of the stuff fell in the drain but it was all soon retrieved and laid out to dry. Of course the news soon went round and in no time there was quite a crowd around but still the presents continued to come over and the last thing I managed to get was a seven pound tin of good old "bully".
Blimey, did we have a feed that night. Bully, nice white bread and sweet buscuits with some jam on, one of the boys had offered us the jam in exchange for some bully. Then as an added delight we had a brew of real sweet tea with condensed milk and then lying back with a full stomach, the first for weeks, we had a good smoke. God bless all those Chinese for the happiness they have brought us. I very much doubt that they had a great deal to spare themselves.
For a number of days we continued to get stuff over the wire and then I guess the Officers got a bit narked over it. Of course they couldn't lower themselves to accept any of the stuff from the natives, but inside I bet they would have liked to. So they ended up putting a picket on the wire of all Sergeants. In future all food etc that came over the wire must be put in a common pool and then shared out, like hell it would! After the Officers had had their dip in it there wouldn't be a lot left for us. So during the day we didn't have much chance of getting anything but at night it was different, those Sergeants sure did well for themselves and the stuff they handed us was only what they didn't want themselves. Still, I guess I would have done the same myself.
One night some of the 88th boys were at the wire waiting for some fags that they had bought and on going back to their hut one of our Officers, a shithole named Thomas who was only a kid of 25, came out of an unoccupied hut and said "All right, You're all on a charge for getting stuff from the natives. Give me what you have and report to the C.O. in the morning."
The boys started to argue the toss with him saying that they had bought the stuff, but it didn't go and in the end the Officer called some of the picket over and had the boys searched.
Blimey, when the news got around, did the 88th lay it into us, we agreed with them about what a so and soing dirty snoop he was and that it wasn't our fault. They appeared next morning in front of McKellar and we knew what the verdict would be with him, they had seven days rice and water and in future anyone else caught would be handed over to the Nips - some Englishman!
There was murder walking round that camp for a long time, but we still managed to get fags over.
We were started working now and we had to go to the Racecourse Farrows Park, some went to Peletar Aerodrome and some to Alexandra Park. I clicked for the racecourse and what a bleedin' job it turned out to be, first we had to put up tarpaulin sheds so that cars could be repaired or dismantled. The Nips were like a lot of monkeys the way they shinned up the poles and lashed them together at the top with wire, I don't think they knew what a nail was. Well once the sheds were up then the game started, hauling the cars into them. It wasn't so bad as long as it was dry, but gosh when the rains came it was terrible, what with us tramping about and heavy wagons going up and down it soon became a quagmire. A wagon would come banging along with another in tow, he would uncouple the tow wire and about fifteen of us would have to push the wreck into one of these sheds where the Chinese mechanics would get busy on it. At times the mud would come up to my knees, we'd push and heave and chant "Altogether, one, two, three - heave!"
Then we'd shove like hell and the truck might go forward about an inch, sometimes a wheel would slip in a rut up to its axles and then we'd be in the shit, around would come the Nip hollering and yelling in his own lingo. Then "Why you stop, one, two, three - heave speedo!"
We'd try and explain that a wheel had slipped into a rut, but no he couldn't grasp it - the ignorant bastard! Then out would come his bamboo stick and heaven help the bloke who was nearest, I reckon at times we found more than double our own strength, I was amazed at times the things we did. We'd get the truck in eventually and the Nip would change right around.
"You very good soldier, number one O.K. Yasumey."
That meant rest and we always heard him the first time and blimey, did we need it! Sometimes the Nip would give us a fag each and sit down with us trying to pick up the English language. I must say that they could pick up English a bleedin' lot quicker than we could pick up their perishin' lingo. We had about ten minutes rest and then "O.K. Starto!" It seemed that with a lot of English words they picked up they couldn't help putting an O on the end like "Speedo" and "Starto".

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