Autobiography of Syd’s son. http://www.ivorcatt.co.uk/952.htm
by Sydney E. Catt. 1974
Time flies when one is having a good time. Soon, the war at home was big news to us. That was all it was, since we were well out of it. I could not but think that, with the training I had done at Kenley, I would have been of more use in England than having a gay time in Singapore. But it was not up to me to decide where I ought to be, so the only thing to do was to go on having a good time. It is a good thing we did know how disastrously this good time was going to end.
As time sped away, and the Japanese started to trample over mainland China, we continued to feel nice, snug and safe in this quiet corner of the world. But the Japs continued to creep lower and lower down the coast of Asia, until we began to sit up and take notice.
As the Japs moved into Indo-China and Siam, and began to build up their strength there, things began to look ominous. Yet there was a peculiar feeling that nothing would happen to us. The crippling of the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, with the bombing raid on Singapore without the slightest warning or declaration of war, dispelled all ideas that we were not going to be tangled up in things.
Things moved fast. Soon the Japs were landing on the north of the Malay Peninsula. I began to with Enid M. and the children were out of it.
We had no good fighter aircraft. A squadron of Hurricanes were hurried out, but these did not last long, and we were left with no fighter cover. The Japs had the air to themselves. The Prince of Wales, with the Repulse and accompanying destroyers, arrived at the naval base. In my mind, I can still see these two fine battleships sailing down the Straits as I sat on the veranda of the officers' mess. And next morning, the terrific shock on hearing the news of their sinking by Japanese torpedo bombers. To me, that spelled the end, unless a miracle happened. A large force of Japs started landing a short way up the east coast. All our antiquated biplane torpedo bombers took off to see what they could do about it. Again imprinted on my mind is the picture of them as they flew off in formation to their doom. Only two of them got back. They were no match for the Jap Zeros.
But something always turns up. Sure enough, I was told to get Enid M. and the children to the docks, as a ship was there to pick up families. She was an American ship, braving the constant raids to do this. I am for ever grateful to the crew. They did manage to get to Ceylon, although it was years before I knew they were safe.
I returned to the house where we had had such a glorious time. I felt terribly, terribly lonely. The bottom had dropped out of our lovely dream world. I wondered if that was to be the end. The amahs were still there. I had orders to stay at Seletar, so I told the amahs to stay if they wanted to, and I would try to come back to tell them what to do. It was a week or more before I saw them again, when I returned to the house with two or three other chaps to get some clothing and what food there was. The end was pretty near and, almost weeping, I told them "Everything finished." I gave them a supply of money. The house was as spick and span as ever. Waving my hand round, I said; "All yours, I no more want." Taking them by the hands, I said goodbye.
As I passed the piano, I noticed the big copy of Mozart's sonatas open on it. To this day, I wonder who is playing it now.
I had gone over to the mess a couple of days before to get a late breakfast, as a bad raid had been on, only to find it absolutely deserted. There were half eaten breakfasts lying around the tables, and even half drunk cups of tea. It was a proper Marie Celeste. There were no servants or cooks in the kitchen, and nobody in sight. There must have been a terrible panic, as everybody had bolted. I and a few wireless people were the only ones in the whole of Seletar. owing to the shelling from across the strait, the transmitting station had been out of action for a couple of days, although it we had still been working we were getting no traffic to handle. Not only Seletar Station Headquarters had ceased to function, but Headquarters Singapore had gone phut too.
I got my few lads together and told them the position. We were completely on our own, and there was nothing I could do about it. Everybody else had bolted into the rubber plantations, and they could go and join them if they liked. Not one of them left me. They said; "We will stick with you, Sir." The Japs must have known the base was vacated, because the bombings stopped for the time being. My Rover had been knocked out by a bomb, but cars were lying around for the picking. I had got a small Fiat and a truck standing by in case we could all get away if necessary. As things were quiet, I walked over to the hangars. I was amazed to find that everything had been left, including aircraft under repair. I had an idea where the people were, and jumping into the Fiat, I eventually found them. There was a tent full of officers. I told them what I had seen, and said they all ought to return to camp and give a hand in smashing everything up, as I had not enough chaps to do it. I implored them to help, but no one made an effort to move, let alone get any of the men to come with me. I made my sad way back to Seletar. They were all frightened to get within a mile of it, and perhaps they were right, because I was spotted as I got near the camp. A shell burst about thirty yards in front of me, and in the blast I went into the small ditch by the road. A few more came over, but not near enough to cause any damage. When I thought things were quiet enough, I managed to get the car back on the road, and back to camp.
The first few days of February 1942 were a real nightmare. I still had all the high grade cipher books, but nobody in authority to give me any instructions as to what to do. I had sledge-hammers handy, and had told each chap to get cracking as soon as I gave the word, so that no wireless equipment would escape destruction. I told them that all cipher books must be burnt.
My birthday was February 11th, and during the three days leading up to it I hardly slept a wink. I kept going up onto the roof to see if anything was happening close by. The oil tanks o Pula Bukum were burning, as were the oil tanks at the naval docks, and soot rained down over everything. The guns at Blackang Mati and at Changi thundered away, but goodness knows what they were firing at, as everything was chaotic.
With all telephones out of action, there was nowhere I could go for any news. I could just stand and wait. I began to feel very tired, but the chaps with me were wonderful.
And so came the morning of my birthday. I told them that this was to be our lucky day, and something was sure to happen. I could hold the ciphers no longer, so the first thing we did was to have a bonfire of them, and all secret documents that I held. I locked the two big empty safes, and buried the keys in a corner of the wall surrounding the building. We had a supply of tinned food and milk that we had scrounged from the deserted cookhouses and stores, and could have carried on for a time.
I got onto the roof for another look see, and listened to the rumblings, which were getting closer. So I decided to smash up everything. Just then, the station adjutant dashed in and said; "Good God, Syd, you still here? Somebody has just said you might be." I said; "Yes, I'm still here, Pat, trying to finish up, but what's the excitement?" "Get right down to the docks if you can," he said, "There's a boat in to take us off. I don't know how you are to make it. So long, and the best of luck." And off he went.
Corporal Wake took most of the chaps in the van, and Paddy O'Reilly, a wonderful Irishman, came with me. I told Wake to keep close behind me, since I knew the back roads. We got as far as Bukit Timor Road, when an Army sergeant stopped me, saying we couldn't get through there, as there were Japs just down the road. Saying I would risk it, I carried on, but on getting near the General Hospital, a burst of machine gun fire blasted around us, but jamming my foot down on the accelerator, I barged on. I dreaded looking round, but when I did, it was to see Wake grinning all over his face, and making the thumbs up sign. As we drove along the dock road, a bomb exploded ahead of me, but it did no harm, and we made the boat O.K. So began the string of appalling nightmares about which I find it difficult to write.
I was absolutely dead beat after the sleepless and nerve wracking days of the past two weeks or so, and it was with the utmost relief that I staggered up the gangway and flopped down on the deck. The guns roaring away from nearby Blackang Mati appeared to be keeping the Jap aircraft from coming too close to this part of the docks. Regardless of the din, I think I fell asleep just where I had dropped, because when I came to, I found I was lying under a gangway which led up to the bridge. I was on board the 'Empire Star', but this was to be no Star boat pleasure cruise. There were lots of women who were making a last effort to get away, with a mixture of civilians, army and R.A.F.
As soon as it was dark, we left harbour and set off due south as fast as the boat could make it. I continued to stay in the position in which I had flopped down, and did not feel capable of taking any interest in anything. I worried about neither food nor drink, but only wanted to rest. After the nerve killing time of those last days at Seletar, this was peace indeed. Although the hard deck must have been anything but comfortable, I slept all night, and woke up to find the sun well up, and conditions perfect, with a beautifully calm sea. How much pleasanter it would have been had we been blanketed by low clouds and a little less perfect weather.
We were soon found by a Japanese aircraft, and the horrors of the day began. The morning was not far advanced before a large formation of bombers appeared and made a trial run over us. They turned, and we all knew that this was it. We saw a shower of bombs leave the planes. Immediately, the captain shouted; "Hard a'port.", and the boat heaved off course. The bombs appeared to drop all round the ship, but there were no hits. I offered up a small prayer as I continued to hear the engines chugging away. Run after run was made, until all the bombs were finished, and the shouts of "Hard a'port" and "Hard t'starboard" were, for the moment, over. We were seeing an amazing exhibition of bomb dodging and a piece of seamanship unequalled, in my humble opinion, by anything that happened under like circumstances. The Japs must have been really wild, because they were soon back. The nightmare continued, but the stupid clots continued to pattern bomb in close formation, and the quick manoeuvring to port or starboard was just enough to leave the bombs churning u the water alongside. But every moment I thought would be my last. It was frightening to see the bombs raining straight down at one, and then see them veer aside.
The horrid business went on until the afternoon, and the Japs must have wasted hundreds of bombs around us. It had been a magnificent performance by the skipper of the Empire Star.
How glad we were when dusk came, and we felt safe. There was no chatting, and very little movement. Everybody just sat put and, I suppose, they were wondering like me how we had survived to see that night. Except for the starlight, it was quite dark, as the ship was under blackout conditions. Everything was quite still and calm, when suddenly someone on the other side of the deck started singing 'Abide with me.' It was electric. Within a minute, all had joined in. Although I had sung it countless times and was to sing it countless times more, never have I heard it sung with so much fervour and deep sincerity;
I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless:
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness:
Where is death's sting? Where, Grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
When I hear the mobs shouting this beautiful hymn down at Wembley on cup final day, how I wish they could have heard it that night on the Empire Star.
After the hymn, a lovely voice offered up a prayer of thanks to God for our deliverance. So ended a day which, with other days to come, was to remain in my memory with the utmost clarity, and one about which I have spoken very little.
By the next morning we had put a good many more miles between us and malaya, but we wondered whether we were far enough away yet; but as the morning progressed it became obvious that we were too far from them, and peace reigned until we arrived at Batavia.
In view of what was to happen in Java I cannot understand why we did not stay on the boat. Without any aircraft and without any arms we were little better than useless, but there appears to have been an Air Headquarters of sorts in Batavia (now Jakarta), and possibly it did have some reason for keeping us.I was tyo learn that everything was in such a chaotic state that there was nobody capable of handling this shambles efficiently, because it was soon to deteriorate into a complete and utter shambles.
We were escorted to a school which had been converted into comfortable quarters for us. We were told to make ourselves comfortable, which we did. Within a day or so I was told that I could go for a few days' rest with a Dutch planter and his wife, and although I felt that this was like fiddling while Rome was burning I did go, and had a very pleasant time with two charming people who did not survive the war.
I returned to Batavia hoping to find that something was being organised, but there was nothing doing, and I could find no one who had any idea if anything was going to be done. Boats were getting in and out of a port on the south coast, and it was hoped that we would all be got away. But things were moving quickly, and the Japs were knocking at Java.
It was difficult to get any definite news as to what was really happening, everything was so hush hush. We knew that Singapore had fallen just after our departure and, as far as I could see, there was nothing to stop the Japs from walking into Java. Although we were not being told so, that was what was ahppening.
