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Private GBW (Glen) Skewes

 Glen Skewes Changi Diary

J U N E    1 9 4 3

'Courage' and 'God' symbols

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June 1943

Some days off
Tuesday 1st
On awakening this morning there was another cause for glooms for the poor chap, Smith, lay dead within a few feet of my bunk. Noel Chandler sat up all night to look after him, This is the second death In 2 days. This afternoon, he also was cremated in the Jungle, The M.O. and B. Murphy got some disinfectant from the Japs and sprayed the cane where the chap died. I think it was cholera, all right. it was a very sudden death - and also was Jones' on Sunday, Back at the last Camp - by the river, 3 miles back - over 60 Englishmen died, nearly all of cholera in the last few days - taken off suddenly. The Japs have now given us alternative days to work, one for them, then one day to work for the benefit of the Camp cleaning, clearing stumps, getting wood for the cookhouse and odd work - with some time to ourselves. I don't know how long this will last, though. Whenever you go for water or wood you slide and slip in the mud and it gets into your sores and cuts . . . Oh, it's Hell.

Some Yak Meat in Rice
Hell, Hell and Hell again. Rain, rain, rain, rain and you have to work in it regardless of the state of your clothing. I often have wet pants all day and no shirt. Then, when you return, sleep with sick all around you, bad smells, bad breathe, coughing. Flies as thick as thick, mosquitoes . . . and Death. I say, as does everyone, this is Hell. Hellish misery that those outside know nothing of. We are by no means over the effects of the awful march yet and have no resistance -or very little - against sickness. We used up our reserve strength on the last part or that march - 4 or 5 days and nights without sleep and on poor food. The food has improved here now. A yak is often killed - (poor and skinny though they be - just worn out workers) - and get the gravy in our rice, and sometimes two or three small pieces of tough meat. The yaks are so bony and poor that one died last night of poverty and this is the poor type of beast that is consumed for meat.

Wednesday 2ndbr> Out at; work, quarry and road, but some soon became exhausted with lack of proper food and no resistance; carrying stone on stretcher till I could not stand or walk longer. All strength went out of body, legs, and wrists. I am now skinny and bony, legs so thin. I said I was sick in the stomach and Jap said 'rest', so I did from about 1.30 till knock-off time. I have had sour stomach for 2 days now and Doctor has ordered me to eat almost nothing and I certainly could not eat if I was pressed.

Thursday 3rd
I feel a little better this morning, still very, very weak all over. There are well over 100 sick at present. Another very ill with cholera was put next to me last night. I quickly found another place to lie down when daylight came. My friend, Alex Miller, is still far from well and Doctor is keeping him in also. The English who marched with us 9 days ago, and are camped ahead of us at a place called No 5 Camp, Burma Border, have had disasterous losses of comrades since arriving. In the last nine days they have had 33 men die from cholera - 12 died two days ago. This place certainly seems to be a white man's grave. I do hope that God's hand of Healing and Blessing will come upon this Hellish part of the Earth, or that the war will quickly come to a close. It is still raining, and slush and mud . . . well, I had better shut up!

Friday 4th
Still on the sick list - also Alex Miller. I've never been so weak. Diarrhoea has stopped 2 days now, but I am still fighting this awful weakness. It's an effort to walk a few yards. I was not able to make the creek for a wash yesterday, but washed hands and face from the rain outside the hut. We lost another unfortunate fellow POW last night - died of cholera, taken off so suddenly. Dear God, I wish we could get out of this Hell's abode! There are 2 or 3 more suffering from cholera in the end of this hut. I do hope they can pull through. We need proper medicine and nourishing food for them, which we cannot have, to give them resistance. Tinned milk would be a Godsend to such patients. Oh God, if our captors would only allow the Red Cross supplies to come to us.

