Reginald Herbert Rudd
Served : Singapore (captured).
I went into the army in 1939. I trained at Gorleston, Yarmouth and all round there, then we went to Cambridge for a week, then they sent us abroad to India and we went from there to Singapore as fast as ever we could because the Japanese were in the area at the time. We landed there and they’d already started fighting because the Japanese were on the island. They said ‘we’ll blow the causeway up from Singapore to Thailand’. They blew a little hole in it but the next night the Japanese had put wood and trees over it to mend it. The Governor of the island said they had to capitulate, then the Japs came and rounded us all up, took us to Thailand and started us on the railway. There was a railway bridge across from Singapore to the mainland. We didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for. We were told we needn’t worry about the Japanese – they were little people who couldn’t see – but when we got there we found different. They could see as well as I did and were as big as us.
On the railway, all we had to eat was rice, rice, rice and nothing else. If you were taken ill they said if you couldn’t work you couldn’t eat so you got no rations. We shared our rations with those who were ill. We drank water out of the ponds. When we were going through the paddy fields we’d skim the green slime off the ponds and get the water. That’s all the drink we had, as well as the river water of course, which we would boil up in big old cans.
Once you’d done your part on the railways, you went further up, passing other camps, walking several miles, unless you came to a mountain, then you had to blast your way so you could get the railway round the side of it. You had to literally hammer away at chisels to make a space for the dynamite. If you weren’t hitting it hard enough, the Japanese used to take the hammer away from you so you were just left with a chisel. If you’d missed you would have broken your wrist. But we had to keep doing it otherwise we got kicked or beaten.
I know that they say you shouldn’t steal but with a friend from Norfolk, we used to go into their camps and find rice, bully beef and other things and used to steal them, bring them back to our camp and have a meal of bully beef, rice and sugar. If they’d caught us they would have shot us there and then. We were desperate for food and we had to get it. A friend from Dereham who was with me had Malaria – a deadly malaria – the worst one you can get. We managed to get him back to camp and he was out of his mind. I said, the Japanese have some quinine, can’t we pinch some of theirs? We went into the camp and took a few tablets out of each jar. I had to force them into him. He came to see me a short while ago and asked me a question: ”Did you nip my nose?” I said “yes I did. We tried to get some tablets into you and you spat them out. So we had to hold your mouth and nip your nose”. We saved his life.
When we finished at the railway we went up to the bridge on the River Kwai and they took us all back down to Singapore when we finished our piece and shipped us over to Japan. On the way over we ran into a typhoon and the boat sprung a leak. It was an old British boat which they’d sold to the Japanese for scrap. The boat was rocking about and we thought we were going to sink. They ran it aground over Formosa and that’s where we stopped until they came and picked us up on little corvettes – gun boats. We had no rice – they used to give us what they scraped off the old carcasses. We were so hungry we had to have something. It was quite crispy.
In Japan we went onto the docks. We were on there for several nights when an earthquake hit us. I was helping a friend to push his trolley and I said “Whatever is the matter, I do feel queer” and he said “So do I”. All of a sudden we heard the Japanese screaming and an old gentleman said “Earthquake! Earthquake! Watch chimney”. So we watched the factory chimneys. He told us to stay where we were and we watched the chimneys rocking about – some went over. We said we’d go on the boat. “No, no, no” he said “Stay. If earth open we go in. We’re gone”. He took us around the back of the factory and lit a big fire so we had a lovely time.
Then they shipped us out to a Carbine factory which they used for lights. We used to put the big ceilings on the top of the chimney which used to melt with the heat from down below. We used to get inside on a little platform, hooked on the side, and we would swing around inside with boiling pitch down below. The fumes were so much one day that they got in my eyes and I couldn’t see to bolt together. So I came out and they asked why. When they realised that I hadn’t done the job they banged me on the floor and kicked me. Then they left me there until I got my breath back and then I had to get back in again.
That’s where I was when we were released. There were mountains all around us with a gap where the Japanese went in and out. We heard they were sending planes over to find us. When we got up the next morning the Japanese had gone. All there was were little children. We asked the children what they were doing and they said: “We come to get you. We going to protect you”. They’d gone and left us with the children. We were told they were sending a spotter plane and asked us to write an appeal on top of the huts. The children brought us some tape and we did it. We heard a plane but we thought he’d never find us because we were in all these mountains. All of a sudden a little plane came through the opening. He waved his wings and went straight up over the other side. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. They dropped us a leaflet and said they were going to bring us some food which they did the next day. We eventually came home in a hospital ship, through Jamaica, across Canada and home. When we docked in Jamaica for a day there was an English gentleman who came and took us out for a meal.
I had been a Prisoner of War for three and a half years.
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