JPRI Occasional Paper, No. 26 (May 2002)
A Prison-Camp Memoir
by Nancie Kinnes Matthews

Nancie Kinnes (1918-1994) was born in Yokohama, Japan, where her Scottish father, an engineer, worked for an oil company and later as a teacher. Her mother was English. The family also lived in Kobe, Nagasaki, and Yamaguchi prefecture (in southern Honshu). In May, 1940, Nancie married a Dutchman, Derek Joekes, whom she had met in Japan but who had been transferred by his company to Java. In early 1942, she and her less-than-a-year-old daughter, Jackie, were interned by the Japanese. Because she spoke fluent Japanese, Nancie was often used by the Japanese camp commandants as a translator, which caused some of the other internees to regard her a collaborator.

After the war she returned to England, divorced her Dutch husband, and married William Matthews, with whom she had a son, Richard Matthews. In approximately 1978 she began to write a memoir, from which this extract is taken. It is printed with the kind permission of Richard Matthews, rmatthews@lineone.net.


It seemed unbelievable that war could be so close. The bougainvillaea bloomed in abundance and the skies were bright blue. All the tropical flowers in the garden seemed too bright and the green too lush.
My fear was that I would be killed and Jackie would be left helpless. I couldn’t eat, and thanked heaven that in spite of my skinniness I had ample milk to breast-feed her (and continued this for nine months).
We had been advised over the radio to all stay in the city and if possible to join up with friends in groups. I duly joined a group of about seventeen women and children in a large bungalow in the road. When the Dutch soldiers started retreating panic set in and it took hold like wildfire. They asked me if the Japanese were cannibals and at that point I decided to retreat to my own bungalow and lock myself in.
The radio went dead. All the servants had long disappeared—stealing everything they could carry.
I locked all the doors and shutters and stayed in the dark. The planes were flying very low now, using the tramcar lines along the boulevard as a guide. When they opened up with their machine-guns, I guessed that the troops were near.
It was a long, long night. When dawn arrived, I couldn’t understand the sudden quiet, and ventured to the gate to look up to the main street. Imagine my astonishment when I saw thousands of troops marching softly past, carrying or riding bicycles! I learned later that 75,000 men entered Soerabaya that day.
I stayed locked in the house waiting for them to come for me, as I knew they would. It was dark before the hammering started on the door. I was terrified, but knew I had to hide it. So, carrying Jackie in my arms I opened the door. There were six storm troopers with fixed bayonets at the entrance. They pushed past me yelling for everybody to come out. They looked very tired, unshaven, hot and dirty and very violent.
I told them in Japanese that I was alone with my baby. The leader stared at me. It seemed to take a few seconds to sink in that I was using his own language. I felt my knees buckling and tried to keep from shaking.
They were annoyed and swore at me (for I should have looked afraid)! They asked me why I wasn’t and did I know of any reason for them not to kill me?
I just stood my ground with as much Oriental art as I could muster and replied, “Why have you come here?”
They told me too that I had to go with them to headquarters but when I said I couldn’t leave my baby, they swore, but didn’t hit me. One of the soldiers went to the house next door and made the woman take Jackie in and told her in broken Malay that she was to look after the baby until I came back. That was sweet music to my ears . . . was I really to come back? Jackie was so good and didn’t cry. The woman had hurried back indoors as I was pulled up on the truck with the soldiers. We tore through the town to the Oranje Hotel, which the Japanese had made their headquarters. This was brightly lit and swarmed with troops.
I shall never forget the scene I walked in on. In the lounge sat a group of high-ranking Japanese officers. To my dismay I saw a group of Dutch officers standing to one side looking as frightened as I felt.
I was unceremoniously pushed forward to where the Commander was sitting. They were so proud of themselves. The first thing he said was “Aren’t you proud to see your countrymen grovelling?” I replied “You know very well that they are not my countrymen and that I am British.”
He looked at me shrewdly, and I knew everything depended on what type of a Japanese man this was. Was he from a proud and honorable samurai family, or was he an army upstart?
He said, “You don’t look very frightened!” I replied that I was, although I didn’t really know why I should be as I hadn’t done anything. My greatest asset was my knowledge of his language and of his reactions!
He told me to sit down. He was cold, but not rude, and as he spoke to me he watched carefully at my reaction to what he said. “You are to be an interpreter,” he said. “Do you understand?” I replied that I thought he would understand that I could not betray “my” people, as that would be against everything that the Japanese themselves had taught me. It was a great gamble. The officers with him started to whisper, looking at me all the time—they knew all about me.
