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'The Will to Live': Chapter 39 - American Visitor, Red Cross Goods, Officers Back, ‘Endurance Vile’ Ends

by Len (Snowie) Baynes

Contributed by 
Len (Snowie) Baynes
People in story: 
as before
Location of story: 
South Thailand
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2830367
Contributed on: 
12 July 2004

Leaflets Received in Rangoon

On our return to camp, one of the Americans who had escaped a few months earlier drove a truckload of Red Cross food into the camp just before mid-day. We heard that he had been living in the jungle with a party of Allied guerrillas, who had been dropped by parachute.

The following day, a paratroops officer drove into camp. He mounted our earthen camp stage, and we all gathered round for what should have been one of the most dramatic moments of our lives. Tommy-gun in his hands, and dressed in camouflaged clothes, he looked as though he had just fought his way into the camp, or was part of a movie scene.

I sat down on the earth and waited to hear about all the exciting things that must have happened in the world leading up to the capitulation of the enemy. Until now, we had been told nothing.

His ‘news’ was that while we had been prisoners, scientists had discovered a wonderful new medicine called penicillin. It cured many diseases, but especially, all forms of venereal disease. No longer need we worry about associating with girls out in the East, as at the first sign of trouble a couple of injections were all that was necessary!

How typical of the army, to send such a fool to reintroduce us to civilisation, and all that it entailed. So after his visit, we had heard not about the state of our home country, or when we were likely to be able to shed our armed Japanese captors who were still running the camp. Of the invention of nuclear bombs, and how the dropping of them had brought about the capitulation of the enemy; also, of how the fact of their advent was to change the course of the rest of the world for ever. Instead, we were encouraged to have sex with the natives!

Later on that same day another Red Cross lorry came in, and this time the load included a small radio set. It was put in position on the stage, and we all gathered round waiting for news time. As it was not loud enough for us all to hear, one man listened and then shouted the items out as they came through. I had heard my first ‘pukka griff’ for four years.

Still later, a party of our officers arrived, having journeyed from a distant officers’ camp. They brought with them the news that, eventually, we were all to be flown out from the aerodrome we had been building. So it seemed that our Japanese captors had constructed the ‘drome with our labour, but were never to use it.

Just before dusk a party of free Allied troops came in after travelling up from the Malayan border, and they told us they were to share the job of guarding us with the Japanese. They hardly spoke to us; were we regarded as not ‘one of them’? Thought to be a bit off our rockers? Or had they been ordered not to enter into conversation with us? We shall never know.

That evening we were each given pencil and paper, and told we could write a message of not more than twenty words to be cabled home. I spent the whole evening in trying to compose a reassuring story in so few words; I need not have bothered, as I later found out that my parents never received the message anyway.

The following day, as we were all gathered round the stage listening to the radio news, an American paratrooper drove into camp, stalked on to the stage, and held up his hand for silence; at last we heard what we had been waiting to hear.
‘You will all be flown out by the United States Airforce within a few hours’. He should have said ‘weeks’.

When he could again make himself heard above the squeals of excitement, he told us that his regiment had been operating in the jungle only a few miles away. Had the war not ended so abruptly, his job would have been to release us in a few weeks time. Those who had escaped from camp earlier were all safe with his boys.

The Thais had co-operated in getting a message to individuals, inviting them to escape, and they then led them to the paratroopers. They had been needed to supply details of the camp layout when the time came to attack.

Our camp began to fill up with hundreds of ex-prisoners from other camps, arriving to be flown out from ‘our’ aerodrome. By evening no more could be crowded in, and there were still hundreds waiting in the local town.

The first Yankee plane landed on the twenty-ninth of August. When the doors opened a ramp was lowered and a tiny truck drove out. The driver told us that it was a ‘Jeep’, and that the Americans had thousands of them. We also learned that the plane was called a Dakota.

The worst sick cases had already been selected, and they were loaded onto the plane; it took off safely from our bumpy runway, carrying, as far as we knew, the first of our boys to be really and truly released from their captivity.

An American camera team had flown in with that first plane, and they began filming the camp. I carried on throughout this time of awaiting our turn, making tin mugs. I had orders for hundreds, they were wanted by the men to take home for souvenirs.

