Liz Seiker, Fred's Journey

Freedom

On the morning of the 18th August 1945 Fred went to the latrine looking for the guard, who was usually hiding in the shadows, to make the compulsory bow to him. To his surprise the guard was not† to be seen. There was an unusual stillness in the camp. Fred and a mate crawled to a bush from where they could see the guardhouse. The Japanese flag which was always tied to the base of the flagpole at sundown was not there. A number of empty crates and general rubbish was strewn about and there was not a guard in sight nor any noise coming from the guardhouse.

Fred saw a look of utter amazement and bewilderment on the face of his mate, not daring to think the unthinkable. After a while they decided to approach the guardhouse from two ways, not knowing what to expect. Fred remembers clearly his heart throbbing, the palms of his hands sweating in fear. He and his mate slowly began to realize that something momentous had happened during the night. Then someone shouted "the bastards have gone" but still the fear remained that the guards would suddenly return and open fire on them until several natives came running into the camp wildly gesticulating and shouting saying that the guards had left during the night in lorries. They also told the prisoners that the unthinkable had indeed happened and that the Japanese had surrendered on the 15th August.†

Pandemonium broke loose in the camp. Some just stood there quietly, tears streaming down their haggard faces. Others jumped around like mad men, shouting and yelling. Still others sank to their knees and prayed in silence. Fred remembered this incredible event with great emotion and a kind of pride. A pride at having survived a living hell for three and a half years while knowing that every hour, every day, during that period his life could end. He suddenly realized that he was a free man again. Free to say "no" to anyone and anything.

The natives took them to a small siding along the rail track where there was a locomotive and two flattop trucks. In spite of many defects Fred and his comrades managed to get a low steam pressure in the boiler after natives helped to fill the engine's water tanks and load timber which would hopefully take them several hours down the track. The sick not able to walk were carried to the flattops . Those who could still walk got the locomotive going, accompanied by alarming clanks and hissing steam from the engine. After a short while of very slow travel and crossing two small bridges Fred remembered one of the most wonderful moments of his life. Someone on the leading flattop shouted to stop the engine. Ahead of them puffing slowly round a bend came a locomotive with two Red Cross flags flying at either side of the engine's boiler. It was a Red Cross train that had left Kanchanaburi searching for POWs in the north of Thailand. It appeared that they had orders to look for them without knowing where they were as there was no administrative evidence. The rescue team had almost given up hope of finding any more survivors when they came upon Fred's group.

Fred firmly believed that this was a miracle without doubt. Sadly a few of the sick died shortly after arrival at the field hospital in Kanchanaburi. Fred was sad at being separated into groups of nationalities again because during his period as a prisoner, and in particular in the smaller camps, the question of nationality never arose. They all helped each other to stay alive. He always afterwards missed the closeness and feeling of total mutual trust among his fellow POWs. Fred's weight at the time of liberation was 5 stone 6 pounds.

It was stressed to the surviving POWs that it was essential for their well-being to remain on a starvation diet for a short while because the digestive system would not be able to process a normal diet. Sadly, however, some disregarded this advice and went outside the camp to feast on Thai food. As a consequence several died. Once the dietary restrictions were lifted and normal food was gradually introduced Fred was astonished at the quick rate of recovery.

Soon after liberation the Americans were airlifted from the base camps, the Australians were shipped home, followed by the British. The Dutch contingent to which Fred belonged was ordered by their government to remain in Thailand until further notice. Because of the native uprisings on Java and Sumatra all military personnel in Thailand were put on standby to be sent to quell the rebellions.

The situation for Fred now was that having volunteered into the Dutch army he had become a professional soldier and as such he could now be sent anywhere as directed by the military authorities. He decided that he would not obey any such orders. He learnt that if accepted by the Military Police he would not be sent to Java so he applied for a post with them and was accepted.

He was moved to a special hut with comfortable accommodation, allocated a jeep and driver, and soon found himself working in collaboration with the Thai police in fighting well organized gangsters engaged in drug dealing.†

During this time he and his colleagues used to visit a Thai cafe for drinks, snacks and to exchange news. The owner of the care had a little girl who had stolen their hearts, in particular Fred's. Suddenly this little girl fell seriously ill. The Thai doctor treating her said that he did not have the necessary drugs and that without them she would die. Fred and his friends dragged their own doctor to the cafe to examine this little girl and he agreed with the diagnosis of the Thai doctor. The drugs were available to the military but under rules at the time could not be given to the Thai population. However Fred understood the 'wink and nod' and he became a 'thief' once more. A course of drugs was given to the girl who made a complete recovery. Fred felt it was a small 'thank you' to those Thai people who had put their lives on the line in trying to help the POWs whenever they could.

After a while the gangster activities abated and life became one of daily routine. In the latter half of April 1946 the remaining Dutch exPOWs still in Thailand were transported to Bangkok where they embarked on to a Dutch passenger liner, the Nieuwe Holland, bound for Amsterdam. AT LAST!

During the journey home Fred realised that for many exPOWs their ordeal was not over, in spite of their new found freedom. The mental scars would remain with them for the rest of their lives. There were some who could not handle the return to civilian life and committed suicide by jumping overboard. Fred believed that the two reasons for surviving his time as a POW were his determination to see his fiancť again and his total belief that the Japanese would be defeated.

Definitielijst

collaboration
Cooperation of the people with the occupying forces, more generally spoken the term for individuals who cooperate with the occupying force is collaborator.
POW
Prisoner of War.
track
The track of a tank.

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Fred Seiker (1946)

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