MIRACLE at Changi Prison
A study in survival
FOR REASONS that aren't yet wholly understood. women are a tougher, hardier breed than men. They can survive more physical hardship and greater psychological stress.
All this 1 know' from personal experience and observation. I was one of a thousand women incarcerated in Changi Jail. Singapore, by the Japanese during World War II.
For 1,294 days we endured starvation, torture. humiliation, monotony, disease and fear. I entered prison on March 8, 1942. in perfect health, weighing 160 pounds. On the day of liberation in September 1945, 1 was a shrivelled old woman, an 80-pound bundle of skin and bones. My body was covered with boils and carbuncles and my blood was the color and consistency of weak tea. Hardship and indignity had so deeply scarred me that even two years after the war, in Toronto, I would cross the street to avoid meeting a young and blameless Japanese child. But I survived.
1 was ill-prepared for the rigors of prison life. After a happy childhood on Manitoulin Island, I studied at McGill University and went on a tour of the w'orld. In China I met Dennis, a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and married him. When he was posted to Singapore, 1 followed him. We lived a gay, idyllic life. One evening, when we were sailing straight into the sun, Dennis looked at the orange and red sky and said. “It’s too beautiful. We're too happy. It can’t last.” The date was December 7, 1941. That night, Japanese bombers staged their first raid on Singapore.
“I INTEND TO LIVE"
Now our lives changed abruptly. Dennis spent all his time at the military hospital; I went on duty as a Red Cross ambulance driver with the rank of senior representative. The war went from bad to worse. The night before capitulation, our men smashed thousands of bottles at the Cricket Club and the drains of Singapore ran with the world's finest sherries, wines, gins and whiskies. In the basement, a Scottish sergeant was destroying our pets by giving them injections of morphine. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he gave the needle to a beautiful collie who was licking his face. Like the other women, I was given two poison pills for possible future use. The raping and killing at the fall of Hong Kong still burned fresh in our memory.
I said farewell to Dennis amid the confusion and shock of surrender. I parted with the words, "No matter what, I’m going to live through this war.” I never suspected then what strength it would take to make good that vow.
The temperature was 105 on the day we walked the fifteen-mile jungle road to Changi Jail. There were eleven hundred of us — a thousand women and a hundred children — a
Is the will — and the ability — to cling to life stronger in women than men? Could a man have survived the 1,291^-day ordeal of the women and children caged by the Japanese in Singapore’s Changi prison? A survivor, Ethel Mulvany Rogers, of Toronto, tells her story to Sidney Katz
wide assortment of civilians trapped in Singapore by the capitulation. Most of the women were married — the wives of soldiers, government officials and businessmen. Like the other prisoners, I traveled light. 1 had the clothes on my back, a patchwork quilt made by my mother, an extra dress, my father's small red Bible and an illustrated child's book, Dutchy van Deal. It was given to me by a beloved teacher when 1 was in Grade Five and bore the inscription, “To the nicest girl in the world.” In the terrible years ahead, it was a constant reminder that there was another world and another way of life.
Changi Jail, which we entered fourteen hours later, covered about four city blocks and consisted of a series of cell blocks and courtyards surrounded by a high concrete wall. It was a civilian jail, built to accommodate 450 people. We were jammed into it, three to a cell, so crowded that one of us had to sleep with her feet over the toilet. Adjoining us, separated by a wall, was the civilian men’s jail with 2,200 inmates, including the husbands and sweethearts of several of the women. A few miles away, at Changi Point, was another prison holding thousands of Allied soldiers.
From the beginning we were determined to keep our morale high. We selected a management committee. A corner of the carpentry shop was designated as Red Cross Headquarters, with me in charge. But within a few months, a« alarming change had come over us.
The most pressing problem was the lack of food. We were being slowly starved to death. Our sole item of diet, prepared daily in the men's jail, was buyaam soup. This is an unappetizing, green, slimy substance made by boiling a spinach-like weed in water. We had it for breakfast, lunch and supper for 1,294 days. We lost weight, we broke out with beriberi. Some of the women, weakened and discouraged, stopped going to the food line-ups and quietly died. Occasionally, there would be a red-letter day: the soup would be enriched by a rat the men had caught.
