CBI POW

Des Bettany on the beach

Des Bettany on the beach

Des Bettany

Prisoner of war camps and internment camps were a large part of WWII and many would not have survived without retaining their own unique sense of humor.  One such prisoner was Des Bettany who painted and sketched to retain his sanity.  To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore, he was asked to write this article in 1991.  This is a condensed version…

Bettany hand-written transcript of POW memories

Bettany hand-written transcript of POW memories

“On our arrival in Singapore, in November 1941, we entrained up country to Mantin.  The unit, the 88th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, became part of the 9th Indian Division, and the 3 batteries were sent to where the Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk.  Eventually the battery was sent back over Fraser’s Gap to the west coast, north of Kuala Lumpur, and took part in the fights, skirmishes and battles down the Peninsular to Singapore.  After capitulation we were all marched to Changi, after disabling and destroying our guns.

“What remains clear is that throughout the period of privation, starvation and slavery, hope, faith and confidence in our eventual release remained optimistically constant.  Rumors abounded but I particularly remember the night of the D-Day landings in Normandy.  When the report reached us, the whole camp within and without the jail began to stir and murmur – to the consternation of the Japanese.  This was accepted as fact, but the stories of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs was met with disbelief.

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“Some things remain clear – the never ending struggle to bolster insufficient rations; the treatment of working parties by 3rd class Japanese and Korean privates, some of whom had never seen a European before; the roadside display of severed heads, the lashings and tortures of Chinese and Indian labourers as well as POWs and complete disregard for the sick.

“But there was also the ingenious use of material shown in building accommodation, chapels, theatres and essentials.  The concerts, shows and plays were quite excellent as were talks and lectures by experts.  Many miracles of surgery occurred under very trying conditions.

AIF Theatre program from Selarang

AIF Theatre program from Selarang

“At an early date, working parties left Changi for camps in Towner Road and Sarangoon Road, etc.  We worked at cleaning up the damage in Singapore and the dock area.  Igenious methods of sabotage were used both here and other working parties.  We were forced to clean up transit camps for Japanese fighting soldiers to provide R&R.  They would lace the bedding with bed bugs.  There was nothing better than seeing those men in the middle of the night outside, scratching and stripping off their clothes – NO R&R.

“At the time of the Selarang Square incident in Changi, parties began leaving to work on the Burma Railway.  After returning, we were moved to the jail and surrounds, and from there until repatriation, went to work daily clearing a corner of the Changi area and creating a fighter strip.  This still exists, but has grown into the Changi International Airport.

Liberation!

Liberation!

“My worst personal worst moments came when I had to appear before the Japanese Commandant and an assortment of interpreters to try and explain, to humourless Japanese officers, a book of political cartoons I had drawn.  I had lent the book to a careless person who allowed it to fall into their hands.  This was at a time that the war was going badly for Germany and Japan and this was reflected in the cartoons.  I was extremely lucky to get away with my whole skin.  I never saw the book again. [But he did redraw much of it from memory after his release].

Lance Bombardier Des Bettany passed away in 200 at the age of 81.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Dave Arnce – Brandenburg, KY; US Army (Ret.), Vietnam

Otto Barnick – GER & Medina, OH; US Army, Sgt. (Ret. 22 years), Vietnam, Purple Heart, Bronze Star

Charlie Dewese – Southside, TN; US Army, Maj. (Ret.), Vietnam, Purple Heart, Bronze Starflag

Douglas Grimes – US & CAN; USMC, Vietnam

Jay Kritz – NPalm Beach, FL; US Navy, USS Saratoga

Robert Lindsay (101) – Auckland, NZ; Regimental # 31905, WWII, 2nd Div., Signals

Nick Nishimoto – Hawaii; US Army, Korea, 25th Infantry Regiment

Thomas Y. Ono – Oahu, HI; US Army, WWII, ETO, DSC / Korea, 25th Infantry Regiment, POW

Murray Resk – WPalm Beach, FL; US Army, WWII

Donald Schwartz – Sandy, UT; US Army, WWII

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on July 9, 2015, in First-hand Accounts, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 78 Comments.

  1. Thanks to brave men like Des Bettany, these memory’s can still be seen and read, through the history they meticulously recorded during their horrific times.

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  2. In the literature there’s also references to Sikh guards “… who would rape prisoners …” which I never really understood until someone told me that “Sikhs believe their Saviour will be born of a man, and it’s every Sikh’s desire to be the father or mother …”

    Russell Braddon had some interesting thoughts on the topic too, in his ‘The Naked Island’. Some years ago that one and ‘The Scourge of the Swastika’ (Lord Russell) provided a good primer on some aspects of POW.