From this time on, the planes began landing at the rate of about one an hour, from dawn to dusk, first, as said before, ferrying out the sick and hospital staff, and then taking loads of the more or less fit men. I made my last tinware on the 31st of August, as I was told to be ready to leave the next morning.

I then tipped all my kit out, to go through it with the intention of deciding which items should accompany me out of Thailand, and which ones to dump. As I gazed at all my bits and pieces, from my tiger toe cigarette holder to my recently made soldering iron, I was overcome with a feeling of nausea, as I thought of the death of friends, and other unhappy memories that nearly every piece recalled.

In the end, on the spur of the moment, to be regretted later, I dumped everything apart from my diary, clothes, and a set of sergeants’ stripes I had made from a plated copper mirror, (I had filed the plating off and polished the copper), to use as an armband when I was not wearing a shirt. As it was the only memento from those historical days, I later gave it to my son to keep for posterity. He has lost it.

We marched out of camp with scarcely a backward glance, and arrived on the ‘drome just as our plane landed. It had originally possessed double doors, but these had been removed or blown off.

We were packed in tightly, and as our Dakota climbed into the air, I saw our American ‘conductor’ leaning nonchalantly against the door post, looking out of the door opening, and chewing gum, just as I had seen them do on the films four years earlier.

He neither spoke nor looked at us as we climbed high, but I thought that if we hit an air pocket he stood a fair chance of falling out. It would have been a long fall, and he wore no parachute as we climbed over the mountain range separating Burma from Thailand.

Had there been a window in the floor, I might have taken a farewell look at the railway line, every sleeper of which represented a man’s life. After a few minutes he must have thought better of it, and sat on the step with his legs dangling over the side, and holding on to the door jamb.

I approached him and asked what our destination was. In the stony silence that followed, he continued to stare at the distance hills. I don’t remember him opening his mouth once during the whole journey, which time revealed was to end at Rangoon Airport, where we were each handed a ‘personal’ message from our king, and a little later, one from the Red Cross.
* * *
‘Never believe the experts’, is a lesson I have experienced many times over the years of a long life. I am 85 years of age, and pretty fit. (We were told our constitutions had been undermined by our privations, and some indeed were.) I was far from being left impotent, (as we were told we would be). When our daughter, (the youngest of our three) first learned to write, her teacher instructed the class to write something about their fathers; she wrote; ‘I love my daddy so much, I don’t know what to say.’
_

“When Jehovah brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream.”

Chapter 40 (Last one)

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 13 July 2004 by Ron Goldstein

There is simply nothing to touch these stories from a Japanese POW camp.
I have immensely enjoyed (if that is the right word) each and every chapter and would recommend them as compulsory reading for the youth of today.
I have gone on record before in saying to Len that I could never have been as forgiving towards his former captors as he was, but that aside, we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for these lessons of fortitude from the past.
Keep well and thanks again
Ron

 

Message 2 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 13 July 2004 by Len (Snowie) Baynes

Thanks Ron, so pleased to hear from you
Regards Len

 

Message 3 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 13 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I entirely agree with Ron, yours is a magnificent story.

I initially put aside reading your long story daunted by the growing number of chapters. Last night I decided to set to it and almost immediately I became engrossed. I have now reached Chapter 12, but felt it was about time you got some well earned praise for a story of courage well told.

A superb contribution to this archive, up there with the very best.

Kindest regards,

Peter

 

Message 4 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 13 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I have now got to Chapter 24, marvellous stuff! A long story, but not one superfluous word.

You said in Chapter 14 "We gradually began to see each other more and more as we really were, as much of the veneer of civilization fell away. All races seem to have a similar amount of good and bad, often lurking just under the skin, whether that be black, white or yellow." A golden nugget full of wisdom and deep insights.

I eagerly look forward to reading the rest,

Peter

 

Message 5 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 13 July 2004 by Len (Snowie) Baynes

Dear Peter
Many thanks for your comments, it's good to know there are a few who are prepared to 'wade through' the 40 chapters.
You won't have long to wait for the end, I'm working on Chapt.40 now.
Regards Len

 

Message 6 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 16 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Len

I have just finished Chapter 39 having finally read the lot. What a magnificent achievement! A story which I am sure will not be surpassed in this or any other WW2 archive.