Food became an obsession. To stay alive, at times I ate w'ood, spiders, grasshoppers and the green slimy slugs that loitered near the prison drains. The latter were a rich source of precious protein and tasted like oysters. Once 1 swallowed a three-page article out of a 1928 issue of the National Geographic magazine. We hungrily eyed the birds that flew' about and, unsuccessfully, tried to catch them. Occasionally the Japanese gave the children a chocolate. When they were through eating them, w'e w'ould lick the traces of melted chocolate off their hands. Once someone discovered a small quantity of sugar. We spent two days dividing it up: exactly 158 grains to each woman and child. A close friend lay dying in hospital of tuberculosis, her weight down to fifty-five pounds. When I visited her. she wanted to talk about food. One morning she said. "Tell me all about the different kinds of omelettes you've made," Her eyes lighted up as I talked. A lew hours later she was dead. I knew hunger so extreme that it goes beyond the ability to feel the gnawing stomach and head pains. I felt a numbness and grew frightened because I knew this relief is the prelude to death, and I prayed for the familiar hunger pains to return.
THE MEMORY OF FOOD
At one point, I decided to test my theory that if we could activate our salivary glands by suggestion, wc would be revitalized. I gathered together a group of women and told them, “We’re going to start work on the Changi Jail Cook Book. I want each of you to contribute your most delicious recipes." For a few hours a day, for months, we sat around discussing, describing and arguing about delicious foods. After we had decided on the perfect recipe we would carefully enter it into a large prison ledger book. We ended up with a superb collection of recipes for cakes, pies, roasts, soups and fish dishes. And most important, it stimulated the How of our salivary glands and stomach juices and made us feel more alive. Later, I was able to publish the book and raise $18,000 for the former prisoners of Changi.
But we couldn’t deceive our bodies indefinitely. We were slowly starving to death. Our parcels from the Red Cross were undelivered. Finally, I resolved to get permission from the camp commandant to buy food in the market at Singapore. We had resources: a quantity of money in the Red Cross strongbox, kept in the dungeon. I was finally granted an interview with the assistant commandant, Okasaki, a map of 38, impeccably dressed. I stood in the small white circle in front of his desk waiting to be acknowledged. He nodded at me.
"Sir," I began, "I’m sure you don’t want Changi Jail to be only a graveyard when the war is over.”
No reply. CONTINUED ON PAGE 40
What was in the pumpkins? In the dungeon, I looked. Five million Straits dollars!
“Sir,” I began again, “The buyaam soup is not enough. We are getting weaker. More sick are going to hospital every day.”
He dismissed me curtly. “Permission not granted.”
Okasaki was to grant me several more interviews. Once he asked me how I would get to Singapore to bring back the food. “1 would walk and carry it on my back.”
1 replied. "But what good would so little food be among so many people?” he asked.
"Sir,” I said, “there’s a wise Oriental saying that the greatest physician is the one who inspires hope. Even a little food — even one tin of powdered milk for my friend Sheltie who is dying of starvation because she has cancer of the throat and can’t swallow the buyaam soup — would give a ray of hope to all of us.”
On Thursday morning, which marked the forty-eighth interview, I heard — almost with disbelief — Okasaki grant us permission to go to Singapore. Our conveyance was a battle-scarred British truck that traveled on its steel rims because there were no tires to be had. I was at the wheel, accompanied by Anne Courtney and a Japanese guard. In my pocket was $100,000 Malayan, worth about half that amount in Canadian money. It represented most of our collective fortune but that wasn’t something to worry about now. We were about to have something to eat besides buyaam soup.
How strange to be in the outside world again! In the busy marketplace, we bought hundreds of pounds of dried fish, overripe bananas, potatoes and sugar cane. For $4,000, we were able to obtain a tin of powdered milk. Later. I thought what a splendid bargain it was as I watched Sheltie ladling spoonfuls of milk into her mouth, the first substantial food she was able to hold down for weeks.
