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by Tubby_Boyce

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25 November 2005


The last time dad crossed Ambon bay was when he went aboard a ship called the Marusan Maru. This was a boat of about 600 tons, which the Japs had raised her after she had been sunk in Batavia harbour. They installed a chief engineer who had been trained as a steam engineer, who new nothing about the Swedish 250 horsepower diesel main engine.
About 650 POW’s were embarked on this boat, all as deck cargo, all had to sleep in a sitting position. This old copra boat did about 6 knots.
After they had been at sea for 3 day’s the engine stopped and no one knew why. Dad and a friend named Frank Platt, who was a navy engine room artificer, were over-heard talking about the problem by the Jap interpreter, Cassy Amah. They were told to go and fix the engine, of course they insisted they knew nothing of the problem, but were told that if they didn’t fix it the Japanese would be taken off and the boat blown up, with them on board. They had to go.
The problem was the main compressor on the end of the main engine had blown up. Knowing very little about diesels, the Jap chief engineer had allowed all of the compressed air to escape, without this air the main engine could not be started. Dad and Frank had to re-inflate the compressed air cylinders, so that this could be used to turn the main engine, and fire the diesel.
They firstly had to remove the main compressor from the front of the main engine, then alter the pipe-work to connect the air cylinders to a compressor attached to a small 60 HP donkey engine also in the engine room. This donkey engine had never been started since it had been lying at the bottom of Batavia harbour. Dad and Frank had to strip this engine, and rebuild it using paper and paint as a head gasket, and then re-shim the piston to give, what they thought would be, the correct compression. After 2 days of working on this problem they eventually started this donkey engine, inflated the air cylinders, and were able to start the main engine.
They once again got under way, with dad and Frank assigned to the engine room. For dad this was a big help, because he was getting beriberi, a condition of water retention between the layers of skin, caused by a lack of vitamins. If not checked this is fatal.
A native, on board as an engine room help, was able to get a little more food to dad, and Frank which helped, and dad slung a rice sack in the engine room such that his hips were lower than either his feet, or his head. He say’s that the water in his system seemed to drain down, lying like this, because he remembers having to pass water 13 times on one particular night.
Once the main engine was running they made their way to Makassar, a port on the island of Celebes, which the Americans had already bombed. They stay at Makassar for about 40 days on this boat where a lot of men died. To deal with the bodies the Japs took a work party to another near island where they loaded large rocks stacked on the deck. When a man died they had three of these rocks tied to him and slid him into the sea where the awaiting sharks dealt with him. The rocks were to ensure that the American pilots would not see them as they flew over. The man that had to do this job was a man from Birmingham by the name of Bud Fisher.
If dad remembers rightly 140 men went into the sea at Makassar.
At about this time the POW’s began to believe that the Japs were not having it all there own way, mainly due to the secret radio, which only two people knew the whereabouts of.
Eventually they set sail again, to Balikpapan, a small port on Borneo, all the time men were dieing and being committed to the sea. One such chap living near the anchor winch had a bad case of beriberi. At the end it is like having a clamp around your chest, which gets tighter and tighter until your heart stops beating. This poor chap died one night, and by morning he was entangled in the winch. This and rigor-mortice made the job of getting him out very difficult.
From Borneo they travelled back to Java, arriving there in May, 3 months before the Japanese war ended. Before leaving the boat a Jap guard beat my dad up with his rifle for talking to the native engine room hand, something not permitted, but difficult not to do, when both working on the same equipment.
When the POW’s were landed there were a little over 300 left, dad thinks it was 309, and the cruise had lasted 66 day’s. Ending their journey on the same island they had left.
Back in Java they were taken to what was called ‘cycle camp’, a former Dutch barracks. Here they were set to work repairing ex-Dutch cars, which had been taken from the Dutch and stored. This gave them another clue that the Japs were getting hard pushed. These cars were sabotaged so that they would go well for a short time, but then fail.
