Providentially, after about a fortnight, I was ordered on a draft to continue the journey to Malaya - along with hundreds of others. Although I was eternally thankful to depart from Kanchanburrai [on or about the 18th of December 1943], it was with mixed feelings as I was leaving behind my 2 friends who were in a low state of health.
One, my distant relative by marriage, was fighting chronic diarrhoea and post-operation healing of abscess removed from buttocks. I learned later - to my sorrow - that Don passed away on the 25th, Christmas Day, only about 7 days after my train left. The other friend from my home district, Leo O'Loughlin, was to go on my train, but was taken back to the Hospital as not yet fit to travel. He also died at Christmas time - of the effects of ulcers, debility from malnutrition, also diarrhoea. Leo died in his sleep with a smile on his face. His death was somewhat unexpected. It was thought by those who knew him that he would have pulled through, but evidently his system - like so many others - came to its limit.
I may also remark at this point that none of the amputation cases lived. Only one gained Kanchanburrai. Reaction, diarrhoea, berri-berri and debility - along with the terrible privations of the train journey - caused their deaths. Even Bill Mead, who was quite cured and only had scabies at Kanchanburrai and was walking each day to an open-air centre for treatment before I left, picked up dysentery some days afterwards and was taken off suddenly - Poor Bill.
The Journey South to Singapore - Wartime Malaria
The journey from here to Malaya and on to the island of Singapore was much better than I had anticipated - although of course far from a picnic. If I remember rightly, it was the usual 27 to each truck - I know that we were cramped together again like sheep. Estimating the majority of my trainload, those now travelling were - roughly speaking - convalescent; although there were quite a number of sick men on board. One patient died on the train near the border of Malaya and was buried at, I think, Pry. The rest of the men made the distance to Singapore, which took some hours less than the trip North 7 months before. We did this journey South in 4½ days and 4½ nights.
As compared to the trip from the jungle to Kanchanburrai, we had more space and one could sit down somewhat better - at least, I could! My Jungle sores had improved considerably, thanks to the treatment given me by my friend Bob Anderson, Sgt. Dispenser at Kanchanburrai. Not having any lying down sick in our truck one could, by co-operation with one's opposite neighbour, three quarters lie down and stretch one's legs and, when exhaustion came, have a few hours sleep.
There was the usual gear, but of course everyone had only quarter of the total possessions they took when they were sent on the trip North. Nevertheless, as it was, plus two English Officer's trunks, and a big empty can, and about a dozen picks, chunkels and shovels which the Japanese made go in our truck, our space for existence in the usual 6'6" by 15' of hard steel was very limited.
Conditions had deteriorated in Malaya since we left 7 months ago. There was very little fruit selling at train-stops along the line compared to formerly. Of course, the Nippon Guards did not allow Natives on the platform of any station to sell fruit; but out of stations, if the train stopped, Chinese and Malays were allowed to approach the trucks and sell the small quantity of fruit and vegetables they had. There were very few paw paws, and bananas were dear. Eggs - which in Lower Thailand could be obtained at 10c each - became dearer and more scarce as we went South. In Lower Malaya they were 25c each, and hens eggs at that, whereas the Thais sold mainly duck eggs.
At Kuala Lumpur, whilst we stopped for a meal of rice and a little half-pint of vegetable stew [mostly water], we learned of hardship and sorrow from a small Native lad who asked us for any scraps of rice we had over. His Daddy, like many others, was sent North on the Jungle line and did not return in the aforesaid 3 months, but died up there. Mother and children were finding food for existence hard to win.
The Railway Station at Kuala Lumpur - pride of Eastern States - was elaborate and picturesque, with its domed hall above and beautifully tiled subways beneath, enormous and valuable clocks, and spacious platforms.
