Tuesday, 29 December 2009

…. 5 September 1942

A day of days!  This morning out from 10 to 11 am.  We were officially informed that the Nips have departed for good and that we shall henceforth be the responsibility of the Director and ordinary prison staff.  It is too difficult to realise yet fully what this means, the tremendous relief from the strain under which we have lived for the past 5 months almost, to appreciate the fact that we can now live more or less normally and subject only to well defined restrictions.  I have gone down on my knees today.  Exchanged ‘The Alain Family’ yesterday for ‘Van Java’s Wegen’ by J E Jasper and that today for ‘Pension Vink’ by F de Sinclair.  Mingail’s baby is 2 years old today.  His own birthday was on 25 August and his wife’s on 27 July.


One of the first things I did when I was once settled in my bungalow was to purchase some hens.  Being town bred this acquisition had great attraction for me and I was so impatient to see chickens hatching out that a few times a day I would left up the brooding hens from their nests to see if there was anything doing under them.  After a few days of such inspection I became aware of an uncomfortable crawling sort of itch all over my body and by dint of careful scrutiny of my anatomy discovered that I was simply crawling with minute vermin known as hen lice.  I do not know if fowls at home are subject to this particular pest but I can answer with conviction for those of Java.  Needless to say, after this experience I was content to let nature take her course without further interference on my part and in due course had as many chickens as I could wish for, to my great pleasure and satisfaction.  I have heard it said that a hen can be mesmerized by having its head inclined to a chalk line on the ground but have never tried this or seen it done.  I can however vouch for the fact that if you take a chicken in your hands and turn it over quickly so that it lies on its back on the palm of one hand it will nine times out of ten stay in that position until you choose to put it on its feet again.  Later on I increased my fowl possession by the addition of some ‘entoks’ which, I believe, are a cross between ducks and geese.  They are good eating.  Their eggs, also good, are, however, sterile.  Entoks I should think, are the mules of the poultry world.  I man mention that within less then a year my entire poultry yard was wiped out in the course of a few days by an epidemic of chicken cholera which swept with the rapidity of a forest fire through the district.  I do not know sufficient about poultry at home to be able to tell whether or not such a disease is there prevalent, but in Java at any rate it is so common as to render any attempt at chicken farming a rather precarious undertaking.  The course of the disease is rapid with about 24 hours only between infection and death.  In my own stock, between 30 t0 40 hens died in a single night.  The cholera strikes suddenly, the symptoms being inability to swallow and standing hunched up with the eyes partly or even completely closed.  I have known a hen remain in the condition for days and die eventually of sheer starvation but this is not common.  As I have said, death usually supervenes within 24 hours.


An issue of 3 packets of the ‘A’ cigarettes this afternoon.  The ‘A’ which had evidently been pasted on to the packet, on being removed reveals a ‘V’.  The cigs appear to be of Chinese manufacture and cost 6 cents per packet – Virginia and quite good.

Monday, 14 December 2009

31 August 1942

Only one outing from 9.45 to 11 am.  Walk around and one ball game.  Some more people seem to have arrived and that is probably why no outing this afternoon, also no bath but I have just had a wash down with my flesh gloves so am not worrying very much.  Mingail got a parcel yesterday and I have profited there from to the extent of an orange, a bar of chocolate, three small biscuits, tow pieces of pisang saleh (banana) and 5 Mascot ‘Royal’ cigarettes.


It was during the period too that I was guilty of a very foolish and thoughtless action which had, however, its amusing side.  It was at the Chinese New Year which the Chinese celebrate with a seemingly endless stock of fireworks which they let off for days on end, culminating in one deafening mass explosion at the actual dawning of the new year.  Fenton and I, being what we were at that time, could not let this opportunity for further pranks pass and accordingly we purchased a stock of squibs large and small with which we proceeded to amuse ourselves.  In an effort to very the explosive effects of the large bombs we let some off under an inverted empty petrol tin and were gratified by seeing the tin rise about three or four feet into the air with the blast.  After a few times I said to Fenton, ‘I wonder what would happen if you were to sit on the tin?’ Fenton replied, ‘Try it and see.’  So in my weak mindedness I lit the fuse of the large squib, clapped the tin over it and sat down – but  not for long.  Even the memory of the subsequent proceedings causes me to squirm as I sit on my stool.  A few seconds later I was hopping around with my hands clapped to my posterior feeling as if I had been kicked by a horse, while Fenton was rolling on the ground in a fit of helpless laughter.  This instance reminds me of another foolish action of mine many years ago when I was about 15.  I had cycled into the country on Saturday afternoon to visit the Primrose family who were spending their summer holidays at a farm some miles from Aberdeen.  The son, Norman, and myself started amusing ourselves somersaulting over a heap of hay in the farmyard,  We did this by running at the heap and just in front of it putting our hands on the ground and throwing ourselves head over heels so tha we landed on our feet on the far side.  At length, encouraged by our prowess I suggested throwing ourselves over without using our hands and agreed to be the first to try the experiment.  So I ran towards the heap, pushed my head into the hay on the rear side and over I went.  My momentum was such, however, that when I landed on the other side my head kept on travelling and came down on my knees with such a whack that I was almost knocked unconscious.  My nose suffered most because the bridge of that organ came in violent contact with one bony knee.  Not only did my nose bleed freely but the blow raised a bump on my nose which, even after all these years, is still visible.


1 September 1942

Out today from 9.45 to 11 am and 3 to 4 pm.  shave with own razor in cell.  In the past 3 days I have exchanged ‘Woodstock’ for ‘A Scarlett Sin’ by A & C Askew, that for ‘Caucasion Tales’ in Dutch by Lee Tolstoi and that again for ‘Fromont Junior and Risler Senior’ by Alphonse Daudet.


2 September 1942

Fatty is back.  Out from 4.15 to 5.30 pm.  Two ball games.  Exchanged ‘Fromont’ for ‘Freely Forgiven’ by J B Horton & Kate Drew, which without reading have exchanged with Jack Husband for ‘The Alain Family’ by Alphone Karr.


3 September 1942

Out from 4.30 to 6.15 pm.  Run round, jerks.  Races of 100, 200, 400, 1000 metres.  Prize giving tomorrow.


4 September 1942

This was the 5th day of another reign of terror, hence the little writing done.  Out today from 10.45 to 11.30 am prize giving and jerks.  Less than half an hour later out again for inspection by big bug who together with all other jays took salute.  The BB’s informed us this afternoon that all had departed.  Very strange.

30 August 1942

No outing this morning probably on account of the ground being wet as a result of heavy rain overnight.  Out for a walk from 2 to 3.20 pm.  One ball game.  Saw Str.  Excellent Sunday supper again this afternoon.  Stewed potatoes and vegetables with a piece of meat.


From the time of my arrival on the Estate I had talked freely regarding the fact that I had become engaged before leaving home and that it was my intention to let my fiancee join me as soon as I had got together sufficient money for her passage.  The manager was going home on leave at the beginning of 1928 and proposed that Miss Simpson should travel with them on their return.  Fenton suggested that the idea at the back of FV’s mind was to procure gratis the services of somebody to help with the children.  He was probably correct in his surmise but the plan was very attractive to me as it was definitely preferable for the young lady to make the long journey in the company of the FV family than to travel such a long distance alone.  The matter was thus arranged accordingly and the FV family had already been in Europe for some time when the blow fell.  I cannot do better than to quote the correspondence which passed between the parties concerned, commencing with the letter which I received from my prospective father in law.  (The correspondence referred to will be inserted here when, if ever, opportunity offers.*)

So, as Robbie Burns says, ‘the best laid schemes a’mice and men gang aft agley’, but how often are we capable of appreciating the providence which seems at the time, to have dealt us a blow from which we shall never recover.  With now more than eight of the happiest years of my life behind me I can implicitly believe that whom the gods love, they chastise.  I can wish my former fiancée no better fate than to have had as much happiness in her second choice as I have experienced in mine.  While FV was on leave, Fenton was Acting Manager and acquitted himself in that capacity exceptionally well.  I must admit, however, after the office was closed at 5 o’clock, he and I used to fly kites, just like a couple of small boys, and to defy any semblance of authority by flying them right in front of the big house.  I am ashamed when I recall my annoyance the first time Fenton cut my kite loose in mid air having previously surreptitiously treated the string of his own with a preparation of powered glass.  Kite flying is a favourite pastime with the natives but I really do now know what they thought when they saw the manager and bookkeeper indulging in this, for us under the circumstances, high undignified amusement.  But I am afraid we enjoyed ourselves too much to worry about that.



* The correspondence disappeared during the Japanese occupation.

Monday, 16 November 2009

29 August 1942

Out twice today from 9.15 to 10.30am  for walk around and again from 4.10 to 4.45 pm walk and ball game.  Some more people have arrived.  Fighting Mieck included.  No extra food after today, I am informed.


The manufacture of Sole Crepe is a special operation.  Sole Crepe, as the name implies, is the rubber used for the soles of tennis shoes etc.  It is possible that, since my time on Langen, manufacturing methods have changed.  On Langen strips of ordinary Crepe were built up one on top of the other, on tables specially designed for the purpose, until the required thickness was attained.

