CHAPTER 7 Conditions in the Prison Camp

Men are strange creatures: so weak, yet when occasion demands, so strong. Large groups would meet when prevailing conditions allowed and sing their hearts out. Usually these songfests began with the old favorites but nearly always ended with several sacred numbers. Singing these hymns did a lot for the men, bringing together the best of the old life and the aspirations of the uncertain future. During these times lone figures would rise slowly, make their way through the crowd, disappear into the darkness, gaze wistfully into the starlit heavens, and watch the Southern Cross sink slowly over the horizon. Soon it was over for another day, every man would then crawl beneath his tattered and dirty blanket, or rice sack, to dream of friends and home.

I cannot pass from this section without mentioning some of the victims of vitaminosis. This particular group of martyrs was continually on the move, they had what was commonly known as “happy feet.” They padded ceaselessly round and round the compound trying to alleviate the burning pain in their feet. When darkness fell the pain seemed to increase, there was no respite. Men were driven out of their minds. Some would reach the bedspace, fall down and never rise again. Others would fall with a sickening crunch on the concrete floors, the victims of heart seizures. The determination to live characterized many, the will to die motivated some.

Our first Christmas was a memorable one. A little of our rations had been saved for weeks to ensure a feast for the great occasion. We had plenty to eat that day, by prison standards. We also gave gifts to each other, queer gifts -- a small banana, a piece of coconut -- but never did gifts carry such true and sincere sentiments. The singing of the old carols brought comfort to many an aching heart.

Food was an endless subject of conversation. Always when men conversed there was a reference to the food of the good old days. This is understandable because our rations were at starvation level. Three-fourths cup of rice and a drink of hot water for breakfast. Three-fourths cup of rice and a drink of coffee -- water in which roasted rice had been boiled -- for lunch. Three-fourths cup rice, some green leaf stew, and a small ball of rice fired in palm oil, sometimes a small piece meat, if a yak had died, and coffee?? comprised our supper. Hunger made men do all sorts of things. They supplemented their protein-lacking diet by eating lizards, snakes and snails. Some, driven to desperation, ate rats and mice. Cats and dogs became a delicacy because the demand far exceeded the supply. Many a Nipponese soldier lost his pet animal and could only conjecture where it had gone. Small wonder then that the one-time physically strong bodies of British and Australians youths seemed emaciated by comparison.

During those bitter days of trial, I thanked the Lord for the preciousness of His presence and for the comfort of the Scriptures. I noted in my diary at this time several truths that impressed me; in no way do I claim originality for these.

“If great clouds move silently over our heads, we know that they -- like our troubles -- are passing.”

“The fruit of a life in Christ is a life like Christ;”

“Our walk is the outward expression of our inner life.”

“It is beautiful to see a ship on the sea, but a fearful thing to see the sea in the ship. Likewise, it is beautiful to see the church in the world, but a fearful thing to see the world in the church.”

“It only took God one night to deliver Israel out of Egypt, but it took Him forty years to get Egypt out of Israel.”

“Fellowship is the privilege of saints, but soul history and experiences are individual.”

“There is nothing to equal the power of example.”

“Facts exist; faith believes; feelings follow.”

“A man is what he is; not what he says he is.”

Included in the diary are notes from messages that I delivered to groups of prisoners. God blessed these meetings and I’m sure that I will meet some in Heaven who trusted Christ at this time.

Throughout the latter months of our stay in Singapore, I was severely tested physically. Dengue fever wracked my body; the disease is characterized by severe pains in the joints and back accompanied by fever. This fever occurred over and over again, leaving me worn out and depressed. The situation worsened, a severe attack of malaria prostrated my already weak body. The fever raged within and all attempts to control it failed. Soaring to 104.8 degrees I lapsed into unconsciousness and remained in this state for almost six hours.

During this time I had a most glorious and beautiful dream. I dreamed I was in Heaven. It was so wonderful to be there, I couldn’t even attempt a description. There are no words to describe it. The music was the most wonderful I had ever heard. Everyone was dressed in white, and the peace that pervaded that sequestered scene surpassed all description and understanding. I was completely at rest there.

Then slowly I began to regain consciousness and finally, the heartbreaking realization that I was still in the body, in the Changi Prison Camp at Singapore. What a disappointment. Dear friends, Heaven is real, and I am glad that it will be my eternal home because of my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Vitaminosis revealed itself in many ugly forms. Men were stricken with raw weeping scrotums, rough, red, painful tongues, and the most common of all, weeping sores that would not heal. To really appreciate these repulsive conditions one has to live through the discomfort of a weeping scrotum, the agonies of a raw tongue, and the loathsomeness of a pair of leprous looking legs.

The lack of drugs accentuated the situation, and despite heroic efforts of the medical staff, conditions worsened. Sick parades became larger, the men stood listlessly in long lines in the blazing sun day after day, hoping and praying for some relief, yet knowing full well the situation was hopeless.

By the beginning of 1943, many work parties had left Singapore; News had filtrated back to us of the tragedies that had overtaken some of them. The reports told of the annihilation of the prisoners sent to Borneo, the drowning of shiploads sent to Japan, and decimation of the railroad workers in Thailand and Burma. This had a demoralizing effect on the prisoners waiting to be shipped to what appeared to be their death.

Let me reminisce for a few moments here. My physical condition was becoming rather serious. Having gone through the various stages of raw scrotum -- raw tongue -- severe loss of weight -- threatened rheumatic fever -- impairing of sight, etc., there was reason for contemplative thought. Dengue fever was still draining my body of vital energy; it was an effort to keep going. In this depleted physical condition I was surprised to find myself a member of the ill-fated “H Force,” the next company to leave for Thailand. I was too weak to protest against the injustice, and with total abandonment I resigned myself to the will of the Lord. What a wonderful peace and assurance swept into my heart in the joy of full surrender. Subsequent years proved the power and interest of the Lord in my particular, insignificant life. The school that He had chosen for me was a bitter one; the bitterness was hard to take, and many a cry of anguish escaped my lips.

God wrought a miracle on my behalf and seemed to increase my strength daily. From the day that our forlorn group headed out from Singapore, my chronic sicknesses left me and I probably enjoyed as good health as anyone in our group. This is all the more remarkable because I courted death many times yet my life was miraculously preserved.