This was to be the first of several shopping days. They helped in part to solve our food problem for a time. But unfortunately, the project had tragic consequences and it was only by the grace of God that I, myself, was spared the firing squad. I'his is what happened:
We had many loyal Chinese friends in Singapore from prewar days and it soon became known that on Thursdays we were in the marketplace. On the third expedition, I was walking toward a stall to examine some sugarcane when a beggar in rags held out his alms bowl and shouted at me, "Nah Nee! Nah Nee!” There was something familiar about his face so I looked at him carefully, without attracting the attention of the Japanese guard who was only a few steps away. 1 almost gasped aloud. It was Seong! Seong was an old friend, a wealthy Chinese merchant in his sixties, who had managed to smuggle a few encouraging notes into Changi Jail. As 1 went by him, staring straight ahead, he slipped something into my pocket and whispered. “Buy the pumpkins in stall 38.” I acknowledged his presence with a wink, shouted at him, “Hut jao! Get out of my way,” and quickly moved on.
After much haggling, to avoid suspicion, 1 bought fifty pumpkins at stall 38. I was wild with excitement as I drove home. What did the pumpkins contain? 1 prayed to myself. "Dear God, throw a steel net over the pumpkins so none of them will roll off the truck and split open."
Back at camp, 1 had the pumpkins carefully unloaded and placed in a far corner of the dungeon. I was far too excited at the time to open them. But in the meantime, I must find out what Seong had slipped into my pocket. 1 went to the latrine, the only place I could find privacy, and pulled the package out of my pocket. It w'as a roll of money containing $30.000 neatly tied together with black string.
I was bursting to tell someone about the money but my better judgment prevailed. Our Chinese friends had risked their lives to help us. The fewer people who knew, the safer the secret. From our observations in camp, we knew that the Japanese would go to any lengths to extract information. I must also keep to myself the secret of the pumpkins, which 1 discovered next morning. Alone, in the dungeon, 1 opened the pumpkins and found them packed tightly with large denomination bills. Seong must have given us at least $5 million! Here we were locked up in Changi Jail and multi-millionaires! I carefully emptied the money into an old sack and threw it into a corner of the dungeon. I walked out in the courtyard in search
of Knobsy, who was my pillar of strength. "Where will it all end?” I asked. “Please pray for me.”
Lest our captors suspect our landfall, we continued to buy modestly on shopping days. 1 bought two hens. The eggs were given to the sick and dying; we ate the shells for calcium. We were able to buy a large quantity of weevil-infested dog biscuits, an unexpectedly rich source of protein. 1 came across a single tin of New Brunswick sardines. A thousand fingers were dipped into it, thus allowing everyone to at least get a taste.
One day I was unexpectedly summoned to the little white circle in front of the commandant’s desk. From the questions, it soon became evident that the Japanese had found out something about the activities of our friends Seong and his grandson. The latter was a handsome youth of seventeen, well known for his wide knowledge of Malayan music and his mastery of the vena, a large stringed instrument. The intent of the questioning, evidently, was to wear me down and make me confess my relationship to the Seongs. The consistent theme of all the interrogations was music.
“Do you like Malayan music?”
“I don’t understand it. I haven’t the ear for it.”
"Do you like music?”
"Generally — yes.”
“Did you ever study music?”
“Yes. As a girl on Manitoulin Island. I had a wonderful teacher named Mabel Collins and she taught me how to play the organ.”
"Have you traveled in Canada?”
“Yes. I’ve been out west in the prairie provinces.”
“Did you hear cowboy music?”
"Yes, but you can hear it anywhere in Canada. They're especially fond of it in the eastern provinces.”
"You said you were born and raised on an island in Canada. What kind of island was it?”
1 recalled the beauties of Manitoulin for him. 1 told him how my grandfather used to take me to a grassy clearing in the middle of the forest and tell me that this was the dwelling place of the fairies. "Did you hear fairy music?” asked my interrogator.
