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1942 Malayan Behind-the-Lines Escape Memoir

Vic Cogan in South Australia sent in this amazing letter written by Sergeant Granton HARRISON to his mother.  Grant flew Kittyhawks with 450 Squadron in Italy late in WWII, but prior to that he served in Malaya and Singapore as a Sergeant Pilot with 21 Squadron RAAF, flying Brewster Buffalo fighters, surviving a crash in remote jungle and escaping through the Japanese lines.  

He wrote this letter whilst returning in a convoy from Java to Fremantle, after Singapore fell in February 1942.  

A Formation of Buffalo Fighters in Stormy Conditions (AWM SUK14773)

Dear Mother,

Well, been meaning to write this for ages. So here goes. Whether it will ever be posted I cannot say. No mail is being accepted at the present moment. Might later though. I'll probably wander on in rather a Robinson Crusoe fashion. Parts will undoubtedly be dull and the whole thing will be pretty lengthy. The truth is I've the entire afternoon to waste, and want to jot down a lot of details which are still fresh in my mind.

As you know a large formation of us were returning from an operation over enemy territory. Before we went we had been mixed up in all types of strife over Singapore. A big raid was on and we had been up for some 2 hours attempting (?) to keep the bombers off our home drome. Twenty minutes is all we were allowed for lunch and I'm afraid I for one just didn't feel like the bully beef and tea (however delicious it may sound). The "big show" - the operation to come, however, proved to be by far the most tiring flight of my young and bright career. Weather absolutely lousy, kept under or dodged around heavy black thunder clouds the whole time. Terrifically bumpy. The trip was done very low. Hedge hopping, in fact. Well, long before it happened I could plainly see that sooner or later someone would collect someone else. What I didn't think, was, that it would be me. Certainly not. Last bloke in the whole squadron.

It happened very quickly. I was no more than 30 or 40 feet above the tree tops at the time. All I can recall is a deafening crash and a terrific jar. The sliding glass hood, closed at the time, went west - also the airscrew, apparently. Of course, what actually happened was that another kite had come down on top of me. Which to me didn't seem at all reasonable. I saw him go on ahead, going like the blazes with a trail of black smoke behind. He made a left turn in the direction of the coast.

Rather strange the things that flash through a bloke's mind in a comparatively few seconds. I seemed to remember all the advice I had been given. I even visualised the lads chatting about it back in the crew room after the flight. Dozens of different thoughts rush through in no time.

I know the modern fighter lad is supposedly one of these cool calm blokes under all stresses. Well, I'm afraid in place of that cool, clear, glamorous, Clark Gable type - laugh - I gave a big shudder and said "Blymie, I'm a gonner!". However, I had some 220 mph up the old sleeve, and proceeded to work it off by gaining height. Gained enough to enable me to get the flaps down by hand pump, tightened the crash harness, and into the deck went Sgt Harrison.

Don't know what happened once I collected the first tree. All noise, and all over in no time. Then darkness. Remember thinking I was dead and was mildly surprised at the complete lack of harps - bells - or even the old son of a gun with horns and a tail. Then I gave a first class exhibition of an "A" type panic. Dead or alive I was determined to get clear before she caught alight. Took a lot of doing because the nose of the plane had finished up well and truly buried in undergrowth - vines, creepers, etc. When I did get clear and jumped off the mainplane I went down in a foot of marshy swamps!

Then a check up to see if any bones were broken. Not even a scratch. The plane was a horrible wipe off. The port side, about 2 feet from the fuselage and the starboard wing just beyond the wing gun (about half way). The engine finished up against the root of a stout tree and was completely dislocated from the fuselage. The heavy bullet-proof windscreen and cowling was thrown on about 5 yards ahead of the wreck. Apparently, it contacted a tree side on at one stage, for the whole fuselage was bent around and the tail was almost touching the jagged mainplane. To add to this, bits and pieces were scattered around everywhere and it seemed as though there wasn't an inch of plane un-dented. I decided I was the luckiest person in the world to get out alive.

