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 9

I bandaged my balls up as best I could, put a pair of shorts on and after shaking hands with everyone, my mates helped me up on to the wagon for I didn't know when I should see them again. Then it wasn't long before we were away and that ride nearly killed me. The truck rocked, jolted and swayed all over the place and every jolt sent a terrific pain right through me. We finally arrived at Changi and went round to Roberts Hospital where after a few inspections by various M.O's I was told where to go. On going over to this block I found that before I could be admitted I had to sign a form saying that I wouldn't try to escape.
Blimey! What a joke! Even if they had offered me my freedom I couldn't have gotten very far. I didn't bother to argue and so I signed my name as I was anxious to get into a bed. I went into an observation ward first and wonder of wonders! A bed! Yes! With clean sheets and a pillow too!
I managed to get my clothes off and then the bandage, which needless to say had stuck. Oh Gosh! I thought that my balls were coming out by the roots, the pain was terrific! Then I rolled onto the bed and an Orderly came in and started to dress my injury, he was a Jock and his touch was as gentle as a womans.
He Said "Blimey, you've got a nice mess here mate"
I didn't bother to say anything as I was just content to lay there, I even forgot the pain for a while, revelling in the luxury of lying on a decent bed again. After a while I said to him "Gosh, this place is a bit different to what it was the last time I was here."
He said "The M.O's and their staff have worked wonders in the past few months, there's certainly some system now and a bloody good job too, even now the chaps are dying like flies."
He finished the dressing and a few minutes later brought me a big glass of sweet milk and some biscuits. Blimey, I thought I was in heaven. Then he gave me a cigarette and after I had finished that it wasn't long before I was asleep, even though I was still in plenty of pain.
I stopped in this ward for three days until they had found out what was wrong and then they stuck me over in S Block. It seems that I had got Diphtheria, Christ, whoever heard of Diphtheria in the balls. The majority of the Orderlies were Indian Medical Corps and with the exception of one, I've nothing but praise for them as they were just wonderful. Nothing was too much trouble and when they did the dressing they were as gentle as could be all except for this one who the boys nicknamed "The Monk", and he was a real sod. There was not a bit of pity in him, he'd pull the dressing clean off and then start wiping away at my balls that were right raw as if he was cleaning a window. I'd be left flat on my back, legs wide open with my arms stretched out above my head gripping the bed rails, gritting my teeth and pulling the most awful faces and trying not to yell. I was in a bath of sweat when he had finished, then without a word he'd pick up the tray and dressings and move to the next bloke. I used to dread the times when he came around.
Once when he was changing my dressing and I was doing my usual contortions and trying not to shout, the N.C.O. in charge of the ward came around and saw this performance. He told the "Monk" to stop and asked what was wrong, when I got my breath back I told him and said "Could I have a different Orderly as this elephant was killing me?"
He started laughing and and said "O.K. Tommy, I fix you up alright."
He was as good as his word and the next time I was dressed another Indian did it. He had the touch of a midwife and I could hardly feel him messing about, bless him whoever he is.
The next day the same N.C.O. saw me sitting up having my grub and went crackers at me, he said "What's the use of you coming in here to get well if you won't lie down?"
"Well I've got to get out!" I said.
"Eat on your back then. Do you realise that if your heart's weak and if you don't lie flat on your back for at least ten days then you're liable to die as it affects the heart."
I started to pooh, pooh the idea so he said "While you were asleep last night four men with this disease were taken out and they won't be coming back, you'll be hearing the "last post" soon!"
I went a bit quiet after that and he was right about the last post, only I heard it seven times, not four. The "Last Post" was played every time a bloke was buried, whether they played it for each one or a few at a time I don't know but every day that I was in that bed I used to hear it. Sometimes it was seven or eight times but never less than six and now and again it was played on Bagpipes, I guess this was whenever a Jock got buried, and what a wailing row it was, it used to get on my nerves.
The grub I was getting seemed pretty good to me, although I was told that it wasn't as good as it had been. The Red Cross grub was running a bit short and by the way, that was the first time I'd heard about the Red Cross, I didn't know there was such a thing. There was very little rice thank heaven, and more than once I had fish and the cooks had thought up a way of making bread and quite a good attempt it was too. I saw a bloke coming round the ward taking orders from the patients for the Canteen, he seemed to be one of the staff and I wondered if he knew Oxo and if he was still alive so I asked him and straight away he said "There aren't many who don't know 'Yorky'." That was his nickname seeing as he came from Yorkeshire.
