‘Transport’: The Changi Chariot


‘We have no motor transport, except one ambulance for emergency use, but from broken up cars and lorries, an enormous variety of trucks and carts have been constructed. All are fitted with steering gear and some have four – wheel brakes and ‘balbon’ tyres.’

Source: Down To Bedrock (the diary & secret notes of a Far East prisoner of war Chaplain) by Eric Cordingly, Pg 71; permission by Louis Reynolds, daughter.

Changi Chariots
There was nothing more intimately associated with life in Changi than the trailer. Save for the bedridden there cannot have been one man, from colonel to private, who has not pulled one of these cumbersome vehicles.
They were constructed by stripping the bodies from abandoned motor cars and trucks and substituting a wooden platform in place of the body. A stout rope or wire hawser was tied to the front axle and wooden poles were attached at regular intervals, each pole giving pulling space for four men; the trailer teams varied between sixteen and forty men (the last drew the massive steel bones of a Marmon – Herrington lorry). ‘Up hill they were immovable and down hell they buffeted the hapless men in the shafts with the malignancy of a Japanese sentry.
The spectacle of heavy trailer fully loaded, preceded by a phalanx of brown and sweat – streaked backs, the rhythmic crunch of eighty feet, and the bored nonchalance of the helmeted guard riding like a potentate on top of the load, is perhaps the most striking memory of Changi. Wherever there was movement, there were trailers. Rations were collected on them as was water and the sick; the dead went to the cemetery on them.
‘Fall in trailer party’ was the call heard a hundred times a day. ‘More men in the traces.’ ‘Swing wide on the bend!’ ‘All together, stick your toes in!’ – exhortations that will never be forgotten.
Trailers took their toll of lives. Skids at high speeds doing downhill runs, capsizes and collisions killed men who had escaped the one hundred and one other menaces of death. Some trips were 6 miles each way, returning with 3 tons of wood. By the end of the day, legs ached, heads were dizzy with exhaustion and eyes were smarting with sweat. ‘All together, wop it into her!’ came the cry again and again.’
Source: Australian Prisoners of War (Pg 251) by Patsy Adam – Smith.

Transport problems were overcome with the advent of the trailer … which could be drawn along by 15 to 20 men according to the weight of the chassis. The importance of these trailers and their value to the camp as a method of transport cannot be exaggerated. Without them it would have been impossible to supply the camp with the quantities of fuel required.

So now, having an unlimited supply of firewood, the men and the tools to hew it, and tailers for transportation, it was not long before an efficient system was in operation. Axemen would fell and trim the trees, saw men would cut the timber into two foot lengths, the sawn timber was loaded onto trailers and hauled to a depot where the blocks were split. The split wood was then weighed and stacked ready for issue to the various units, who would arrange to collect their quota each day.’

‘Apart from the Forestry Company’s job of supplying firewood to the camp, it also provided timber for the seating of our AIF concert hall, goal posts for basketball courts, staging for group concert platforms, wood for moulds for the Artificial Limb Factory, and wood for the manufacture of clogs by the Convalescent Depot patients. The unit also provided its own axe helves and changkol and shovel handles.’

Source: E.J. Oraines, ‘The AIF Forestry Company’, in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi Book, Published by New South in association with the Australian War Memorial, 2015, pg., 305, 308