Almost immediately though, I went into another panic. The reason being a lot of curious animals came crashing through the jungle to see what it all meant. I must have looked funny, for I ran like blazes for a few yards, revolver in hand, and then knelt down and waited for about half an hour. Finally I convinced myself they were animals (although I couldn't see any of them, except monkeys) and not Japs. So I returned to the plane.

It appeared I had come down in heavy tall timber, leaving a path of fallen trees, etc. some 30 or 40 yards long. (Later on, I found the starboard wing tip up on top of a very tall palm tree, over a hundred yards away. So apparently I hit first and then ballooned up, and crashed in again). The plane finished up just a couple of yards from a swampy clearing, but where it was, it was practically completely hidden from view from the air by the trees and undergrowth. Oh! I forgot. As soon as I got out, I heard a kite circling overhead, and I pulled the parachute out of the cockpit, opened it up and laid it out on the swampy clearing where it was visible from the air.

Well, of course, flying in a big formation, I naturally had not been navigating, and therefore I hadn't the faintest idea where I was. I was pretty sure though that I was in Jap territory. Which didn't please me at all. So I went into a huddle with maps, and through a process of working out how long I had been going since I turned onto my other tank, etc, etc., I pinpointed myself at somewhere about Mersing. Now the Japs had been advancing rapidly and I wasn't at all sure where our front lines were. But, I did seem to remember that Mersing was in enemy hands.

Keeping communication clear between Mersing and Endau.
Under machine-gun fire and bombing attacks, Sgt G.C Bingham, 8th Division Signals,
with two other men, repairs damaged telephone wires between Mersing and Endau, Malaya. 
[AWM Copyright ART24492.  Painted by Murray Griffin in Changi POW Camp.]

I also remembered passing over a creek or river just before I went in, and knew I was not a great distance from the coast. Then, with this information, and the knowledge that I was on the edge of a heavy jungle and swamps, I further pinpointed myself at a position on the map on the edge of swamps, just south of Mersing River and about 15 miles inland from the coast. This later proved to be almost the exact position, though it was practically sheer luck.

I decided to sleep on the plane that night, and set off in the morning towards the coast. As soon as I had made this decision it started to rain heavily, and except for an occasional break, this weather continued for the next 6 days. Not at any time did the sun come out. That night was the longest I can remember. I was very sleepy, and would lie down on the remaining bit of mainplane. Only to get eaten alive by mosquitoes, despite the rain, and shiver like the devil with cold. Wasn't actually cold but if you've ever been soaked to the skin for some hours and then try and lie down on cold iron, you'll realise it's pretty miserable. So I cleared some of the undergrowth away from the cockpit and sat half in and half out, and kept up a continual brushing to keep the mosquitoes busy - they are maddening things. Then the real trouble arose when I thought elephants were approaching. I could hear them crashing through the undergrowth and breaking trees down and grunting and in general, doing all sort of things. Needless to say they took about 20 years off my life. I managed to stand up on the cockpit and waited for them. They came right up to the plane, and except for odd grunts and snorts kept pretty quiet for some time. This was hard to take so decided to muster all courage and scare them. The starboard landing light and the electric undercarriage warning hooter still operated. So I climbed back into the cockpit and switched them both on, and shouted like the devil. It worked wonders. They went crashing off, making a noise like 10 armies. The light gave me a look at a couple, however. They were wild boars, and about the size of a fairly large pig, and with a pointy nose and one big horn, curving back over their heads. Nasty looking chaps, but I was so relieved to find they weren't elephants that they looked beautiful; could also hear snakes. Little water snakes about a foot long that make a decided hiss and then go through the water like lightning. Also some curious monkeys. I've never cursed rain and mosquitoes so much. And never been so relieved to see daybreak.