So I told him to tell "Yorky" that "Tichy" was here and to do his stuff. Oxo wasn't allowed inside but he had a mate who was an Orderly on the next floor so the next night he found me out, sat down on the bed and started chatting about various things. I noticed that he'd got something wrapped up in a piece of cloth, he said "Put this in your locker and keep it dark."
After he'd gone and the lights were out I took this parcel out and under cover of the bedclothes and examined my gift.
Oh Blimey! it was a small loaf of white bread, some triangles of cheese, biscuits, some jam, eggs and two packets of "Umbrella" fags. And were they good! Coo, did I have a feed. I scoffed the lot and although we weren't supposed to smoke after lights-out, I light up and was as content as a pig in shit. Bless you Oxo!
The next day this same fellow came up to me and asked if I had any razor blades as Oxo didn't have any. I'd still got a couple of hundred left over so I gave him some and some for himself.
The beds were very close to each other, only about two feet apart and I got friendly with another chap next door who had come in after me. He was a Jock in the Argylls and had been out here for five years before Singapore fell, he told me some bright stories about the civvy attitude towards the Army in peacetime and especially the Dutch.
"A lot of square-headed bastards" he called them. "If you were walking along a pavement and they were coming towards you, they would walk out onto the road to pass and then give you a real sneering look".
More than once he had heard them speak of British Troops as "English Swine".
He asked me if I had heard about some of the Argylls that the Nips had taken prisoner up near Ipok. I told him that I had heard some rumours at different times and then he went on that the Nips had kept these Jocks locked up for about a week with very little grub and threatening to shoot them every morning. Then on the sixth day the Nips told them that they were free to go. The Jocks didn't believe them and thought that there was a catch but they were all taken outside and told to take their clothes off, then two of them were told to go. They did! Into the jungle with no clothes, no food and no idea where their pals were and they were never seen again. The other five of them had to hold one hand over the other while the Nips hammered a bolt right through both hands and screwed a nut on the end, they were then told to clear off - the poor sods!
Two of them managed to find their Regiment but they were more dead than alive, looking like skeletons. This fellow telling me this said "I know it's true because I saw 'em when they found them and they both had to have their hands amputated later, and I slept on that thought that night.
I was beginning to find that although the beds were nice and clean it didn't pay to go on looks, as they were lousy with bugs. During the day it was alright but at night Oh Dear! they came out in their thousands and they stank blind! As I've said before, my skin is pretty thick and I couldn't feel them biting but I could feel them crawling all over me and the night was thick with the curses of the blokes who couldn't sleep through being bitten by them. There weren't any mossie nets and these pests used to join in with the bugs in making life very miserable. One chap had his leg in plaster-of-paris and somehow either fleas or bugs had got in between the plaster and his skin, he was almost mad with the torment of wanting to scratch where it itched but he couldn't because of the plaster. He used to curse and rave for hours on end. There were others who had Diphtheria in the throat and could hardly breathe, I could hear them wheezing and gargling as they tried to get their breath and then I'd hear an extra deep rattle and then silence from that bed. Another poor sod had breathed his last.
There were some who couldn't eat or drink anything because of this disease and had to be fed through a pipe placed either in their back passage or inserted into a hole in some other part of their arse.
After I'd been here ten days I was allowed a pillow and could sit up, gosh was my back sore. The first night this happened two blokes were brought in with Diphtheria in their throat and had to be operated on straight away, they were both placed near the head of my bed on the verandah so I had a seat in the "stalls". There were three M.O's on the job and a couple of orderlies, all the light they had was a hurricane lamp, the Nips wouldn't stand for any electric light at night even though it was running right throughout the Hospital. From what I heard they didn't give much hope for one chap, I couldn't see what they did to him but after about four minutes it was finished and they turned to the other one. He could hardly breathe and his face was blue, the one M.O. took a scalpel while another held the lamp close then he made a little cut in the small hollow in the bottom of the neck, as he did he moved his head to one side otherwise he would have been hit in the face by a thin stream of stuff that came hissing out of this cut. It shot out about five yards and I heard the M.O. say "I'm glad I didn't catch that!"
