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Private GBW (Glen) Skewes

 Glen Skewes Changi Diary

A P R I L    1 9 4 3

'Courage' and 'God' symbols

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April 1943

Preparing to Leave Changi
Friday 15th April
After fourteen months at Changi, big moves are on. Thousands of 'Prisoners of War' are to be sent away next week. Dutch, Javanese, English and Australian, and the few Americans. I often wonder where the Hospital will be sent to. I believe the Changi area, including Roberts Barracks, is to be taken over by the Nippon Navy. I am at this present time out on General Duties work prior to going away on this draft - we think way up North to the far end of Siam. There is a great deal of favouritism going on, from the AGH C.O., Colonel Summons. He is a downright rotter of a fellow. He makes fish of some and flesh of others. As usual, practically all the 2/9th men are being retained at the AGH and very soon, instead of the original l0th and 13th AGH, this fellow will have 2/9th F Ambulance men running the AGH as he sends away to the Jungles of Siam men who carried the responsibility of the sick and wounded during such trying dark days of the past when the war was on here at Malaya and Singapore, and also afterwards when the men of the AGH nursed the thousands of dysentry cases during that terrible epidemic soon after capitulations.

Saturday 16th
Today is dear little Robert's birthday - three years old - and I am missing the best part of their lives; but it is a sacrifice I must pay and I must not complain but just grin and bear it. Today, I remember just what it meant to my beloved wife - the arrival of our Robert. I pray that he shall ever be a blessing - also Kenneth - in the days to come to this dearest Mother and myself. May God's Blessing rest upon my home this day and ever. Today marks also the first series of injections prior to going North. one cholera, and 2nd vaccination and blood test for malaria. We marched over to Selerang for these injections with Major Hunt.

Departure from Changi
Tuesday 19th
A third of our party has gone away tonight. The first party unfortunately encountered a terrible storm with torrential rain and after getting drenched through, sitting in it for a solid hour, had to board railway trucks where they were packet together like sardines. They had no chance to dry themselves and their gear. Many suffered from this soaking, during the five days and nights of that train journey. The lightning of that same storm kept me awake for hours. As I tried to sleep on the hard concrete balcony of No 2, AGH, it caused me to wake with a terrific start every while and would dazzle me. This terrible storm kept up such awful lightning until daybreak. The parting was sad tonight as George Gadd and several others said goodbye to us. We had a small prayer meeting among about 6 chaps in Bryan Hutchings tent before George Gadd and Joe Knight went away on tonight's party. I will be going on Wednesday night. The weather is extremely hot with many thunderstorms day and night.

Wednesday 20th
Wednesday came my departure from Changi. We were given 2 pasties made of rice flour and 2 puddings - a special treat as a send-off from the cooks. From Q Store, 1 cake of soap and field dressings. We marched over to Selerang at 10 pm.. Very many shook hands with me until I thought my hand or arm would shake off. At Selerang we had two hours sleep, then in the early hours of the morning, there was great activity in the area or square. Bob Wilson was on reserve but received great disappointment - he did not get away with me.

Singapore to Banpong Rail Journey
Thursday 21st
At about 3.30 a.m. Thursday, 17 small trucks pulled in with Jap Guards to take 500 or 600 of us away. Men were squashed Into these trucks like sardines, as well as a lot of gear and men's belongings. Arrived at Singapore, we carried our heavy gear over to railway trucks. Used to carry rice, these trucks were steel and each one - only a few yards in length - was to be the home of 27 men and their gear, plus other Items, for the next five days and nights. It was a nightmare very few will over forget. The Black Hole of Calcutta all over again. It became red hot during each day and was like trying to breathe an existence in a hot oven. It was just Hellish, believe me! But worse by far is to come. During that terrible, cramped railway truck journey of some hundreds of miles, we were not fed regularly on our usual rice but had to go without food on 2 or 3 separate occasions - once for twenty-four hours without a bite to eat, and another long fasting period of thirty-six hours. We were ravenous with starvation.