When I had been in Batavia for two weeks with the crowd off the Empire Star absolutely nothing had been done to get us into any sort of fighting force so as to give the Dutch a hand. Being a humble Flight lieutenant, I was unable to get senior officers to see my point of view, and perhaps they were right to think that offering any sort of resistance was hopeless. For me, remembering my triaining, this was soul destroying. Although I could see no signs of it, I suppose things were getting too hot in Batavia to hold us. We were hurried to the station and took a train for Poerballingo, a longish journey down into Java, where we found ourselves billetted in the drying sheds of a tobacco factory. We might as well have stayed in Batavia and saved the loss of life which resulted from the running away tactics we were about to start.
When we had been in the tobacco sheds a couple of days a Squadron Leader appeared to collect all arms. I still had my revolver and fourteen rounds of ammunition. I was loathe to part with this and said so. He said he had come from Headquarters, and this was an order. On my saying that this was very un-English and something I could not understand, he said something about the Dutch wanting it done, and it became clear to me that the end was very close. I just cannot explain how I felt whan I had been brought up on such heroic stories as the relief of Lucknow, Rorke's Drift and the hundred and one other incidents like this in which Englishmen stood fast.
And so I became one of a hounded rabble.
We left Poerballingo for Poerwakarto, where we had just got settled in a sugar factory when panic stations broke loose and we hurried to the station and entrained, in trucks, for Garut, a place in the hills. I made no effort to get on it, but as it was pulling out I saw some of the Seletar boys waving to me out of the open door of their truck. A Wing Commander was in charge of operations, and quickly saying to him "I'll go with those chaps," I jumped in with them.
Darkness came on, and I was looking out upon a dazzling display of fireflies swarming in the bushes by the railway when terriffic bursts of m,achine gun fire began pouring through the trucks. None of my party were hit and we continued forward, but the train began to slow down and eventually stopped. Fortunately we had run a few miles beyond the ambush, and all around seemed quiet. We all jumped out, to find that the engine had been knopcked out.
Luckily there were only a few wounded, and I began to hunt around for officers, only to find that I was one of three officers on the whole train. The railway people told us that Mause was only a few miles ahead, and that we should get there as soon as possible. Carryuing the wounded, we set off along the line.
We reached mause to find it almost deserted, but someone there told us to get on and get over a bridge which was being blown up. We were told to leave the wounded there for collection.
Getting the chaps organised as well as we could, and telling them to hurry, we reached the bridge. it was a huge affair over a wide river, and there were Dutchmen shouting to us to hurry and get over. I ran past lots of chaps, taking their time over it. I dashed off the bridge and was just diving off the line when, with a terriffic roar and a blast which nearly floored me, the bridge went up behind us. How many chaps went up with it will never be known, because nobody knew who was on the train.
Things should never have been allowed to deteriorate into the disorganised rabble we had now become. We should have been made into units wqith an officer in charge who would have been responsible for a complete unit.
Near the bridge was a small detachment of Dutch troops with an officer who told us that the Japs were quite close behind us. He said we could not stay there, but I insisted that we have a short rest because veryone was very tired. It was now midnight, and we decided to rest until three a.m. There was no transport of any kind, and the Dutch told us we must carry on as best we could on foot and try to reach Chamis. That is anjother day which has remained in my memory to dream about. It would have been bad enough in England or a cooler climate, but in the tropics it was killing. Every so often I would stop and collect as many men together as I could. I would try to give a cheerful and encouraging talk, although inside me I was as low in spirits as any of them.
I almost lost the sole of one of my shoes, and could not help thinking how sensible the solid boots were, and how I wished I was in a pair.
We staggered on to the station where we had been told we should leave the railway and carry on by road. The station was deserted, so, after a short rest, we staggered on through deserted country. What had happened here? Where had all the people fled to, and why?
we had seen no Japanese aeroplanes or anything to warrant such a state of affairs until, on rounding a corner, we came upon an amazing and horrible sight. A convoy of cars was wrecked on and by the roadside, and dead bodies were strewn around. It could not have happened long before, and i could not see whether it had been done by aircraft or ground attack. It all looked very mysterious and horrible, but as we could do nothing, and without tools it was not even possible to bury the dead, we staggered on. It was getting late morning now, and lots of the chaps could not carry on. We could not stop, so we made them as comfortable as we could in what shade we could find, and saying that I would send help as soon as I could, we staggered on.
We passed no villages and saw nobody, and it was difficult to believe that we were in one of the most densely populated islands in the world. We were walkikng, for the most part, through open country. Except for the short rest at the bridge, we had now been on the go for well over twenty four hours, and I began to wonder how much longer I could carry on. We were getting very, very thirsty, and could have done witha a good meal, but the main thought in our minds was to get on as far as we could, and hope that soon we would find some civilised place.
How I wished I had a map to see if there was anywhere we could reach before the mystical Chamis that we were aiming for. I thought I was seeing things, and that I too was going round the bend; but no, it really was a car coming towards us. In it were two Dutch officers. My spirits rose as I realised that I would, at any rate, now find out what lay ahead. But after a bit of a pow-wow, they told me to get back to the railway station we had passed through, and a train would be sent for us. This was miles back now, and I wondered if any of us could make it.
So we about turned, andyhelped by the knowledge that help was at hand, we kept on our feet. We even gathered up the chaps we had left behind, and taking it as easy as we could, slowly staggered on.
Getting back to the spot where the straffed convoy was, I was surprised to find that the bodies had been removed; by whom, or how, was a mystery, as there was still nobody about, and nothing had passed us on the road. We all eventually made it back to the station, and I flopped down under a siding shelter absolutely exhausted with the tattered remains of a shoe on my left foot.
I must have fallen asleep alomst at once as I remember nothing more until something woke me up. I opened my eyes without moving, but i was soon sitting up and rubbing my eyes and thinking i was going over the edge. Within two feet of me was a pair of new shoes. I was too scared at first to see if they were real, but eventually i did, and real they were. Of all the things I wanted then, a pair of shoes topped the list. I am sure they were not there when I lay down. Calling the chaps who were around, I asked whose they were, and what they were doing there. Nobody knew anything about them, and no one had seen them before. I began to feel a bit strange, and through my mind flashed; "Somebody is looking after me." It all reeks of the occult, but if anybody had been miles and miles from my thoughts, it was mind healthy me.
I tried the shoes on, and they had been made for me. They were typical English pattern and were to see me right through my prisoner of war period, keeping solid and sound for the three years plus. The mystery of that pair of shoes, which turned up at the deserted little junction in the, at that time, uninhabited part of java caused me to meditate many times.
The train did arrive. We crowded into it and were off. It was composed of goods trucks, but I soon sorted out my little party so that we could lie down fully stretched and get some rest. We were all filthy dirty and hungry. There had been water only at the station.
It was late at night when we arrived at Chamis, but we found some activity there, and a little food was found for us. There were some senior officers who had somehow made the trip by road. Possibly, had I not jumped into the truck with the Seletar chaps, I would have come with them, and missed the noightmare of the last twenty-four hours. I was told we could not go on before the morning and, with the others, lay down beside the railway track and got some sleep.
We were called early. After having a little food, we were put into a passenger train to carry on to Garut, where there was a lot of activity and Dutch soldiery about, and then we went on. In a short while the train stopped. There was another engine on the other line which backed to our engine, and soon we were on the way back to Tasik. On getting there, we were told by the Dutch that the war was over as they had capitulated. What this meant took a little time to soak in. It was more than a little stunning, although it had been hammering at my mind that this could be the obvious end. But I had continued to hope that something would happen to get me out of the frightful merr in which I was becoming entangled. We left the train and, being told that we were prisoners of war, went to an empty school to await events. There was not a Jap in sight, and it was a day or two before we saw one. It was lovely to get a good bath and to clean up, and at last food was plentiful.
At once I began to think of the possibility of getting away and making a dash for it, but I found my legs in a sorry plight after the gruelling time they had had, and considered it better to wait until i felt a little fitter. I could not expect to get help from the Dutch, and I knew nothing about the natives. I did not know exactly where we were, or how far away the sea was. No one had a map, which was absolutely necessary. I did not discuss it with anybody. All seemed content just to sit pretty. The bunch of senior officers, in a small place on their own, soon began to make merry as it was possible to get out and get booze. This to me was just about the limit, and I soon realised what a pitiful bunch of rascals the staff officers of Singapore headquarters had been and were. I only hoped I would soon feel fit enough to get out of it. I was surprised that nobody made the slightest suggestion about getting out of it. As it turned out, perhaps it was as well that I had not felt fit enough to risk it. In later camps I did meet chaps who had tried it but found it impossible to get off the island. They were eventually picked up by the Japs.
I was at Tasikmalaya for three weeks, and on March 31 I left by train with a large party of officers and men. Where were we going? We retraced our steps, and came to thje blown up bridge on the tragic night of the train ambush. The spans of the bridge had collapsed and were resting on the river bed. It was possible to scramble across the wreckage, and this we had to do and then get into another train on the other side. We slept in the train, or rather we tried to, in great discomefort, and went on to malang. There we found ourselves quartered in the barracks of an aerodrome. We were quite comfortably housed, with beds and normal facilities, and we wondered what was on.
We were soon to learn. The senior Jap officer called for all officers, and we were informed that we were to work at making the 'drome serviceable and make a runway. We remostrated immediately, saying that as P.O.W.s we could not do that. On quoting the Hague conventions and things we got the reply that Japan did not conform to any such things, and that we were servants of the japanese Emperor. We must do as we were told. If we did not we would be shot, and, by the way he said it, it was clear he would do it. We saw that there was nothing more we could do, anmd we went and told the troops, warning them that we were in the hands of a bunch of heathens who would stick at nothing, and they would be glad of the opportunity to shoot us.
I soon got around among the troops, instructing them upon ways and means of sabotaging the work as much as was within our power. At the same time, I gave them to understand that should we be caught out doing anything it would be a shot through the head. At all times, work as slowly as possible. Get to know your particular guard, and see to what extent you can kid him.
Besides the general clean up, the main job was the runway. For this we took lorry trips into the country to collect boulders and rock. I found I was able to drift away after a time and meet the natives, but I soon found that one could get no help from them. They were very scared of the japs, and with very good rreason, I found. All the Jpas were not bad however, and I experiences a few instances where they pitied us and tried to be kind.
I was in charge of a party moving a lot of large bombs. It was tough work, and the guard drew me aside and said; "Me very sorry for you, but I can do nothing for you." I smiled at him, saying; "Me understand your position but thank you; you are a Christian." He understood what I meant. A few of them could speak a little English.
As soon as the Japs took over a place, that place changed to Tokyo time. This meant that in Java, as we were getting up at dawn, it was about eight O'clock. I asked a Jap what would happen when they had conquered the whole world, which they said they were going to do. "All world one time," he said, "Tokyo time." It was alarming to talk to some of them as they were so cock-a-hoop with the ease with which they had walked over East Asia. They really believed that nothing could stop them from taking England and America. They had the idea that England and America were already beaten. Although they were supposed to be allies of Germany they would take over Germany as well.
Every morning at dawn we paraded and bowed towards Tokyo and the Japanese Emperor, or made pretence at doing so.
In one of the hangars the Americans had left an unserviceable B29. Although it looked to be in a very bad way, the Nips got working on it. One day it actually took off, to the surprise of all of us.
