'THE MARCH' FROM KATONG HOUSE TO CHANGI JAIL
SINGAPORE - 12TH FEBRUARY TO 8TH MARCH 1942
by Robert Brooks
These memories are those of a six-and-a-half year old boy who had, until the advent of the Japanese Army in 1942, lived in a comfortable and civilised way in the Crown Colony of Singapore.
12th February 1942 In the first week of February 1942, all was to change and my parents and two aunts took refuge in the Outram Road Jail. Our home in Bubit Timah Road and the aunt's home in Meyer Road off East Coast Road became principal military routes and not recommended for civilians!
14th February 1942 The noise, the dust, the shouting, the smells were quite foreign to a young mind. Then the equatorial sky off west Singapore became dark, sinister and smoke-laden as the defending forces had decided to torch the oil storage depots at Pasir Panjang Docks to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands. The wounded were brought into Alexandra Hospital.
16th February 1942 Comments in the prison with regard to the British Surrender of 15th February soon became known - except to us kids whose fantasies made our little minds worse than hell. Who were these noisy soldiers wearing strange uniforms, netted steel helmets or cricket-type caps and rubber shoes with cloven toes? Japanese troops supported by light tanks.
17th February 1942 Within 24 hours of the surrender, the Japanese Kempei-Tai (Military Police) ordered the Governor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas, to tell on the radio that all European civilians were to go to the Padang (City Green) and assemble for registration at the Raffles Hotel.
18th February 1942 Anyone who had any contacts with British subjects or their work had to be registered with the Europeans. Within a week civilians had been transported to the Seaview Hotel or Katong House in East Coast Road. The latter soon became too full and adjacent large houses were commandeered. On arrival, men were separated from women and children.
24th February 1942 Singapore, even in February, is still very hot and humid. Electric fans had been switched off and the norm of 'two baths a day, at least' had become history. After a couple of days personal hygiene left a lot to be desired and the modern saying 'as stinky as a vino's dog' could almost have been assimilated to many of these internees-to-be and their children, and clothes.
5th March 1942 Sewerage was failing and the first bore-hole latrines were dug in gardens. Sweat and dust, dirt and irritation and hunger became the 'modi operandi'. The racial scene showed Europeans (all types!), Eurasians, Anglo-Indians, Anglo-Chinese, Malays, Burmese, Siamese, Indonesians, Chinese et al. More variants were to come.
8th March 1942 Sunday morning quiet was ended at Katong Transit Camp after 10.00am by Japanese soldiers ordering the women to line up with their baggage. The heavy baggage went by lorry, the women walked. Destination not known, but it was to be a walk of eleven miles to the infamous Changi Jail (built 1936) via East Coast Road, Bedok Road, Serangoon Road and Changi Road. Only the very elderly, frail and children were transported by lorries - all standing up in the back for the native inhabitants to see.
The march started at 11.00am on a hot, cloud-less day, when the macadam is so hot that most people walk on the grass, but wearing shoes and being British, the British spirit was maintained. Walk properly, orderly manner, organised and cheerful. We children left about 1.00 pm and passed the marchers at Bedok Road. There was no loud shouting or waving from the lorry passengers or the marchers. Not surprising really. Would anyone dare do that with an irritable Japanese sentry with a bayonet-fixed rifle?
The lorries turned into the vast concrete-built prison and its narrow drive at approximately 2.00 pm, through the high 'porte cochere' with open steel gates. We welcomed the 400 tired, hot and dirty women into the main courtyard about 4.00 pm, after their march from Katong, watched by Japanese sentries and the male internees who had already arrived and been incarcerated two or three days before.
This was to be our home for 2 years and 2 months until we were moved to Sime Road Camp on 7th May 1944, to make more room for prisoners of war until the Japanese surrender in August 1945.