1 was questioned no fewer than thirty times, at all hours of the night and day. The longest interrogation lasted fourteen hours, with a fresh team of questioners coming on duty every hour. Music . . . music . . . music. In time, every mention of the word made me recoil as though I was being struck on the head by a triphammer. 1 was not permitted to move. I was suffering with dysentery at the time and soon the floor in the white circle was covered with blood. 1 refused to complain or ask for favors. To buck me up, 1
visualized a small Canadian ensign flying proudly on my shoulder. "If 1 fall, all Canada falls." 1 would tell myself. Dismissed, 1 staggered outside into an alleyway, vomiting foam and my whole body quivering. But 1 experienced a sense of exhilaration, deep inside me. 1 had told them nothing.
Perhaps that's why my captors decided on more vigorous measures. Not long
after, I was led to a dentist's chair in a deserted section of the camp and told to sit in it. Two sloppily dressed soldiers, one short and one tall, were busily engaged laying out dental instruments. “Do you like going to the dentist?” the tall one asked me. "No." I replied, "and there’s nothing wrong with my teeth.” His face reddened. "Open your mouth. We think you need some dental work.”
1 was mystified. 1 hadn't complained
about my teeth. I realized what had happened. All my life I have been terrified of dentists, a fact I had frequently mentioned to my fellow prisoners. A Japanese “ear” — and there were several of them planted among us — had passed on this useful piece of information to the commandant’s office.
The tall man clamped his forceps on my lower left wisdom tooth. Part of my gum was included in his grip. He pulled at it. From his gauche movements, it was obvious that he wasn't a trained dentist. The pain was excruciating and blood from the gum dribbled down the front of my dress. He repeated the same operation on my lower right wisdom tooth. "Your teeth are in pretty solid,” he said. "We'll have to try something else.”
The short man handed him a blunt chisel and a small hammer. With a single hard tap, he splintered the tooth and then toyed with the nerves with a probe. From head to toes, my body was pulsating with pain. It was then I implored God to hold back my tears. I wanted to rob my tormentors of the satisfaction of seeing me suffer. 1 didn't cry that day or for five years after. Suddenly, 1 felt a massive shock in the middle of my back. My knees shot up. hitting my head and I lost consciousness. When 1 came to, the short man asked me, smilingly, "Why did your knees go up that way?” 1 looked behind me and there was a man with a small electrical instrument that resembled a small soldering iron. It had been placed on my spine. He was to shock me three times that afternoon. F.ach time, 1 knocked myself out.
I was in the dentist’s chair for seven hours, while the two men removed the two teeth, splinter by splinter. When the job
was finished, the tall man said. “We just one question to ask you before go. Do you like Malayan music?"
With our shopping expeditions forbidden, I lost all contact with the Seongs. Then, some months later, when we were moved to a nearby prison on Sime Road, young Seong re-established contact by throwing a stone over the wire fence with a note attached. He asked me to meet him at a certain place along the fence the following Thursday night, providing the moon and stars were blacked out by clouds. I sneaked out of my bunk and crawled carefully on my stomach to the meeting place. There was Seong on the other side of the fence, giving me news of the war and presenting me with a chunk of gulamalacca — a thick rubbery sugar. There were to be several such meetings. Then one night, he said, "Tonight I'm in a hurry. They caught me. I’m to be shot at daybreak. I came to say goodbye. A friend is standing in for me.”
"No ...” 1 mumbled in disbelief.
"Yes. That’s the way it is.” 1 carefully reached through the fence, avoiding the electrified wires and cupped his face in my hands. I couldn’t speak. A few seconds later my hands were empty and Seong was gone. I struggled back to my bunk and lay awake cursing and praying in the darkness. "Dear God. hold back the light. Let there be darkness. Send up dust and blot out the sun. Save this boy, please God.” A glimmer of light appeared on the horizon and a few minutes later some guns cracked in the distance. Seong was gone. Dear, wonderful, courageous, uncomplaining Seong who gave his life for his friends in the Changi Jail.
Living without men was not an easy adjustment to make in Changi Jail. Debilitated by the lack of food and depressed by the environment, after a few months of prison life the women suffered with what we called “the Changi menopause”— they ceased having their regular monthly periods. What made the situation particularly frustrating was that many of the women were separated from their husbands and sweethearts only by the high wall between the two jails. We made various attempts to establish contact. The first was by throwing notes attached to stones over the wall. This ended when the Japanese redoubled their vigilance and meted out a hundred lashes to the stone-throwers. Billie, a beautiful eighteen-year-old Anglo-Indian girl with long black hair, worked out her own system of keeping in touch with her sweetheart Danny. Promptly at six each evening, she would stand in a certain position in the courtyard and sing Danny Boy in a loud clear voice. Danny, by peering through a certain cell window about two hundred yards away, could see and hear her.