The strips, or laminations to give the technical name, were caused to adhere to each other by forceful slappings of the open hands applied to each strip as it was stretched out on the table.  It should be explained that even pressing two pieces of Crepe together is sufficient  to cause them to adhere strongly to each other.  By beating with the open hands, the strips became, as it were, welded together into one thick sheet.  The necessary laminations having been thus stuck together, this thick sheet was then passed through a pair of heavy rollers where the intense pressure completed the operation of producing Sole Crepe ready for use.  Sole Crepe was manufactured in thickness of 1/8, 3/16 or 1/4 inch and experience had taught the exact number of laminations to be slapped together in order to produce the required thickness when milled.  As an example of the strength of the Langen product, I may mention that in 1927 I had made for me a pair of sandals soled with Sole Crepe made under my supervision and these sandals I threw away only a few months ago and only then because the lether had at last given way.  In spite of my having worn the sandals regularly every day for 15 years, the rubber soles showed only moderate signs of wear.  One of the difficulties connected with manufacture was a water shortage during the dry season.  Ordinarily, water from the Tjutandoei river was pumped along a pipeline to a deep concrete reservoir in front of the factory.  This water was then pumped up into a water tank situated on a skeleton tower about 60 feet from the ground thus ensuing by gravity the pressure required to supply the faucets in the milling batteries and the many other points throughout the building.  During very dry seasons, however, the river fell so low that the inlet of our pipeline was left high and dry some feet above the stream.  We always had the reservoir to fall back upon but that supply was, of course, not inexhaustible so that a continued drought could have very seriously interfered with the manufacture.  For many years, therefore, experimental boring was carried out in the hope of striking a subterranean source of supply but without success until, in spite of repeated failures in the immediate vicinity, the manager with characteristic pigheadedness insisted on the engineer sinking a shaft just between the reservoir and the factory building.  Water was found, a pump rigged up and the precious element poured forth in a continuous stream.  I translated a glowing report to the company on the success which had at last crowned FV’s efforts.  It was only after the report had been dispatched that it was observed that, when the shaft pump was in action for any length of time, the water level in the reservoir fell and continued to fall the longer pumping went on.  Alas for FV’s hopes and his glowing report.  It was only too evident that the concrete basin of the reservoir had sprung a leak and that the supposedly tapped subterranean stream was nothing less than the seepage from that source.  It took, however, some three months of repeated pumping and observation to convince FV of the fact.

Friday, 6 November 2009

28 August 1942

Last night just before turning in composed a melody for a Cavalier ballad quoted in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Woodstock’, chapter 20 titled ‘Glee for King Charles’.  This is the second song I have made since coming here.  The first one, which I completed about a month ago is a to a little poem called,’My Lady verily awaited me’ by Austin Dobson and quoted in F Amtey’s novel, The Pariah.  Many more people arrived overnight, apparently mostly young lads.  Out for a walk round 9.30 to 10.45 am.  Out again from 3 to 4.30 pm.  Walk and one ball game.  My rib is still painful on getting up in the morning.


My appointment was specified in the contract as that of book keeper to the Estate but it was stipulated that the manager could make use of me in any other capacity such as necessity demanded.  One point I omitted to mention in connection with my interview in London was Mitchell Thom’s reply to a rash query of mine as to the working hours on the Estate.  He just fixed me with his eye and replied coldly ‘twenty four hours a day and seven days a week!’ This was a slight exaggeration because we did go to sleep overnight.  However, it was the company’s intention that young men like myself should be trained in every branch of Estate work with a view to forming a reserve of future managers from those who displayed the required ability during the first five years.  A book keeper’s duties were not at all a full time job, so after a month or two I was given the whole manufacturing process from the reception of the liquid latex to the dispatch of the finished article and it was quite a mouthful for me to chew, considering that I had never before occupied a position of authority.  Besides I found myself all at once with almost 150 people under me and with all the power and responsibility pertaining to such a charge.  One department especially used to reduce me to a state not very far from blue funk.  This was the Sole Crepe room where between 50 to 60 girls and women were employed and I had to screw up my courage every time I entered there in order to be able to withstand the glances from a battery of over a hundred eyes and the smiles and soft spoken comments of the one to the other of the damsels there assembled.  It was most uncomfortable, the more so as I did not yet understand their languages and was therefore uncertain as to whether their observations were complimentary to myself or otherwise.  But one gets used to anything in time (even imprisonment) and it was not very long before I had a complete grasp of all the necessary details of manufacture and packing, I will endeavour to describe briefly what goes on inside an Estate rubber factory.  When the latex (literally the milk of the rubber tree) arrives in the factory it is received into large vats or tanks for the preparation of what is known as Crepe Rubber or into small rectangular basins in preparing Smoked Sheet Rubber.  Whether Crepe or Smoked Sheet is to be produced, the first equipment is to cause the latex to coagulate or bind together like, say, a corn flour pudding, by the addition of formic acid.  After being allowed to stand for two hours or so the mass is sufficiently congealed to be handled as required.  For making Crepe the coagulated latex is passed through a battery of rollers in lumps, starting with rough and grooved and ending with smooth rollers, eventually producing a strip of wet rubber, light yellow in colour, and from 8 to 10 inches broad.  This strip, which could be, if required, continued to any length, is cut off in lengths of about 10 feet to allow of their being hung up to dry on racks in the drying house.  The drying house is just a big shed containing four or five tiers of wooden rails about 5 feet from the ground and between each tier, some 8 inches apart and extending the whole breadth of the interior with the exception of a narrow passage down each side.  The Crepe strips are hung over these rails and left to dry, drying being complete within 5 to 8 days, depending on the humidity of the air.  In very wet weather, the drying process can be assisted by introducing a current of hot air into the shed by means of a special apparatus.  When the Crepe is dry it is removed from the racks, folded and packed in the regulation veneer chests for export of rubber.  Smoked Sheets being with coagulated cakes contained in the small rectangular basins which measure approximately 24 by 12 inches.  The flabby slab from each basin has these measurements and is, before milling, about 2 inches, thick and pure white.  This slab is passed through a battery of four graded rollers, ultimately emerging as a sheet of wet rubber, still opaque white, measuring 36 by 24 inches and about 1/8” thick.  These sheets are then hung to dry and cure in what is known as the Smokehouse.  Simply described the Smokehouse consists of a row of rooms fitted with racks as in the Crepe Drying Shed.  These rooms are situated on the first floor of the building, the ground floor containing large drums, usually converted oil drums, in which wooden logs are kept smoldering to produce both heat and smoke.  Each room has its corresponding drum and the heat and smoke rise through interstices between the planks forming the floor.  Within 7 to 10 days, depending on the weather, the sheet are dry and smoked to a golden brown and are semi transparent.  They are then removed from the racks and packed in veneer cases as is the Crepe.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

27 August 1942

Out from 9.15 to 10.45 am.  Walk around and one ball game.  Issued with 2  packets of 20 ‘Mascot’ cigarettes.  I still have 3 Capstans left and 2 squares of toffee.  Rumoured that we are to have a big match this afternoon between our bunch and the convicts.


I must admit that my first impressions of the Dutch were not very favourable as it seemed to me that all reported meanness attributed to the Scot was as naught compared with that of the natives of Holland, so much so indeed that in a letter home I misquoted a proverb to the effect of ‘cast your whole bread upon Dutch waters and it will return to you a half loaf’.  That this opinion was not altogether unjustified, let the following experience prove.  As I have already stated, I arrived on Langen towards the end of November and as Christmas and New Year approached, I felt naturally very homesick at the prospect of being so far from home and among strangers in a strange land during that, in all former years, so happy and festive season.  It was therefore to my great joy and satisfaction that I was informed that there would be a Christmas party at the Big House and to which the whole staff was to be invited.  And not only a party by a Christmas tree as well.  My spirits soared at the prospect.  The manager’s wife asked me one day what I should like  off the Christmas tree.  Fenton suggested half a dozen pillow cases as I had forgotten to include these very necessary articles in my outfit.  I considered not only Fenton’s suggestion but also what I took to be the Dutch way of arranging Christmas presents as extremely practical indeed.  Accordingly I acquainted Mrs F V  with my desire and got my first shock when she intimated, ‘You understand, you pay for the present yourself – only it is rather nice to get it off the tree.’  Anyhow, by Christmas Eve I had somewhat recovered and became, although still puzzled, somewhat reconciled to the strange Dutch custom.  We duly forgathered at 8 pm on the night on the spacious open verandah of the Manager’s house where on arriving we sat down in a large circle, radiating from the decorated Christmas tree which stood in one corner.  At 2 am we were still in the same position and during the six hours there had been, if I am not mistaken, not more than two rounds of drinks.  The Christmas tree was hung with many parcels, and many more lay on the ground round about it.  I learned later that the feast of St Nicholas, which is the children’s feast on the 5th December, had on the occasion, probably with a view to economy I should imagine, been combined with the Christmas festival.  St Nicholas is the counterpart of our Santa Claus but it is honoured by the Dutch, and probably by other continental countries as well, with a special feast day on the 5th December each year when, just as Santa Claus does with us on Christmas Eve, he bring presents to the children.  St Nicholas is always accompanied by a black faced attendant, known as Black Peter, who carries a birch in one hand and a large sack over his shoulder.  Black Peter is an object of much apprehension to the very young as it is his ascribed duty to wield the birch and even to bear away in the sack any reported bad boy or girl who is so refractory as not to promise St Nicholas to mend his or her ways in the future.  I have attended many St Nicholas parties arranged for the children of members of the Concordia Club in Bandung where the good Saint and Black Peter were wont to appear in person and it was a delightful sight to see a few hundred mites in their party best regarding St Nicholas and Black Peter with eyes big and round with mingled awe and apprehension.  This feast, in the home particularly, provides an opportunity for members of the family to play tricks on each other in the form of fake parcels purporting to contain something of actual value but yielding, when opened, some trifle or other, together with a screed of poetry, ridiculing or poking individual fun at one or other characteristic of the recipient.  On this particular night, St Nicolas did not, of course, appear but the parcels were legion.  The manager had four children – there were no other on the Estate at that time – and, apart from real presents (such as mine) the other thousand and one parcels had reference only to the FV family.  The accompanying poems were in some cases pages in length and what with the reading of these and the opening of parcels themselves, which were prepared mostly in Chinese puzzle fashion, each parcel revealing a small one when opened and so on, six solid hours were spent in this (to me, at any rate) highly unedifying amusement.  I might have enjoyed the proceedings more had I understood Dutch, but I doubt it.  At 2 am we adjourned to the dining room where we were regaled with a very indifferent dinner accompanied by red and white wines – one bottle of each only.  I feel sure, I was really so sleepy by this time that to eat anything at all cost quite an effort and the rest of the company could have been in no better state.  I will not be  so uncharitable as to suggest that the serving of the meal was timed to this end, but it is a fact that what was not eaten on that occasion was quite sufficient to provide meals in the manager’s house for a few days after.  However, let it pass and haste on to the climax which provided me with a shock compared with which the previous one was but a slight start of surprise.  This was given me at the beginning of January in the form of a debit note for 7.60 guilders, being my share of the Christmas dinner, yes, even unto the Christmas tree itself and the decoration thereof.  I am glad to record that my first impressions of the Dutch, thanks to this experience, have for many years now been utterly removed but it will be appreciated that from such a wound my recovery was slow and followed a long period of convalescence.


Rumour was correct.  Out from 1.30 to 2.45 pm to witness a handball match between us and the convicts.  We got a bad beating 13-8 being the final score.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

26 August 1942

The terms of my contract, which I do not think I have yet enumerated were as follows:  Commencing salary 250 guilders per month rising by annual increments of 25 to 350 per month in the fifth year.  Six months European furlough on full salary at the expiry of 5 years service, passage, 2nd class, free to Europe and back again to Java in the event of the contract being renewed for a further period of 5 years.  Free house, fire and light.  Free medical attendance (excluding dental treatment and illness caused by misconduct), free Personal Tax and an allowance of 12 guilders per month for a garden coolie.  Also an allowance of 40 guilders and four days local leave every 3 months.  The most important item, however, was the bonus to which every employee was entitled and which was based on the profits made by the Company in the course of a year.  In the golden days of planting bonuses were often of such proportions as to ensure an employee being in a position to retire for life at the end of his first contract.  These days had gone for ever by 1926 but there were still reasonable prospects of being able to double one’s nominal salary.  Alas for my expectations.  Rubber began to slump in 1927 and by 1931 the bottom had fallen out of the market altogether.  My first year’s bonus was 760 guilders, and the next year’s 1200, and for the next three, what will all allowances cancelled and salary cut, I might claim that the company paid themselves back for the bonuses, I had received.  This wonderful contract, for all its lovely seals and flourishing signatures, although it protected the company against my leaving their service within the 5 year on pain of the payment of £100 plus so called ascertained damages, was, as far as my rights were concerned, only so much waste paper when the company’s results began to evidence themselves in the red figures.  In my fifth year, I was much worse off than when I started, receiving only 240 guilders a month and no extras whatever except hours, fire and light.  The Personal Tax I have mentioned is a Poll, or Head Tax imposed by the Dutch authorities in addition to usual Income Tax and is based on house rent and the possession of motorcars, cycles and horses.  The four days leave every 3 months were according to the contract, to be spent at one or other resort in the mountains for health’s sake but on occasion I have been  9 months at a stretch at Langen without any such break and sometimes simply because it did not suit the convenience of the manager, Fits Verploegh who was a big built, red faced  man of about 37 who has been planting since his 18th year.  He had an air of great authority and owed his position, I suspect to this more than to actual ability.  Although there was not a soul on Langen, who by reason of his position could dispute his title as manager, he always insisted in signing himself on all correspondence and reports as ‘Head Manager’. His policy was to keep his assistants as far as was possible from adding to their planting knowledge anything more than he himself chose to impart to them in somewhat patronising fashion.  He even went as far in this matter as to take great pains to prevent the circulation of any agricultural periodical which might reach him in his official capacity.  Practically every other manager I have known was insisted on his employees reading such papers in order that they might keep abreast of the latest methods and up to date as to experiments being carried out in their particular field.  Fitz Verploegh had an efficient secret service system recruited from the native overseers on every Division, by means of which, he kept himself informed of the state of work and of everything else on the Estate without being under the necessity of exerting himself in any way whatsoever.  I have known him not to stir from his house for a whole month on end and yet, to my amazement, at the end of that period, to send me his monthly report of sometimes 12 foolscap pages to translate and type and that report consisting of a wealth of detail which one would have sworn was impossible except by personal observation and inspection.  His spying proclivities extended on occasion even to pirate correspondence and quite frequently Fenton and I, at least, have had our letters from home passed on to us days after they arrived on the Estate and displaying obvious sings of having been tampered with.  This was on account of the fact that the Estate mail was fetched from Banjdar, the nearest village and post office, every day by a native postman specially employed for that purpose.  Letters etc were collected by an agent in Bandjar and locked in a post box carried by the postman and the duplicate key of which was held by the manager.  So all letters, no matter to whom addressed, were first delivered to the Big House and thereafter, often very much at leisure, further distribution took place.  We knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that our letters were held up at the Big House from the date stamp of Bandjar post office.  While efforts were being made to form a Planters Union, we had ample proof that all letters and literature sent to each assistant individually on Langen by that body were suppressed.  It was a long established rule on Langen that each assistant should have one Sunday free every two weeks but this privilege was on most occasions torpedoed by the manager, who, making one of his rare appearances, would stroll along to the office resplendent in white ducks and topi on Saturday afternoons when wages were being paid out to the work people and say, ‘Well, gentlemen, what about a spot of hunting tomorrow?’  That meant getting up the next morning at the usual time and walking and running through the jungle from sometimes 7 am to 3 pm, more fatiguing than an ordinary day’s work.  To refuse would have been to bring upon one’s self the managerial displeasure and only one who has actually been employed on an Estate can appreciate the manifold ways and means which can be employed in the expression of that sentiment.  Fitz Verploegh has been known to confine an assistant who had offended him within the boundaries of his own Division.  It was an understood thing that even on a free Sunday we were not supposed to go beyond the Estate boundaries without first obtaining his august permission.  He was a perfect survival of the type, formerly very common, but fortunately even then almost extinct, which in the early days of planting considered itself absolute monarch of all it surveyed and whose power stopped not very far short of life and death over those under it.


Out from 2.45 to 4.30 pm.  No run or jerks.  One ballgame.  New command specs.   Rutherford Greeuw arrived.  Perry day before yesterday.  Cell inspection and search after lunch today, looking for razors and other sharp objects apparently.  My searches greatly taken up with Ineke’s photo on my table.  Took it up and pressed it against my mouth on leaving, smiling broadly.  Search very perfunctory – just looked into cupboard and did not even open suitcase – majority not so lucky.

Friday, 9 October 2009

25 August 1942

The Tjitandu was a troublesome river during the rainy season, often causing serious floods in its lower reaches, where Langen was situated.  As protection for Langen and other neighbouring low lying Estates an earthen dyke had been thrown up along the south bank for a distance of 9 kilometers but even this precaution was on occasion not proof against the forces of the water and a break in the dyke would result, with serious consequences not only to the gardens  but imagealso to native kampongs and to the railway.   I had only been a week or so on Langen when such a break occurred but fortunately this took place near the east boundary and actual damage to garden was slight.  Much more serious was that in, I believe, the beginning of 1931 when the dyke gave way about the middle of our river boundary.  I was garden assistant on Straits of Java Division at that time and my young garden in the south east corner of the Estate was flooded to a depth of 4 feet of muddy water.  I had to go out with the gang of native labourers to secure the wooden bridges which spanned the big drains crossing the roads at intervals and I floundered up to my arm pits in water from 7 am till noon with snakes of all kinds, which had been driven out of the undergrowth by the encroaching water, swimming literally in dozens past my nose, sometimes uncomfortably close to that organ.  The instinct of self preservation was however too strong upon  them and they were not interested just in a mere man.  Later on, when I walked, or rather swam, along the southern boundary, which was marked off by a high hedge of lamtoro trees, these trees were simply festooned with snakes which had at last found something to hang on to.  On that memorable occasion my favourite dog, Lockie, a dachshund of somewhat doubtful parentage, accompanied me the whole time, swimming like the other which is the natural prey of his breed, with, an occasional helping hand under his chest from myself.  And as luck would have it, on that day he actually found an otter in one of the major drains and a terrible fight ensued in which poor Lockie was more under water than above it.  The other won, that is to say in as much as Lockie eventually decided that on this occasion discretion was the better part of valour and retired from the fight.  The houses on Langen were, for the most part, well and solidly built, high in the roof and with thick brick walls, a construction which ensured their being as cool as was possible under the circumstances.  The heat and humidity were indescribable and I do not exaggerate when I state that for 5 years my body was never dry.  The atmosphere lay on one like a heavy, damp, woolen blanket and it was very seldom, hemmed in as we were by high rubber trees, that we experienced the relief of a breeze.  My first house consisted of four apartments, dining room, sitting room, bedroom and a verandah open on two sides, except for a low balustrade, kitchen, store room, bathroom etc were outbuildings built in a  row and connected with the house itself by means of a roofed over passage which ran from the rear door of the dining room.  it was in this house that a thing, for which I have never been able to offer any natural explanation, occurred.  The servants leaving every evening after dinner, I was always alone in the house from about 8 pm till 5.30 next morning when  my ‘boy’ roused me by knocking on the window of the bedroom.  Last thing at night before going to bed I used to check up on all doors and window fastenings.  One morning, on emerging from the bedroom into the dining room to open the rear door for my ‘boy’, I was amazed to find one of the four chairs placed round the dining table lying flat on its back on the floor, just as if it had been placed carefully in that position.  I well swear that the chair was in normal upright position when I went to bed the night before and that nobody could have entered the house during the night.  Also, I had not been disturbed by any noise.  I should add that the chair as quite intact when examined.  So, what is the explanation?  I was puzzled then and still am.  Servants were soon engaged for me, a house boy, a cook and a garden boy.  My boy was an elderly Javanese named Resodikromo, or Reso for short, and he served me faithfully for my 5 years on Langen.  Cooks and garden boys were more like a procession during that period.  Some cooks were bad, others not so bad, sometimes Soendanese, sometimes Javanese.  How they ever managed to turn out anything eatable at all from the very primitive kitchen and appurtenances thereof is a mystery.  Along half of one wall of the kitchen ran a sort of tunnel of brickwork about 10 inches square, open at one end communicating with a chimney at the other, and with three or four circular openings in the roof of the tunnel on which pots and pans could be set.  Billets of wood were inserted at the open end and, when set alight, the flame was drawn by the draft along the tunnel. The circular hole nearest the the mouth gave, of course, the greatest heat and each successive hole a lesser degree so that cooking in all its stages could be dealt with.  Primitive indeed but immensely practical.  Holes not in use at any time were simply covered with a piece of tin cut to fit the apertures.  There was of course no lack of firewood as diseased trees in the gardens were being continually uprooted and firewood, in the terms of my contract, was free, like the house and garden boy for whose wages an allowance of 12 guilders per month was granted.  We usually paid 8 guilders and so were 4 guilders to the good in that respect.


