Fish Bin Stinks (1943)

Fish bin

‘It was in respect to dried and fresh fish that our greatest epicurean shock came. Any object living normally in the sea and being of a length of once inch or over constituted a fish, and our views of ‘fresh’ fish were governed by the question: ‘Was it so bad as to be impossible to get it past the nostril to the mouth without feeling ill?

Dried fish were frequently alive with maggots, and particularly bad in this respect were the dried herrings purchased locally towards the end of 1942. Their condition let to a complaint by one unit and they were ordered to ‘wash and eat’ them, discreetly omitting whether that meant the fish or the maggots, or both.

Source:  Unknown Author, ‘Live to Eat’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg., 257

‘‘’Fresh fish” – the Japanese ware a colourfully imaginative race – were also issued to prison camps. Although these covered everything from infant sprats to man-eating sharks and huge stingrays, consignments of them nevertheless had always three things in common: they never weighed as much as the Japanese said they weighed; there were invariably very, very bad.’

Source:  Unknown Author, ‘Food’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg., 263

“The prisoner – of – war life for these four years was an object lesson in living together. The three things that could, at any time kill us all off were work, disease and starvation.”
Source: The Naked Island by Russell Braddon; 1955 edition Pan Books Ltd, Pg131

‘Our usual ration of rice was polished and of little nutritional value. When possible, unpolished rice was requested. This was slightly more flavoursome and considerably more nutritious, though issues of it were rare. Apart from that, we received ‘balchang’, a putrid smelling mess of fish gut which could be used to flavour the rice. We also had from time to time herrings. These were sun dried and smelled frightful, but tasted pleasant enough when mixed with the rice. These had a strong odour throughout the camp. We received from time to time whitebait, which was also sun dried, but very tasty and much sought after. Occasionally we received fresh fish or fish purported to be fresh, but in fact putrid. We were in no position to waste it.’
Source: You’ll Never Get Off The Island by Keith Wilson; 1989, Pg 111

In his book ‘Changi – The Funny Side’, Slim DeGrey describes the best gastronomical offering they ever got from the Japanese was polished rice with occassionally dried, mashed up fish heads. Pg 208.

‘Surviving weekly menu for January 1944 gives some idea of the paucity and boredom of the Changi diet, and the ingenuity of the descriptions applied to it. Breakfast the consisted of a pint of ‘pap’,  one teaspoon of sugar, and a pint of tea, which on the face of it was not too bad, until one considered that ‘pap’ was rice porridge and that the tea had no milk. Afternoon ‘Tiffin’ as it was quaintly known was a pint of ‘hash’ with a little palm oil and more as it was plain tea. The ‘hash’ was of course more rice but supposedly had a little fish and vegetable added.’

Source: Lancashire Gunners at War – The 88th Field Regiment, 199 – 1945 by Stephen Bull, Pgs 91