But the problem of contact between men and women was not solved until, by a stroke of good fortune, we were able to organize the Drain Talkers Club. This came about by the discovery of a manhole cover in the ground about six feet from the wall that separated the two prisons. An enquiry revealed that there was a similar cover on the men’s side and that they both opened into a common drain. Furthermore, we found that two people could converse audibly, despite the foul odor and the gurgling of the water every time a toilet was Hushed in the prison.
We carefully organized drain-talking sessions. A list of women’s names was drawn up and a copy of it was smuggled into the men's jail, so that their husbands and sweethearts would stand by. Promptly at nine, armed with sticks, eight of us would remove the huge iron cover. A chain of sentries was unobtrusively stationed at all approaches to the drain with instructions to cough if a Japanese guard
_. i alker No. 1 would now be ,wcred into the drain, w ith a woman hanging on to each of her legs. For the next three minutes, through the foul drain that carried all the jail’s excrement, would llow the sweetest words of love and affection and loyalty. Sometimes, the drain talkers would hold a long stick in their hands and thus, vicariously, establish some kind of physical contact with their partners. The drain-talking, which the Japanese never discovered, w'as one of our greatest morale boosters. It assuaged our loneliness; it rekindled our desire to keep living.
Our children were the cause of constant concern. We had little authority over them because the Japanese forbade us to discipline them. They were young savages. Their games were solely concerned with murder, hangings, shootings and stacking bodies. They had an old red sweater, used to represent a pool of blood, and this was an essential prop in every game they
played. We had to keep sticks out of their hands, lest they seriously injure one another. Once, I came across a child hanging by a rope around his neck. His face was black. Fortunately, we were able to cut him down before he died. His playmates pummeled us with their fists. One eight-year-old shouted. "You’ve spoiled it all. We were just waiting to see the death kick.”
To keep the children occupied, we organized the Changi School. At one time, we had as many as sixty pupils. It was a difficult school to keep running. Malnourished and restless, the children couldn’t sit still or concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. Our materials were few and primitive. We had a hymnbook. a few bibles, the 1928 volume of National Geographic and my copy of Dutchy van Deal. We supplemented this with an assortment of box labels that contained words and pictures. For writing paper, we cut the borders off old newspapers. Later, we were able to get a small number of real textbooks. Throughout all our teachings we tried to impress on the children that there was a world far different from Changi. It was a world where people didn’t kill, where families lived together and where there was enough to eat. We collected together the few dishes we had and a tablecloth and showed them what a properly set table looked like, and how
people used a fork, knife and spoon. They were obviously quite skeptical of the whole thing, particularly the very young ones. 1 often wonder what has happened to the children of Changi Jail.
Perhaps the school helped us more than it did the children because it kept us busy. Idleness and purposelessness, when combined with starvation, can all but extinguish the will to live. We realized this in Changi and set about inventing as many time-consuming activities as possible.
At one time, I found a small crack in the three-foot-thick concrete wall of my cell. I began picking away at it with my finger. A year later. I was able to see daylight through it. I felt, somehow, that I had won a great victory over our captors.
Some of our group activities, like the boxing matches, were ridiculous. We would match up pairs of young women. In preparation, we constructed a ring, appointed referees, timers, seconds and trainers. We then carefully made arm and leg muscles for the contestants out of bits of canvas, padded with coconut fibres. We had fashion shows, where the "models” paraded down runways to the accompaniment of two broken-down harmonicas. We conducted a weekly swap shop, where a committee assigned a value to each item and the women could trade back and forth. A spoon was worth $50. a cup $100. part of a spool of thread $200. A worn pair of shoes was worth $25; if the shoes matched. $50. Once, every woman cut a few inches of material off her dress and we had enough goods to make five patch quilts. On other occasions, we would hold imaginary tea parties. For two hours, we set a non-existent table and passed non-existent food back and forth.
