‘… I Only Wanted A Light Mate’ (1945)

'A light mate'‘… I only wanted a light mate … !’

A 94 year old ex POW has told me this is typically how they would light cigarettes in Changi, as they had no matches. A piece of wood turned fast by string caused friction in the tinder box below resulting in embers or a fire.

In order to cope, I believe, most men surrounded themselves in their own personal and protective armour. Mine, as I have already written, was work, an almost obsessive sense of duty; for others it was humour or religious faith; and for nearly all of us, it was the setting of a deadline: ‘home by Christmas’ or ‘home for my wife’s birthday, or some other date of personal significance. In establishing a mental goal to work towards we were focussing on a future life which we could anticipate living and, in the process, attempt to reject the reality of what we were experiencing, deferring our disappointment. Keeping an ‘end point’ in mind, even though deep down we know it was artificial, gave us hope – one of the most powerful weapons in the limited armoury of defence we could own. If we were to not only survive but also remain sane, it was all we could do.

Source: A Doctors War, by Dr Rowley Richards, pg 157, Harper Collins Publishers, 2006.