Banpong - Loss of Treasures and Medical Book
Tuesday 26th
Eventually, after travelling in this steel oven for five days and five nights, we landed at a place called Banpong. Here we had to haul out, half asleep, at 6 am. In the pitch dark. Oh, what a turmoil It was! Everybody's luggage tossed all ways and the trouble to find our own belongings, which was which, and the Japs pushing us to be up and off the station in a few minutes. It was no use you going back for any luggage you could not find, or some you could not carry at the first attempt you were not allowed such a thing, you just had to forget about it altogether. When we got outside this station, we were told that we were to carry all our kit, I suppose about 80 lb, weight; on our backs for about 9 miles and march. Will I ever forget it! and how the sweat just streamed down my face-and my heart pounded as we marched down those dusty streets under this strain that hot mornings Shops were beginning to open by this time and the Thailanders stood watching In amazement.

All the above had to be done with practically no sleep but a little catch-sleep, sitting up and all ways in the trucks and with no food whatsoever in our stomachs - it was thirty-six hours since we had our last food.

One can imagine what state of body and mind we were in. However, after travelling for some time, I never saw a more welcome sight as the long column of men ahead turned in to a camp. Here we were given a breakfast which consisted of rice and grass but I think 1 saw some beans in it. We were told that we had many marches ahead of us - of approximately 15 miles each night. This in where I had to part; with my kitbag and all the treasured things I had gathered together during the past fourteen months - especially my big Medical Book which I had written up and studied over the past twelve months of many lectures, experiences of various diseases, their symptoms, charactistics, and the latest treatments of same. But we were told that on account of the long march ahead, we would be able to carry only a pack on our back with a change of clothing, in it and as few necessary articles as possible. We thought that our kitbags were going to be sent after us by motor truck - at least, the Officers said there was a chance of them being sent on - therefore, I locked the kitbag and hoped for the best. Now, I wish to the World I had done what some others did, sold my gear to the Thailanders and it would have enabled me to buy food such as eggs and coffee from the Thais. I would have got at least $30, which would have sustained my body with eggs, fruit and etc, for about one month.

Doctors on the March

(One month - including sickness, exhaustion and stops of several days - was the time occupied in travelling that terrible never-to-be-forgotten march through the Jungle of Thailand. 196 miles. after fourteen months of malnutrition! Dear God, only those who went through it know just what those Hellish conditions were!) However, I was asked to assist the Doctor with First Aid work on chaps sick and sore-footed (blistered by the march) and that took up a lot time and, as we had to leave here the same day in the evening, I did not have much time to rest my fatigued and sleepless body - let alone time to think just what was the best move to make in regards to my kitbag of clothes and books etc. I am sure if I had had more time and thought I would have sold these belongings which, like hundreds of others' gear, Including Officers' chests - were looted afterwards. I would then have had some satisfaction out of my treasured things. We set out from Banpong Camp at 10pm. I, with pack on my back full of some of my personal belongings and haversack with 2 water bottles and my mess gear and field dressings. It was 17 miles to the next Camp and we would have about 15 minutes spell after each 40 to 45 minutes march.

Oh, what a job many of the Doctors did on those marches! There was nearly always one Doctor to each trainload of 500 men. On this night's march, Cpt. Taylor did a great job. He would sometimes be called to the front, then to the rear of the oolumn, Yes, most of the Doctors did a marvellous job assisting the sick and sometimes carrying them and their gear for long distances. Captain Taylor, Major Rogers, Major Hunt, were among those deserving of a Victoria Cross, I think.

Arrival at Tarowa
Wednesday 27th
After marching all night in the above fashion, we eventually stopped at about 9.30 am, not far from the town of Tarowa, and close to this fast running river. This first River Camp on the march from Banpong was one of the prettlent sights I've ever seen. The beautiful banana groves, well-cared-for plantations, then plantations of kapok trees in bloom of kapok ready to be picked, and groves of palms. My word, it was a picturesque march on either side of the road. Yes, those pretty green groves we could not help remarking as we struggled on that hard March.