With daylight I prepared for the cross-country. Tore the parachute up into bits. Made thick silk leggings to trick snakes. Cut the silk cords off and tied them together. Removed the big F.O. compass and draped it about neck. Didn't have a knife, worse luck; but the emergency landing pliers came in very handy. Before going, I scouted about and found bits of aerial wire; tied them together and spent a solid hour calling up on the R/T wireless. As no reply came, am afraid my language became somewhat vulgar. Two Buffaloes flew over about 2 miles away at about I500 feet. Heading Northeast. I had hopes that these were out looking for me and called them pretty frantically on R/T for some time more. But I got no reply and did not see them again. I might say here that I cursed the Air Force most heartily the whole time, and could see no reason why a search plane had not been sent out. At least 6 planes saw me go in. Surely, under the circumstances, they could have taken pains to pin point me. I was near the river, a notable land mark. My opinion then - it's entirely unaltered now - is that there was no reason at all why my position was not pin pointed, and why a plane, with supplies, was not sent out.

However, that is all bye the bye. I should mention here that I heard gunfire coming from the N.E. the previous night. Also Machine gun fire from about due south. Also, the next day I saw 2 Jap. Army 97 dive bombers. This made me think I was probably between the front lines.

Anyway, it was about 10 a.m. before I set out. I went fairly gingerly through the swamps to start with. I don't think you could realise what tropical swamps are like. I was fortunate enough to come upon a track, which I thought was made by elephants. (Probably by boars, though). It was hard to follow, but without it, it would have been hopeless. The whole ground is under water. (Anything from 1 foot to 6 feet). The reeds or rushes (sounds like Moses doesn't it) are dense, and consist of dozens of different types of growth, with creepers and vines interlocking them. Some very prickly, and some not. But all practically impossible to get through without an axe of some sort. They all tower overhead - average height about 10 - 12 feet - and they give off a warm, musty, sweet, sickly smell. In its way it was all very beautiful. This path was hard to follow, and meant shouldering my way through reeds, etc. and sounding the depth of the water ahead, with a stick. When I heard the "hiss" of a snake, as I often did, I'd lash the water furiously with the stick and would invariably see, or hear, one of the small water snakes go for his life. Occasionally, I'd slacken off with the "sounding" and suddenly walk into a hole up to my waist. These were jolly hard to get out of too.

Well, I kept on like this until about 3 p.m., when the path led off into the heavy timber again, along a creek, and became very muddy and boggy, and well over knee deep. It becomes very dark in the timber, and the trees completely blackout the sky. There is still the heavy undergrowth, however. This carried on for a few hundred yards and then came out on the river WITH A SMALL NATIVE HUT ON IT!! Was I pleased? Not 'alf. Also scared though, and advanced on it very warily, revolver in hand, thinking it might be a Jap outpost. There was considerable movement in the jungle close by, and I thought I saw a human being move behind some trees. Whether it was an animal, or what it was, I don't know. I know I was about as scared as he was, and it took me about an hour to convince myself that a dirty little Jap. Wasn't waiting to take a pot at me.

The hut was a tiny affair 8 feet X 9 feet with the back and half of one side covered in thatch. It was in the water, and stood about 12 feet high on rickety looking stilts. The whole thing was rickety, in fact. The floor consisted of round sticks about 1 inch thick and about 3 inches apart. In one corner was a reed mat, home made, about 4 feet long. in another was a patch of clay, with coals on it, obviously used for cooking, and a few halved coconut shells, etc., used as cooking and eating utensils. Also I found a little filthy, stinking shirt, and a pair of very small "bung" type trousers. The seat of the trousers WAS STILL WET! Which proved they had been worn recently and also set me thinking that probably that movement in the jungle was a human being, after all. There were also a few odd tins and bottles and things for cooking. Several big and smelly snake skins hanging up. Several empty packets of "Pirate" brand cigarettes, and an empty packet of matches made in Thailand. Anyway, it was dry, and I decided to sleep there. First I went out and scouted about for Charlie the native, but no luck. He has evidently whizzed off. I slept with revolver in hand and rigged up a sort of booby trap out of cords at the top of the entrance ladder, just in case this cove returned. But he didn't.

