rnfExtract from my Uncle Charles William Nicholson Memoirs

After Christmas I was informed by letter that I had to report to Fenham Barricks, Fenham road Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  To have a Medical Examination.  On Monday the 15th of January at 9am.

           These Barracks were the home of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.  Then arrived the fateful day a miserable, damp, cold Winter day. The worst Winter we had had for years.  After kissing mother goodbye I caught the Electric Train from the Percy Main Railway Station to Newcastle, Fare 9 pence return.  [The same fare now costs 2 pounds return 1993 ] then the Tramcar to the Barracks.  That year 1940, was one of the worst Winters for many years.

           Reporting in to the Guard-house I was informed to join the queue.                When 38 had reported in we were given a number.  Mine was 4275705 then marched to be examined by the Doctors.  I was one of the first in line to see the Doctors.  They  were amazed to see 6 men in a row who had been Vaccinated including myself.  As I was A1 it was then, line up and march to the stores for Uniforms.  By this time it was lunch, so we were marched off to the Messhall for lunch.

           After lunch we were then marched back across the road and into a large wooden hut, we were then allocated a bed.  A single with sheets and a blanket and one cupboard.  Then we were off again back across the road to the Barracks.

           We then went to the Armory store and were issued with a Gasmask.  A 1916, 303 Lee Enfield Rifle  number 9705 and one Bayonet, and Scabbard but no ammunition.  I arrived home again at 6pm all dressed up as a soldier, anyhow I was dressed.  Back to Barracks by 11-30pm, into an Army bed.  Not so comfortable as my own bed or was it just strange.

           6am, what is that noise.  Who could be so stupid as to make music in the middle of the night.  The room door flew open and a loud voice shouted out of bed any sick.  If some were still asleep there bed was tipped over.  I think we were all sick.

          Fancy having to get out of bed in the pitch black.  What a scramble, washed, shaved and dressed, just made it, fall in and answer your names.  All correct Sergeant say’s a voice, who’s he? we wouldn’t have long to wait to find out.  Line up in three’s.  We then marched across the road into the Barracks Mess Hall.

           After brealfast a big voice right “A” Company fall in outside.  Is that us ? yes, well wait for me. Marched back to our hut across the road.  Please Sergeant I have left my knife fork and spoon behind.  Well you had better go back for them quick smart.  Arriving back out of breath.  Did you get them? i said! no, but I found somebody else’s.  He said! it doesn’t take long for some people to learn.

           Then he dropped a bombshell, anything you lose, you will have to pay for them out of your own money what money.  We were paid 2 shillings a day or 14 shillings a week and out of that my mother’s allowance of 7 shillings.  Out of my 7 shillings I had to buy Cigarettes, Blanco powder, Boot Polish, and Toothpaste, shaving soap and razor blades.  I was left with nothing.

           I couldn`t go home and that was only 7 miles away.  When I did have 9 pence for the bus fare I went home and I decided to use my bicycle.  Arriving back at the Barracks at 10 pm on my bicycle no one objected.  So I could go home every time I was free.  Down the Coast road following behind a double decker buss.  We went on Route Marches, three or 4 times a week, with full packs.

           We were always singing, Roll Out the Barrol.  These Marches started off at 6 miles and got longer each time we went out.  The Snow was very thick, and we went to the rifle  range at least once a week and lay in wet Snow.  Not to fire our rifles but just practice using them.  Then of course square bashing every day, in collumns of three quick march, about turn, halt, and so on.  

           After 3 weeks we were standing in line in our hut.  I passed out, when I awoke I was in Hospital.  I had Bronchitus.  After a week in Hospital  I was sent back to Fenham Barracks.  Then came the big day.  We went to the Rifle range for target practice.  We had to lie in the prone position on the ground in thick snow.

           At 300 yards we had 5 rounds of live ammunition.  I scored 5 Bulls, but some one split on me as I had used a sandbag to rest my Rifle on.  We had leave most week-ends, and we had to be back by 10-30pm..                        But if you where wise you would arrive back sooner, if you came in after 10-30pm and no lights on a lot of strange things could happen and did,  For instance, you had to get undressed in the dark, then when you got into bed you could scrape your legs on a Rifle.

           Or when you went to your cupboard, Helmits or other things would fall on your head.  There was always someone playing pranks.  Two favorites were,to put the table top in place of the Matress.

           The other one was a french sheet, the sheet was placed on the bed halfed, so when you got into bed yours knees were up to your chin.  One of them did, so he just pushed his feet through the sheet.  Next morning when he got up it looked like a large nappie.  After 3 months of training, we were ordered to pack, as we were moving across the road to the Barracks.

           When the Sergeant shouted every one ready.  There were cries of not yet.  The pranksters were at work again, some had lost there Kit bags they were found hanging out the windows.  We had slap up feeds better than some we got at home.  My favorite was Egg and Chips.  My mate Jarrett who came from down South.

           He later came to a sad end more later.  He was promoted to U/L/C this was unpaid, some said it was unwanted or useless.  After he sewed his stripe on his sleeve, I said where are we going tonight, he said I cannot come out with you as, L/C`s can`t go out with Fusiliers.  2-weeks after I was Promoted to U/L/C.  He then wanted to go out with me, but I told him, I would rather go out with the Fusiliers.

           In the Barracks we had a large room with 20 beds.  These were iron and they folded in half, by pushing the bottom half into the top half, they also could be taken apart.  One day we arrived back after a meal, to find all the beds except one piled in the middle of the floor.  The one that did it was too stupid to put his own there too.

           Twice a week his bed was pulled to pieces.  We did not have any more trouble after that.  One day I was orderd to report to the office and found I was made Orderly Corporal.  By the afternoon I was about worn out running here and there at the R.S.M`s call.  He said to me you look hot and bothered.  So I told him about having to run around as much, he then said have you not heard of deligation.  After that I used to grab the first one I saw then I could sit back and take it easy.  Later I was placed in charge of 20 imatures, they had been band boys or were born in the Army, and so were placed as young soldiers.  Sometimes they were terrors but not to me.  I was the only one they would take orders from.

           We had a room to ourselves.  One day I was called away for about 20 minutes, when I got back they had baled up this L/C, and had a Bayonet at his throat.  I stopped them and told the L/C not to come back anymore.  I had a kit inspection one day, and one of the boys had 2 rifles, and nearly 2 of everything else.  So I had to put him on a charge he lost 7 days pay and 7 days C.B. and all the extras he had taken from others.

One day I had to learn a chap to march properly.  He used to swing his left arm with his left leg, and his right arm with his right leg.  After three or four hours he managed to get it right.

          Articles were never lost they were only passed around. They were a lot of live wires, ages ranging from 15 to 18yrs.  There was never anything stolen just borrowed.  After Dunkirk, 90 of us were sent to Launceston in Cornwall.  To make up the number of dead or missing, from the 9th Battalion, which had escaped from Dunkirk.

           A Territorial Unit  nick named the fireside Army.  There barracks had been Alnwick Castle.  The Home Of Lord Percy.  Packing our kit I found someone had pinched my Bayonet, so I went to the nearest room and helped myself to one.  We got on the train from Newcastle to London.  In those days it was a whole day traveling.

           I had been with school trips as far as Edinburgh, and Scarborough. London sounded like the other side of the world.  When we got to Kings Cross it was pandimonium.  Most of us had never seen Esculators and they were going up and down and annoying the civillians, so the M,P.  said we had to stop to going up and down.

           Can you imagine 90 soldiers in full kit and kit bags, and Rifles, trying to get on the Underground train?.  The civilians were glad to see the last of us.  We arrived at  Waterloo for the train to Launceston in Cornwall.  When we got to the campsite it was a sight.  Half naked men hanging on trees.  As we had been trained like Guardsmen, it was a shock to hear them calling each other by there first names even the Officers.

           The R.S.M. was John Ahearn.  He was born in Percy Main the same village as myself.  After a short time we moved to Norfolk, our Platoon was stationed at Wells.  We then moved  to Stifkey next stop to Blakeney here I was asked to dinner by an elderly couple while I was in church.  He said I have a boat down on the river and you can use it any time you like.  So my mate and I used to go rowing down the river.