    Despite all the Conventions and Treatises and other scraps of pretty paper, folks who see themselves as a superior breed will always maltreat the contemptibles. Been like that for thousands of years and is ingrained.

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    • I’m glad to see you go into your own research and bring the results back here. I never got too into the Sikh religion and therefore was unaware of these beliefs. I also see there are two more books that should be on my future book list! Thank you, Argus.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How wonderful that some were able to maintain their sense of humor in spite of their surroundings. Great post!

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    • For most, that sense of humor meant life and death. It’s great to know that Mr. Bettany’s work is appreciated, even today. Thank you for visiting, Bev.

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  4. Amazing account and artwork. Thank you for posting this. I enjoyed reading it!

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  5. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget and commented:
    Wonderful story

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that last one is a hoot – actually after almost 4 years in a camp, what the soldier does to the Japanese guard shows a mountain of restraint!! Glad you liked it Chris.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It takes enormous courage to utilise humour in such horrific circumstances – what a great man, Bettany! So good to know he managed to remember the book of political cartoons and “resurrect” it – a true fighting spirit!

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    • There are many other ‘cartoons’ on line, his children and grandchildren maintain a website. I figured the readers would enjoy this man’s story – I’m very happy you did too, Ina.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great story — true heroes are hard to find, or maybe we just don’t hear enough such stories in today’s scandal-saturated media. Glad I somehow found your blog.

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    • The media has always been on the lookout for stories that sell, dramatic, shocking and/or scandalous. I, on the other hand, am trying to find stories that help clarify the Pacific War. Having started this blog merely to put my father’s scrapbook online, somehow continued on when the site took off on a life of its own. I’ve been very lucky to have attracted or found bloggers who get involved, not just with me, but interact with the other commenters, supply research links, add stories of their relatives and neighbors, etc. I’m glad you discovered us too and hope you’ll return. If you have a story – fantastic, if you just prefer to read – sit right down – Welcome.

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  8. I know Des Bettany’s work well, it is a fantastic record. I had to look up CBI, as the term is not current in the UK for that theatre of war, we usually talk about Far East POW or Japanese POW. CBI is more specific as Far East would depend where you started from!

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  9. I know Des Bettany’s work well, it is a fantastic record.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My uncle Winch was a POW after the Battle of Bulge. He never talked about it.

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  11. Wow, what a amazing story of courage and bravery. How they endured and still remained sane under those conditions says it all. Truly courageous. Thank you Everett, for posting this and to give us a insight into their life.

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  12. Loved reading this. The pluck of men like Bettany most likely pulled many a POW through those terrible conditions who might not have had the will otherwise. Unsung heroes everywhere.

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    • There were definitely a few of them out there. We had our heroes, cowards and everyone in-between – and they all deserve to be remembered. Thanks for the visit, Sammy.

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  13. Des Bettany wrote something of which I had not been aware: by 3rd class Japanese and Korean privates . . .. It makes sense in as much as Korea was controlled by Japan, but I don’t remember ever having seen specific references to Koreans serving in the Japanese army. You’ve done extensive research on the war in the Pacific. Have you ever noted this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In mainland China, yes. I have often heard of the Korean guards. I know there are others, but I’ll need to check my references before I say specifically. The Koreans chosen as guards, having always been treated as second-class citizens by the Japanese were more than willing to play tough-guy at the camps.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I found one reference – copied and pasted_____
      the Korean guards were the most abusive. The Japs didn’t trust them in battle, so used them as service troops; the Koreans were anxious to get blood on their bayonets; and then they thought they were veterans.”
      -Colonel Eugene C. Jacobs, survivor of the Bataan Death March

      “They were moronic and at times almost bestial in their treatment of prisoners. This applied particularly to Korean private soldiers, conscripted only for guard and sentry duties in many parts of the Japanese empire. Regrettably, they were appointed as guards for the prisoners throughout the camps of Burma and Siam.”
      -Lt. Col. William A. (Bill) Henderson, POW in Burma

      “Many of the commanders and guards in POW camps were Koreans – the Japanese apparently did not trust them as soldiers – and it is said that they were sometimes far more cruel than the Japanese.”
      -Justice Bert Röling, who represented the Netherlands at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal

      The commander of all POW camps in the Philippines (and thus responsible for the Bataan Death March) was also the highest ranking Korean in the Japanese military: Lieutenant General Hong Sa-Ik. After Japan’s defeat he was executed as a war criminal. Though Koreans made up a minority of the Japanese military, an unusually high amount (along with conscripted Chinese) were war criminals due to their assignment to POW camps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your research on this. I wasn’t aware of the Korean’s participation until you post. I find it interesting that some often we think of “Germans” and “Japanese” but not of the participation of troops from their client states when we think of World War II.