Protest to Japanese Colonel
Saturday 5th
We have lost another patient last night and still another unfortunate during this morning. It is terrible - big brown men, some are working one day and have passed away the next. A strong protest was made in writing by Major Hunt back at the last camps - with the signature of the Medical Officers- and sent to the Japanese Colonel. It listed the appalling conditions - sickness, deaths, poor food, roofless huts, etc. - which caused a small conference to be held not far inside Burma by some Jap Heads who decided, as a result of conference, to give the men of the camps at least five days rest. This is surely a great thing; but to pull the sick and weak men through we need better food. We had only dry rice for the evening meal as the dried fish had dozens of maggots on them.


Major Hunt came to this Camp this afternoon and gave anti-cholera vaccine to all those who did not get their second dose. I recieved mine today. He brought sad news of our comrades, Tom Nash and Steve Thomas. They have both died of cholera at his camp. Also about 80 other Australians - a sad state of affairs. But the Major says that, with the recent injections, they have the position almost in hand. Ken Narshall, Sgt A Buttershaw, and staff have been recommended for decorations for the marvellous work they did when the cholera was at its worst. They toiled and slaved amidst it, against terrific odds, patching old canvas roofs in mud and slush. I only wish we had a man like Major Hunt in our Camp . . . someone with push and go in them who would speak up and have things done for the benefit of the suffering men.

Major Hunt Visits - Vaccine
Sunday 6th
Upon awakening this morning there was a call for 4 stretcher bearers as Lieut Lusk had collapsed at the latrines and was suffering from cholera. Major Hunt stayed overnight and did the round od sick - which is a huge one. Major Gillies is temporarily sick with maleria. Major Hunt addressed all men of the vital seriousness of the marooned condition we are in, and asked the co-operation of all in combating the disease; strict personal hygiene, wash hands, care regarding mess gear, and careful of the deadly flies. He also called for volunteers to act as nursing orderlies. Those who were injected against cholera only yesterday are not to care for or go near cholera patients as the serum does not become effective as an anti - till the fulfillment of 14 days. I am therefore one of those. I did gressings of sores and ulcers this morning, along with Alex Miller. There are quite a number of cholera patients now and a new hut has been arranged for with the Japs. It is across the road through slush and mud. Some if our men have been clearing up and fixing this hut today and I think the patients will be carried across before night. It still rains every day. The terrible monsoons are definately on. many 'boongs' were up the road today - those with the yak drays. That should get rid of the flies.

Monday 7th
Wet. Wet. Wet. Two deaths occured at the cholera hut last night; Lieut Lusk, cholera and pneumonia; and other young man named Turner, I believe. I saw Lieut Lusk as he transferred from this hut to the cholera hut late yesterday afternoon and at a distance I thought he looked not too bad. Alan was one of the 3 orderlies on night shift and he was talking to Lieut Lusk at midnight, next thing, Alan found him on his side and stiffening out. Alan Miller and I worked on dressings this morning. I am still extremely weak but have, I believe, slightly strengthened - not so much palpitation of the heart. Doctor major Gillies is still sick with Maleria.

New CO Very Efficient
Tuesday 8th
I was put on looking after 49 patients - with the help of Ted Sharp. 3 cholera, the rest diarrhoea, dysentry and fever. The cholera's have now been transferred to the isolation - (Cpl Blue Cairns was one of them - position bad). Alan Schliebs has berri-berri legs but is improving. Yesteday we recieved a new CO and two Officers - (one Mr Glisan). We welcomed the sight of them. Also yesterday, some men recieved a blanket issued by the Japs but there were not enough to go around all the men without a covering, therefore I did not get one; but Alex shared his new one with me last night. Japs also issued a few large mosquito nets.

Wednedsay 9th
I was fortunate today in being issued with a new blanket - Jap issue, light ans warm. I am thankful. We are much impressed with our new CO. He is reorganising the Camp and forming a strong campaign by individuals against the prevailing disease. There has been a reshift of personel; the 200 sick - diarrhoea and dysentry - together; and all fit men in the other portion of the hut. The new CO is bright and very optimistic regarding the near future. Another unfortunate chap died of cholera last night - Callagher or Caallagan was his name, a man of about 40 years, or over.

Thursday 10th
Fine today, for a change. The sun is quite nice like an Australian day. I have been very busy today looking after 66 patients - and still will be until 8pm. Most can help themselves, thank goodness! They are diarrhea, dysentry, fevers (maleria), and ulcer cases. We have to use bamboo to write upon. It's not the best at all, but does as a sunstitute. I am very tired today. When I have time, I enter the jungle to pick large, soft, green leaves to be used by dysentry patients as a substitute for toilet paper.

Friday 11th
Had another busy day looking after 65 patients, and just tired out, up and down checking figues in and out, and finding places that do not leak rain. And taking things from Barney Murphy . . . I cannot seem to get on with him - nor can other people, except his 'pets'. He is a nigger, but I do my utmost and work from about 8am to 7.30pm. I was encouraged and praised by MO Captain Juttner. We lost another comrade today, a fine strapping physique of a man in his 30's . . . what a tragedy! Another fell from the dadly cholera. It's terrible to see men go like this in the prime of life. Many men suffering from septic ulcers and sores, and there is but little can be done for them. We are desperately short of containers, otherwise more hot foments could be given them. There are high fevers also, some to 105.4° - maleria. The weather has been lovely for 2 days now, but it has broken this evening and has rained heavily again. Water comes through leaf roof and drops on my patients. Food is a little better - split peas in my soup, some beans (weavily and flat), and fish soup, nice but weak. The skin is beginning to come off my tongue again - deficient of vitamin B1 and 2.

Dreams of Home & Luxury Foods
Saturday 12th
Very busy again in rough jungle ward. About 11 admissions sent on to me this afternoon - fever, ulcers . . . I was able to have a bonzer shave this morning early as a patient kndly gave me a little shave cream on a brush. Te burial of jack Eldre's ashes this afternoon. Sadness went through the area as the Last Post and Reveille was sounded. Poor Jack died yesterday - not of cholera as thought. He had almost recovered from the deadly disease when he was taken off by pneumonia . . . hard fortune indeed, to get over cholera and pick up another ill. It's weakness that does that - the system unale to fight another at that stage. I dreamed of Home last night and good things to eat. I was buying chocolates at Coles midnight Christmas Eve, eating and taking big slabs of chocolate home; but dream ended at Coles' counter. I was explaining to two or three girls about the POW experiences the men had borne in the Jungle of Thailand, and they made me a big chocolate drink. I was also in a grocers' shop buying such luxuries as cheese, golden syrup, etc. I refrained from buying such luxuries as cheese, golden syrup, etc . . . I refrained from buying sausages in this shop as they asked 7/6d per pound.

Sunday 13th
Experience much the same as yesterday. Heard last night that many more Englishmen have died of cholera.

Monday 14th
Poor Cpl Bluey Cairn died of cholera at 1am this morning. Very sad indeed.

Tuesday 15th
Very busy day. B. murphy very hard and unfair man. Maleria has broken out properly. Some men have died, at Major Hunt's Camp. There are dozens here running temperatures with a few up and down from 98.4 to 104 and 105.4, and many suffering rigors. I have about 20 who are fevers - maleria, etc.

Wednesday 16th
Very busy today. Poor Bluey had the bugle sounded yesterday - Last Post and Reveille - burying his ashes. very sad. I had 4 more maleria cases sent to my portion of the shed. (B Murphy likes to put all he can on me, too). Another man has died of cholera, or complication because of weakness.

Malaria - Acute Food Shortage at all Camps
Thursday 17th
Fine weather - many Japs posted North yesterday - some almast everyday. Sickness very acute at Major Hunt's Camp - many sick. Now 2 Doctors down with diarrhoea; Cpt. Cal and Cpt Taylor. Big cut in rations; we are cut to approximately 6 ozs of rice per day. There are butterflies in the Jungle here of all varieties and kinds, all colours and markings, the prettiest I've ever seen. I suppose they may be as pretty as any in the world. Seventeen more fevers will be admitted this afternoon.

Friday 18th
6 more fevers today. Sgt Murphy (B.) made quite sure I took almost the lot. One day I hope to be out of the cursed Army . . . Murphy makes fish of one and flesh of another. All down the line thwe food qestion is most acute. Men are coming from miles back at Major Hunt's Camp to carry rice in their packs from the camp nearest Burma, above us. Bluey brothers called here on his way up. He says George has, heard, been sleeping with patients and under the hut at Major Hunt's Camp. There are rumours of move North and South because of food situation. Yaks are dying of starvation. Another burial service just now - Last Post and Reveille - another comrade passed on in this cursed Jungle in Bondage. Alex Miller is off duty with most painful ulcers on leg and toe. I am feeling much better now - strength returning - thank goodness and Praise to Him.

Saturday 19th
Very tired tonight. I had some time to spare this morning so went to the creek, washed, and also washed my shorts and, after wringing them out, found the washing without soap had put some big holes in them. They are now starting to fall away at the band also. It is now many weeks since I had soap. I hope the near future holds at leat a little confort for us. There were fever patients today . . . two were 106.2°, (one again tonight), but fell to 105° half an hour later. I am looking after Pte Duthie. He tells me he is related to the late Alex Duthie of Buninyong. Alex was his father's uncle.

Sunday 20th
More fevers came in today. Also a chap who had an accident working for the Japs in the bush. There was a change of Jap Guards. The Japanese Imperial Army cut us short of rice at midday today - had to go fairly hungry. We lost another from cholera and weakness last night - a Cpl Whitbread. He was one of my patients until he took sick suddenly with cholera . . . a fine strapping, muscular man he was, too, and in civil life he was a Contract Bridge Builder.

Food Improves after Protest to Japanese
Monday 21st
About the shortest day at Home - but not here. More fevers today. Alex bartered his underpants today for a few beans from the Native Quarters Hut , so we had a comfortable full stomach at lunch time. It was great, for we are only living from meal to meal now. We have no reserve vitamins or energy. The last few days we have almost been, without exaggeration, half starving and know what it is to be trly hungry. I had only 1 patient discharged today - my total is 47.

Tuesday 22nd
More fevers coming in this afternoon, and only 3 discharges. Alex is still a patient, suffering very acutely from torpical ulcers - lack of vitamin C. We have about 20 or 30 patients suffering from the above disease. Some are a terrible sight and very much on the nose! Many have lumps in the groin from this disorder. The Last Post was blown again yesterday at the burial service in the Jungle for the ashes of W. Whitbread. Also, there was a big strong young man here - or called in here 2 days ago as he and others went up to the next Camp for rice. He looked quite well. I believe today he is gone. The unfortunate chap died of cholera at Major Hunt's Camp last night. The English at the Camp above us - only 500 strong - have now been reduced to less that 400. More than 100 dead of cholera. I believe the question of more rice was put to the Japanese yesterday and the result was a big supply of rice for tea and a Yak stew, it was Heavenly! We also had some sweet rice this morning, and rice and whitebread for lunch. I hope there is enough rice for tea. We have new guards now. The road is terrible. Some of our men from Major Hunt's Camp were pulling yak drays up the hills and through the deep bogs and slush of the road as beasts of burdon. Even yaks pulling their drays were being temporarily bogged from being too weak with over-work and starvation.

Men Pull Yak Drays
Wednesday 23rd
I took more fevers today. Few discharges. I now total 46 - mostly fevers. There is much blasting by the Japanese at present, so close to our quarters that it causes one's liver and innards to shake and nerves to jump at the blasts. One just went off then, which knocked a big bamboo water bottle over onto the ground. A Jap Guard on an elephant walked through the passage of our camp alongside where I sleep . . . what a sensation that would cause in Australia if an elephant walked through someone's passage in their house . . . that's if it were high and wide enough like this leaf hut. The meals have improved. More rice is now given, with some yak stew.

