Saturday, 15 January 2011

5: Capture and Back to Batavia

Unbeknown to us the Jap's had offered a twenty-five guilders reward to the Indonesians for the whereabouts of every allied serviceman report to them. After about three weeks, suddenly an English speaking voice through a loud hailer warned us to stay where we were until collected by Japanese soldiers. We were warned not to move outside an area marked with white flags and if this order was not complied with, we would be shot. During this time we had seen no sign of Japanese soldiers or anyone else for that matter. We carried on as normal as was possible for another three days.

The following morning as we were clearing up after breakfast, into the clearing walked a Japanese officer accompanied by ten soldiers. The officer, who spoke good English, ordered us to stop what we were doing and listen to what he had to say. He wanted to know where we had come from, how we had arrived here, also, where were our vehicles. He was informed we were from Batavia and had arrived in three trucks which we had destroyed. Upon hearing this he just surveyed us and then commented “So you must walk”. He then ordered us to prepare to move out, informing us that we would not be given any food or water from the Japanese until we reached our destination.

It was then I realised that although we had been warned three days previously that we would be picked up, we had done nothing in preparation for the move. We were given just ten minutes in which to be ready. Most of our stock of food was in large tins, the corned beef for instance was in 7lb tins. The tins of biscuits we found were too large to put in our kitbags, these were hastily opened and shared out.

It was agreed that one of us would carry a tin of corned beef to share amongst a group of us, taking turns to carry it on the way. I packed my haversack with biscuits, the kitbag which I had obtained in Batavia, I packed with 2lb tins of peaches, the corned beef and more biscuits, managing to fill my water bottle just in time as we were moved on. The Japanese soldiers making it clear with digs from rifle muzzles that it was time to go.

All too soon it became obvious that most of us had packed far more than we could carry. My only experience of carrying a kitbag was over short distances packed with soft clothing, not hard edged tins that moved with every step, clearly, this was going to be a terrible journey. Fortunately for us, the Japanese soldiers soon began to wilt. They wore a full kit and uniform, and each one carried a rifle and ammunition. They were soon soaked with sweat in the hot humid tropical heat and suffered as much as we were.

We came to a halt for a short rest and were told that anyone unable to keep up the pace would be shot. I think the impression the Japanese officer was trying to convey, was that the stop was for our benefit, rather than for his troops. My immediate thoughts upon stopping was to endeavour to lighten my load somehow. I mentally went through was I was carrying and decided that the tinned fruit, which were in two pound tins, must go first. I opened a tin of peaches, ate what I could and drunk the juice. I looked around and found that my fellow airmen were all like minded, busily sorting their loads and eating what they could manage. The break came to an end all too soon.

We had left the bush and scrub behind and were marching on a dirt road, the heat was intense. I had kept a tin of peaches handy so I as I walked I stabbed it with the spike of my jack knife, drunk the juice and threw the tin and fruit away.

At the next break I did a hasty repack, I decided to discard my blanket which I had taken to sleep on, also, to keep out the cold at night, it was proving to be too bulky and cumbersome. I reasoned that my blue jacket would keep me warm if needed, so wrapped it around the tinned meat.

The tinned peaches needed to be got rid of, so I decided that on the first day I would just consume peaches and biscuits, I would then be relieved of their bulk and weight. This would leave just the meat and biscuits together with my small amount of kit, making it a more comfortable load to carry. I calculated I could spread the food I had left over five days.

The road we were now travelling on was rough walnut size gravel and in more open country, the sun blazed down from a cloudless sky as we trudged along.

The breaks came about every hour. My arms ached from holding my kitbag on my shoulder but was able to keep up the pace quite easily. I was fed up with the taste of peaches and had an unquenchable thirst. The syrupy juice tasted thicker with each tin and I longed to drain my water bottle but knew that the water I carried was more important to me taken in small sips. The end of the first day came at last and we were to sleep where we had stopped.

An army truck arrived with food for the Japanese guards, also, a small water tank where we were allowed to fill our bottles. As I laid down on the ground that night my thoughts were of our day's journey and it occurred to me how strange, we had not passed a single person all day. On the second day of our long trek we were joined by more prisoners and were now travelling on a better road surface and provided with a small water truck at intervals. The soldier escort was now being worked in stages with a truck supplied to relieve them every hour, one hour marching and one hour rest, so they were refreshed which didn't help us, the night stops were a relief. The third day some of the chaps were beginning to flag and some suffered terribly blistered feed. The pace had slowed considerable but our captors persevered with stragglers and did not shoot anyone as promised.

During rest time an Air Vice Marshall who was marching with us, spent some of his rest time moving amongst us, bringing water to some of the men and telling them not to give up. He set us all a very good example. We were told we would rest the following day.

Marching on the next day, we at last arrived at a railway station yard where we boarded a train and were put into carriages where we could sit, bliss. Water was given to us, also a rice meal. Ups and downs were to come throughout my life as a prisoner, but this was a definite up.

Of our whereabouts, we had no idea. We set off and soon passed through a railway yard, in the sidings there were lines of trucks loaded with crate after crate, which had been opened to reveal Tomahawk fighter planes with American markings that had been sent to Java and never used.

Day turned to night as we continued our journey. There was no glass in the windows of the carriages, just wooden shutters to keep out the ash and dust from the burning wood the train was being fueled with. We kept the shutters open and watched the continuous cascade of sparks flying from the engine, we were also curious as to where we were going. At last in the darkness we pulled into a station, where we were ordered out and found we were back in Batavia once again, my fourth visit here.

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