           He had a large shed in the back garden with rows of shelves.  All  filled with Sweet William pears and we could help ourselves to as many as we liked.  Then off to Cromer then to Winterton-on -Sea, these places were all on the coast, as we were Machine Gunner`s we had Gun Emplacements on the Beach.

           The dugouts were equipped with a Telephone and were connected to the other 3 dugouts our Headquarters and the Suffolk Regiment.  Which had the next stretch of beach south of us.  At this time they were expecting an Invasion by the Germans.  We had a pathway to walk through the Minefields, which surrounded the dugouts.  As all the coast was mined.

           As I was in charge I used to take first watch until 11-30pm, then I handed the Pocket Watch to the next two who came on gaurd.  I then gave them instructions, to wake the next two and hand over the Watch.  then I went to bed and slept all night to be awakened if any thing happened.        

           Anything could happen especially, if daft Willy Elliot was on gaurd, One night I was awakend by Willy and he said look at all the Aeroplanes, they were only clouds passing very quickly with the Moon shining.  Another time early one morning I came out of  the dugout and Willy was throwing something away from the dugout.  I asked him what he was doing, he said I am trying to hit that mine over there.

           I had no option but to put him on a charge.  I went on a truck with him to Yarmouth, where our Headquaters were.  He was marched in to Captain John Thornhill and was charged 7 days Royal Warrant and confined to Barracks for 7days.  he came out the room and the Sergent Major said to Willy let me see your rifle, he was then marched back in again and received the same punishment for having a dirty rifle.

           But Willy daft or not always had the girls flocking around him.  We all wished we had been daft too.  We used to try to get spare ammunition, for use when we left the Dugout.  As the coast was mined we had to travel the long way around by truck.  On the way back in the morning I used to stop the truck.  I would shout everybody off the truck.  Line up, Load aim Fire, we sometimes saw feathers flying, but never went to see what they were.

           One day after this happened, we got around the corner and striding along was Donald Duck, he was a 2nd Lieutenant and we thought he was stupid, his name was Donald Carstairs.  We stopped and he said, good morning Nicholson.  Then I said where are you off to.  He said, I am going into that field to see if I can get a Rabbit.  He climbed the fence and walked up the hill, we watched him and he fired and went tumbling down the hill.  Later I asked him what had happened he said silly me, I fired both barrels at once. This was the sort of Officers we where saddled with.

           One morning I was awakened by the last guard and he said its time to go, but the replacement had not arrived, so we got on the truck and set off.  Then I realized that it was darker than usual so I turned the truck and went back and I asked who had put the watch forward.  They had all been putting on 10 minutes or so.  One day we exchanged dugouts and I was south of the village next to the Suffolks.

            One night I was standing with the gaurds waiting for the time for me to go to bed, when I saw Donald creeping around the small hill we were on.  I took the rifle off a guard and shouted who goes there, and he was shouting its me, its me, I said advance and be recognized it was dark.  I had the rifle at his throat then I said oh its you,  I’m sure his knees were knocking.

            Next day I was talking to a Sergeant from the Suffolks, and he said he nearly had to hold poor Donalds hand, to show him where our dugout was.  Some nights, we would all be on the Telephone talking to each other and a Suffolk Signaler as well,even Donald joined in when he found out what was going on.

            One day I said to Straughan, I’ll drive the truck to the office, well we took off in first gear and zoomed through the gate, missing the posts, around the corner and sqealed to a stop at the office.  I did not tell him I had never driven a truck before, but I never had the chance again.  We had a terrible Cook,name of Wishart and he always put out tinned sardines on the table every day, but no one would eat them.  So one day i got the men out into the backyard, and armed one with the brush, I then gashed each tin then threw it at the brush and it was hit over the high wall.  I was on the last tin when Donald walked in and asked, what were we doing.  I said; we are getting rid of this rubbish, and I showed him the tin he never said a word.

            I said; to him the farmer went out this morning with the swill and he was smiling, do you know why he was smiling I asked Donald.  He said; no.  I then told him that the Farmer went off with our meals and left the swill behind.  I met a Mr and Mrs Smith, they lived in 7,Backlane, I was invited to dinner and this became a regular thing. I was always lucky enough to find a table somewhere.

            After a while at Winterton we then moved to Sheringham.  Then down the coast to Cromer there we were billeted in a Hotel on the Sea front.  One morning a German Bomber came over and he dropped a Bomb on the Cafe about a 100 yards down the street.  Some of the lads were firing a Bren Gun from the windowsill in the next room.  I was fast asleep, and did not hear anything. 

            Twice I was sent to Coltishall for different courses.  We were off again this time to Bacton-on sea.  Then off to Holt, were I was due for a weeks leave.  The Captains Driver and a Clerk were to go on leave the same time as me.  The time to leave was 4pm, at 2pm they were both off for the train, so I immediatly went to the Office and asked for my Pass.  He refused at first, but when I told him about the other two going off sooner than allowed, he gave me my Pass.  We caught the same train,which was a slow one all the way around the coast to Peterborough.

            We changed trains there for Newcastle. We had to report back to Selkirk in Scotland. On the way up to Newcastle I told them that the Battalion was not due for two days until after we reported back.  I said that I would have two extra days.  They also decided to do the same. After my leave was finished I left Newcastle by train for Carlisle.  Then had to change for Selkirk.

            When I climbed into the carriage there was one Soldier and he said where are you going to.  Selkirk said I.  Then I said you are a Signaler in the Suffolks.  He said how would you know that, I told him I recognized his voice he said you are right it was me.  He was one of the many we used to speak to at the Dugouts.  When we arrived at Selkirk we traveled by lorry to the Duke of Bacclues Mansion at Bow Hill.  After we arrived we were immediately placed under arrest in the Guard room.

            My information was not reliable, I then told the Sergeant that, if I was not released in ten minutes he would be in trouble.  I was a Lance Corporal and had to be under close arrest and to have an escort of the same rank.  He was back quick smart and I was released into the charge of Corporal Thompson.  As he had to go where ever I went I made his life a misery, as I kept going in and out and he didn’t have a minute’s peace.  He said that if ever he was arrested he would ask for me as his escort.

            On the Monday morning I was marched before the C/C Captain Thornhill on a charge of being absent without leave, I said my Mother was a Widow and was very sick and I had to arrange things so she could be looked after.  I got off with a reprimand, but the other two got 7 days but they always blamed me.  It was not my fault as they made their own decisions I did not force them to follow me.

            We were 6 to a room and our room was the Servants quarters, with the Bells above the door for service to the different rooms, and our beds were 3 boards and a staw filled pallias.  We were awakened every morning at 6am and we had to be dressed in shorts vests and sandshoes ready for P.T. we ran along the road to the bottom of a very large mountain or so it seemed.

            We then had to run up to the top then run down again lucky for us there were tree’s to help stop us from going to fast.  I found another house to get my feet under the table and so had some where to go when I wanted a good meal.  We were on the move again this time by road in our 15 cwt trucks.  As I was L/C number one Machine Gunner I always traveled in the front seat which was more comfortable than being in the back with the rest of the kit.

            We left Selkirk via Carlisle, then Warrington, Liverpool through the tunnel to Birkenhead.  Then across the Wirrel to Parkgate which is on the River Dee.  I was in Z company and we were stationed in a small Mansion with large grounds.  P.T.  every day was running along the Promenade.  We went as far as Ness then Little Ness and back to our Mansion.  One day I was leading and I was jumping between signs of Parking and no Parking painted on the road.  I jumped too far and fell and I had a very bruised ankle.  I was sent to a Hospital in Birkenhead for a week.

            After two days I was allowed out with a walking stick, the civilian’s would let me be first in the queue a poor wounded soldier.  In May 1941 Liverpool was bombed for 8 days without stop.  If I was out I had to be back by 8 o’clock, then if I got to sleep before 9pm then no amount of Bombing could wake me.

