In 1991 Des wrote this brief summary of his time as a POW, as a response to a request from the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board, who were preparing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle for Singapore.
(Click on the image to enlarge. Transcript of handwriting is below.)
Life as a Prisoner of War (POW) from Feb 1942 to Sept 1945
As a response to a request from the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board,
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle for Singapore
Re-typed from the original manuscript written by Des Bettany in 1991
On our arrival in Singapore, in November 1941, we entrained up country to Mantin. The unit, the 88th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery became part of the 9th Indian Division, and the three batteries were sent to Ipoh, Alor Star and Kuantan, where the Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk. Eventually the Battery was moved back over Fraser’s Gap to the West Coast, north of Kuala Lumpur and took part in the fights, skirmishes and battles down the Peninsular to Singapore. After capitulation we were all marched to Changi, after disabling and destroying our guns.
The passage of 50 years has reduced the mass of incidents and memories as P.O.W.’s to general feelings, impressions and attitudes. Between February 15th 1942 and September 1945, the completely alien existence we led has become blurred. What is left is a lasting profound distrust and dislike of the Japanese and Koreans.
What remains clear is that throughout the period of privation, starvation and slavery, hope, faith and confidence in our eventual release remained optimistically constant. Rumours abounded but I particularly remember the night of the ‘D’ Day landings in Normandy. When the report reached us, the whole camp within and without the jail began to stir and murmur, to the consternation of the Japanese. This was accepted as fact, but the stories of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, were met with disbelief.
Some things remain clear however – the never ending struggle for means to bolster woefully insufficient rations; the treatment of working parties by third class Japanese and Korean privates, some of whom had never seen a European before; the road side display of severed heads; the lashings and tortures of Chinese and Indian labourers as well as P.O.W.’s; and complete disregard of the sick and injured by the Japanese. But there was also the ingenious use of material and primitive resourcefulness shown in building accommodation, chapels, theatres and essentials. The concerts, shows and plays were quite excellent as were talks and lectures by experts. Many miracles of surgery occurred under very trying conditions.
At an early date, working parties left Changi for camps in Towner Road and Sarangoon Road, etc. We worked at clearing up the damage in Singapore and the Dock area. For a while we collected abandoned military and private transport. What could not be repaired was broken up and shipped to Japan as scrap. Ingenious methods of sabotage were used both here and other working parties, such as transit camps for the Japanese troops from the Islands and the War Memorial to Japanese dead on Bukit Timiah Hill. (Des told his family they were forced to clean up transit camps for Japanese fighting soldiers to provide R & R. They laced their bedding with bed bugs. There was nothing better than seeing these men in the middle of the night outside, scratching and stripping off their closes. No R & R. With the War Memorial and any other wooden structure made for the Japanese, after digging the hole to place the structure in, it was laced heavily with white ants. Des commented in later years about this: ‘we didn’t know how long this war was going on for’)
At this time the Selarang Square incident occurred in Changi and parties began leaving there to work on the Burma Railway. After returning to Changi we were moved to the jail and surrounds, and from there until repatriation went daily to work, clearing a corner of the Changi area and creating a fighter strip. This still exists, but has grown into Changi International Airport.
My personal worst moments came when I had to appear before the Japanese Commandant and an assortment of interpreters, to try and explain away, to humourless Japanese officers a book of political cartoons I had drawn. I had lent the book to a careless person who allowed it to fall into the hands of Japanese guards. This was at a time when the war was going badly for Germany and Japan and this was reflected in the cartoons. I was extremely lucky to get away with a whole skin. The Japanese did not approve. I never saw the book again. I am now retired from a life of tertiary art education, and enjoy the benefits of family and eight grandchildren.
Signed: Desmond Bettany, Royal Artillery, 1991
**** 70th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore 15th February 2012 ‘Lest We Forget’ *****
The Triumph of the Human Spirit in the Face of Adversity