        Liked by 1 person

    • If I may interject – captive Koreans were indeed beaten into submission if not only for their ration of available food. I feel it must be noted that failure to comply with commands – even from bottom of the heap Japanese privates – would result in execution. Also recall that Nazi German also conscripted conquered people. One last interesting note is that quite a number of those taken prisoner by the Allies in the SWP were indeed Korean laborers as you both well know. In fact, I believe some of the publicly available footage of “Japanese soldiers” coming out of a bombed cave to surrender were Korean.

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      • So noted, Koji. They had been under Japanese control for quite a while though, some knew of nothing else, they merely grew up with the situation and were willing to take on responsibilities for their conquerors.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Japan, which occupied Korea after the Russo-Japanese War, formally annexed Korea through the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910. The Wikipedia entry Korea under Japanese rule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korea_under_Japanese_rule) provides information along with an extensive list of references regarding Japanese rule of Korea. The article has a very informative section regarding Koreans who served in the Japanese military. Among other things, it reports that Korean laborers were trained in combat roles and that at Tarawa a fifth of the defenders were Korean laborers. The article also reports that in 1944 some 200,000 Koreans were conscripted into the Japanese army. The article also discusses Koreans who served as officers in the Japanese army. Among them was Park Chung-hee who was the President of South Korea from 1961 through 1979 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_Chung-hee). While the Koreans may not have liked Japanese control of the their country and while there was some resistance to Japanese rule, there seems to have been a sizable number who took advantage of it and who prospered even after its end. As a result, I am not sure what you mean by captive Koreans.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting about Park Chung-Hee! Good stuff.

          When I used the word “captive”, it was generic to imply those forced into service, perhaps similar to those on Tarawa you mention. Not the poor slave laborers forced into manual labor, say in Hiroshima, but those found on the godforsaken islands. Because I am not as organized like you ( 🙂 ), all I can really say is that I read a MIS/G-2 report a few years ago; in it, it mentioned Korean captives were brutalized much more than Japanese conscripts (latter inferred in my uncle’s farewell letter). Perhaps these men were not part of the 200,000 reported as enlisting… I hope this short reply won’t be confusing. 🙂

          One of these days, I need to dig up those old reports on my backup drive and extract out-of-the-ordinary info…

          Liked by 2 people

  14. It’s true what Eisenhower said: “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done”

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  15. Lacing the bed with bugs to get back at the japs on R&R is really funny. This reminded me of a scene in the movie Ocean 12 (or was it 13?) where Ocean’s men laced the bed of a casino inspector with mites. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. That was great! I never would have thought he’d have drawing material in there. Wonderful work under such duress.

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  17. Thank you lieber Freund lieber Gruß Gislinde

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  18. Wow..this is/was amazing. I cannot begin to imagine what they had to do to remain sane and safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I am always amazed by the artwork done by POWs. I recently saw some POW art on display in an art gallery a few hours south of Christchurch. Also whilst looking into POW art further I found an account of a NZ nurse who was also a prisoner in Changi, and an artist. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5t16/tompkins-lilian-gladys

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Their ability to survive and stay sane under those conditions is remarkable. I don’t think this is something anyone who wasn’t there can truly understand. Thanks for continuing to bring us more about this time.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. It never ceases to amaze me just how much ordinary men can endure, and still retain their sense of humour and courage. Thanks GP, for another moving and interesting article.
    And the cartoons were great too.
    Best wishes from England. Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. The triumph of the will under adverse conditions–a great read. Did you know they are currently shooting a, USS Indianapolis, WWII movie here?

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Reblogged this on Windows into History (Reblogs and News) and commented:
    An old friend of mine, now sadly passed away, escaped three times from POW camps. After the second time, he was told that if he escaped again he would not be recaptured but would be shot on sight, so he made sure that he was not recaptured a third time! Reblogged on Windows into History.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. What an inspirational man, courageous and an inspiration to us all. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thank you for your support.

    Like

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