Out today from 2.40 to 4.30 pm. Run round, ball game and jerks.  This morning got 2 Davros cigarettes from a jay sentry.  Gave one to Mingail, my neighbour, whose birthday it is today, his 33 rd.  The Director personally brought to him a photo of his baby girl, aged 2, but apparently nothing else was, allowed in.  In connection with the cigarettes I got this morning, my neighbours ascribe this to my usual luck.  I protest that it is not so much luck as merely adhering to the maxim that if you don’t ask for a thing it is practically 100% certain that you will get nothing, whereas if you do ask, there is a fifty fifty chance of your getting something, even though it may by only a kick in the pants.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

24 August 1942

However, with what was left, it was possible to purchase such necessaries as a dining table and chairs, sideboard, wash stand etc all second hand  of course.   I also bought half a set of the cheapest plain white crockery.  Fenton then brought ne to one of the hospitals, as I have omitted to mention Graham’s also doing in Batavia, to satisfy the authorities, that I betrayed no symptoms of cholera.  In accordance with regulations and because, I believe, an outbreak had occurred in Singapore while I was there, this examination had to take place on three successive days.  Between Bandung and Langen we had to break our journey the following day at a place called Tasikmalajaimage for the same purpose.  While awaiting the train in Tasikmalaja, we sat in the Club there which was quite deserted except for ourselves and an elderly fat Dutch planter, manager of an estate in the vicinity, who offered us drinks and was scornfully amused at the idea of a Scotsman preferring a sweet soft drink to his native whisky.  We reached Langen Estate in the early afternoon and repaired to Fenton’s house, where, according to custom, I would stay a month in order to become accustomed somewhat to things in general before being left to paddle my own canoe.  As a matter of fact, it was Fenton who left at the end of the month, I remaining in the house, he having been transferred to another part of the Estate.  After lunch, we went to the Estate office where I met Mr Fitz Verploegh, the manager, who after greeting me said, indicating the office, ‘Well, this is your place for the next 5 years.’  The prospect at first sight did not seem encouraging.  The office was a bare looking room about 20 feet square with whitewashed walls, with a battered looking desk in the centre with an equally decrepit chair behind it and one or two tables and chairs against the walls.  In the corner opposite the doorway was a small safe set in a projecting mass of concrete.  This safe, I learned later, had formerly stood against the wall on a strong wooden rest, but one day, the then bookkeeper had closed the door of the safe, which locked automatically, leaving the only key inside.  The only way to right matters was to burn a hole in the back of the safe with an oxyacetylene blow lamp and subsequently the only way to preserve the safe’s usefulness was to embed it in concrete.  It was a brilliant solution because in its present state it afforded a hundred times better security than it had done as a loose steel box.  To give a general idea of Langen Estate I would explain that practically the whole area was reclaimed marshland and as flat as a billiard table.  Drainage of ground water was the major problem and an elaborate system of drains and pumping installations was the result.  The Estate was divided into so called Divisions; an employee residing on and being responsible for each Division.  These Divisions were subdivided into Gardens marked out in square areas.  The rubber trees were planted in straight rows and equally distant from each other. image Between each third row of trees, in both directions, were ditches for leading off water.  These ditches communicated, by way of deeper ditches crossing the garden at intervals, with drains about 6 to 8 feet deep running round the borders.  These again were linked up to so called main drains, which were really miniature canals, and which flowed, albeit sluggishly, into the marshes to the south.  The oldest trees on Langen had been planted in 1905.  A rubber tree comes to maturity and can be safely tapped at 6 years old as a general rule.  There was no road on to or off the Estate as far as the outside world was concerned.  The only communication was by the railway which cut the plantation in two from East to West.  Langen had a miniature station, known as a Halte, at which only the local train stopped, and from the main line a siding ran to the Factory godown (warehouse), where the cases of rubber were stored against despatch.  Java is divided roughly into three parts, known as West Java, Middle Java and East Java.  There is a strong similarity in population to our own country, in that Java harbours two distinct races, the Javanese to the East and the Sudanese to the West.  These two people are as distinct in race on the Scot and the English, but even more so in language, dress and custom.  Roughly speaking, the Sudanese inhabit the West Java and the Javanese Middle and East Java.  Langen was situated where West merges into Middle Java with the result that the labour was a mixture of Sudanese and Javanese, thus occasioning a knowledge of both languages in addition, as was my case, to Dutch and colloquial Malay.  In due course, I spoke six languages every day.  English to the manager because he preferred to speak that language, Dutch to the other assistants, Sudanese to my native overseer, Javenese to the coolies, Malay to the office clerks and Scots to my dogs!  The Halte was situated about the centre of the Estate, the manager’s house and two assistants’ houses forming a triangle with the Big House at the apex, about two hundred yards to the East of the Halte on the North side of the railway and roughly a hundred yards from the track, and the Factory buildings immediately opposite on the other side of, and about 50 yards from the railway, my house was situated at the base of the triangle nearest the Halte.  When I arrived the staff consisted of the manager, Fitz Verploegh whop was Dutch; Fenton of Scottish parentage but brought up in England; Van Der Meulen (from whom my bed was purchased) a Dutchman; Drost, idem; Vacquier, Eurasian; Sator de Rotas (engineer) idem; and Raden Kusumbrata, Soendanese.  Fenton, whose place I was taking as book keeper, was now going on full time garden work with his own division.  Van Der Meulen, Drost, Vacquier and Kusumbrata were all divisional garden assistants.  The divisions were, from east to west, Langkap Lantjar (Drost); Hevea (idem); and Straits of Java (Fenton) south of the railway, and ‘A’ Block (Vacquier); Langen (v/d Meulen) and Tjigaron (Kusumabrata) north of the line.  Langen Estate, as it now is, was really an amalgamation of several small estates in previous years and which had bequeathed their names to the divisions which they had now become.  Seem on a chart, Langen Estate was an irregular rectangle about 5 miles long by 3 broad situated, in its length, between two natural boundaries the Rawah Lahbok marshes to the south and the River Tjitandoei to the north.


Out from 2 to 3 pm only this afternoon.  Library books collected this morning.  New issue this afternoon.  Got ‘Woodstock’ by Sir Walter Scott.  Run round, jerks and only one ball game for veterans today.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

23 August 1942

Today 9 years ago Ineke and I became engaged.  Yesterday we were out from 2.15 to 4 pm.  Exercise started with a run round the exercise yard, this time in the South East triangle where we have not been for some weeks.  There was no compulsion to keep on running but I was rather bucked at finding myself able to carry on until the order was given to halt.  We must have covered 3 kilometers at a conservative estimate.  I should have died at the very thought of running such a distance 5 months ago.  My rib is still somewhat painful but my performance of yesterday I have proved to my own great satisfaction that there can have been  nothing seriously wrong.  After the run, we had 20 minutes fairly strenuous physical jerks and then one ball game.  Chatting with my neighbour, Mingail, yesterday evening, I was interested to learn that he has been actual eye witness of the far famed Indian Rope Trick, Mingail is a Jew and hails from Calcutta.  He saw the trick performed at a place, called Hardwa, in the United Provinces, where it takes place only once a year in connection with some Brahmans festival.  He was one of a crowd of some 5000 spectators and described how the fakir showed to the audience a length of rope about 6 or 7 feet in length and introduced the small boy who was to assist in the act.  After a lengthy discourse on what he was about to do a description of what they were to see, turning around as he spoke and gazing intently of the spectators who were grouped in a huge circle round the open space where he performed, the fakir handed the rope to the boy.  In response to an incantation, the rope straightened itself and became apparently rigid with one end resting on the ground.  To a running commentary on the boy’s action mingled with unintelligible incantations by the fakir, the boy climbed up the rope about a foot at a time until, on reaching the top, he vanished from sight while the rope became limp and fell to the ground.  The boy appeared some time later from among the spectators.  Mingail could give no explanation.  Religious books are being issued this morning and I have received ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, in Dutch, and which I can keep as long as I like.  This book in particular is for Protestants, Catholic get ‘The Catholic Church’, also in Dutch.  This is due to the efforts of the Indonesian prison director, who seems to be a very good man.


On the occasion, I did not naturally, follow the example given by the Dutch people but waited for the fried eggs I had ordered.  When they were at last served I was rather handicapped by having no second plate on which to put my bread but made a satisfactory meal in spite of the difficulty.  We reached Batavia on 21 November 1926, a Sunday, and again I looked anxiously for  the H & C representative and again I looked in vain.  This time I had no qualms about going to the hotel and, with Hodson’s assistance, I was soon in the Hotel der Nederlanded in Batavia.  The port for Batavia is Tandjong Priok and the 10 kilometers road between the port and the city must be, I imagine, one of the finest in the world being macadamed, wide and perfectly straight over long stretches and bordered each side most of the way by the picturesque flamboyant trees which were then in full boom so that we seemed to be proceeding along an avenue of flaming torches.  Hodson left me while he went out to look out some of his pals from whom he could borrow some money.  He had given me a fairly broad hint as to his financial embarrassment but I was then too much of the canny Scot and too suspicious of everybody in this strange new world to offer assistance.  It was then, while Hodson was absent, that I perused one of his poetry books which he lent to me.  That evening I dined alone in the large dining room of the hotel, feeling desperately self conscious.  My condition was not improved on my observing that I was an object of amusement to the native waiters in my immediate vicinity.  I can hardly blame them in retrospect but at that time I was not in the mood to feel disinterested.  It was appreciatively warm that evening, as it usually is in Batavia, and I had as yet no clothes suitable for the tropical climate.  I wore a rather heavy thick pair of dark flannels and a lined tweed sports jacket which, with the heat, made me feel as if I was indulging in a Turkish bath at full pressure.  The perspiration was dripping off the lobes of my ears and the point of my nose into the soup and my hands were so wet that spoon, knife and fork kept turning and slipping out of my hands.  It was without exception the most uncomfortable meal of which I have ever partaken.  The next morning I presented myself at Harrisons and Crossfield’s office and, as before in Singapore, explanation and apologies were profuse as to the failure to have me met at the boat as had been arranged.  Mr Graham, one of the younger members of the staff, took charge of me and after showing me something of Batavia in a taxi, put me on the train for Bandung, with instructions to proceed to the Preanger Hotel there were a Mr Fenton, one  of the assistants on Langen Estate would be waiting for me.  All went well from then on.  I duly met Fenton, whom I liked at sight, and who, I am glad to say, is still one of my best friends.  We were to stay a day in Bandung for the purpose of giving me the opportunity of buying furniture, cooking utensils, crockery etc for my house on the Estate and in this matter Fenton was most helpful.  I should explain that one of the conditions of my contract was the allowance of 250 guilders for furnishing, with the condition that the articles purchased would remain the property of the company.  I had fully expected that I should have this full sum at my disposal and was therefore very much surprised when Fenton, rather embarrassedly, informed me that a bed costing 100 guilders, and a food cupboard of 25 guilders, had already been purchased for me on the Estate.  Fenton later admitted to me that this transaction, strictly unethical as it was, had been arranged between the manager and a then favourite assistant and was really nothing less than a barefaced swindle.  He could not, naturally, air his opinion then and I myself knew no better, although it did seem strange to me, especially the 100 guilders for a bed.


