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FEPOW - William Coates Nicholls PART 2

by William C Nicholls

Contributed by 
William C Nicholls
People in story: 
William C.Nicholls (Bill)
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 May 2005

· Then a few days later the cruiser Sussex came into Singapore town, and the Admiral and some men came to visit us. A trip to visit the ship was arranged, so we set off from the jail to Singapore on a lorry. On the way into town we passed some Jap POWs, about 100, being marched up the road by our soldiers, and we all cursed and shouted at them in Japanese and English. I think at that moment we felt exhilarated and really free, but if looks coming from the Japs could kill, we would have all dropped dead on the spot. Anyway we arrived on the Sussex and all the men on board were very kind. When we got down on the mess decks they had only bread and butter left. This was the first bread we had seen for 3 ½ years, we were still very hungry and I ate about ¾ of a loaf. We spent the night on board Sussex, but I had chronic indigestion and spent most of the night walking up and down the deck.
· Within a few more days of freedom, arrangements were made for the fittest survivors from Changi Jail to join the troopship for home. It was at this time that the saddest incident of the whole time of imprisonment occurred for me, and most of the other Navy men. A Chief Petty officer, engine room artificer, who was a real gentleman and a very kindly man, died. It was very heartbreaking and so sad that after living through 3 ½ years of starvation and absolute hell, he should die just as we got free. But the Navy personnel all got together any uniform that was available and also found a White Ensign to cover the coffin, and although we had to tow him on a trolley, about 25 Navy men put on the best show we could for him, and I think that the Army personnel watching were quite impressed.
· We were now given medical examinations, and although I was only weighing just 8 stone and you could count every bone down my body, they decided that I was fit enough to travel. So the next couple of days were spent saying farewell to all the friends I was leaving behind at the jail. Then we were taken off to Singapore to join the troopship. This was a New Zealand ship called the Monaway, which brought Indian troops to Singapore, and with a bit of luck I was assigned to a mess which was next to the ship’s galley, so that all the way home, which took about 6 weeks, we were offered the food that was left over, and we never refused anything, and I arrived in England about 1 ½ stones heavier than when we left. On the way home we stopped at Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) and as we came into the harbour at Colombo, all the ships sounded their sirens. As we passes alongside a Navy warship, they had the Marine band playing and although we had only been POWs we were treated like heroes. The following morning we were taken ashore by landing craft, and when we arrived alongside, they had about 20 R.N. Lorries lined up along the wharf, all with 2 WRNs standing by each. What a wonderful sight to see these English girls after 3 ½ years without seeing hardly any women. They all looked so smart and clean and beautiful to us that we had difficulty deciding which ones we would ride with into Colombo. Anyway, we got into Colombo and wandered around the city and we met an RN Dispatch rider on a motorbike, who invited us to come up to the RN Barracks at lunchtime to share a tot of rum. So we arrived at the barracks, met this seaman and his shipmates, and were having a chat about what had happened to us when the rum came up. When they heard that we had just come out of Singapore, everybody gave us a drop of their rum and we had a pint glass each about ¾ full. Very foolishly we drank this, were extremely drunk but somehow we got back to the harbour and got aboard the landing craft taking us back to the trooper. My shipmate was hanging over the side being sick and I sat watching him, thinking that his had was going to fall into the sea and I can’t do anything about it. But we were all right, we staggered up the gangway and got inboard where I found a quiet corner and put my cap on the deck, where I laid down and didn’t wake up until the next morning.
· Then we were off homeward bound, across the Indian Ocean, and I paid the price of drinking too much rum. With the ship doing a steady roll, it was about a week before I really felt right again. We had a very enjoyable voyage home, sunbathing and just resting and enjoying ourselves. We made one stop on the way, when we called at Gibraltar, after that it was next stop Liverpool where we disembarked and were issued with tickets for leave home. After this long train journey I arrived back at Bridgwater. I had my kitbag with all my gear, and an envelope, with liberty ticket, clothing coupons, railway ticket and so on in. As the train drew into the station I saw my sister and other relations waiting on the platform on the other side. I picked up my kitbag and cap, rushed out, climbed the steps up the bridge over the railway, came down the other side, met my sister and others, and then I thought about handing in my rail ticket as we left the station. But I suddenly remembered that in all the excitement of arriving home, I had left it on the train. I rushed back over the bridge, jumped on the train which was just pulling out, so after 6 years away I was off again to Taunton and it was another hour before I got a train back to Bridgwater, where I was taken home and welcomed by several of my Aunts and Uncles, who really made me feel that I was at home with the family again.
· Well, for the next week or so I was going around meeting old friends who had been away in the forces, and we had some fun on some pub crawls around Bridgwater.
· Dates……
Released from prison: August 1945
Arrived home: October 1945
On leave October: January 1946.
Demobbed: January 10th 1946
On leave until: April 20th 1946
Married Aileen Balsdon: June 10th 1946
Keith born: April 1st 1947

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