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Private GBW (Glen) Skewes

 Glen Skewes Changi Diary

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'Courage' and 'God' symbols

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1944 Diary Entries

. . . Now back at Changi, I wish to add to this diary further experiences suffered during that 7 months nightmare in that jungle of Thailand - some of which I was not able to record at the time, and some events that have come to my mind since my return to Changi. Also experiences told to me by comrades who went through similar trials on that Burma Railway . . .

There were a number of officers - especially Doctors of the Medical Service - who were to be greatly admired for their work which was, generally speaking [with the exception of 1 or 2 isolated cases], a great credit to them. One could cite several outstanding cases of gallantry and untiring service to the sick and ailing - in some instances their protectors, as well as their Doctors.

I know of one, Major Hunt, an Australian who at many Camps begged and implored the Japs to leave behind sick men who were quite unable to walk. Sometimes, there were small Camps where sick men could be sheltered - or, if not, they could shelter under trees - provided they could stay behind at these staging Camps till they recovered sufficiently to carry on.

In one particular instance, a Japanese Medical Officer - a Lieutenant, ordered the Imperial Japanese Army Guard who was in charge of this certain Camp, Tarso, to leave 36 men behind for some days as they were unable to march. The Corporal Guard refused to do so and ignored the order, although it was repeated to him in writing. As a result, a British Officer and Australian Major Hunt were severely beaten up with a stick of wood by this Jap Guard.

There was a temple at Wompah on our march North and this, I understand, had precious stones around the altar, which were never interfered with because the Natives believed spirits guarded them. The Brahmin Priests of Thailand appeared to lead a life of leisure. A boy always accompanied a Priest in attendance, and if he came to a home at lunchtime, or any mealtime, a meal was given to him. He always received any refreshments and, if needed, a bed for the night. These priests wire yellow, with yellow sash, and their heads were shaven.

There was a Camp about 2½ miles above Kami Songkrai and only 5 miles from the Burma border, which was occupied by the British alone for several weeks, where many died of cholera and exhaustion. This was called No. 5 Camp, Burma Border. Here, when a party of men were clearing the Jungle for the Japs, a British Sergeant was crushed and killed by a falling tree. The Jap Guard ordered the men to continue work but the party stood and flatly refused to do any work until the Japs allowed the body of their comrade to be removed from beneath the tree. A Japanese Officer came along. They explained to him and he immediately said "yes" and soon got an elephant to pull the trunk of the tree off the body. He stood and saluted the body, then reprimanded the Guards for their attitude towards the P-O-Ws at this Camp.

At No.5 Camp barbaric treatment was meted out to any dogs that happened along. The Japs would tie the dog down and, with a big stick, break its bones by degrees - first 1 leg, then 2, 3, and 4 - the whole time laughing hideously liken to demented maniacs, finally breaking ribs and spine they would leave the dog to die this tortured agonising death. Our men would then come up and put the poor creature out of suffering, when the madmen had abated their deeds of crime. This happened more than once at No. 5 Camp and was, unfortunately, witnessed by many P-O-Ws. The Japs delighted in deeds of hideous cruelty. As well as the terrible atrocities to humans, there were other instances involving animals [frogs set in cement, Singapore; and monkeys set in concrete].

Yet, in spite of the sadism of the Japanese Guards, they were extremely afraid of sickness and death, which happened to come their way. At No. 5 Camp, Burma border, a Jap guard who had cholera was taken outside and left all night in the rain. He died of this exposure. Also, as mentioned elsewhere in this diary, Japs fled from half-cremated bodies.

The uncontrollable temper of some of the guards, also some Engineers, was terrible. One case in particular was that of Gunsoku Toyama who, when at Banpong, seemed to take delight in striking Officers and men for no apparent reason - using at times a steel shafted golf club. He put a cut in one Officer's head and injured another's arm with blows from this club. This Guard was 4ft.-odd, barely 5ft. in height and was said to rank as a cadet Officer. He was at Banpong for some time and more than one trainload of men had experience of this spiteful man. Apart from his assaults by beatings, he would often go out of his way to insult Prisoner Officers who were his superior. You dare not smile in the presence of Toyama or you run a big risk of face slapping!

We came in contact with him later on and at Shimo Songkrai, he was a source of nightmares to men at the Camp. Because so many hundreds of men were stricken down by exhaustion and malnutrition, he cut the rations of the sick down to ½-pint of rice and onion water meal . . . the idea was that it would make sick men better and he would have more to drive out on the road to work. Result - sickness increased by the ¼-starvation, and more scores and scores of men became unfit. Those exhausted could not return to work for long times - some if ever, whilst others became dangerously ill.