Familiar Malayan Countryside - Arrive Singapore
How welcome once again were the familiar Malayan sights and sounds - the rubber plantations, the honest John Chinese and family working in the wayside market gardens, and here and there again the Malayan Jungle. This Jungle was so different from the Northern Jungle of Thailand, much because of the absence of the tangled, dense bamboo. It is by far more modest in character, and the sinister impression which an ex-F Force man had received up North, was totally gone as he gazed at intervals at this 'civilised' Malayan Jungle - if I may call it that.
We arrived at about 2.30a.m. in the big Station of Singapore on 22nd of December, 1943. What a relief - only those who experienced that trip of F Force can tell!
On arrival, a long line of motor trucks, which slid, alongside our platform like ghosts in the night - and how welcome was the sight, on account of the large number of them. Although we had to stand the 17 miles of the run out of Changi, we were not half as crowded as was usually the case - in fact, our truck was more or less comfortable.
The breeze was cool and refreshing after the tedious train journey, and it was good to view familiar streets of Singapore, and especially that of East Coast Road through Katong. Occasionally, as the road would wind its way, one viewed the sea and heard the quiet lapping of the waves on those shores - waters which looked so placid. It made me glad of heart as I looked with feasting eyes on all this. It was realization dawning upon me that we were at long last being borne into civilization again, as it were, after seemingly eternity of dreadful nightmares [ -if only it had been -] and as one shudders on the past of recent months, the sea breeze coming o'er the shore stirs the flesh, and the eyes focusing on these passing scenes conveyed them with gladness in the brain, which quickly interpreted God's rich blessing and the manifestation of his love in those things seen and felt, with a preparing New Dawn to come.
F Force Returns from 'The Valley of Death'
On arrival at the Garden and Wood area at Changi, we walked across a Padang of long turf, green and soft. At the other end we were shown into new adaf huts erected by P-O-Ws of Changi for the return of F Force. We repeated to ourselves and to one another, "Brand new huts for us! And electric lighting too!" We could scarcely believe our eyes after the verminous, reeking huts of the North, which could not be called huts at all.
We were given hot tea at 3.30a.m. and soon collapsed on our new wooden benches, quickly falling into a deep, long-needed sleep. It was an inexpressible relief to be able to stretch forth one's body and limbs after that cramped sitting posture of recent nights and days.
The following day we were told of showers, and again we could not repress our joys at the sight of so much water and its exhilarating effect upon our bodies - and the washing of clothes! - we felt like children allowed out to play. The convenience of pure water, which we did not have to boil against germs and could drink and wash with to contentment!
The scenery of green pasture and picturesque tiled-roof cottages and flats was new and fascinating to our eyes - But we were timid and now many, or most, suffering from reaction. We felt not the men who left this place only 7 months before. And as many folks of Changi said "The men of F Force who returned, walked about with a haunted look - even as frightened creatures." I heard the C.O. of the Hospital, Colonel Summins, tell all the men on parade one day, that these men arriving back to Changi had been through
'The Valley of the Shadow of Death.'
The sick who made who made the journey were taken straight to Selerang - combined B.G.H. and A.G.H. - and many were carried upstairs like frail little children by Nursing Orderlies who, under the great work of the Doctors, were able to assist scores of men back to normal again. But some men, whose condition was so low on arrival, passed away at Changi Hospital after making such a trip.
I wish to say here that the service rendered by Doctors and Nursing Orderlies and Stretcher Parties and others during these days of rush admissions of broken humanity was of their highest and best, and was deeply appreciated by those emerged from the 'Valley of Death'.
A malaria centre was soon set up at Garden and Wood area, which was situated about ¾ of a mile from the Hospital Selerang, and very soon there were 4 wards of approximately 40 patients each - mainly relapses of malaria, but in some cases fresh infections.
I was given nursing work and continued on for days at the centre; but as I did so, Sgt. Marshall and the M.O. noticed me failing and, on the second day of the New Year - 1944, I was sent over to A.G.H. and treated for nervous reaction and exhaustion. However, in 3 weeks I recovered sufficiently to resume work in the ward [188B] wherein I had recovered.