We had a padre with us, Padre Wanlas, and we were allowed to hold a service every Sunday evening. The Japanese had no rest day equivalent to our Sunday. One just took every day as the same, so we worked on Sundays as usual. I soon mustered a choir to enliven the singing, and the troops came en masse. We had no instruments, so to start off a hymn I would quietly give a note. I thought I had a good sense of pitch, and it went well until one Sunday evening I started them off on "Onward Christian soldiers". Before we had gone far, I realised I had been too confident as we were all adrift and I had to start again. Next morning I got into the bamboo grove and cut a pipe. Teh note I produced was, I considered, middle G. This solved the problem. I was very pleased, some time later, when I tested it with a piano, that I found it was G.
When the work at the 'drome was approaching its end a large party left, Padre Wanlas going with them. This was the party that went to the Island of Celebes, where they all perished.
We were now without a padre, but many were keen to carry on with the services and asked me to do them. I willingly did so, and found myself acting both as choir master and vicar!
Escape was still on my mind. I had been discussing it with F/Lt Gordon and F/O Cheesewright, but I wanted to be certain that we could make the coast on our own and, at the moment, I was not sure that we could.
I had just come back from church on the Sunday evening when I found them all dressed with small kitbags packed. "Come on, we're off. Get ready." they said. "Not on your life," I said, "It will be madness until we are sure we can make it." "All right," they said; "We'll go without you." I tried all ways to stop them, but it was no good, and through the fence they went. At the same time a W.O. Kennenen and Sgt. Poland went with them.
Only a couple of days afterwards, one of the guards told me that all men caught would be shot. I nearly collapsed. In the afternoon we were all paraded on the aerodrome. There was a very large guard all round us with fixed bayonets. The four were brought out in front of us and shot. I just cannot express what ran through my mind, or how I felt. I could hardly march away. What had stopped me from being with them?
They were buried where they fell. Fifteen days afterwards, four of us were permitted to go and fix crosses to mark the graves and to hold a short service. When we had finished, i was amazed to see the Jap guard with us go to each grave and say a short prayer with all sincerity. He was feeling something of what we felt. After that, all thoughts of excaping left me.
Soon, aircraft began to land. They looked very good aircraft, especially the two engined bombers. We were to see one of these dive in on the edge of the 'drome and kill both the occupants.
All orders had to be given in Japanese, so I got my squadron behind a hut in two ranks and gave the front man his number; ichi, ni, san, shi, etc., and we had a practice run. They paraded in this order, each man remembering his number, and was the Nip guard surprised when it rang out! I knew he knew no English and I turned to him, saying, "What do you think of that, you little thingamey?" to the amusement of the troops.
I had been having bad tooth ache. There were no facilities for treatment in the camp, so I went to the Japs. To my amazement, arrangements were made for me to visit the hospital in Malang. I went there, and was treated by a Dutch doctor who was still being allowed to work there. Malang looked a fine town, but quite dead. There was no traffic or life, but a few shops were open.
I had been at Malang exactly five months when, on the first of September, along with the rest of the P.O.W.s, I was packed into a lorry and sent by road to Soerabaya. The Yaarmart at Soerabaya had been turned into a large P.O.W. camp. Here I met quite a number of people from Seletar. One of these was Padre Giles, who found bed space for me near to him.
There was nothing to do here except to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, and pass the time as pleasantly as possible. Although poor, we were getting enough food, and everybody appeared to be fairly fit.
The monotonous days crept by, and Christmas was upon us. We made an effort to cheer things up. The Japs gave us mermission to have a carol concert on Christmas Eve, but after we had given forth for a while we were told we were making too much noise, and we had to quieten down.
On Christmas day, some of the captured army rations must have been produced. I got a small quantity of bully beef. This was the last piece of tinned meat I was to get for a long time.
I was beginning to think that I would stay at Yaarmaart for the duration when, during March, i was called to the Japanese office. "You are Captain Catto?" I was asked. "No," I said, "Flight Lieutenant Catt, Royal Air Force." "You get ready to move. You go to Japan. You must take a servant with you. let me know who it is."
My heart fell into my boots, and I wondered what had been found out concerning me. It could only have been something connnected with signals or cyphers. There was a Corporal Wallace who did little jobs for a few of us and, after a chat with Padre Giles, I spoke to him about it. I said that I was obviously for the high jump, but that whoever came with me should not be involved. He immediately said, "I'll come anywhere with you, sir." I told him not so fast, but to think it over quietly for half an hour since it meant so much. But he came back and said that regardless of what it might mean, he would come with me. So I took him to the Jap officer. "You are English?" he was asked. "No. Scotch," he replied. I could not but smile. "You go to Japan with this officer and look after him." he was told, and Jock replied, "Yes."
At the end of March we left Soerabaya for Singapore in a filthy ship. The holds had an extra sleeping floor fixed about three feet above the deck which enabled double the number of people to be carried. Even then we were terribly crowded and had difficulty in getting enough room in which to lie stretched out. There were 2,000 Dutch officers and men. Sanitary conditions were appalling. I would not like to see animals transported in such conditions. Even the Japs softened, and many were taken off at Batavia, where we stopped en route. Fortunately it was a short run to Singapore, and we managed to walk off hell ship number one.
We were taken out to Changi camp, about which so much has been written, and where so many P.O.W.s lie buried. I was there some little time, and funerals were the order of the day. Officers, although no longer allowed to wer#ar badges of rank, were living in messes.
As I was going on to Japan, I was asked by the senior British officer if I had anywhere I could hide a copy of an extract from the War Diary of the Alexandria Military Hospital. I shewed him my small mirror. It had a wooden frame with a thin board backing, and we tacked it in there. Although I was stripped of all papers at times, this was never found, and I still have it. It is the account of the behaviour of the Japanese when they overran the hospital on Febriary 14th, killing doctors in the wards and bayonetting patients in bed. It is an account of one of the most uncivilised acts of modern times. It is a horror story of two foolscap pages closely typed.
I had been joined with Pilot Officer Hard. This seemed strange until I asked him what he had been on. He was slow to answer, and on my asking if it was cyphers, he nodded. I did not embarrass him by asking him how the dickens he had been rumbled, as I did not know how I had been.
Hard, Wallace and I sailed from Singapore on the third of April 1943 on the Haiwan Maru with 1,000 Dutch officers and men. We were not quite so crowded, but conditions were the same, including an extra floor space. In three days we arrived in the Saigon River, where we stayed at anchor for two days. The Dutch began to go sick. We had no medical supplies or facilities, and when we arrived at Tainan, Formosa, where we stayed for three days, nothing was done to help us. Dysentry was rampant, and soon the Dutch began to die. We could only wrap them in anything the Japs would produce and throw them over the side. Words cannot express how I felt at being entangled in such an appalling business in this so-called civilised world.
I told Walllace and Hard to eat as little as possible and drink little. TRhere was aporthole near us. As soon as it got dark I opened it, although there were strict orders that portholes were to remain closed. We did get a little fresh air from this to alleviate the awful stench which pervaded the atmosphere.
We disembarked at Moji on the 25th after a trip of just over three weeks, and although we three Englishmen walked off, we did so over a deck covered with dead and dying people. It was just too horrible for words. Who and what were these people who had sunk so low as to exhibit so low a state of human behaviour?
Our trip was not the only disaster. I have a statement by an Australian Doctor Bristow on his arrival at Moji to help with the sick off the Singapore Maru in February. Then, he says, 46% died. I never found out how many died on our trip because those who could walk were hurried off. As I left the hold, a bunch of superior-looking Japs who had come on board were looking down on the horrible scene. They showed no sign that any help was going to be given, and I felt that they were getting some sort of sadistic pleasure from it.
Although we had got off the ship, we lay around in various places in utter misery until late that night. Then we started on a long walk. The great part was through a covered way which seemed endless. At last it brought us to station where we boarded a train. The fresh air, after the filthy atmosphere of the ship, revived us, and I was able to get a little sleep on the train.
We travelled all night. Early in the afternoon of the next day we were jherded off the train in some large city, taken outside and placed on exhibition. The crowds soon surrounded us, but by now I was considering myself to be little more than an animal. I was very sorry for poor Wallace who had volnteered to suffer all this for me, but in no way did he show that he was sorry he had taken it on. What was in the mind of the Jap in Soerbata who told me I must take a servant to look after me? It all looked a pretty bad joke now, and was to become more so.
We were herded into another train in which we spent the night, and early on the morning of the 27th of April, after two nights on the train, we arrived at Yokohama. here we three got out, but Hard was taken away by two Japs to a different camp from me. Wallace and I got into a crowded local train, and soon got out at Kawasaki and walked to Number 2 (Mitsui) Camp, which came to be known as the Mitsui madhouse.
I was taken up to a small room where five officers were quartered. There were two young American officers called Carney and Schwartz. Carney was to killed, with many others, in one of the bombing raids later on. There were two Dutch; Looijen, the chief engineer of a Dutch submarine which had been caught, and an army officer named Naber. Surgeon A. P. Curtin was R.N.V.R. and formerly of St. Barts Hospital London.
The sleeping arrangements were a two tier affair, three up and three down, since the room was far too small for six to sleep on the floor. There was an ordinary casement window which was boarded up because it overlooked the road. We were at the end of the upper story of the building, connected by a short passage to the larger rooms for the troops. The building was just inside the gates of the dock area and had possibly been offices or a large store. We were a mixture of American and Dutch troops, the Americans being those captured on the Phillipine Islands. Some of them were pretty tough guys, and not a bad crowd to be mixed up with. The Dutch had been shipped up from the south.
Wallace was fixed up in the Americans' quarters, although all rooms were inter-connected. Right from the start there was no thought of him being my servant. He joined an American outside working party. Hard by was the huge Nippon Steel Works, and regular working parties went there. Other work was in the docks, handling goods off the ships. The officers did not work, but remained in camp. There was only a very small yard in which to exercise, but most afternoons we were taken to a nearby field where, if enough troops were off work, we played American football or netball. As the troops were working, the food was enough to keep fit on, although by our standards it was rough. We did get a certain amount of rice.
The sanitary arrangements were absolutely primitive. There were holes dug in a corner of the yard over which one squatted. Excreta was used in Japan as a fertiliser, and every so often a Jap would come in with a long truck arrangement in which was fitted half a dozen tubs, and cart it away.
When Wallace and I arrived we were in a filthy state, and so were our clothes. I asked the chaps in the room where i could get a bath. I was told there were no proper bathing arrangements, and it wasn't easy. However, there was a shed in the yard near the ablution bench. We went down to it, stripped off, and although it was very cold, we did have a bath.
I was told that there was a supply of clothes. I asked for some, and a pair of trowsers and a tunic were found, along with some rough underclothing. When the American embassy staff left, they had handed over a lot of stuff for the P.O.W.s, and this pair of trowsers might have belonged to the American ambassador. The tunic was an ordinary twoop's drill tunic.
After a few days I found out why I had come to Japan. I was called to the office, where I saw a silk shirted lot of stiffs, some of whom were leaning on their samurai swords. They were seated at a long table, and I took a chair at the end. On the table was a pot of tea and some sort of buns. Had things been normal I would have loved to have got stuck into them. As it was, I ignored them.
