Hungrier, thinner, speedo and then cholera – POWs 14

Barry and the remaining men of 27 Line Section reached a big well-run camp, Tha Khanun, more than 200 km up the river Kwai Noi. To their disappointment they had to march on up-river and then inland:

When we reached the site of (the misnamed) 211kilo camp it was as usual raining and there were no preparations at all, in particular there were no huts or latrines or cookhouses. Our Jap O.C. pointed out a heap of green tents… There were not nearly enough to accommodate the whole group but fortunately these tents were supplied with separate fly sheets, and these extra sheets could be pitched on improvised bamboo poles to provide extra cover although without ends.

On our first morning at 211 we were roused out very early, in the rain and in darkness for a full scale Tenko [parade headcount]. Through the medium of a Japanese interpreter who spoke very little English, our Jap commander told us that the progress of the railway building had fallen far behind schedule and that this was caused by the idleness and incompetence of the British workers and their officers… This speech was recognized as a “speedo”, which meant longer working hours and more harrying, shouting and beating by the guards.

There was no barge traffic up to 211 camp and our rice ration came up through the jungle paths on a hand cart or carried on our backs by ourselves. A 50kg bag (one hundredweight) is not an impossible burden for a fit man, but by now most of us were far from fit and were anyhow already fully occupied building the new section of railway, so that the rice ration was small and became steadily smaller.

…the rice ration, now down to a very few ounces, would be calculated strictly according to the number of men who went out to work. This put us in the unhappy position of being forced to detail for work men who were too weak to stand. It was quite usual to see a man actually suffering from a malaria rigor being supported between two others on the march out to the railway site. Such men were, of course, no use for actual work.

One day a few dysentery cases started violent vomiting as well as producing sudden dehydration and death within a day or two. Men who had served in India recognised the symptoms of cholera… The cholera spread rapidly and it soon became impossible to bury the dead so, on the advice of those who had experience of such epidemics in India, we started to burn the bodies… The fire was kept burning continuously by a small duty party. We never ran short of fuel.

4 thoughts on “Hungrier, thinner, speedo and then cholera – POWs 14

    • Mine too, but it is clear that, as a species, we have he most incredible stamina. These POWs were heavily dependent on luck, but also, all the survivors lived because at some stage a friend helped them. Any man who lost all his friends, had to find others quickly or died. I shall be posting an example of this in the next POW instalment.

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