from Down to Bedrock

“The whole area is quite free of Jap guards, very occasionally a Jap patrol of 3 (known to us as Freeman, Hardy and Willis) will ride through on bicycles, or officers will rush through in cars. We are quite free to roam about our area as we wish. The first few days here were spent in settling in, some in buildings, some in tents, others in all sorts of weird and fantastic home-made huts and shelters. In the area in which we live there are about 3500 of us. Officers and men are together, which is most unusual in prison camps. The situation is even more unique and odd, because we are living, as it were, in a peace-time camp, with the officers looking after the men. We organise our own routine, and punishments, and fatigues, and rules, and at present have provided our own guards. There are no Jap guards, and we have now wired ourselves in, and have our own military police at the various gates. Of course there are Japanese in evidence outside, and they have warned us that anyone seen outside the wire will be shot; three Gunners and six Australians have already been executed.”

“It must be obvious that in our present circumstances as prisoners of war the work of a padre can be tremendous, his scope is as never before in his life, his opportunities are enormous. Together men have faced grim things and are ready to turn to God. Men now have leisure forced upon them. Gone temporarily is the rush and hurry and noise of a working, fighting world and away in a quiet corner of the world men are inevitably taking stock of themselves. As a padre one is so grateful for the chance one has been given, and the response to his efforts is repaid all the way along.”

“Someone had the brainwave and grand idea of making toys for the sixty British children in the civilian jail which is situated just outside the perimeter wire of our camp. A week before Christmas an exhibition of toys was arranged; to visit it was to recapture the scene of the toy department of any large London store. It was thrilling, scooters, engines, prams, rocking horses, and smaller toys such as dolls and whipping tops, they were all beautifully made and finished. The rapt expression on men’s faces as they lingered over this display, was a foretaste of the thrill that those kiddies must have had in receiving each four or five of these toys. The Japanese authorities gave permission for these toys to be sent to the jail, and a touching letter of thanks was received from the women’s representative in the prison. It would have been marvellous to have been present, though it is not difficult to picture that scene. It must have done much to brighten the life of those little children who, for various reasons, could not be evacuated before the capitulation.”

“As I write now in this makeshift hospital I wonder what will be the outcome. In the past several months I have buried over 600 men. The hospital has 3000 patients, more and more come from up-country as room becomes available. It is just time to say that of the 7000 there are perhaps 1000 reasonably fit. The rest have died or are in hospital. It is too harrowing to picture vividly a ward of men whose sole kit consists of a tin and a spoon and a haversack and a piece of rag, lying on bare bamboo, or rice sacks with no covering, until later blankets were issued. The patients present a sorry picture, their exhaustion is so complete that no pain is suffered, they slip into a coma and the end is peaceful. Each morning several bodies are lying still. It is not the business of these lines to record conditions in detail. I hope and trust that accurate accounts will be produced when eventually we are free men.”

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