He spoke again, coldly but not rudely, and said that I would be interpreting between the Dutch and Japanese on the railways. I tried once more to object politely saying that I had my baby to care for, but he looked annoyed and replied, “You will be paid a wage and must engage a nurse to look after the child!”
He said I was to report for the work in two days time and dismissed me curtly, but turning to his aides he said that I was to be driven home safely. Before I left they pinned an armband on my sleeve with a Japanese flag on it and the word “tsuyaku” meaning interpreter.
I couldn’t look at the Dutch officers.
When I got home they fetched Jackie for me and told me to shut the door and stay there. They posted a large notice on the door—again with a Japanese flag—for all the world to see.
I was already condemned in the European eyes before my war had even started—and could I blame them?

As days went by and although we were under the Japanese rule, time seemed to stand still. There were no Dutchmen about—they had all been put into camps—but as the women and children realized that they were not going to be eaten or raped they seemed lulled into a false sense of security. They even started mocking some of the soldiers, which was very stupid.
Surprisingly there were quite a number of Dutch women who fraternized with the Japanese officers. One quickly learned not to ask questions.
Fortunately I had no trouble finding a nurse. She had a little girl of her own and didn’t want to leave her to work in the hospital. So she came to live with me which solved her problem and mine, and I was able to pay her a wage from the money the Japanese gave me. She was a German, though Dutch by marriage, which made me a little uneasy, but she took good care of Jackie.
I knew I had to be very careful in all I said and did. I still spoke no Dutch. [Nancie and her husband had spoken English together.] I refused to discuss the Japanese at all with anybody, and [did] not talk either to the Japanese except when spoken to.
For a while my daily routine was to bathe and dress Jackie and get to work. This was in an office by the main station. There were about ten Dutchmen working there and my translating was really minimal because the Dutch soon found they could speak English to the Japanese officers and I was only called when some tricky question came up. As I spoke no Dutch, the Dutchmen had to explain to me in English and I would then translate as best I could in Japanese, but as the questions were nearly always technical ones, I wasn’t of much use.
I behaved as stupidly as I could. As I travelled to the town center on the tramcar each day, I usually had to push between a lot of Japanese soldiers. They would discuss me bawdily until I turned and they saw my armband . . . at which point they usually disembarked immediately.
. . . Days went by and we knew it was only a matter of time before we were interned as a large portion of the city was being wired off with barbed wire and matting.
Another two ladies joined us in the bungalow and we pooled what we had left to buy food. I sold a few of my personal things which had not disappeared to some Chinese shopkeepers. My lovely jade watch had been taken off my wrist long ago, and I dared not complain.
Jackie started running a temperature and although it was not very high, it was constant and very worrying. My doctor was naturally interned with the other men, but his wife said there was a good Indonesian doctor at the hospital so I took her to see him. He took a lot of tests and in the end said he was sure she had tuberculosis. He could not find it in her lungs or bones, but was certain she had it. He could do no more for her because we were all called up and told to prepare for internment.
We were told that we could each take one suitcase, a mattress and a mosquito net. We just sat around waiting for our truck to arrive. An Indian in a white turban came up to the house and asked us if we wanted our fortunes told.
I didn’t want any part of it, but the other ladies all paid quite a lot of money to have their individual fortunes told. When he had finished he came over to me and asked to see my hand and said “You don’t believe me do you?” I said I didn’t disbelieve . . . I didn’t want to know. He told me to think of a flower and to write its name on a piece of paper. I wanted to write chrysanthemum but instead wrote rose. He showed me his piece of paper on which he had written rose also . . . which only proved to me that he could hypnotize me. He said he would tell me a few things free of charge because, he added, “everything which comes into your hands, goes out again.”
We were apart from the other women and he said, “You know as well as I that this will not be a short war, but you will come out alive and so will your child. You will be near to death many times but remember what I say to you now. After the war you will go overseas. You will marry a dark-haired man and have a son who will be near to you always. You will lose your daughter young and will die a rich old lady.”
I thought no more of it, yet everything he said has come true—except for the riches, and if I win a premium bond I should think the shock would indeed kill me!

Finally the date of our internment came and we were packed into trucks and driven into the wired-off areas. I packed few clothes—because of the heat they weren’t necessary. My medicines were confiscated, but I took Jackie’s chamber pot and four pairs of sandals for her in different sizes. I carried my crocheted blanket.
I was astonished at some of the things that some women packed—jewelry, evening clothes, make-up, etc. It was so obvious that they thought it wasn’t going to be a long war.