           On the Wednesday of that week.  I was in charge of the night patrol and as usual Gerry arrived at 9pm over Liverpool on their raid.  About six of us including 2nd Lieutenant Addey were standing outside watching, and one plane came along the Dee it was on fire.

           So I said to Second Lieutenant Addy we should send out Patrols, as the Crew would have jumped he did not think much of my suggestion. So I asked my mate Corporal Tommy Thompson to take his Squad out on Patrol.  He arrived back 10 minutes after with the German Pilot,who had landed on the river Dee.  He had come through the mud to the Esplanade.

           He gave himself up to an Air-raid Warden who was standing on the corner.  He handed him over to Tommy Thompson this was the first German we saw and the last.  We took him into the office and there were 3 men with fixed Bayonets standing pointing at him.  I told him to empty his pockets he only had a handkerchief and a small tin, which when I opened it had some coins and a sheet of paper.

           This was a typewritten form with the headings in German and the answers in English.  Lt Addy then started to ask him questions.  Where had he come from.  The German stood up clicked his heels and said I am a German Officer and I cannot tell you.  Addy then went into to the office across the hall.  I followed him and I said what are you looking for and he said the King’s Rules and Regulations.  So I can find out what I can ask him. This was my first and last German that I ever saw during the War. The C/O.arrived and telephoned for the Police.  They came,and took him off to Jail.

           As usual I had my feet under two other tables.  One at Mr and Mrs.Murray of 8,Mostyn gardens, Parkgate and the other was Mr and Mrs Hargraves. Of Ness.

           I met these two elderly people at the church in Ness. All the people, who invited me to meals were very kind.  I think this was part of there service to helping in the War effort.  One day we had the Battalion Sports Day at the billets.  The field we used for the Sports was like a rough paddock.  I entered for the 400 yards and the Mile.  The starting pistol was a 303 Lee-Enfield Rifle firing blanks.

             I won the 400 yards in 58 seconds.  As I lay on the grass trying to regain my breath they announced that the mile would be starting in 3 minutes.  I went to the starting line and off we went I was lying 4th.  Off I went on the last lap and won the mile from Willy Walker who was the champion.  Lieutenant John Webb was the starter and he placed a blank carteridge in the rifle, pointed it at a empty carton and it blew it to pieces.

           One of the lads got hold of a blank, puts it in his rifle and fired at his mates behind which was peppered with pellets.  After the Races we went on Manoeuvers, into North Wales at Bangor also to Troius-Fyniod, I had to teach 2nd Lieutenant Webb how to use a Director to line up the 4 Machine Guns. So I gave him instructions what to do and let him get on with it.

           He said to me right I am finished, I said yes well look at the Guns, they were all pointing to our own lines, he had forgot to zero the director and was 180 degrees out.  One night we were allowed out and we went on the Lorry to Fynoid.  4 men had there elbows on the side of the lorry and going around a corner, the driver got to near to the kirb and the 4 chaps had there elbows cracked on a Telegraph Pole.

            We also,went on Traffic Duty to Shrewsbery, which was an all night drive.  Not long after we started my driver Doug Greg said I am tired so he was having forty winks while I drove with my right hand.

 Rumours were flying around that we would soon be leaving for overseas, we were fitted out with Tropical kit and they said it was Beruit or Basra.  0n October the 27th, we left Parkgate by Lorry, through the Mersey Tunnel to the Docks at Liverpool..  We Embarked on the P&O.Liner Warwick Castle which was a large liner and used to run to South Africa.  The swimming pool was on the bottom deck but we could not go swimming as the pool was empty.

             Then we left the Mersey River,and joined another half a dozen ships and sailed up to the coast of Scotland, off the Clyde where we joined the other half of the Convoy.  We had 4 Destroyers as an escourt.There may have been other escourt ships but I never saw them.  Quite a lot were seasick, I with some others were okay so we had plenty to eat as the others did not want to eat.

             We sailed to within the sight of Greenland, half way to Canada, we were met by the Americans.  They took over from the Royal Navy, and they had 1 Aircraft Carrier with planes flying overhead,  1 Crusier and 6 Destroyers.  At this time they were not in the War.  So we were escourted the rest of the way.{read James Branchleys book  Towards the Setting Sun,} he was in the same Convoy, and he said! that we also had the Royal Navy Calypso, but I never saw it.  We went through a Channel with mountains on either side, covered with Fir trees, into Halifax Nova Scotia.

              After collecting our gear we disembarked, and walked along the dockside and we were told to go onto the American ship U.S.S.Orizarba.  But there was a stoppage, the first lot on didn’t like it so they where trying to get off again.  A Yanky Officer who was standing at the bottom of the gang plank, was threatining them with a Revolver.

           Also in this Convoy were the U.S.S. Mt Vernon, Wakefield, Westpoint, Leonard Wood, Joseph Dickman, and the Orizarba

There were also 2 Aircraft Carrierers, 2 heavy Crusiers and 9 Destroyers, but I never saw any of them except an Oil Tanker.  Eventualy we all got aboard and were taking down to the hold and there were tiers of bunks three high.  This ship had been sunk and was Salvaged and refurbished, it was an all welded ship.  Half the Sailors had never been to sea,and a lot of the sailors were seasick, it was only its second trip.

           No shortness of food, best meals some of us had in all our life.  We used to line up for our meals, sliding our tray, which had different size compartments, along a rail in front of the cooks,  If it was chicken each one received one half of the chicken and big scoops of vegies, and sweets were usualy icecream.  The milk loaves of bread were baked on board, and as many slices that you wanted.

            Until our Colonel put a stop to it, one slice per man, and that was all we would get in the future.  So we used to stand on a ladder near the bakery and when they went past with the loaves on a bread tray, we helped ourselves.  My mate Ted Chestney he was from South Shields, and I volunteered for a painters job, this was great going around painting grey all over the ship.

               Until the yankie sailors found out we were not getting the same pay.  They demanded that we were payed the same or we had to stop painting.  Of course there wasn’t any chance of us being payed more so we lost our job.  One of the sailor’s that we worked with told us this story. After the ship was in use again, the first voyage was to Iceland,with a company of Marines.

               They had a four inch gun on the after deck above the Hospital, on there way to Iceland, they fired the gun and it blew all the doors off there hinges.  There was many an argument between the Yanks and the Limeys as we were called, some ended in Boxing Matches on deck.  On pay days we received $4 for one pound, and Cigarettes were 6 cents a carton.  The ship could only travel 7 days,then they had to refuel.

             There was an Oil Tanker with the convoy and it was quite a feat to refuel us, as the tanker had to come along side, then they threw a heaving line over.  They then dragged the oil pipe over, at the same time they rigged a boson’s chair for one of the officers to cross.  The convoy also included the Queen Mary. On we went down the coast to Trinidad,

Where we had to call in for to refuel along side the wharf, about 3 miles acros this natural harbour.  But no shore leave.  After leaving there,we went further south down the South American coast until we turned due east for Cape Town. Three days from Cape Town, the 7th of december 1941 the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour then the Americans were in the War.  Some of the sailors were nearly crying, and most of them had been seasick for days, as they had never been to sea.  We arrived at Cape Town Harbour on a Wednesday.  Next morning we docked and that morning we were giving shore leave.

            There were many cars there, picking up soldiers, to take them to the city and to their houses, also taking them to visit various places.  Ted and I were late getting away, and there were no cars left, so we walked up to the City, and in Long street, a car pulled up and asked us to jump in, which we did and they took us to their home.  Funny thing is I can not remember their name, but he was the Manager in the Cape Taxi Company.

            His son was Head Lad for Armstrong at the Cape Racecourse, the Daughter had a little Daughter and she was Divorced from an Africana.             They arranged to Pick us up the next day and took us touring around Cape Town.  We went to the Suburb of Musingburgh.  The South Africans called it Jewsinburgh.  And we visited a Dutch Cottage.  Also saw Spotty the Dog,a large shop the door between his front legs.

            We were invited to the Races on Saturday, but to our dismay, the ship pulled out to the Harbour on Friday night, so we couldn’t even say thanks or goodbye.  Ted and i did have our photos taken with a race horse.and also one with the family.  Off we sailed on the Saturday morning up the coast past Mozambqe then to Kenya to the port of Mombassa.

