The Island of Haruku

Trading with Natives


The flight lieutenant medical officer walked slowly across to the Japanese guardroom, saluted the guard and asked him in Malayan if he could see the camp commander. It was a periodical request for medical supplies which he knew would be ignored by the Japs. Promises would be made but nothing would happen, except that a few coconuts would be stolen by the Japs from the natives and sold to the POWs.

The Japs could not supply coconut oil because the natives said they had none to sell. So the Japs sold the nuts and the POWs made the oil. That is what the Japs thought, but in reality this is NOT what happened. As soon as the nuts appeared everyone who required oil and had some Japanese currency appeared on the morning working parade with RAF water bottles. There were three main outside working parties: The Jap airman's camp; the Jap domestic Camp; and the Jap civilian unit. The latter was known as the "hundred men" party and the only people who tried to get on this were those who were willing to take a chance of working hard with the great possibility of getting knocked about, or getting on to an easy number. This camp consisted of Jap technicians, they serviced engines, built roads and jetties. Let me explain:

The prisoners who went on this job had at least a mile and a half walk before arriving at the camp. Then they would be split up into various parties. One such party would continue for about another three miles to be engaged on mountain tree felling which involved much hard labour. Another party was busy putting a road through a partial jungle and this could also be strenuous. But there was one thing that made this latter job worthwhile, providing risks were taken. Part of this work involved working on the river. A party of about twenty prisoners with one guard filed down to the river bank and formed a chain across the water at a spot where it was about four feet deep at the centre. The bed consisted of various size boulders and it was the job of the prisoners to get these stones onto the bank and make piles which would then be taken to fill in the road through the jungle as well as to fill in potholes in the existing roads.

Downstream, about half a mile towards the estuary was a native village. The natives were very friendly but if they were caught having conversation or trading with the prisoners they would be beaten. There was only one way to get to the village and that was down the river itself. At the place were the stones were lifted, the river took a wide turn and then turned again before reaching the village. It was arranged that a small corporal of the RAF, who could swim under water for a considerable distance along with a sergeant who was a very strong swimmer would both get onto this working party .The sergeant and the corporal would gradually work their way to the bend in the river bringing out stones. When the guard's attention was distracted from the working party the corporal with about six RAF water bottles would quietly submerge and swim quickly around the bend. He would get as near as possible to the village and attract the attention of the natives. Then he would barter with the village elder as to the price of bottles of coconut oil and having fixed on a price would give them the cash plus the bottles. The natives would fill up the bottles and the corporal would then submerge and swim to the opposite side. Here he would hide his prize at a well defined spot and gradually make his way back to the working party.The sergeant would then take over, first of all swimming under water, he would collect the bottles usually three at a time and bring them as near as possible to the starting point. Each RAF bottle would contain one pint of oil. This operation used to be worked about four times a day which meant that many pints of oil were collected. Each prisoner would then collect his own bottle and at the end of the working day would pay the corporal for what oil he required himself, the rest being stored by the oil syndicate for sale to other people.

On this same working party often large prawns would be caught, but they had to kept out of sight of the guard unless a break was required and that particular Jap was open to bribes. If a prawn was caught it was quickly killed and when the break came for the little rice that was issued it would, after boiling and shelling, be added to the meal. Another chance of getting something other than the eternal rice could be found in the marshy ground beside the river. Land turtles could be found, but the hunters had to be very careful otherwise they might get a nasty bite. The way to find them was by wading in bare feet through the marsh and feeling every stone which was found with the foot. If the stone had a ridge on it, the best thing to do was to put a hand on either side and pitch it out. More often than not it was a turtle. It was smartly grabbed and tied up until such time that the party returned to the camp. The guards were convinced that we kept turtles as pets -how wrong they were! The only humane way to kill it was to plunge it into boiling water. Then would come the job of getting the shell off - great care had to be taken so that the gall bladder was not broken. Having got the flesh out, the whole hut could be satisfied.



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