Inside the camps the houses were divided into numbers of families. Perhaps two to a bedroom. I was lucky and was allocated to a tiny room with only Jackie. The German nurse and her daughter were also billeted in this house and she was bitter toward me because I would not take her into my confidence. I didn’t trust anybody.
We were only in this camp for a few weeks before Jackie became very ill and the camp doctor, a Dutch lady, called for an ambulance and they took her to the hospital in the town. She told me that her tonsils were choking her and it was imperative that she have them out immediately, but I was very nervous at being separated from her. The doctor came and told me that the operation had been successful but that the hospital doctor was keeping Jackie there for other tests, so I would have to just wait for her return.
After the second week had passed I was getting very worried and went to the Japanese guard at the gates and asked for special permission to go and see her. He was astonished to hear me speaking Japanese and I was taken to the commandant’s office. I don’t know whether he even knew I was in the camp. He certainly seemed surprised at my ability to speak his tongue. He gave me permission to go to the hospital with a guard just to see if she was all right.
We went by ponycart and we found her in a large ward lying on the floor on matting with a large bunch of bananas beside her. She was the only white child in the ward which was full of native women. She was filthy dirty, but she was cool to touch and I knew her temperature was down. She started to cry, and I was upset and afraid that she would hurt her throat, so I went to see the doctor.
He turned out to be the same one who had seen her previous to our internment and had, therefore, kept her back until he had made all his tests. After her tonsils were removed they had been tested for tuberculosis and found to be positive. (I had never ever heard of tubercular-infected tonsils). He said he was very pleased with her recovery and would be sending her back in a few days, and that now all she needed was feeding up!
On my return to camp with the soldier I could see the women looking at me and coming to all the wrong conclusions!
I asked the camp committee of Dutch women if I could move to another house, as I found the German nurse very aggressive, and they allowed me to move. I was put into an empty bungalow—its only other occupant a lady named Hanny who had got the garage to herself and her little girl. She was so kind and friendly and we became very close. We just accepted each other, and she never pried or asked questions. She showed me how to make a charcoal fire and to make broth for Jackie. This camp was only a rounding-up place or transit camp, as all of us were being sent inland to the prison camps which had been built in the interior.
Jackie finally came back to me. She was so dirty, and Hanny helped me get her clean. We cut off her curls to get the bugs out of her hair.
Within a few days a group of Japanese soldiers came through the camp going into every house and ticking off our names. We noticed that against some names they put ticks and against others there were crosses. They put a cross against my name and I wanted to know why. Nobody seemed to know. Rumors of all sorts were flying about. Then a notice was posted on the main board saying that everybody whose name had been ticked off was to be ready to move out the next day. The ones with crosses against them had to stay.
Rumor had it that the names with crosses were the people going to be used for a brothel for Japanese officers . . . I decided I’d listened to enough talk and decided I’d go and ask the commandant.
Hanny very bravely insisted on coming with me to hold the children and she said that if I had to stay behind for a brothel then she’d stay with me as children’s nurse. I didn’t find out what the ticks and crosses were for, but mine was changed to a tick and I was to get the train the next day instead of staying.
It was only when we were at the station that Hanny and I discovered we were being sent to two different camps and there was little time for farewells.
The train was comprised of goods wagons and we were all herded aboard like cattle. The fear and dismay on the women’s faces was so tragic to see. Up until then they had remained quite free from the troops, but now the shouting and yelling of the soldiers was really frightening them. I honestly believe they thought that they would live the comfy life that we had had so far until the war was ended. The chance of being treated as prisoners had not seemed to have sunk in, and the chances of the Japanese actually killing us I’m sure never crossed their minds.
Our luggage and mosquito nets were loaded in special wagons. There were three benches to each train; one on each side and one down the middle. I was lucky and got a seat at the end of the middle row so I could prop my back against the wall, and sitting straddled I lay Jackie in front of me on my blanket. She rarely cried, and was such a good baby.
As soon as the carriage was full the doors were slammed and bolted and the heat was stifling. Most of us had taken water with us and some things to eat, but the children started to cry and as the women became more tired their tempers got shorter. There were no lavatories and the smell was awful as the children relieved themselves where they could.
The journey seemed to take ages, but was probably about six or more hours. As the soldiers herded us off the train I noticed the name of the station read “SEMARANG.”
These soldiers were not those who had been guarding us until now and were much more brutal and impatient. I can imagine they did not enjoy their duty having to deal with thousands of weeping women and children. We were formed into lines and made to walk through the streets. We could only take with us what we could carry, anything else was left where it dropped.
I carried Jackie on my hip and rolling up my blanket threw that over my shoulder. In a bag I carried Jackie’s potty, some clean napkins [diapers] and drinking water.
