Memories of a Volunteer in

Shamshuipo POW Camp 1942-1945

 

Freedom was something we lost and never found in Shamshuipo. Never did we think that such conditions could ever prevail when we would be prevented from sitting down when we wished - or eating or drinking when we were hungry or thirsty. Yet these were very minor things compared with our other deprivations that we endured during those bitter years.

Sometimes we yearned to have a moment to ourselves to mend or wash our clothes. Every day we went on some form of working party. The Camp kept Tokyo time i.e. 2 hours ahead of Hong Kong time. This meant that we paraded at 5 o'clock in the morning every morning - summer and winter. It was exasperating to hear that bugle call. Every time it sounded the Orderly Sergeant would rush to pick up the new orders and come back to detail a group of men to do this or that. It goes on for weeks on end and then there is a break.

There was always that constant pang of hunger. When a picture of food would appear it seemed more attractive than a picture of Betty Grable in shorts. In three years and eight months we were in Shamshuipo Camp, there was only one issue of a toothbrush with a small packet of "Lion Brand" tooth powder, one issue of "Short Time" towel and twice we received a ration of 20 sheets of toilet paper. The rest the time we depended on the library! The Dutch used "bottled water" and it was an acrobatic feat as the "facility" was a length of water pipe run through the wall from end to end with a big soil bucket underneath each "compartment". So with a bottle of water, we had to perch on this pipe like so many sparrows. Occasionally some would tumble and splash right in it!

Then I remember the cookhouse. Most of the time we had nothing to cook but rice. The menu read for weeks: RICE BUST. But the cooks were ingenious: they saved the oil and the salt which were minuscule quantities per man per day but added up after a few months to provide us with a real treat. I remember that we did get date duff once or twice. Our festival menus at Christmas and the New Year were not only works of art but of imagination. It really looked grand when elaborately written up in restaurant French but it really meant that we were getting a bit of corned beef, some vegetable boiled in water and a bit of oil with a serving of hot tea. Ooh la la - scrumptious Christmas fare!

 

Arthur E Gomez