Out from 2 to 4 pm.  A run of 6 times round the yard, physical jerks and two ball games.  Hot tea, without sugar, available as has been the case for the past few days.  A capital supper – stewed potatoes with gravy and sliced cucumber with a nice tender piece of meat.  Very tasty.  Exchanged ‘William Pitt’ yesterday with Mingail for ‘Bindle’ by Herbert Jenkins and the latter today for ‘Calico Jack’ by Horace W C Newtie, a story of the music halls of the Gay Nineties.

Monday, 7 September 2009

22 August 1942

Lights full strength past 2 nights, but still shades on outside lamps.  Food greatly improved generally during past 10 days.  Distribution and serving now being controlled by Indonesian warders.  Formerly left to trusties.  ‘Trusty’ is I believe, an American term used to describe prisoners who have been entrusted with positions of some authority in the prison organisation.  Reading ‘Macaulay’s' essay on ‘Pitt, I am struck by some passages which might have been written of the present day instead of with reference to the years 1803 to 1805.  Here are a few of them.  ‘The English army, under Pitt, was the laughing stock of all Europe.  it could not boast of one single brilliant exploit.  It had never shown itself on the Continent but to be eaten, chased, forced to re-embark, or forced to capitulate.’  ‘The Habeas Corpus Act was repeatedly suspended.  Public meetings were placed under severe restraints.  The government obtained from Parliament power to send out of the country aliens who were suspected of evil designs, and that power was not suffered to be idle.  Writers who pronounced doctrines adverse to Monarchy and aristocracy were proscribed and punished without mercy.  It was hardly safe for a republican to avow his political creed over his beefsteak and his bottle of port at a chop house.’  ‘Bonaparte, now First Consul, was busied constructing out of the ruins of old institutions a new ecclesiastical establishment and a near order of knighthood.  That nothing less than the dominion of the whole civilised world would satisfy his selfish ambition was not yet suspected; nor did even wise men see any reason to doubt that he might be as safe a neighbour as any prince of the House of Bourbon had been.  The treaty of Amiens was therefore hailed by the great body of the English people with extravagant joy.’  ‘Had Napoleon content with the first place among the sovereigns of the Continent, and with a military reputation surpassing that of Marlborough or Turenne devoted himself to the noble task of making France happy by mild administration and wise legislation, our country might have long continued to tolerate a government of fair intentions and feeble abilities.  Unhappily, the treaty of Amiens had scarcely been signed, when the restless ambition and the insupportable insolence of the First Consul convinced the great body of the English people that the peace, so eagerly welcomed, was only a precarious armistice.  As it became clearer and clearer that a war for the dignity, the independence, the very existence of the nation was at hand, men looked with increasing uneasiness on the weak and languid cabinet which would have to contend against an enemy who united more then the power of Lewis the Great to more than genius of Frederick the Great’.  ‘War was speedily declared.  The First Consul threatened to invade England at the head of the conquerors of Belgium and Italy and formed a great camp near the Straits of Dover.  On the other side of those Straits the whole population of our islands was ready to rise up as one man in defense of the soil’.  ‘But the genius and energy of Napoleon prevailed while the English troops were preparing to embark for Germany, while the Russian troops were slowly coming up from Poland, he, with rapidity unprecedented in modern was, moved a hundred thousand men from the shores of the Baltic to the Black Forest, and compelled a great Austrian army to surrender at Ulon.’  Verily, there is nothing new under the sun.


My other recollection of Singapore is a visit to the Museum there, impressed upon my memory by reason of the fright I got when entering the building.  There was a wide main staircase branching off at a landing to right and left.  Climbing the first main flight, I only raised my eyes when a few steps from the landing and almost had heart failure at the terrible spectacle of a giant gorilla, about 8 feet high, a ferocious looking beast, coming apparently straight at me.  They really should not leave specimens lying about like that on Museum landings.  SS MelchiorWhen the day came, I went on board the ‘SS Melchior Treub ‘ which was to bring me to Batavia and where I again met Miss Lund and another fellow passenger of the ‘Khiva’ named Stephen Hodson, a young man who was returning to Java, having just enjoyed his 6 moths furlough after his first 5 years as a rubber planter.  This Hodson, whom I met again many years later, was a very tall, well made chap, but to my opinion rather effeminate as to features.  He was very languid in movement and manner, and used to be a source to many on board the ‘Khiva’ of somethat contemptuous amusement, combining as he did the habits of heavy drinking and wandering about looking soulful with a volume of poetry in his hand.  Later, in Batavia, I had the opportunity of glancing through one of these books of his and there was precious little soul to be found in any of the verses – rather the reverse, in fact.  The voyage between Singapore and Batavia was uneventful although it was a new experience to find myself on a foreign ship and where those of my own nationality were outnumbered by about fifty to one.  Being, of course, quite unaccustomed to Dutch customs, I was quite bewildered the first morning at breakfast.  I happened to enter the dining room either very early of very late, I forget which, and found myself the only occupant.  The tables were laden with all sorts of eatables, bread, ham, meat, fish, sausage, cheese etc but no steward came bustling forward to enquire my pleasure in the way of breakfast.  I sat down at one of the tables with the array of foodstuffs before me and quite undecided as to what I ought to do.  it did not seem quite right or proper to me to pile in without somebody more or less in authority indicating that I could begin.  After about 5 minutes a native steward appeared and merely asked me if I would have tea or coffee and would I like eggs.  Some Dutch people coming in and taking their places just then I noticed what they waited for nobody but started right in to eat but in a fashion which struck me as being rather uncouth, to say the least of it, a slice of bread, spread with butter was covered with either ham, fish or sausage etc and then eaten with a knife and fork.  Whatever I thought of the customs then, I have long since adopted myself as the only way of sensibly eating with bread and butter.  Just think of the unnecessarily complicated method employed in the British custom with one plate and a fork and knife for the meat or fish and a smaller side plate with a knife for the bread and butter, lying down the fork and knife every time a mouthful of bread is required and laying down the knife to lift up the fork and knife again.  The Dutch method is much more practical and has the additional advantage of keeping the hands quite clean during the process.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

21 August 1942

Mr Templeton assisted me in buying a cheap suitcase and a solar topi in Penang.  The suitcase was necessary because my mother had packed my trunk and leather suitcase so well that after having removed various articles in the course of the voyage, I could not with all my ingenuity get everything back in again.  In fact it was even a tough struggle with an extra bag.  My friend strongly advised me to buy a good topi while I was at it and recommended an Ellwood which, he assured me, would last me for years.  He was quite right, I have that topi yet.  But all the same such a topi had its disadvantages.  In the first place it was far too heavy and secondly the shape was not fashionable in Java.  A cheap, light, pith topi which can be purchased for a few guilders is much more comfortable and serviceable in addition to being of a shape which gives very good protection for the back of the neck.  When it begins to get shabby it can be passed to your ‘boy’ as a very acceptable present and a new one purchased and it will be many years before the expense of a succession of such topis equals the cost of an Ellwood.  I paid $30 for mine.  In spite of the above stated disadvantages, however, true to type, I wore the Ellwood for the 5 years of my planting career and, just because it cost so much have not yet been able to bring myself to parting with it.  In the afternoon we ascended by funicular railway to a tea house set on a hill and from which a marvellous view of Penang and lesser island around about could be obtained.  When we arrived in Singapore a day or two later I looked out anxiously for the representative of Harrison’s and Crosfield who was to look after me.  To my dismay nobody appeared.  I was at my wits’ end, for remember I was for the first time in my life absolutely alone and with only myself to depend upon and I had so far no experience of standing on my own feet.  Furthermore, I was in this condition in a very, very strange land, thousands of miles from home.  Ultimately, a fellow passenger and brother Scot named Barker, who was transshipping at Singapore on his way to the oil fields in Miri, British Borneo, suggested I should go with him to the town and find the office of the firm.  We stepped into a taxi which soon brought us to the building.  There we found everything closed and learned that that day was a public holiday in Singapre and all offices closed.  Going into a post office along the street to buy some stamps, I noticed that the door of the bank just opposite was open, so leaving Barker for the moment in the post office I crossed the street and entered the building in the hope of finding someone who could put me in touch with the powers to be of H & C.  There was only one man, a European, seated at a desk in the large office and to him, apologising for disturbing him, I explained my difficulty.  He was very sympathetic and informed me that I would have very little chance of finding anybody that day and advised me to put up at an hotel and call H & C’s office next day.  He asked me where I came from and when I told him Aberdeen, it was strange to hear him remark, ‘Is that so?  I was up at Aboyne just the other day.’  He had apparently just returned from leave shortly before.  In the course of our conversation he learned of my destination and conditions of employment.  When I mentioned that the commencing salary was 250 Guilders a month he exclaimed, ‘What a damned shame.  How can they expect anybody to live on that?’  Needless to say, this did not help the least little bit to raise my already fairly low spirits.  Happily, however, as it proved, he couldn’t have known what he was talking about.  The salary was ample, but he was probably applying Malaya standards to the sum stated.  On rejoining Barker, who had also not yet removed his luggage from the ship, we returned to the ‘Khiva’.  As I was somewhat apprehensive of putting  up at a hotel, being not too flush with money and also not very certain if such a course would have the approval of H & C, and knowing that the ‘Khiva’ was to lie two days in Singapore, I made bold to ask the purser if I could stay the night on board, explaining the circumstances.  He just looked down his nose at me and replied, ‘The PO Company undertook to bring you to Singapore.  You are here, and we have no further concern with you.’   Since then I have felt that if there should be no other ship available but a P&O liner, I would rather swim than let that company have a penny of my money.  However, Barker and I got our luggage together and having passed the Customs without difficulty we repaired to the Adelphi Hotel where we each took a room.  The next morning early I was at H & C’s office.  Empty apologies, of course, for the blunder and all that and just send the hotel bill to them.  I found I had to stay five days in Singapore before I could get a boat to Java and during that time Barker and I wandered about Singapore although I cannot recall very much of what we saw or did.  Only two things are vivid in my memory.  One occurred the first night I was in the Adelphi.  My room, whcih was on the second floor, overlooked a narrow busy street and just after darkness had fallen I was startled by a hellish commotion of shrieks, yells, shouts and shooting from the street below.  Quite convinced that I had landed in Singapore to see the beginning of a revolution, I dashed to the balcony rail and peered cautiously down.  I then discovered that the noise was caused my some kind of procession, which was preceded by several persons letting off squibs and firecrackers to a running accompaniment of weird yells.  I learned later that it was only a Chinese funeral and that all the noise is indulged in with a view of scaring away any which may have evil designs on the soul of the departed.  I may state here that my idea of a revolution was not so far fetched because at that very time a fairly serious revolution was taking place in West Java and of which we had had daily wireless bulletins on the ‘Khiva’ and reports in the Singapore newspapers.  Fortunately, however, by the time I reached Batavia, where many serious incidents had occurred, the rising had stopped and the authorities had the situation well in hand.  It is interesting to note that in the book ‘Out of the Night’ by Jan Valtin, the writer claims that it was he, as a Bolshevik emissary, who conveyed the instructions and plans for the 1926 Java riots to a Chinese woman in Singapore.