I was desperately sorry for the older women—and those with more than one little child. We tried to stay in line but were shoved roughly by the soldiers if we strayed. The whole population of the native villages were lining the streets, and looked somewhat shocked at the treatment of their former masters. The humiliation of the whites did not bother me, but I can see how terrible it must have been for those who had always considered themselves the ruling class.

We arrived at last at our destination, which was a Roman Catholic Church. This was heavily fortified by barbed wire and sacking with guard posts at about every hundred feet. We had to stand a long time as they checked camp numbers off against our names. The whole of the inside of the church had been built up on a wooden platform. Each person was allowed the width of their mattress and case. As Jackie’s mattress was smaller than mine I put our case at the bottom of it and used it as a table. I got up the mosquito net and tucked Jackie up to rest.
Opposite my mattress, a door led outside and I discovered that we were occupying what had been a large convent school. What had been the dining hall was now a hospital, and the nuns were allowed to stay in their quarters above this.
There was a communal kitchen and no individual fires were allowed. Rosters were made up for all the labor. My name didn’t appear on any of them. I estimated that there were about 750 to 800 of us in this small camp. There was no recreational area and we had to stay near our mattresses except when we went to collect our food or go to the toilets.
On a diet of rice and vegetable soup (a cup of each) three times a day, the casualties soon started to appear. The fat women seemed to show it first as they lost weight so quickly. The thin ones like myself lost weight, but it didn’t show so badly. Luckily I liked rice so had no trouble swallowing it. There were no eggs, meat, fruit or milk. We were allowed a spoon of sugar each per day.
The Japanese insisted that everything delivered as food went into the pot. There were no peelings, and even the greens of carrots were thrown in—but still there was not enough to go around. Many of the growing children were very hungry.
If it had not been so frightening it would have been interesting to see how quickly signs of malnutrition started to show—stomachs and ankles started to swell. Another inexplicable thing to me was that from the moment I was interned, until I was released I never menstruated once. Also although I ate exactly the same food, my ankles never swelled.
Soon dysentery swept through the camp and in the heat the smell was terrible, and of course people began to die. I was so grateful I had brought along Jackie’s pot, for we both used it throughout internment and didn’t catch dysentery.
I know how badly the men were treated in their camps, but I think the plight of the women has perhaps not been truly understood. They had their children to care for, and had to watch them go hungry. They were suddenly deprived of their wealth and position in society—and the aggravation amongst themselves was tragic to watch. Of course all classes were thrown together—we were only numbers now.
Without warning I suddenly fainted in the food queue. I awoke in hospital with the nuns sponging me down. This was my first attack of malaria. It seems there were three virulent types and I had all three! When the Japanese wanted to see a specimen under a microscope, the doctor said “Use your interpreter. She is a good example!”
The first bout lasted about a week and I was quite delirious. The nuns were caring for Jackie. I was simply astonished at their gentleness and strength.
What I said when I was unconscious I dare not think, but they would always tease me afterwards. They asked where I had learned such swear words! Before I left the camp they took me upstairs to meet the Reverend Mother. She said “Ah, you are the little wicked one of whom I’ve heard so much.” When I apologized, she smiled and replied, “It is good that we have you to pray for, otherwise what would we do!” They were truly wonderful women.
It was not long before I was called to the Camp Office and was told by the Dutch women who were running it that there were a few Japanese officers waiting to see me. As always I had Jackie clutched close, and as I entered the room the officer in charge pointed to a chair.
I was saddened to think that they still knew where to find me although I wasn’t wearing the armband. I had still not spoken Dutch, and Jackie was not yet two.
They told me that the Swiss Red Cross were coming to look over the camp and that I was to make the women understand that no complaints were to be made and that everywhere was to be cleaned and looking cheerful! If there was any trouble there would be time enough to punish any “bad” behavior. I duly reported this to the Dutch women in charge and was furious that my secret was out and now once again I had to wear that wretched armband with its Japanese flag.
As if in arrogance, the day before the visit I fainted once again with malaria. This time I was awakened in the hospital by a Japanese officer shouting at me. “Get up! Get up!” he screamed. I could not stand. He told the nuns in Malay that I had to get up—they shook their heads as if to say he was asking the impossible. He turned and strutted out, but was back within an hour with 6 capsules which he insisted they inject into me every few hours.
My temperature went down, and weak as I was I was standing to attention the next day to meet the officials! That was the only time in the whole war that I was given medicine by the Japanese.
I had to walk between the Red Cross official and the general who had turned up for this special occasion. There were soldiers behind me.
