A Japanese Holiday
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The Japanese told us we were going to a health resort. We were delighted. They told us to take pianos and gramophone records. ‘July would supply the gramophones. We were overjoyed and we took them. Dwindling rations and a heavy toll of sickness were beginning to play on our fraying nerves and emaciated bodies. It all seemed like a bolt from the tedium of life behind barbed wire in Changi, Singapore. They said: "Send the sick, It will do them good." And we believed them, and so we took them all.

The first stage of the journey to this new found Japanese Paradise was not quite so promising. Yes, they took our kit and they took our bodies, — the whole lot — in metal goods wagons, 35 men per truck through Malaya’s beating, relentless sun for 5 days and 5 nights to Thailand, the land of the free. For food, we had a small amount of rice and some "hogwash" called stew. We sat and sweated, fainted and hoped. Then at Bampong station in Thailand they said: "All men go." "Marchee, Marchee !" We said:

"What! We’re coming for a holiday." They just laughed and in that spiteful, derisive, scornful laugh which only a prisoner of war in Japanese hands can understand, we knew that here was another piece of Japanese bushido — deceit.

Our party marched, or rather dragged themselves for 17 weary nights, 220 miles through the jungles of Thailand. Sodden to the skin, up to our middles in mud, broken in body, helping each other as best we could, we were still undefeated in spirit. Night after night, each man nursed in his heart the bitter anger of resentment. As we Lay down in the open camps — clearings in the jungle, nothing more — we slept, dreaming of home and better things. As we eat boiled rice and drank onion water, we thought of -eggs and bacon.

We arrived, 1680 strong at No.2 Camp, Songkurai, Thailand, which will stand out as the horror hell of Prison Camps. From this 1680 less than 250 survive today to tell its tale. Our accommodation consisted of bamboo huts without rooves. The monsoon had begun and the rain beat down. Work — slave work — piling earth and stones in little skips on to a railway embankment began immediately. It began at 5 o’clock in the morning and finished at 9 o’clock at night and even later than that. Exhausted, starved and benumbed in spirit we toiled because if we did not, we and our sick would starve. As it was the sick had half rations because the Japanese said ‘No work, no food."

Then came cholera. This turns a full-grown man into an emaciated skeleton overnight. 20, 30, 40, and 50 deaths were the order of the day. The medical ‘kit we had brought could not come with us. We were told it would come on. It never did. We improvised bamboo holders for saline transfusions, and used boiled river water and common salt to put into the veins of the victims. Cholera raged. The Japanese still laughed and asked "How many dead men ?" We still had to work, and work harder. Presently, come dysentery and Beri - Beri — that dreaded disease bred of malnutrition and starvation. Tropical ulcers, diphtheria, mumps, small-pox, all added to the misery and squalor of the camp on the hillside where water flowed unceasingly through the huts at the bottom. A rising feeling of resentment against the Japanese, the- weather and general living conditions coupled with the knowledge that their officers could do little or nothing about it, made life in the camp full of dread that each day would bring something worse. The lowest daily death rate came down to 17 only as late as September 1943, when the weather improved and things began to get a little better. Yet we had to work, there was no way out of it. Escape through the jungle as many gallant parties attempted, would only end in starvation and disease, and if the party survived and were eventually captured, the torture which followed was worse than death itself.

We were dragged out by the hair to go to work, beaten with bamboo poles and mocked at. We toiled, half-naked in the cold, unfriendly rain of Upper Thailand. We had no time to wash and if we. did it meant Cholera. By day we never saw our bed spaces (on long platforms of those bleak hundred metre -huts). Our comrades died, we could not honour them even at the graveside because we were still working.

The spirit of the jungle hovered over this Valley of the Shadow of Death and my boys used to ask me constantly: "How long now Padre? What’s the news?" We had the news. Capt. James Mudie, who now broadcasts from here, by an amazing piece of skill and resource, got it and gave it to us. And we lay and starved, suffered, hoped and prayed.

Never in my life have 1 seen such tragic gallantry as was shown by those men who lay an the bamboo slats and I speak now as a priest who ministered the last riles to all of them. Yet they died happy. Yes, happy to be released from pain, happy because our cause would not be suffered to fail among the nations of the earth.

No Medical Officers or orderlies ever had to contend with such fantastic, sickening, soul destroying conditions of human ailment. No body of men could have done better. We sank low in spirit, in sickness and in human conduct, but over that dark valley there rose the sun of hope which warned shrunken frames and wearied souls.

Here I would like to pay tribute to the stirling work and worth of some Officers amongst many to whom many men now living may owe their lives — Lt. Cal. Andy Dillon, RIASC, Lt. Cal. John Huston, RAMC, and to Lt. Cal. Hutchison, MC, known affectionately to us as "Hutch" also to Capt. E.J. Emery, who tended the sick even from his bedside and to Major Bruce Hunt of the Australian Imperial Forces. One cheering result comes from this dismal epoch in our lives, the coming close together in friendship and mutual understanding between the men of the United Kingdom and the men of Australia.

A new understanding has been born and will endure amongst those who think over the things which are of good report. Those of us that came out of that hell, thank God for deliverance and for the memory of just men made perfect, whose examples as martyrs at the hands of the Japanese blaze yet another trail in the annals of human perseverance.


Printed onboard M.S. SOBIESKI —in the Mediterranean Sea. 18th October 1945.

This is a scanned copy of the original



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