           We were escorted into the Harbour by H.M.S Emerald.  On Wednesday which was the 24th of December,we were allowed shore leave so we decide to go to Town, walking along the wharf we had to pass the Emerald, a Sailor on the top deck shouted hi Nick, how are you, I looked to see who was shouting, I said,who are you, he shouted back i’m Dockra, he lived at East Howdon and we were in the same class at school.

           As I had not seen him for 6 years, I did not recognise him.  Four of us took a Taxi for 3 pence each.  And what a hair razing ride that was.           With his finger on the horn and his foot flat to the floor, off we went, there were wrecks all along the road, no wonder.  Ted and I had 2 shillings each, we got a Ham Sandwich, which was a small loave cut in half and a very thick slice of ham, cost 1 shilling  Then we went to the Fruit Market bought a large straw hat, and had it filled with a variety of fruit.

            We now had sixpence left between us.  So we hailed an old man pulling a Rickshaw, it was more like a cart on two 4 foot wooden wheels.  We asked him how much to the docks, he said 6 pence each, so we haggled told him it was down hill and offered him 6 pence and two cigarettes.  He accepted this offer, so we climbed aboard and off we went. As he was so old I don’t know how he kept his feet on the ground, as we were flying down the hill to the Docks.

           The next day was Xmas day and for our Dinner we had Turkey and Plum Pudding with Ice cream, and it was stinking hot, even though we had our Tropical kit on.  We were there 5 days as we had to have repairs.  The next ship tied up beside us was a Hospital Ship, and one of our lads,called Johny Hogg from Cullercoats, found his brother on the ship going back to England.

            On the 27th we were off again this time bound for India, it was very nice crossing the Indian Ocean, and so we arrived at Bombay.  After disembarking, we were told to climb onto the lorries, which took us through Bombay.  We went to the Railway Station, this station was built when the English had India, and is still the same now, where we boarded a passenger train, it had wooden slatted seats, along the sides of the carraige and the Toilet was a slab of concrete with 2 footprints and a hole.

           When we set off there were literally 100’s of children, shouting Bakshees, as they ran along the side of the train.  We started to climb towards the distant hills, and we eventualy arrived at Dulali.  After leaving the train, we had to march to the Camp,about 3 miles away.  The Camp was rows of wooden huts with verandahs.  After we sorted our selves out and found a bed, it was very quiet and peaceful, that you could hardly realize that there was a war on, and that people were being killed every minute.

            Next morning we were awakened by a loud voice, shouting Char Walla, so we had tea in bed.  The next one was the Barber, and we all got shaved as we lay in bed, the cost was about 2 pence for each one. We went across the square for our breakfast, and as we walked back with it, there were dozens of Kites flying around, and we soon learned that if you did not cover your plate then you lost the lot.

             The Kites were small but very swift.  We tried to deceive them, by throwing small stones in the air, the young ones would catch them then drop them very quickly, but the older Birds took no notice of them.  At the end of each row there was a bucket which was used at night as a toilet, and was emptied every morning by Indian labourers.

           At night we would go to the Naffie and there were Indian waiters, who took your order and brought it back to the table.  The Camp was run by regulars, and I suppose they had their war there,  I could have stayed there with them until the end of the war if the Army had let me.  After settling in we were off on Route Marches, around 12 to 15 miles every day.

           The first day when we stopped for a break, Captain McCreath came along the line, he stopped and said to me are you sick, ( I thought yes of the Army ) I said, no sir, he then said!, why are you not sweating, like everybody else.  Everyone was soaked but I was bone dry, and yet I was not sick.

          When we arrived back at the camp our boots were very dusty, so we took them off on the veranda and threw them at the boot boy, who would polish them up and then return them, notice we called them boys but some were nearer 60.  This was all done for one Rupee, about 1/6 per week to each one.

          We would go for a shower, the water was from high up in the moutains, and it was freezing, in fact it was that cold that you had to splash yourself, instead of standing under it.  One night we went into Dulalee to the Bazzar.  All the shops were open without doors or windows, and most of them had benches, that you could sit on and haggle the prices.

           I was at the Silver-Smith’s and asked him to make me two rings, out of a 2 shilling piece, he would not make them with English money as it was too hard, however he made me two with a South African 2 bob.  I bought some silk shawles and one or two odds and ends.  When we arrived back at the camp I made up a parcel and posted it to my Mother in England.

           The parcel traveled on the Felix Rouselle with us but my mother never received the parcel.  After two weeks of enjoyment, except for the route marches, we were told that we would be leaving, at 7am next morning.  So we had to start packing, after breakfast off we went again for the train.  Back to Bombay. Off the train and onto lorries for the trip to the docks. When we arrived we were told to board the ship,which was a Free French Ship, named the Felix Rouselle.

           Arriving on board we found our berth which was a hammock each.  After leaving Bombay, and going south in the Indian Ocean. It was very hot, so a few of us slept on the deck, in front of the first funnel.  The 53rd Brigade had left before us,and was immedatley sent into action on arriving in Singapore.  The toilets were on the Forecastle, and they were the usual footprints on the floor.

           We had P.T. then drill and some times housie ( Bingo,) after that we were free, mostly to sleep.  One day four of us said! what if we became prisoners and were not allowed to speak, so one of them said! we will learn morse code by winking our eye and for hours we would stand there winking at each other. 


 We went through the Sunda straits, which seperates Sumatra fron Java.  As we went through the Banka Straits we were bombed by 27 high bombers no one hit or hurt, all near misses.

          As we neared Singapore they came at us again.  The Empress of Asia was badly hit and burning, this Ship had all our transport on board.  The rumour was that the Liverpool Irish Stokers went on strike and some soldiers had to stoke the fires in there place.

           { This is what we were told }.  As we neared Singapore we had all the Vicker’s Machine Guns, and Bren Guns strapped to the rails.  I was on the Monkey Bridge, this was the highest Deck on the ship, and all it had was a wooden cabin,  about 4 feet square without windows or door, there was a thin tarpaurlon on the rails, and we crouched down behind this, when they dive bombed, you could have poked your finger through it.

            I was directing others who had Bren Guns on to various targets.  A Bomb hit us right between the two funnels, and lucky enough only two were killed.  I had my webbing lying on a water barrel, a peice of shrapnel cut it into pieces then it dropped into the barrel, this battle was just before we reached Singapore.  We arrived into Keppel Harbour, no Pilot or Tugs and we only felt the slightest of bumps against the quay side and this was all in the darkness.

            Another fellow and I were told to pick up all the empty cartridges which we placed in a large tin bath.  We carried it ashore.  At the bottom of the gangway, an Aussie voice said, heres a bottle of beer for you, and he threw it on top of the bath.  We found out that we only had 4 planes left.  I had only my belt and Revolver and 5 rounds of amunnition, I think I must have looked like a Cowboy, not a Soldier.

            I told Captain McCreath about my webbing, and he said you were very lucky that you were not inside it.  The Army had to commandeer all civillian lorries, as we had no Transport of our own.  We set off on this Lorrie heading towards the golf course.  Where we were stopped by an M.P, and turned back.  We were heading for the Jap lines.  We were on the wrong road to the Gum Plantation.

            We stayed  one day.  We had been payed ten Malayan dollars, and we were all buying tins of Pineapple peices.  We then set off for the Navel Base, shots were fired at us, from a clump of trees, and in one second everybody was off the lorrie and flat on the ground, or in a ditch.  We eventualy arrived at the Navel Base, and were shown to our dugout, and we set up our Vickers Machine Gun.  We were told not to move around, as the Japs had never spotted the dugout.

           That night we heard an exsplosion, the last of the retreating troops had passed and the Engineers blew a hole in the Causeway. and then finished it off with barbed wire.  But they didn’t do a very good job.  Next morning we were looking across the Sraits of Jahore,and watching the Japs walking around, and Lorries going to and fro, but we were not allowed to fire on them.  We sat all day watching them,

           The next night we could hear the Japs hammering timber into the hole on the causeway.  Lt,General Percival said that the attack by the Japs would be in the North East.  So he posted the 18th Division on the North East.  The Japs then landed on the North West part of the Island.  Which was defended by the Australins 8th Division.,  Commanded by Lt,General Gordon Bennett and he disagreed with Percival, and he was right, as he { Percival } had said the attack would be in the North East.

