Happenings, News

Crowding three POWs into a cell designed for one

In a post-war newsletter, the Rev (later Bishop) Hobart B. Amstutz recalls the harrowing days that followed the surrender of Singapore in February 1942 and the experience of being interned as a prisoner-of-war.

‘THE INTERNMENT ORDER … was to bring clothing for 10 days and meet at the [padang in front of the present City Hall]. We found hundreds of others already there and we sat around talking and wondering what next.

At about noon, after a harsh address by the Japanese major put in charge of us, we were given the order to march to Katong.

Everyone, women and aged and wounded, was to carry all he could – the rest of the baggage to be left on a heap to be collected later. Only those incapacitated were to be taken later in trucks.

What a long trek that was – up Beach Road, then Kallang Road, then Grove Road, and finally a stop under some rub-ber trees near the Seaview Hotel – approxi-mately five miles in the blazing sun! On all sides was the blackened, smoking residue of the war – destroyed public and private property – a shambles of what had been so fair and great a city. ousands of Asiatics lined the five-foot ways but not once were we laughed at.

At about 5 pm we were told where we were going – the women were assigned to two large houses adjoining the Roxy eatre and the men in the Joo Chiat Police Station barracks and to a seaside estate called Karikal. As more arrived they were put in the convent school building adjoining Karikal.

Gerald Summers, Tyler ompson and I went to Karikal. We found four two-sto-rey brick and plaster houses that had once belonged to a wealthy Indian and which had once been truly palatial. e estate of about two acres was by the sea and had an abandoned fountain and pavilion in the central open grassy plot. Now, however, all was dilapidated.

We had nothing to eat or drink (except water) from our last breakfast at home Tuesday am until Wednesday evening when our “Scroungers” were able to pick up sufficient tinned food to enable our improvised kitchens to issue us a small meal of bully beef, spaghetti and tea. Primitive sanitary arrangements had to be made at once; the flies were terrible; and the mosquitoes at night (we were there 17 days) were so numerous and so fierce that I shall ever remember the nightmare of those netless nights.

How revealing the next days were to be. ere we were literally reduced to our bare selves. We no longer had about us the aura of our offices, our clerks and tambies, our cars and comfortable homes and servants.

We were prisoners and nothing more … and then we discovered only too often that men whom we had respected and who

had held high positions commercially and in government were but made of straw and proved to be liabilities instead of the towers of strength and help we naturally expected them to be.  The leadership from the first devolved upon the younger and middle-aged men, some of whom gave us valiant unselfish service throughout our internment …

Out of the blue at about 5 pm we were given orders to pack up and be ready to march to the Changi Convict Prison at 9 am the next day, the Governor leading the procession! It was a cruel blow – almost as bad as the original internment order. What a long, hot march that was for six or seven miles.

We arrived at the prison about 4 pm, hot and terribly weary. Assignments to blocks and floors were rapidly made keeping the same social units that had been established at Katong. It meant crowding three men into a cell designed for one convict as well as using all the workrooms as dormitories …  This prison was designed to hold a maximum of 650 convicts and they eventually packed over 3,400 of us into it … an average of 33 square feet of space per person.

The prison became our home until May 1944 ’ [when they were moved to Sime Road Camp for the remainder of the war]. – (Exhibit K – Newsletter 1942-45 – Executive Secretary’s Report, Division of Foreign Missions and Extension of the Methodist Church, New York, p.363-364, slightly edited).


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Earnest Lau, an Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore