During the next few days British troops would enter Thailand and then begin to filter through our area . We were told Allied Commandoes had been watching this camp and others in the jungle for the past few weeks. They also told us that if the atomic bombs dropped on Japan had not made the enemy surrender then the Allied troops would have driven down through Burma, the Americans would land in Indo-China, (now Vietnam) and another American force, plus Australians from Borneo, would land in Malaya and launch attacks both southwards to Singapore and northwards into Thailand. This would encircle the entire Japanese Army in Burma in a pincer movement including troops in Thailand and Indo-China. If this had happened, then few prisoners, if any, would have escaped the Japanese execution plans.
Early one morning, a few days after the surrender, we were all lined up and told to keep clear of a certain cleared area in the camp. It appears we were to see our first "biscuit-bombers" in action. A flight of Dakotas were to come in at low-level and drop medicines, food and clothing. Sure enough about mid-morning, in they came, one behind the other, with open side-doors and out tumbled the cartons and boxes. Only a hundred or so feet up and with a deafening roar they dropped them, then circled again and again, until each plane had made about six or seven runs before completing the exercise. Of course boxes and cartons broke open in many cases, but all contents were well protected with inner linings. This it appears was the practice used to supply units in jungle areas where planes could not land and roads in many cases were non-existent. As they used to drop bully-beef and hard army biscuits as well as ammunition etc, they became known affectionately as "Biscuit-Bombers".
Now our doctors had all the much-needed drugs and medicines to treat the sick, also now we had tons of good nourishing food. Food that in the pre-prisoner days was always taken for granted and in so many cases called "fit for pigs", was now the best we had ever tasted. It was still only bully-beef and biscuits, but when prepared by the cooks in various ways, each meal was looked forward to and enjoyed. Within days we saw a difference in each other. Even some of the most desperately ill, began to show signs of recovery. Faces which were almost unrecognisable began to fill out and eyes appeared less sunken. Those very ill tried so hard to make it and although most did, tragically we still buried many before we left for home. As they were too far gone for drugs and food to have any effect, these deaths I feel were the hardest to accept.
Soldiers being the type of individuals they are, especially those cut off from civilisation for so many years, it was almost impossible to contain them for long. Despite the warnings of Japanese troops still unaware of the surrender we disregarded orders to stay in camp and within a week, we were sneaking out and visiting the village. As we had not yet been issued with any money apart from the little the Japs paid us, we had no chance of buying anything. However for the first few times, it was enough to just be out of camp. We suddenly had this terrific feeling of freedom. One would have to experience incarceration for a number of years or maybe months to truly know the feeling. To do as you like with no one to stop you. To walk where you wish! Absolutely wonderful!!
Then as the days progressed and still no movement out of camp and home-bound, we began to get restless so it was not long before we found that our boots, new shorts and shirts were greatly admired by the local villagers. Of course the inevitable happened. We sold them for the local brew! It was then quite a common sight to see dozens of drunken men staggering back to camp with only their underwear on. I was told one morning, that I put on a terrific act at the village theatre by dancing all around the stage in my underwear and army boots, while the Thai actors and actresses were trying to perform with their slow, rhythmic traditional dance. I am afraid I have only very dim memories of that previous night but still do remember our terrific hangovers from the native brew.
Of course, during these walkabouts we were all on the look-out for our previous captors. Especially the Koreans. Fortunately for them we found none. We were later informed that the day before we were told of the surrender, the Japanese issued all Koreans with khaki shorts and black shirts plus new boots and pith-helmets and told them to find their own way home to Korea. This was never confirmed to my knowledge and I do not know if it was the truth. Whatever happened to them I do not know. All I can be sure of is that I never set eyes on a Korean again nor did any of my immediate mates.
Now the authorities were being faced with a restless body of prisoners so something had to be organised and quickly or released prisoners would wander further afield. Our doctors were being assisted by other army doctors flown in via Bangkok and it was unfair to them to have to continue long hours with the sick as they too were not particularly fit despite the better food. So it happened one wet, monsoonal day about two weeks later that an army jeep (the first we had ever seen) rolled into camp. "Big brass!" We could see by the rank of the officers in the front seat. Then two figures, all immaculate in white uniforms got out of the rear seat. One dressed as an admiral, none other than Louis Mountbatten and the other his wife Lady Mountbatten dressed as an officer of the Red Cross.
They ploughed through the mud spotting their clean white uniforms, to the stage of our theatre. Lord Louis then addressed us for an hour or more filling us in, as much as he could in the time allowed, with the major events of the war over the past three and half years. He also asked us to be patient a little longer as plans were afoot to have us Australians and Dutch transported to Singapore and the British to Rangoon. The sick were to be taken first and jungle camps along the railway to be immediately found and evacuated. His wife then spoke and welcomed our release and told us we had never been forgotten also now the war was over she wished us God-speed back to our homes and loved ones. Then after a few light-hearted pleasantries, they were both escorted through the huts containing the sick prisoners, after which they were driven off down the muddy road and out of the camp.
