We were kept in this prison for about a month and apart from trying to come to grips with our position as a POW, poor food and the antagonistic attitude shown us by the civilian prisoners who jeered at us at every opportunity, there was really only one frightening incident that occurred. As soon as we were installed in the prison, the Japanese officer in charge informed us that we would be paraded every morning and night. Also that we would have to learn to count in Japanese. When lined up we had to number off in Japanese, and only given two days to learn. On the third day in the evening we were lined up and told to number off.
As most of us had managed to get to double figures safely, you can imagine the difficulty experienced when a man was in the position where he was in the high figures. I think before we even numbered off to twenty, mistakes were made. This infuriated the Jap officers who kept us numbering over and over until we were hopeless and in some cases, men were laughing at each other’s difficulty in mastering the language. Eventually after maybe an hour, the Jap called Dr Dunlop forward. Dunlop, who had been promoted to Colonel just before the capitulation, was senior officer in charge of our slightly over 200 men. As Dunlop stepped in front of the Jap officer he was abused and told he was held responsible for the debacle. The officer worked himself into a fury as Weary tried to explain our difficulty in mastering their language. Suddenly the Jap drew his sword and began hitting Dunlop across his back with the flat of his sword.
Weary Dunlop, being a big strong 6'3" strong solid man, an ex-rugby union Aust. team member, managed to withstand the beating and as the Jap was no doubt tiring, suddenly ordered him to his knees and then began to punch him about the head. Eventually Dunlop fell over and when the Jap began to kick him, we all to a man, instinctively moved forward to protect him. The Jap saw what was about to happen, screamed something in Japanese and the Korean guards immediately fixed bayonets and charged toward us. Another scream of Japanese from the officer and the guards stopped as they reached us and made a point of pinning those neared to them with the point of the bayonet. A few of the men will carry the mark of the bayonet tip with them to the grave. It was so close and happened so quickly that most if us, although shocked, had little time to comprehend the rather delicate situation it was until it was over.
Now we were able to see for the first time, the strange ways of the Japanese. As we were pinned by a show of bayonets, the Jap officer assisted Dunlop to his feet, took out a cigarette for himself and offered one to Weary, He then lit Dunlop’s cigarette and told him he was sorry he had to treat him as he did, and asked if he thought we could learn to count in Japanese within a week or two. Then we were dismissed, but from that day, Dunlop told us later he would despise the race until his dying day. In the years ahead, he was to add to that hatred so very much. As it turned out, we managed to count to our two hundred odd within the week or so but only if we all took the same position each day, therefore learning one number only. As time passed our place in line would often be changed through a sick man not being in his usual place in line but we somehow fumbled or mumbled our way through and eventually most of us could count, even up to the thousands.
After abut two months at the prison we were transferred to a large camp at a place called Tjimahi on the outskirts of Bandoeng. It had previously been a military establishment for the Dutch and Javanese Army. The barracks had been extended with additional huts built to house at least 2,000 prisoners and it was here we joined up with captured Dutch soldiers. Most Javanese soldiers were not taken prisoner but were under oath not to take part in any military practice. Whilst here, the food improved as the Dutch cooks had a good knowledge regarding the best to be had from rice and local vegetables. Also the environment was so much better than the prison surroundings. This improvement was evident almost immediately in our group as we had begun to suffer various complaints and a few more months in the prison would have seen severe illnesses appearing in most of us.
Whilst in this camp, our main activities were in the form of keeping the area clean and looking after our own toilet areas etc. Once or twice a week, we were marched to the various areas of the city to work on roads, or in some cases, clean up garden areas where the Japanese "top brass" had installed themselves. Always on these outings we were accompanied by Korean guards on bicycles.
Once in the town, numbers of residents would line the streets to watch us and the Javanese would stare insolently as we walked past, with an occasional stone thrown into the marchers. However, in the case of the Dutch women, it was an entirely different reaction. They would always be there with bread and bananas to throw to us. These actions on the part of the women were mostly ignored by our guards but on some occasions would attempt to stop the procedure. I can still remember one particular incident that occurred on one intersection when a Dutch woman threw some bread to us and immediately a guard got off his bicycle, picked it up and threw it at her. The pedal caught her face, tearing her cheek open and the force threw her to the ground. At the next intersection though, there she was again, a blood-soaked towel held to her face and still throwing food at us!! This was typical of the Dutch women. Loyal and determined to help us where and when the opportunity arose. We Aussies used to say, that if the women had borne arms on Java instead of the men, the island would have held out for many weeks or months and allowed the allies more time to prepare for the Japanese advance.
So life went on for approximately five months in this camp with only one episode to mar a rather dull and monotonous existence. It appears some Dutchmen were managing to scale the wire surrounding the camp and during the night spending an occasional few hours with their wives and family who no doubt lived nearby. We had heard rumours of this practice but passed it off with a shrug and hoped that if it was happening, they would not get caught. However it did happen and in this instance, three men were caught. They were immediately put in an area surrounded by wire in the middle of the camp. This was where those that caused any kind of trouble to the Japanese were usually placed for a limited time depending on the severity of the misdemeanor. It was an open area with no cover or amenities of any kind apart from a bucket for toilet purposes. Food and water was provide once a day.
These three Dutchmen were installed in this area for approximately one week, when early one morning the whole camp was awakened and told to hasten on parade. Unknown to us, a platform had been erected in the parade ground during the night and now we were assembled surrounding the raised area. No sooner than we were on parade and counted off (the Japs counted us regularly and always appeared obsessed with keeping count of our numbers) when these three men were led out of the enclosure and brought up on to the platform. The camp Commandant was there, also another Japanese officer, plus another soldier we identified as a Sergeant-Major. As soon as the Dutchmen were on the dais, the Sergeant-Major ordered them to strip to the waist, then proceeded to tie their hands behind their backs.
The Commandant then read out the charge, which was mandatory in all cases of escape. This sentence was to be carried out despite the fact, as we learned later, that the men were caught re-entering the camp after their visit home. The men were made to kneel and in turn were beheaded by the officer who had been standing beside the Commandant. These three men were upright to the time of kneeling and appeared resigned to their fate. Only one man, the last to be executed, spoke, and just before kneeling put one hand in the air and called "Long Live Queen Wilhelmina"! They were not blind folded and each had to watch his predecessor executed. Fortunately I was in a rear rank and once the men were on their knees, only saw the raised sword as it descended. Those in the nearer ranks were horrified and sickened by the display as we were so unused to this barbaric practice. After the execution we were dismissed and by the time the ground was cleared, the Japanese had removed the bodies and dismembered heads and had them taken to pre-dug graves in a remote part of the camp.
Japanese in Java