Beautiful Tarowa

The river was Indeed lovely and most picturesque and it wound in and out of hills and dales and pretty mountains - a very beautiful sight was this peaceful river, fish jumping out of Its waters, canoes and Native barges moving and gliding along Its surface. However, I felt too sleepy and exhausted to enjoy it much - arid no money. The Thailanders here - or rather, a big percentage of them were a good type and seerned our way considerably. A young Thai woman gave some of us a big bunch of bananas each while we were resting in the shade near the road. Here, where the river ran close to the Camp, I was nearly carried down by a treacherous undercurrent. This isthe first Camp where I was very annoyed and disgusted by some of the AIF, - and I told some off - for bathing in the nude right In front of where Native women were selling coffee, fruit, fried eggs, etc. at their stalls. There was one woman in a boat and they even got undressed in her presence then, getting into the water near the edge, they held on to the small craft in which she sat, and pushed it about. If I had been her husband I'd have crowned them with the nearest article I could lay hands on. It's a wonder he did not take to them with his big perang (Native knife). Later, while these disgusting members of the AIF bathed at and near the boat, he showed them by his own actions what was the right and modest way to bathe in the presence of the opposite sex. He bathed in his sarong, then, after drying, stepped into dry clothes without uncovering his pubic regions. We ware here only a few hours before moving on that evening to the next Camp - about another 15 miles. Although about the same distance as the previous night, we were not so exhausted because we didn't have our packs to carry this night. Those who had some Thai money, (Including the officers, who gave as much an $4 or $5 and some $8 each) contributed to the payment of more than $100 for the hire of 1 or 2 Thai motor trucks which took our packs to the next Camp for us. My word, It was a great and wonderful relief! During the trials of the march the officers did a great job for the men - helped us in many ways. I think the way they carried out their duties under such severe strain, assisting all the unfortunates they could, they were to be greatly admired.

Kanchanbuuai - The Desert Camp
Thursday. 28th
Next morning we landed at the next 15 mile Camp, called Kanohanburrai. Later, we called it 'the desert Camp'. We had to camp under any bush we might find - and get drenched if it rained. The latrines were so close - billions of flies and maggots - just open trench; It's a big wonder that fever epidemics did not break out. At this 'desert Camp we paid a sullen, dangerous native 5 cents per small bucket of water. This Native drew water from a well most of the afternoon to sell to our men as they straggled into Camp. At about sunset Alan Schiebs came along the road and entered the Camp. I asked him for a small loan, which he gladly gave, and we proceded to the Native Well. By this time, the Native had ceased to draw water and had joined his family inside his hut. I was desperate for a bucket of water, so I proceeded to lower the rope myself and would pay the 5 cents later. The Native came out and soon put astop to this! He rushed into his hut and came running out at me with a large perang. I went without the water. Later the Japs were annoyed with him for selling the water. I had to stay here an extra day and I developed diarrhoea and blistered feat. Also here, we were marched to a small Japanese Hospital where we were given another dysentry and malaria test. Now, from this Camp is where I experienced the worst trial of my life. Never before did it or the other prisoners with me, experience such cruel punishment by foot.

Depart Kanchanburra

The afternoon before we left, there came up a terrible thunderstorm and rain began to pour and continued in torrents for some hours and into the evening. It was so bad that it put out the fires at the cookhouse and water got into the vegetable stew, which was condemned by the Doctor. Many men went hungry for a time. Also, the Regimental Aid Post where the 80 to 100 sick men were was flooded, just a pool of water under that roof. Men got wet, gear got wet, and those several hundreds who marched in that day got drenched to the skin and had to lie in the water and wet blankets and wet bushes all that night, However, we had to assemble drenched through, some having had a little tea, others not. Our packs now increased the load on our backs about 3-fold by being so wet. Then, because a watch was missing from the Japanese Guards, also some other small hitch, they kept us in this wet condition standing still with our heavy wet packs, haversacks and soaked capes on most of the time in almost continuous rain for 3 solid hours before we were allowed to march off. We were beginning to shiver with the cold and wet before we were let go. Then follows a Hell of a night.

