April 15, 2009

8. Changi (January 1943)

Selarang Barracks, Changi POW Camp
Source: New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

After three days of misery in the hellship's hold, Han and his comrades emerged into the light and marched down the gangplank. The following day they boarded trucks that took them to their next transit camp. Felix Bakker continues:
It turned out our destination was Singapore. We disembarked there and were housed in the Changi camp, where we joined most of the 70,000 British, Australian, and Indian troops captured at the fall of Singapore. [1]

Frank Samethini too had been transferred to Changi. His group of Dutch POWs had arrived in November 1942, being sent to the AIF (Australian Imperial Forces) section. Shortly after Han's contingent arrived, Frank got word that his brother was in the vicinity. He went at once to find him:
My brother Han is reported seen in the hospital area of Changi. On my way there, good care is taken to salute the Sikh guards in the correct manner. Calling themselves "Free Indians", they have gone over to the enemy. A mean lot they are, worse than the Japs when it comes to finding an excuse for bashing us up. A chapel stands further down the road, its door open. Inside, an Aussie on a stepladder, repairing the stained-glass window, says, "Howdie" without looking up from his work. On an impulse, I take a seat before the small altar and bend my head. But words will not come. Do I still believe? Then it all wells up, gushing forth into violent prayer. A moment later I am outside again, feeling much relieved. Han is not in the hospital and, thanks to the Lord, also not in the ever growing plot of mounds of freshly dug soil. Back in my camp, Han runs to meet me at the gate, and all is well. [2]

"The ever growing plot of mounds of freshly dug soil"
Funeral of RAMC captain in Changi camp cemetery (October 1942)

Source: www.fepow-community.org.uk

British POWs at Changi
Men of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (October 1942)

Source: www.fepow-community.org.uk

Briefly reunited, the Samethinis set off on an unusual quest:

Han, the wizard on the accordion, as he is known, is craving to try his hand again on the keyboard of a piano. Hasn't touched one in donkey years. We find the officer in charge of entertainment, sporting a fierce martial moustache, supervising a Shakespearean play performed in the open air theatre. First an attempt is made to ignore us, but we plant ourselves right in front of him.

"Yes?" with contempt in his eyes for the two foreigners who dare to interrupt his listening. We tell him.

"Yes, of course, that's a piano there on the stage. But not for amateurs, thank you. However, there's another one in the church which could be made available at some time or other. But mind, none of this swing music. We do not permit jazz in church." [3]

The British officer's lofty admonition not only only failed to deter Han, it provoked him into stealing the show:

Not wishing to waste another word on the empire builder, we return to our section, which happens to border on the entertainment grounds.

Han takes the old "squeeze box" from the hook, accepting a tailor-made cigarette from one of the boys who anticipates what is coming. "Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond" is followed by "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "Beautiful Dreamer." When he gets to "Tipperary," everyone in the open air theatre has walked out on the Bard to join us in the great sing-song, led by the amateur. [4]

The Java Lines section at Changi
Prisoners transiting from Java to the Burma Railway were assembled here.
Illustration by British POW Charles Thrale
Source: FEPOW Monthly Review

Frank was to remain at Changi until April 1943, but Han and his group were sent north at the beginning of February. [5]  Bakker relates:

We did not stay very long, as ten days later we were on our way to Thailand by train. Han Samethini was among the Dutch POWs in this transport. [6]

Riding the Singapore-Bangkok rail line up the length of the Malay Peninsula, they approached the southernmost base camps of the Burma Railway, outliers of a domain of hardship and savagery that were to surpass anything the Japanese had inflicted on them so far.

Singapore and the southern portion of the Burma Railway
(Click map to enlarge)



[1] Felix Bakker, personal e-mail to Margie Samethini-Bellamy (September 2006)

[2] The Sky Looked Down, Chapter 6: Destination Railroad

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] According to records kept at the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre (see images below), Samethini arrived in Changi on January 19 and departed on February 2.  Andrew Snow, a researcher at the TBRC, comments: "On page 55 Java Party 9 Roll it shows Samethini H S/N 49816 with a red dash after his name.  The red dash in the Java Party 9 code shows that 625 men left Singapore for Thailand on 02/02/1943.  The Java Party 9 arrival date is shown as 19/01/1943."  Personal e-mail to author (April 23, 2012).

Images courtesy of Andrew Snow
Thailand-Burma Railway Centre  

[6] Bakker, Ibid. 


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