Then another M.O. inserted a little curved tube into the hole and slowly the bloke lost his bluish look and began to breathe normally. Every now and then the orderly would take the tube out and put another one in dropping the old one into antiseptic, it seemed that it was the only way that this chap could breathe. The orderly had to stay by the bedside all night, taking this tube out and putting another one in. During the night the first bloke they operated on died, but this chap lived and went out before me.
By now my balls had gone back to nearly normal (thank god!) and I was allowed to sit up, although they were still quite a bit sore. I still had a lot of little ulcers breaking out on my lips and it was awful trying to eat, I had to have Marmite three times a day and I was in real trouble trying to drink it, I was told that I must have it because of the vitamins in it. The only way I could take it was by making a funnel out of a fag packet, put it in my mouth, then lie on my back and get the next bloke to pour it in but when it did touch my lips it burned like hell. But it sure did me good!
I only had it for five days because there was such a demand for it and it was very scarce, but I'm sure it did the trick because after a few more days I was allowed to walk to the lavatory. Oh Dear! What a mess I was in, I didn't realise how weak I was. I got out of bed, put my shorts on and slippers, took a couple of steps and down I went like a log, my legs were just useless. Of course the other blokes all howled with laughter, but I did finally manage to get along by holding onto the beds. It took me about a half an hour to go twenty yards, but after two or three tries my strength soon came back again.
A day or so later we heard on the wire that the Nips were coming round for an inspection, I started sweating about my diary because we all thought that it would turn out to be a search, so I got hold of Oxo's mate and asked him if he would take it down and get Oxo to hide it for me, which he did. I found out later that he'd hidden it under a pile of coal.
The Nips came round alright and paid as much attention to the chaps who were very sick or nearly dying as the man in the moon and we were all glad when they had gone.
There was one thing that made me sick in here and that was the way some of these orderlies hung around a chap who was dying. If he died during the day they didn't have much chance, but if it happened at night then as soon as the poor sod had breathed his last they'd dive into his kit and take anything that was of value. There was one chap I know for a fact who had two rings taken off his fingers and also a wristwatch was taken, enquiries were made by the Wardmaster but nothing could be proven. All the Orderlies weren't the same but some of them were real "closets". The R.A.M.C. was nicknamed Rob All My Comrades.
By now I was about fit and looking forward to going out but talk about luck! The day I was told to pack up I got a dose of Dysentry, about thirty in my ward had gone down with it and I thought I had missed it, anyway away I went to the other side of the Hospital.
The first two days weren't too bad as I only went to the W.C. fifteen times and then the agony started, but luckily I was only about four yards from the W.C. Heaven knows what would have happened if I had been at the bottom end, about forty yards away!
The third day I went about thirtyfive times and lord knows how many times during the night. The W.C. was a room about twelve yards square with about twelve oil drums about 30 inches deep and about 18 inches across with a wooden rim across to sit on. These things were occupied by blokes all day and night, there were 120 men in this ward and all in various stages of Dysentry and on average were going about twenty times a day, so it's easy to imagine how often there was one of these containers empty. Everyone had to do as I did, more than once, which was to do it on the floor so it's easy to imagine what a mess the place was in, and to anyone who has not had Dysentry I hope they never do!
It's a case of a man shitting his life away. You get the pains in the pit of the stomach and go as fast as you can to the W.C. hoping all the time that you won't be too late because once it starts coming away from you no power on earth will stop it, not even if you force your fingers up the passage. Then you sit on the container if there's one unoccupied and strain and groan like hell. Very little comes away, just mucous and blood but the pain makes you think that your inside is coming out and the stench is like nothing on earth. Sometimes I would be on it for about five minutes and other times for as long as twenty minutes, then for a brief period there was peace and freedom from the awful pain and back to bed. But as it got worse I was only in bed for a matter of ten minutes, sometimes less, then away I'd go again, I lost count of the times I prayed for the pain to go away!
The Orderlies, who were all R.I.M.C.(Royal Indian Medical Core) were simply grand, women couldn't do any better. God bless'em all!
