Bill Notley

 

Unit : 155th Field Regiment, RA.

Served : Malaya (captured).

Camps : Singapore, Kinkaseki, Omine

 

I was 22 and a quad driver in the 155th Field Regiment. It was around November 1941. I was in Jitra, on the border between Malaya and Thailand, near an airdrome. The Japanese overran us, we were shot to pieces. It was everyman for himself. We headed towards Alor Star. Then we went down through Malaya, across the River Slim. Some swam, some were left … we lost many men along the way. We made towards Singapore. An officer was missing, so instead a 22 yr old Lieutenant was in charge. Just before the island of Singapore there were large houses owned by Englishman with Chinese servants. Often you could take your quad and gun and put in their garage, which I did. Later I heard that the young lieutenant had been killed trying to save my quad from blowing up in a fire.

 

We were captured and taken Prisoner of War by the Japanese. I remember on the first day seeing a Chinese boy, he must have been around 8 or 9, on a bicycle. The Japanese military police kicked the boy off the bicycle and smashed it. They stuck a bayonet into the boy’s arm, then pushed the boy into a ditch by the side of the road and shot him. Later I heard of several men who had been caught outside the camp area who were consequently taken to Singapore and shot.

 

In the camp we worked breaking rocks for road building. There was a wire around the camp. Sometimes at night men from the camp would go under the wire and down the road to the compound. There they siphoned petrol from the trucks. They were able to ‘sell’ the petrol to the Chinese in exchange for peanuts, pineapple, amongst other things. I was never involved, but one night two men came into the room where we were sleeping. They had been trying to siphon petrol, and were now being chased by the Japanese – ‘we’ll be caught’ they said. They’d left the rubber tubes and drums by the truck. So myself and two others said “how do you get there?”. They gave us directions and we set out. It must have been about 10 o’clock at night, I remember the moonlight. We got to the place and saw the Japanese soldiers, singing. We left one man as a lookout and went round the drums. I tried to siphon the petrol back into the trucks – I remember the choking sensation it caused. I did one then moved onto the next drum. Then my two mates said “run!! The Japanese are coming!”. And so we ran. We got back safely. Then another two men volunteered to go out. They were gone for a long time but finally I heard them come back. In the morning there were no petrol cans to be seen – somehow they’d got rid of it. However this was the kind of thing that happened regularly.

 

Later 525 men, including myself, were sent to Formosa (now Taiwan). We were taken to the docks at Singapore where we boarded a ship. We sailed in the bottom of the ship, where the animals were kept. On reaching Formosa we were put on a train which took us to the Kinkasaki copper mine. The mine was located in a mountainous area.

 

At 5.30 am we would be woken. We would have exercise for 1 hour, followed by breakfast which consisted of rice and seaweed. We were also given a wooden box to take down to the mine which contained our lunch – also rice and seaweed. I remember on the first day I opened my box ad counted at least 30 – 40 maggots amongst the rice and seaweed. We would have a break at 12 0’clock to eat lunch but would stay and sit in the mine – we weren’t allowed out. We would work with our ‘chunckles’ (a kind of shovel/scoop) scooping the ore into ‘bogies’ (structures which held the ore collected from the mine). In a man collected 10 tonnes, he was allowed a rest. Otherwise we had to continue working.

 

Different areas of the mine were different temperatures. Once I worked in an very hot part of the mine. This area was extremely dangerous as it was one of the deepest parts of the mine and there the roof was very likely to collapse.

 

I remember once a Canadian doctor in the camp asked if anyone would give blood to another Prisoner of War. I said yes and the next day he took ¼ pint of blood from me. It went to another soldier who had Berry Berry (vitamin deficiency).

 

For 2 ½ years I worked in the Kinkasaki copper mine. Then we stopped because the copper had run out. We were the last party to leave the mine. We were sent in a boat to Kyushu in Japan. There we worked in the Omine Camp which was a coal mine. In that mine we worked 12 hour days.

 

Once I remember that I was working down I the mine and I saw a break in the chain in part of the mining machinery. I decided to hit it in the hope that it would break and we could have a rest. When the chain came round again, I hit it. It made a loud noise but didn’t break. I hoped that if I did it again it might break. I waited for the point to come round again and hit it – it made a loud noise and the guards came. Although they didn’t realise it was one of the men who had broken it, we received no break. Instead they made us fix it and wouldn’t allow us to leave the mine until we had reached our quota. We had to work for an extra hour to fill the quota.

 

I was worried about being buried in the mine and killed, so I decided to try and break my foot. I lifted a large lump of coal above my foot and dropped it. My foot was crushed, and I told the guard that the wall of the mine had collapsed onto it. He said to carry on working. At the end of the day two men carried me out off the mine, I was given few days off from the mine.

 

When the camp was liberated I went from the camp and went to Nagasaki, where I boarded a US boat to Manila. This took about 5-6 days. From there I went to Vancouver, Canada and went over the Rockies by train in the winter. I then reached Ellis Island and stayed in New York for a week. There I boarded the Queen Marry from New York – I still remember that it was dock 90. I saw the Missouri battleship on which the Japanese had signed the surrender. I sailed to England. The journey took 4 ½ days over very choppy seas, and I remember being seasick. We arrived at Southampton and I took the train to Waterloo station. Tree my mother met me and I was greeted with the news that I had lost a brother who had died in Tunisia, Africa, and 2 sisters who had died of TB.

 

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