|Continued from Bill Taylor's Memoir, Part Five|
At the two year mark the Japs decided to move us to
another camp. We were given orders to pack our possessions
and we marched out. We were taken to a camp at a place
I understood was called
There were huts with roofs but only part of
the sides were covered, the rest was open,
not very good in the monsoons. The perimeter
was rolled barbed wire with about a twenty foot
walkway for sentries then another lot of barbed wire.
I lived in a hut near the perimeter. I should mention
the Japs allowed about two feet plus six feet per man
sleeping space. By now most of us had slimmed down
so we could survive in the measurements. Sikhs were
used more and more to help the Japs guard us.
We found that
malaria was prevalent in
this area and many of us caught it. We arranged
with friends that if you were ill and could not eat,
he got your food as well as his own. When it happened
in reverse, you got his food. It worked out quite fairly
to keep fit.
Gardens were started again and working parties
were sent on different jobs. We mainly grew sweet
potatoes and tapioca. There were only small
kitchens now spread over the camp site. This was
better, but the food was just as limited in quantity,
but there were plenty of garden snails and these were
added to the liquid they called soup.
A few months later there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague. A group of us known as the "heavy gang" were asked to volunteer to clear the areas around the camp, as the grass was about three feet high. It appears that a type of flea on the rats was brushed off on the grass and they carried the plague, so anybody walking through; the flea got onto them and would walk around for twenty four hours approximately then bite them between their legs. The bite created a bubo and you went into a fever and died. The Japs agreed to give us long pants and shirts and boots and also extra rations if we volunteered. We went into the grass cutting it down letting it dry and then burning it. The Japs were very frightened of the plague. So was I but extra food was worth the risk. When we finished work each day we had to climb into a big tank filled with lysol and detol and water and completely submerge ourselves for ten minutes.
On one of our better days we had a large area cut and dried, checked the wind, told the guards and set light to it. The fire was roaring away when the wind changed direction and it headed straight for the sentries. They saw the fire heading for them and ran. Unfortunately there were old slit trenches all over the area hidden by the bracken and two of them fell into one. When the fire had passed over them they climbed out, covered in soot and their uniform smouldering, shouting abuse at us, but they dare not come near us for fear of catching the plague or we would have been beaten up. Our efforts over the weeks proved successful and the plague died out. But the rats, the biggest I have ever seen, were still running around. Our job was finished. I made a catapult and used to shoot doves and cook them in an old tin can (gourmet food). We also caught python and cooked it, just like tuna fish in taste--we spent all our days thinking of food.
A fellow in the same hut as I made a deal to meet
a Sikh outside the wire one night to get ten pounds
of coffee. When the time came to go and get it,
he made out he was ill--he had really lost
his nerve--so I arranged to go in his place.
I crawled through the wire and met the guard as
arranged, collected the coffee and returned to the
camp safely. I had to use pressure to get my share,
as he tried to renege. Some days later when I was
on a working party when the Japs weren't looking,
the Sikh started to harass me for the money the
fellow had not paid him. I told him it was nothing
to do with me and to go and see the fellow he had
dealt with. Back in the camp I went after the
coffee dealer and told him to pay up or else.
He was cured and paid his debts.
There was an old Japanese interpreter who brought women over to our hospital for treatment once a week (the hospital was an old hut). He would do business with you, if you crawled under the hut to one room that had a hole in the floor, and you had to talk to each other through the hole. My first business was a Cyma watch. You gave it to him and he took it to town then the following week he would give you a price. If you accepted, he paid you, if not he returned it. His prices were fair and I collected various items from some of the prisoners who were scared to go themselves. My charge was 30 percent. This worked very well for all of us.
One day I was asked to sell a diamond ring.
I gave it in as usual and it was taken to town.
I asked the owner what he would accept,
he agreed to anything above twenty five
thousand dollars (Jap occupation money).
