“It was the most wonderful time in my life, in spite of the grim and hungry times” he wrote. “For once, and for three and a half years, the thin veneer of civilization, or reticence, had been stripped from men. We were all down to bedrock. One saw people as they really were.”
“Looking back to the really grim time in the jungle camp beside the Railway, the truly remarkable thing was the way the human spirit rose to magnificent heights. After months of sheer degradation, gradually the spirit to care for one another revived, incredible kindness and self-sacrifice was in evidence”.
Pencil portrait of army Chaplain Eric Cordingly by POW HC Gordon, Changi, October 1942
Tim Hemmings of the 560th Royal Engineers. He was only 21 when he was asked to engrave the regimental badges on to the trefoils on the cross. He used an engraving tool he had made out of an old umbrella stem.
He was one of the first of the POWs to be sent to work on the railway and he remained there until it was completed. In the beginning he worked with explosives. “We used to do a lot of demolition work: chimneys and things that the aircraft could home in on and knew where they were. I had a good name for being an explosives expert,” he said. Then he became one of the “spikers” who used to drive the nails into the wooden sleepers: “Nothing very professional but it worked. The trouble was you didn’t get enough food and of course the Koreans were the worst people to deal with. The Japs didn’t like the Koreans and the Koreans passed it down the ladder on to us. It was nothing to make you stand holding a rock over your head facing the sun and they’d keep turning you round so you faced the sun and eventually you just collapsed in a heap.”
Extract from his diary:
April 15th 43 Well dear, here I am again, have been in hospital [Roberts Hospital] for a few weeks with a little stomach trouble but am getting along quite well now. I have been dreaming about you and the children for many nights now and I wonder sometimes if you dream of me. Sometimes they are nice dreams, sometimes not quite so nice. Many of the troops have been moved away up country, many more are going in a few days’ time. I still remain behind; just where I shall finish up I don’t know. How are things with you now, hope you are not worrying too much. You must excuse this writing as this is an awful pen and ink, still it is better than none, (I shall have to write single pages now as the ink goes right through).
Sergeant Harry Stogden. Harry put his unusual gifts as an engineer to good use in the camp, making artificial limbs and sewing machine needles. He spent some time fashioning the cross out of a howitzer shell case and other strips of brass he found in the prison workshops.
“I remember St George’s Church and was found in there at every chance I had. Each night I would make tracks to sit in silent prayer and sometimes have a chat to a chaplain. Here was when I got to know your dear father who provided comfort to me because I was not feeling worth much and left in the far part of the world with no chance of seeing my family again. I was attending daily funerals and thinking: who’s next, is it me? But through prayers and the services and your dad’s sermons I rebuilt my life and felt a trust all would be fine.”
Bertie Boyce married Wyn, ‘the girl next door’ in Dereham, Norfolk in 1946.