Sir Winston Churchill, in one of his immortal speeches, described Singapore as the Impregnable Fortress of the Far East. At one time this was undoubtedly true. But Singapore had been denuded of its defenses in favor of strengthening our position in the Middle East. It now stood as an empty shell, as vulnerable as a sitting duck. The Japanese knew this; their secret intelligence had exploded the fallacy of its impregnably.
When the Japanese had completed the task of blasting the “Railway” from Bangkok to the Burma border they immediately began to withdraw the prisoners from the
Far North and bring them back to the Island of Singapore. They must reinforce the already formidable fortifications erected by the British prior to the war. Their strategy of defense was much different form ours. In Burma they had used a system of tunnels with devastating results to our men. They would hide in these tunnels until our troops had advanced beyond their hideout, then they would emerge and kill from behind and quickly vanish into the thick underbrush and the safety of their tunnels. I believe this type of warfare precipitated the advent of the flamethrower. What worked in Burma must work in Singapore, they reasoned.
By the forced labor of prisoners, tunnels and trenches were dug day and night, until the Island became a veritable rabbit warren. Underground passages penetrated far into the hillsides. At the end of each passage was a huge room capable of housing a number of men with provisions for many weeks. These were connected to similar rooms by more underground passages.
On the outside, communication trenches were dug from one entrance to another. These were deep enough to conceal any enemy movement. No one needed to come above the surface of the ground to commute between various stations. This tunnel system was ingenious in many ways. It provided cover for stores: ammunition, food, water, etc. As I saw the intricate underground passageways with their limitless provisions and supplies, I envisioned a never-ending reign of the Japanese over the Island. At this time reports trickled in from other islands that the same meticulous care was being taken in defense of the whole area.
As I pondered over this sad thought I figured it would be absolutely impossible for anyone to affect our release before 1947. With the help of the Lord Who was a constant companion I sought, as opportunities allowed, to prepare myself spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for the long siege. Never did liberation seem further away. Force after force of human slaves was being shipped away from Singapore. With good reason I was further convinced that the preparations being made on our island were being repeated on countless islands of the Pacific.
Along with the tunneling, there was also the project of making new airstrips to handle the increasing numbers of fighter planes and light bombers which began to appear. Many a man’s heart was broken by the laborious task. Working as slaves in the blazing sun day after day was one thing, but knowing that our efforts could be adding weeks or months to our ultimate release was frustrating. Despite all forms of sabotage the construction went on.
Singapore Harbor and the great naval base at Selerang showed increasing signs of activity. Ships came in more frequently for repairs and some of them showed signs of having been damaged in battle. Another observation we made about this time was that the models and designs of many of the planes were completely new to us. These obvious signs, coupled with the meager news that trickled through to us by devious routes, convinced us that a major crisis was approaching.
There were great moments in these crisis days, particularly when American Flying Fortresses (B-29’s) flew in perfect formation high above the range of the anti-aircraft guns and beyond the ceiling of the fighter planes. Like great winged birds they flew majestically over the coveted Island, the key to strategic success in the Far East. I believe taking pictures was their main mission, but in the process they “laid a few eggs.” We could hear the dull thuds and see the columns of smoke that rose from each of the harbors. Unfortunately some cannon shells also exploded in the camp wounding some of the men. Thank God for His preserving grace during those periods of danger and uncertainty.
A very unfortunate incident happened at this time. An unexploded “ack-ack” shell fell about three feet outside the wall of the grass hut in which I worked as a medical orderly. It buried itself in the ground and burned itself out without exploding, just a few feet from the head of a very sick man. We quickly evacuated him to a safer area but the shock was too much for his weakened heart. He never recovered and passed away some time later. I had the opportunity to witness to him and before he died he made a profession of faith in Christ.
The news of the war, which filtered through the grapevine, was all good, but we were afraid to believe it. Our hopes had been dashed so many times. Yet there seemed to be an authentic ring about it. It told of the great sea battles in which the grand fleets of the conflicting nations were involved, the heroic battles in the air, in which, according to the news releases, we were victorious. Then were elated to hear of the victory in Europe. It almost seemed as if we were dreaming. This was a real shot in the arm to us weary prisoners; we regained much of the morale lost in the last four desperate years. The Japanese guards noticed the change, but could not understand it. We, the captives, evidently knew more than the captors. We could hardly wait for each news release, and as the endless days dragged slowly on we even began to think in terms of freedom, at least something momentous was in the air.
The fickle complexity of the Japanese soldier had often puzzled me. At the pit of my stomach I had a great dread and fear as to how they would react in the present situation. In their slave-like devotion to the brutal ideals of their code of honor they placed little value upon life. Sometimes without compunction they would kill a defenseless prisoner with little or no reason in an act of patriotic fervor. The question was how would they react in the present situation?
Never were days so uncertain. It was like being in the crater of a volcano expected to erupt momentarily. A stealthy footstep in the night would strike terror into our hearts. We prayed and longed for the daybreak. These nights seemed interminable. The daylight hours, though long, were all too short; reluctantly we watched the crimson fingers of the receding sun flicker and fade into the far horizon. Then darkness cast itself around us like a shroud.
During this period many of the men had hideouts where they hoped to escape the expected slaughter. Many and long were the seasons that I spent in prayer at this time, not only being concerned for my own safety, but also the safety of others. My Bible was my constant companion. During the last four years it had miraculously been preserved. It had escaped Japanese inspections over and over again. I had buried it and hidden it in all kinds of places. Several times it was on the point of being discovered but went unnoticed. In my present dilemma, as at other times, I took recourse thereto and encouraged my heart, claiming the promise of Psalm 91:2, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in Him will I trust.” Many a time I sat at the close of the day and sang softly but fervently, “Hiding in Thee, Hiding in Thee, Thou blest Rock of Ages I’m hiding in Thee.”