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.

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