Dad say’s that the Jap commandant at this camp was a real pig, who had had a pond dug so that he could rear fresh fish. They heard on the grape vine that the war was over so that night they raided this pond and caught all the fish. The next morning there was hell to play when the Japs found no fish, and a ‘tenko’ was called, everyone was hoping that the war had ended, and looking back he thinks it must have, because there was no repercussions, no one was beaten up. The C.O. told the Jap commander that he would collect up what money he could to pay for the fish, this ‘saved face’ for the commander as he was satisfied with this, and no one was hurt. At a later date a war crimes court, he thinks, executed this commander.
Very shortly after this instance an American Liberation bomber flew over with the central doorway open and man sitting and waving, this then proved to them that the war had ended.
The men were told, by the British C.O. that they would have to stay in camp until someone came to liberate them and that the Japs would still be on guard.
That night dad, and another man cut a hole in the fence and got out, dad went to see if the nurse, Elly, that had dressed his leg, years previous, was OK, and had survived. She had survived, and was OK. After a chat with her they made their way back to camp.
Because dad, and the other chap had escaped, the British officers wanted to court marshal them as an example; they were trying to re-assert their authority. It was possible that they could have been shot, but, at the court marshal, they both pleaded ‘temporarily insane’, them being POW’s and the case collapsed.
About another two day’s passed, dad was near the guardroom, when up the road came marching a British army major, all alone, he march straight passed the Jap guards, which saluted him, presented arms, and bowed. The major jumped up onto a 50 gallon oil drum, gathered everyone around and told them that 6 British army personnel had parachuted onto the island, and from then on things would get much better. That night he ordered the Japs to provide better food and to open up their food stores.
This major asked for volunteers to go to the air base, about 7 miles outside Batavia to get it functional. Dad and 25 others set out and found that the runway had to be repaired, and lorries and cars repaired.
They were supplied with food, coffee, and sugar, and someone to make to prepare it, and a native gang to do the heavy work as the POW’s were in no fit state to do it.
Dad and the others fixed an Oldsmobile car for themselves, and when the food containers started arriving transported the food to the camps in lorries. They started with the women’s camp, and then all the others in turn.
Now they had food, but were short of eggs, and tomatoes, so they raided the Jap stores and took a load of cloths, which they swapped for the eggs, and tomatoes with the local natives. They organised for a number of natives to cook for them all, before long everyone POW’s, natives, and officers were eating breakfast down on the airfield.
While at the airfield dad and some others serviced the aeroplane that Lord Luis Mount battens wife was using to tour the camps of the Far East.
The stay at the airfield lasted about six weeks, after which they were flown to Singapore and then onto a boat named ‘M.V. Cilicia’ her master’s name was Mr. E.J. Stormont.
Leaving Singapore they headed for Colombo, where they received the freedom of the city.
Approaching Liverpool they heard that the Dockers were on strike, and food was not being unloaded from ships, so a radio message was sent by the POW’s that they would unload the boat when they docked. Probably because the authorities knew what would happen if the POW’s were let lose with the striking Dockers, their boat was not docked for several day’s but anchored off-shore. When they did dock the boat had been unloaded.
After a medical dad was given money and a ticket home, there wasn’t any counselling in them day’s men were expected to be men and get on with life.
Dad’s mother didn’t know what had happened to her son for 2 ½ years, when a telegram came to say that he was a POW.
He, and the other POW’s were told by doctors that they might never have children because of their treatment.
He has always been a big chap, his normal weight is about 15 stone, when he was released from POW camp he weighed about 71/2 stone, and had been this weight all the time that he was prisoner. He had eaten snakes, dogs, anything that he could get his hands on. He had beriberi, dysentery, jungle soars, scabies, and serious mal-nutrition. All this, because of the way that they were treated.
Cruelty- was a part of their lives, beatings were the norm. but when they were in Surabaja there was a Javanese POW who lived local to the camp. This chap heard one day that his wife was ill and so broke out of camp to see her. The Japs found that he was missing, and on his return caught him. They made this man dig a deep hole and buried him in this hole up to his neck and left him to die, occasionally using his head as a football. This poor chap took 3 days to die.

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