It teemed cats and dogs all night. I awoke at daybreak to find the river had flooded and the water was only 2 ft. below the floor. This was alarming, and to make matters worse the hut had developed a decided list. I crawled around very gingerly and managed to reinforce all the joints, etc. by lashing them with cord. Then I had my first good look at the river. Saw 2 or 3 big logs in midstream and wondered what was keeping them from being swept along with the current. Then I noticed their tails swishing. Nothing but prime Malayan crocodiles! The best that money can buy. I amused myself then by chucking hunks of clay at them. Got a direct hit on Claude the big fellow. He brought his head up so that his jaws rested on the water, opened his eyes - big gnarled affairs about the size of saucers - and looked at me. Nothing else, just looked. He really was a bottler. I should say 16 or 17 feet long if he was an inch. And he was. I also saw and heard a lot of swirling in the waters and presumed there were probably more frolicking about underwater.

It continued raining. The tide continued rising and it was obvious I would have to swim some way to get out of the hut. I decided to stay put and watch out for a boat on the river. Perhaps a military craft. I amused myself for the rest of the day by drying my clothes, contemplating a good meal, and attempting to build a raft out of the sticks off the floor and the sides. Later on that day I launched it (I built it half in the water) took off my clothes, donned May West, and with a very, very watchful eye on the crocs, I tested it. The result was disheartening! It went straight under. It didn't look like supporting my weight. What with the cold water and what-nots, I went into another first class panic and couldn't climb back quick enough. The rest of the day I spent in sleeping and again saw 2 Jap. Army 97 dive bombers, quite low, and heard M.G. fire from the ground and also the bombs dropping. Whacko! This meant our troops weren't too far off. That night the tide came over the floor and I pushed a hole in the roof and climbed up on it, tied myself to a rafter, and spent the night up on top. In the rain. I had bandaged my face and hands with silk against mosquitoes. (0h, I meant to tell you. After that first night on the plane my hands and face were just one swollen soft, pappy mass of mosquito bites).

By the next morning the tide had gone down slightly and I returned to the hut. I spent that day building sides on the raft and tested it again - with similar results. I chucked that idea up for good. I also wrote all my history on the May West. Amused myself by chucking more clay at the crocs. And took a good solid smack at one of them, the big bloke, with a long stick off the floor. He simply opened one big wicked eye, looked at me, opened his huge jaws about 3 feet apart and yawned. Then he put his head under the water and blew two streams of water out of his nostrils - with a snorting noise. It frightened the wits out of me. I thought he was working up an appetite. The 2 Jap. Planes were over again nearly all day. Apparently in shifts. I was beginning to get really worried by this time and decided I would simply have to do something on the morrow. I had no faith in getting through the jungle. It was too dense. On the other hand, I decided to use the river only as an absolute last resort. Also I wanted to avoid at all costs a night in the jungle. The thought of another night, soaked, cold, miserable and scared stiff with animals prowling about, was a rotten one. However, that night - my third in the hut, and my fourth since I crashed - I decided to push off through the jungle first thing in the morning.

I climbed around to the back of the hut and pushed off. Swam a few paces and then felt the muddy bottom. From then on I had the hardest 3 1/2 hours of my life. Think I must have been getting pretty weak by this time too. I was up to my knees, and often waist, in thick sucking slimy mud, and usually up to my armpits in water. On top of which I had to scramble over fallen trees, creepers, etc. really hard work, I can tell you, and the thought of the old crocs kept me watching out - ready to whiz up a tree - and going strong. However finally I came on some higher ground, still pretty boggy, but not too bad and was so exhausted I sat down and went sound to sleep.