On the Thursday--as usual I was under
the hut--the Jap told me he would give
thirty thousand for it so I made the deal,
on one condition that he pay me 20,000 cash
and the balance had to be in food. I could pay
the seller and my 30%, 10,000, would pay for
the food. He paid the cash and told me that
after the next funeral my items would be
brought in for me in the coffin (it had a
false bottom, the body fell out and the coffin
was returned.) He was as good as his word.
After the next funeral the coffin came back
on the truck, which I met inside the garage
area, and the Jap pointed to a large tarp
and underneath were my goods. Palm oil,
sugar, canned food etc. The value of food
was so high that you did not get much for
your money, but I was happy as I had spent
a few restless nights waiting for it.
With friends we moved everything into
hiding places to be safe. Life improved
for a time almost luxury. I suffered with
These would eat away at your feet or legs
and were hard to get rid of. Odd bouts of
malaria etc. kept me behaving to a degree.
When not working or trying to scrounge things
I spent my time reading and although lights
out was early, on clear nights you could
read by moonlight. This helped pass time but
also set your mind to other places and you
Christmas 1945 came again, now my third. I was now twenty one, almost old. I woke up to the sounds of Christmas Carols. The cooks at the kitchen near us were serenading us, unfortunately nostalgia set in as I listened to them it made me think of home. That was a very bad thing to do, so I closed my mind and concentrated on other things closer to me. We had managed to get news that the war was now going better for us, so maybe the end would soon come.
A new job was found for us, digging tunnels into a hill. One gang started on one side and one on the other side. The idea was we would meet in the middle (theoretically). I joined the tunnel gang and we started work just like a mine we fitted pit props as we dug, you had to watch out if you were digging on the face for slides, if you were to carry out the soil it was heavy labour. As none of us including the Japs knew what we were doing it was fairly dangerous, anything could happen. Sometimes the tunnel flooded from the rains and we had to bail it out. After about three months the Japs got some surveyors to check us, they could not understand why we had not met the other gang coming digging towards us. They found out that the tunnels were running parallel to each other. (Some of the boys had arranged it) so we would never meet. The Japs as usual started slapping us around, but we were too busy trying not to laugh to bother. They made us work until midnight for several days to try to catch up on their schedule and we had to start at 6:30 am the next day. I hurried to my hut to get my rations, I was starving. I picked up the plate of rice and cold soup and started eating. My mouth suddenly felt furry, so I spit the food out, it was full of ants so no food that night. The tunnel continued, but as slow as possible.
I sat one night by the perimeter of the camp near our hut. When a voice asked "You okay?", I replied "yes" and a soldier came out of the dark up to the wire. He told me he was from Korea and was guarding Dutch prisoners at a camp next to us. He asked if I had pens or watches for sale. I explained not at this time. He said he would come again the following night at the same time and bring food. He arrived as promised with rice cakes and a bottle of pineapple brandy. He crawled through the wire and sat next to me, offered the cakes, which were good, and the brandy and we talked for a long time. Then he said he would come again, but I never saw him again. I heard the Dutch troops had been moved away so he must have gone with them.
I always went to work early on the tunnel
and got to know the
Jap engineer who was
about my age and we got friendly.
I used to help myself to his cigarettes
and see what food he was issued. When he
could he brought me food also. One morning
when I met him at the tunnel he was crying
and most upset. I asked him what was upsetting
him and he started to explain about a big bomb.
He also said we were not to work anymore.
As I could not fully understand him I told
him to wait where he was and I ran full speed
across the camp to get one of the English
men who could speak Japanese. He was still
sitting there when we got back and the interpreter
started speaking to him asking him what had happened.
He explained the war was over. Japan had
surrendered because of this big bomb.
Later that day British planes flew over
dropping leaflets warning everybody to make
sure we were not harmed or there would be trouble.
The next day we got our first
Red Cross Parcels and
although they were mostly badly damaged we managed
to salvage something edible.