Friday, 6 May 2011

14: Christmas, Red Cross Relief, Constant Illness and Death of a Friend - Part 2.

During the afternoon, I had seen a stack of loaded fish crates and decided to help myself to one just before we were due to return to camp. It began to get gloomy and the foreman started to collect the men together. I asked if I could go to the toilet, he said okay. As I passed the stacked fish, I put my hand out and just grabbed one, holding it close to me until I got to the toilet.

I hadn't much time to hide it and planned to put it inside my shirt at the waist. When searched the guard only looked in our side haversack which we carried. There were no pockets large enough on our jackets to carry anything in. When I looked at the fish, I realised it wasn't going to easy, it was rather larger than I had anticipated, almost as long as my leg, so I thought the only way to get him back to camp was down the inside of my trousers. I lowered this cold fish down my leg, the pants had tapes to tie them up at the waist, so I put the fish tail above my belt and tied it with the tapes to my belt. My previously long pants were now short pants, as I had torn the legs off to make bandages for my weeping sore legs when I went to bed. The walk back to camp was usually pretty unbearable, but that evening was excruciating with the fish chafing and rubbing salt into my sores and the spines sticking into me every step of the way, my legs felt on fire. I just prayed that I could get this prize back to camp safely.

At intervals along the way, I had to pull it up to stop it from coming out into my boots. Standing still singing in the snow that night didn’t seem half so bad as was usual. Inside the hut at last, I pulled the fish out, it was a beauty. I took it to the toilets to clean it out, this was the one place we prisoners could dispose of anything. The toilets were oblong holes to squat over and underneath was the open cesspit, soiled blankets were sometimes disposed of this way. After cleaning the fish, I took it back to my room. Bill look at it and said “Are you going to give me some of that?” I felt hurt and said “Whatever made you say a thing like that?” He replied that as he didn’t go to work he would not be able to give me anything. I told him we had always shared in the past and as far as I was concerned, it was the same now.

Bill seemed to be cracking up. I cut two large chunks, a piece each for Bill and myself and cooked it in the stove ash pit, the rest I gave to the men gathered round the stove to share amongst them. A guard came in later and started sniffing about and said “Fish?”. A couple of tins of barnacles were produced that hadn't been eaten and indicated others had just been cooked, he seemed satisfied with the explanation and walked off.

After we had eaten, the risk seemed worthwhile just to have a full stomach for once, I didn't dare think of the consequences if I had been caught. I must stress again how important food was to us, it was our main waking thought. We had been prisoners for more than a year without a decent meal and the hunger never left us.

My sores were getting worse and my legs hurt with every step of our march to and from work and then having to stand to attention, the pain was unbearable, if I was able to move my legs slightly, the pain eased. I was caught moving and received a heavy blow across my back that almost knocked me down, one had to remain standing at all cost otherwise there were kicks as well if you fell to the ground. Mentally I tried to work out what I could do, the constant pain was disturbing my sleep night after night and I needed to rest badly.

I was now having to do everything for Bill when I came home from work. I did his washing, washed his food utensils, made his bed and washed him. He didn't have any conversation anymore, just kept repeating that he would not be able to ride his motorbike again with hands like his. I tried to convince him that they would heal in time as I had hoped my hands and legs would, but I wasted my time, I couldn't get through to him.

Thinking about it at work the next day, I decided I would see the chap that was running the sick bay and get Bill in there until he got better. I managed to see him that evening and he told me there was a space available, so returned to our room and told Bill. I also told him I just couldn’t carry on as I was, it was as much as I could do to look after myself. He didn’t want to go and said he preferred me to look after him. I think I would have done my best to carry on and manage somehow, but for his miserable outlook and constant moaning about there being no point in living if he couldn’t ride his bike again and keep telling me to look at the state of his hands. My own hands were continually  running with pus and looked as if I was holding scrambled egg yokes in the palm of my hand as it ran between my fingers. I did not feel a lot of sympathy for him, as he completely ignored the state I was in. All I wanted to do after my evening meal was to crawl into my blankets and be left alone. I wanted to try to forget the constant pain and didn't feel like conversing with anyone.

Next evening when I returned he had gone, his blankets and belongings had been moved, so after I had eaten and washed, I went along and sat with him, he hardly spoke except to tell me about his hands and not being able to ride his bike. I looked at the vacant expression on his face and knew he had given up, we was as good as dead. The next night was the same with less conversation, it was one sided as I tried to get through to him by talking about motorbikes with no response.

The next morning I was almost ready for work when the sick bay attendant came to me and said you better come and see your mate, because he is going to die shortly. I went quickly with him and there was Bill lying motionless in bed, I tried to get some response from him, talking to him, nothing happened so I bent over him and called his name, a flicker of a smile came over his face, then he was gone. The orderly said “I’ll see you tonight”.

My thoughts that day were naturally occupied with Bill dying, wondering if by getting him moved, I had caused his death. I concluded I may have hastened his end, but he would have died anyway, he had decided and constantly told me life wasn’t worth living.

That night the orderly came and told me Bill was to be cremated the following day and I was to be one of the bearers. I was excused standing by Bill’s body that night as I was a regular working. The sick mates of a man who had died previously were ordered by guards to stand by his body during the night. In the gloom the rats had eaten parts of the body and when discovered the next morning, the sick men suffered a beating from the Japanese guards.

I didn’t go to work the next day and during the morning, I was called by the guard to come. There were two Japanese civilians, the orderly and myself. Bill had been put into a barrel, knees up and hands folded across his chest. The barrel was then filled with sawdust and a lid put in place. It was then put into something that resembled a sedan chair with one man at each corner, curtains covering the barrel. We walked out of camp with a guard in attendance along the road to a Japanese cemetery, this we walked through and up a hill. At the top was a crematorium. This was a large brick oven with an iron door, the furnace underneath and a chimney at the back. The barrel was lifted into the oven and the door shut. The guard then motioned us to return to camp.

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