He then walked up to the officer on the end of the line and said, "If you no tell then I execute you." The officer again denied any knowledge of any treasure. He was either very brave or such treasure just did not exist. Again Tiny threatened him but to no avail. We will never know if Tiny would have carried out his threat (although he said later that he would have cut him up a little) for suddenly doors opened upstairs and swarms of Japs came streaming out and down the stairs. I must admit we panicked somewhat being suddenly faced with these screaming Japs. There must have been twenty or thirty of them and with those we had been interrogating they began attacking us. Fortunately they had no weapons but their banzai screams were enough to un-nerve us.
I will never quite know how we did it, as it was a "free for all" for some minutes, but we raced through the foyer to the front door where two Japs had posted themselves no doubt to delay our departure. The five of us must have hit the door together and pushed the big door outwards and I had the personal satisfaction of feeling a Jap face being squashed against the door-frame as we pushed through. Before we realized it, we were down the stairs and in the alley.
The screaming Japs did not pursue us further than the bottom of the stairs, so once in the alley we were safe but, I must admit, a little shame-faced at being so unceremoniously evicted! I had lost my revolver in the melee and no one had fired a shot. We found our way to one of the night-spots, where we proceeded to drown our thoughts of taking home riches to retire on and will never know if they ever really existed in that house, where we all could have quite easily disappeared. I am sure those Jap officers could have disposed of our bodies quite effectively if they had so desired.
It was only about a week after this episode that we were under orders to move. We were to be transferred to the Bangkok Airport and from there flown to Singapore. The day before our departure, Ken and I were involved in a slight altercation with the Military Police as we were trying to dispose of a mantle-type radio to some Thais. We quickly grabbed the proffered monies and took off followed closely by the MP’s. I managed to escape, but Ken was caught trying to scale a high fence and had got his uniform trousers impaled on a spike of the fence. Ken was hauled up in front of Col. Dunlop, who tore strips off him, the outcome being rather harsh as Ken was told he would be detained until a later date. As he was under open-arrest, we were able to devise a plan which would enable him to still leave with us on the following day.
Late that night I scoured the streets until I found an unattended bicycle, then rode it back to our quarters and around midnight, Ken set off on it for the airport. He had previously found the way out of the city and was sure he would have no difficulty in following the road to the airport. Over the past weeks we had often met up with the air-force pilots who were air-lifting personnel to Singapore and even to Australia. They always said they would take any of us, anytime they could fit us in, also as Dunlop was not leaving with us, he would not know Ken had left until it was too late.
Next day we were loaded onto trucks about one hundred of us and as we traveled along the road, I kept a watch out for Ken in case he had run into trouble. Most of the boys knew of our prank and kept watch also. The airport was twenty odd miles from the city and when we were about only a mile or so from the ‘drome, sure enough, there he was just ahead of us. As we caught up, we banged on the driver's cabin roof to signal him to stop. There was Ken just about "done in" with the bike devoid of tyres and tubes, as they had punctured miles back. He had managed to cut the tyres off and had then ridden solely on the rims till we caught up. He quickly dumped the bike and hopped up with us with much laughter and back-slapping.
It was then on to the airport and aboard the planes which we were told were DC3s, the pride of the air force, as it appears this type of plane had played a major role in supply drops throughout the island campaigns and in South East Asia generally. Despite the nonchalant attitude of our Aussie pilots, we all had some misgivings about our flight to Singapore as none of us had ever flown before. However all went well and soon we were enjoying the picturesque views as we flew down the coast of Malaya.
In Singapore we were housed in a comfortable camp on the coast where we could swim at our leisure, enjoying good food and a couple of bottles of beer per day per man. An open-air cinema had been installed to hold our interest each evening, for although ample leave was allowed, the authorities preferred to keep us out of the city as much as possible. It appears that Singapore was a dangerous place to prowl at night as the mixed races were not very compatible with each other because of certain nationalities having favoured the Japanese occupation and in many cases had collaborated with the enemy. The "black-market" trade was prevalent, with many a murder being reported nightly, also venereal disease was rife.
Despite all the warnings however, we were never stopped from taking our leave in the city. I went in once or twice, but much preferred the Cinema shows and the odd game of cards or billiards etc that were available within the camp. One night however as we sat in a café in one of the quite fashionable areas of the city talking to two British paratroopers who had just arrived from Europe and incidentally had taken part in the Arnhem landings, we heard some loud argument taking place only a few tables away. The voices were Malayan and to us not understood. As time went on the voices became louder and the argument more intense until there was a shot and then a scurry of people running everywhere. Our two British friends quickly rose and said " Let’s get going!" We did not hesitate so joined them in the rush for the exit.
