Prisoner of War Camp - Pudu Jail, Kuala Lumpur
January - October 1942
13 Officers and 43 other ranks of British and Australian POWs were transferred to the Pudu Criminal Jail, Kuala Lumpur on the 22nd January 1942. Prior to this they had been held at the local Police Barracks.
A massive structure of stone and concrete, the Pudu Jail was built to the shape of a St. Andrew's Cross and was opened in 1895. The main entrance was situated in a two-storied building. This normally contained the Administrative Offices on the ground floor and on the top floor, six cells for European and Eurasian prisoners and two small rooms for storage of prison records, etc. The female ward of the prison and the prison kitchen were separate areas on each side of the Administrative Block and leading from the main section of the prison were four three-storied wings. The prison hospital was close by, but separate from the main building.
The accommodation allocated out on that afternoon in January, was the female block. This consisted of a walled-off area sixty yards square, in the centre of which was a building containing six cells and two small rooms. The only free space available was an area of twenty yards wide surrounding this building. This was to be the exercise ground, outdoor kitchen, latrines, etc.
All early POWs were British ranks of the 11th Indian Division. It was not until early in February that Australian and British personnel from other formations arrived. The POWs from the 11th Div. had been 'cut off' after the Japanese tank break through on January 7th. They had spent ten days or more in the Jungle and rubber plantations trying to catch up with the retreating forces. The men came in tired, half starved, in rags and with morale at it's lowest. It was distressing to see how quickly the authority of the NCO had disappeared. The psychological reaction was very apparent. It was one of relief to be taken prisoner alive, disappointment at being a prisoner, and bitterness, almost amounting to hatred, against those responsible for the conduct of the campaign. These reactions were not confined to the men alone.
Japanese POW camps were run on different lines to what was applied to European nations. There the officers and men were separated in different camps and the nation that holds the captives maintains discipline through it's own staff. At Kuala Lumpur, officers and men were kept together under most degrading conditions. The senior prisoner officer was responsible to the Japanese authorities for the discipline and administration of the camp. He and his staff were the medium through which all Japanese orders were supposed to be carried out. The local administration of the camp was his responsibility insofar as the means and material to put this into effect were made available by the Japanese. Needless to say, these were non-existent.
It was fortunate for the other ranks that this state of affairs existed, as they had their own officers to fight for their interests. They would otherwise have been in a sorry plight.
This system suited the Japanese as it reduced considerably the number of prison guards. Unfortunately there were difficulties - when it suited the Japanese they ran a parallel administrative organisation which completely reversed any command or administrative instruction issued by the senior officer. In addition, such commands were issued direct to the troops and not through the senior officer or his staff. This they did when they disliked any particular command of the senior officer, or when they felt it was time for them to show their authority, or merely to make life as unpleasant and as difficult as they possibly could.
Under these abnormal conditions, administrative difficulties were soon encountered. Both NCOs and men were of the opinion that as we were all POWs the rank element did not count, and there was now no difference between Officers, NCOs, and Men. It fell to the lot of Lt Colonel Deakin, DSO 5/2 Punjabis, to put the house in order. His immediate task was to gain contact with some responsible Japanese officers, to get the authorities to improve the conditions under which the sick and wounded existed, to restore discipline, morale and the authority of the NCO, and finally to obtain better accommodation and rations for all. A difficult task which he tackled with courage, determination and much firmness.
For the first week there appeared to be no definite Japanese authority within the camp. The door of the female prisoner area was closed on the afternoon of January 23rd. It was only opened to take in new arrivals, throw in our meagre rations and check prisoners at the morning and evening roll-call. Guards changed from day to day. No responsible Jap was available to approach about our increasing difficulties. Contact with any Japanese officer was impossible. Fortunately, a Japanese Medical Officer visited the camp and advantage was taken of this visit to pass a letter on to the local Japanese GOC. The letter contained demands for better accommodation, better food, better medical arrangements and finally asked for a responsible Japanese officer to deal with. The letter had it's desired effect. A young Japanese 2nd Lieutenant appeared, accompanied by an interpreter. He interviewed Colonel Deakin in the crowded officers' cell. When the letter was translated to him, he roared with laughter at each request. At the end he told us we were POWs, which the Japanese never become, and we were lucky to be alive. He said that brave Japanese soldiers were undergoing great hardships in the field and in the circumstances we could not expect much. That ended the interview.
