Part Seven Title Banner

Continued from Bill Taylor's Memoir, Part Six


A friend of mine, a South African, 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.

Liberated Prisoners Walk Waving and Smiling Through the Prison Gates
Ex-PoWs Exit Prison Gates Waving and Smiling
This photograph showing former Singapore PoWs was taken either at Sime Road (Syme Road) or Changi Prison in 1945. The photo is from the State Library of Victoria, Australia and it is part of the Argus Newspaper Photograph Collection . (Image H98.103/3945).

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 marines. 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.

Liberated Prisoners of War at the Dock
Liberated PoWs at the Dock
This photo of liberated Changi prisoners ready to board the hospital ships which will take them home is from the Imperial War Museums (Catalogue Number CF 725) where it is part of the Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection. Please click here to learn more about this photo.

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 hospital ship, 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 malaria. 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.

His Majesty's Hospital Ship Amarapoora at Scapa Flow, Scotland During World War Two
HMHS Amarapoora
This photo of HMHS Amarapoora is from the Imperial War Museums (Catalogue Number A11971). The liner Amarapoora was built in 1920 for the British & Burmese Steam Navigation Company and was used on the company's route between Glasgow, Scotland and Rangoon, Burma. After the start of World War Two in September 1939, the British Admiralty requisitioned Amarapoora to serve as a hospital ship. For more information on her gallant wartime service and her later years as the 1950's emigrant ship SS Captain Hobson, please see The Ship's List.

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 Colombo, 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.

The Royal Packet Company (KPM) Cargo-Passenger Liner MS Tegelberg
MS Tegelberg--Amsterdam city Archives
This photograph shows the newly built KPM cargo liner MS Tegelberg in early 1938. The photo is from the Amsterdam City Archives (Picture File 010179000475), and it is part of the Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Me Photograph Collection . For more information on Tegelberg's lucky escape from Singapore in February 1942 and her wartime service after being requisitioned by the British Admiralty later that year, please visit the online forum Pacific War 1941-1945: Vessels: Tegelberg, Toba, Soedoe - Network54.

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.

Kenneth Taylor's Obituary
Ken Taylor's Obituary

After his return to Blackpool in November 1945, Bill learned that his brother, Ken, had not been on a Canadian Pacific ship when he was killed. Unfortunately, in the summer of 1942 Ken was injured while serving aboard CPR's Duchess of Bedford, and he had been hospitalized ashore in New York. When he was recovered, Ken volunteered to serve aboard the American-owned, but British-chartered vessel, SS New York. Britain had chartered the 4,989-ton vessel along with seven other old river and coastal steamers because so many Allied merchant ships had been sunk by the German U-boats that there was a desperate need to reinforce the Atlantic supply lines. The eight vessels set out from New York in September 1942 in a convoy escorted by two Royal Navy warships, but in mid ocean the convoy was attacked by several U-boats. The first to be attacked, the SS Boston, was sunk by U-216 on the 25th of September, 1942, with the loss of 62 aboard her. Ken's ship, the SS New York was the next to be targeted and she was sunk the same day by U-96. Ken and 59 of the men aboard her lost their lives. From the two ships, there were only four survivors.

The remaining ships in the convoy were still not safe and the next day, September 26th, the U-boats continued their attacks. U-404 sunk one of the naval escorts, HMS Veteran, a destroyer, and later that same day the old steamer SS Yorkton was sunk by U-619.

Sources: The Fourth Service: Merchantmen at War 1939-1945 by John Slader (Robert Hale,1994) and Britain's Sea War: A Diary of Ship Losses 1939-1945 by John M. Young (Patrick Stephens, 1989).

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.

The End

Bill Taylor's Memoir is continued in the Epilogue