The meeting began very friendly and smooth, which was a little frightening. They asked me what I did in Singapore. I said I ran the signals and communications, that I was in charge of the wireless station. Gradually the discussion led on to cyphers and the work I did with them. I told them that cyphers were done at headquarters, that I only transmitted the messages. However, it became clear that they knew something. I began to pray for a little inspiration. At last, when one of them began to lose his patience, insisting that I did have to do some cyphering because I had to make out my own messages, I suddenly had an idea. "Oh yes; this is how I did that," I said. I turned round to the blackboard which was in the room. "I take any word to use as a code word, which both I and the receiver know." I asked the nearest rascal his name, saying, "I will use your name as the code word." His name was Takaushi, and I wrote it on the board. With lots of flannel, I then went slowly through the simple Boy Scouts' transposition code, and got away with it. I can hardly believe they were all so daft, and yet that was the end of it for me, except that I was a marked man for a time. It all sounds very funny now, but at the time, knowing the ruthless gang with whom I had to deal, I came away from the battle of wits mentally exhausted. As when I found the new pair of shoes, there was someone looking after me.
Four of the men running the camp seemed to be competing to be the championm straffer and terroriser. They were allowed to behave as utter savages, without let or hindrance. When they decided to go on the rampage no one was safe. Many bruised and battered faces resulted. In one case, an American had his arm broken trying to defend his head. It was terrible to see then when they lost all control of themselves and just went mad.
One night I was set upon, taken out into the snow, put against a wall opposite the armed guard and told to stay there all night. I gradually got colder and colder until I lost all feeling, but I knew I would get a bullet if I did anything so it was useless to make a fight of it. Early in the morning, almost lifeless, I felt a touch on my shoulder. A guard beckoned me into the guardroom, but they had to help me to move. I was put by the fire, and thanked them. Nothing was said, and I sat there until I had recovered somewhat. Then, motioning me to be quiet, they let me into the building and I crawled into my blanket.
About once a month we were allowed to write one short card. I did not know where Enid M. and the children were, so I sent these to her father in Brighton and my father in Sandwich. Few of these got anywhere until near the end.
My anxieties ended after a very embarrassing and nervewracking interview. With Schwartz and Doc. Curtin I was called to the office to see a gang of staff officers and someone who said he was from the Swiss legation on behalf of the Red Cross. We distrusted anything involving the Japs, so we just sat dumb when he started asking questions about conditions in the camp. He was getting nowhere until, looking directly at me and giving me a slight twinkle in his right eye he said, "Well, everything is all right then, and you have no coplaints." Suddenly it struck me that he might be genuine, and off the hook I went. I told him we were in the hands of a crowd of savages; what they had done; how we got no news of our loved ones. I beseeched him, if he was genuine, to try to find out for me where my wife was. I told him to let the world know how these people were behaving. All this time the japs tried to stop me, but I waved them down. He took the addresses of Enid M.'s father and of mine, saying he would give them mews of me. As for the straffing he had mentioned, i said it was worse than ever, and that only two nights before some of the men were brutally handled. If he cared to stay he could still see the results. Poor Doc. and Schwartz. I did pray that I was not letting them down, but I had to do it. this was on the 10th of July 1944. On the night of the fifteenth, after we had wrapped ourselves in our blankets, the camp interpreter was heard shouting as he came up the stairs; "Catto lucky Catto." He handed me three letters which had obviously been in Japan for months. Enid M. and children were happy in Cape Town, and everythings in the garden was lovely. No one can realise what this meant for me. But the interview was to have its repercussions. Soon after the interview, one of the straffers came shouting up the stairs; "No food for the officers, officers no food." And so it was. The officers were to go hungry. I a[pologised to the others for the mess I had got them into. Both Doc. and Schwartz said I had done the right thing. It was worth going hungry for a bit to have heard me. As soon as the troops heard the story, they went to town to do the best for us. Wallace was working at the docks on rice. He made a narrow bag which fitted under his crutch. He smuggled it into camp full of rice. Comiong in from working parties all troops were searched. I dreaded his being caught with it. But he got through. An American Sergeant worked at Nippon Steel. He was very well in with the Japs there, so he took the rice to work and cooked it there. They were not gone over to the same extent as the chaps from the docks, so he was able to get it back into camp. For the or three days we were off rations, we managed O.K.
It was very unusual for the camp to be visited by any higher authority. Lt. Washima, the commandant, and his gang of ruffians had a free hand. But experience had shown that any higher authority of any sort was just as heartless as the underlings. There was no one to appeal to when things were very bad.
I had been in the Madhouse for about four months when it was inspected by a colonel. He saw us sit down to a meal the like of which had not been seen. During the week before his visit we had been issued with two pieces of soap. He said nothing to anybody, but it was obvious that he was 'flannelled' by Washima and Co.
A few weeks later, we were interviewed by Professor Fujisawa. It appears that at one time he had been the Japanese representative to the League of Nations. He waa certainly an intellectual of sorts. He spoke perfect English. He got on to me about Japan's guide to the world, trying to put over a load of propaganda on her behalf. I began to wonder it at last some Japanese realised that they were not going to win the war after all.
Chaps who cleaned up the office and the Japs' quarters brought us the papers lewft lying around. Using the Japanese we had picked up with the maps of the war zones, we followed the Russian advance and out victories i Africa. There were other indications that the war was moving in our favour. The day following the interview, officers were taken into the town by Kondo, the interpreter, to shop. We were amazed at the state Japan was in. There was nothing in the shops except old odds and ends, which nobody wasted. There were no food shops. There was no food to buy. Employers rationed all employees with any available food. When I asked, "If man no work, what then?" I got the reply; "He get no food." We had heard that Berri berri was bad among the civilians, and they were showing signs of it. I myself had continual bad attacks of diarrhoea, which were very weakening.
Christmas 1942 came upon us. The American boys came to ask me if we could have a Christmas church service. If we could, would I take it. I said I would see the Nips. If they gave permission, I would organise it. I exaplained to the Nips what Christmas was to Christians. After a little haggling they gave permission, but I had to show all I was going to do. So I wrote everything out, including the sermon, and they were satisfied. I wrote the hymns on the wall in chalk, so that all could read them. I knew that the three Japs who sat in on us were not English speaking, so I'm afraid I drifted from my script a little. I still have that old exercise book in which I wrote that service, in which I tried to give a little cheer.
Into 1944, wondering what it would have in store for us. Our food was deteriorating. We were getting little proper rice, and few vegetables. I was having bad bouts of sickness, and berri berri was affecting my legs. But the news we were able to scramble from the papers was cheering. The Japs were beginning to report losses in the Pacific.
As officers are supposed to be paid as P.O.W.s, we occasionally received driba and drabs of useless yen. They were absolutely useless. One could buy nothing, not even cigarettes or tobacco, let alone food of any sort. I still have hundreds of these, although I have given away further hundreds as souvenirs. At the collapse, they suddenly realised that we had not been getting anything near what we were entitled to. Just before our release, we got bundles of hundred yen notes. They looked as though they had been printed for us. As we learnt they were useless, they make a good relic of the miserable affair.
That No. 2 Prison Camp had become known as the Kawasaki Madhouse will be understood by what I now have to relate. There is no memorising about this. I have here the small notebook in which I wrote it all up at the time, and I put it here in full.
August 1st, 1944.
To say that I am in a state of utter bewilderment is to speak lightly of today's happenings/ We have had another anniversary, and for anniversaries, these beat our small chapel people hollow.
Today's has been in celebration of one year at No. 2 Prison Camp.
To begin with, it has been a holiday for everyone. WE had an extra hour in bed, getting up at 6.30 instead of 5.30.
At 8 we paraded in our cleanest clothes, went out to the patch, and lined up before tables upon which were the presents.
When we were all ready, with the prison staff, the civilians who took over the working parties at the factories, and a few Tom, Dick and Harrys hanging around. Teh camp commandant arrives, and was saluted in the approved manner; Kioski, Kashiri nakai, naori, etc. He then gave the following speech in Japanese, which was afterwards read in English and Dutch;
"Last August, we started this camp. Since then, one year has passed. Four your good obeyance of orders, your good conduct towards the imperial Jamanese Army, and all Japanese that you have had occasion to some into contact with, also for your help to the Japanese Empire, I, at this time, wish to extend my appreciation.
"In future, any time or anywhere, your treatment will be the same. Humane treatment to be accorded to all. Contempt and severs punishments are not allowed by rules and regulations of the Imperial Japanese Army. This is your camp. We are very proud of your camp, and we want you to be proud of it also. In the future, if there is anything that I can do to help you make this camp more enjoyable to you or your comrades, let me know. You must trust the Impewrial Japanese Army for your treatment. You must do your assigned jobs at the factories. That is my wish. During the past year you have worked in all kinds of weather, sometimes very hot, sometimes damn cold. Your spirits have remained high, your conduct good. Some men have shown themselves exceptional by working hard, obeying orders and doing good work at the factories. let these be an example to all. In appreciation to these men I offer my thanks, and a present to each. I hope that I can do the same for you all next time.
"This day of leisure and these presents have been given to you by the factories where you work. Tomorrow you will go back to your jobs in appreciation to them. Do your best."
After this speech, the commandant gave out citations and presents to the worthy individuals. The citations were printed in Japanese and English. The presents consisted of cigarette cases, fountain pens, cigarettes, packets of tea, bottles of fruit juice and sauce.
They wer for the best workers, most attendance at work, etc.
Wallace had the 'honour' of being No. 2 worker. He got, besides his citation, a packet of tea, a bottle of fruit juice, and ten packets of cigarettes. Thw citation read as follows;
To: Cpl. Wallace. British Army.
For your outstanding work at the Mitsui Bussan Coy. On this your first anniversary I want to thank you and show my appreciation by giving you this present.
August 1st 1944
Signed, Lt. L. Washimy
I wonder if we are giving any Nazis or Italians citations and presents for helpin gour war effort? I wrote at the time. After food, a conceert was arranged. The saxaphone, guitars and a mandoline p[came out and disturbed the atmosphere somewhat. The usual turns performed, and everyone made merry. All the Japs came up, and a few females too. We had extra food of sorts, and Chinese lanterns were hunga about the rooms. On eor two things of interest were noticed. The champion workers put in 354 working days at the factory. I wonder if there is a German prisoner who has had onle 12 days off from work during the past year. None of the camp 'straffers' were in attendance at the parade.
Included in this mad performance was the taking of photographs by a professional photographer. The six officers were taken on our own. As I look at it now, I wonder where Doc., Curtin, Schwartz and the others are, except Carney, who was killed there.
My days at the madhouse were numbered. On the 24th, Schwartz and I were called to the Jap office and told we were leaving the camp next day. We had a goodbye get-together that evening. I felt sorry to be leaving the chaps I had got to know so well, and for whom I had been of some use. I was sorry to loeave Wallace. he went to the H.Q. camp in another part of Tokyo. I was glad to see the last of Shawozawa and Saito, who would no longer be able to expend their hate on me.
Fifty officers left the H.Q. Camp at 2.30 in the morning of the next day, for an unknown destination. We had to walk some miles. In my state of unfitness, I found this very painful. We eventually arrived at a staation. We entrained at 6 O'clock, and travelled south all day. We spent the night on the train. The blinds were kept drawn so that we could see nothing. When we arrived at a port, we had no idea where we were. We wer #e herded straight onto a ferry. After an hour's run we had crossed the Inland Sea. We entrained again, and in about an hour arrived at our new camp Zenzuchi. My little kit bag was combed through, and all visible papers thrown away. My bible was thrown over a fence. I saw whewre it landed, and kept my eye on it for the rest of the day as much as I was able. I was determined to risk my neck to get it back, and I did. After dark, with the assistance of one or two others who watched out for guards, I got through the fence and rescued my precious bible. That battered and worn book is still with me, to remind me of so much. Zenzuchi Camp was all officers. Except for the food, which was very short and bad, it was very comfortable.
