Trigger warning: contains descriptions of brutality and torture.
About an 8 minute read.
In part one, which you will find here, I tell the story of how my uncle Teddy, a merchant seaman was captured by the Germans in WW2. Here continues the tale:
The Charlotte Schliemann arrived in Singapore on 30th September 1942. Fifty of the seamen were taken off the tanker before she took the rest of the passengers to Yokohama. Out of the fifty seamen, only twenty were from the Gloucester Castle.
It is not known whether Teddy was one of those twenty, however logic would suggest he was with this group, given the fate of the other Gloucester Castle crew, and a note on his prisoner of war records.
Once in Singapore, the men were loaded onto trucks and taken to Seletar, a former rubber plantation. Here they would have seen the flat southern coast of Malaysia lying directly across the water. Later on in their story, rubber seeds would become crucial to their survival.
From Seletar, they travelled west along the palm lined roads to a wharf where they were informed, they were now part of the Japanese navy. If they refused to cooperate, they would be punished and if they tried to escape, they would be executed.
Their first task was to undertake repairs on an ex-Chinese river boat called Tung Wo, anchored in the Johor Straits between Singapore and Malaysia. Once again, they were given poor quality food and requested meat, but were punished for asking and given three strokes of a rope at tenko.
At Lo Yang
In 1943, the Japanese transferred the men further up the Johor Straits to Lo Yang, an ex Royal Navy mine depot situated on the shoreline and surrounded by mangrove trees and forests. They were quartered in the former barracks and found themselves among friends in the shape of men from the Royal Navy.
Because of the humidity and the paucity of clothing, the men were issued with a fundoshi, a type of linen G-string, and nothing else. No hats or other garments to protect them from the sun’s rays.
Sometimes their guards would let them go swimming in the calm waters to cool off or they would use the camp showers after a long hot day. Food was scarce and they often had to find their own, occasionally hunting lizards and eating snails.
The Japanese were very cruel to the locals and would not allow interactions between them and the men of the Gloucester Castle. But just occasionally a chance would arise when a covert exchange could be made and Teddy and his colleagues would receive food and tobacco, the latter was then rolled in newspaper and smoked.
If there was an opportunity to humiliate them in front of the locals (and to exert their authority), the Japanese would grab it. It was a matter of routine to line up the men in two rows facing one another and make them hit the man opposite. If they did not hit hard enough, the Japanese would hit them with force to show how it should be done.
After one and a half years as prisoners of war, with no release in sight, the men of the Gloucester Castle were told they were leaving Lo Yang for Changi Jail in October 1944.
Changi had originally been built for 600 individuals by the British in the 1930s. At this point in time, it held 12,000 POWs: 6000 inside the jail, with six people to a cell built for one person, and the rest in huts outside. Teddy and his fellow Merchant Navy men shared Block C, floor 3 with the Royal Navy and a few air-force guys. They considered themselves fortunate, being further away from the enemy than some of the other POWs and only seeing their captors when they were forced into working parties.
There are numerous nominal rolls for the camp, but one dated 31st May 1943-31st May 1945 shows there were three blocks: block 2, block 3, block 4 (formerly blocks b, c, d) plus the kitchen cells. Each block had a floor or area, many were designated with unique, familiar names:
Aldgate (formerly Rice Store)
Cripplegate (formerly Observation Ward)
Golders Green (formerly Sikh Quarters)
Hospital and Annex
Newgate (formerly Gatehouse)
and floors 1, 2, and 3.
Plus boiler room, dispensary, library, and store.
A Meeting of Lovers
This part of the camp was separate from the women’s civilian camp on the south side of the main yard. In the women’s section, were the wives and relatives of some of the men on Teddy’s side of the metal fence. There was no interaction between the two camps, bar an orchestrated ritual which brought both sides together fleetingly.
The Ladies’ Superintendent marshalled 12 women at a distance from the fence, while simultaneously a similar number of men were gathered by the fatigue officer in the main yard.
A single door in the fence was usually guarded day and night by a Japanese sentry with rifle and bayonet fixed, but routinely the Ladies’ Superintendent would approach the sentry, bow and ask a question, to which she was given a nod.
At the signal from the Ladies’ Superintendent, two women from the assembled group approached the sentry, bowed and entered through the door into the main yard with a dustbin full of rubbish.
They placed the bin on the ground and paused while the men picked it up before turning, bowing to the sentry again and proceeding through the door. Two-by-two the same ceremony was repeated until all members of both groups had completed the ritual and the rubbish was then disposed of in the incinerator in the men’s camp.
Though it was deemed as a practical exercise to dispose of the accumulated rubbish in the women’s camp, it was also a means devised to circumvent the Japanese order preventing interned husbands and wives from meeting. The ‘Dustbin Parade’ was reserved for married couples only, so that once every six weeks, these separated lovers could exchange a glance or a whispered word over a dustbin.
The Camp Hierarchy
The rules governing the administration of Changi are surprising. The Japanese authorities were only concerned with discipline and from the outset, outlined to the early internees that they were themselves solely responsible for keeping themselves alive.
The first Camp Commandant was Major Kato who through a set of pronouncements to representatives of the Camps during the first weeks of internment informed them of their situation:
“Women and men are to be strictly separated.”
“You are to feed yourselves and work in co-operation and lead a good life in the Camp.”
“The Governor has asked us to supply you with beds and mosquito nets but these are luxuries in war time.”
“You must submit a list of medical instruments and medicines required. The High Command will then decide whether these will be supplied to you or whether you have to get them yourselves.”
“(N.B. The only Medical supplies received from the Nipponese during the first 25 months of internment was 1 bale of cotton wool).”
Following these proclamations, the internees organised themselves into an administrative hierarchy, which can be found in the available records.
From Head Commandant to sub-commandants for specific areas of the camp, there were individuals appointed and responsible for Health and Medical, Food and Messing (including a Messing committee), Chief Storekeeper and Requisitioning Officer, Officer in charge of kitchen staff, Leisure Hours camp committee, Chief Librarian, Chief Police Officer, and Camp Maintenance and Repairs.
The latter covering the services and workshops of incineration, sewage, electricity, water, boot repairs, carpentry, gardening, plumbing, printing, and the service of motor vehicles.
The camp in effect was a small city contained inside a double wall with exercise yards and guard towers.
A Brutal Regime
While the internees, of many nationalities, organised themselves into a homogenous civilised group intent on survival, their captors did their best to disrupt and terrorise their prisoners. Before and during Teddy’s time in the camp, there were four phases of Japanese or Nipponese administration, each one increasingly brutal:
|Phase 1. February to September 1942||Nipponese Army High Command in Malaya.|
|Phase 2. October to 10th October 1943||Military Administrative dept., Singapore.|
|Phase 3. 10th Oct 1943 to 21st January 1944||Nipponese Military Police (Gestapo).|
|Phase 4. 21st Jan 1944 to August 1945||Nipponese Army High Command in Malaya.|
During phase one under the first tenure of the High Command the internees were denied a representative from the Red Cross. At no point during their time in the camp would they be allowed one nor during the first three years were they allowed Red Cross parcels.
Communications with relatives and friends outside the camp were denied to all internees. The men of the Gloucester Castle were unable to communicate with their family and the British authorities before and during their internment at Changi which meant no-one knew they were alive.
However, internees would later reflect that the phase one administration was the most lenient with just three incidences of face slapping in the women’s camp for failure to bow and no occurrences of corporal punishment or imprisonment in the men’s camp.
The phase two Military Administrative department did its best to alleviate congestion and overcrowding by releasing locally domiciled internees and the infirm. They tried to improve rationing and increasing opportunities for recreation but were thwarted by a higher authority.
In contrast to their liberal attitude towards general organisation, their approach to discipline was by degrees harsher. An officer of the military police was posted to the camp, and he brought with him a guard composed of Sikhs with a few Nipponese soldiers. Orders were issued to internees making it mandatory to bow to the Sikh sentries and every time they passed the Sikh Guardroom. They were also employed in cleaning the Guardroom latrines and told to implicitly obey Sikh orders.
Individuals who escaped the bounds of the camp at night found that when they were discovered returning, they were punished by beatings with heavy plies. They were then tied up in the Guardroom for as much as 72 hours, some without food and water, and on the receiving end of further beatings while bound.
A man accused of passing notes to a POW working party was beaten with knotted ropes, sticks, and faced the horror of waterboarding.
The cells and blocks were raided, and a large number of books, atlases, diaries and other documents were seized and internees were ordered to hand over ARP helmets, whistles, torches, rice sacks used as bedding, and electrical appliances.
As well as the raids, more authority was given to junior officers resulting in power mad attacks on the internees. One Officer named Kawasoyi went on an evening spree assaulting 22 men and 4 women. Most were struck about the head or face with various weapons from a faggot of firewood to a wooden chair.
This continued until September 1943 when a new administration took control. If the internees thought the brutality would abate, they were mistaken. Here began ‘a period of dark terrorism which will live in the memory of every member of the camp at that time.’
Next: Part 3 of Teddy’s story and time in Changi Jail will be available shortly.
By Mish J Holman
(c) 2022 Mish J Holman. Do not reproduce without permission.
Otago Daily Times (2012). Taken by the enemy. Otago Daily Times. 3 August. https://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/taken-enemy
Otago Daily Times (2012). Life as a Japanese POW. 4 August. https://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/life-japanese-pow
Internment Camp Administration (RCMS 103/4/33/28). http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-RCMS-00103-00004-00033-00028/6
Changi civilian internment camp: an impression of the male section of the camp in 1943 (RCMS 103/12/10). http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-RCMS-00103-00012-00010/7
Changi and Sime Road civilian internment camps: nominal rolls of internees (RCMS 103/12/22). http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-RCMS-00103-00012-00022/219