A Most Unique Experience
We marched off fairly smartly because of our long wait, but we very soon began to tire, Then without any warning, we received a disappointment - the Guards turned us down a path off the hard main road, down into the Jungle. The Guards were very wary and did not like the weary men to drag back far because of tigers etc. After we had gone about 11/2 miles on this Jungle track we came upon a rotten track, all mud and slush. I had never seen the like. We would slip and slide in all directions. Men were falling out one by one from exhaustion and were helped along by a man on each side of them. There were callings up from the rear to the front of the column all night 'Man from No. 1 Company down - cannot carry on', then 'Two men from 3 Company down - too weak to walk' and so on, every few minutes all throughout the night. I fell heavily 3 or 4 times and had to be assisted to my feet by several men - not counting the many small falls from which I struggled up unaided. Each time I fell I received a new load to carry. My drenched cape soon became clogged with mud and weighed pounds and pounds extra. My pack went fair into the slush the last fall before the half-way stop and I fell heavily onto my back. The men assisted me in extricating myself and pack from the deep mud and I staggered under the new load of mud on my pack, rain cape, boots and limbs. It seemed to me as if I had a ton of bricks on my back as I battled on, slipping and sliding all ways, and I was tempted to throw away my raincoat because of its terrible weight of mud, But I bore on with the others. Along a particularly bad stretch of the march, my old friend 'Professor' Ed Waddington got into serious difficulty. He became firmly stuck in the gluey mud. A man on each side worked to pull him free and after a struggle, out came his foot leaving his boot embedded in the mud. With help, his boot was extricated. Then, Ed stood up and to the amazement of those around, exclaimed, "This is a most unique experience! Most unique indeed!' I shall never forget my old friend's remark - so humorous among men quick to swear in these desperate circumstances. There were a number of English with us that night - a fair mixture of both Australian and English.

Thailanders Hunting Frogs at Night

After a heavy rainfall in this Northern Hemisphere, there are millions of frogs croak a terrible noise almost to make one dizzy . . . a loud noise equal to pigs squealing close at hand. There were Native Thailanders along this lane, walking bare-footed as is their custom, along the deep water courses - big drains which became creeks of water after this heavy tropical downpour. The Natives were carrying containers to put the frogs in. I could not see just what they used to fish them out with, but it seemed to me by the chorus that kept going up - apparently from both sexes - that they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Each time as they caught a fresh lot, a great commotion would ascend up in the dark night. Perhaps they put a net across the creek and walked towards it yelling out and making great commotions to frighten the frogs into the nets. They do this when they want to catch a quantity of fish in the big wide rivers In Thailand. I remember one day when the Japs employed this method to catch a lot of fish - using about 100 of our men to yell and frighten the fish. After we had gone about 4 miles we came to a small village in the midst of the mud. Here I was able to buy something to eat and a drink of coffee. We were told by the Natives here that we had only to go one mile of that terrible track then on to a hard road again, This was another version of the 'cocky's mile!' The shocking track kept up till daylight, about 6 more miles of mud and we were kept on the move with a short spell each hour. Men fell out and were helped along by others - some were even carried by comrades. Approximately 150 men became exhausted. Wompah - Joe Knight's

Septic Leg
Friday 29th
I came Into camp struggling among those of the rear, but under my own steam.- I was done, 1 was settled, I was completely exhausted. The weight on my back was as a ton of bricks. Besides, I was lame with a septic leg and was so pleased to see my old mate, Joe Knight, In charge of RAP, where I am now receiving treatment. Now I came to get this septic leg was, through travelling all night with boots full of water and an the toot swelled with heat a blister was soon formed and the dye from a new sock got into it. It swelled up and soon poisoned - and didn't it become painful. Here, there are over 70 men in an exhausted state and with badly blistered heels etc. As they improve they go on to the next 15-mile.Camp (No. 4). Joe Knight, as usual, is doing a marvellous job in caring for the sick; also being C.O. of this temporary Hospital, yet he in still a Private. Eric Sandell, Chessall and Les Stone are also here with bad feet - infected toes, etc.