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Phyllis Briggs's War - Overland to Singapore [P.Thom : Part 2]

by Bournemouth Libraries

Contributed by 
Bournemouth Libraries
People in story: 
Mrs. Phyllis M. Thom (nee Briggs)
Location of story: 
Malaya
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A3457442
Contributed on: 
30 December 2004

[Continued from "Alor Star"]

Leaving Alor Star on 12th December 1941, we stayed overnight in Mr. Bradley's house - four to a bed. Due to the blackout we hardly knew what was going on, but before dawn we were told to "beat it".
Evelyn Cowans joined us, she had been a sister in Penang before marrying a rubber planter and her husband had joined the Volunteer Force.
We set off for Taiping, the road jammed with refugees. There were burnt out cars and rickshaws along the way, local buses were crammed with people; others were pushing bicycles piled high with belongings.
The hospital sisters in Taiping were very kind to us. We worked in the military hospital, set up in the school, which was very short staffed. At first we were given simple meial tasks to do as we were "civilian sisters"- but later when so many casualties were brought in from the front the Q.A. sisters were only to glad of our help.
Several trucks with British and American troops arrived in Taiping having driven straight from the fighting. The men were worn out and dejected, saying it was hopeless to try an hold back the Japs, who swarmed out of the jungle. The radio repeatedly said that the Japs would be held back as the bridge over the Perak had been blown up, but by this time the Japs had already crossed it!
After only three days we were told to leave again, this time for Ipoh; but when we got there the whole town looked deserted. We found out that there had been a bad air raid the night before and managed to get some food at the Railway Hotel.I had my tank filled up by a European who was giving it away. We stayed the night with Bobby Brooke, he was in a dreadful state as his wife, Wendy, had left for Singapore with most of the other British women. On Wednesday 17th December we set off for Kuala Lumpar. A nursing sister called Pat Boxell was determined to save her husband's car, although she did not drive well, and as we went along a winding road with a steep drop on the left, the car left the road and plunged down the bank. Fortunately, although there was no hope of getting the car back on the road, Pat and the Chinese amah she had with her managed to scramble out and were picked up by Celia Taylor, a Domestic Science teacher from Taiping.
The road was crowded with traffic, all going south and we could only creep along but my little Morris 8 ran smoothly all the way. Finally we reached Kuala Lumpar, I felt very tired and can only remember a nice old Chinese amah showing me a bed and I just fell into it.
The next day some of the sisters and nurses went on to Singapore, a few of us were sent to the hospital in Seremban. The hospital was filled to overflowing with wounded soldiers, although normally this was a civillian hospital. Soon we began having air raids and Matron Hardy, who I had known in Penang, had her little dog put to sleep as it became almost hysterical when the planes came over. There were no celebrations for Christmas as we were all working long hours. I had a camp bed in Jenny MacAlister's room. She was engaged to a rubber planter and was getting ready for her wedding. Little did she realise that it would be nearly four years before they could get married. Most of the European women had left for Singapore but a number remained behind to help the hospital and they did a wonderful job.
January 10th 1942. The army told us all to leave for Singapore and the wounded soldiers were put on a train and sent to the Alexandria Hospital. Once more I set off in my little car and took Mary Gentles with me. We drove through Jahore in the pouring rain and it was difficult to see - the roof leaked and poor old Gentles put up her purple umbrella in the car! Mary Gentles was one of a number of nursing sisters who were drowned when their ships were sunk.
We reached Singapore General Hospital the same evening; by this time most of the sisters from hospitals in Malaya had reached Singapore. We all felt tired and had a few days rest before being sent to work in one or other of the hospitals.
I was asked to work in the Kandang Kerban hospital and moved into the Sister's Quarters with my few belongings. In normal times it was a maternity hospital but now it was used for air raid victims. I began to work in the resuscitation ward. This was filled with Malays, Chinese and Indians all brought in direct from the streets. Many were already dead, others were dying. To these hopeless cases we gave large doses of morphia and wrote the amount given on a strip of plaster which we stuck on their foreheads. Those with a chance of recovery we sent up to the wards when a bed could be found for them.
I was put in charge of the acute surgical ward. We were terribly busy and the doctors operated day and night - Mr. Laurie, Eliot Fisher and Dr. Shields. They were splendid to work with and we all got on well. At first we used to put the patients under their beds during the raids, but it became impossible to do when the raids became frequent. By this time men, women, children and servicemen were being admitted to the same wards and some were on the floor. During the raids many Chinese jumped into the monsoon drains by the road sides. They put their heads down and bottoms up - with the result that many Chinese were brought into hospital with shrapnel wounds to their buttocks. Some of the patients had infected wounds crawling with maggots. It was the one thing that made me feel quite sick. One chinese woman had half her face blown away. I have never forgotten her pleading eyes. Large maggots were crawling out of what was left of her nose.
To be continued in Flight and capture.

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Nursing and Medicine Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
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Fall of Singapore 1942 Category
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