It took a long time to read it all, but then I thought of the excruciating seconds, the slow passage of time, during your brutal years of captivity. Reading it I sometimes smiled, sometimes laughed, but more often felt deep anger welling up inside of me at the callous way you were treated.

I have no doubt that I shall often return to your story. Reading it I felt both humbled and inspired.

My very best wishes,

Peter

P.S.

Len, In Chapter 38 you have inadvertently repeated five paragraphs, a small matter which you can soon edit:

"The fauna here was somewhat different from that up country. We were eating our mid-day rice a few days later, when I met my first bulldozer beetle, and found him a most interesting little creature. He had been disturbed from his earthy home and was doing his best to rehabilitate himself as quickly as he could. econds he had lowered his blade, and was at the heap digging himself in."

... [down to]

"Although I found this difficult to believe, especially remembering our childhood belief that our British frogs could spit fire, I left them alone. They clung to the leaves with little suction pads on their feet."

 

Message 7 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 19 July 2004 by Len (Snowie) Baynes

Dear Peter
Thank you so much for pointing out my duplication of part of Chapter 38 - I hope I have now corrected it.
The system of word processing here is so awful, that it is necessary to type it first in 'Word' if only to count the words to ensure they don't exceed the laid down 3000.
This afternoon after executing Chapt. 40, I unaccountably lost it twice completely, and had to start over again.
I have done it for third time but am too tired now to edit it, which I'll have to do another day.
Regards, and thanks again.

 

Message 8 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 30 July 2004 by elviraberyl

Dear Len,
I can't express myself as well as Peter and Ron. Never the less I just HAD to write.

I stayed up until the early hours reading 'The Will To Live.'
As the saying goes, I couldn't put it down.
I hope that writing your experiences has gone a little way in helping after all the sadness.
Beautifully written without a wasted word.
We will remember them and the survivors.
God bless you.
elviraberyl

 

Message 9 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 30 July 2004 by Len (Snowie) Baynes

Dear Elvira

Thank you so much for your kind words. There are some mistakes in the first draft; I am in the process of editing the chapters, and have progressed to No.34 so far.

I have four photographs of the Thai camps, and am awaiting a licence from The Imperial War Museum before including them.

Sincerely Len Baynes

 

Message 10 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 01 September 2004 by ODYSSEY

Aug 30.Dear len, I wrote to you a few days ago. Each nite I read a chapter of your life story.Rob told me where to find them..Thanks só much.Will this come out in a book?I would buy one for each of my 3 sons.
Their Dad was in the Undeground in Holland,but in your stories they will get to learn about real suffering and how you survived. I can't really express my feelings ,but thanks for leaving us a diary.There is much to be learned from your stories.
Josephine-alias Odyssee-.

 

Message 11 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 05 October 2004 by Andrea

I have just read some of your war memories and I am really wanting to say thanks. I was looking to find out more of what my dad did in the war (no'1 commando - Harry Wicks) which is how I found you. He never spoke much of his experiences but he wrote a vivid account of an aborted operation for his works magazine (Ministry of Works) Is it easier to write about it than talk about it?
It is fantastic that you have taken so much time and trouble to share your experiences, I hope you have had a happy life since. Andrea

 

Message 12 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 05 October 2004 by Len (Snowie) Baynes

Dear Andrea, thanks for your message, so glad you found something helpful in my contribitions. Yes, it's easier to write than talk about those days - in fact the only time I talk about them is on those rare occasions when I have been asked to give a talk to a group - Brit. Legion, Old Folks Home, and even once to a church.
My memory is getting the worse for wear, especially with regard to names, so I fear I don't recall the name Harry Wicks.
I have been fortunate since the war, and in spite of some misfortunes, I have been happily married for 55 years, and am surrounded by children, grandchildren and great ditto. In four months I'll be 86, and my wife is 10 years younger. Moreover, my health is pretty good, considering what I've been through, one way and another. All the best Len

 

Message 13 - Thankyou Len

Posted on: 07 October 2004 by Andrea

Dear Len
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to reply, I am really pleased you have had some good fortune and good health. I hope this continues. I can't imagine how it feels to be 86 but it is nice to hear you so positive despite your earlier experiences. I'm sorry you had to go through all you did but your sacrifices are much appreciated.
Please take care, Andrea

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