- Contributed by
- Bournemouth Libraries
- People in story:
- Mrs.Phyllis.M.Thom (nee Briggs)
- Location of story:
- Palembang camp- Sumatra
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 05 January 2005
It was dark when we arrived and we found ourselves among two hundred and fifty women and children. There were many British as well as a few Chinese and Eurasians from Singapore, also the Australian Nursing sisters and Dutch women and children from Palembang, besides three German women and Georgette Gilmore, who was French.
The small bungalow where we were to live had been stripped of almost all the furniture and there was a barbed wire boundary. Mary Jenkin, Mischa and I were ordered to share a bedroom in house number 9 - the bedroom was already occupied by three Missionaries, two British Army wives and a fat Dutch woman with a large smelly dog which she refused to part with. The only furniture in the room was a cupboard, so we all slept on the floor. The others insisted on the door and wwindows being shut at night to keep out the mosquitos.
I became ill again, passing blood. Dr.McDowell isolated me in a garage with a German woman who had the same thing. The doctor gave me an injection of morphia which nearly killed me. Fortunately Alice Rossie looked after me. In fact Alice saved my life; she came in to see how I was and found me unconcious, she tried to rouse me and I could hear her voice as if it was a long way off - she rubbed my arms and legs - gradually my circlation started up again - it was like having terribly painful pins and needles. In a few days I returned to the house, but felt weak and giddy for some time.
Although we slept in House 9, we lived the rest of the time with the British in the garage of the house and our group was known as 'garage 9'. There were fifteen of us. Those who slept in the garage included Mrs.Brown and Shelagh, four Missionaries and Dorothy MacLeod, who was an attractive, cheerful little woman with a lovely singing voice. She knew the Browns well in Singapore and the three of them had been shipwrecked together. Mary Jenkin looked after little Mischa. She made clothes for him and a little mattress out of sacking.
The Missionaries made a fireplace out of stones and mud and we all helped with the cooking. Miss Cullen was the chief cook. The wood for the fire was often damp and we spent hours 'fire flapping' using a piece of cardboard to try and bring up a flame.
Twice a day we had to line up in the road outside our houses to be counted by the guards. This roll call was known as 'Tengko' and we had to bow to the guards as they came by. If we did not bow low enough we would get a face slap.
The ration lorry came up the hill to us in the mornings and the food was thrown on the road. People were appointed to count and divide the rations fairly, then someone from each group would go to collect their portion. This varied in quantity. Most days we had watered down rice (congee) for breakfast, then at midday and in the evening we had a small bowl of rice with a little boiled vegetable. The vegetable consisted mainly of kongong (water spinach) and various sorts of gourds and sometimes chinese cabbage. Some days we were given a tiny portion of meat which we made into a stew, occasionally a few duck eggs came with the rations, - not enough to go around, so we took it in turns to have them. Often the vegetable was half rotten before it was brought in to us and the rice was of poor quality, full of grit and weavils. It took us a long time to clean the rice before we could cook it, as we did not want to lose a single grain. The best rations came on the Emperor of Japan's birthday: four prawns each, one banana and a piece of pineapple! The next Jap holiday we had not rations at all!
Occasionally in that first month of Palembang we heard a few planes and bombs in the distance. We were always hoping for news and there were rumours that we would be repatriated.
As several women and children became ill, the British Sisters decided to do regular hours of duty visiting the sick. Our women doctors had a few medicines with them. The weather became very hot and dry. We started a 'sanitary squad', seeing that the drains were swept and trying to get people to bury their rubbish, as no refuse cart ever came to the camp.
One thing we were thankful for was that the Japs did not interfere with us much; we were full of hope and kept busy. Many people had swollen legs, rice tummies and mosquito bites. The children were miserable because there was not milk for them and my hair started coming out in handfuls, but apart from that I felt better. By this time practically all the women had stopped menstruating which was a blessing as no toilet facilities were provided.
Occaisionally a lorry load of big logs arrived. This was rationed out and we had either to saw or chop it into small pieces of firewood for cooking. Mary Jenkin was good at chopping with a huge axe and I did a lot of sawing!
In May, a Dutch Mother Superior, with ten more children joined us. One night there was much excitement as we heard alot of shouting among the guards and a shot was fired. Rumour had it that one of the guards had been killed but we never really knew.
The R.C. nuns held a Dutch service every Sunday and the British Missionaries held a service in our garage. Miss Dryburgh was very musical and started a choir - in fact we did a lot of singing in those early days. The following 'Captive Hymn' was sung every Sunday in garage 9 when quite a number of others joined us including Alice Rossie, Margot Turner, some of the Australian sisters and Audrey Owens and Nurse Kiong.
Father in captivity
We would lift out prayer to Thee.
Keep us ever in Thy love
Grant that daily we may prove
Those that place their trust in Thee,
More than conquerors may be.
Give us patience to endure,
Keep our hearts serene and pure,
Give us courage, charity,
Greater faith, humility,
Readiness to own Thy will,
Be we free or captive still.
For our country we would pray,
In this hour be Thou our stay,
Pride and selfishness forgive
Teach us by Thy laws to live,
By Thy grace may all men see
That true greatness came from Thee.
For our loved ones we would pray,
Be their guardian night and day,
From all dangers keep them free,
Banish all anxiety,
May they trust us to Thy care,
Know that Thou our pains dost share.
May the day of freedom dawn,
Peace and Justice be reborn.
Grant that nations loving Thee,
O'er the world may brothers be
Cleansed by suffering, know rebirth,
See Thy Kingdom come to earth.
By Margaret Dryburgh July 1942
When one of us had a birthday we had a little party. Miss Dryburgh made up poems and usually we could find a few flowers. Alice Rossie made pretty little arrangements of leaves etc in coconut shells. We sometimes played charades. Georgette Gilmore started a French conversation class and the Australian sisters made some playing cards; many of them seemed to play bridge all day. As we were near the equator it became dark early and as soon as the sun went down swarms of mosquitos appeared. We had no books to read so most evenings we just sat and talked. Once a week Mamie Colley held country dancing classes to which most of my friends went when they felt fit enough.
In June the rations were worse than ever; half rotten smelly cabbage was thrown in the road for us to collect and some days we only had rice, which was full of weavils. Sometimes there was no water and on these days long queues formed up at the guard room at the bottom of the hill where there was a tap.
At this time there was alot of theiving going on at night. Indonesians from outside crept through the barbed wire and stole clothes and anything hanging on the washing line.
Some of the Eurasians and Chinese were allowed to leave camp and live in the town of Palembang. A few were sent back to Singapore including Kathleen Lim, an English girl married to a Chinese, I had known her in Penang. When the Japs invaded North Malaya her in-laws told Kathleen she must leave or else the whole family would probably be killed. So she left her two small children with them and boarded a ship for Australia, which is when she was captured. Before returning to Malaya, Kathleen promised to find out as much as she could about the British prisoners in Singapore. Months later she managed to get a list to us of people we knew, who were prisoners but alive and well.
Continued in 'Life in the Dutch houses continued'
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