BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us


by Tubby_Boyce

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Prisoners of War

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 November 2005

Escaped Singapore, captured on Java II

Real name Edwin Frank Boyce aero engine fitter R.A.F. no. 626249, nickname ‘Tubby’, born 30-7-1921 at Tytherley Farm Hinton Charterhouse Somerset. Now living in Rode near Bath.

Dad left Britain from Greenock on the Duchess of Richmond with 3,800 others, mainly army, but some RAF. He, and five others managed to pinch a cabin; they locked the door until they were under way, and then emerged as owners of the cabin. They made a stop at Durban for 2 weeks, and then set sail on the SS Seiberjack bound for Singapore.
After disembarking he was transported to Saletar, where he joined 151 maintenance unit. Dad, and his mates (Claude) Michael Dyer, and Robert Bruce bought a motorboat, which they used on off days.
Life was very good for several months, until the Jap’s attacked Pearl Harbour and landed in the north of Malaya.
The first air raid killed about 3000 Malay’s, and Chinese, who lived on boats in the harbour.
Singapore started the war with very little, there were a few Short Singapore flying boats, and Catalina’s, two squadrons of Wildebeests, and later some Bruster Buffaloes which were of little or no use.
After the Prince of Wales, and the Rodney were sunk things looked very bad, most of the Buffaloes had been shot down, and there was virtually no air cover. Fifty Hurricane fighters arrived in crates which had to be hurriedly built, these were assembled in the trees, but by the time the last one was completed there was only two left flying.
Every day Jap bombers arrived over the island unopposed. Things got really bad when the Japs took the opposite side of the straights and cut-off the water supply.
Dad was sent back to Saletar to build serviceable Hurricanes from crashed ones, he was removing parts from the crashed aircraft while under fire from snipers on the other bank of the straights.
He and the other fitters managed to build five fighters, which managed to take off and get away, but they then started destroying equipment. He said that the Japs were so good with their mortars the third shell would be on target so their escape route was always well planned and practiced.
At this time, with fighting in Singapore itself he was employed wrecking aircraft, during this wrecking he managed to take the skin from his shins.
Getting aboard a ship ready to escape, his officer, a chap called Marvin, asked for volunteers to drive to a hospital to collect two nurses. Dad and Claude took a truck, got the nurses and arrived back on the dock as the boat was pulling away, the four of them had to jump onto the ladder which had been left dangling. He believes this was the last boat to leave Singapore Island.
Once on board they were asked to man a Lewis anti-aircraft gun. He said the view looking back at Singapore was something he will never forget it was burning from end to end, black smoke from the oil tanks blotting out the sun.
During the trip to Java they managed to shoot down one of the aircraft that attacked them every day. The captain of the ship staying outside of the wheelhouse shouting directions to the seaman, as he saw the bombs leave the aircraft, he would alter course’ this dad say’s saved the ship. One bomb did hit them, which killed several. The twelve Australian nurses on board did a marvellous job, but he heard that they died when their ship, taking them to from Java to Australia, was sunk. While on board he pinched a small .22 pistol, which he carried in his trouser pocket.
A cruiser named the Durban escorted the convoy, eventually the three ships his, the Durban, and another passenger ship made Batavia.
On arrival in Batavia he and Claude, and Rob managed to get housed with a Dutch lady Mrs De Voss, whose husband was a Dutch army officer?
By this time dad’s legs were beginning to smell, as he had not been able to dress them. A half-cast lady, Elly Erspecam, was a nurse dressed them telling him that they were almost gangrenous.
Rob was one of a number picked to be sent back to India, but he thinks was killed when the boat was sunk between Java, and India.
He, and Claude were ordered to the centre of the island to a place called Bandong, before he left he gave his pistol to Elly as he thought she might need it.
Their job at Bandong was to get every available aircraft flying, and keep them flying in an effort to deceive the Japs into thinking that there was a large force on Java.
The end for Java came very quickly, it was taken in eight day’s, Dad say’s that it was every man for himself. Dad, Claude and ten others were taken at the racecourse at Bandong, and held in the starters box.
It was decided to break out of this box, Claude leading one group, dad the other, this was the last time he saw Claude for thirty years.
The group he was with made their way to a small port where they found a small tug, they went to pinch some food for their trip, but found that the Dutch had sunk it before they returned. The Dutch were in fear of reprisals.
They made their way back to the racecourse, with a view of trying a better route, but it was very obvious that the Jap’s had sealed the island off.
After a couple of weeks he was put on a train for Surabaja. At Surabaja they were set to work repairing the aerodrome. At the aerodrome were two flying fortresses and from them they pinch parts to make their first wireless set. They also were made to unload ammunition, and petrol, each can of which was given a very small hole.
Dad found an old American truck and suggested to one of the Japs that it would be a good idea to use the truck to carry earth to fill in the bomb craters, and that dad should teach him to drive, so managed to avoid the work.
After some time they were taken to the docks and put on a boat. This he say’s was pretty grim; they were herded into the holds, which had three layers of racking around the walls with only the small doorway at the top for air. Some of the men above had dysentery, with the inevitable consequences for the men below. A 20000-ton ship, moored close by caught fire, exploded and sank.
Shortly after, the boat set sail for Haruku; during the trip they lost the first POW’s, which were buried at sea. Arriving on Haruku they were marched to their camp shattered.
The following morning, after tenko, they were marched for an hour and a half to a clearing in the jungle, where they were told that they were going to build an aerodrome in 90 days. This meant cutting down the trees, moving a hill and filling a hollow, using hammers, chisels, picks, and shovels.
From now on every day was a work day, only the ones that worked were fed, the sick, of whom there was many, sharing the ration.
Very soon small groups of six, or seven men became the norm. Within this group everyone stole whatever they could get their hands on, and smuggled it back into camp. If caught it meant getting beaten by the guards. These groups became very strong, they became your family, and each would do anything for the others.
When out on a work party each man took it in turn to steal away from the work area to go foraging, dealing with the natives, or finding fruit in the jungle like chillies.
Dad had a large great coat that he took on work parties, putting his goodies into the inside pocket and throwing the coat on the ground when being search, he say’s that the Japs never cottoned on.
Life on Haruku became a constant struggle, the Japs intent on getting the aerodrome built, the POW’s sure that it wouldn’t, but the object was to survive.
After a day’s work on the aerodrome they had to march back to camp, halfway back the Japs made each man carry five rocks with him to make the parade ground. If a man chose only small stones the Japs would give him an impossible load to carry back. When back at camp they might find that a disgruntled Jap had tipped all their food in the river, leaving them with nothing to eat.
A normal day started with breakfast, a cup of ‘pap’ (boiled rice in water, no milk, no sugar), then ‘tenko’, every walking man was expected to work, then started a one & half hour march to the aerodrome, work all day with a bowl of rice and a few green leaves, a one and half hour march back, carrying 5 rocks, another bowl of rice, bury the dead.
The only piece of equipment for moving the stone was a small hand push railway. The POW’s coned the Jap’s into have them build the railway up on rocks to save time, and to always have a driver so that the train could be controlled. Inevitably the train would be de-railed causing the whole lot to be thrown everywhere. My dads turn on the train, and eventual de-railment left him with a badly squashed thumb, which wouldn’t heal. Dad went to the camp POW doctor who gave him a cigarette. Finding this strange dad started to smoke the gift, but next found that the doctor had quickly clamped a pair of forceps on to the nail and ripped it off. There was no anaesthetic and the only thing the doctor could do.
One day the Japs wanted a ploughman, thinking there might be some food in this dad volunteered. They wanted some land ploughed so that they could grow some sweet potatoes. They had two old cows, which they harnessed to a wooden plough that they had the POW’s make. After 3 days of trying they abandoned the exercise because the cows would not pull the plough, one kept going the wrong way; the other would lie down refusing to get up. The Japs shot one cow for not making an effort, the other they let go free.
In this camp there was a sergeant major called Gunso Murry, this man hated dogs, of which there were many living wild in the jungle, he had a number of dog traps set up around the camp. When a dog was caught this Gunso Murry was called, he came running down the road blaring like a mad bull, with his sword drawn. He would have the dog hung by its neck in a tree where he would hack it to bits. The guards would then bury it; only to be dug up by the POW’s to be put in the cooking pot.
Dad had a bad patch on Haruku where he had dysentery and scabies together. An ointment of ground-up rock sulphur and coconut oil was made to combat the scabies. The dysentery was a more serious problem; because dad was so weak he couldn’t walk. To overcome this he made a fishing net from an old mosquito net, three of them would then crawl to the beach on a pretext of going to the toilet, but in stead would go fishing. With the few fish they caught, fried in the oil drained from the scabies ointment, dad and the others recovered.
After a few weeks dad was strong enough to go back to work, this he say’s was a must as it gave you the opportunity to go scavenging, barter with the locals, and it kept your mind occupied.
After a long and tiring day on the aerodrome, and the long march back to the camp there was always the burial party, if the person was a friend you volunteered, otherwise you were detailed. He say’s that the most they ever buried in one night was seventeen.
As the drome started taking shape, the Japs started the POW’s on building air raid shelters. This required coconut trees to be cut down, sawn into lengths of about twelve feet, and then four men with poles across their shoulders carrying these logs, often for long distances, dad say’s that it was as much as you could do to stand with the log let alone walk.
Towards the end of their stay on Haruku the Japs brought a boat near the island, the job of the POW’s was to tie a rope to a barrel of petrol, which had been rolled off the deck of the ship, and swim it to shore. This went on all day, and by evening few could walk, and were badly sunburnt from the salt water and sun.