Japanese Drive Sick P-O-Ws Out to Work on Road
Apart from the cut in Hospital rations the so-called 'well' men on roadwork did not fare much better. Although they set off to work at daylight, they were not allowed back at Camp before 7.30p.m., and many parties did not return till 10p.m. - at odd times 11.30p.m., with the result that men could not see to wash themselves, and as for their clothes well, it was often quite out of the question. Most of the men did not see their sleeping huts or belongings in daylight for many weeks on end - or until they became too sick to work. Also at Shimo Songkrai was a Jap Engineering Officer who, on not getting the number he required daily for work, said that he would drive Hospital patients out on the road. One of our M.O.s took a gallant stand to save some very sick men from being forced out onto the Railway work. The Jap Officer said 'Send men out of Hospital to help Nippon Railway to get finished". Captain Miller said "No. All these men are sick and I am in charge of this Hospital". Jap then said "I am the boss" and pointed to a man with cardiac berri-berri - get him out to work on the Railway". Cpt. Miller stood between them and defied the Jap Officer, who then drew his sword to the Doctor. Cpt. Miller said "I am not a combatant. I am a Doctor to succor the sick and wounded". The Jap put his sword down and said "I will jiu-jitsu you to death". The Medical Officer thought quickly - "No, I will box you instead". Happily, Cpt. Miller had practiced boxing years before. Then, somehow, after staring at the Doctor for a brief period, the Jap Officer miraculously withdrew and left those sick and dying men in the bamboo Hospital. This brings to mind an incident, which occurred down the Line at Tarkanoon. One man whom I know asked, by a particular cruel and unjust Japanese Officer, 'What was the nature of his sickness'. He told the Officer he had had dysentery, diarrhoea, and malaria [twice] and was at present suffering the latter two diseases. The Officer said, "Oh, you rest today, but tomorrow you go out on the road job and try some work!" Many sick were put to work and told to get a certain potion of work done, e.g., picking and shoveling away a cutting of rock and earth for the Railway line, and were expected to have this graft accomplished in less days than the fit men when they were given a similar task.

Short -Sighted Japanese Policy Re P-O-Ws
Many sick men - some with fevers of 100 degrees and over - have been driven out to work by the Japanese. This was done and witnessed by myself, Doctors and others, at our Camp, Kami Songkrai, in September and October of 1943. Now this was a most ridiculous, blind policy on part of the Imperial Japanese Army Engineers, in as much as, had our men been transported to their destination and the atrocious 200-mile march been avoided, the men would have been in condition to graft a certain amount of work -[although 2½ years on a foreign low standard of diet - rice and grass-stew - had left them suffering from malnutrition]. But notwithstanding the 200 mile march - as terrible as it was, had the P-O-Ws been given 1 or 2 weeks rest and some decent food and lodgings [namely, a waterproof roof overhead by night], then the Japanese Masters would have had more men working on their Jungle road and rail construction, and the work done - as we would be made to do - to his satisfaction and in a much shorter time. Men would have been sick in Hospital only because of disease and the tinea, and the titanic number of deaths would not have been from exhaustion and semi-starvation, exposure and malnutrition, etc. All this would have been to their great advantage - less men in Hospital, more men working on this vast job in the Thailand Jungle, and not so many dead - whose loss will be mourned by thousands of loved ones concerned in England, Australia, Holland, Java and Malaya. As well as this advantage to the Japanese, if their policy had been much different and on British lines of P-O-W treatment it would certainly count in their favor of face-saving after the conclusion of the war. However, to our sorrow, this was not their policy . . . on the contrary was the treatment described in this diary.

Colonel Banno - Red Cross Supplies Withheld
Often, orders would be given by Colonel Banno of the Imperial Japanese Army, for better treatment and a day'' rest for the Prisoners-Of-War after each 10 days work; but after the Commander had gone the orders were always forgotten - were not put into operation. In one or two instances the rest was given after the first ten days, but very soon discontinued. Several hundreds of sick were taken to a Camp 70 miles inside the Burma border, at Tambasai, but because of debility. Disease and utter exhaustion very few survived at this Hospital, - like many others that stretched right along the line. At this Tambassi Camp, many hundreds of our men, British and Australians, died of malnutrition, ulcers, and dysentery, but mainly of malaria - often complicated by cerebral malaria. Corporal punishment was carried out here by - or rather, ordered by - our own administration. One of our Officers it was, whose order was carried out by the particular Ward Master in whose ward the offence of selling clothes to the Natives took place. But when the Officers were concerned in the selling of the gear, nothing at all was done to them - they went, as always. 'scot free'. The greatest sin of all on the part of our Captors, the I.J.A.. was not allowing Red Cross Ships in. These would have brought us proper food and Medical Supplies. Had they been allowed, thousands upon thousands of lives would have been saved. More than half of the limited amount of Medical Supplies that we carried up by train was left at Banpong, along with our clothing and belongings which were never brought up as we were told they would be. Even though transport was most difficult at places, owing to the boggy Jungle road, there was the big river, which came past nearly all the big Camps except Kami Songkrai. This was used as transportation both by Thais and Japanese for their own goods and equipment, but was not used to transport up to the needy men, our Medical Supplies and clothing.

