THE STORY OF PAMELA de NEUMANN
My brother was in the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) and came over from Australia in the 8th Division on the Queen Mary, leaving about 12th February 1941.
As I was interested in nursing, I started training in the St John's Ambulance Brigade and earned their medal which was worn on the lapel of my uniform. They called it the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) then the Women's Medical Auxiliary Service. This training took place in the wards and operating theatre of Seremban Hospital with the Matron, Doctor and Sister and took about three years. All my hard-earned certificates were lost in the War. Everything was just gone.
When the War with the Japanese started we were evacuated to Singapore. I went with my mother and my father followed later. We continued nursing at the First Aid Posts at Singapore. My mother was a trained nurse too and staff were desperately needed at St Andrew's Hospital in Singapore. There we nursed wounded members of the Armed Forces as they came to the hospital from the North of Malaya. We worked during the fall of Singapore right until the day before the fall which was on 15th February 1942.
The police and army came and said we had to leave quickly by the best way we could. This turned out to be by the steamship MATA HARI (this was a P & O ship on full charter to the Admiralty, many of our officers being British India Steam Navigation Company personnel) which left from the jetty at Singapore. Only my mother and I left on this ship as my father was a Local Volunteer, being too old for the army and fighting services.
We left Singapore at night and a Japanese warship stopped and captured us within a short time of leaving. Under threat of the warships trained, loaded and readied guns and dazzled by a searchlight, our Captain, Temp. Lieut. Carson, flew a white flag and indicated that there were women and children aboard. The Japanese then took us Prisoners of War and sent us to the island of Banka, Muntok and then to Palembang in Sumatra. The Military personnel were sent to Burma. (The MATA HARI was taken to Singapore. Prize proceedings were withdrawn and the vessel released by Sasebo Prize Court on 27th December 1943. She was re-named NITIRIN MARU and subsequently sunk by aircraft on 2nd March 1945.)
We were terribly overcrowded in the camp with no proper facilities for mothers and children. We spent 3½ years on these two islands sleeping on concrete slabs. They transported us on barges between the islands and on cattle trucks to and from the barges. I did nursing, as well as I could, in the camp but the Japanese confiscated the medicines from the Red Cross parcels. It was worse than terrible. They starved us and we had to scrounge what we could from the jungle such as weeds and grass and we also boiled banana skins. All the prisoners eventually contracted beriberi and fever and many thousands died. I slept on a concrete slab and dug roads, latrines and graves for 3½ years. This is where all my arthritis comes from. My periods stopped from the shock and malnutrition as did the periods of the other women and we had to have all our hair cut off because bugs infested us. My mother, one of the many who I nursed, suffered with dengue fever, beriberi, malnutrition, dysentery and the physical stress which she had to endure in digging roads and sleeping on concrete slabs. It was too much for her and she died in the camp. This need not have happened if we had had proper food and medicine. She was only about 50 years old when she died in May 1945, just before the war ended and I was repatriated. I had to dig her grave in the camp and then bury her. Roman Catholic nurses put her in a box which I and other prisoners from the camp had to carry using rod supports.
I suffered from excruciating toothache in the camp and so went into a particular room where we had dental treatment. The Japanese dentist wanted to pull my tooth out without any pain-killing drugs and I refused. Being in great pain I didn't bow to the Japanese dentist and at the next roll-call (Tenko - which took place both morning and night) they called out for the person who didn't bow. The Officer knew that it was me and they took me to the entrance of the guardhouse. I had to stand there every day for a week as punishment in the blazing hot sun without food or drink. This was just one of the many cruelties that they subjected us to.
When I finally left the internment camp I was extremely ill with ulcers all over my legs and arms and I had severe malnutrition, weighing approximately 4½ stone (63lbs). When the war ended I was on the first aeroplane out with some of the Australian nurses who had been sent out to Malaya. The aeroplane was a propeller-driven Dakota. When I arrived back at Singapore I had to go into hospital for treatment for two weeks and received vitamin injections etc. Here I met my father again and learned that he had come through OK even though he had been a prisoner in Changi Jail. As he was not in the Army, he was not sent to Burma to work on the railway. It was a great shock to him to learn of the death of my mother. Unfortunately the letters which we wrote to each other did not get through and as I had written to him of my mother's death, I assumed when I met him that he already knew of this - another example of the brutality of the Japanese.
My father and I decided to go back to Australia and we left Singapore in September 1945 on a ship called the HIGHLAND CHIEFTAN and came back to Sydney. This is where I stayed but my father went back to Malaya to manage a Rubber Plant Estate. He viewed Estates and lived in Serembang in a bungalow until he died in 1973.
Sydney is where I met my husband who was a Merchant Navy Captain and Commodore with Frank Strick & Company of London, England. In peacetime their ships all went to the Persian Gulf. During the war they carried troops and he came to Australia at the end of the war. He began loading wool for England. I married in Sydney in June 1946 and went back to England on his ship which was part cargo and part passenger with up to 12 passengers on board.
I lived in Thundersley, Essex for 35 years and in 1980, with my husband no longer with me, I thought it would be a good idea to return to Australia with my daughter Estelle Ann. She and my two sons were born in England. My brother sponsored us and we now live at Mount Pritchard.