Schwartz went to an American room. I joined fifteen R.A.F. officers in a large room. There was a Wing Commander, two Squadron Leaders, ten Flight Lieutenants, and two Pilot Officers.
Although there were large supplies of Red Cross food in the camp, none was issued. On the miserable ratons given out, everybody was losing weight badle, and all were hungry. There wee also supplies of medical stores which were badly wanted, but none of these were ever issued. It was the same story at all camps, where Red Cross parcels were stacked away. During the whole time I was at Kawasaki, not one parcel of Red Cross food was issued, and chaps were starving.
I began to lose weight. Flesh disappeared from my bones, but I was nothing near as bad as some of the bigger chaps. Flight Lieut. Moulden, who was sleeping next to me, began to show signs of distress, but the Japs would do nothing. He died during the night of November 21st., purely of starvation. There was nothing else wrong with him. When I helped another chap to pick him up, there was nothing more than skin and bones; a pitiful sight, as he had been well over six feet tall. We took him to the local crematorium. The following day, I, the Wing Commander and two others, and the Padre, were allowed to go and collect a small pot of ashed. WE took it to a nearby hillside to bury near those of others who had died.
Poor Moulden had shaken the Nips up a bit. When I returned to my room, on my bed I found a complete untouched box of Red Cross food. A complete box had been issued per prisoner. If this had been issued two days before, Moulden would not have died. i am sure of that.
What a change had come over the camp on the instant! We were like a crowd of infants. All this gorgeous food after the long period of semi-starvation. WE knew there were stacks of these boxes in the camp. Even if the Japs stole the amount they did, we should get another before Christmas.
What a difference this food made from the horde of men crawling about waiting for death from starvation, as poor Moulden had, without any hope, to smiling faces with a definite hope of survival.
Four days after this, we heard that the rascally camp commandant, Col. Sugiyama, was leaving the camp. To what extent was he responsoble for the treatment, and the general unsatisfactory state of affairs? The puzzle was, were there any other types in this so-called Imperial Japanese Army? This chap was no different from Washima at Kawasaki.
Teh good food sopon made a difference. Like everybody else, I bewgan to feel another man. The berri berri and diarrhoea eased off, and hope returned. Two days after the parcel was American Thanksgiving Day, and we were allowed a service in the evening. This truly was a service of thanksgiving. We really had something for which to be thankful.
January and February were bitterly cole, with ice and snow. Although we wore all available clothing, it was impossible to keep warm. My hands and feet and ears became a mass of chilblains, which made washing conditions outside very painful. We had no heat of any sort. If we had not received the Red Cross food every so often, I dread to think how we could have survived. But during this February of 1945, we noticed the air raid alarms going most days and nights. Also, from bits of Japanese papers, we could see that things were going ery well for us in Europe. The Japs tried to keep us completely in the dark over news. But we got wnough to make us ask ourselves; "Is the end of all this really in sight?"
The issue of Red Cross parcels stopped. By the end of April we were again frightfully hungry, dreading the return of last year's starvation times. We were all weakening badle. Regardless of the strong representations made to the Japanese authorities by the senior officers, there was no relief. We started a disastrous period of feeding on dried turnip top soups, with a small issue of grain. This alternated with a small issue of vegetable soup but less grain. During one week, we went on to two small rice-cum-barley-cum-millet flour buns, which made the equivalent of a one penny currant bun.
The following is the sort of representation that we made;
To: Camp Superintendent.
Subject: Immediate issue of Red Cross food package.
In view of the conditions enumerated below, the immmediate issue of a Red Cross food parcel is requested.
1. There had been no improvement of the prison rations in either quality or quantity. It is entirely unadequate for the maintenance of a proper state of health and nutrition.
2. Officer P.O.W.s are now showing the same signs of malnutrition as existed last year, prior to receipt of Red Cross food supplies; i.e., the presence of constant hunger, blackouts, fainting attacks, exhaustion on ascending stairs, berri berri. Pains of the extremities and hypo-proteinemia as manifested by many cases of morning and evening edema of face and extremities.
3. These food parcels were packed in 1943 and are already showing some deterioration. More loss by deterioration can be expected with the advent of the hot weather.
(Signed) W. T. Lineberry Capt. (M.C.) U.S.N.
The answer received to this was;
No Red Cross food parcels would be issued immediately but when conditions grew worse he would issue. No date of issue could be obtained. W. T. Lineberry
At this I remember saying; "But still, God is good, and something will turn up to pull us through."
An incident at this time beggasr description. The Japanese cooks were seen throwing cooked rice onto a dump. Somehow, rat poison had got mixed in with it, and it was too dangerous for them to eat. This got around. After dark there was a scramble to get it and clean it up as much as possible. The whole lot was eaten. Nobody suffered any ill effects. The episonde reminded me of the thirst-mad troops drinking the cholera stricken water in India so long ago.
It was on April 29th, the Emperor's birthday, that I was room orderly for the day. One of the jobs was to collect a can of hot water from the cookhouse in the afternoon. I was carrying it up the stairs to our room when I had a complete blackout. I fell and gashed my nose at the bridge on the steel strip edging the stair in front of me. I was picked up and taken into a nearby American room, where an American doctor stitched me up with a needle and thread. He made such a good job of it that it healed without trace. Now, at the end of April, we were getting news of the overrunning of Germany. We began to wonder it our release this year was too much to hope for.
The ice and snow had log since gone, and the weather was lovely now that May was here. If it had not been for our miserable conditions, everything in this beautiful world would have been lovely.
On the afternoon of May 3rd, a load of frogs arrived and were put in the yard. Although we had heard that the French eat frogs, none of us had tried them. Now was our chance so to do. They were sooin torn to pieces in the cookhouse. They were marvellous. The trouble was, there was only a fleabite for each of us.
Things were now brightening up. Two days after the frogs, on the 0530 hours muster parade, we saw an American recco. plane going south. At 1100 hours we saw a magnificent formation of big American bombers right overhead, going north. How the Japs panicked to get us in under cover, so that we would not see too much. But they were too late. What pleased us was that it was in broad daylight. The Yanks seemed to have the air over Japan to themselves. How marvellous, after Singapore, when it was the other way round.
By June, things began to get chaotic. We were put into national parties for moving to other camps, but the Japs seemed unable to move us. The Americans had been the forst to go. Two or three times, they had been packed ready, only to be cancelleed at the last moment. The prison staff left, with all office furniture and our medical supplies and food supplies. But to us, it all looked very good. The reaids were very frequent now, although no bombs were being wasted in the remote country of the Island of Shikoku.
On the fifteenth, we, the English party, were told to pack and be ready to leave. But after our kits were stacked ready, it was cancelled, sand we found ourselves in the same state as the Americans were in.
These were terribly hungry days. We were getting practically nothing to eat which was at all substantial; just a little cereal with cabbage water twice a day. We were stimulated by the wailing of the raid sirens. The Dutch and American parties did leave. This meant p[arting with Schwartz. I had been with him all the time in Japan. The departure of our American friends was depressing as it was difficult to imagine what was going to happen next.
It was on the 25th that I left Zentsuji with 100 British officers, with six buns for rations en route. We were all crowded into one coach, and were unable to get a drink of water on the journey. Late in the morning, we stopped at a desolate spot where there were only rows of platforms. By the side of one was a smashed up train with a knocked out engine. On wiping our eyes, we found ourselves looking upon a horrible sight. The platforms were bare of any cover, and there was no sign of the station. We looked out across stacks of ashes. It had been the town of Toyahashi. There was not one building left, or even a part of a buiulding. We were numbed at the sight. "By God," said someone, "!They're getting the stick all right." Where had all the people gone? There was no one in sight. It was a junction. An electric train appeared, and after a three and a half hour trip through magnificent hill scenery, we arrived at our new camp, Mitsuishima.
There were some American troops there on working parties. An effort was made to give us better food so that we could work, but on endless seaweed and turnip soup I was having serious diarrhoea again, which was very weakening. Most of the others were in the same boat. Air raid alarms wailed away in the distance. We saw the B29s going over. There must be many more places suffering as Toyahashi had done. It was just a matter of how much longer they could hold out.
We were housed in flithy sheds with earth floors and double tier shelves on which to sleep. We got up at 4.30 for breakfast. I tried to do a little gardening with a few of the others in the hope of growing something, but the Japs tried to get us up the hill to tap the pine trees for turpentine. We were supposed to collect it in pots, which we placed under the cut, into which the turps dripped. But I's afraid they got very little turps from us lot. By the time we hads climbed up to the trees, we had no energy left to do anything. There are no Sundays or rest days in Japan other than festival occasions. We had a rest day every fifteen days, when we were supposed to do nothing, but even on these days we got up at 4.30.
On the evening roll call on the fifteenth of July we had reason to believe that things wsere really happening. We were told that all working parties were finished. All must remain in camp and await further orders.
The next day, rumours ran riot. The Nips were very quiet, and kept out of the way. As we got up so early, we were always in our blankets by 8pm. But this night, at 8.45pm, there was a scuffle in the shed. Two Americsan boys thrust a paper up to Henderson, who was three places from me. They had broken through the wire, gone to the house of the foreman of the place they worked at, and demanded a paper, which he had given to them. Henderson took the paper, and quietly said; "It's all over." He read; "The Japanese Emperor graciously consents to the termination of the South East Asia War." The Prime Minister had made a broadcast to this effect the previous day.
Two incidents this day had led us to believe that we could expect some news like this. We all feared Sergeant Watanabi, who was over us, as he was dangerous. He bragged that he was Japanese P.O.W. Number One Straffer. He had not been his usual self. We all knew this arch-sadist as the beast, and to see him in action was frightening. Rank meant nothing to him, except that, the higher the rank, tjhe greater the pleasure he got out ob bashing up the victim. Both Colonel Lindsey and Captain (R.N.) Gordon, two English gentlemen of character, were beaten up by him, as were many others in the camp. Once, he told us that he had the authority to kill any of us, and would be pleased to do so. But on this day, he had found the man detailed to look after the verminous blankets spread out on the river bank in the sun, asleep. Instead of lashing into him with his favourite weapon, a sheathed Japanese sword, as he normally would have done, he just woke him up and strolled away after saying something to him. On rest day we were allowed a bath. It was a huge tank affair. We all got in after cleaning off by splashing water over ourselves to take off the rough stuff. The Beast appeared at the door. We all sprang to attention. He waved us at ease, and from a bottle he sprinkled some bath salts or something into the water, saying it would so us good. Japan was obviously out of the war, but now, this night, we knew it to be so.
We did not worry about hearing any details from Henderson. There was no cheering or shouting. All was quiet. Everybody was left semi-stupefied by all that it meant. i settled down quietly, as did all the others. The thought of what it meant to me. The return to
Enid M. and the children was uppermost in my mind. The ending of this terrible hunger, and the filthy conditions under which we had existed for so long now. I don't think anybody slept that night. As for me, the stupendous news took time to really soak in.
The morning parade was held as usual. The Nips said nothing, but the relief from the continuous mental strain under which I had suffered for the past three and a half years was beyond understanding. I felt scared that it might lewave some permanent effects. At the usual evening parade, Watanabi told us that all work at the camp was finished. We would shortly be moved to another camp, possibly for agricultural work. He did not know where the camp would be. The whole performance mystified us greatly. We were all the more mystified whan the raid warning sounded that evening, and the All Clear about two and a half hours later. Were the Americans still carrying out raids? We told the Nips we knew the war was over, but they disagreed, waying we go to another camp soon.
A few anxious days followed, with no news, expecting something to happen at any moment. The camp commandant was supposed to be trying to get back from Tokyo. Teh stupid Nips at the camp said we would soon have news of our new camp. Our food incresased in quantity, but it was the same sewaeed, corn and beans. Watanabi said communications were bad. From what we saw at Toyahashi, this was obviously true. He could be held up for some time. We stopped cow-towing to the Nips, and they let us alone. This was a relief after the way we had had to conform.
We knew the war had ended on the fifteenth, yet on the twenty-second, strange and disconcerting things occurred. A large armed guard of an officer and thirty men arrived with fixed bayonets. They were stationed round the camp, facing inwards. We wondered what it could all mean, but they left us alone, and all was peaceful. A Nip told us that Sergeant Watanabi had bolted with a little rice in his bag, after one of the American troops had told another Jap that Watanabi would be shot for his cruelties. The old civilian sataff people gradually disappeared, but the interpreter stayed. On this day, the Camp Commandant returned. Commander Richardson, the other senior Naval Officer with us, saw him and asked him, among other things, when we were going to be officially told that the war was over. he replied that that depene3de on the emperor. Richardson asked if we could have any information regarding out move. He was told that he could not, but that we would soon be moving to another camp. This story had become sickening, and we wondered what the game was. We had seen that each Jap C.O. was a law unto himself. It began to look as if this chap was not going to surrender. The miserable ration had returned to normal. But as we were not having to climb up the hill to try to work, we did not feel it so badly.
Commander Richardwon went to have another go at the Commandant. He came back with the news that the Armistice had been concluded. A telegram had gone to Tokyo asking for some medicine and food, which was badly needed. If possible, we would have some vegetables today. (We had had none in this camp.) An aeroplane would fly over the next evening at 6 to find us. We were to make ground signals. This was marvellous, and he left most of us on the point of tears with thankfulness. A small pig weighing thirty kilograms was cooking in the galley for tonight's supper. Things were moving at last.
But on the next day, the twenty-sixth, nothing happened. Nothing, except that the Japs told us that some food was being sent from Tokyo, and should arrive today. What was beyond us, and seemed very strange, was the fact that no Red Cross official or representative of American forces, if they were in Japan, had contacted us. Captain Gordon was not allowed to try to contact anyone on our behalf. With the big guard around us, we were more prisoners than ever.
That evening, the Nips unloaded onto us a big store of Red Cross clothing. They had been hanging onto it all this time. Blankets, woollen pyjamas, boots, and clothing of all sorts. During the time this stuff had been lying around, we had been going about in rags, with some of us almost bootless. The blankets would have been a real help during the cold weather.
It was twelve days since the end of the war. We were getting impatient. So we asked for a letter to be sent to the International Red Cross representative in Tokyo. The Nips gave permission for this. One was written, explaining our difficulties, and handed in. Later, we learned that it was never sent. But from this day, we supervised our own parades, with no Nips about. But so far, no aircraft had appeared over us.
A smuggled newspaper relieved us to a certain extent. We learned that Japan was being garrisoned by American troops, which were arriving in numbers. American aircraft were already dropping food on P.O.W. camps. This gave us hope that we would be included soon. The paper stated that P.O.W.s would go to Manilla, where preparations were being made to receive them.
The Nips started to make an effort to find some food for us. I got a small apple, a small tin of salmon, a small tin of oranges and a little sugar. These were luxuries indeed.
On the thirtieth, fifteen days after the war had ended, Captain peel went sick with some obscure fever which our two doctors were unable to diagnose. He was quite ill. We demanded that he be taken to the occupying forces at once. After some arguing, during which we stresset that, should this officer die, the Commandant would be held responsible, we took Peel to the station, where he and one of the doctors went to Tokyo. He was suffering from typhus. To save us from panic, our doctors had not told us. he was soon in good hands, and recovered.
On reaching Tokyo, the doctor found that the Nips had not reported our camp, and no communications had been received from us. Our rascally Camp Commandant had been lying to us all the time. At the American Headquarters, Doc. pinpointed our camp on a map. Orders were given immediately to sent aircraft with food.
Not I quote what I actually wrote on the First of September, 1945;
A day, I think, of the greatest thrill in my life. Six aircraft suddenly appeared over the camp, did not see us, and disappeared. I screamed to get everything white and get up onto the roof tops, as I was sure they would come back. They did. Loads of food were dropped; annd what food; huge tinned hams, tins of chicken and roast beef, chocolate, tinned fruit, soups, cigarettes, shaving cream, soap, razors, etc. There was everything we had been short of. We all just went frantic, and tears of joy were nothing. Even chewing gum was among the goodies. It was all the greater surprise, because we thought that, in our very awkward position here in the hills, it would be impossible to drop foot to us. The pilots had a difficult task, but after much manoeuvering, they managed. Two of them made wonderful hits, dropping their loads smack into the tiny camp. One bundle broke from its parachute and buried itself in a nearby garden.
In an article in the Sunday Pictorial on the 7th October 1945, David Grant, for many years editor of the Sunday Pictorial, wrote a dramatic account of this day, which he headed "Wanted to Cry." The article ends with; "I felt a lump the size of a cricket ball crawling up my throat. I turned to hide myself. I said to the next man to me; 'Will you let me pass please. I think I'm going to cry.' 'That's O.K., old boy;" he said in a broken voice, "Half the bloody camp is crying already.'" And this was true. We were.
Now that people knew about us, things moved rapidly that day. A representative from the Red Cross arrived, also a Swiss with wonderful and exciting news. The boats were waiting for us. We would be away from here in a day or two. We were told that Peel, who left yesterday, went directly to an American hospital ship.
The next day, four more aircraft came over and dropped more loads of goodies. It was marvellous.
I was far from well. The excitement was beginning to tell on me, as it was on many of us. But we were on top of everythjing now, getting really well. Regaining the lost weight was just a matter of time.
At last the great day came. On September the fourth, we walked out of Mitsuishima P.O.W. camp to freedom and home. This was a great emotional experience. Had our release from the filthy flea infested camp come just in time? Of we had stayed there much longer, would a typhus epidemic have broken out, with disastrous results? Had it not been for Peel being taken to Tokyo, and news of us given there, how much longer would we have had to stick it?
We were taken by rail to a spot where the line ran along near the coast. Here we got onto landing craft, which ferried us out to a large American hospital ship, which was anchored some way off. Meeting with the first Americans was wonderful. The organisation for our reception was too wqonderful for words, getting us clean and into new clothes. We stripped off our rags and dumped everything, except that I was allowed to keep my few bits of paper, from one of which I now type. There were rows and rows of showers. We cleaned off the filth of Japan. Then along to rows and rows of clothes, where we were rigged out. Everybody was so helpful and kind. It was difficult to keep from bursting into tears.
Then we were ferried over to a spanking warship. To us it looked so spick and span for a ship which must have seen much active work for the past months. I remember feeling quite ill, and very, very tired, but how happy, words cannot express. I lay down and had not a care in the world now. So I was at peace.
Next morning, we ran into Tokyo Bay. I felt better, and gazed with a thrill at the magnificent sight. An enormous fleet of warships glistened in the sunlight. I wondered what the Japs, who had been so cock-a-hoop with us, thought of this lot. I looked around for some familiar sights that I knew from the Madhouse. The big power station nearby was a shambles, as was everything else, including Nippon Steel Works. These people had taken a terrible beating. A smashed up aircraft carrier lurched by a quay not far off. Yokohama was as desolated as Toyahashi had been. We had been given, for us, a wonderful breakfast; lovely bread and butter, milk and shreddecd wheat, scrambled eggs and fried sausages, etc., with lovely coffee. Remember, we had not seen bread and these things for years. We had no meat on our bottoms through lack of them, and here they were in abundance. i began to get better from then onwards. The berri-berri was still there, and would be so for some time, but with this treatment, it would go. After the excitement, and being on the go so much, my legs were very painful during the night. But I could expect relief soon now.
We were transferred to the hold of an enormous tank ship which had been filled with rows of beds. I had not slept in a bed since Java, and here I got into one between lovely clean sheets. I know exactly wehat heaven is going to be like! I was having trouble from the diarrhoea right up to now. I had good noew from the doctor, wqho said it would cause me little trouble from now on, and he was right.
It was the Americans who did everythings for us. Although there were British warships in plenty, we saw no British officers of representatives.
I met five of my old friends from the Madhouse. They told me the sad news of it being blown off the map in a big raid. All in the camp had been killed, so many of whom I knew. Fortunately, all working parties were out, or many more wuld have been killed. Wallace was out, so he survived. How fortunate it was that I had been moved. As I have said, there was someone looking after me.
The Americans were certainly going to fly us all out. They had started to do so. It was just a matter of waiting ones turn. I was keen to get going, and glad when I got into a batch of thirty for the trip.
Away from the Cesspit.
I had not long to wait. In a couple of days, I left with my batch by train for the aerodrome at Sugi. After having time to scribble an air mail letter to Enid M., we embarked onto a huge transport plane. I was told it was a C54, and we were soon taxying out for the takeoff.
The sight at Sugi was unforgettable. There were hundreds of these huge transport aircraft. Again, the might of America was brought home to me.
I was not going to let all this go unrecorded. I still have the small notebook in which I scribbled continuously as we took off, and during the flight. In it, I read;
"16.45, taxiing out to strip for take-off, 30 on board but heaps of room. Engines revving, and about to leave Jap soil. Even have a beautiful American girl hostess on the plane. Away we go! Hurray, we're off, 16.55 hours. 17.00 hirs, already well over the sea, with hell fast disappearing astern. Darling, this is the hour we've prayed so much for."
With Enid M. in my thoughts the whole time, I continually wrote to her.
"We are a mixed bunch, there being three colonels and other officers of all ranks, four of whom, I noted, were just beginning a game of cards. The dear little girl, who i have just learned is not an air hostess but a nurse, has handed books round. I have taken a copy of 'The Army Nurse.' Looking round at the others, I can read the expressions of thankfulness. I know that they feel just as I feel. The nurse doesn't rest a minute, but continues to make her rounds to us, asking our every need, bringing food, drinks, sweets, etc. The plane is flying as steady as a rock. She tells us it takes about five and a half hours to get to Okinawa, and it will be well after dark when we arrive.
"1827 hrs. The sun is settingin gorgeous splendour on our right front; a beautiful sight. The small puffs of cumulus above which we have been flying have cleared, and there is only very high stratus above us. An appropriate thought strikes me at the moment; Tennyson's 'Crossing the Bar.' 'Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me,' etc. That is, I write, if one can aptly apply them to such an occasion as this.
"The sun has just gone, and darkness comes on apace. It is really wonderful up here, high over the Pacific, winging my way home to you as, regardless of the roar of the four powerful engines, I have a feeling of absolute peace. 19.30 hrs. Have just had a gorgeous supper up here; Ham and eggs, spaghetti and meat balls, pork, loads of chilled coffee and cream, and buttered biscuits and jam.
"22.15hrs. Touched down at Okinawa after a good flight."
