Our Century

A prisoner of the Japanese

Bill Wheale, Tipton,Born 1918

Bill Wheale

"Imagine a newly built road a bit like the Birmingham New Road in Tipton, with saplings planted every few yards. Every sapling on this road near Singapore, was protected by a tube of spiked railings. On top of each railing was a human head, surrounded by millions of flies.

"It was 1942 and I was in the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. When the Japanese conquered Singapore we couldn't believe it. We thought it was invincible.

"We were marched away. The local people were wonderful. They'd toss us a handful of food or a few cigarettes. But if they were seen, well . . .

"You'd see a bloke enjoying a fag and know that, a mile or so down the road, some poor little kiddie of four or five had his head chopped off for it.

"They marched us off to work on the Burma Railway. Three thousand of us set out in my groups. only 115 survived the war. I ate my own boots. You'd cut the sole into small pieces, chew it at night and save it for the next night. The best taste of all was the polish.

I was tied up for three days and beaten. When you're whipped. the bugs and butterflies go creeping all over you. You almost want another beating to get rid of them.

"My leg got ulcers and the camp doctor said he thought he'd have to take it off. But the lads scrounged some of the crystals used for disinfecting the toilets. The doctor scraped the ulcer away to the bone and covered the cavity with the crystals. When the wound went septic, he used some maggots to clean it. They did a wonderful job."

"I was 11 stone when I went off to war. By the time the war was over I was 6st 12lbs.