Out from 2 to 3.30 pm.  Two ball games, first for veterans.  Second game broken off during the first half by order to return to cells.  Issue of one packet of 20 ‘Mascot’ cigarettes.  These issues are, of course, debited to us and paid for from the money we brought in with us.  No money, no cigs.  I had about 30 guilders and have since had transferred to may account of 50 guilders and later 25 by my partner, Sparkes, who brought 600 with him.  My balance at the moment in the region of 40.  The rest has gone on so called medical supplies for which we have had to pay outrageous prices.  Exchanged ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ for ‘William Pitt’, a biography by Macevlay.  Also reading a crime Penguin, ‘The White Cockatoo’ by M G Eberhard which Benson lent me yesterday.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

20 August 1942

Out yesterday only one hour, 3 to 4 pm.  One ball game for veterans over 45.  New Officer.  Light dim all last night. No alarm.


Talking with my neighbour No.315 Mr Mingail, about the Port Said nuisance, he told me an amusing story of the experience of a friend of his in that sink of iniquity.  One form of nuisance which I have omitted to mention is to be found in the conjurors and sleight of hand merchants who seem to be the first on board when a ship docks.  This specialty seems to be the producing and causing to vanish of day old chicks but the programme is varied by sleight of hand with coins etc.  On this occasion the conjuror had as usual succeeded in collection a small crowd of passengers around him by various feats of his art when he suddenly said, ‘Will one gentleman give me a £1?’  A spectator handed over a £1 note (the sap) and the conjuror then said to him, ‘Now, gentleman, must say what I say – quick!’  After repeating ‘Go'!’, ‘Come back’, etc while the £1 note, in the hands of the conjuror disappeared and reappeared accordingly, the rascal said, ‘Now gentleman say quick, ‘Run like the devil.’  The gentleman did and the conjuror did, to the great amusement of the other spectators and to the great discomfort of the gentleman concerned, leaving him a poorer, sadder and, let us hope, a wiser man.

I made the acquaintance of some nice people on board, particularly a Mr & Mrs Templeton and a Miss Lund.  The Templetons were a Scotch couple.  Templeton himself being a mining engineer employed at the mines in Ipoh, FMS (Federated Malay States), returning to duty after furlough.  Miss Lund was a middle aged little woman who was going to an estate in Java as governess to the manager’s little daughter.  Mrs Templeton undertook to assist me with Malay and, thanks to her helpful hints, when I arrived in Singapore I was fairly capable of making my wants known in that language.  Unfortunately, however, these studies did not help me, when I reached Java, where Malay differs greatly from that spoken in the British settlements.  The Malay language of Java and other parts of the Dutch East Indies is very much influenced by Dutch and even remnants of Portuguese.  I refer, of course, to the colloquial form.  Books and newspapers are printed in pure Malay and can be read anywhere by those who understand the pure tongue.  Miss Lund, who had held a position in Java before and although she could not speak Dutch, was able to help me considerably with that language by her knowledge of it otherwise.  It is quite common to find British people, but especially the English, in Java, who understand Dutch but who do not speak it, either because they dare not, or, as I personally am inclined to believe, because they will not on lamentable conservative principle.  We arrived eventually at Colombo where (all I can recall on that occasion) a party of us visited Mount Lavinia Hotel, picturesquely situated on the sea shore.  I can also remember how interested I was in the carved, so called ebony, elephants which were being offered for sale along the approach to the hotel.  The next port of call was Penang where my friends the Templetons disembarked.  They spent the day in Penang, however, and we had a pleasant lunch together in one of the hotels there where I was introduced to the repast known as ‘rice table’, or rijst tafel is it is called in the Indies, where, I understand, it originated. No guide book of the Dutch East Indies or book of memoirs describing a visit to these delectable isles, would be complete without a chapter devoted to the description and the delights of rijstaffel.  Although these rambling jottings are neither the one nor the other I shall, however, endeavour to describe rijstaffel procedure.  The dish varies greatly in scope and variety but to give an idea of rijstaffel in its most comprehensive and expansive state I cannot do better than take as an example the serving of it as extended at a first class hotel in Java, imagesuch as, for instance, Hotel des Indes in Batavia.image 




Imagine yourself sitting in the large dining room there, preferably under one of the many ceiling fans and that you have decided to indulge in rijstaffel.  Having given your order to the ‘boy’ who waits on your table, the decks, so to speak, are first of all cleared for action by the removal of such appurtenance before you as pertain to the eating of European food and the setting before you of a deep soup plate (in some hotels almost twice normal size) a smaller flat plate on the left, and a knife, fork and spoon.  The fork and spoon are the actual weapons with which the dish is attacked, the knife only being brought into action occasionally in cutting a piece of meat etc.  In due course, a ‘boy’ appears at your elbow offering white boiled rice in a large bowl.  Turning to help yourself to rice you will notice a second ‘boy’ behind the first, a third behind the second and so on apparently ad infinitum.  If this is your first experience of rijstaffel you may be pardoned if your first inclination is to bolt from the literal chain of events which your simple order has put into operation.  From your table, winding like a snake among the other tables in the dining room, right to the entrance to the kitchen, in a procession of dusky, white clad waiters, each bearing a dish in each hand.  And as each submits his particular offering and moves on, it seems that another adds himself to the chain emerging from the kitchen until you feel that you are doomed for the rest of your life to being served only and that the time will never come when you will be allowed to start eating.  The second ‘boy’ presents a greenish liquid which is a sort of soup of green vegetables and which serves more or less to dampen the rice already heaped on your plate.  Thereafter in succession you are offered a truly bewildering variety of dishes representing fish, meat, poultry, vegetables etc in a myriad disguises, practically all flavoured and spices with strange and assorted sauces.  Meat appears, in addition to plain sliced roast, shredded and fried mixed with grated coconut for mixture, chicken livers and kidneys diced floating in a brown sauce, fish friend or salted, eggs smothered in curry sauce or other condiment, cucumber garnished with Spanish pepper, chicken roast or curried, oysters and shrimps boiled or fried with various sauces and a countless assortment of concoctions in which fried bananas, tomatoes, peanuts, grated coconut are mixed, each having its distinctive flavour depending on the mixture and spices and sauces employed.  Without foreknowledge or more or less expert advice in choosing these dishes, you will probably feel that the top of your head has blown off as the result of your having unwittingly put into your mouth a spoonful of skillfully camouflaged chili peppers.  For real, rip snorting dynamite, I commend you to the chili peppers (tjabe) of Java.  You are, of course, perfectly free in your choice and selection of the dishes offered you but there is a real art in knowing what to accept or refuse and also how much, or rather how little, of each dish.  if you are tempted to take large portions from, say, the offerings of the first 10 boys you will be sorely put to it to find room on your plate and side plate for the very appetising looking dishes which ‘boy’ number 26 or 27 presents to you.  Generally speaking, the side plate is used for pieces of meat, game, fish etc, the cutting up of which would be impracticable on the deep plate which is heaped with rice and the other 57 varieties.  In the actual eating of rijstaffel you may mix the whole up together, thus combining all taste and flavours, or you may flit from meat to fish, fish to chicken etc achieving a different effect on the palate which each accompanying spoonful of rice.  By the time you are finished eating, you will feel that you will not require another bite of food for another week at least and your immediate desire will be to retire to your bedchamber and to spend the next 3 hours in profound meditation.


Out from 3 to 4.15 pm.  One ball game.  A chap named McLaren in the East Wing got a nasty smack on the nose playing ball last week and was afraid it might be broken.  He went on sick report and the doc without even examining or feeling his nose prescribed him some aspirin powders.  My neighbour, Mingail, who has a sprained ankle goes to the doctor tomorrow and we are expecting that the treatment in his case will be a dose of castor oil

Saturday, 18 July 2009

19 August 1942

Out yesterday from 3 to 4.30 pm.  Usual ball games.  Lights dim again last night with complete black out from 8.30 to 9.30 pm.  Food is improving every day.  Excellent soup yesterday afternoon – also a mug of tea.  This morning our trusty came round the cells asking whether we preferred tea or coffee in the morning. My hat!  If this thing continues we shall be thoroughly spoiled in no time and we shall have to be forcibly persuaded to go home when the time comes.


