We all heard the disquieting crunch, off in the far distance. For a few seconds, we remained still, sinking deeper into the mud, anticipating another sound to calm our nerves. Instead, a fraudulent silence followed. General Loft’s reaction was delayed; his hand shot up immediately as he remembered his position. Hurriedly, he waved us down. For a second he starred hard into the dense green jungle, trying to pierce through it with his eyes. Ours were focused on his right hand, awaiting further instructions. His eyes widened, with fear and urgency he turned to face us. His mouth opened, but all we could hear was a neat and tidy screech, travelling through the sharp leaves. Blood exploded out of Loft’s neck as the bullet made impact.
His fall to the ground was slow; it seemed to suck out all the sound around us. As the general’s body splattered into the swamp, the monstrous crackle of machine gun fire roared around us. Chests began bursting around me, blood and dirt spitting everywhere. A few men tried to run, but they were consumed by a grenade’s unleashed inferno. The medic seemed to be dodging bullets for a while, until a mass of them, entered his right cheek. There were shouts of ‘run’, ‘take cover’, each with a sense of unease and terror. The bullets were not moving through the air, they were simply atmospheric. I decided it would be hopeless to try and escape, it was equally foolish to attempt to fight. I slid down onto my back, and closed my eyes. As the thunderous noise raged on, I prayed to God to spare my life.
I had joined the British Army in late 1941, without much enthusiasm. My father encouraged me to sign up after our home in Coventry, was flattened during the Blitz in 1940. He had fought in the First World War, but was sent back from the Western Front after a shell landed in his trench, blowing his leg off and killing his First Sergeant;
‘At least one Atherton should be apart of a Great British victory’ he would say. Two years my senior, my brother Michael was not seen by my father to be ‘that’ Atherton. He complained he was too much like my mother, who was German born. When the bombing raids began, the local community disowned my family because of this. In the eyes of my father, by helping my nation defeat the enemy, it would put things right. So I put my dreams of becoming a doctor aside, and decided to join the war effort. My mother was too frightened to come to the door, so the only goodbye I received were a few obtuse words, from my father as I walked away;
‘Give the Geris a good bullocking, for your old man’. Much to my father’s dismay, I would not be joining my fellow countrymen in Europe, but instead joining the war in the Far East. I was placed in ‘Quick Arrow’, a ground troop regiment of the British army. Our group had earned its name because of the speed and accuracy we had shown on training operations. On the 21st December, after three months of training in Southampton, we were sent to a large British base in Singapore. The war had begun for me, against the Japanese Empire.
One day prior to our ambush in the jungle, we had been marching along the Bepong River, in the south of Malaya. Quick Arrow had been assigned there to resist Japanese forces, attempting a ground offences against the large base in Singapore, via Malaya. The allies were confident that if the Japanese were to attack the base, it would be by sea, not by land. Therefore, only a few other British Regiments were located in Malaya. We had been marching along the very same river for the last month. Back and forth, with no sign of the enemy. By now, even the most frightened of men wanted to fight. Troops would fire a few rounds into the air, to let out their frustration. Many suffered severe foot cramp and blisters. Our faces became dominated with mosquito bites. We had even come to the point, that we were sick and tired of the beautiful surroundings. We passed the rice farming community, as we did every day. We looked at them with baffled faces that day. They offered us their usual greetings, nodding and smiling at us. But their gestures were more anxious then usual. They seemed to have increased in number too. The eyes of four Malayan men, wearing sarongs, followed us as we walked. Staring at us with suspicious expressions. We thought nothing of it and carried on with our walk. After all, there were bound to be a few Malayans that were unhappy with our presence.
We arrived back at our base later than usual that night. Our ‘base’ was simply a few huts that we had occupied in a local village. That particular night was cool. Silent too. Two local children sat beside me at the fire. I showed them the music box my mother gave me. A fairy would rotated on a yellow base, as the music plucked out. The children’s laughs showed me how special the toy was. They scampered off as General Loft came out of his quarter’s to address us;
‘I just received a call from the Singapore. We’ll be moving into the jungle tomorrow, so get some sleep and I’ll see you boys in the morning’. There wasn’t a guarantee of coming into combat with the enemy, but at least it was a change of scenery. I couldn’t wait to go into the jungle.
I had been lying in the muddy ditch for two hours. The shock and fear to what had just happened had kept me there.
My eyes rolled around, the pure smell of the jungle had been contaminated by the smell of death. A leather boot stomped directly in front of my eyes. It belonged to a short man. He pulled me up roughly and starred directly into my eyes. Another man stood next to him, two others in searching for useful artillery. All were wearing Malayan sarongs. They looked looking at me in disgust. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, these Nips are going to kill me!’ I was thrown onto a truck, carrying four other British troops who had been captured. It was on its way to a Japanese base. The jungle provided an excellent division between us; a marvellous camouflage for them. I wasn’t naï¿½ve in thinking that these Japs pitied me. They hadn’t killed me, because they desired to execute all of us, one by one at their headquarters. As the truck staggered along the bumpy road, the Japanese officer guarding us spoke.
‘You coward, you no fight’. Our heads remained faced down, we didn’t know whom he was addressing, and we didn’t want to know. He swiftly got up from his crouched position, ran over to me and struck my shoulder with the side of his hand;
‘You no fight, you like baby’. His words were fierce as he continued to mock me. After spitting on my shoes, he returned to his position on the truck, and with a dry throat he laughed as he watched over us. His laughter was dry, it echoed throughout the jungle. I gazed up at him, and then busted out into tears. They had blindfolded us for the last few miles of the journey. With my hands tied firmly behind my back, I was flung against a tough wall. They removed my blindfold, but left my hands as they were. The room was dark, but the walls appeared to be metallic. It was a cell. This base had been here for sometime. A crack in the wall, which allowed a small amount of light in. I was able to count the days because I this. On the third day I was fed. A plate of lentils and rice was dropped four feet away from me, much of it spilling on the floor. My hands were not untied.
The first few months in captivity I spent sobbing and shouting. I hurled myself against the door on occasions. Nobody came to shut me up, only to take me to the toilet. Then, left me in silence, alone;
‘You bastard Nips, come and fight me.’ I would curse like this for a while, with no response. This reduced me to tears. I cried myself to sleep most nights, pleading for someone to come, until I fell asleep. Then, they would come;
‘You Brits, you all fucking babies’ they screamed as they beat me. I always had trouble falling asleep those first few months. The unbearable moans of other prisoners rang throughout the night.cogd gdr segdgdw orgd gdk ingd fogd gd.
‘Mummy, I want my Mummy!’ One morning, I crawled over to the crack in the wall and looked out for the first time. I could see four men on the ground, dead. Their bodies were rotting; the circling flies said they had been dead for some time. They were placed outside my cell for a reason. If the Japs were going to kill me, they would have done it by now. I realised I wouldn’t be executed; I would just be in this cell, for a very long time.
After the first few months, I got over my troubles. The beating still occurred, but not as often. I still had to crawl for my food. But I was used to it; after all, I had forgotten how to walk. It must have been after few years, that I experience my most pleasant moment as a prisoner. It was a sunny day; the light beamed through the crack and painted my face gold. I watched the dust particles dance on the yellow ray, it was bliss. I smiled. Weber oppressed dazzle’s rationalisation hypothesis.
I remained a prisoner of the Japanese army for the next four years. American soldiers freed me, and 34 other prisoners in 1946. The Japanese took the base the British Base at Singapore in February 1941. They took 80,000 prisoners of war. They had succeeded, through a ground offensive.