"...Morale is very high in the Camp here... "
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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After seven months and seven days in Changi J.B. Dunne and 24 other POWs boarded a lorry bound for the Turf Club at Bukit Timah.

Their route took them through the city and my grandfather noted the bustling energy as the lorry trundled through the streets teeming with Japanese. Many new shops had opened and there seemed to be a lively trade in furniture-making in particular.

chapter 4

"October to December 1942"
 Chapter 1:
 Chapter 2:
 Chapter 3:
 Chapter 4:
 Chapter 5:
 Chapter 6:
 Chapter 7:
 Chapter 8:
 Chapter 9:
 Chapter 10:

The Race Course Camp had the reputation amongst the prisoners for being “the best Camp in Town”. Joe was not disappointed. A bed, complete with blanket and pillow awaited him, with three feet on either side as his personal allotted space. Electric light, shower baths and flush lavatories were some of the amenities that added to the “luxurious” atmosphere. It was sheer bliss sinking in to bed that night!

The Camp work was haymaking. Each morning groups made up of 28 prisoners, an officer and two or three Japanese guards would head off by lorry in search of tall growing grass. The daily quota was 3400 kilo! The groups were divided into three sections of Grass Cutters, Haymakers and Balers, and a small squad for stacking and loading. They worked stripped to the waist, their backs and shoulders turning red under the blazing sun. The 100lb bundles of grass, hauled over their shoulders to the trucks, scratched and rasped at their raw skin. It was back breaking work but Joe welcomed the physical exertion – it took his mind off the constant gnawing within his gut.

Much of the work took place near the Tengah Aerodrome, the scene of heavy fighting during the siege. Sometimes the remains of a fallen soldier were discovered, and on one particular occasion the work party came across six poor souls who lay just as they had fallen all those months ago.

There was great excitement at the distribution of some Red Cross supplies in October. Tins of milk, bully beef, soup, cocoa, biscuits, vegetables and fruit brought cheer and a change to the diet, and one lucky man received a parcel all to himself which had been posted by his wife in South Africa.

Toward the end of the month a hat was passed round to collect whatever could be offered for the Christmas Toy Fund for the children in Changi Gaol. Once again Joe realised how fortunate he was in having his children safe & sound in Australia.

The population of the Camp was made up of about 230 men from the Volunteer Forces, all well known to Joe from his life before imprisonment. The general level of comfort in comparison to that of his previous ‘homes’, coupled with being surrounded by good friends made Joe’s time at the Turf Club a relatively happy one. But he was not to enjoy it for long – on October 31st he gathered up his belongings yet again in anticipation of a move. He was off to Sime Road.

The 230 Volunteers arrived into a scene of devastation. The camp, once the R.A.F. Headquarters, had been razed to the ground. Their new work would be to build a camp to house 4000 people using the fallen timbers and attap from the old huts. They managed to fix lights from the small power station and were grateful for water that ran from the taps most of the time, but their accommodation was very basic – they were crowded into any place that afforded shelter – and they were riddled with lice. Much time in the evenings was spent ” big game hunting” in an effort to minimize the seemingly endless number of bugs in the clothing and bedding.

Within a month there were work parties going out to various parts of the city in search of building materials. My grandfather and his ‘gang’ would leave Camp in the mornings for Walten Estate to demolish piece by piece a number of Army huts which had formerly been occupied by an anti aircraft Unit. The material was brought back to the Camp where other ‘gangs’ would erect new buildings in more or less the same style.

Occasionally, and at great risk, a local would manage to slip a packet of cigarettes to the POWs as they worked outside the Camp gates. Sometimes a few dollars or a piece of fruit would be surreptitiously passed to them behind the guards backs, brightening the day and giving the morale a much needed boost.

Joe’s work attire was a pair of shorts and boots. After weeks of toiling under the tropical sun his skin was a deep tan that seemed to be embedded with grime no matter how hard he scrubbed it. The outdoor shower baths did provide some means of keeping clean, but the most basic items such as soap were in poor supply.

The daily food ration was slightly larger than at the previous camp, with vegetables sometimes twice a day, though it was mainly vegetable tops and sweet potatoes that made their way into the pot. The lack of vitamins began to take their toll on Joe – his hearing was very bad and his legs ached at night as he tried to sleep. His ankles, slightly swollen, throbbed uncomfortably and he attributed his feeling of general listlessness to the sameness of the diet.

By mid-December about 8 or 9 huts had been erected at Sime Road Camp. Walten Estate had been stripped of all materials by this time and all hands were turned to building within the camp. Malays were sent in to do the attaping. But work came to a standstill for 10 days as the heavens opened and rain poured down in an almost biblical deluge, keeping the men confined to their huts. They were pleased to have a break from the work but became bored as the days crawled by.

December 23rd marked the first anniversary of Eilish’s departure from Singapore with the children. Joe remembered vividly the mad scramble to secure tickets, the last minute dash to get a ‘last minute’ bag, and he wondered how they were, longing to hear something of their life in Australia. He tried to picture them preparing for Christmas and hoped they would use the fairy lights he had so carefully included in the items packed in the camphor wood chest. How he ached to be with them!

There was a great air of expectancy amongst the 3000 inhabitants of the Camp on Christmas Eve with song and Midnight Mass a highlight for my grandfather. The following morning a cheerful air was punctuated by Christmas greetings and good wishes. Breakfast was a treat – rice porridge with sugar, a piece of sweetbread, a roll with butter, and a drink of cocoa.

A Test Match in the morning saw victory to the S.S.V.F. over the Australians, and a fair with coconut shies and games of chance added to the festive atmosphere.

Lunch (curry) and dinner (stew) were deemed delicious, and Joe considered the evening meal to be the best he’d eaten in a year.

Carol singers emerged from the darkness carrying lighted torches, singing as they proceeded slowly to the stage of the new theatre where they continued to sing all the old Christmas favorites, filling the hearts of those who listened with nostalgia.

A treat of a cake and cocoa at 10pm rounded off the celebrations and, ignoring the ‘lights out’ signal, the men continued to chat in groups well into the wee hours of the morning.

The bombshell came the next day with the news that it was back to Changi with them, and possibly on to Japan from there!

The final night in the Camp saw the grand opening (and closing) of the new theatre in the form of a non-stop variety entertainment which seemed to be attended by the entire camp! The following morning was a flurry of packing and sorting in preparation for yet another move, then off they went by lorry as far as Katong, continuing on by foot for the last eight miles.

Within two days of arrival at his new quarters in Changi – the old Royal Artillery Officer’s Mess – Joe was admitted to hospital with septic foot. His ‘touch of Singapore Foot”, which he blamed on his heavy boots, had deteriorated over the days surrounding the move between camps. Due to the overcrowding he was allotted a space on top of a piece of furniture - he felt quite fortunate not to be amongst the patients sleeping on the floor!

As he lay on his cupboard on New Years Eve his thoughts of his family were interrupted by the arrival of a special issue of a celebratory tipple – an eggcup full of brownish pinkish liquid that smelled faintly of brandy and tasted of petrol. His thoughts took him back to the previous year’s party with his friends at the Dutch Club, and to earlier New Year celebrations. Rousing himself from his memories he climbed down from his perch and hobbled off to watch a concert performed by the Gordon Highlanders, complete with dancing and pipes.

His hopes of staying up to see in 1943 were thwarted by fatigue and pain. He returned to the hospital and was fast asleep well before the hands of the clock moved toward midnight, transported by his dreams to a place of happiness and freedom.


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