After capitulation, on the evening of 15th February 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army found themselves with a large number of Prisoners but without the means to house or feed these men.
As you can imagine on the morning of 16th February 1942, there was a very somber time. The men did not know what to expect, as they had heard of how the Japanese treated their prisoners.
Feeling naked without their arms and ammunition, a column of tired, unwashed and unshaven men moved out to march to Raffles College. There they were met by soldiers from all British, Australian and Indian Units. Food was what the men carried with them. On the afternoon of the 17th, they were ordered to march to a rendezvous where they would join the main column of prisoners to march 14 mile to their new home – Changi.
This area contained Changi Village (which was out of bounds to all prisoners), an area that had been used for three British Battalions, one of which Roberts Barracks was to be used as a hospital, the other two buildings were used for British prisoners. Selerang Barracks, which was approximately one mile west was occupied by Australian prisoners, and was Base Head Quarters until the move to Changi Gaol 26 months later.
Some of the men had collected stores of canned food during their time at Raffles, this was handed in to a common store to be controlled by the Battalion. It was estimated that with strict handling this food would last about a week, After that they would need the Japanese to provide provisions.
Hunger became a constant companion, and the men soon realised that they would need to rely on themselves for food etc. There was only very primitive tools for the men to dig latrines, clean quarters, fill bomb craters, collect and cut wood for the cooking and many other jobs.;
Soon diseases such as malaria and dysentery set in, and latrine conditions had to be improved. All aspects of hygiene improved, and the dysentery rate dropped. The food situation was not improving, and rice became a staple food source. Not having the facilities to cook rice, the meals consisted of a gluey mess of rice and a little meat – one bag of rice to one tin of bully beef. This rice was only second rate and had been contaminated by Malayan authorities during the fighting so that it would be of no use to the enemy. Although forbidden, as a result, black marketing and scrounging became the order of the day for many.
Soon the Japanese took work parties to Singapore to clear war debris, repair roads, bridges and infrastructure, quarry work and the salvaging of food and other usable war materials.
Dress during this time was a mixture of clothing. The lucky few had boots and because of an itch caused by wearing shorts, many men more “fandachis” or G-strings. By May 1942, there were work parties at the Great World, River Valley Road, Adam Park, Bukit Timah, Blaki Mati Island and Havelock Road.
In early May1942, the first work party was sent away from Singapore. These parties were called Forces, and each given a letter of the alphabet;- thus “A” Force, “B” Force etc. Officers and other ranks of the 2/26 Battalion were in every Force sent away. Several of these Forces were never to see Singapore again.
Meanwhile, in Changi, the troops were making the best of a bad situation by starting gardens to supplement the rice supply, and others putting their considerable skills into operation with the making of everyday items such as footwear and spoons. The cooks learnt how to cook rice so that it was palatable, and this formed the basis for many other food items. Coconuts, roots, leaves, cats, dogs, reptiles etc. all assisted in the swelling of the cooking pots.
The majority of members of the 2/26 Battalion were selected as members of “F” Force. Their departure was in April 1942, and along with all the other troops who had already been sent on previous Forces they were promised that they were to go to a place where there was plenty of food, good medical attention and far less hard work.
In reality, the truth was that all troops many already sick and whether they travelled by sea or land encountered crowded transportation, during which there was little food or water and mostly no provision made for toilet requirement. On reaching their destinations they were faced with squalid or no housing, filthy living conditions, little food, polluted water supplies, no medical facilities and absolute hard, slogging work, often 16 hour days, in heavy torrential rain and at one particular time 40 hours work non stop.
The result of this treatment can be seen by the numbers who died
whilst working on the Thai-Burma Railway. Unfortunately for those
selected to be part of “B’, ‘D’ & “E” Forces the Fates were
particularly unkind. Apart from a very high majority of Officers who
were sent on these Forces, and 6 Australians who escaped, there were
no survivors among the other ranks.
After the survivors of the various Forces arrived back in Singapore, they were given a period of recuperation, then sent back out to work on various Japanese projects, such as the aerodrome, quarrying and the digging of trenches and tunnels.