Came on a track after that; one obviously cut by a party of cutters. There were numerous tracks leading off it (always with a sign stick pointing in the right direction) where scouts had gone out looking for the best direction to cut the main path. Also, there was elephant manure and hoof-marks, plus what looked like unshod horses hoof marks, and every few hundred yards a round patch was cleared where the animals and men had obviously rested. I just can't recall how I came to get off that path, or what became of it. Think I must have taken one of the little dummy runs by mistake - anyway it was leading me altogether away from my course. I kept on for the rest of the day - very hard going! but desperately anxious to make headway. It is practically impossible to make good a certain course (N. E. was mine). Found I simply had to go in this or that direction to get through. Often had to cut my way out of a hopeless tangle of creepers with the good old pliers. Got covered with horrible spider webs too. When Charlie the sun started to get low I became most anxious for I had not seen a clearing of any sort for hours. Didn't at all like the thought of sleeping standing up, and believe me, I sure was tired. As you probably know, there is no twilight in the tropics. It gets dark very quickly.

Well, just when I was cursing everything I could see, including the cursed rain, I came on an animal track which led me to some swamps. Here I found a likely spot beside a big rotten tree. I collected some fairly heavy sticks and laid them long ways. Then some lighter twigs and laid them cross ways; this I covered with big marsh leaves. The finished bed was bumpy, lumpy, lousy and wet. When I lay down, one side was at least 6 inches underwater; nevertheless, and despite the rain, I went sound to sleep. Awoke during the night with most violent stomach acid pains. Then I started vomiting - had meant to tell you - had, of course, been drinking a lot of the swamp water, and this on a very empty belly, did, I believe, cause some of the poisoning. Anyway it was most painful, and I just didn't care if a herd of elephants and tigers came along. It has always been a source of wonder to me, just how I didn't catch a chill. I shivered all night.

Next morning I felt more like remaining on the so-called bed and peacefully passing away. It took a lot of getting going. Only a few yards at a time, to begin with, then a rest - and an attack of retching - then on again. Improved after a while though, but I realised it was hopeless and useless to attempt to get through the jungle. I guessed that since the morning before, despite my efforts at speed, I had only made about 3/4 mile progress. So I turned back and headed for the river. I frequently lost balance when clambering over logs or pulling a foot out of mud, or tripping over a creeper - and fell full length. I had a method of strength saving when this happened. Simply lay there and went to sleep for a few minutes. Awoke, had a good "retch", and continued. Next difficult part was to approach the river. No easy job. The undergrowth was terrifically dense and very swampy. Had to fairly dig my way through, and it got deeper all the time, until I was soon out of my depth in water and still in dense undergrowth!

Finally the stream was reached, and after several recco's for Charlie the croc, I pushed off and swam frantically for the other side. The current was strong and it completely exhausted me. However, no crocs. That was the main thing, so I swam out into midstream and just relaxed on the May West', and was swept along at a fairly rapid speed. It was very refreshing in the cold water and the scenery was really beautiful. In narrow parts the trees would meet overhead. Well, I kept going like this all day. My flesh had gone crinkly, like a washer-woman's hands, long before I started swimming, but now it was worse. It didn't look like flesh at all, and whenever the current swept me into the reeds, and I caught hold of anything, it would cut the flesh quite deeply - and yet not cause it to bleed.

Rather a funny incident happened. Some apes came crashing along the treetops, out of sight, and barking their harsh static bark, just like a croc's. I thought they were crashing through the reeds to get at me. Did I panic? The current was strong here and it took me about 5 minutes to make the opposite bank. Had they been crocs they could have eaten me twice in that time.

Well, towards sunset I became very anxious again. Had not come across the slightest clearing out onto which I could sleep the night. Then, just when I'd given up hope, nearly dark, and had to decide to swim all night, a clearing came into view, and with a crude little pier, AND ANOTHER LITTLE NATIVE HUT! I climbed up - didn't even bother to wring out socks, and went to sleep.

Rained all night and I shivered like blazes. Had refrained from drinking more than an occasional mouthful of water all that day. Just gargled. But could resist it no longer, and before climbing into hut, I had a solid drink. The result was, hadn't been asleep long before the acid pains, which had been worrying all day, set-in in earnest. They were nearly unbearable. Can remember rolling over from one side of the hut to the other yelling out and moaning - and in general behaving as though I was in the Sergeant's Mess. This kept up well into the early hours, when I dozed off.

