- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Fred Wren
- Location of story:
- Changi Camp Singapore
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 June 2004
TWO UNLIKELY MEETINGS WITH VERY LONG ODDS AGAINST
You may think that what I have written below is fiction; I assure you that what I have written is 100% true, although it is getting on for 60 years
Since the first happening, it is something that one can never forget and happening to one person only, namely me!
I left the UK. with my unit, the 29 Combined M, T, Depot, R, A, S, C, on the troopship Empress of Canada and after the usual zigzagging in convoy and a few days at anchor in harbour at Freetown (Sierra Leone), we put into Cape Town, and SHORE LEAVE. British Troops seemed to be popular with the locals, and every day we were there dozens of cars waited at the Dock Gates. Offering to take us on trips in the area, One day two mates and myself were offered a trip to the top of Table Mountain, to which we readily agreed, So after a road trip to the lower Cable Railway Station, and a somewhat frightening trip in a swinging car to the top, we were finally on the summit of table Mountain (since that time I made one only table railway train journey, and that was a number years ago when I went to Singapore, and did the table railway journey from Mount Faber to Sentosa - known by many of us by its former name Blakang Mati). When we got to the top of Table Mountain, and it was thick fog (somebody had laid the tablecloth), so we went into the restaurant for a drink, you may not believe it the first person I saw their was a lad who had been at school with me for five years, he was in Naval uniform and was stationed at Simonstown, not far from Cape Town, which at that time was a British Naval base, used chiefly by destroyers on the lookout for U-Boats lurking in the area.
Most British and Allied shipping was of course, using the Cape Route to the Middle East and Far East, because of the situation at that time in the Mediterranean and North Africa. I am sorry that this article so far has nothing to do with being a POW. However, although I did not realise it at that time. I was on my way to becoming one!
This is my second account and is about two Chinese boys, whose first meeting with each other was when they were put into adjoining beds in Singapore General Hospital, they had both enlisted locally in the British Army and were employed as motorcycle dispatch riders, most of this information and what follows was told me by these lads. I got to know them several months after the surrender when we all met together in the Changi Camp.. They were both involved in accidents. As dispatch riders and had each broken legs. When the surrender of Singapore’s seemed inevitable, and knowing how the Japs hated the Chinese having been at war with each other for so many years. It was not a good idea for their own safety for these two lads to become Eurasians, so Mak Ming Foon became Michael Fernandez and Chang Heng Kee became Henry King Chang and new documents were made for them in these names. I wouldn’t have thought these were typically Eurasian names, most of which were of Portuguese origin, but they must have fooled the Japs. Most of the other enlisted recruits, whether Chinese, Indian, or Malay, we just told to disappear back to civvy Street!
So these two Chinese boys eventually got sent to Changi, when the plasters were removed from their legs, they both had a considerable limb, which seemed to last for quite a long time. We became quite pally, and after the days tasks were finished, and the evening meal was all over we played cards, darts and similar games together, and I try to teach them a little more English and they’d tried to teach me some Malay.
They were forced to use these two languages themselves converse, as they both spoke different Chinese dialects.
This friendship went on until early 1945, when I and several of my mates,(not including the two Chinese boys) were caught trying to smuggle some food and cigarettes into the camp. After a few days in the cell with a rice and water diet the Japs decided we should be split up by being sent to different camps. I finished up at Adam Road Camp (off Bukit Timah Road about 4 miles from Singapore town centre). Strange to relate this was the camp I was sent to when we withdrew from Kuala Lumpur on Christmas Day 1941. I was employed as a carpenter, making pit props from so from chopped down rubber trees, these were supporting the roofs of the funk holes that other gangs of POWs were digging into the sides of the many low hills on Singapore Island. Apparently the Japs expected a parachute landing by the Allies and the idea was for these funk holes to be filled with troops, who would emerge from these holes once a parachute troops had landed! Thank heavens it never came to that!
After the Japs surrender we stayed in the camp and the guards started producing food, cigarettes and clothing that they had always denied existed previously. In the second week of September 1945 I had the good fortune to meet the Lord and Lady Mountbatten, on that very afternoon of the day that the Japanese surrender had been accepted in the morning!
Shortly after this a medical team arrived and we all had an examination as a result of mine I was thought to have Dysentery and so I was put into the General Hospital. After a couple of days there I was flown to the base General Hospital at Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was called then). They soon got rid of my stomach ailment, and then I sailed for home on the “Athlone Castle”, arriving in Southampton Water on the 11th of November 1945 for a two-minute silence at 11 a.m. with all the engines and machinery shut off and nothing but the screeching of seagulls. This was a two-minute silence never to be forgotten.
During the next two years, I went back to my pre-war civilian job met the lady, who was later to become my wife and settled down to a routine life of a Londoner. I arranged to meet my wife one afternoon at Leicester Square Underground station. Waiting near the exit I was suddenly deafened by loud shouts of “Fled Len”, “Fled Len”, which was the nearest my two Chinese friends in Changi had ever got to” Fred Wren”. And there they were!
Apparently they were living somewhere in the Midlands and this was a very first trip to see London! We all had a meal together (Chinese, of course), and a good chin wag. Apparently when they filled in their RAPWI form, on which you had to show to which country you wished to be repatriated, they chose the UK, as it was a chance to see the world at the expense of her Majesty’s Government! They’d told us they both missed the sun and warmth of Malay and hoped to go back there as signing on as deck hands on a vessel going to the Far East. I think they must have been successful, as I never saw or heard from them again,.
So for a second time, million to one against chance came off and I still find it difficult to believe.
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