- Contributed by
- Len (Snowie) Baynes
- People in story:
- as before
- Location of story:
- South Thailand
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- 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.”
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