A small discovery

May 30, 2010

I’m still stumbling across things.

This morning I found myself looking through a small address book that I had put away with some of my father’s papers after he died. I hadn’t examined it at the time as it had obviously not been used for many years. But looking at it more closely again today I noticed the names of several people who were with my father at Changi and Kranji, including John Wharton who had been at Alexandra Hospital at the time of the massacre and had given him an account of it. And then it struck me that a number of the names and addresses, including Wharton’s, were not in my father’s handwriting. Presumably, they had entered the information themselves which could only mean that my father must have had the address book with him in Singapore. This had not occurred to me when I was first sorting through his papers as it was not with the other Changi notebooks.

Looking further I came across something that was even more unexpected. Towards the end of the address book is a list of the letters he sent to his fiancee, Sybil, before his capture as well as the dates of the postcards he had been allowed to send either to her or his parents while in captivity. Between July 1942 and March 1945 there were just five of them.

These two short lists provide a more complete chronology of his early movements in Singapore. But they also raise questions. He thinks (but doesn’t know for sure) that his first postcard home arrived in August 1942. I don’t know that for sure either as he didn’t keep any of his correspondence either to or from Changi. This in itself is a bit of a mystery as he kept everything else including the envelopes. But then he used them to write on.

Part of the mystery involves Sybil but I will get to that in my next post.

The following note was probably written in October 1942 and in any event before admission to Roberts Hospital with pellagra in early November.

Rice diet

When the prisoners were first on a practically wholly rice diet after previously living on more or less European food, a large proportion of the rice was turning to water & passed away as urine.  Moreover little goodness appeared to be absorbed by the system with the result that emaciation, weakness & fatigue quickly set in & weight loss took place.

After 8 months, however (February to October, 1942) health had more or less been completely restored, weight had returned to normal and little more than the usual amount of urine was being passed.  This tended to show that the constitution had changed sufficiently to enable the utilization of rice as a food for the body, which apparently it was not at the onset.

It should be mentioned that during the whole of this period there had been a more or less steady ration consisting of approximately 16 oz of rice and 4 oz of other commodities per day giving a daily ration of about 20 ounces per man per day.  Extras in the form of iron rations at the commencement & a Red Cross Supply at the end of the period did not alter the position to any extent.

Book B, 88-89

Health and Food

May 2, 2010

This note is from November 1942 or thereabouts, though whether it was written before or after the onset of pellagra and tinea cruris is not clear.  Either way,the diseases were very much on his mind as he refers to them several times on adjacent pages.

I’m intrigued by the use of the past tense.  It is consistent with the detached way in which he often wrote about things; from an early age he had been well trained in the language of the scientific report.  On the other hand, I can’t help wondering whether it also reflected a different kind of detachment; one that perhaps helped to protect him from the deprivations and horrors of daily life.

Health & Food

That these two factors are closely related was abundantly shown in the POW camp where both men & dogs were living on impoverished rations,  The dogs ate mainly rice.  Their meat diet consisted only of bones which had been boiled to such an extent as to devoid them of all nutrients. The dogs, although remaining apparently healthy, developed mange.  This was demonstrated even more so by a bitch which developed mange very soon after littering.However, they did not appear to suffer from any of the deficiency diseases.

Men were also existing on a rice diet augmented with vegetables, meat, fish & fruit.  But the scarcity of the B group of vitamins was largely responsible for many deficiency diseases such as the various manifestations of beri beri & pellagra.  Skin diseases also increased & wounds took much longer than usual to heal.

Book B, 99


May 1, 2010

I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly fond of Marmite, though I can’t help thinking that it’s a poor sort of pantry without it.  I quite enjoy it on toast even if I do wince a little every now and then.

My father swore by the stuff. True, I never saw him actually eat any but his brand loyalty was deep and unwavering. As indeed it should have been for it was a central part of his treatment for pellagra (he was also suffering from tinea cruris) at Roberts Hospital between November 1942 and February 1943.

Pellagra is a deficiency disease and as a yeast extract Marmite is very rich in B vitamins. Dissolved in half a pint of warm water it was part of his daily regimen.  Well, that and half an ounce of rice polishings.

“We wouldn’t have survived without this,” he used to say brandishing the familiar little jar. “Beautiful.”