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Private GBW (Glen) Skewes

 Glen Skewes Changi Diary

S E P T E M B E R    1 9 4 3

'Courage' and 'God' symbols

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September 1943

Rumours of Comforts and Allied Victories, 4th Year of War - 2 years since I left Home
Wednesday 1st
Pte. Guy died early this morning, aged only 20 years . . . malnutrition and dysentery. George Luckie died at 2p.m. of pneumonia - 29 years of age 2/30 Battalion. Also, during the day, Sgt. Appleby died after fighting about 5 diseases and suffering for 2 months. I have never been so busy or flat out in my life. The amount of work is terrific. That's one reason why I think the end of this Hell strife is drawing to a close. Later in the evening, extra good news came: something about Comforts coming - pants, shorts, boots, milk and cigarettes. It seems far to good to be true. Also, it is said that we move out of here on the 15th of this month and that Russia has taken Don Basin, and also that Lord Mountbatten is in command of the Mediterranean Fleet now in the Pacific waters - Java and Sumatra bombed. The shorts and boots will be a great boon if it's true, as many have no boots and practically no pants left on them at all but a few rags covering them little.

Thursday, 2nd
Two years ago this afternoon we left Port Melbourne Pier and embarked the Wanganella, which pulled out from Port Phillip Bay about 5.30p.m. and bore me away from the fairest land on earth. I am flat out as usual in ward, specialling 11 patients and trying to do for 4 bays as well. This would total about 55 to 60 patients and never would be heard of in normal times. I am just run off my feet from dawn till dark.

Friday, 3rd
Four years ago today was the commencement of the cursed war. I wonder just how long now before the Enemies can be brought to humiliation and high blown pride brought to nought. A lad died in my bay this morning from Black water fever - aged only 20 years, Pte. Hurry. Also, another chap going to Burma, Pte. Tucker, died of cardiac berri-berri - I believe he had a packet of illness before the c. berri-berri. I reeled in the ward at work today and almost fainted - heart fluttered. I sat down and Alex Miller helped me out to Doctor, who ordered me to lie down. I also have much trouble in chest, especially at night - may be bronchitis.

Capture and Return of English Escape Party
Saturday, 4th
Still not well. Went before Mjr. Stevens, who said "no duty" and ordered me quinine, as there is now a fever on me - pains in legs, ankles and kidneys. Spending a miserable day. Food is terrible, not fit for crows or worms. No sign of Red Cross or Comfort food yet, which we heard about the other night. I do hope it was true, for everybody's sake, as men are dying every day. 2 more this morning, I believe, through lack of resistance to cholera. Also, another chap died in our ward. Unless they get some proper food in the very immediate future, many will die of malnutrition - especially the berri-berri and dysentery and bad tropical ulcer cases. In the last month the little cemetery of this particular Camp has increased from 25 crosses to 95, since more men were piled into this Camp. As they marched in they looked like lanterns - just living skeletons from exhaustion and living on rice. Gloom over Camp tonight as the Japs have brought back 5 of the Officers who escaped from another Camp 2½ months ago. 2 or 3, including a Colonel, died of disease and privation in the Jungle. The rest were given away by some Burmese natives, the wretches. Now the unfortunate men are here, brought back from Burma, and are awaiting execution - either by shot or sword. [Later I heard solitary confinement for 10 years.] There was consternation the other night because a shovel was missing. Many worked till 11p.m. by the light of fires, cleaning out the filthy latrines, in hope of finding the tool. If not found by next day, Japs said Officers rations would be cut, then the Hospital patient's food, until the shovel was found. But thank God, as one P-O-W went out at daylight to the latrines and quickly looked at one end of the disturbed latrine trench he saw part of the shovel handle - and saved a critical situation.

Still Craving Home Foods - Japs Issue Cigs
Sunday, 5th
I am off duty again - dull pain in kidneys - result of some Jungle fever possibly. Also very weak in legs and ankles. I think it is 12 months today since I went to bed with diphtheria at Changi Hospital. Another unfortunate chap, Jerry Homes, passed away last night - malnutrition and a terrible ulcer, and probably toxic heart from this ulcer. I heard recently that we have lost 1,300 men of F Force 7,000 in only 3 months. How will Japan answer for this? Japs issued us with some comforts - cigarettes. This shows that there must be some peaceful men getting into parliament in Japan . . . and it may be true about some tinned food coming. If it had come 2 months ago hundreds of men would now be living. Yes, it's Sunday today far away at Home. I trust my loved ones are eating good nice food, as I would be if I were free. Our midday meal consisted of plain dry rice and water. Our midday meal consisted of plain dry rice and water. How I crave and crave for good and proper food I've eaten in days gone by . . . bread and butter, meat and potatoes, vegetables and fruit. My diet for 18 months and over has been rice, rice, rice, rice and rice. Dear God when shall we be free!

Monday 6th
I feel much better today; in fact, I feel like working again, but Mjr. Stevens told me to stay put and rest, and to go onto quinine. This I very much appreciate.