With daylight I found that the clearing was quite big - 2 or 3 acres - and that there was a large atap building in the centre of quite orderly laid out fields of some sort. I was tickled pink. If I couldn't get some food here, I'd suck eggs. The building proved to be quite an industrious and orderly looking brick kiln - stacks of new tiles, etc. about the place and big bake ovens. First thing caught the eye, on entering, was about a dozen empty tins of tomato soup!! I licked the old chops. There were 2 small rooms. One apparently for the boss, with a few bills etc. - some in Chinese - some in English - and a clay cooking place in the corner with all sorts of filthy dirty bottles containing the most horrible smelling sauces and spices imaginable. Hungry as I was the sight of 'em made me sick. Also shell eggs and Chinese rice dishes, etc. about the place. The other room was apparently for the women labourers and was very similar, containing the same cooking utensils, etc. as the other. I searched every nook and corner and emptied every bottle - and not one dammed bite of food did I find. Then I searched the garden and found some fruit - green, sour, dry, inedible. Then some tiny green bananas. Also green, horribly dry, and sour, and simply could NOT be eaten. Naturally I was disappointed with life. Then I decided to have a good scout around. Set out along a path and after about 1/2 a mile came to a rubber plantation, on the side of a hill. To climb the hill was no easy task. I was as weak as a kitten, puffed and sweated like a bullock, and was still retching every few minutes. On top of the hill I found several huts with machinery, etc. for preparing the crude rubber, also a big sleeping hut. I opened the door and had the wits frightened out of me BY A LONE FOWL! Well, I crept up to her, trying to sooth the old girl with kindly words, steadied the revolver on a post and fired 2 careful shots. And missed both times! The result was chookie got out of a hole in the wall and fled for her life. Did I curse? I wept and wept and wept.

There were lots of cooking utensils and food vessels of all kinds. Apparently just left as they were, after a meal. Again I went through everything and found about 2 handfuls of rice in the bottom of a big earthenware jar. This I took and returned to the river. Here I did my best to soak and eat the rice. I had great pain in swallowing. It was similar to eating shell grit only not as tasty. Anyway, I only got about a spoonful down, when the good old pains returned and I regret to say I lost it all. I should have told you before, I had discovered a raft at the pier. It was a very welcome find. So I set out on it. The big large pole was a bit beyond my strength, so I was quite pleased when it stuck in the mud and I lost it, though it was handy for pushing off trees, etc. After that, whenever the raft was heading for the trees or marshes, I'd go overboard, swim, and tug it out into the current. After which I'd usually crawl back on and go to sleep for a few minutes. This raft only consisted of a few heavy logs tied together in the form of a square with a couple of cross members, and by no means kept me out of the water, although it kept me up and did its job jolly well.

I had seen a few water snakes at odd times, some of them fairly big, too. But at one stage I was flat out on my back, half asleep, and not worrying where the raft went. I looked up and there was a huge snake curled around an overhanging bough. I believe I could have touched it with my hands. It was really a beauty. It's length I won't guess at, but it must have been at LEAST 8 or 9 inches across the middle. It had a small unpleasant head.

Well I sailed along merrily like this all day. Except for one exception. The 2 Jap. 97 dive-bombers came over again. They just went past, and I heard 3 or 4 very rapid and VERY loud ack-ack shots. They sounded only a couple of hundred yards away, so I pulled into the reeds on the side and set out in their direction. I went solidly for about an hour through horrible slimy stinking mud and rotten undergrowth. Everything I touched. Trees, logs, anything at all. Seemed rotten and crumpled at a touch, with nasty spiders and worms, etc. running in all directions. Anyway, I suppose I had covered perhaps 150 - 200 yards when I came on the river again. It apparently twisted right back at this point. Nothing to do but return to Willie the raft.

It was getting on towards sunset again as things were getting really serious, had already decided to keep going all night, when another quite big river met the one I was on. I kept going and soon was delighted to sight another home made pier in the distance. I was nearly on it when a big launch came into sight. It had some 20 or 30 men on it - a cover over the top - and boughs of trees, etc. all over it as camouflage.