Thursday 24th
A young man died last night from cerebral maleria, suddenly. It can take a maleria patient off in a few hours if the parasite enters the blood capillaries of the brain. Heavy rain this afternoon.

Friday 25th
Burial service this morning for the above unfortunate young man . . . Last Post and Reveille. Found out a chap here - patient in Hospital - whose Aunty is married to Gordon Smith, Kerang, Victoria. Also another chap, from Cohuna, who knew the Taylors, Cleeves and Hancocks. He passed on sad news to me he recieved in a letter - that Amos Taylor was killed up working in his paddock.

500 Deaths in the last 2 Months
Saturday 26th
At the risk of a belting, Alex Miller and I bought a small piece of yak meat from the Burma Natives for a dollar I had. This was the means of having a fairly decent meal last night . . . along with Jap issue of ample rice and bean stew which was very nice (to the POW!). But to keep up one's strength it needs to be consistent. It riles me a comparison it is to the good treatment we give POW's in Australia. Since leaving Singapore 2 months ago, we have lost 500 men dead out of the force of 7,000 F Force - through disease, exhaustion and malnutrition. Staff Sgt Appleby is very ill and has been for weeks typhus, weakness and diarrhoea, and a huge ulcer on small of back. There is little we can do for him in this Hellish place.

Sunday 27th
Back at othyer Camps the position is terrible. The excuse is lack of supplies of rice because of the bad roads. The AIF and English - mainly AIF - of 1, 2, and 3 Camps back, are on 6 ozs. of rice per day and those not sick have to work on it. The position is, unless they receive food within the next few days and weeks hundreds of our men will die of starvation. Major Johnson stated this yesterday. We have already lost 500 young men in the last 5 weeks. What a tragedy! The experiences that our AIF and English prisoners have gone through so far during the last 5 - 6 weeks are far worse than battle experience. At least in action you are free and ave food and clothes and are not cut off from the world as our forces have suffered in this country. Two years ago today, Russia entered the war as our ally. We have much to be thankful for the present in being situated near Burma from whence the rice supply comes and, at present, we are getting enough rice to eat - about 12 ozs per man per day. Yet we are craving for such humble items such as bread and butter, fruit and vegetables, eggs, etc . . . We think of food and talk of food night and day - meals, food, feeds - all of us chaps are crazy thinking of food at Home. Oh, to get hold of some bread and butter, or dripping, and a cup of tea or coffee . . . how well off one would then be! Yes, indeed. Pray Dear God we may be preserved to be free men soon - yes, soon.

Stones and Logs Drawn by Elephant
Monday 28th
Very wet this afternoon. We lost another young man yesterday from cholera - in early 20's, I think he was - only ill a short while. 7 more Maleria patients came in today. Our men - those well enough to work - are on the road. It's impassable in places, due to no draining earlier. The road is being filled with stones, and huge logs drawn by an elephant form a foundation in places and also for the water courses and culverts. We get a terrible lot of rain here because we are among the mountains, 2,500 ft above sea level. Men are still craving for, and talking of, nice Home foods and Cafe's and Restaurants. Sweets, chocolates, milk, sugar, fruit, cakes and pies. They talk of these by-gone things and dream od them and only hope to live to taste and enjoy them again. It is, I think, because our systems are needing and calling for sugar and those vital foods so necessary to life.

Tuesday 29th
Another young man - named Cookson - died of cholera after battling the disease for about 18 days. I have been rather ill with diarrhoea yesterday and today, also the last 2 nights; therefore, I wend on Sick Parade this morning and the MO ordered me 20mm of chloridine and '4 M & B's tonight. I do hope I get rest from this complaint tonight. It's given me a rough night and day, so I am turning in at 5pm and my work in the ward is finished. I will not eat any tea, which should also help p with the M & Bs = to get rest.

Wednesday 30th
Had quite a good night but feel very seedy on it today. Seems to have taken all the go out of me. I just feel like sitting down between jobs today. Alex Miller is almost better of his hospital ulcers and he started work on nightb shift in the cholera ward last night.

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