Friday, 4 March 2011

9: Gardening - Part 2.

There were two Javanese serving prison sentences in charge of us. I was given a plot of land, a mattock and some peanuts to plant, this was easy work compared with what I had been doing. The Japanese guard would disappear shortly after taking us to work, on some occasions he would stay for a longer period, as soon as he had left the two Javanese would go missing but would always be back before the guard returned.

The papaya trees had ripe fruit but were just out of reach, so one of us had to climb up and just take one or two so they wouldn't be missed, these we shared between the ten of us. On one occasion as I climbed, giant red ants swarmed all over me, they had a very nasty nip. when picking papayas, one leaf would come away with each fruit leaving a diamond shape mark on the drunk, so great care had to be taken as to where they were harvested. We had to take even greater care when picking bananas, they were a fruit immensely favoured by the Japanese, to take any ripe fruit would be asking for trouble. When possible, I would pick a green bunch and hide it under the prison garden rubbish, where it soon ripened.

One of the gun posts on the prison wall, overlooked part of our garden, so someone had to keep watch whilst this was being executed. We were not searched when going back to the prison as was the custom when returning from the airport, so I was able to smuggle in a couple of bananas now and again. These could be traded for a tobacco issue from a non-smoker. The tobacco had a low value because of the poor quality and was not easy to exchange, but I thought it was worth getting a stock in before the issue dried up. My allotted plot of land had to be kept weeded and after a fortnight, there were only one or two peanut shoots growing, so I scraped some of the soil away and found the peanuts intact, so when no one was about I'd eat some.

My fellow gardeners and I always kept up with the work as we were loathe to lose the job. My toes began to heal, I had tied rags round them and managed to keep them fairly clean, they certainly felt more comfortable.

One evening we received a visit from our Wing Commander, who informed us that the work at the airfield was almost complete, so some men were to be moved. He had worked out the ratio of men required from each cell, the number from ours would be twenty. It was left to us to decide who should go. He would be returning the next day for the names of the twenty men. I was in favour of going, my reason being that as some of us were to be moved now, the others would certainly follow later. By that time America would be regaining her strength in the Pacific, making it far more hazardous to leave at a later date. I could see no reason why we would be moved to another area in Java and felt certain we would be shipped somewhere and thought it better to go sooner rather than later, there being less likelihood of being bombed or sunk on the way. My pal Bill was not keen to make the move and said he would stay, but the next evening when I gave my name, he decided to join me. All twenty required from our cell volunteered, so there were no problems. I continued working in the garden until told, together with several others, not to go to work one morning. We were taken in groups into the Japanese building, given a medical check, a glass tube put up our backsides and an injection, then sent back to our cells. A few days later we were told we would be moving the next day.

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