|Continued from Bill Taylor's Memoir, Part Six|
A friend of mine, a
suggested we go into town as he had
some contacts so it was worth risking.
We knew all the guards had left the camp
so we were free. We set off to town like
two school boys playing truant. When we
reached the main road and started down to
town, we saw about a hundred Japs coming
towards us from town. We waited in
anticipation as to what would happen
when they saw us. When they came
level with us, the officer in charge
shouted a command and they turned and
bowed to us and carried on. Now we knew
we had it made, we were full of confidence.
We managed to steal a car from outside
a restaurant that had some high-ranking
officer's flag on its aerial. They were
so sure of themselves they had left the keys in.
We spent the night in a house of ill repute
my pal seemed very well known to the owners
and we were treated royally, we were well
fed and given drinks, etc, and beds to sleep in.
Next morning we returned to the camp, we decided to hide the car before entering, so we drove it to a small village and told them to look after it for us until we returned (we also disabled it). On entering the camp at the guardhouse we found British paratroopers--they had been dropped the day before. When speaking to them we found out they came from Liverpool, and when they heard we were Merchant Navy and that there were a crowd from Liverpool in the camp, they were really making a fuss of us. They were called to attention by a Captain, who came up to us and started ranting and raving when he knew we had left the camp--he said we had not permission to do so. I asked him who he thought he was in most impolite terms. I told him he had no authority over us--we were Merchant Seamen--so he was nothing, just a kid. He grabbed my pal and said he was putting us in jail. This was too much to stand, so my pal hit him and he went over backwards, not very happy. I told him if he wanted trouble we had one hundred and twenty men would back us, all Merchant Navy, more than he could cope with. The paratroopers were having a hidden laugh at what was happening. So we just ignored him and carried on into the camp. We heard no more about the incident.
Next day we went back into town. The British had
started to arrive and we joined a batch of
They had to take over the
Hong Kong Shanghai Bank and
we marched off with them. I thought it would be fun,
so into the bank we went and with the soldiers
searched the place, there was nothing until we
came to the basement. Here we found about a
hundred typewriters and bout sixty sets of
drawing instruments. My pal took two typewriters
and I took two sets of instruments--we could have
had them all but could not carry them.
We spent the night with the marines in the bank--
they got us extra rations and cigarettes and somebody
got some beer so we had an impromptu party.
We thanked the soldiers next morning
and headed for the docks as British ships
were coming in. While watching the ships dock
we met some naval fellows. I was talking to them,
when I suddenly became dizzy and if one of the sailors
had not grabbed me, I would have fallen in the dock.
He called to an officer and explained what had happened.
Then they brought a stretcher and took me to a
the Amarapoora, which was
tied up along the dock. On board I was told a doctor
examined me and it was I believe put to a relapse of
They put me to bed on a bunk, the first
comfortable thing I had laid on in nearly four years.
I started to revive and started to get out of the bunk
to leave. A nurse grabbed me and told me if I didn't
lay down they would tie me down. My pal
took a message back to the camp that
I was okay and told them where I was.
One of the nurses came from my home town,
Blackpool, and she made me her
hero-- nothing was too good for me.
I was given chocolate, cigarettes,
anything I wanted. Some of my friends
came the next day to see how I was
(but mainly to scrounge what was available).
I was just being served a gourmet lunch,
so I asked the nurse if there was any chance
of the boys getting some. The nurse took
them away and when they returned their
plates were loaded with food and the crew
had a collection for the boys; some
cigarettes, the crew gave them generously,
so it was like Christmas.
I heard we were going to be repatriated, so I thought I had better to back to the camp. I explained to the nurse what was happening so she arranged for a truck to take me, it was just as well as I had collected a great deal of things: clothes, cigarettes, a couple of bottles--they treated me royally. The day after I returned to camp Louis Mountbatten and his wife came to meet with us and give a speech. Several civilian bosses of companies, who would be staying behind to restart the economy, asked me to stay with them, as I knew the language etc, and I would be given a good position and a high salary and a house, etc. The four years had been along time away from England --I felt I had to go home. I had had no news of my family.
A day later we were loaded on the
Tegelberg (a Dutch boat),
which was really clean and well run by the officers.
I settled in and we sailed to
Ceylon. My pal, Fred the butcher,
to pass time away decided to help in the butcher's shop.
He told me to go there at 11:00am daily after we
had received our regular tots of Brandy, Scotch or Rum.
They gave us dozens of inoculations for every disease they knew.
At the butcher's shop my pay was waiting with raw eggs
in cream--we poured our liquor in and drank it, we
understood it would build us up.