Okinawa had been turned into an enormous American base. The huge fleets of cargo ships and transports stretched for miles in all directions. Again, the might of America beggarred description. How came it that this stupid gang of little yellow thugs thought they were going to conquer the world. In the early days, they bragged to us that this is what they would do. What do they think now, about the whole world bowing to Topkyo and to the Emperor every morning? We had learned the American way of doing things, and again, everything was laid on at Okinawa. We were made comfortable. Here, I caught up with Wallace. He was fit and on top of the world.
Every means was adopted to get us away and home as soon as possible. After three days, I left okinawa in the bomb bay of a B24, for a very uncomfortable six hour flight to Manila. here I net up woith many of the old madhouse crowd, including Doc. Curtin. I was very glad to see him. British boats were coming in. I said goodbye to Wallace, saying i would see him soon in England. I soon followed, joining a party boarding the Empress of Australia. We sailed on Septembder 20th. there was troopdeck accomodation for everybody, but now this was luxurious compared with anything we had had under the Nips.
It was September, the weather was ideal, and I was very glad to have time in which to get home, to put on some flesh, and return to normality as much as possible. The medical people knew what we wanted against the state of malnutrition we were in. Among other things, three bottles of Guinness Stout per day were included.
We stopped for three days in Singapore. I thought of the conditions under which I had left it on the Japanese hell ship. How different things would be now. We did not leave the ship. It was hopeless to think that anything of our home would be left. In any case, it would have meant quite a long journey from the dock where we were.
I managed to find a good spot on a deck on which to curl up for the nights under the tropical sky, and just lie and think, how lovely everything was now as we steamed across the Indian Ocean.
I did go ashore at Colombo, where it was brought home to me what the war had meant to places like this. The big stores and shops had rows of empty shelves, and there was very little to buy. Even tea was in short supply. Only by getting one pound at three different shops was I able to get a supply to bring home.
They were ready for us at the big base near Suez. Now that we were running into October, we needed warmer clothing for home. We were handled by German P.O.W.s. They were a bright set of chaps, and went out of their way to see that we were all prim and proper. I could not help coparing their lot with how we had been treated in Japan. They had comfortable, roomy quarters, they said they had good food, regular mails and nothing to worry about. What a difference to what our lot had been. I not only got kitted out, but got a satrong camel hide, double handled bag to carry it in. That bag has remained strong and useful to this day, and has travelled quite a few thousand miles with me. So, another trip through the Suez Canal, of which I knew every landmark by now. As we left Suez at 07.00 and arrived at Port Said at 19.00, we did the whole canal in daylight, which is not usual.
Our weight was being checked continuously. I noticed that I was still g on weight at about two pounds per week. I now had a bottom again, and my legs were not so skonny. I would arrive home looking fairly normal.
Home, Sweet Home.
Although it was the end of October, Liverpool looked marvellous. It would have looked marvellous if it had been raining, snowing, or blowing a gale, as this was home at last. Due to the rough passage under the Japs, the seven years I had been away had been long ones. I had missed the entire war from an English standpoint. I wondered what changes I would find.
We were met by the Mayor of Liverpool and a reception party. Again, I found it difficult to speak to anybody. That big lump rose in my throat, and I wanted to be away, away and onward to Enid M.
We were soon entrained for Cosford, which had become the reception depot for Far East P.O.W.s. Here, we had a thorough going over. The doctors considered I was not yet fit enough to go straight home, but should stay to undergo treatment. I laughed at this, saying I would go home even if I crawled there. I could get all the treatment I needed there. Enid M. and the children were at her parent's house at Withdean, Brighton, where there was ample room for all of us.
Like many others, I was having eye trouble, but they soon fixed me up with satisfactory glasses. Although it was late afternoon, I made my way to the station, saying I would report to the R.A.F. Medical in Brighton as soon as I could. Otherwise, I would await further instructions. I reached London, and got a car across to Victoria Station just in time to miss the last train. I had an airman with me who also lived in Brighton. I said we might as well keep together. So we went out into London to look for beds. Now I came up against war stricken London. There were no beds to be had in London for passing travellers. I was feeling unwell, and asked the police for help. But they could do nothing. Apparently there were hordes of people bed hunting. We were told to go back to the station. When we got there, it was locked for the night. We banged about, and when a policeman came we told him our predicament. he unlocked the door and let us in. We found the waiting room full of people lying about all over the place. This was some first night in England, to be sure. We managed to squeeze down under the table, but it was an uncomfortable night. I was glad when dawn came, and we caught the first train to Brighton. It was still early when we arrived in Brighton. There were no taxis, and it was some time before some kind soul found me a car and ran me out to Withdean. Only those who have been through such a thrill know the rapture of the next hours. I was home.
The next days and weeks went like a dream. Rationing was in, but I had extra coupons for any extras I wanted. For some time, I found it difficult to meet old friends. I had made up my mind not to dwell on the horrors of the past, but if possible, to forget it all. So I spoke to no one about it. In our quiet moments together, I spoke to Enid M. abvout it sometimes, but even to her I said very little.
After a long leave, suring which I returned to something like normality, I went to the R.A.F. Station Wittering for a rehabilitation course. There was a lot of horse sense in this. The R.A.F. had changed so much during the time we had been away from it that it would have been very unnerving to have been thrown straight back into it.
Besides the medical treatment that I still needed, we were taken on interesting outings. One was to Marham in Norfolk, where we saw jet aircraft for the first time. What an amazing thrill it was. I had thought the Hurricane and Spitfire exciting, but as I stood on the roof of the control tower at Marham that day and a meteor came at us full out, passing just over our heads, I wondered if I was in a nightmare. Away went my thoughts to the Bristol and H.D.9s I had flown in so much in the early twenties. Ninety miles an hour to five hundred and ninety miles an hour is such a short time. Where do we go from here?
It wasn't only the aircraft that had changed. progress had been so rapid during the war that we were left behind in all departments. I began to wonder if i would ever catch up. I had a good look see at the radar equipment, all of which was completely new to me. I really wondered whether my P.O.W. - battered brain would be able to take it all in. I had decided to soldier on for a bit longer if I possibly could. I was not due for retirement until I was 55, and I thought I ought to be of some use. I was now forty-eight, and did not like the tyhought of being thrown on the scrap heap.
After Wittering I had more leave. When the next posting came, it was to Cranwell for a refresher course. The quick brain which had stood me in good stead so much before was now definitely dulled. I could no longer get a grip on things as I was once able to. I found the course a struggle, as it was all new to me. But I got a rough idea of things. When a group of the new Training Command asked for an officer for a staff job, the chief instructor asked me if I would like to have it. I had always had a poor opinion of the general run of staff people, but as it was something to get on with, I took it. I was keen to get settled down somewhere for a time so that I could see more of Enid M. and the children, and this seemed a chance to do so.
This led me to Middle Wallop, in Hampshire. Soon, I found myself entangled in what was, to me, the most disgusting waste of time, money and energy that any Service could inaugurate. The A.O.C. was an Air Commodore. Under him were Group Captains, Wing Commanders, hordes of Squadron leaders and Flight lieutenanta. I joined a Wing Commander, two other Squadron Leaders and two Flight Lieutenants who were supposed to organise training of Air Training Corps cadets. Except for the Oxford University Air Squadron, we had no flying units as such, but we did have a couple of old Ansons and pilots in which we joy rode the kids of the A.T.C. units.
our area covered the whole of the south-west, including Gloucester and Oxfordshire. It was thought that each unit should be visited at least once a year. This was an impossible task, in view of the number of units. There was a facade of a lot of important work being done. Bundles of files were passed from office to office; minutes and notes on a lot of useless trivial rubbish which served no useful purpose for the R.A.F., England or anybosy else. The waste was enormous. This was the R.A.F. I had come back to.
I could have sat back and done nothing, as others were apt to do. But that was not my cup of tea. I spent two or three nights a week visiting A.T.C. units, hoping that I could be of use somewhere. But it was useless talking to them about training in anything. Training required instructors in engineering, wireless, radar and what have you. They just did not have them. I started a scheme to enthuse a little interest in radio by getting every unit issued with a complete radio transmitter and receiver set. I should have known better. This added to the waste. In most cases, the equipment was stuck in a corner and forgotten about. At this time, the only good the A.T.C. did was to keep the youngsters off the streets and give them the opportunity to wear uniform, which youngsters delight in. Without all this supposed supervision by a gang of distant officers, I learnt more in the boy scouts than most of these kids did in the A.T.C.
I would start off late in the afternoon, and go as far as Sunningdale, Tiverton in Devon, or Lydney in Gloucester, look see a unit, and get back in the early hours of the morning, having the satisfaction of knowing that I had served no useful purpose to God or man. I did all the big schools; Marlborough, Cheltenham, Downside, etc., wqhere I could sometimes help in some little way. At Downside, I was very lucky to have a tête à tête with the Abbot in his study. He had the reputation of having one of the best brains in the country. He was very charming, too.
I was surprised to find that all the people I was with had come up through the war. This brought home to me the enormous wastage the war had caused. There were few with permanent commissions. I was looked upon with some envy, as; "You've got a nice fat pension lined up, and nothing to worry about. You can afford to be honest," was the jibe. Perhaps this was true, and did have something to do with my not being just a 2yes man" to the rascals aloft. Yet I don't think it was in my nature to be anything but straight. I have never lost out by always being so.
It all came out when I ran into something very 'sticky' in Bournmouth one evening. Although I had an idea that I might lose out, I went ahead and wrote it all up in my report. It was certainly very 'sticky', so 'sticky', in fact, that it had soaked right back to my H.Q.
I had made myself rather unp[leasant by trying to stop some of the waste that was going on. The country was going through a bad period. Everyone was being asked to economise in the use of everything. here we had a big service establishment which didn't care a hang about economising. I was a bit too dangerous to have around. I was got rid of, which did not upset me much.
I had got friendly with the Middle Wallop Station Commander. He was a Group Captain. Knowing he was losing his Signals Officer, I told him I would like the job. He was very glad to have me, and soon fixed it. So I was able to stay there. The two children had both got into Andover Grammar School. I had a nice quarter, and life could now go on on an even keel. This was a much more satisfying job. There was something for me to get my teeth into. It did not take me long to get into the ropes again. Was there a possibility of my being able to stay there and see my time out?
I was in my element again nmusically. I was soon able to join a small first class singing party in Andover. It was run by a Mrs. Ponting. She was a first class musician, and knew what she wanted. We went to the Winchester Festival, and won every class in which we wntered. We also went to Newbury, and won that. I also joined Salisbury Choral Society. It was under David Wilcocks, with whom I was to become very friendly. he was a great chap to sing with. I was lucky enough to do all the big choral works with him. I did my first Bach's B Minor Mass with him, which was wonderful From then on, it has for me been the greatest and most satisfying thing to sing, with the St.. Matthew Passion not far behind. The first time I heard the B Minor Sanctus bursting around me,. I knew again what heaven is like. I was in a marvellous festrival performance of the Creation in Winchester Cathedral with Isabel Bailey under Dr. Havagel. The huge crowd that had poured into Winchester for it could not get into that big nave. Every nook and crannhy was filled, yet lots were left outside. To hear Isabel sing at this time, when she was at her height, was just too wonderful. At this time, I sang the Messiah with her at the Albert Hall under Ernest Reed. This was one of the best of the dozens of messiahs that I have done.