We heard later that it was a murder over some "black market" deal but of course were never sure, as there appeared to be so much violence in the Singapore underground at that time.
After about three weeks in this camp, we were again loaded onto a large convoy of trucks and headed for the docks. Over the weeks we were here, men were coming in daily as camps were found and emptied throughout Malaya and Thailand. Most of us by this time were almost back to our normal weight and feeling pretty fit as we had been well looked after and well-fed since our release almost two months ago.
On arrival at the docks, the trucks pulled up on a wharf beside the "S.S.Circassia" a troop ship of 20,000 tons. Quite a modern vessel which belonged to the East India Company and in peace-time sailed between Britain and India. Once aboard we were allotted sleeping quarters and told when and where to mess. We were given hammocks to sleep in and were placed in one of the holds specially fitted out for the hanging of hammocks. We sailed next day and as we watched Singapore and Sumatran Islands disappear over the horizon I don't think there was one of us who did not feel that lump in the throat as we thought of the boys who lay in jungle graves somewhere over there in those frightful inhospitable foreign lands. Boys when they left home -- men when they died. Not one thinking their end would be in such circumstances. On a foreign battlefield perhaps or in an Australian Army Hospital but never, never to die in the squalor and pain of a cholera attack or the brain-rambling of malaria or blackwater fever.
By now the graves of all who were buried in those jungle areas would be overgrown and possibly never found. A nameplate perhaps in a war-cemetery but the remains will lay hidden forever in some desolate spot. Farewell Jimmy, Les, Mick, Bill etc etc, may your passing be not in vain!!
I had survived the violence of Tobruk and the toil and disease that was part of those P.O.W. days. I was indeed fortunate! No enemy bullet or shell or bomb ended my days while soldiering in the Middle East and I was fortunate again to withstand all the horror and treatment meted out to me by the Japanese, plus escaping; the fatal claws of a disease-ridden jungle. Both Ken and I spent more days in the building of the railway than most and I feel perhaps it was our youth and determined will to live and see it through that let us survive where others less-fortunate succumbed. Never once did I not believe the Allies would achieve eventual victory.
However I really do believe that a major factor in my survival was the bond and comradeship that existed even during those long exhausting days in 1943 - in driving rain and heat - a belting commonplace every day and that four mile walk home late at night through mud sometimes up to one's knees.
Yes, always there was that helping hand and Aussie voice urging you on with a "Keep going, don't let these bastards get to you"! This sort of comradeship in action and in the camps, would remain in our hearts and mind forever as once again I reiterate, without it, we possibly would not have survived.
Later as we tried to pick up our lives again from where we had left them years before, it proved not easy to see the days and weeks through without some contact with these mates with whom we had shared so much. Some failed while others eventually settled down to civilian life without too much trauma. One rather quiet lad from our unit, Nat Handley, obviously found the adaptation to civilian life too hard for he jumped from the Victoria Bridge into the Brisbane River within a month of his returning home. So sad to end his life in such a manner after surviving those years where, at times, death would have been far easier to attain. Another occasion was when a chap jumped overboard from "Circassia" the night before we reached Melbourne and despite frantic searching from the circling ship no trace was ever found. In this instance both Hugh Cory and I were on deck late that night and close enough to restrain him had we any idea of his intentions.
So, ten days after leaving Singapore, we caught sight of Australia! So long ago it seemed since I stood on the deck of the "Queen Mary" and watched the coastline disappear over the stern rail and now with that lump in the throat I thanked whoever was responsible for my safe return and managing to "tread that lucky path". We berthed that morning at Fremantle with the wharf crowded with people waving streamers, flags, hats and all kinds of clothing. What a wonderful feeling it was as we looked down on those people that morning!!
No more night-patrols or vicious daylight attacks in the desert, no more hiding in dug-outs as tanks threatened to over-run your position, no more shells screaming their path across the sky or whispering mortars seeking your particular trench, ------- no more hungry and empty stomachs being told to adjust to hard work and terribly long days, no more dodging fists and boots and having to bow to a brutal enemy, and finally never again having to watch a friend slowly die for the want of proper and just treatment.--- No -- no more!
Finally one thing was proved to be much the same the world over, for after years of soldiering in foreign lands where Arab, Malayan, Javanese and Thai children begged for money from us, it was rather ironical to hear the first words called up to us from children on the wharf - "Hey mate, got any wog money"! Yes we had truly arrived home!!
Completed 9th November 1986.
Exactly 41 years since arriving home.