Sgt Wilfred Wolverson Sowter (Wilf) With ‘Changi Chariot’ (1945)

Sgt Wilfred Wolverson Sowter (Wilf) Sowter with 'Changi Chariot' (1945)


This drawing was kindly scanned by Wilf’s grand daughter, Sally, and a copy sent to the Bettany family for inclusion on this site in February 2012. Wilf served in France during ww1 and was 46 at the out-break of ww2. He passed away in 1970 in his beloved country of  Wales. (Des’ family knew their father gave a lot of his art work away to his mates and it is so good to see scanned copies coming back for inclusion on the site).

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.

‘5,000 POWs were moved into the prison, built to hold 800 prisoners. It was cold, foul smelling. Each cell, crawling with bugs, was approx 6ft x 8 ft and had a concrete block in the centre which served as a bed for one prisoner. Two more prisoners slept on the floor on either side. One small window approx. a foot square gave a little light and the much needed fresh air while a hole in the floor in one corner served as a toilet.
A further 12,000 POWs were concentrated in the surrounding area of the jail, living in camps made up of attap huts and rough accommodation. The Outram Road Jail was used as a punishment camp.

For over sixty years the name Changi has remained synonymous with hardship and cruelty, borne during this horrific chapter in British military history, a name that will not easily be forgotten. It will remain a lasting bitter memory to all those who were unfortunate enough to have been interned in the miserable foulness within its formidable stone walls or in the surrounding camps within its shadows.’