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 fiancĂ©e 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.