With Easter approaching one year. I recalled the inspiring sunrise services I had attended in various parts of the world. 1 suggested that perhaps we could conduct one. "But will the Japanese let us?" was the immediate question. I decided to petition the commandant.
"What form would this service take?” he asked.
1 explained that we u'ould file out of our cells just before daybreak and line up in Courtyard One. Just as the first rays of the sun appeared, we would start singing the hymn, "Low in the grave He lay ... up from the grave He rose.”
"Why do you want to do this?” he asked.
"Because Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning. Not even death could hold Him captive.”
It took another dozen interviews to get permission. We started our preparations two weeks before Easier. We practised singing, filing out into the courtyard, the massing formation—all timed to the split second. The word spread to the men’s jail. They worked out a system whereby each of them had a two-second turn at the cell windows from which our service could be seen.
We were up at three on Easter morning. There was only one guard posted on duty, a man named Ichehara. and he was unarmed. That was the only time in Changi a guard appeared without a gun. We filed out just as rehearsed. Faces appeared from the cell windows of the men’s side. At the first sign of light, our choir leader brought down her baton and the singing started. It ended with the victorious line. "Hallelujah! Christ arose!" A great peace lay over the vermin-infested prison.
I was the last person to leave the courtyard. As I was about to step into the passageway, Ichehara furtively looked about him and then handed me a little orchid, with the roots attached. "Christ did arise." he whispered, and turned on his heel and hurriedly walked away. We hadn’t known
it but he was a Christian and had taken this great risk to express his feelings. This orchid was to bloom for months and was given an honored place in our Silence Hut.
The erection of the Silence Hut was perhaps our greatest single achievement. 1 conceived of a building that would serve as an oasis of cleanliness and serenity amid the crowded and noisy prison. In the course of some thirty visits to the commandant. I explained what we wanted to do and why. I told him that we intended to build a hut with our own hands. We wanted nothing from him. 1 knew we could do this because Dennis and 1 had built a similar hut on our own island before the war. Perhaps through curiosity, the commandant agreed, and gangs of men were sent into the jungle to fetch us bamboo and coconut trees of various sizes and shapes.
Fach morning I organized three shifts of sixty women, which meant that 180 people were at work every day. To establish the atmosphere of our new' project, we toiled in absolute silence. We started by digging 3 Vi -foot holes into which we placed the main supporting poles. We then erected the skeleton of the building—the uprights for the walls and the crossbeams for the roof. Using the leafy parts of the trees, softened by being soaked in water, we wove them into a fabric as covering for the roof and sides. Our thread was coconut fibre and our needles were whittled out of the soft wood of the neem tree. At the end of six months, we had completed our Silence Hut. complete with a fence around it.
The rule of absolute silence was strictly enforced. Fach woman, by turn, had the privilege of reserving a liny cubicle for a day. Here, she could enjoy the unbelievable luxury of spending hour after hour in quietness, thinking, reading or sleeping. It was a great morale builder. I have stayed in some of the finest hotels in the world but I can’t recall a room that has given me a greater feeling of luxury than the cubicles of the Changi Silence Hut.
We sorely needed whatever comfort we could derive from the Silence Hut. We were rapidly becoming weaker, thinner anil more ragged. With the tide of war turning against them, the Japanese became more inhuman. For a minor infraction of the rules, two of our women were condemned to spend two weeks in a small cell with six male prisoners. In the interrogation office, I myself was forced to witness the flogging of a man who refused to divulge certain information. They lashed him with a bullwhip until his body was a mass of wounds. "This is your last chance to talk,’’ they told him. When he remained silent, they scored his tongue with a knife, stuffed his mouth with salt and sewed his lips closed with steel wire. He died the following day.
My greatest personal agony in Changi Jail occurred in the months just before the liberation. For reasons that are still unclear to me. 1 was placed in solitary confinement for 120 days. The only light that pierced my bare, silent cell came from a barred window beyond my reach. The only human being I saw was the silent guard who brought me my daily ration of buyaam soup and water. My only possessions were the green kimono I wore, my father’s little red Bible, and the stub of a pencil.
1 was determined to emerge from this fresh horror «dive. I told myself, over and over again, that I hadn’t survived the hell of the past three and a half years, to die, ignominiously. alone. I realized, from the start, that I must keep my body active. I worked out a routine of life. Ten times a day, 1 would walk around my small cell, thirty or forty times, and then sit down and massage my muscles. Sometimes, I would attempt push-ups, but I was strong enough to do only two or three at'Ti.vm^
1 set various tasks for myself and made them last as long as possible. With a sliver of wood obtained from the cell door. 1 meticulously cleaned my nails. Then l would spend hours pulling the hairs from my legs, one by one. In my mind’s eye. I converted my stark cell into a luxurious apartment. The corner where 1 ate my buyaam soup was the dining room: where 1 cleaned my nails was the bathroom: where 1 stretched and relaxed was the living room.
The only living company I had were live * *’t * ar|d two spiders. 1 would lie on
the floor, my head on my hands, and talk and sing to the ants. As for the spiders. I named the larger and healthier one Churchill and the other one Tojo. Bursting with bitterness toward the Japanese. I was determined that Churchill must vanquish Tojo. I deliberately set about stirring up rivalry between the two insects. I fished a speck of rat meal out of the buy aam soup, put it on the end of a sliver of wood, and held it between Churchill and Tojo, but closer to Churchill. Angered by the prospect of losing the food. Fojo would savagely attack Churchill. At that point. I'd pull them apart. After separating them a dozen times. I allowed them to embrace in a deadly struggle. Churchill was easily the winner. When the light was over. I bade goodbye to Churchill and gulped down the remains of Fojo, followed by the sliver of rat meat.
At one period, during my solitary confinement. my food was abruptly discontinued. After two days. I knew I was starving to death. In desperation. I bit off pieces of the wooilen cell door, chewed them into pulp, and swallowed the unappetizing
mass. To distract myself, I thought MB fresh and fragrant trees of Man.
Island and the men who logged them. But still my hunger w'as unappeased. I he only edible things left in the cell were my friends, the ants. “I hope you’ll understand," I told them. “If there’s no food by tomorrow' morning, I must eat you.” Miraculously. the next morning, the guard brought me some buyaam soup.
During solitary, nourishing my mind w'as as difficult a task as nourishing my body. I began memorizing the Bible. With the stub of my pencil, I made notes and drawings on the margins of my Bible, recalling my past life. The time, on Manitoulin. I walked in my sleep and woke up under the bed of a preacher who was visiting us. . . . The poplar tree, high on a cliff, where my sister and I inscribed my brother’s name, and swore to be good to him and love him forever.. .. Memories of q» teacher at ívicGill, Stephen
*v..^ock. While attending a lecture, I turned to the woman beside me and said. "Look at his tattered gown. He’s sure a mess today, isn’t he?” She nodded her assent. Later. I discovered that the woman I had spoken to was his wife. The time my husband was away from home in India and I buried my own infant. . . . Our second honeymoon in Kashmir, on a houseboat. surrounded by flowerboxes of geraniums. . . . And so on.
On the I2()th day of my solitary confinement I doggedly continued my exercises, cleaned my nails, made entries in the margins of my Bible. I knew that if 1 broke my routine I would die. Then, suddenly, at four o’clock, the Japanese guard threw open the door and said, "You are free!"
Stunned, I cautiously staggered along the corridor and looked out the door. I beheld a strange and unbelievable sight: the camp was ringed with clean, freshlooking Allied troops! In the deep and dark silence of my cell we had been liberated without my being aware of it.
Our troops, led by a brass band, came marching in and drew up at the flagpole. The Union Jack was raised. There were tears trickling down the cheeks of one of the bandsmen.
L.ater. 1 said to him. “Why were you crying?”
He pointed to us. “Look at you,” he said. "It’s like entering the Valley of Death.”
“Cheer up.” 1 said. “I’m feeling pretty good.”
And I w'as. Like most of the prisoners who had entered Changi Jail after the fall of Singapore. I had survived. And I knew that, whatever the future held. I would never again suffer anything as hellish as those 1.294 terrible days, it