Two days later a Japanese Major visited the gaol. All ranks were paraded and in a long speech, translated to us word by word, he explained that the Japanese were here to liberate all Asiatics from British and white exploitation. He would do what he could for us, but it would not be much. He refused to have any interviews with the Senior officer. Towards the end of January a permanent Guard Commander with the rank of Sergeant was appointed to the camp. At first it was a change for the good, but it did not last long and he deteriorated rapidly, both in manners and method and made everyone well aware that he was in complete charge of the camp.
The conditions that existed for the first three weeks were made worse by the inadequate accommodation for both sick and healthy, the irregular meals and the total lack of medical help. The condition of the wounded and sick was deplorable. Pleas for help were ignored. Day after day the men were living a perpetual nightmare that no one could have believed.
Fresh batches of POWs arrived daily and by the 26th January the number had reached 126. The small area of the female block was packed. The Guard Commander now allowed the top floor of the Administrative Block to be used. This, as already described, consisted of six cells, 12 feet by 6 feet, and two small dark store rooms. By the middle of the first week in February the numbers were 337. Accommodation was tight again, exercise impossible. Repeated applications, both verbal and in writing for the use of the main prison building, were met with no success. The main building had 600 cells and was empty, apart from a few Chinese suspects never numbering more than 100 and occupying a limited number of cells.
On the 9th February the numbers were 446: Officers and Men were packed like sardines. At sunset all prisoners had to be indoors, no lighting was available and more and more POWs were coming in daily. Owing to the small hospital accommodation many dysentery cases had to sleep with the men. The small exercise area, circling the female cells, was now an area of new and old latrine pits.
There were three British Army medical officers included among the POWs in Pudu. Initially there was only the one and he immediately took over one of the small rooms in the female block for use as a hospital. Over 80 per cent of every new group of prisoners that arrived needed his urgent attention as they were all suffering from wounds, sores, exposure and starvation. Fly-proof latrine pits were constructed with such tools as could be found i.e. bits of wood and rice bags, but in the beginning every rule of elementary sanitation was broken and the compound was continually fouled. Two of the original inmates were admitted with dysentery and soon there were dozens more. By the beginning of February, dysentery was present in epidemic proportions. No medicines were available. Out of 500 POWs, 140 were very sick. The filth and smell beggared description. Swarms of flies covered everyone and everything.
The conditions under which officers and men were now existing were appalling. On the 18th February the prisoners learnt that Singapore had capitulated - a blow to the slowly improving morale. On that day there were 550 POWs including 6 Officers jammed in the small area already described. After repeated interviews with the Guard Commander and much haggling, he allowed the officers to move into the Prison Hospital Building. The Guard Commander never went near the hospital and maintained a complete blank interest to any pleadings for better medical arrangements. The move relieved the accommodation in a small way. More and more POWs dribbled in and on March 26th the roll call was 724. Deaths were now mounting. The sick parades had reached alarming proportions. The authorities were now demanding working parties. All these factors were used as arguments to obtain more and better accommodation. It had the desired effect. 300 Australians were allowed to share with the Officers atthe prison hospital and 60 invalids were sent to occupy cells in the main prison building. Finally on April 16th, owing to the congestion and the verminous condition of the cells in the administrative block, three wings of the main prison were made available - this was a marked improvement. The hospital now moved to its right place, the prison hospital building: Officers occupied the ground floor of one wing of the main building and the other ranks the two other wings. The 60 invalids returned to the female block which had now been cleaned and converted into a convalescent ward. The accommodation was now more or less satisfactory; two officers or three men shared a cell. There was more room for exercise and latrines. Washing facilities were still unsatisfactory. The prison had not been modernised; both bathing arrangements and water points were very limited.
On 8th July 323 POWs arrived from Taiping, 200 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. On the 16th July the camp was closed. 16 sick, 22 civilians and 36 Chinese sailors were sent to join us. They did not stay with us long, for early in August all civilians and 40 selected technical POWs were transferred to Singapore.
Towards the end of September rumour was strong that the camp was to close. The authorities at first denied the rumour. Later, on the 28th September, they announced that 300 Australians and 140 invalids were to leave for Singapore. This party left on the 2nd October. On the 13th another party of 160 sick moved to Singapore. The camp finally closed on the 14th October 1942, when 400 more or less fit men were sent to Thailand and 96 moved south by easy stages to take part in a Japanese movie record of the Malayan Campaign.