I was sure. Absolutely positive that they were Japs. They looked so grim and sinister. Even so, they were a very welcome sight. They saw me and immediately rifle bolts rattled and I began to think I was a gonner. I waved to them in a purely innocent defenceless, friendly manner. They came closer. "Who are you - British?". I called, "No. Bloody Aussie".

It turned out to be the last A.I.F. outpost on the Mersing River. Also they informed me that the banks of the river, along which I'd come, had been mined. Lucky I didn't touch one.

The road to Mersing, stretching for many miles through the jungle and rubber plantations,
occasionally spanning jungle streams over the white painted bridges.
Sentries manned those bridges in such rain soaked conditions as depicted,
[AWM Copyright ART24487.  Painted by Murray Griffin in Changi POW Camp.]

The Aussies were wonderful. Couldn't do too much for me. Went by launch to an outpost. There I got rid of my wet clothes and sat in front of a roaring cook house fire. Afraid I went to the pack after I was rescued. Had all I could do to stop from howling like a kid. Think it was such a relief. From there, I was carried over a muddy path and taken by lorry to their R.A.P. (a tiny dug out hospital). Here we were bombed by the Japs. One landed pretty close too.

I'll never forget the feeling as I lay on a comfortable stretcher, tucked in with blankets - everything lovely. Seemed too good to be true. Here I was given some medicine to relieve these pains, and some cocoa, and was dispatched per ambulance to their front line sick headquarters, where I again was treated wonderfully and was given injections to relieve the pain. Met a very decent doctor. Captain Mills, Sydney man. He took a great interest in my story and asked me to be sure and drop him a line later. The intelligence officers took a like interest. Especially in the tracks in the jungle. I gave my revolver to Captain Mills as he had none. From here by ambulance, with other casualties to Kota Tinggi. This place was bombed the next day also. It seemed I still had a chance of getting the lot! Here I was again treated like a long lost child. The cook came and sat by my bed for an hour or so at a time. Very disturbed because I couldn't eat any of the very appetising and specially prepared dishes he put in front of me.

Had two days here, and was moved down to the Alexandria hospital in Johore Bharu. 80 odd ambulances were in the convoy, all Aussie casualties, and we travelled at night. It was a huge procession as can be imagined. Spent about a week at Alexandria. They were terribly crowded and rushed. Doctors worked 48 hours straight when the convoy arrived. I had got steadily worse, and couldn't touch food without terrible pains. Not that I wasn't hungry. I was. On top of this the food was ordinary RATION food. All tinned, and mostly cold. What I wanted was something nice and tasty. What I got was cold salmon, cold bully beef, or cold ham. Managed to get iced milk and cocoa etc. down though.

From here, the entire hospital was evacuated - with most disorder. And lack of any organisation at all - to a school 1/2 mile away from ............ aerodrome!!! What a place for a hospital! The drome was bombed time and time again. The usual 27 bombers at high altitudes. We could even see the bombs as they fell. Windows were broken and the hospital - several thousand cases - mostly fever - would rock and shudder.

Soon recovered myself here. Then one day our squadron C.O. and Adjutant came along and rescued me. They also told me the glad tidings. 21 Squadron was to return home to Australia! Well, we embarked on a tiny boat at Singapore and had the most ghastly experience of being bombed by a large formation whilst on board. Never felt more like a rat in a hole in my life. Boats either side were hit, oil supplies set alight and in general, it made a mess of the wharves.

From there we went to Palembang in Sumatra, where we stayed several days and finally just got out as the Japs came in. Then to Batavia by boat and train, where we again waited several days on shipping.

And now I'm 6 days off Australia in a tiny cargo tramp in the slowest convoy that ever put to sea. Only 4 ships and one of them a lame destroyer, being towed. With one cruiser as escort.

And that... is that. And what's more, if anyone wades through all this, they're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.


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