- Contributed by
- BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
- People in story:
- John Sutton
- Location of story:
- Changi Gaol, Liverpool
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 July 2005
This contribution to People's War was received by the Action Desk at BBC Radio Norfolk and submitted to the website with the permission and on behalf of John Sutton.
When peace was declared the camp news stopped. The news came through about 4pm and was given out to everyone at 6am the next morning. During the night the Japs had up sticks and gone - we never knew where, but the men were asked not to leave the camp under any circumstances that day. The Union Jack and Australian flags were hoisted on top of the gaol. Planes were seen against the back drop of jungle - like a lot of flies, but the big question was - whose? They turned out to be American.
Late afternoon a mosquito plane flew over the camp and wrecked several huts in the process. On the second time over cartons of cigarettes were dropped plus a message to the camp commander. Apart from the cheers given that morning on the news of peace, it was a funny old day. We talked, cried, pondered and thought again - have the Japs really gone? Will they return and retaliate?
Next day we worried about leaving camp and guards were put on the entrances to report any comings and goings. That afternoon 3 mosquitos appeared and dropped canisters of food and medical supplies. Several men were injured and six paratroopers - two had to be cut free from trees which caused much hilarity. Amongst their supplies were two scooters which were put to good use. They more or less took over the camp and were in touch with Christmas Island constantly over their own radio.
Over the next few days more paratroopers arrived who promptly took over the runways and hangers. We were allowed to visit but told to keep away from the planes. Many of the troops took no notice and looked for souvenirs - within a couple of hours everything of value was stripped!
One evening it was broadcast that a Yank force of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and troop ships had been passing through Penange, commanded by Lord Mountbatten. They would be at Singapore the next day.
Next day hundreds massed on the high ground to watch the fleet pass - it was a wonderful sight. Then it was down to Singapore, my vantage point was a crane. It was with nostalgia that I could see the ammunition boat I had worked on and the quay I was thrown from. The two battleships and carriers were well back - in front were mine sweepers and destroyers. The air was thick with planes from the carriers. Through them came the troop carriers who discharged the men by boat, ducks etc. It was good to see the astonishment on the faces of the troops when they saw us, they had taken us to be coolies.
They took over Singapore and all essential works like water, sewage and electric supply. Others went to points on the island, they all seemed to know where to go and within a couple of hours it was reasonably quiet. Sailors from the ships took us aboard and we were showered and fed - too well in fact and many were ill.
Life in camp was getting organised and stricter. Medical teams arrived and we became hairless and any sores or abrasions were were painted red, yellow or blue. All our clothing, boots and blankets were incinerated and fresh clothing issued. Many men were ill through overeating so size and content of meals was strictly controlled. We still had rice but in smaller quantities, no bread as they had run out of flour.
The men in the hospital were the first to leave the camp by hospital ship and their hut was burnt down. The foreign nationals were looked after in the same manner as ourselves and no discrimination. We were mustered according to our units and embarked for the journey home via Ceylon and the Suez. Mail had been delivered which was very hard for some as their wives and sweethearts had remarried, those with children often to Yanks. Many men had been reported killed unless proved otherwise.
On 24th October 1945 we arrived in Liverpool. We had a quick medical and slept in a transit camp. Then we were given a leave pass for three months, a certain amount of pay and clothing coupons, and that was it. We were told a train would be at Liverpool station the following morning for London. We were now on our own.
No food was given to us for the journey so consequently when the train stopped at Crewe the Salvation Army and WI was just raided. On arrival at Euston station a fleet of ambulances was waiting to take us home. My fiancee was waiting there to meet me and two hours later we were home. I gave her 10 yards of China silk that I had purchased on my way home for her wedding dress and just over three weeks later we were married. On my release from Changi my weight was just 5 stone 5 pounds and now I was just over 7 stone.
During my leave I looked for employment, this was scarce as available jobs had been taken by men demobbed from the European sector, but I was lucky.
I was ordered to report to Whitehall just before Christmas for my demob. This included a medical examination and I had to hand in my issue of army clothes. I was given a rail pass, there were men in their hundreds waiting for medicals. This was as far as I was concerned a complete farce. You stripped completely, the first doctor checked your chest and body, the next eye sight, next one asked about any problems, and the last was a testical grab and cough. Then you were given your pay book which was stamped 'unfit for any future service'. An issue of civilian clothes, a shake of the hand and 'good luck mate' and out into Whitehall. There was a heavy rain shower and I sheltered under the awning of a recruitment office. I was asked if I would like a cup of tea this time and thought to myself that after 12 and a half years I was back where I had started from.
I did not relish being a POW but I was proud to have been a Far East Prisoner of War. The comradeship, the unselfishness and being 'all for one and all for none' was an education that cannot be taught. Your help was always given as you never knew when you would require it in return. I had said cheerio to my Colonel whom I had been with for over 6 years. At times it was soldier to soldier talk and others it was brother to brother. The men of the regiment had cheered him away and collected money for a silver tea service which was presented after demob. I knew him as an officer and a friend.
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