Changi prisoners – making boreholes – POWs 5

After capture, British and Australian soldiers marched across the island of Singapore and joined many thousands of other prisoners in the complex of camps around Changi barracks. Over the next few months they learned to eat rice for breakfast and lunch and supper. Disease, particularly malaria and dysentery, became a serious problem. 27 Line Section turned their expertise in boring post holes to the more urgent need of making latrines. They found some large auger bits and constructed a tall set of sheer legs fitted with a block and tackle.

Barry remembers:

The first hole went well, about fifteen feet deep, say 4 metres. One of our carpenter-and-joiners built a seat with a cover, very civilized. Then we then collected the other big auger bit from the Post Office stores and set up a second team of bore hole makers. We made several holes within our Unit’s area and a few for other regiments, until one day when we were at work the sergeant in charge of the other party came to me to announce a disaster.

The drill head had fallen off and stuck in the shaft. The team had tried everything then decided someone would have to be lowered head first into the hole. Since I was the officer I would, according to the sergeant, naturally volunteer for the job, especially as I was probably the thinnest and lightest man in the section. So I volunteered.

My ankles were tied onto the rope and I was heaved up and then lowered into the hole with my arms stretched out like a diver. I just fitted, but only just. When I reached the bit I found that there was luckily only a little earth in it and I was able to loosen it and get a good grip on it. At my word the team pulled me gently up again and swung me aside onto the spoil heap, untied me and then untied the bit. We found that the fastening bolt was too thin and had sheered under the strain, so we fitted a stouter bolt and restarted the work. I warned them that if it happened again someone else would have to go down. It is not an adventure that I recall with any pleasure.

3 thoughts on “Changi prisoners – making boreholes – POWs 5

  1. I am claustophobic so I held my breath all the way down.
    Great post about the start of a terrible ordeal for those men.
    You are writing how the real history should be written with your blog.
    People forget about the latrines (no pun intended). Gail wrote about them on her blog.
    Keep it up.

  2. In all the first-hand accounts that I have read of Far East POW life, the problem of the latrines is never-ending. Dysentery killed so many and made life utterly miserable for every one of them. They crop up time and again in my father’s memoirs.

    • People don’t realise what these men went though. This is why I like your blog so much as well as Gail’s blog about her father.

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