His­toric ac­counts of hor­ror

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - REG. A. WAT­SON

STUB­BORN BUG­GERS: THE SUR­VIVORS OF THE IN­FA­MOUS POW GAOL THAT MADE CHANGI LOOK LIKE HEAVEN By Tim Bow­den Allen & Un­win RRP: $ 29.99

TIM Bow­den is a well- known Tas­ma­nian au­thor and com­men­ta­tor. His lat­est book, Stub­born Bug­gers, deals with a lit­tle- known gaol, op­er­ated by the Ja­panese dur­ing the war, named Ou­tram Road.

This prison was un­der the con­trol of the feared and bru­tal Kem­peitai, which was like the Ger­man Gestapo but worse.

Bow­den started his jour­ney about 30 years ago when he met Chris Nielsen, who had been a pris­oner in Ou­tram Road Gaol.

“This was a place of pun­ish­ment and death, where ex­e­cu­tions by be­head­ing ( and cru­ci­fix­ion), hang­ing or shoot­ing took place con­tin­u­ously be­tween 1942 and 1945,” he said.

There have been many books on the Aus­tralian ex­pe­ri­ence as POWs un­der the Ja­panese, many of them per­sonal tes­ti­monies and self- pub­lished. It is hard to un­der­stand the cru­elty by the Ja­panese. There have been ex­pla­na­tions, but I still do not un­der­stand it.

Bow­den’s book deals with those who ex­pe­ri­enced such hor­ror. What struck me was the ab­so­lute po­etry as recorded by those who suf­fered, as re­lated by Bow­den.

While many Aus­tralians were hand­cuffed to await their Ja­panese guards, one recorded: “Soon we were caught up, spell­bound, as we sat and watched the last act of the play of day. A sym­phony of clouds, land and sea, in crescendo. Or­ches­trated shafts of colour speared up and down ev­ery which way.”

Ou­tram was where pris­on­ers had to en­dure soli­tary con­fine­ment, which was ex­tremely reg­i­men­tal and any de­vi­a­tion from what was re­quired meant a thor­ough beat­ing and a re­stric­tion of the al­ready mea­gre ra­tions. Dis­ease and help­less­ness be­came com­mon. Yet there was one Ja­panese guard who was ap­palled with what was hap­pen­ing.

Amer­i­can- born Hank the Yank had the un­for­tu­nate ex­pe­ri­ence while vis­it­ing Ja­pan to be re­cruited into its army, much to his hor­ror.

Dis­eases were epi­demic. Not only beri- beri, but the scaly skin dis­ease pel­la­gra started to ap­pear. It in­flicted great pain, mis­ery and per­sonal degra­da­tion, even death.

One in­mate, John Wyett ( a Tas­ma­nian), found he went com­pletely blind. His vi­sion re­turned only to find he was cov­ered with scaly skin “very much like the scales of the fish”.

“From them oozed a clear, yel­low and sticky fluid which soaked my shorts and, when dry, stiff­ened them so hard I could stand them up­right on the floor,” he said.

Many died and those who en­dured such in­suf­fer­able hor­rors were lib­er­ated in Au­gust 1945 in ap­palling con­di­tions – they were treated as well as pos­si­ble be­fore nurses came.

“We were sit­ting in a long 150- yard hut on bam­boo slats,” the book reads. “These two nurses walked right through the hut and spoke to ev­ery man there and I don’t think one per­son replied. It was ab­so­lutely lovely to see these beau­ti­ful women. They were clean and fresh, they had lovely cheeks and their hair was nice and we just sat and looked at them.”

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that even with the hate and de­sire for vengeance, most when re­leased just wanted to get home and leave the whole nightmare be­hind.

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