As the time of departure drew near, realisation of all that it meant became clearer and the thought of breaking with loved ones and dear lifelong associations counter balanced my exited imagination which leapt forward to the expectation of strange scenes and a new way of life.  At last the inevitable day of parting came, the 13th October 1926 and in memory I am seated for the last time at the tea table, eating bread and butter with boiled ham and tomato sauce and having a dreadful struggle to swallow each mouthful, father, mother and sister being no more successful in that operation.  I had taken leave of my fiancée the night before.  We became officially engaged in the course of the last week and I had bought an engagement ring out of the money remaining to me after purchasing my outfit.  At the station there was quite a turnout of relatives.  Partings such as these are too sacred to be described in detail.  Sufficient to say that in due course I found myself in a railway carriage being whirled away rapidly towards the unknown, really alone for the first time in my 23 years, feeling very lonely and sad and not a little apprehensive as to what was to become of me now that I must stand on my own feet and make my way through life by my own unaided efforts.  Mother used always to say, ‘The young birdies maun spread their wings’, which, is, of course, true, but I must confess that my wings were pitifully weak when my flight commenced.  My uncle Joe had very kindly suggested that I should spend a day or two with him and his family in London before embarking, hence my departure from Aberdeen 3 days before the actual sailing date.  Joe came with me to the boat and as we moved away down the river I stood and looked and looked at him, waving until he was no longer distinguishable among the many who stood on the quay and then, turning away, I looked forward on our course realising that the last link with all that had been my life before had snapped.  On board the ‘Khiva’ I found that I shared a cabin, 2nd class, with an Italian named Vaccaro who was a saleman of some kind.  It is amusing to recall that I considered him foppish because he was in the habit of rubbing his face with Eau de Cologne after shaving, a confirmed drunkard because he now and then became a bit noisy on account of having taken the slightest drop too much, and morally depraved because he had brought a copy of La Vie Parisienne along with him.  Oh, I WAS young and green and strait laced at that age with a vengeance.  Since then, many is the bottle of Eau de Cologne I have used for the same purpose and more often than I care to recall have I been much more drunk than Vaccaro ever was, although to be quite frank literature of the La Vie Parisienne class had never appealed to me.  We became quite good friends, however, and he taught me to sing ‘Mussolini, nostre Duce’ while I on my part improvised an accompaniment for same on the piano.  But one night, when we were in the Red Sea, Vaccaro’s behaviour was too much for my then Puritan soul and resulted in my requesting a transfer to another cabin the next day.  His offence was by no means henous but I was extremely shocked my this standing at our cabin door with only his trousers on and calling ‘Coo-ee’ along the passage in the hope of attracting some female attention.  I was really sorry about the transfer after a few days because I had offended my Italian friend deeply by my action, but the damage was done.  I was ashamed of myself then and I am more ashamed of myself now and I should like to have the opportunity  of apologising to Vaccaro for my narrow minded foolishness.  But there, how many things do we not do throughout our lives which cause us regret and remorse to the end of our days.  That is the cross we all have to bear and the fashioning and burden of it are of our own making.  In changing my quarters I had a bunk in a three berth cabin and the great joke was that, although such was my state of innocence that I did not realise it till 12 years later, I had then a couple of sodomites for company.  The explanation of much that had then been only mildly puzzling became clear to me when the clean up of homosexuals in the DEI and elsewhere startled everybody in the Far East in 1939.  But of that, more later.  The voyage, once the novelty of shipboard life had worn off, was rather uneventful except, of course, for stoppages at ports of call which were Port Said, Colombo, Penang and, for me, finally Singapore.  At Port Said I was fascinated with the spectacle afforded in coaling operations going on in a vessel close to where the ‘Khiva’ was lying.  The sight of hundreds of apparently sub humans, dirty, ragged and pitch black, running squealing, shrieking and shouting in unending streams up and down planks stretching from quay to ship, each bearing a basket on his head, was like a peep into some choice corner of Hell itself.  And then the mystery of black veiled women with their noses seemingly enclosed in a metal casing, and the swarming touts and vendors of Birmingham manufactured relics of TutanKhamen who kept shouting ‘Aye Aye Mr Mackintosh, Ah’m Mr Macpherson, frae Aiberdeen, Ethel Macfechel, Auchtermuchty’.  These pests gathered and hung around us like flies as soon as we set foot on shore and were not to be shaken off by any means what ever.  Several of them specialised in ‘Dirty postcards, sir, dirty postcards’ and kept trying to entice one away from the party round a corner to prove their assertion.  There was a young Lancashire lad on board whose dialect sounded to me like a foreign language until the night we left Port Said.  He emerged from his cabin cursing and sweating with extreme fluency and lucidity carrying a packet of plain postcards in his hand, the wrapping around which he had just then removed in anticipation of all the merchant, by means of sample cards, had guaranteed him.  The plain postcards were no doubt better for his morals than the others would have been but his experience did not seem to have bred in him a spirit of Christian resignation and thanksgiving for temptation removed.  Of course, I had to pay a visit to the world famous emporium of Simon Arts and it was too much to be expected that I should get back to the ship without a box of genuine tasteless Turkish Delight.  I pride myself that I avoided that pitfall when I again visited Port Said.  We left Port Said in the evening after dark so I missed seeing something I had been looking forward to – the Suez Canal, but that loss was fully compensated for 11 years later.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

18 August 1942

Lights dim last night and also from 9.30 to 11 pm.  Again this morning from 9.45 to 10.30.  Book issue yesterday afternoon.  I have ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ very small print.  Had a shave this morning with my rolls and have taken off my moustache just to see what has been behind it all these years.  The revelation does not greatly please me so now that my curiosity is satisfied I shall let it grow again.  Razors are issued about every 10 days.  These together with all other sharp objects like scissors, nail clippers and nail files had to be surrendered on entering here.  Goodness knows why – there are plenty of other ways to committing suicide if one is determined to do such a silly thing.  The only chance of getting one’s nails cut is to go on sick report and to take advantage of the presence of an impossible pain of surgical scissors in the dispensary.  I had my rib painted again with iodine yesterday, thanks to my getting through the door to the dresser as he passed along the corridor.  It feels better but is still far from being as it should be.  Lay till 9 o’clock this morning.  Our daily routine is as follows:  Awakened by the clutter of breakfast preparations in the corridor between 5 and 5.30 am, the cell doors are opened a few at a time at 6 am and we pick up our plate of rice porridge or ketan hitam (black sticky rice pudding) which has been laid down outside the door and extend our mugs for coffee which is brought round in a large basin carried by two coolies. The rice is slightly sweetened but there does not seem to be any sugar in the coffee.  I improve matters by adding sugar and powdered milk, of which fortunately I still have supplies.  Having partaken of this repast in the half dark, the empty plates are recollected and at about the same time the first light for cigarettes, or pipes is brought round.  All matches and lighters were taken away after we had been about a month.  The light, or ‘api’ as it is called in Malay, is given by means of a smoldering piece of twisted rope which is pushed at us through a small circular hole of about 1.25 inches in diameter whcih is situated at about chest level in the iron door of the cell.  Immediately above this hole which can be closed from the outside by a circular metal shutter, there is a small window of thick glass measuring about 9 by 2.5 inches, which is practically fully covered by a metal flap hinged above it on the outside so that we can be fully observed if necessary while our view of the corridor is limited to a mere strip under the bottom of the flap.  i never smoke so early in the day so after the plates have been removed I go back to bed where I stay until the bell, which hangs just inside the main entrance of the prison, strikes 9 am.  I have quite a comfortable bed.  I have three prison blankets.  Three months ago when the grass was cut outside, it was left in heaps in the exercising yard and I took advantage of this opportunity to make myself a mattress out of one blanket by having it doubled in the length and sewed up into a bad which I filled with the fresh, dry hay.  Mr Frommelt, a South African missionary did the sewing for me as I had then no needle and thread of my own.  A few others followed my example and more would no doubt have done so, had the further removal of hay not been forbidden soon afterwards.  I lie on the mattress with the second blanket spread over it and use the third for cover and sleep as snug as a bug in a rug.  On getting up, blankets etc are shaken out at the window and then I commence my housework which comprises going over the inside of the door, the cupboard, table and chair with a damp rag, cleaning the toilet inside and out and finishing up with swilling out the whole floor with water and drying off with my rag – an old pair of prison pyjama trousers issued to me during the first week.  Every ten days or so I go over the walls and ceiling with my small broom, wash my bed frame with soap suds to keep away the bugs, and clean my windows and bars.  The window opening which measures approximately 6 feet high by 2.5 feet broad is barred by 4 vertical iron bars strengthened by a cross bar in the middle and set in an iron frame built into the concrete walls.  These bars are equidistant from each other about 6 inches apart.  The bottom of the window is about 3.5 feet from the floor.  On the inside, there are three window panes which can be opened or closed at will.  The upper frame, of four glass panes, covers the top half of the window opening and opens inwards and downwards like a skylight.  The lower half has 2 frames of 2 panes each which open inwards from the centre, one to each side.  Housework occupies about an hour and, that done, I wash my face, brush my teeth, comb my hair and dress.  Dressing means putting on an undershirt, a pair of shorts, socks and sometimes a sports shirt or pyjama jacket if the morning is chilly, as it often is.  When very cold, I wear long khaki trousers in addition to all the rest.  After performing my toilet I have my first cigarette of the day, usually at 10 am.  The ‘api’ collie comes round the cells about once an hour the whole day until lights out.  After the cigarette and a chat with my next door neighbour on my left, I usually write these notes, read, play patience, sew, darn or wash some clothes according to the exigencies of the moment.  At noon, lunch is served.  Two courses are the rule – soup and rice.

