- Contributed by
- Grandson A J Gold
- People in story:
- Written by Signalman Bennie Gold, then aged 22
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 October 2005
Once again I have asked the Almighty for atonement for a remembrance of an event of over 60 years ago. The reason why? I was a Signalman, a Jewish member of the Royal Corps of Signals, in Japanese prisoner of war camp during the War. Although tall, just over six foot, I weighed only about six and a half stone, when I should have been at least 11 stone. Bespectacled, my glasses were repaired with latex gum straight from a rubber tree. And as for my health, dry beriberi and constantly recurring dengue fever were my main ailments so far. But in fact, although cause enough, these are not the reason for my asking the Almighty for atonement.
Batu Lintang Camp was some 22 miles up the Kuching River in north Borneo. Mangrove swamps lay north to the coast, with equatorial rainforest and overrun rubber plantations spreading towards the interior. I was barefoot and dressed in a black loin cloth or "Japanese happy", with an armband that said in Nippon "office".
I was employed, if you can use that word, as a clerk to two Kempei officials (the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo). I spoke a little Yiddish that got me by with the native Dutch-speakers. And the Kempei also seemed to understand my good BBC English. But my sole purpose in life became to keep them occupied so that they did not roam around causing too much pain and havoc.
On the day in question I had bowed to the sentry at the flagpole and entered the attap (banana leaf)-roofed long hut that was at once the camp office and interrogation room to find it in uproar. "Goldo! Goldo! Hidarow! (Come here!)" was the snorting shout. I took a very deep bow indeed. There on the desk was a pile of photographs, letters and books that a dawn raid by the guards had found. Pictures of wives, children, parents, last letters from home were spread over the table. The two Kempei officers, partners in devilish and sadistic punishments, were reading a small notebook with "Wilfred" the interpreter, a local boy made good.
My Kempei boss sat cross-legged on the seat, his sword getting in his way, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his lips. He was a drug addict and chain smoker and was dead scared of Colonel Suga, our "divine right" Camp Commander. (Subsequently my boss's whole family of 11 children were to be killed in Nagasaki by the bomb.) With an almost fiendish look he finished reading the notebook.
"Ha Goldo! Look, what is this is? Ha Ha!"
A one-second glance. "God, " I thought. "What a clot..." It was a diary, and up to date, picked from a British officer. The words "The gen is good today" were pointed to with a nicotine-stained finger. There was of course a camp radio. Many a night I had heard the whispers of those of my friends who watched out for the camp guards as it was being used somewhere in the camp. News was always passed along to us weeks late so that no idea of a radio should ever be given to the Kempei or guards. There had been a rumour of a radio found at the next camp, Sandakan, four hundred miles away as the crow flies, and there had been executions there.
"Oh." I said (Did I really say that? "Oh"). "It must be an officer's notebook and you know a British officer must have his drink at sundown. Maybe he is making gin, distilling something or other." A look between the terrible two and then in a hubbub of pandemonium, they rushed out of the office, Wilfred the interpreter going out with them - not a thought between the lot of them that gen might be news and good news at that. I heard later that the young officer had a good beating but he lived.
I have asked the Almighty for atonement for it ever since.
However, retribution soon came. The euphoria of slapping and indiscriminate knocking about of POWs lasted all day after the discovery of the notebook. On my weary way back to my bed space I did not reach favour with the sentry on guard at the flagpole. Maybe I did not bow low enough or he thought it was OK to have a go as well. So a well-aimed stamp and kick on the bare toes turned into ulcers on the bone and took some 18 months to cover with a light skin. As I write this, nearly 60 years later, you can see the scars on the toes as a reminder of good gen turned into bad gin.
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