Hospital Services Disjointed and Disorganised
Clothing was looted and I do not know what eventually happened to the Hospital Supplies, which were taken up to Banpong by train in late April and in May to run a 400-bed Hospital. Apart from the Supplies, a Base Hospital - as was first promised us - did not eventuate for, on reaching the rail destination - and even further on in the progress of the marching, we learned to our great disappointment that the 300-odd Medical Personnel - Doctors and Nursing Men - were to be broken up at various intervals over the 200-mile route. Our entire Hospital Services were disjointed and disorganised, and for some time Red Cross Medical Personnel were ordered by the Imperial Japanese Army "out to work"! on the Jungle, whereas they could have been succoring and endeavoring to save lives of the sick. At many Camps where he happened to visit, Colonel Banno, a Commander of the I.J.A. reprimanded engineers and was the means of having Medical Personnel back into the Hospital work and off the road. Now, as the days of another year pass, I hope and pray that the remainder of us all shall see release before the close of this year. But I can only hope and pray - as do those loved ones far away - fot the Dawning of the Day when the Yoke which is not easy, shall be lifted from us.

The Names of the Staging Camps, which F Force-Marched, Commencing from the Railway Station at Banpong: -

17 miles to Tarowa: - Bid river with treacherous undercurrents - Swimming - Native stalls selling eggs and fruit - Beautiful countryside - Plantations.
15 miles to Kanchanburrai: - 'Desert Camp', Natives sold water for 5c small bucket - I stayed extra day.
15 miles to Wompah: - Temple Camp - Joe Knight's R.A.P. - 5 days with septic foot - fishing - Lost scissors.
15 miles to Wonyon: - Half mile from river - I stayed 3 days here.
14 miles to Tarso: - I stayed 1-day exhausted - Providential Help - C & D Force - Cemetery - Lost blanket, Bible.
12 miles to Kenyu: - Mountainous.
14 miles to Kinsayo: - Big Construction Camp - 1½ miles to river & waterfall - Jap Guard attacked me at river
13 miles to Wompin: - Dutch and Australians here - Cool stream
11 miles to Broncali: - Sick put on fatigues - 1 extra day with septic toe - Cut hole in boot and carried on.
16 mile to Tarkanoon: - Two Officers beaten by Jap Guard.
15 miles to Tamprampat: - Exhausted after worst march - Watch taken
15 miles to Koncoita: - Interned Natives, possibly Burmese - Cholera.
7½ miles to Taimonta: - Huts roofless - Cut banana leaves - Wet - Rough Base Depot - 200 in Hospital, met Ed.Wadington - Bramac Cape stolen - Last march.
6½ miles to Shumo Neichki: - Thai for 'Lower Neichki'
3 miles to Neichki: - Big Camp - Mjr. Hunt here at main Hospital.
3½ miles to Shimo Songkrai: - Thai for 'Lower River'.
3 miles to Songkrai: - Thai for 'River' - 11,000 English die here on construction of big bridge.
2 mile to Kami Songkrai: - Thai for 'above or beyond river' -End of March North - 7 miles from Burma.
2½ mile to Camp No. 5, Burma Border: - British - Many deaths from cholera - Terrible Jap ill treatment.

A note taped to a copy of this diary reads: -

'Dear reader, The reason this diary abruptly finished was the fact that I had no more paper & the incarnation lasted 1½ years longer as the two enemies Germany & lastly Japan were too stubborn to finish the War. I should someday put down those last 18 months. P.S.- The dropping of the two atomic bombs saved many thousands, Prisoner of War as well as Allied soldiers'. Signed. Glenleigh Skewes.

The following text is taken from the Appendix of Keith Skues 1980 book 'Cornish Heritage' -

THREE YEARS AS A PRISONER-OF-WAR OF THE JAPANESE IMPERIAL ARMY

On 15 February 1941 Singapore fell to the Japanese. The big guns of the British Navel Base had fixed emplacements, pointing out to sea and so were no help when the Japanese approached Singapore from the Malayan interior. The cost of building the base was put at 11,000,000 pounds. An allied squadron was wiped out in the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1941 and on 13 March the Japanese landed in the Solomon Islands threatening the vital route to Australia.

