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Stealing to Survive

by BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk

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Archive List > Prisoners of War

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
John Sutton
Location of story: 
Singapore
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4364039
Contributed on: 
05 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

I was a prisoner of war following the fall of Singapore in February 1942 until August 1945.
In order to survive it was vital that everyone helped one another, through good and bad times, sickness and health. Food was short, a few ounces of rice per day and only for those who worked outside the camp. Non workers and the sick did not count, therefore it was share and share again. You came into the camp with only what you could carry thus your possessions were minimal and you only had the clothes you were wearing.
With this background it is possible to understand why prisoners turned out to be big rogues, if it was moveable you took it, if it was edible you ate it or took it back to camp and if it had any value you sold it to the Chinese and if it was possible to get help from your guard, share the spoils you made hay when the sun shone.
Mass looting was organised and not a smash and grab affair, we sold a hundred ton of lead, this was over a period of three to four months and for cash which went into camp funds.
There was a darker side to all this, if you were caught stealing you could be shot or beheaded depending upon the mood of the guard commander or placed in a bamboo cage 3 foot square and lowered into the ground for 5 or 6 days, cold by day and colder by night with little or no food. It was impossible to stand when released. Being pegged out in the sun all day or having to hold a 10lb rack above your head were punishments metered out for minor offences. When I was released I weighed just 5 stone 5 ounces and could not eat solid food.

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