The compound to which we were taken was surrounded by high stone walls topped with broken glass. There were six large cells with barred doors and big copper padlocks. Each cell was meant for ten to twelve persons, but we were pushed into them with about forty women and children. At the back of the cell was a hole in one corner for a squat-toilet, and there were mats on the stone floor for us to sleep on. At 6 p.m. the doors were banged shut, and with the sharp click of the key in the padlock we were left in no doubt as to our status. We were prisoners of the Japanese. For how long?
None of slept much that night on the cold stone floor. The noise of children crying and mothers shouting and wailing was like something out of a nightmare. The mothers were deeply traumatized, and the children inconsolable. All they wanted was to “go-o-o h-o-o-me”! There was no privacy at all, so when someone had to use the toilet, we stood with two or three together as a shield in front of her. The single toilet soon became a source of continuing stench. IN the morning we were let out for a bath in a nearby block, and it was a relief to be able to move around and get away from the ruckus. We were mixed in with Iraqi women and children, whose standards of hygiene were not quite the same as ours. After a week, at our request, our group of about one hundred European women and children was moved to another part of the jail. It had a more pleasant aspect – for a jail, that is. It even boasted a few trees. There were two rows of ten one-person cells, separated by a cyclone fence with open gate, two bathrooms in a separate block opposite the cells, and the whole of it was enclosed by high walls of rough woven bamboo reinforced by barbed wire. We called it “The Paradise”.
At this stage of our prison life we had enough to eat. The food was cooked in the prison kitchen and was meant for mainly native prisoners. There was an unchanging menu of boiled rice, vegetable soup, tofu, a bit of chili paste and occasionally a banana for each. The vegetables were never cleaned; they were just thrown into the pot roots and all, and the bottom of the food drum always contained a layer of sand, bits of string, wire, and – sometimes – a cockroach or other unidentifiable bit of protein.
To be continued…
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Until next time,