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Dowsett’s War, Part 6 – Changi Prisoner

In leading up to Purple Heart Day on Monday, 7 August 2017, we honor another POW for his sacrifices.

The Rant Foundry

Three prisoners at Shimo Songkurai in 1943. The effects of malnutrition can be seen in their skeletal frames and the stomach of the man on the right, distended by beri beri. The photograph was one of the last to be taken by George Aspinall on the camera he smuggled up to the Thai–Burma railway from Changi. [By courtesy Tim Bowden] Three Australian prisoners at Shimo Songkurai in 1943. The effects of malnutrition can be seen in their skeletal frames and the stomach of the man on the right, distended by beri beri. The photograph was one of the last to be taken by George Aspinall on the camera he smuggled up to the Thai–Burma railway from Changi. [Photo by G. Aspinall]

“The place earned the title of Hellfire Pass, for it looked, and was, like a living image of hell itself.”
Jack Chalker, Burma Railway: Images of War, London, Mercer Books, 2007, 59

For the other chapters of Dowsetts War, click here.

Douglas France Dowsett, a driver with the 22nd Infantry Brigade Australian Army Service Corps Supply (AASC) Section was held along with roughly 15,000 other servicemen of the Australian Army’s 8th Division in the British Army’s Selarang Barracks, Changi. It was a prisoner of war camp holding some…

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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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