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.

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