When we got to Colombo they "dressed ship" and we were welcomed with bands etc, then we were taken by truck to Echelon Barracks for food and a big welcome that was waiting for us (seeing we were heroes)-- some joke. An officer gave me a beer-- I tasted it, and it was awful, so I threw it away! A naval commander saw and asked what was wrong. I told him I was allergic to beer, so I would have wait to celebrate. He asked if I could drink rum--I said yes-- he told me to wait where I was. In a few minutes he returned with a glass of rum. I thanked him profusely and went off laughing, I bumped into a WRENwho had been our escort on the trucks and we shared the rum and enjoyed it.
We left Colombo and headed towards the Red Sea. Along the way we stopped along side a quay in the middle of nowhere. When docked we were told this was Hala ib, Egypt-- (I am not sure of the spelling)-- where we were to obtain civilian clothes for home. We loaded ourselves on to a little train and it took us to some warehouses on the desert. We were allotted one soldier each and he was to be our porter. We tried on various suits etc and picked what would almost fit us (certainly not Saville Row). I got shoes etc, when it came to shirts every one was far too big, so I was taken to another section, which I presumed was for Officers as the quality was much better. They found me some beautiful shirts and I managed to get three. Then it was back to the ship with our new gear.
We sailed on through the Suez Canal to Port Said where we anchored for two days, then off again. We thought we would be calling at Gibraltar, but they decided against it so off to England we went. It was November but quite warm--I was still wearing the only thing that fit me-- a pair of shorts. My pal, Fred the butcher, told me that the morning we were going to dock in England, I was to take a kit bag with me when I went for my toddy. We were informed we would be docking in Liverpool, so my last morning I took down a kit bag to the butcher's and Fred filled it with the best bacon to take home. If my memory is correct just four years to the day since we left the same place.
They dressed ship going down the Mersey,
and on the docks was an enormous crowd cheering--they had been
told that a lot of Merchant Navy fellows were on board.
As we were docking I stood in the rigging, looking for
my family. Everybody was going mad-- one of the
boys next to me grabbed my arm and pointed,
and I saw my father and sister waiting for me.
When the gangway went down we picked up our
baggage and headed down the dock. I had
two large kit bags tied together slung over
my shoulder-- it weighed a ton. At the bottom
of the gangway a big customs officer came up to
me and said "Let help you with those". He nearly
collapsed when he lifted them, and said "What have
you got in them? Dead bodies!" and laughed. They were
put under my initial for checking (which nobody did).
I grabbed the bag with the bacon in it and went to
the fence where my father and sister were. I told
them they were not going to release us until we had been medically examined that night at the army camp. I told them I was going to throw one of my bags over and explained what was in it and for him to take it home. With the help of a friend we threw it over they got it, and then I had to leave.
They told me, when I asked about my brother
Ken, that he had been killed
in 1942. I then realized how lucky I had been these four years.
We were loaded on trucks and taken to an army camp outside Liverpool. We spent the rest of the day being medically examined etc and we were given twenty five pounds for loss of effects when the ship went down (wouldn't cover what I lost)! That night we had a celebration in the army canteen that lasted most of the night, supplied mostly by the soldiers and staff. The next morning I was put on a coach by myself, and the driver said we would be stopping to pick up a few soldiers (P.O.W.S.) at another camp, as they lived in the same town as I. When we arrived on the outskirts of Blackpool I asked the driver to drop me off, as I could walk home, as it was close by. He said the bus had to stay locked until we got to Town Hall where there was to be a reception and our families would be waiting for us.
When we arrived at the Town Hall there were enormous crowds, we left the bus single file to walk through the crowd. Everybody wanted to pat us on the back--unfortunately being smaller than the rest I was getting hit on the head. A lady in the crowd gave me a big bouquet of flowers. I felt a bit self conscious carrying them. The Mayor welcomed us and asked us not to mention the Japanese atrocities or how we had been treated. I realize now and having heard from other P.O.W.S. that were told the same thing, it was evidently going to be a big cover up so that the Japs would come out smelling like roses. I presume the Americans instigated it, a real political arrangement so they could rebuild Japan profitably for themselves. I feel sorry that the men who committed suicide and died in various ways did it in vain. I have never seen the real truth published anywhere.
After the reception I was taken home where all our neighbours welcomed me, but I felt a little lost and certainly different from when I left. Four years is a long time and we alter with our experiences. I have never let the internment effect me in any way--I put it down to bit of bad luck! I received two hundred pounds from the government. They told me the war risk bonus had been stopped when I was taken P.O.W., so I feel that as usual we were very badly treated. That was my welcome home from a grateful country. I went and got my discharge in December 1945 and so ends my story.
From what I have since learnt, we were left behind
deliberately to work in the hospital,
as we could have escaped on ships that
were still in Singapore.
I have also learned that the Captain and
Chief Officers were taken to
Raffles Hotel to be
accommodated, so while we had nowhere to
sleep and nothing to eat, they were in luxury.
They were given medals, I presume, for losing the ship.