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There were very few prisoners who did not contact dysentery during their 3½ years imprisonment. Due to the general unsanitary conditions, the disease was difficult to contain. Through no fault of their own men found it difficult to keep themselves clean. With an acute shortage of water it was obvious that their priority was to use water for drinking and not for washing - be it themselves or their few clothes.

With the difficulty of keeping clean, it was inevitable that so many would catch dysentery. Like measles it has an incubation period of several days, therefore victims were unaware they had contacted the dreadful disease and were therefore passing it onto others in the interim period, making it very difficult for the medical officers to contain it.

The symptoms varied from mild to very severe attacks. Acute diarrhoea and nausea were experienced and perforation of the intestine and haemorrhage of the gut, which caused the most intense pain. Dysentery literally strips the lining from the stomach and patients suffer from a constant fierce gnawing ache from their lacerated insides and very little can be done to alleviate the terrible pain. Rice water was usually administered.

Amoebic Dysentery is a deadly form and Thailand is reputed to be the most heavily amoeba-infested country in the world, but nothing was done to try and protect thousands of troops in hospital camps, working camps or staging camps where sanitary arrangements were filthy and many hundreds of men became infected. The only treatments that were of any real use were emetimine, aytron and stovarsol, but few medicines were received of any kind.

Extracts taken from a medical report made by Lieut Colonel A.E. Coates on the treatment of POWs in Burma and Thailand

"A hut full of dysentery patients was known as the "Dead House" - rarely did one admitted, come out alive. Many autopsies were done and proof of amoebic infection was obtained. My requests to Dr. Higuchi (Jap Doctor) for emetine were met with the reply that I could not be certain these men had amoebic dysentery as I had no microscope"

Some time later Colonel Coates was told that they (the Japs) were attempting to provide emetine, but supplies were not available.

Those poor unfortunates who caught this killer disease were subject to visiting the latrines many times a day until too weak to move and succumbing to the relief of death.

Ex POW John Baxter wrote in "Not so Much a Picnic" depicting his time in Java:

" Finally I succumbed to a bout of dysentery which entailed an average of twelve visits every twenty four hours to the nearest latrine. The small team of dedicated doctors and orderlies in our makeshift hospital were hopelessly overworked. My treatment consisted of one quinine tablet a day (these had been smuggled into the camp) and a diet of watery rice mixed with powered charcoal. No other medication was available and as my condition steadily worsened, it became apparent that there was little more that the handicapped doctors could do for me." 

But John did survive to write of his horrendous account with death.

The mortality rate for dysentery was very high in all camps.