There were only five on at a time with a Wardmaster and his assistant and they worked miracles. Out of the 120 in this ward there were 25 bed patients, chaps who were too ill to go to the W.C. Some had barely the strength to call the orderly when they wanted to pass anything, times without number they just did it in the bed. Maybe two or three times before the orderly found out then the clothes would have to be changed and within an hour they'd have to be changed again, and never a bad word from these chaps. If anyone deserved a reward, these chaps did, maybe all the reward they wanted was the look of gratitude that the chaps gave them or the whispered words of "Thanks mate." One of the big troubles here and with this complaint was the shortage of paper, luckily I had picked up a couple of books with 500 pages in them but that didn't last long. I had got about half way through the second one when the constant running to the lavatory began to ease off a bit and I dropped down to about ten times a day.
I'd been in here about five days when a crowd of Dutchmen and Javanese came in, about 500 strong. They'd been sent over from Java and I've never seen a dirtier lot in my life, covered in ulcers etc and all of them in different stages of Dysentry. They made life unbearable for the orderlies as they wouldn't do a thing to help themselves, in fact it was too much trouble to call out for a pan and they'd sooner do it in the bed.
After a couple of days there was such a commotion, it seemed that one of them had got fed up and had drawn a razor blade across his wrist cutting the big vein, he hadn't been found out because he'd hidden his arm under his blanket. I daresay he would have passed out if it hadn't been for the M.O. who came round to take his pulse and felt the blood and they did manage to save him.
I was getting over this Dysentry by now and getting some good grub, did it taste good! Real eggs, jam and butter, sometimes marmalade, sweet tea and milk, lovely milky sweet puddings, biscuits in the morning and afternoon and a cup of real cocoa.
"Gosh, it was worth getting the shits for all of this!" I thought, and Oh Lord! What a relief to be able to go to the lavatory and have a decent shit and believe me, a man doesn't know what a blessing that everyday thing is until he has had Dysentry.
Finally I was told that I was O.K. and would be going out tomorrow, that same afternoon Weaver came in to see me and I nearly had a fit, he was as fat as a pig and all dolled up in new clothes. I asked him what was doing and he said he was going "Up country" and that for the last week or so they had been getting stuck in to the reserve food they had been saving for an emergency as they wouldn't be able to take much with them. They had been told that the less they had to carry, the better it would be because thay had a lot of marching to do. When I asked him what they were going up there for, he said they had heard a rumour that the Nips wanted a railway built, some said a thousand miles, others said it was more, others said less. Anyway it would be a hell of a job through the jungle.
"Well, you want to hurry up and build it." I said. "Because I don't fancy my chances as a railway constructor. Sod it! I'll stay here."
After chatting for a while he said that he'd have to go as they were moving that night, so I shook hands and wished him luck. I thought "Yes, You'll need more than luck where you're going."
The next day I packed my gear and was told to report back to my old billet in Quadrant Road, it seemed that there were still some of the old crowd there who had missed going down to Singapore. The first one I bumped into was Higgins, our Lorry driver of our Troop, he had been sent back with "aching feet", and when he told me I started to laugh.
'Aching feet?" I said. "That's a new'un, how did you manage to wrangle that?"
"Believe me, Tichy," he said. "It's no bleedin' joke when you get that it keeps you awake at night and during the day there seems nothing wrong. That's the funny part about it, I only hope you don't get it."
Then he asked me what was wrong with me and after I had told him I said "As long as it isn't any worse than what I've just been through, I won't mind."
He then took me to the room where I was to sleep and I asked him what had happened to all the beds and chairs that used to be here.
"They've all been burnt, the same as all the woodwork that was on the walls."
And looking around I could see that all the picture rails and wood around the doorways had all been ripped off.
"You'll find out why, tonight." he said and started to laugh.
What chaps remained in this building were from the 88th and the cooking they were doing turned out much better than our shower of cooks. It seemed as if all of the fit men had gone up country from this area, leaving either men too sick to march or like me, just getting over a sickness.
I found out that Jim had gone up with this batch and also Bill Yates, but they had been taken from a camp called River Valley down in Singapore and I wondered if I should ever see Jim again. Good luck mate, wherever you are!
I also found out that night why the woodwork had all been pulled down, there's a strange smell peculiar to bugs and not long after night it became noticeable, and believe me what a smell - it was overpowering, and then I could feel them.
Higgins called over "How're you doing, Tichy?"
"So this is what you laughed about this afternoon, is it?" I answered "Blimey, good job they don't like my skin."
I could hear Higgins cursing and slapping and then I finally dropped off to sleep.
