Liz Seiker, Fred's Journey

Becoming a POW

Fred eventually arrived back in Java via Durban and whilst he was waiting to be placed on another ship the Japanese invaded. He volunteered for service into the Dutch army there but within a short period he became a prisoner of war of the Japanese, spending a short while in a POW camp in Bandung before being transported via a 'hell ship' to Changi jail in Singapore. On the voyage from Java to Singapore he soon learnt what it meant to be a POW of the Japanese. The journey lasted several days during which many of his comrades perished.

The situation in Changi was deplorable but endurable. The POWs were herded into any available space within the prison. The† sleeping area allocated to him was on top of an iron grid in a passageway. In general day to day life was not too difficult,† although the food and living accommodation was bad. Because of daily transportations to the Singapore dockside occasional food items could be smuggled into the camp or small food gifts from† friendly Chinese would find their way in. The various nationalities imprisoned in Changi at that time were under the command of their own officers. Providing you kept your head down and kept a low profile the Japanese guards left you alone.

Then one day all the POWs were called on parade where they were† told that they would be transported to another place where they† would have the honour of building a railway for Emperor Hirohito† of Japan. Soon after, during night time, a convoy of lorries took† them to Singapore railway station where a long train of steel† cattle, trucks was waiting. Prior to being herded into the trucks† the POWs were told that whilst building the railway for the† Emperor they would be well treated and food would be adequate† providing they followed the orders given by the Japanese armed† forces. In the case of non-obedience the punishment would be harsh but fair. It transpired that 'the other place' was† Thailand. The train journey from Singapore to Ban-Pong in Thailand lasted several days during which it became obvious what kind of treatment they could expect from Hirohito's brave soldiers. The POWs were crammed into the steel trucks with thirty to thirty-two in each wagon which meant there was standing room only. During this journey dysentery claimed its first victims.

Soon after arriving at Ban-Pong Fred's group was transported to a large POW base camp at Kanchanaburi where the accommodation allocated to them was a long derelict bamboo hut. The roof was open to the sky in many places, the interior bamboo sleeping platforms were virtually non-existent, the allocated sleeping space on the slats was about two feet in width for each man, the floor was mud. The POWs were immediately put to work to repair their hut. During this period Fred had his first experience of the promised fair treatment from the Japanese guards which was beating prisoners across their back with a bamboo stick for no apparent reason.

Fred started work on the railway by driving straight tree trunks into the river bed at Tamarkan, intended as the foundations for the concrete columns supporting the Kwai river bridge. He was forced to work from dawn to dusk on a meagre rice† and slush diet. The entire pile driving operation was carried out without any mechanical aid. Groups of POWs were forced to† stand waist deep in the river operating the ram by means of a triangular bamboo structure fitted with a pulley and a stout rope assembly. The POWs pulled and released the ram on the command of a Japanese guard standing on the river bank shouting through a megaphone the rhythm at which he wanted the POWs to operate the piling ram. Great discomfort was experienced by the POWs. Fred arrived back at camp at dusk and could hardly raise the spoon to his mouth trying to eat the rice and grey coloured slush given to the prisoners. The pain in his arms made it difficult to sleep in readiness for the next tortuous day. This exercise went on for several weeks when his group was transferred to building embankments for the railway running from Ban-Pong into Burma.†

Working on the embankments in the areas where the main base camps were located the countryside was mainly flat and level. Whilst steadily moving north the terrain changed from flat to undulating, with irregular soil conditions. When building an embankment many meters high with soil alongside the track, often containing heavy boulders, then the physical difficulties in transporting the required volume of earth for each day became manifold. The building of these embankments was accomplished either by individual POWs carrying a wicker basket: filled with earth from the digging area alongside the track to the top of the ever growing embankment or by two POWs carrying a makeshift stretcher to the top. This was not too strenuous a job whilst the embankment was in its early growth stage but as the height increased so did the problems accompanying the work. Fred experienced incidents of a daily occurrence when struggling up the embankment with a heavy load on his shoulders and sinking into the loose earth and finding it impossible to move his legs because of cramp in his thigh muscles. When this happened the Japanese guard would begin shouting and hitting him with a stick with the result that somehow Fred would get moving again, if only to escape the dreaded bamboo stick.

With the advance of the embankment building Fred's group moved steadily northwards , leaving the base camps behind. They were now based in smaller camps which did not have a name but were identified by a number only. The smaller camps were always under† the command of a Japanese non-commissioned officer and these creatures soon became notorious for their cruel and inhumane treatment of the prisoners. During his captivity and work on the railway in the smaller camps Fred himself underwent atrocities and witnessed many tortures carried out on fellow POWs by the Korean guards, under the command of Japanese superiors.

Definitielijst

POW
Prisoner of War.
track
The track of a tank.

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Fred Seiker - Lest We Forget
(Source: Fred Seiker)

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Published by:
Ewoud van Eig
Published on:
20-03-2013
Last edit on:
04-06-2017
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