I was able to play a lot of golf as there were three courses handy. I could manage a game most Wednesdays, as well as weekends. Group Captain MacPherson, who was R.A.F. champion, had taken over the station. I was the only one who could give him a reasonable game, so I played a lot with jhim. He thought I was good enough to play for the R.A.F. I played against the nbavy at West Hill. But I was not at all keen to play big stuff golf, and never went out of my way to do so. I got just as big a kick driving 280 yards plus right down the middle on my own as I would have done in the samateur championship.
Both the children began to show signs of being intellectuals, which was
gratifying. One day, Ivor asked me which was the best university for maths
and physics. I told him that Cambridge was, and that Oxford was for classics.
He said he would go to Cambridge. I told him he was aiming rather high. If he
could make it there I would support him. It would
please me immensely if he did get there. He had little trouble in making it,
and when he went up to
I was driving them both up to London to take them to the zoo, where neither of them had been. Just before we got to Englefield Green, I said; "We shall soon pass Mummy's college. It's a lovely building in a lovely setting." it was a sunny day, and the college looked its best. Margery was thrilled, and said; "I'm going there," and she did. As she was the elder, she went up first. Ivor walked into Cambridge on a State Scholarship. Margery was not too bad. She got a top County Scholarship.
As soon as we were all home from the war, safe and sound, we let Mademoiselle Travers of Louverné know. Enid M. had kept in touch with her as and when she was able. It was eight years since we had seen her. We had to go as soon as we possibly could. She beseeched us, and although wse knew that travelling would be rough, we had to try it. From Wallop, we went via Southampton and St. Malo. On that first trip, the travelling was rough. The French railways, especially the rolling stock, was in a bad way. It was worth it to see our beloved masdemoiselle again. We found her as fresh as ever. it was a wonderful reunion, which was to last for so many more years.
Rationing was not too bad in the French countryside. We were feasted as well as ever. Like many others in that part of France, she had had Germans foisted upon her for almost the wnole was period. At times, it had not been pleasant. This part of Mayenne suffered badly during the last weeks of the war when the allies advanced through it. The scars still showed everywhere. The railway stations had not been repaired. We saw the results of amazing work by the local people during the last days. As the Germans retreated, they blew up the nearby bridge over the river Mayenne. As soon as they were away, the locals all got cracking in their dozens. Working all night, they had the bridge repaired in time for the American and British tanks to swarm over. The job remains just as it was done. It was not patched up. The arches were actually rebuilt. it seems unbelievable that it was done in a few hours.
It had been interesting to notice the improvements made in the French villages since the war. None of the villages we knew had piped water. But saince the war, as we drove over the ground we had got to iknow so well, we saw the water towers going up. Now, even the most remote places get piped water.
Through mademoiselle Travers, we made other French friends. Among them was a retired headmaster and his wife named Leveque. They lived in Laval. They had us in for parties. When they laid on a party for us, we could be certain of a right royal one. m,adame Leveque, like Mlle Travers, knew how to do things in style. They had one daughter. Over the years, we saw her grow up, marry, and have children. Both the Leveques died before Mlle Travers, but we continued to see the daughter until we had no Mlle Travers left to visit.
We got to know the locals. We liked to meet them. I shall never forget the first time we went into the farmhouse just outside the village. I had never seen anything like it in the kent countryside. The living quarters of the house consisted of one huge room, in the four corners of which was a double bed. There were no screens, or partitions, or any sort of privacy. It was a surprising first look see at how the French live. Doen the middle of the room was a long table with forms upon which to sit. At one end was an enormous open fireplace, over which always hung an enormous iron pot. Except for the grandfather clock, there was little other furniture. A couple of chests of drawers sufficed for linen storage space. Attached to this room were the animals' quarters. We got our milk from here, in a large can kept for this.
Mlle Travers had a large paddock and garden, and kept lots of rabbits and chickens. Shje always had a dog. The big Belgian Frontier dog, a Gronandale, named Mamoo, which she kept through the war, and which we already knew, caused a near panic during our first visit after the war. With meat in short supply, Mademoiselle had managed to get some lovely steaks for dinner. They were left in the kitchen until wanted. Mamoo got at them and made short work of them. It showed Mademoiselle's wonderful nature. She blamed herself for carelessness. She took the whole incident in her stride, and we hade do with what there was.
I would have liked to stay at Wallop to see my time out. But the powers that be decided otherwise, and I mopved to Valley in Anglesey. At the time, it was a ket training establishment, flying Vampires, with a few other odds and ends. Normally, I would not have minded the move, but I did not want to be without Enid M. and the children. As the children were settled at Andover, it seemed quite on the cards that they would stay behind.
As soon as I got to Vally, I asked about schooling. i was told there was a very good school at Holyhead. I rang up the headmaster, who asked me to go along to see him. I did so, and had a longish chat with him and with the headmistress. I was very struck by the atmosphere of the place. They both said how pleased they would be to have my two. This was a great help, and I sopon got accomodation in the nearby hamlet of Caergeuiliog. We were only sharing a house, and were glad when later I managed to get a three bedroomed bungalow at mona.This was the only accomodation on a disused aerodrome. It was in a perfect position on the main Bangor to Holyhead road. We were to spend a happt time there until I finished.
A little before this, the retiring age had been cut from 55 to 47. people like me were given the option of taking it. But like T. E. Lawrence, I hung on to the last moment, although at this time I would have been glad to leave it all.
At this time, the poor R.A.F. were suffering from a surfeit of lunatic senior officers. For me, to live to see the R.A.F. sink to the days of lunatic B.C. was very sad. I had four C.O.s after the war. Three of them were suddenly replaced by senior officers, who appeared and took over. But things had to get pretty bad before this happened. The trouble and distress these rascals caused before Air Ministry took this drastic action can be imagined. One lunatic had me up because I had rendered nil reports on my petty crime sheet. As I had a first class crowd of chaps in my squadron, I had no petty crime. But it was useless frying to explain this to the fool. I continued to submit nil reports after this, to his disgust. What terms was I on with such a type?
I had to visit Command H.Q. I was having coffee with two Group Captain friends. Suddenly, one of them asked me how was the lunatic behaving. it was some moments before I realised whom he meant. If this was the way he was looked upon by senior officers, why was he allowed to carry on his miserable antics for so long? As in one of the other cases, he was a Wing Commander, so it had to be a Group Captain to fly in and get him out. In both cases, the Group Captains were charming, sensible chaps. At once, they were able to turn a chaotic state of affairs into pleasant order.
Every month I had to go to Shawbury, near Shrewsbury, to collect secret documents. I got to know every inch of that lovely run through the Nant Ffrancon Pass to Llangollen, via Bettws-y-Coed. On a summer's day, it was a lovely trip. But duroing winter it was not so pleasant. Often there was snow on the ground.
We had a delightful view of Snowdon from our window, and spent many short holidays doing North Wales. Enid M., being half Welsh, loved it. One way or another, we did every nook and cranny. Margery and Ivor got the climbing bug. They started going off on their own to do the Welsh climbs, which I had no care for doing. These ended suddenly. It was a long time before they let us know why. They had decided to do one of the more dangerous tracks. The weather had clamped down. They got hopelessly lost, and almost exhausted, before they got places. We knew nothing about it, because they stayed at Youth Hostels, which abound in the Snowdon area.
I also had another trip, to Ton-Fanau, on the coast between Barmouth and Aberdovy. I had a small radio station there manned by my chaps from Valley, to work with the aircraft co-operating with the gunners there. This was anice day's outing for a summer day.
My P.O.W. nerves had to cope with one snag. Aircraft were in the habit of flying into the North Wales mountains. I was responsible for all the navigational aids in the district. Many a night, when conditions were bad, I would lie awake. If I heard an aircraft, I would hope and pray that all the works were functioning satisfactoprily to hemp him on his way. This was all very stupid of me. There was nothing I could do. But, knowing that the 'works' were my responsibility, I worried about it.
During our period in Anglesey, margery finished school. She started at Royal Holloway College, doing languages, but specialising in French. After a short time there, she broke off to do some time at Poitiers University. There, she met and made friends with some French women. We have become attached to them. They are always glad to welcome us when we go their way, as we are when they come our way. One has married, and lives with a family of three girls at Chateauroux, and another has five children, living at Montbellard near the French-Swiss border. Even with these families, there always seems room in their largish houses to accomodate us.
We now had a much longer journey to a port for France, but still we went from Southampton on the evening boat to St. Malo. Having cabins, we were still able to make Louverné by early afternoon of the second day. So that they would have their bicycles there, Margery and Ivor have cycled to Southampton, picked me up there, gone over on the boat with me, and then left me at St. Malo to cycle down to Louverné . I waited ther on tenterhooks until they arrived. At this time, we had lots of chickens, a dog and a cat, so Enid M. stayed at home to look after them. we thought one of us should go, as it was the first time the children had gone on their bicycles.
On the north coast of Anglesey there was a redundant radar station. I was responsible for it, so every so often I would visit it to see that the huge wooden masts and everything else had not been pinched. Wylfa is an atomic power station now on this spot. It has completely changed the surroundings of what was a quiet spot.
Time crept on, and we had to begin to talk about where we were going to settle down. I didn't care where it was. For me, Anglesey was as good as anywhere else. But Enid M. was not too keen, and our thoughts drifted back to Wiltshire. We decided that on my retirement, we would investigate that area.
I started to get the usual bumf, informing me that after the eleventh of February 1953, I could no longer be employed by the Air Ministry in any capacity. Of all things, I received a letter from the Secretary of State's office addressing me as "Dear Squadron Leader Catt", and ending "Yours sincerely". I suppose I had received a few thousand official letters, but this was the first to Dear me. He had it in command from the Queen to convey to me, on leaving the active list of the Royal Air Froce, the thanks of Her Majecty, etc. etc. I wonder why they dish out this tripe, which is obviously a load of bunkum. It waan't even signed by the Secretary of State, or anybody known.
Against my wishes, the mess put on a farewell party for me. I had no wish to be responsible for the usual booze up that these parties meant. I wanted to fade away quietly. On the morning of the party night, a pilot was killed. This put the party off. I was sorry to get out of it this way. A couple of nights later, the Group Captain had a small party for me with a few friends. For me, this was much more enjoyable. My squadron ran a party for me in Holyhead, which I was delighted to muck in on. They did me grand, and the sincerity they showed at my going from them was rather touching. The clock they gave me is still ticking away, reminding me of them. That was twenty-two years ago. i wonder what they are all doing now. I can see a lot of them now, and not just as in a dream.
My relief came. I gladly handed over 'the works' to him. On the afternoon of the eleventh of February, my birthday, I quietly walked out of the Royal Air Force at the Royal Air Force Station Valley on my own. I did not even go into headquarters office or anywhere to cheerio anyone. I said "Goodbye and all that" to myself. And it was. i dropped everything R.A.F., and became plain Mr. It had been easy to drop it, as I have made a few moves since. When people ask me what I did, I say, with truth, that I was in communications, mainly working on the large wireless chain over the world. I see no reason to add that it was an R.A.F. wireless chain. This satisfies people who learn that I have been in Baghdad, Singapore, Aden, Cairo and places, since I ran wireless stations there. [p140]
He had gone to another aquadron. He used to come over of an eveni
typed by Ivor Catt, sept 97 My father's autobiography from his birth up to 1953 is now all typed up into the computer. (Three quarters of it is now typed.) It will help P.M. to determine the level of significance for the TEL story of a career which has parallels. (Ivor is too close, so his judgement is valueless.)
Ivor Catt 18.9.97