           He also stated that we were very thin on the ground.  Next morning we were told to pack up and retire from the Navel base.  We then had to march from the Navel Base, down the Bukit Timah Road, which was the main road from the city to the causeway.  We hadn’t any trucks, and had to march.  As the number one Machine Gunner I had to carry the Tripod which weighed 50 Lbs the number 2 had to carry the gun which weighed about the same, as it was also filled with water.

           We eventualy arrived somewhere on the Bukit Tima road, by this time we were tired.  We were lying in line across the grass in the middle of the road.  I was on the outside above an open drain, I fell asleep when the fellow next to me pushed me to awaken me.  But he pushed to hard and I ended in the drain in about a foot and a half of water, this woke me up quick smart.

           Trucks arrived and we were taken to Thompsons Village.  The Japs had a small Plane which was used for spotting and he flew over the Village and was dropping Hand Grenades down on us.  So we left there and were taken to a Chinese Cemetary.  Ted and I were on Guard it was pitch black and plenty of Fireflies which looked like Torches in the dark.  We were both sitting on this Grave, they were of cement about 2foot high, when a hand was put on both our sholders, we nearly died with fright.  it was a Gurkha, out on the prowl.

           They used to go out at night cutting the throats of the Japs with there Kriss.  We talked for a while then suddenly realised that he was not there.  We were relieved and went to our separate holes in the ground.  Next morning they shelled us with Mortar Bombs and we got our first casualities.  A bomb hit the edge of a trench and the nearest one, a chap called Les Alexander was killed. 

           The next one was my mate Ted he had a peice of shrapnel in the left side of his temple and the third one Charlie Carr, was pitted in the face with dirt, as he was running past my trench.  I shouted Charlie, jump in here.  He was screaming the Bastards have got me and he kept on running until some one grabbed him and hauled him into a trench.  After a few more bombs they ceased firing, so we were able to get the injured off to Hospital.

           When Ted arrived back from the Hospital, he told me the story, of how he didn’t feel anything.  They had found a bottle of Whiskey and they got sozzled so they didn’t feel anything at the time.  During the ten days  that we fought, I can not remember if we had any meals.  I know we did not get much sleep.  We then marched from the Chinese cemetery to Bukit TImah road, to  the  Ford Factory where the Cease Fire was signed, and a Bottle Makers Factory.

           After that we marched to a street named Mount Pleasant a small hill just outside the city.  Rumours going around, that some Australian Soldiers were .A W.O.L. in Singapore, and acording to Lt..Gen.G.Bennett this was right .


            Adirect quote from by Maj JWC Wyatt AIF Regarding Australian Soldiers going AWOL

"There were a few Australians and a good many British wandering about Singapore at one stage. It was not the fault of any of them as they had been cut off in the fighting and simply could not find their units; so they made their way back to Singapore where they should have been returned to their units.

There is an army system of collecting posts for this very purpose and if such arrangements had been made, as they should have been, the problem would not have arisen.  Whoever was responsible at Malayan Command had simply not done his job. Colonel “Billy’ Kent-Hughes soon got them going for the AIF.

My opposite number at Malayan Command was Major David Duke of the Royal Scots Regiment. “Chang” as we called him, was an old friend from the Command and Staff College at Quetta and he rang me one day to say that there were a large number of Australian Troops loose in Singapore, and would I do something about it.


I knew that this was not true and I also knew that British troops had broken into our ordnance stores and fitted themselves out in new clothing, particularly our Digger hats. So I said “Chang what’s the colour of their boots?” He had to inquire and rang me back a little later to apologise, because their boots were black and he knew as well as I did that our were brown.


rnfCharles William Nicholsen POW Memoirs

Captured in Singapore

We were marched for 12 miles passed the Changi Jail, and eventually we arrived outside Changi Village.  A very large area like a Park.  We were given tents to sleep in.  Next morning we were told to line up with our Dixies for Breakfast.  I was very lucky, i had found one and a spoon in that garage.

           After a couple of days, the camp was quite organised.  We were with a lot of Australians.  One unit I think was the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion.  They organised the Trucks, but they were stripped down to a frame, a flatback on wheels and we had to push them, maybe half a dozen to a Truck.  These were used to collect the rations of Rice.  A fornight after capture our Officers started organising lectures.  The first one I went to, was how a Car works.

           This class was run by a Captain Toohey an Australian.  He said when you get back home you must join the R.S.L.  I often  wondered if he was related to the Beer Manufacturers in Melbourne.  Funny thing was we never saw any Japs.  A party was rounded up.  I was one of them.  We were marched down the road, passed the Changi Jail, to the Docks.  We were sent into one of the Gowdowns, which were full of all kinds of goods that were left behind.

           There was always the chance of loot, we filled our pockets with Sugar.  Sometimes we would be searched.  One day a fellow had a fish stuck down his shorts.  At the inspection he was caught by the Jap the tail of the Fish was hanging below his shorts.  The Jap yelled  Bagger Dana { literate translation meaning stupid } he grabbed the Fish, and slapped his face with it, then gave him it back.


Charles William Nicholson's Japanese Index Card,  Front View


Charles William Nicholson's Japanese Index Card , Back View

           Another day it was smoko time. Something like morning tea, only there wasn’t any tea and some times no Cigarettes.  Anyhow we were sitting in a circle and the Jap tried to tell us that the Aussies were theives.  He placed a tin of Corned Beef, under a slouch hat and went on talking.  When he finished he lifted the hat and the tin was gone, he just laughed, as if to say I have proved my point.  One day we very were lucky, we  found Cigarettes in the Gowdown we were working in.  After 7 days we marched back to Changi.

           Breakfast, a sloppy rice called porridge, lunch, one cup of  rice and watery stew, Dinner the same.  I have gotting some small  Ulcers.  Then in March I was sent to Roberts Barricks which was turned into a Hospital.  I had Fever and Dysentry.  I was in 3 weeks then out again.  My Weight had dropped from 11stone and 7 pounds to about 5 stone.  Every body starting to lose weight.

           Most of us in our twenties but we looked like old men.  The Guards around the Camp perimeter were Sikhs, with there Turbins and Pike Staffs, they were turncoats, and had joined the Free Indian Army of Chandra Bose on the Japs side.  Life going on but every one going down hill fast.  I have caught Diarrhoe’a another week in Hospital.  They came around asking for volunteers to go to Siam, so I volunteered to go as Camp Boot Repairer.  We had to pack our gear if you had any, and went on trucks to Singapore Railway Station.

           The Train was standing waiting for us.  We left on Thursday the 16th July 1942.  Off the trucks and into a cattle truck, 35 men to a Truck.  Off we went, over the Causeway into Malaya.  5 days of agony locked in this truck.  We had a bucket in the middle for the latrine, or if the train was stopped open the door and squat over the side.  The Guards were travelling on top of the trucks, at least they were cooler than us, as we had to take turns for fresh air from a small grill.

           We stopped every night to get our Rice.  On one stop we raided  a Pineapple Plantation, so there was plenty to share around.  After 5 days and nights we arrived at a Town named Bam Pong in Thailand, [ names are Japanese pronouncements } everybody off and we were marched up the road to some Huts, which was our accommodation for about 3 weeks.

           Article in the Scottish Expres 8th Febuary 2002,reads They were called ‘Britains Forgotten Army’-the men who had suffered so hideously under the lash of Japenese captivity in World War Two.

This was 60years to mark the anniversary of the fall of Singapore-the alleged impregnable fortress-on Febuary 15th 1942.The British garrison commander Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, surrendered over 100,000 British and Commonwealth troops to a small crack Japenese forces commanded by the cruel General Tomoyuki Yamashita, later hanged as a war crminal

           Most of the soldiers captured ended up in Singapores notorious jail 0r, worse, on the infamous Burma railway.  Many thousands died, either victims of disease or the sadism of the Japanese guards.