For the next couple of weeks I had things pretty easy, helping to keep the area clean and any odd jobs that came along. We rarely saw any Nips except at roll call, night and morning and things were rather cushy. I learnt to play Bridge here, I had never bothered about the game before and one chap said "Once you've played it, you'll never want to play any other card game."
And he was right because it sure caught hold of me alright, every afternoon and right after roll call. There was one black cloud in the sky though, and that was the shortage of a smoke. I'd never known it so scarce, so to make the baccy last out I started mixing it with tea leaves. Higgins told me that it would send me blind if I smoked too much of it.
Then one day there was good news, all the boys were coming back as all the work in Singapore was finished, so I found out about what time they were expected in and I went up to Rumour Hill, that was a little hill that looked right across the bay at Changi and in the distance I could see the ships going into Singapore Harbour. I could see four or five smaller islands and there was also a view of about five miles down the main Singapore road, right past Changi Jail. I often wondered how the civvies interned in there were being treated, poor devils. I was told that this hill was the control point for the 15 inch guns of the island, it certainly was a fine point for observing.
The boys were marching up from Singapore but the conditions were a lot different to what it was when we marched up earlier on. They were due to get in at about three o'clock so I went up the hill at about 2.30 and made myself comfortable. It was a grand, clear day and I hadn't been there long before in the distance I could see the long snake-like column that I knew must be the boys, and as they drew nearer I couldn't help feeling a thrill of pride go through me at the way they swung along. They must have been very fit for it was a good eighteen miles, and as they came along I could pick them out, Twill, Housey, Harry and Stout all together. I yelled out as loud as I could and waved, then I could see them put their thumbs up - O.K!
They went on to a big square to receive instructions to their billets and by the time I had gotten down the hill and met them I saw Blackie, Jim Ball, Smithy and a few more. They were all pleased to see me and I, them, for it had been three months since I last saw them. Then I found the boys and after a lot of hand-shaking, back slapping and leg pulling we all went round to see where they were to sleep. Of course now McKellar was back we had all got to be together instead of being mixed up as we had under the 88th C.O. Still, that suited me because I could get back amongst the boys again.
The next day we sorted our room out and we had a big one that we could all get together in. After we had got settled down together again things were very quiet for a time, a few jobs to go around the area and that was all. Then a rumour was around that the Nips were after parties to go up country, the story was very well flavoured with such remarks as 'The grub is O.K.", "Plenty of meat, fish and green stuff - but you have to work for it". We were all fed up with hanging about and doing nothing that we all said "Alright! We'll have a bash if we get the chance.". But there was a darker side to it, another story was that we were going to build a railroad about two hundred miles long. Somebody said "What do they want a railway for? They wouldn't be able to run it anyway." There was another story about the first lot that went up there, they were called the H and F Force and they had such a rough time of it that they lost about seventyfive percent of their total force because of lack of food and bad treatment. We didn't know what to believe.
Anyway, we had no choice about whether we would like to go or not, because a few days later we had to parade outside and march around to the big Padang where we had to be tested by the Nips for Dysentry. When we arrived we found the Padang chock full with men, hundreds of 'em, then I saw what this test was. Each man had to drop his shorts and bend down, then the Nip M.O. pushed a little glass rod up his arse and then put it in a container. Then the next bloke would bend down, up with the rod and so on. All of our Officers were with us including McKellar and we were looking forward to seeing him bend down and get the treatment. When his turn came his face was coloured like a beetroot, he said something to the M.O., I suppose he would have liked to have it done privately. Anyway the Nips gave him a shove, bawled something at him and down came the trousers, up went the rod and Oh Boy! What a yell the boys let loose with!
Somebody shouted " What will the missus say when she hears you've lost your ring?" and a few more choice remarks.
For the next few days all was hustle and flurry sorting out what we should and shouldn't take, although we hadn't got a lot anyway. Just before we went I said to some of the boys one night when we were talking about the trip " I don't like the sound of that yarn about H and F Force losing all the men, even if it was a rumour there's always a certain amount of truth in rumours and they always start from something."
But no-one answered and we all dropped off to sleep with it uppermost in our minds. I lay awake for a long time wondering if we were heading for something worse or better, but somehow I couldn't see it being any better than Changi.

Back to Part 8 Go to Page 10