Mandalay fell to the Japanese on 2 May and the completed their conquest of Burma. But eventually the West won. The first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and three days later another destroyed most of Nagaski, the second coming less than 24 hours after Russia declared war upon Japan. Japanese forces in South East Asia surrendered to the British on 12 September 1945.

The Second World War, which had gone on six long years, cost many lives, especially civilians. It was estimated that 54.8 million civilians had been killed in a war, which involved 57 nations. Military deaths in South East Asia were Japanese 1.5 million; British 398,000 and Australian 29, 935.

By November 1942 Australian forces had been augmented by the unhardened British soldiers from Changi, Singapore and Dutch troops from Java. Before the end of 1942 almost 10,000 prisoners-of-war began to clear the jungle, heaping dirt by the basketful on embankments and chiselling through hillsides at the Burmese end of the railroad. Alike number of captives, mostly British worked in Thailand at the other end of the envisaged line.

Dedicated doctors and orderlies worked with little sleep to do some good, but they had no medicines, and Japanese medical inspectors refused consistently to make any available. Boiled water, salt and soda were the main drugs at hand, and the men who suffered from tropical ulcers, dysentery and malaria needed at least one more important pharmaceutical - hope! This the doctors and orderlies could not dispense and they had to watch thousands of young men die of a combination of minor ailments, which could have easily been cured by food, rest and sanitation.

The railroad of death employed 331,000 men - 61, 000 Allied P-O-W's and roughly 270.000 natives. Of these 61,000 Allied P-O-W's, 20.6 percent or 12, 568 had died. Broken down by country they were: 6318 British, 2815 Australian, 2490 Dutch, 356 Americans and 589 whose nationality was never identified. In laying down their lives they have constructed a 250-mile railroad, which was abandoned after the war, and given back to the wilderness. They had built nine miles of bridges and moved 150 million cubic feet of earth. They left one dead body for every thirteen feet of track. If Japan had lifted a finger of her managerial genius, the idiotic waste of life could have been avoided and the railroad built more quickly, cheaply and lastingly. As handled by Imperial Headquarters the project had only one virtue: it was a way of killing prisoners that would be justified to the Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and other responsible officials in the Tokyo Government

One Australian who witnessed many of the deaths during the building of the railroad from Burma to Thailand was VX Private GLENLEIGH BERTIE WILLIAM SKEWES from Victoria. He was attached to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital in Singapore. He was taken prisoner near Changi on 15 February 1942 and for three years kept a diary, written on small notebook pages, being inscribed in diluted purple dye, due to the total absence of proper writing materials.

This diary was kept hidden from the enemy at all times, and became damaged by the damp and mildew of the monsoon climate. It was carried through the war at great risk, for if one was found concealing such material, severe punishment was administered to the person with any such document found upon them.

Glenleigh Skewes describes himself as an ordinary Australian with love for his country and family. He had faith in God and during his days of imprisonment a deep feeling of suffering humanity. He arrived in Singapore on 15 September 1941 just five months prior to being taken prisoner by the Japanese.

These fifteen mile long marches Glenleigh Skewes were forced to do were through the thickest and most unhealthy jungle in the world. He would march through thorns, spikes and prickles and being bitten on the ears and nose by sand flies, "midges", often falling into thick mud. There were thunderstorms on most nights followed by torrential rain. Glenleigh Skewes had developed a septic foot, which he had to nurse through days and nights of agony clambering through swamps, ridges and gullies. On the 13 May 1943 the soldiers were 21 days out of Changi prison, still marching i5 miles each night, often close to tigers and other wild beasts of the jungle.

Glenleigh Skewes was released when the Japanese surrendered to the British in Singapore in September 1945. It was then that soldiers discovered piled up in the big sheds on the wharves five years supply of tinned meat and vegetables. All this could have been easily sent to the P-O-W's but it was sent to Japan to feed the civilian population.

On release Glenleigh Skewes weighed 7 stone 4lbs and boasted a waist measurement of 19½ inches! He arrived home in Australia in November 1945 and soon went down with pleurisy and another bout of malaria. He was taken to Melbourne Repatriation Hospital, transferred to a convalescent home in Ballarat, and then returned to Melbourne. It was two years later that he could resume his normal work. Even then he was only allowed light work, so he had to resign his nursing job. He became a gardener, but at the age of 61 years he suffered back trouble and retired when he was put onto a service pension.


Glenleigh Bertie William Skewes died on 10th October 1990 at Sebastopol, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, about one month short of his 78th birthday. Glen was buried in the front row of the lawn section of the nearby Buninyong cemetery on 13th October 1990.


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