Japs Rob Our Red Cross Food and Sell it to us
Tuesday 7th
I am still on the sick list, along with Gil Yard who is smitten with some Jungle fever. Mjr. Stevens was crook today, so I missed seeing him this morning. I think the Japs must have lifted the ban on Red Cross ships because some tinned food is finding its way up here - brought up by barge, possibly; but so far we have not been given anything - only some brown sugar in our rice this morning which was a treat. The tinned food - bully beef, etc from Queensland, Australia - has been grabbed by these creatures who are our Captors and they are trying to sell some of it to our chaps who have some money - at 3 or 4 dollars per tin. The very food which has probably been sent out from Australia to help sustain us. I am doubtful if we shall see any of it after they have robbed and plundered it and had their lion's share of it. A 'furphy' yesterday was that Britain had landed big forces of men, planes and equipment on the shores of Italy, on the anniversary of the commencement of the war - September 3rd . . . The weather is now getting very hot. Another burial this afternoon. I'm not sure whether the Service was for one Soul passed on, or 2,3 or 4. Precious lives are very cheap here. Men fall in darkness at our side; whereas, in civil life when free, there would be great consternation, inquiries, etc. Here a person dies and is taken away on a stretcher into the bush for cremation - often without even being seen by a Doctor. Life under these circumstances can be most hard and callous, brought about by the awful conditions prisoners are living under. As we lie here on our bamboo beds, we have to breathe in putrid smells of ulcers and the open flyblown latrines not 60 feet away. Night and day the stench is overpowering.

Wednesday, 8th
Quite hot again today with thunderstorm and rain toward evening. Mjr. Stevens has given me a further 4 days of quinine so he must surely think that I've had a bout of malaria, although it's not exactly characteristic of malaria fever. I cannot hear properly and have singing in my ears caused by the quinine. I feel very dopey and weak today. Alex Miller and another of the AMC chaps are in Hospital with cardiac berri-berri deficiency of vitamins B1 & 2. We have about 60 suffering from berri-berri and not allowed to move about because of the condition of their hearts.

Thursday, 9th
I am still on quinine today and have 2 days of it after today. The day passed fairly monotonously, as usual - nothing of any account happening. No comforts yet received. The food is vile and repulsive beyond expression.

Friday, 10th
Pte. McGee died last night - pneumonia and other complications. Another young man died whilst we were having midday rice in Ward 2 . . . passed away quickly and was dead before orderly reached his side. My sixth day of quinine. The Japs brought in some Yak calves - very thin. I hope we get a little of them, but they won't go far among 14-1500 men, I am thinking. There are about 800 patients in Hospital at present - mainly utter exhaustion and malnutrition. I wonder how the war is going and if it's near the end or not.

Saturday, 11th
Last day of quinine and I am now discharged to duty, starting in the morning. Another Soul passed away in the night - ulcers and malnutrition. 4 months ago he was a big strong man helping others along the road up here. The job is nearly finished here, only about 5 more days. Many truckloads of Dutchman and others went down the road past here this morning. I think all will go south again shortly. Japs went through Officer's gear last evening.

I Return to Work after 6 Days of Fever
Sunday 12th
Began work in Ward 2 and I simply had to go like fire to keep pans and bottles up to the fellows. There are 126 bed patients and as two other orderlies were very busy on the ulcers outside, I was the only one in the Ward . . . at the Mercy of Pans and Bottles wanted right and left, back and front. I was completely exhausted long before lunchtime. Another chap helped me in the afternoon.

Monday 13th
Still busy - same job! - but today I had the assistance of 2 chaps convalescing, and they could not understand how I did the job on my own yesterday morning . . . they certainly did not give me respite from their urgent wants. Burial Service this afternoon at the cemetery and the Last Post sounded for many young men. The death rate is terrific, now - about 120 at this Camp and 500 at Camp 2½ miles away - malnutrition is taking men off like flies. There are scores as frail as skeletons. The ulcer and berri-berri cases are terrible and the stench from them would knock one down. Pte. McBurnie is dying - toxic heart and system from poison of the terrible tropical ulcer on his leg, plus malnutrition.

Jap Check Parade. One Dead Counted with the Living
Tuesday, 14th
I had to work to dinnertime today, then rest if possible before going on heavy night shift tonight. I'II never forget yesterday's Jap Check Parade: about 5 hours on parade - check after check - everyone except men at work. There were 4 men missing and they have gone out to workers with some rations, but Japs would not seem to except this explanation. We were eventually dismissed about 9p.m.. Then cholera carriers [or rather, those who had been] came back here after dark. One man died on a stretcher on the way over . . . Japs said he had to be brought over. Capt. Swartz was hit in the face by Goy Armer because of this patient. The dead man was taken over to the Jungle, then Japs made men bring the body back to Hospital lines to be counted with the living before allowing disposal of same to cremation area of jungle. Terrible doings yesterday, indeed. As well as all this, some men were kept out long into the night working on the Bridge.

Wednesday 15th
19 moths ago today we fell Prisoners-of-War to Japan - to the sadness of thousands of lives. I had a very heavy night last night, from 8p.m to 8a.m. We were besieged with pans and bottles, myself and 2 mates, Jack Ferney and Ern Butler.

Thursday, 16th
A patient died on my shift last night - cerebral malaria, after recovering from cholera - Pte. Cumberland Men are toiling day and night with 3 to 4 hour's sleep per 24 hours so as to finish the Great Nippon Railway through the Jungle of Thailand. Thousands of British and Australian Prisoners have died in this White Man's Grave and, at the cost of these lives, the Japanese will boast of what they did for Thailand during the war. Men go to work this week at 6.30a.m. and return to Camp at 2a.m, some 3a.m. next morning. The Railway is excepted to be laid past our Camp sometime today, 16/9/1943.

Railway Passes Camp - Men Working Long
Friday, 17th
No rail yet. Men working all hours. I am practically run off my legs by the 140 bed patients. Conditions are terrible - no lights whatever, only glow from fires of wood. Pte. McBurnie died tonight of his terrible ulcer. He was about 24 years, and 6ft. tall. Pte. Finney is very low because of our circumstances. Saturday, 18th I put in heavy night again, especially hard because of shortage of wood - and it wet. I have had a bad cold again - chest and head. Only getting 3 hours sleep out of 24 and toiling 12 solid hours each night. I am a run-down wreck and I feel quite washed out even before I start my shift. Bill Wilson clinically died at 6a.m. and I worked hard on his body to resuscitate him. After half an hour, I succeeded - life returned, he pulse began to beat and, after 10 minutes, warmth returned to heart and face - breathing recommenced. Now, night of 18/9/1943, Wilson still living but still unconscious. Five English lads died today. Railway arrived and passed here today. It will be complete from Burma to Thailand proper by a week. Rumours of early move.

[No entry for 19th or 20th - H.S.]

Japs issue us White Shorts and Socks
Tuesday 21st
I am still working like a slave and getting only 3½ hours sleep out of 24. Feel washed out but must carry on. It has rained like floods lately and has made life very difficult. I got wet during the night shift and had nothing to change into - having only my shorts and remainder of my shirt which is torn and worn almost in half - nothing to keep my back warm . . . Result: Bad cold, and severe lumbago in back and pain in legs but cannot get off work to rest or apply packs. Today, the day is fine. I hope it continues. It's so hard to keep a fire of wet wood at night for light. Norman Lane died of pneumonia and berri-berri at 8.15a.m. on Sunday. Poor Bill Wilson died at 5a.m. on Sunday - he may have had meningitis or cerebral malaria. 19 men were buried yesterday. Because of the heavy rain, wood was hard to get and would not burn for cremations. Some only half cremated were buried in one big grave and Service held this afternoon. Many Englishmen died over the weekend. The Jap guards are afraid of halt burnt bodies - which is remarkable, considering all their cruelty and harshness. Chalk it up! Today the Japs are issuing us with 1 pair of white shorts and 1pair of white socks. Lord God, may we soon be moved. I'm done!

Wednesday, 22nd
Poor Alan Lambert died today. A fine lad, and had a lovely sweetheart at home. He had malaria and ulcers and a septic foot - heart gave out.

Thursday, 23rd
Another heavy night last night - pans and bottles in terrific demand. Still heavy showers. A patient Eric Wilson from Gympie, Queensland, volunteered and gave us great assistance last night. Pineapple grower at Home, and dairy. I would like a farm near him. He gave me valuable information.

Friday, 24th
Same toil. Many die still. Colonel Kappe is down from Neichki.

Saturday, 25th
No rain today - beautiful day. Arm amputated today by Mjr. Stevens and Capt. Juttner. Patients thumb was eaten completely away - he now has a chance to live. Vic Warden almost died the other night through weakness and not eating his rice for many days. Doctor gave him Anna Cardium, which brought him through the night. He now eats his rice - learnt lesson - though still sick with diarrhoea. More men die today, including Roy Hewitt - diarrhoea and dysentery. 30 men were buried today . . . the Last Post has just sounded after the Service. Exactly 3 months to Christmas Day.

Amputations under Primitive Jungle conditions
Sunday, 26th
Leg amputated by Mjr. Stevens, with Capts. Taylor and Juttner assisting. I specialled the 2 amputees last night. Both are of high spirits - real Britons. Colonel Coates and one of Dr. Cahills have performed 60 amputations in the Burma Jungle Hospital and have not so far lost one case. Wonderful news announced by Jap Colonel last night. Men will be trained back to Changi inside a fortnight. It is not known yet where the sick and AMC will be sent . . . possibly Banpong district, lower Thailand. Yesterday, Ted Sharp put out of Hospital staff.

Monday, 27th
Still specialling Jack and Bill - arm and leg amputees.

Tuesday, 28th
Today I changed from night to day shift. Still specialling, because of word put in for me for Barney Murphy - very good of him, indeed, it will save my body much. More have died. There are now 190 young men passed away. The number of crosses on the hill is increasing daily . . . what a tragedy.

[No entry for 29th or 30th. - H.S.]

Introduction - Introduction - April 1943 - May 1943 - June 1943 - July 1943 - August 1943
September 1943 - October 1943 - November 1943 - December 1943 - 1944 - Reflections

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