So we waited patiently for movement orders to arrive. Col. Dunlop we heard had been called to Bangkok, for what reason, we could only guess. Perhaps to arrange with the authorities for our transport to Singapore. After another week with no sign still of any movement orders, about fifteen of us decided to make up our own movement arrangements! We pooled all the money we could muster with the sale of clothing, towels, blankets etc. to the natives and as Hugh Cory was the oldest and most distinguished-looking we put him in charge. Someone came up with Lt. Colonel’s pips and put them on Hugh’s shoulder straps, then we hired a truck of very doubtful reliability in the village and set off on the approximately 80 mile trip to Bangkok.
The trip proved uneventful apart from some queries from some Thai officials at a river-crossing where a ferry replaced a bombed bridge. However Hugh came to the fore and put on a magnificent display as an officer in charge of troops on special mission and any nonsense on their part would not be tolerated. We were allowed through without further problems. It was late that night when we arrived on the outskirts of Bangkok where we departed from our Thai driver to whom we gave a "written order" to allow for his uninterrupted return to his village-home in Nakom Patom and duly signed by "Lt. Col. Black"! Then we set about finding a place to sleep before proceeding into the city the following morning. Eventually we found a school where we laid on the floor of one of the class-rooms and were all soon asleep. Next morning we walked into the city-proper. It was wonderful! Free and again mixing with people other than guards and prisoners. Shops like those found in all Eastern cities. Crowds of people, buses, trams and all the sounds of a busy metropolis. All so untouched by war! How happy and carefree we were that morning! We found a café and all had bacon and eggs for breakfast! However we all knew that before long we would be pulled up by MP’s or such and also that our money would soon run out, then we would have to give ourselves up, but at least we had forced the issue and left the camp-life with the hope that we would not be sent back.
Sure enough, about mid-morning, we were stopped by British MP’s who were driving around in a jeep. We told them most of our story apart from Hugh’s impersonation of an officer. (Fortunately by this time he had disposed of his pips.) They appeared sympathetic to a degree but MPs being what they are, particularly British ones, they soon called up a truck and we piled in and were taken to a huge public hospital in an area called Chulalongkorn. Here we alighted and were taken to a room and told to wait. Finally who should walk in but Col. Dunlop! After hearing our story, he exploded and told us how despicable we were for deserting our comrades and putting him in an embarrassing position with the relieving British authorities.
However once he got this off his chest, he ordered us to be billeted in one of the vacant wards and report for ward-duty the following morning. So began a couple of weeks or various hospital duties and as the hospital had a number of wards taken over by the military, we were under rather strict British military orders. About a week later, sick patients from various camps began arriving and a lot of our mates joined us again. We had a certain amount of leave and were issued with new pay-books and it was here we received our first pay since our release. Apart from one particular event that occurred before our departure for Singapore, our leave was usually spent at various bars and night-spots where we "kicked our heels up". As the war ended so suddenly with the dropping of the atomic bombs on mainland Japan, the authorities were in a dilemma as to the incarceration of the enemy. Our late prison-camp housed many and other barbed-wire encampments were hastily erected. However, most of the high-ranking Japanese officers were housed "on their honour " to stay indoors in houses in and around the city of Bangkok. The event that brought a little excitement into our lives occurred shortly before we were due to leave for home. Word had got around that some of these Jap. officers had hoarded quite a quantity of gold and rubies taken from Burma. Jack Harris from our unit came to me and suggested we make enquiries into this rumour. Within a day or so we had found the source of the so-called rumour in the six-foot four "Tiny" Horton, a private with 2/2nd Pioneer battalion who had been with us since Java. "Tiny" convinced us that he had the "good oil" about a certain house that some very high ranking Jap. officers were occupying and said he had it on good authority that gold and rubies were stashed in this house. So it was arranged that five of us, Jack Harris, Ken, Tiny, and another from our unit, Bluey Maher and myself would do our best to relieve these Japs of some, if not all, their booty.
After dark we set off. Tiny had a huge Japanese sword and we others had revolvers which we had acquired by devious means, but only about six bullets between us. Tiny knew the way and after traveling up and around various alleyways, we finally arrived outside this huge three-storey house. We went up about six steps to the big front door and Tiny banged on it with the hilt of his sword. After quite some time a Jap officer opened the door and immediately we forced our way in. The large foyer led into a big room at the end of which was a wide staircase leading to the floors above. The Jap. officer was herded into the room where we gave him instructions to call all the other officers down to us.
He must have realized we meant business for he quickly had about a dozen coming down the stairs and some others out of the ground-floor rooms. We quickly lined them up and asked where the11booty" was kept. They under-stood what we meant but all they did was say, "No gold-No rubies-Nothing Here." After a short time and realizing we were getting nowhere, big Tiny roared at them to kneel then we began pushing them on their knees and once all were down, Tiny took the sword out of its scabbard and began swishing it around. He must have looked a terrifying sight to these officers and we even wondered just what he was going to do.
Flight of Dakotas