Percivals son said his father was made to feel a scapegoat by Winston Churchill for the fall of Singapore. 

Churchill never backed him up when he needed it and he thought his father died a bitter man.  End of quote.

           Every day we would be marched up the road for 3 miles and we had to build this large Camp all timber huts.  This was Nong Pladuk which later became a large siding for the Railway.  From this Camp you could see a large Buddist Temple with a Gold Leaf roof.  September I now had Scabies for one week . Every night when we marched back to our Camp, which was on the main road, where people, and  Buses and Rickshaws passed.

           Each night when we arrived back to Bam Pong a Jap would stand at the gate with a very large hose and everybody was hosed down, us standing naked on the edge of the road.  People Rickshaws and busses were passing by.  After we finished building the huts we moved in and we were giving jobs working in the store, box loads of all kinds of items.  Each gang used to steal items, our gang was Axe Heads, which we sold to the Siamese.  They would even buy Nails if you had them.

           When we went out to work we waited our chance then crawled through the tall grass or small trees and shrubs.  The Siamese would be lying there waiting, then you had to bargain for the best price in cash.  One morning we were called out on roll call and the Camp Commander Colonel Sato mounted his platform and started talking in Japanese.

           The Interpreter explained that everyone had to sign a form, stating that we would not attempt to escape.  We all refused to sign and Sato was mad he waved his sword around his head and his Revolver in the other hand, he then brought into the Camp 4 Machine Guns one in each corner of the square as a threat, but that did not move us.

           So they made us stand to attention in the blazing sun, we were dismissed at 4 pm but the Officers were made to stand untill 7pm.  We got word that the Prisoners in Changi had to give in as they were herded  into a small square in Selingor Barricks and were dying like flies.  Everybody pack up your belongings we are off by Truck to Kamburie (Kanchanaburrie), where we were loaded onto a Barge with the Siamese Family aboard also.

           These Barges were towed by a big Motor Launch, another 5 days and nights and we arrived at Kinsyuke.  I stepped off the Barge and I was covered from head to foot in Ringworm.  The Doctor Lt Smith or pill Willy as he was known, if you broke your arm he then would give you a number nine pill, he could not help me as he did not have any  Medical Supplies, so he went to the Jap Doctor and asked if he could help.

           At 6pm that night I was sent across to the Jap Doctor, he had a peice of Bamboo with some Kapock on each end ( this was used instead of cotton wool ), he then dipped it in an Acid jar then into a Creosote jar.  He painted all my Ringworms which started at my forehead then down to my toes.  I could not sleep for the burning pain all over my body.  Next morning they all peeled of like postage stamps.

           It was worth the agony to be rid of them.  We were spilt into small gangs and giving different jobs, some to cut and collect Bamboo, others to clear the site for the huts, and some to do the building ready for tne next batch of prisoners to occupy.

           Pack your kit we are off again onto the barges down the river to Tarsoa.  There were a few huts but we had to build more, as they were expecting an influx in from Singapore.  We were then sent out to build a road which would be along side the railway when they start it.  One day while we were walking to the road where we had finished off the day before, one of the lads said to this nip Benjo please.

           Which means I want to go to the toilet, when he came out of the Jungle he was at the tail end of the column.  Which meant that they were different Koreans, on guard, so one started raving at him then started to bash him with his Rifle another two started in and he was a mess.  That night when we got back to camp, he was in a small hut and tied with rope around his kneck and down to his ankles.

           Next morning he was stood at attention outside the Guard Room, in the full sun all day.  Every Jap or Korean  that past him would have a bash at him.  Their favorite was to hit behind the knees with a Rifle.  After 4 days they took him into the Jungle and shot him.  A short while after 4 chaps took off, but as there was a price on our heads, the Siamese turned them in. 3 days later they were all taking out and shot.

           We didn’t have much chance of escaping, as we stood out like sore thumbs against the Natives.  I was taken off the Road gang and put on a Quarry gang digging stones for the road and the railway embankment.  My first day and I was in trouble.  We worked in pairs, one with a pick and one with a shovel.  And this Jap saw me standing outside the hole and he bashed me in the lower spine with the butt of his Rifle.

           I was in agony, his idea was that we should both work in the hole at the same time.  So when I arrived back I went straight to the Doctor, and was put on light duties.  When I was supposed to be fit again, I went to the work Sergeant and told him about my bashing so he said he would send me on another party.  Next morning I was put on a party to cut down the tallest and straightest trees then we had to carry them back to camp.

           There was a large round hole dug and we cut the trees to length and stacked them upright in the hole, when it was full we covereds it over with soil and at the front was left a small opening.  The pile was then set alight and we produced Charcoal.  One day while cutting a tree down we disturbed a wasps nest and my mate and I were attacked, so we dropped our axes and started running.  We were covered in large lumps were they had stung us and it hurt, after a while we had to go back for our axes.

           We wouldn’t go near the tree, so we had to get a long branch, then creep forward and snare the axes.  Then I was next on a Bamboo party to cut and bring it back to their cookhouse, and one fellow wrote a song it went like this.  ENGLISH HAITI KUTSI KOY, TAKSAN MAKI MORTI KOI, KIRO KIRO SWEDEGEEBAR, TAXAN SATU TAXAN CHAR . Which when translated into English.  Was, English Soldier come here and bring plenty of Bamboo to the Cookhouse, and we will give you plenty of tea and sugar, and we all sang this song, every time we went out and came back, but we never got any of their Tea or Sugar.

           There was one Korean Guard and he was always on the warpath, at night some one would shout look out here he comes, and the next minute the Hut was empty.  These Huts were made from Bamboo and Attap for the sides, and the roof.  They were 50 foot long, and had 100 men to a Hut with split Bamboo for the beds.  Which ran the whole length of the huts, both side.  If you had a Blanket you were very lucky.  I had a Rice sack and I used to sleep inside it.  Six of us were sent to a Camp about 3 Kilometres away North.

           We had to unload Barges with foodstuf on board.  I think this was one of our good times as we used to steal every time we had the chance, as we cooked for ourselves.  One day the Japs killed a Bullock and we were giving quite a bit of meat and bones, so we had real stew with meat and  bones floating in the Wok.  The best meal we had had in months, and this was the last one for one and half years.

           One day we had to go past Tarsoe and when we came back we were caught for not saluting the Guard.  He made us stand at attention outside the Guardroom, after half an hour, he slapped us all  twice in the face then told us to hop it.  I did forget to mention that as you marched past the guard room or Nips  you had to eyes right or salute.  

           As the Nips did not speak English, you can imagine the swear words that were shouted as you marched by, but some fool started teaching some of them English so you had to be very carefull.  We were  sent back to Tarsoe and on one morning parade the Sergeant said fall out  the Camp Boot Repairer, ths was late 1943 which was quite a surprise to me, as it had never been mentioned before.  I was taken to this Hut  and introduced to this Korean.

           He was sitting at a Singer Sewing Machine mending Uniforms, his name was Yaster Googi San which in English was mister Yasta Nail. He gave me a Last and a Hammer and a Knife which was a Thai knife which looked like a paint scaper, and a hide of Leather which was Buffalo.  It was of various thicknesses and a lot of knots which was from Flies biting the Buffalo.  Then I was giving some Jap Boots and told to repair them.  A few days after I was told to go to the next Camp lower down the River which I think was Tamuwang.

           Next morning I went  down to the River and got on this Motor Launch, Which  had been sent especally to transport me.  All I had was my Hammer Nails and a Knife and a piece of leather, arriving at the Camp I was taken to the Camp Commander Captain ? a Jap, he said you repair my Kneeboots.  Made of Brown Leather, I did not have a Last so I got a pretty solid piece of Bamboo knocked it into the ground and Heeled his boots.