He saw the last of Haruku when about 200 were put into a small wooden supply ship and taken to the island of Ceram.
To his knowledge not a single aeroplane ever took off, or landed on Haruku.
The next morning they were put onto another boat and taken to Ambon. The job was loading boats, the hardest of which was loading rice. The rice in sacks were put on your back as you walked past, you carried it up onto the boat, and tip it into the hold, if you passed out from exhaustion the Japs rolled you to one side until you came round and then back to work.
There were two air raids while he was at Ambon, the first a Lightening strike, the second was by Fortressess which stick bombed an area, fortunately the POW’s were herded into a bomb shelter, not for their safety, but because the Japs thought that they could be in communication with the aeroplanes.
When they emerged from the shelter there was nothing above shoulder height, and everything was on fire.

Dads story continued in ‘The Cruise, and Repatriation.’

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

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 - Haruku/Ambon

Posted on: 27 November 2005 by Clive Meadows

Dear Les,
My uncle, Corporal Donald Stookes(RAF)was with 153 MU. He would have gone through all the harrowing experiences that your father encountered as he was also part of the group on Haruku. Unfortunately he was one of those who died aboard the Maros Maru in September 1944 and was thrown overboard. I doubt that your father knew him but your father's account provides a personal touch to what they all went through.

Thank You

Clive Meadows


Message 2 - Haruku/Ambon

Posted on: 28 November 2005 by Tubby_Boyce


Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Prisoners of War Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy