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Life continued uneventfully after that until the time came for us to be transferred to another camp called Makasura on the outskirts of Batavia and unknown to us at the time, the first move towards a hard and demanding couple of years ahead. We were transferred by train to this new camp and it was here we again met up with the boys of the 2/2nd Pioneers and 2/3rd Machine Gunners who had survived the short war. Most of the Dutch soldiers stayed in the Tjimahi camp and only approximately 100 came with us to this new camp in Batavia. Also in Makasura were the survivors of the HMAS "Perth" and US Cruiser "Houston" plus the remnants of the US Field Battery. The Aussie sailors and US sailors got on well together as all us Aussies did. We found the Dutch were not always to our liking as they tried to be superior and to the average Aussie this was a deadly mistake! As it turned out in the hard and trying times ahead, this superiority quickly disappeared and to such an extent that many Aussie lives were put in jeopardy as the Dutch had little stomach for work and tried all kinds of tricks to escape the work parties, mostly by laying down and crying that they were too ill to work and thus throwing more labour on to us!!

We were in this camp for approximately two months and during that time, apart from the occasional work patrol to various parts of Batavia, we were left to ourselves and again much boredom. After about a month, a "latrine-rumour" began to circulate that most of us were to be transferred to Thailand where a holiday-type camp was being set up. The Japanese began to hold health inspection parades and we were subjected to all kinds of examinations. Their explanation was that only the fit men were allowed to be taken to this new camp where they said were nice villas to live in and all kinds of amenities. So the inspections went on and those who were fit, (which were the majority according to the Japanese), were segregated from the weak.

Finally the last test was the "stool-test". This meant that only men who could produce a "hard-stool" were to be allowed to go. This proved to be a fallacy, although at the time we all did our darnedest to come up with this requirement. I and quite a lot of others at the time, still unused to the diet of rice and odd vegetables, (very little meat was ever on the menu) had quite a lot of diarrhoea ever these past months and were still having this trouble here. However we overcame the dilemma in the usual Aussie fashion. On a day the Japs had designated the inspection of stool, I would say less than half the parade had their own stool.

The lavatories were a crude affair, centred over a running drain in the middle of the camp and all matter was taken away in this drain and deposited in fields outside the wire. As so many of us were suffering from diarrhoea, our only chance of getting "hard stools" was to wait for a healthy looking fellow to go into the toilet. It does not need a lot of explanation here to have you understand what took place next. It was really comical to see on the day of the "stool parade", a couple of hundred men watching the drain and taking their pick! I was one of them and when the parade of over 2,000 men were lined up with their samples, one can imagine the taunts and general remarks made. The Japs took it all so seriously and if they had knowledge of our "dirty" trick they gave no sign. As a matter of fact the laugh was on us as it turned out, for if we had not falsified our way to Thailand, we would have been much beter off, as the men who stayed in Java survived the war in much more comfort than we did! By doing what we did and being so determined to get to this "holiday camp", it became a death sentence for so many. One must remember at this stage of our POW life, we were never given any indication that the Japanese were so deceitful and could not be trusted.

So in early January 1943, we were marched through Batavia to the docks at Tanjon Priok. Here we were loaded on a dirty looking freighter, the name of which I have since forgotten, of about 3,000 tons. Once up the gangway we were herded across the deck and down vertical ladders into the holds. Three holds for prisoners and one for stores. Each hold was platformed for the prisoners and one could only kneel or lie down. In each hold there were ten platforms with approximately 70 men in each. I was third from the bottom and felt the dread of suffocation. However, only at night was the hold covered so during the day, light seeped in. A passage was open in one corner for the ladder and as men requested the lavatory, they had to climb the ladder to the deck where three crudely built structures were placed over the ship’s side. As so many men were in various stages of diarrhoea, the ladder was never vacant during the four day trip to Singapore. I was much better by this and only had a couple of journeys a day, but so many no sooner returned than they would line up for the ladder again. Once darkness fell, no-one was allowed up on deck and one can imagine the state some men were in.

Food was lowered to us by the guards twice a day and quite a few times the ship’s crew would throw us bread rolls freshly baked in the ship’s galley. I can say that these Japanese crewmen showed the only merciful gestures during our POW existence and it had been borne out so many times over the years that seamen seem to have a certain compassion for their fellow man despite race or creed. Maybe it has something to do with their life so often controlled by the elements.

The men with acute and chronic diarrhoea began to deteriorate as they quickly lost weight and became too weak to climb the ladders. The stench in our hold and also no doubt in the others was becoming sickening from unwashed bodies on the sticky humid heat and excrement from men unable to control their bowels. Finally on the third day, Dr Dunlop appealed to the guards to let us up on deck, a few at a time, to clean ourselves in some way. He told the officer whom the guards had called, that if something was not done to cleanse the hold and ourselves, men would die and the ship become infected. This brought results as later we were allowed on deck and sailors hosed us down with sea water. None had shaved since we boarded and the three days’ growth made us look even more ragged than ever. Of course the sick could not be moved and never had the benefit of the hosing down, also nothing was done to clean the holds and the stench more or less stayed with us.

The following day we arrived in Singapore. Despite some men being very ill, all survived in our hold, but unfortunately some died in others. These we heard later, were buried at sea. Once the ship docked, little time was wasted in getting us ashore. To our surprise, we saw many prisoners who were captured in Singapore busy working on the docks and apparently under little supervision, Australian and British and all well dressed in clean shirts and shorts and some with boots and socks even. The majority of us had only the shorts and shirts which we were wearing and all badly in need of a wash. As for boots, hardly a hundred between 2,000 odd. And socks! We had almost forgotten what they looked like! Regarding footwear, most of us had been issued with Japanese sandshoes.

As we learned later, the prisoners in Changi had managed to retain a huge supply of stores and in many, or perhaps most cases, men who stayed in Changi for the duration were seldom short of wearing apparel. As a mater of fact and to Dr Dunlop’s chagrin, on arrival in Changi Gaol, an Australian battalion commander known as Blackjack Gallagher, told us how ashamed he was to see such a rabble, as we were still Australian soldiers and should not have allowed ourselves to look so bedraggled and discredit our country. Little did he know that at that time, of our four days in the hold of that tramp streamer, unable to shave, only one wash in sea water, then a twenty-five mile walk to this camp. He eventually told Dunlop he understood, but never made an apology to the men. From that day on, we of D Force as we were to be known, proudly called ourselves the "Java Rabble" and this name we wore with pride right up to our release.

Our march through the streets of Singapore attracted quite a crowd of local inhabitants particularly as we looked such a ragged lot. As with the Javanese, the Malayan looked at us with a degree of disdain and seldom showed friendship and this was the manner noticed with all inhabitants of countries where we were held prisoner. They had quickly shown their so-called loyalty to the victorious Japanese. The British and Dutch may not have been the best of masters over the years but after three and a half years of Japanese rule, they were only too pleased to see the old masters return at the cessation of hostilities. The Chinese being the traditional enemy of the Japanese, were more friendly but had to be very careful not to let it show to any degree. On our march through Singapore, there were quite a few Chinese heads on poles looking down on us as we passed by. Most were months old and almost unrecognisable as human heads.

Our quarters in Changi were the best we had encountered since our capture. The food was also a vast improvement and soon we were again beginning to pick up and regain our strength. The very ill who had been transported by truck from the ship, were admitted to the small camp hospital and as we were not to be here very long, never saw them again. Our stay here was uneventful and no work was given to us.

Two weeks from the day of our arrival, we again were marched out of camp to a rail siding nearby. Here the "Java Rabble" of 2,000 odd were loaded onto covered rail vans, approximately 50 men to a van and in two separate trains, began the journey to Thailand. As the vans had to be kept closed, it was terribly hot and humid. For some unknown reason, we kept stopping and being virtually in darkness, had no idea what caused the hold-ups. Once or twice between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, we were allowed out to relieve ourselves. I had a bad case of "avitaminosis" with a mouthful of ulcers. Quite painful to swallow saliva let alone rice. As my mouth was bleeding all the time as well, I was quite miserable.

We arrived at K.L the following morning and the train pulled into a centre line between platforms. To our surprise we were allowed onto the line. Guards of course were everywhere, but they did allow some Chinese women to roll some pineapples towards us. We did not even to bother to skin them and tore into them with our teeth and hands. I forget my painful mouth for an instant and began to eat the pineapple. Suddenly my mouth was in fire! The acid in the fruit made every ulcer bleed even more and the pain was almost unbearable, so much so that I cried with the pain. I shall always remember Hugh Cory helping me bear the pain and insist I try to keep eating as he said the pineapple contained the necessary vitamins my body needed. Somehow I ate almost a whole pineapple including most of the rough skin. Believe it or not, the next day I never had one ulcer in my mouth!!

Changi Museum

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Email: G. Crew
glen@powerup.com.au

 

Inside Changi Museum

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