Friday, 18 February 2011

8: Almost Death By Sword, A Lucky Escape - Part 2.

The work on the runways after four months of hard labour was beginning to show signs of completion. Some prisoners were put to mixing and laying cement to level off to the existing runway. We had been running out of material to fill the holes, so lorry loads of earth and rubble had been brought in to top up the holes. There were no tools for compacting this filling, so consequently when put to use and heavy trucks were driven on it, the runway would sink. This boded ill for the men on this particular job, they were rounded up and beaten, being accused of trying to crash Japanese planes as they landed.

The job seemed never ending, we had no news of outside events or how the war was progressing and realised there was a small possibility of us being rescued. Rules had relaxed a little by now. There was a general leisurely attitude and confidence about the Japanese soldiers and no air raid precautions that we knew of. Permission was given for us to have concerts in the yard, arranged by the prisoners. Some of the Army chaps formed a band, some sung and others did sketches and of course there were a lot of coarse jokes. Some of the prison staff watched with amusement and it helped to brighten up our days.

We had been imprisoned for about five months when our names, rank and number were taken, we were told our details were being forwarded to the Red Cross so that we could be reported as P.O.W’s. I was young and single and didn't have the worries as those with families had, which made it easier to deal with the present predicament. I knew that if I hadn't been taken prisoner, I could have been dead long before a letter reached home with the news. Our cigar ration ceased and in its place was the occasional use of tobacco. This was pretty awful stuff that hadn't been properly processed. Our guess was that the factory's supply of cigarettes and cigars had run out and we were now being given the remaining stock of tobacco.

As work once again, as we were being detailed off for our holes, two of the Japanese soldiers spoke to our guards, I was pointed out and told to go with them. I was marched between them feeling some trepidation, as we went towards the large open spaces of the airport perimeter. After a while we halted and I was told to pick up a coil of wire and canvas bag which was lying on the ground, we then continued on our way until the boundary fence was reached. The guards then sat down and motioned for me to sit, telling me I could smoke. I didn't carry any with me to work, saving it for when I laid down on the gravel in the yard wrapped in my blanket each night, when I endeavoured to forget my sore and aching body and stem the gnawing hunger pains. The cigarettes helped me relax as I dreamed of food, fried bacon, delicious food before falling to sleep from exhaustion. When I didn't respond and light up, one of the soldiers asked did I have any cigarettes, I told him no, so he gave me one.

After a rest I was given a pair of pliers taken from the canvas bag, a coil of wire and told to repair a large hole that had been cut in the surrounding chain link fence. As they sat watching, I made as good a job as was possible which seemed to please them. I was then given another rest and another smoke and couldn't believe my luck. We then moved to a smaller hole which I also set to and repaired, then it was meal time. We sat down and a small fish was produced from the bag and given to me to eat with my rice. I drank my water as they collected bits of wood and lit a fire, on which they brewed themselves a tea. We had some talk with signs and gestures and a little of our own language thrown in. Nearby were some goats grazing, for which I suspect the Javanese had cut the wire. One of the soldiers took his metal cup and fitted his water bottle and milked one of the goats, he then mixed in some sugar and placed it on the fire to warm, he then gave it to me telling me it would do me good.

After repairing two more holes, we sat back until it was time for them to take me back to join the main party for the march back to prison. Coming back down to earth next day, the hard labour of filling the bomb holes continued. One runway was now completed and in use, but there was very little air activity, which indicated that no offensive was being launched by either side, so we had no fears of being bombed or attacked whilst at work.

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