           That night a chap came shouting who is the Boot Repairer so I shouted me and he told me the Jap Captain wanted to see me at his house.  I thought here we go I am in trouble.  When I got there the English Camp Commander a Captain was there and also a Major Swanton who was the Cricket Commentator for the B B.C.  So we all sat down to dinner.  The Jap Captain said to me this was a thank you for fixing his boots.  We had been giving a printed Card to send home, and Swanton said; to the English Captain, I wonder if I should say cheerio to the boys at the B.B.C, brag artist.

           Next morning the Launch was there and I was on my way back to Tarsoe.  By  this time the Camp was growing and I was giving two extra Boot Repairers.  Kenny Kemp from 14,Victoria road Diss Norfolk and Jos Hynes who was from Queenstown in Tasmania.  At this time we also had with us two Storemen Harry Doughty from Birmingham and another.

           Plus two Tailors Allen Headlem from Gothland Yockshire. And another, and Arthur Ardly from Herne Bay Kent, a Watchmaker, then  we had Charlie Wilson from Southampton added to the squad as another Boot Repairer.  In 1943 I had in the following year, Malaria and Piles in March , May and July.  In September, Foot Rot.  October Piles and Foot Rot.  November a smashed finger.  I was helping to grind rice to make Rice cakes.  I was pressing the Rice down too far and caught my middle finger.

           The lad turning the handle said I think there is a bone in the rice,I said yes my finger bone.  When I took it out we had red rice from my blood and the finger nail fell off, the cure, stick it in a bottle of Iodine, this was followed by B.T Malaria.  Another time I broke my top false teeth eating rice.  I rivetted a piece of aluminium across them but could only wear them on parade.

           At night I used to go across to the Medical Orderly’s hut, to play Marjong with Charlie Cole from Tynley Birmingham and Fred Baker who had a fruit shop in Potters Bar Middlesex, two medical orderly’s.  The Japs had a gang on digging an escape trench, around the Camp.Ten feet deep and ten feet wide.

           I used to cross this road over the trench from my hut to get to the M.O Hut.  One night it was pitch black and I mean black.  I left Charlie and Fred to go back to my own hut.  Well I could not even see my hand, even 6 inches away.  I was walking along the gravel road when suddenly I could not hear my feet on the gravel.  So I got onto my hands and knees.  I was on fresh earth.  I put out my hand and there was nothing there, so I turned away, as I thought, but instead I was falling head first into the trench.

           I got up in a daze and my right wrist was aching, so I walked to where it was at half level and so climbed out.  Back in my hut I had one of the chaps strap my wrist with tent webbing which we used as bandages.                                 I could not sleep for the pain, just sat on the bed waiting for morning.

           At 9am I reported sick and saw Doctor Moon an Australian, he said I had a Collis Fracture.  He sent me to the hospital.  About an hour after he came in and said climb up onto the table.  As usual this was made with Bamboo, An orderly placed a peice of cloth over my face and the Doctor poured some Ether onto it, and I was asleep.

           My mate Harry said afterwards, that he had watched  and he thought that the Doctor was trying to pull my arm off.  When I came to I was told that I would be on light duties.  With my right arm wrapped in plaster I used to sweep the floor.  This happened on the 17th of December.  Just before Christmas Yaster came to see me, he brought some Bananas Brittle Toffie and also gave me a 5 dollar note.  These Doctors were amazing, without much medicine or tools they managed to keep us going.

           Often you would see blokes leaning on the wall watching operations.  I watched one day, the patient was lying on the table.  He had very large Ulcers on his leg, you could actualy see the bones in his leg. So the Doctor was going to amputate.  He had a loan of the Carpenters saw and he sawed off the leg below the knee.  There was an orderly standing with a fan swishing the flies away.

           Early on I metioned Jarrett, he went out one night to the toilet and a Guard shot him.  At early light we saw him lying against the Bamboo fence, the Japs said he was trying to escape.  In 1944 the Japs were getting a hiding in Burma, and there were train loads of wounded Dead and Dying, coming back from Burma.  The Dead were just slung off the train where ever it stopped.

           I saw one Jap Medical Orderly stick a large needle into one, he did not move so he just pushed him over the embankment.  As there was a big push on in Burma by the British they decided to move us to the next Camp Tamuang.  We were taken on the Railway which we helped to build for our first ride on open trucks.  Arriving at the camp settled in.  In January I got B.T Malaria. April B.T.Malaria, June Yellow Jaundice, August Foot Rot, September .Denghie fever, and the same in October.

           There was a Wireless in the Camp.  These were always hidden by one person,and the Japs never found a one, but the news was always camouflaged and put out as toilet rumours.  December, still all together with our own hut, and our work hut was at the end of the store hut.  Yaster was busy making  Knapsacks for himself and his mates. That should have giving us a clue as to how the War was going.

           One day Yaster give me a Knapsack and a bar of soap which was about 6 inches long.  I put the Havesack into a bucket, then I took the soap to my bedside and put it in my Haversack.  I then went down to the river and stayed lying in a nice warm River until lunch time, and all I had done with Haversack was to put it in the water weigh it down with some stones and let it soak On my way back to the Camp I bought 6 eggs off this Siamese Woman whos house I had to pass by.

           I put them in the bucket, and covered them with the Haversack and the water.  I walked passed the Guard house but was not stopped.  I got to my hut and hid the eggs, then off to our work hut and gave the bucket to Yaster.  When he saw it he said you washie, I said yes.  He then started yelling in Japanese or maybe Korein, he then took it outside and said! I washie, so I patted him on the back and said you number one  washer.  The others stood and watched and were laughing behind there hands.

           They said! it was like a pantomine, both of us talking together in different languages.  One day Yaster asked me my name and I said it is Bill, he then said you Bamboo man and I replied, you Mr Butu which means Pig.  If anybody else had said that they would have got a hiding.  We used to wet the floor with water, and then sweep it and it used to go like concrete.

           One day we were doing the floor and Charlie Wilson was sent for  more water and the River was 20 feet below.  So it was  down over all those rocks then climb back with the bucketful of water.  Charlie arived back with the water and said I’ll give him water and he threw the bucketful over the floor.  Now Charlie was 6 feet tall and Yasta was jumping up trying to slap Charlie’s face while we were laughing our heads off.  But he did not succeed so he gave in.

           We were told that we were moving out in the morning.  Next day we had our rice porridge, then marched off to the railway.  This time open trucks, 35 to a truck, then we set off down past Kamburie then Bam Pong.  Then to Nong Pladuk where we had our first building lessons when we first arrived in Thialand.  This was now a large railway siding, and the Yanks had dropped bombs on it and a lot of  P.O.W.’s were killed in the raids.

           At the station a squad of ex Indian Army now called Free Indian Army.  Or Chandra Bose’s army.  We were told to get out of the trucks and the Indians’ were told to go inside.  We were then told to climb on to the roofs of the trucks, the Guards had to climb up also, one wag shouted we are still on top of you b…….  It was the stangest ride we ever had just as well that the Train was not going fast, as no one fell off, but we also had a good veiw.

           At the station a passeger train pulled in along side us from Bangkok and there were a lot of French Indo China people on board including woman, first White woman we had seen in nearly three years.  We arrived on the outskirts of Bangkok disembarked and we were then herded onto Barges, which went to the other side of the City.  We spent the night in some warehouses.  Next morning we were put onto trucks for the next part of our jouney.

           No one knew were we were going.  After 170kms we arrived at a town called Sraburi, and another few kms we arrived at this camp called Pritchi.  The usual setup, long huts 100 to a hut, low walls and Bamboo slat beds all native materials.  Not far away opposite the Camp there was a hill with a beautiful Monastery on the top.  There was a track up to the top, but it was on the opposite side to us.  We settled down to work again, we had our own work hut, at the end of the store hut.  The same set up where ever we went.

           Parties were sent out to work every morning.  To dig large caves into the hillsides.  So life dragged on day in day out the same routine.  Then one day the work parties went out as usual, but were back after two hours, then the rumours started to fly, its all over, bull dust.  This was August the 16th. The Jap camp was next to ours seperated by a wire fence.  There was much  laughter on our side but on the other side all was quiet.  I felt very sorry for poor Yasta, he had been very busy sewing Black tops and pants for himself and his mates.

           At about 5pm the cooks were making coffee.  So myself and the other three Boot repairers went to our work hut, took a knife and slashed down the wall into the store.  We found a large glass jar in a straw and wire basket.

           We opened it and filled everthing that we could find, It was pure Whiskey.  So we went to the cookhouse and by this time the Coffee was ready so we poured a lot of Whiskey into the Coffee.  It was the best drink we ever had in 3yrs and 6mths.  Every one full of joy even the hidden wireless was now on show blaring music.  There were still Jap guards on the gates with their Rifles but they did not bother us.  Next  morning the 17th a lone Yank strode through the gates.

           He with a lot of others had been parachuted in before the war was finished.  My mate Harry Doughty was one of the storemen and we decided to walk down the road to the town Saraburi.  When we got there we found this Barbers Shop and had the works even hot towels all free.  That night Harry and I decided to have a walk down the road.  Across on our left a light was shining so we strolled over.  It was a typical Thai house, built on stilts, with one room and a veranda.

           The Thai was sitting on the floor with two Dutchman and in the middle of the floor was a large basin, and they were passing a can around with the lid as a handle.  So we just sat down uninvited and had our share.  It tasted like Boot Polish, Petrol, and Kerosine, all mixed together.  I do know we suffered for it that night.

           Next morning the Guards on the gate were replaced by Siamese no rifles.  Yaster Googi and his mates, were told to find there own way home, at least that was what we were told.

           The last time I saw Yaster and said goodbye he was off walking carring his Singers Sewing Machine on his shoulder.  Another Korean wasn’t so lucky he arived back at the Camp minus his ears and part of his nose.  One day he had had a bath in the Thais holy water, so this was payback, after our Doctors fixed and bandaged him, he used to work around the Camp until we left.  More excitement a party of V.I.P’s arrived in the lead Lady Mountbatten.

           She was touring P.O.W.camps.  Then there were lazy days for us, nothing to do but talk and listen to the Wireless.  On the 10th of September we were told we would be leaving next morning, 11th September 1945. We were all up bright  and early.  I was dressed in my best Shirt Shorts Clogs and a Forage Cap made by one of the Tailors, and my Royal Northumberland Fusiliers Badge on it.

Most POW were asked to fill in a Questionaire upon liberation , Below is my Uncle Charles William Nicholson's

Front Viiew


Back View


Extract from Charles William Nicholson s Memoirs

Back Home

That was it nothing to carry.  We got onto Jap trucks driven by Japs.  Off we went to Bangkok Aerodrome, which at this time was only a large field.  We were met by a British Officer and we each received a packet of Players Cigarettes, the first time in all my six years service that I had ever got a free ration.  Shortly after our arrival the Plane arrived, a Dakota Bomber.  Inside fitted along the Plane sides were Plastic webbing seats.  The Australian Pilot had our Photographs taken with them, then we climbed aboard.

           We were informed that we would be flying to Mandalay in Burma.  The Pilot allowed us to take turns sitting in the cockpit with him, its great, you can see for miles. The Pilot told me we were lucky to arrive, two days before one plane crashed in the Jungle all died horrible being incinerated , after 3years and 7mths as a P.O.W.

           When we arrived the Pilot took us around the Capital 3 times, so we could see it from the air.  Lorries were standing waiting for us, and they took us to a Camp.  But first an examination by the Doctor, a woman.  Then we were shown where to sleep, then line up for a meal. Which happened to be Indian Chapatties and nice hot Curry.  This was the first decent meal since my last one with the Jap Captain.  We were there a few days I dont exactly remember how many.  One day we were informed that we would be boarding a ship bound for England the next day.

           So once again we pack our meager belongings, and a Lorry ride brought us to the Docks.  Where we went aboard the Shropshire, another Troop Ship.  Late that night we set sail.  We lost count of the days, who cared we were living in the lap of luxery compared to camp life.  We even had tombola at night eventualy arriving at Colombo Ceylon, or as it is now known as Sri Lanka.  We were allowed ashore and we went straight to the Canteen for a beer then we wandered around the Town.

After having a look around we finished back in the Canteen.  Then we went back on board and set sail next morning.  Away across the Indian Ocean, wonderful days, free and just layzing around, and being fed wonderful meals.  After some days we tied up at Port Tufic,at the southern end of the Suez canal.  We were then marched ashore to be fitted out with a new kit,even camoflarged which we had never seen.

           Next day off we sailed through the Suez Canal, an exciting time, seeing all these different places.  On through the Mediteranion.  I thought that we would call in to Gibralta but it was non stop back to Liverpool.  Where we had left 4years before.  By this time we had sailed around the world in sea miles.  We were taking by trucks to a camp at Crosby outside Liverpool.  We stayed about one week, then i was issued with a rail warrant to Percy Main.

           Of course my Mother and Brother Jack had moved from 49,Norham tce,to 35 a downstairs flat.  I received my back pay and graturities 302 pounds.  After 4 years my wages had jumped from  3 shillings a day to 7 shillings and 3 pence.  My first night out I went to the Northumberland Arms at Rosehill my last place of employment.  I was greeted by the manager drinks on the house.  He said to me, when are you going to start work? I have the second managers job waiting for you,

           I went there for a few weeks but stopped going,  I did not have the heart to tell him that I was’nt going there to work.  I was then issued with a rail warrant to Washington Co Durham to a rehabilitation hospital for one month.  Everyday we went to different work places and you were allowed to speak and ask questions from anyone.  We went to a shipyard at Hebburn.

           I saw a man walking along with plans under his arm.  It turned out he was a bludger, he just went anywhere in the yard all day with this role of paper.and anyone seeing him would think he was carring plans.  One day we went to Spillers Flour factory on Newcastle quayside.  We went up 5 stories and worked our way down.  The wheat was at the top and finished as flour at the bottom where it was bagged i think they employed about 10 men.  A lad I was pally with lived in Washington and he said to me can you ride on the front of a tandem? he couldn’t.  I said yes so off we went most days traveling around Durham.

           After this I went for a week’s holiday in Parkside on the Wirral the last place we where billeted at.  I stayed with the Murray family,and enjoyed my first real holiday.  Dennis and i went to Birkehead docks, the Felix Rousell was tied up at the wharf so I went aboard and saw the plaque that the French Governement had placed on the outside of the Bridge.  The 9th Battallion of the Royal Northumberland Fusilers was awarded the Croix De Guerre.

           This was for saving the ship while enroute to Singapore.  We did not have the Medal as it was a Battalion Award, but we could wear the Ribbon of the Croix De Guerre.  I bought the latest record at Littlewoods store named “I’m Begining To See The Light”by the “Ink Spots”.  After one week I was back again to Percy Main.

           We were given a Welcome Home Dinner, by the Tynemouth Council, this was held in the Rosslyn hall, at North Shields.  Then they gave us a Dinner Dance at the Tynemouth Plaza.  I went there every dance that was held.  At one dance at the Plaza I was dancing with a girl who was in a uniform of the A.T.S. a Corporal.  Her name was Edith Harris.  We danced together quite well.

           After the dance we caught the Bus to Rosehill and we walked to the camp, which was near the Coast road.  After that we were courting, always out dancing.  I met her one night at the Camp.  She give me her bag to carry she said make on it is light its my washing.  It was very heavy.  When we arrived at her home which was 90,Heaton tce,Balkwell.  The bag was full of groceries.  I was on leave until 6th June 1946.

           Then I received a Rail Warrant to go to York to be discharged.  There we were issued with Civillion Clothes.  I picked a Blue Suit and a green Overcoat, Shirt and a Tie and a Triby Hat and Brown Shoes. 

Pathe Newsreel showing returning F.E.P.O.W s arriving at Southampton

Newspaper cutting of Charles William Nicholson

paper cutting

My Uncle Charles William Nicholson emigrated to Australia with his wife , Edith and three Children
Hilma , Derek and Billy in 1955 . Charles William died in 2007 . Derek allowed me to include his dads Memoires in this Web Site .

Royal Northumberland links

Wilfs War

The White Flag

Harrys War

9th Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers