Part Four Title Banner

Continued from Bill Taylor's Memoir, Part Three


Map of Singapore
We were taken by truck down to the hospital. We were to be accommodated at the medical college, and on arrival we found there were no beds and no food for us. The place was over crowded with refugees. I was really tired and looking around saw a mattress on the floor with nobody on it, so I went over and lay down for the final proper sleep in four or five days. I had lost count. When I awoke it was morning. I heard the sound of voices near me. I looked up and there were two Chinese girls sharing the mattress. I started to get up when one of the girls said I was welcome to share with them, all of us being small. I said I felt better and would move but they told me there was no need as the way things were and she laughed and said we share everything under the circumstances. They told me they were medical students. One was called Joy Thei. They offered me some food they had with them and as I was starving, I accepted. In the position everybody was in everybody was friendly. I was called to work, but they promised to keep my share of the mattress for me for that night.

My first job was the maternity ward which was filled with Malays and Chinese patients. I was at a loss what to do, as I did not know what they were asking for. I found a nurse and explained I was wasting my time there and left. I then went unloading ambulances as the wounded were brought in, checking their wounds with a doctor and did everything we could to help. To add to the confusion there were constant air raids, but we had to keep working until whistles blew, that meant the planes were overhead. The hospital was hit several times. There were bodies everywhere in the hallways etc., anywhere where there was any space. The only food you got was what you scrounged. I was getting very good at this. Sleep--you were lucky if you got two hours at a time. The girls kept their word and my place was always ready for me, along with a share of their food.

Then they started shelling the Medical College and we had a couple of hits on the upper floors. I checked my sleeping partners--they were OK. It was one problem after another. Snipers started shooting at us as we crossed from the College to Hospital via the car park (some infiltration I guess) so you ran or crawled under cars or both to make it (not much fun). The ship's doctor told me there was a ward upstairs full of Australians-- wounded and nobody to look after them--so myself and Fred Bailey, one of the ship's butchers went up to help them. Not the safest place to be with the intense bombing etc. An orderly gave me a white coat and a stethoscope to wear-- he said the wounded would feel better if they thought I was a doctor. The patients were hungry and wounded and in a bad state.

My pal Fred took over the cooking, so I took off to find food. When I reached the storeroom the man in charge was not happy to supply my needs, but under pressure he caved in. I loaded a dolly with corned beef, vegetables and anything edible and a big cooking pot. Back in the ward our newly made cook started making the most unusual stew that had ever been made. The patients gobbled it up as fast as we could make and serve it. I bandaged some of the wounds and with the help of a couple of walking wounded, managed to ease their pain. The badly wounded, I needed help for, so I went searching for a qualified nurse. The one I found needed some persuasion to come with me, knowing it was dangerous upstairs. She checked the soldiers and told me what to do and what pills to give them etc. and hurried away. We were constantly under attack from planes. When the whistles sounded that they were overhead, I dived for the floor (no hero). A few days later we heard we had surrendered which was just as well because we were getting overloaded with bodies-- even the hallways were full.


The bombing stopped and everything went quiet. (I should mention that I was told by an officer that when the Japs entered the Alexandria Hospital they bayoneted and shot all the wounded and staff. This was confirmed to me a couple of time so it must be the truth.) My confidence seemed to disappear fast and I was not very happy. The following day I set off on another scrounging trip for food. I went down the stairs and was going to turn the corner when I heard strange voices speaking a language I didn't know. So I knew the Japs were coming. I ran back to the ward and told Fred they were here, so we went out into the hall and stood by the ward door and waited. Minutes later half a dozen soldiers came running up to us with bayonets extended and pushed us to the wall, speaking in Japanese. Then an officer arrived. I knew he would not want to shake hands with me, so I lowered my head to him. He spoke a little English so I tried to explain we were off a ship and went through the antics of planes bombing us and the ship sinking and me swimming. He understood, had the soldiers search us, then said we had to go to the Padang to be imprisoned, and were to find our way there on our own.

How we would be able to go through a town full of Japs I did not know, but we could not argue. We set off in the direction we thought it was, the Japs we passed ignored us. Some looked at us and laughed but we carried on until we came to a bridge over what looked like a canal. At the top was a barrier manned by Japs. They were searching the people going through (Chinese and Malays). A woman with a basket suddenly ran from the barrier towards us, a Jap soldier chasing her. When he caught up with her, he bayoneted her. When she fell he calmly picked up her basket and returned to the barrier. This action did nothing to boost my moral or nervous system. We had to go through the barrier, no option. As we approached they just looked at us and waved us through.

We hurried towards the Padang. There were bodies everywhere and in the tropical heat the smell was obnoxious. When we reached our destination we saw a crowd surrounded by Japs. We went to join them-- the guards let us through and gave us a push with their rifles. We were very hungry but there was no food. I mooched around and found three tins of beetroot somebody had discarded, not my choice for a meal but better than nothing. I finished one can but left the others. I had a feeling I would need them later. We were marched to a road in the native quarter and told to wait. They marched the soldiers and airmen past us. They marched the soldiers and airmen past us--they were really dejected but not beaten down, and this took about two hours. Nobody looked at a watch to tell what time it was as the Japs confiscated any rings or watches they saw.


We were told to form a column and they marched us six or seven miles up the coast to some building in a compound, "Karikal Mahal". It consisted of four buildings and I later learned it was an old Sultan's palace. It was right on the edge of the ocean. I picked a place in corner of the building (by the way there were no doors or windows, everything was open). Still no food so I had another tin of beetroot. The Japs let us bathe in the ocean and then to bed. There was no bedding or anything so we slept on the floor just as we were.

The following morning the Japs arranged transport and allowed a couple of the civilians who knew of a food stash, to go with them to show the way. They returned with a load of cases. I helped unload it. It was not very unpleasant for a few days.
General Yamashita General Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885-1946)
We were told that General Yamashita, known as the 'Tiger of Malaya', was coming to speak to us. They built a platform, so he was higher than us, when speaking (The Japanese guards suffered from an inferiority complex regarding tall people. They were always more vicious with them, more than with small people like myself). Yamashita arrived with his escort of officers and soldiers. He stood on his dais and we mustered in front of him. He spoke to us first in Japanese and then through an interpreter. The gist of the conversation was, we had to be well behaved like good boys or we would be severely punished. If we tried to escape we would be executed.

In the crowd with us was a deformed man (a hunchback). He moved while the General was speaking (I presume to get comfortable). You would have thought the end of the world had come. They went mad screaming in Japanese, some guards rushed at us pushing people away to get at him, dragged him on to deck and knocked him on his knees in front of the General. The Japanese conferred amongst themselves. One of the officers drew his sword and placed it on the man's neck, for a Japanese execution. Silence reigned. The General started speaking. He said this man had insulted him by moving when he was speaking. The interpreter started to translate to us that he should be executed. The General although very annoyed, tried to be very fair, so he would not take his head today, but if this insulting thing happened again there would be no mercy for anyone. This statement was to frighten us, which they succeeded in doing. I would not even move my eyeballs during the rest of the speech.

We were then dismissed and carried on as usual. At least where we lived we got plenty o fresh air and living on the ocean shore, just like the French Rivera. We swam in the sea and unfortunately I dived in and got entangled in rolls of barbed wire which were under the water. I was lucky and managed to get free--my diving days were over. I was bleeding all over. Five or six days later we were told we were being moved to another camp. My possessions were very few (almost none existed). I was told I could get some food from the stores and keep it for myself. As we did not know how far we would be going it was no good trying to take too much, so I took a few tins. It turned out I did the right thing as the march was very long.


We marched from the camp, fellows of all ages, some quite old. Singapore is very hot and we were marching in hot sun. After about four hours a halt was called by the side of the road. I was really thirsty. I saw some natives by a tap getting water, so if they could drink it, I could. I went over to the sentry and asked by sign language if I could get a drink. He waved me over to the tap. I drank my fill and waved to the others to come over and indulge. They came in a wave and we were revitalized.

British Prisoners of War being marched to Changi Jail after the Surrender
Prisoners of War Being Marched to Changi Jail
This photo is courtesy of the Singapore National Archives where it is part of the David Ng collection.

I had asked one of the civilians what was the Japanese for "thank you". I then went to the sentry and thanked him, he laughed and said it again. My pronunciation had not been perfect so I repeated it and also said it in English. He seemed quite friendly. He was lighting a cigarette and gave me one and we conversed in sign language for a short while. Then we were both told to start marching. Quite often we heard rifle shots at the rear of the column. We were not sure whether anybody who could not keep up were being shot. I in my wisdom kept to the front on the march. The day got hotter and hotter, and being fair skinned my face started to blister. We looked around us at the rest of the prisoners and arranged amongst ourselves without being obvious to help the older men carry their few possessions and help them in anyway we could. At the end of the day, and what a long day, we must have walked at least twenty miles, we saw Changi Prison in the distance. We struggled the last miles and with a cold feeling entered the gates. It was most imposing, high exterior walls as you entered by the main gate, you went through a narrow area and through another set of gates on the inner wall. There were guard turrets on the walls at intervals-- not a very inviting place to call my temporary home.

Changi Jail Entrance Gate and High Wall circa 2016
Changi Jail Entrance Gate and High Wall circa 2016
This photo is courtesy of the Straits Times of Singapore where it is featured in the article Changi Prison's entrance gate, wall, turrets gazetted as Singapore's 72nd national monument. Photo credit: Singapore Prison Service.

Changi Jail Turret circa 2016
Changi Jail Turret circa 2016
This photo is courtesy of the Straits Times of Singapore where it is featured in the article Changi Prison's entrance gate, wall, turrets gazetted as Singapore's 72nd national monument. Photo credit: Singapore Prison Service.

Bill Taylor's Memoir is continued in Part Five