The soup is made from a variety of vegetable and with the rice, in addition to the variable dab of hot spicy compound (sambal) or other mysterious native concoction, we sometimes get half a duck egg, salted or fresh.  Three times in four months we have had a small dried fish which stinks to high heaven but which has nevertheless been highly acceptable as providing some taste to the palate.  The plate of rice we pick up from the ground, the soup we receive in our tin plates from a big basin as with the morning coffee.  After lunch and plates removed, a smoke and chat and I then let down my bed and lie, usually reading, sometimes dozing until recreation time which has been lately roughly from 3 to 5 pm.  Recreation over, we return to the cells to be let out for a shower in batches of 10 or 15 minutes, later.  The bathroom, each containing 4 showers, are situated at the end of each wing nearest the centre of the building.  The prison is built in the form of a cross within a square.  imageThe cross, two storied, contains cells, about 130 to each wing, the wings being designated North, East, South and West respectively.   My cell #316, is on the ground floor of the South wing, the sixth cell from the far end.  The arms of the cross radiating from a circular hall in the centre run towards the corners of the square of workshops, offices, hospital etc which forms the outer wall of the prison so that within the precincts four open triangles are thus formed, each triangle being bounded by one side of the square and two sides of the cross.  The cross and square stand quite free of each other, the end of each arm being about 10 or 12 yards from its respective corner.  The southwest and southeast triangles which are situated at the rear are used as exercising yards, the other two are more or less planted up with shrubs and flowerbeds.

After the bath, supper is served and consists, like the lunch, of soup and rice, although the soup is usually rather tasty and thicker by the addition of peas than at midday.  On Tuesdays and Fridays a small piece of boiled meat is added, also two bananas.  Supper is served at 5 pm and plates are removed and cells locked for the night about half an hour later. Until the lights dim at 10.30 pm the time is passed in smoking, chatting with one’s near neighbours, reading and playing patience.  Each day is exactly like the other except that on Sundays breakfast is half an hour later.  Depending on the whim of the doctor in charge, and changes in command occur about every 5 days, our recreation hour may be in the forenoon, afternoon, or both and can vary from only 20 minutes to 3 hours.


Note from Pat O’Neill

Sukamiskin prison was used from the late 1920's as a prison for Indonesian nationalists and was known to the people as a symbol of colonial suppression. President Sukarno was here in prison, after his conviction in the sensational trial against him and some other Indonesian leaders in December 1930. The irony was that Sukarno some years earlier, during a short period as an architect, probably worked on the building drawings himself. During the Japanese occupation Sukamiskin was a prison for Dutch civil servants, until February 1944.

Friday, 26 June 2009

17 August 1942

Out yesterday 3 to 5.15 pm/  Three ball games.  Supper very late – 7 pm instead of 5 pm but worth waiting for.  A change form the Ketan Hitam this morning.  Rib improving but still painful.  In spite of doctor’s instructions that the part should be painted with iodine every day, this has not been done.  As the medical service is here, it would be very surprising indeed it it had been.  I shall just have to practice Christian Science.  Two alarms already this morning but quite evidently only practice.


I returned to Braemar the same day and finished my holiday there.  A letter from Harrisons and Crosfield awaited me at home, with the request to be at their office in London on the following Tuesday for interview.  It was asking rather much to require leave of absence the very day after I had resumed duty but I was granted one day which was quite enough for my purpose.  I accordingly left Aberdeen at 7 pm of Monday evening, arriving in London at 7 o’clock next morning, returning by a train leaving London at 7 pm Tuesday which got me to Aberdeen by 7 am Wednesday morning, in good time for work. image Arrived at King’s Cross Station, I had a wash and shave in the toilet rooms there and then breakfasted in the Station restaurant.  My interview was for 10 o’clock but I was already in the vicinity of Great Tower Street by 9 am and sat on a bench on Tower Hill overlooking the Tower of London until the appointed hour.

I was interviewed by Mr Mitchell and Mr Thom who himself was a native of Dyce and the ordeal passed pleasantly.  At one point during his questioning he said to me, ‘You are not thinking of getting married, are you,’ to which I replied trustfully and rather bashfully, ‘No, not yet – but I have a girl.’  This simple question and reply were to have momentous consequences later.  However, after an interview of about half an hour, Mr Thom expressed himself satisfied and intimated to me that the appointment was mine.  The contract would be made up and I must return at 3 pm to append my signature and receive my copy of the document, together with sailing instructions etc.  Greatly elated at my good fortune, my first action on leaving the building was to send off a telegram to my parents which contained only two words ‘Got it’.  Thereafter, feeling in fine fettle I set out to see as much of London as my limited time would allow of.  Somehow or other, I found my way to the Monument which I climbed. image  It was a beautiful sunny day and the panorama of the great city spread out below me amply compensated for my breathlessness. imageI forget exactly how many steps there are in the Monument but more than enough is a fairly accurate estimate.  



From there I found the direction of St Paul’s Cathedralimage which I reached in due course and where I ascended to the Whispering Gallery,  in which the guide demonstrated the famous acoustic properties, and then to the top of the immense dome itself from which another magnificent view compensated me for my weary legs.image

I must have lunched somewhere but have no recollection of the proceeding and at 3 pm duly presented myself again at the office in Great Tower Street.  The contract awaited me, an imposing looking document of 8 foolscap pages simply bristling with seals and flourishing signatures.  As our American cousins would put it, it sure looked a million dollars but it proved itself latterly to be as valuable as the illuminated share certificate of a phoney gold mine. image Mr Thom informed me that I would sail on 16 October from London by SS Khiva of the P & O line,  transshipping for Java at Singapore, where I could apply to their office there for the necessary assistance and that the boat would be met by a representative who would arrange accommodation etc in Singapore for me.  On arrival at Batavia, Java, I should also be  met and taken under the wing of a member of the office staff there who would see to it that I reached Langen Estate safely and in one piece.  I was also advised to buy Hossfeld’s Dutch Grammar and Hugo’s Dutch Simplified.  This I duly did and to this day have never got beyond the first page of Hossfield.  But I must confess that Hugo’s book was very helpful indeed.  I spent my few remaining hours in London on the open top decks of buses, enjoying myself immensely in the contemplation of the most fascinating sight London can offer – the traffic.  A few days after my return to Aberdeen, I received my passage ticket and luggage labels and a cheque for £10 travelling expenses.  I was however very short of money for the purchase of the necessary outfit and consequently rather worried on that account.  I was at Northern Branch at the time and I confided my difficulty to Mr Grainger who very kindly approached a friend of his, a depositor at Northern, on the matter.  This was Mr William Riddoch, an elderly cattle dealer, with whom I myself was only slightly acquainted, but whom I learned to regard as a true friend and to respect as  a Christian gentleman of the finest type.  William Riddoch was a bachelor and a plain honest living and God fearing man whose guide in all his dealing with his fellowmen was the Good Book.  I learned later that I was by no means the first, and I am sure not the last, young man whom he assisted in a practical manner towards the goal of his ambitions.  In fact, it was rather a hobby of his to do good in this way.  Briefly, he advance me the sum of £60 which I undertook to repay as soon as I could.  I am glad to say that I did so within the year, thus discharging the financial obligation.  His kindness can never be repaid.  He himself considered that he was amply repaid if his protégés made good and was always ready to adopt one, even although in some cases he had been bitterly disappointed in his trust and his kindness shamefully abused.  When I expressed my gratitude to him, he replied, ‘ That’s alright laddie.  But just remember later when you have the means and opportunity to help some young lad as I am helping you now.  That’s all I want.’  Could there be a better rule for living than that?  William Riddoch was a simple man with I imagine, little education, but with more men of his stamp and less so called education, this world would be an infinitely better place.  He as passed on now but to me his memory will every be green and I shall not fail him in his precept.


Out from 3.10 to 4.30 pm.  Ball games.  Bill Leslie got a parcel in yesterday from Lydia.  He gave me 2 biscuits, double ones with icing in between and 3 candy balls.  All finished.  I have still got 2 squares of Swiss milk toffee and 5 Capstans.


My outfit was soon purchased and packed in a steel trunk which I bought from Shirras Long and a suitcase which was a parting gift from the Grosvenor Choir.  I had quite forgotten about my Choir until mention of the suitcase reminded me of my career as a choir conductor.   It is difficult to recall how it came about exactly but I suppose I was asked to form the choir which was composed of members of the ILP (the Independent Labour Party) of which my mother, having inherited her father’s interest in matters political, was an active supporter.  Politics have never interested me but if I have had my leaning in that direction at all, it has been towards the Socialist movement on account of its practical policy of endeavouring to secure better conditions for the masses.  I spent many pleasant evenings in the Grosvenor Rooms in Bridge Street where the ILP members foregathered and where, after the Grosvenor Choir was formed, rehearsals were held.  The choir was a mixed one of about 45 members, some staff readers but the majority sol fa and it was due much more, I am sure, to the unbounded enthusiasm of the choir as a while than to my capabilities as a conductor that the enterprise was so successful.  Without boasting, I think I can claim that the Grosvenor Choir was as good an amateur ensemble as could have been found in Aberdeen at that time.  It was, I believe, in 1924 that the choir was formed and I remember very well our first performance which took place one Sunday evening in the Picturedrome in Rosemount Viaduct.  In addition to the many part songs, about 12 in number, there were solos and quartettes and instrumental items as well as a few humorous Scotch recitations and our debut was an unqualified success.  From the ranks I had been singularly fortunate in forming a mixed quartette whcih , for the perfect blending of four voices, I have never heard equalled.  None of the voices was a powerful one and no ne voice at any time predominated so that singing in harmony was well nigh perfect, and especially in such a part song as Sweet and Low.  My sister Marjory was the soprano, Edith duff (?) the alto, Frank Pirie, tenor and Alex Catto (latter Councilor) bass.  Frank Pirie possessed one of the sweetest natural tenor voices I have ever heard.  He was very thin and consumptive looking and solo singing was apt to distress him somewhat.  Hardly to be wondered at considering that the poor chap was under nourished and had been out of work for about 2 years already at that time.  He was one of the finest men I have met and it is a privilege to have known him.  Poor frank was one of the victims of the first bombing attacks on Aberdeen in September 1940.  When I resigned from the conductorship on  leaving for Java, my uncle Peter took over the choir but some six months later, I believe, it was disbanded.  However, as I have already stated, the Choir presented me with a splendid leather suitcase which I used still and which forms a link with a very happy period of my life.


Note from Pat O’Neill

Last year my daughter was taken to the Whispering Gallery where her future husband proposed, little realising that her grandfather had been there all those years ago!