To make things worse for me the Japanese general was being extravagantly courteous to me—which made it so much worse, for how could I blame the women for what they were thinking, that I was working for the Japanese.
At the end of the tour, which was very brief and superficial, I was asked by the General if there was anything we lacked. What was I to say . . . surely the Red Cross man was no fool and had eyes in his head? However, I said it would be very nice if the children could have some fruit or an egg (hoping to imply that we had none of these). Next day each child got a banana and an egg . . . the last they were to see for a long time.
When the Japanese asked me why I had asked for these things I replied, “Surely he would have thought it odd if I asked for nothing?”—and it was left at that.

Within a month of this, the Japanese were back for me. They told me that I was being transferred to another camp which in their own words they described as “bad and uncontrollable.” I was to go as interpreter to make sure that the women there knew what was required of them, before stricter methods were adopted.
I was frightened, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was given an hour to pack, so I just had time to say good-bye to the sweet nuns—who said they would pray for me. They never did believe that I was a collaborator.
Once more travelling on a lorry with soldiers—this time though with Jackie in my arms. I caused quite a commotion in the streets, and the crowds gathered to watch me drive by. There seemed to be plenty of fruit in the shops, and I didn’t really see why we couldn’t have any.
Camp Gedagang was the most degrading place I had been to so far. Whatever qualms I might have had were nothing to the fear I felt now.
I was taken into the camp commander’s office where I was introduced. The commander, named Mori, did not strike me as a cruel man, but the guard beside him was another matter. He was Korean, and cruel.
Sergeant Mori said good-bye to the other soldiers who had brought me, and dismissed the Korean Kimura—he said he wanted to teach me my duties.
He seemed a worried man. He said he was in a lot of trouble because the camp had such a bad name. The women would not obey orders, and if he could not control them then another crueler guard would be sent. He said that Kimura had been the first replacement . . . he didn’t have to say any more. He knew that I knew what Kimura was . . .
He then called out some name and a halfcaste woman came in. He spoke to her in Malay and said she was to take me to where I was to sleep, appoint someone to look after the baby, and arrange for all the women to gather for a talk the next morning.
I was very careful to keep my mouth shut! Wherever I was going to be billeted was sure to be planted with other collaborators. My cases were carried, and my mattress put down and mosquito net put up for me. Jackie and I lay at the far end of a long room, again on a wooden table-like structure off the floor. There were about fifteen others in this room.
Before I was even settled Kimura was there to see that everything was to his liking! Again the stigma—the women looked at me warily. After Kimura had gone nobody spoke for a few minutes. The lady next to me said that she had been told that it was her “work” to fend for me and Jackie. I asked to be shown the toilets and then climbed on to my mattress and tucked Jackie down. I shut up the mosquito net and turned my back on everybody and just lay quiet. I was glad to have the space near the wall. I felt a bit safer with one side secure.
I was not far from the Camp Office, and the next morning as the women gathered I was called over to stand beside Sergeant Mori, Kimura, and the halfcaste. I noticed Kimura carried a whip.
We had to climb onto a small stage, and I was astonished at the sea of faces in front of me. There were thousands here!
I still had not spoken Dutch.
Sergeant Mori began to speak. I translated what he said into English to this other woman, who then spoke to the crowd in Dutch. However we had not gone very far before I discovered that she really was not translating correctly at all. It was too important for these women that they understood what Sergeant Mori was saying, so turning to him I said, “I think it would be better if I spoke to the women directly.” He shot a glance at the other woman and nodded to me, and told her to leave the platform.
I started to speak in Dutch—it was as simple as that. I do not know how I did it—it just had to be done! I apologized for my poor accent and asked them to please indicate if they did not understand what I was saying. I was met with silence.
Mori said that there was no discipline and that the first thing the women had to show was respect for the Japanese. They had to bow every time they saw one, and if they didn’t they would be punished.
He then said that the stealing had to stop. Anybody found stealing would be beaten.
He said that I was only an interpreter and that any complaints had to go through the camp office as already directed, and not reported to me.
They were a sullen, angry looking lot and scared me to death. He then dismissed them.
I walked back to my room but on the way passed the camp hospital. I decided to go inside and introduce myself to the doctor. She was very nice. I told her about the other camp and the nuns. She was kind but naturally guarded. She took a blood sample from my ear and looking at it through her microscope gave a sigh. “Not too good, is it,” she said, “Have a look for yourself!” Well, I could see a lot of crawly things, but they didn’t make sense to me. “You’re full of malaria,” she said, “and I have very little medicine.”
She then said she would show me around the little hospital. I could have done without that. The children’s ward was horrifying. Rows of babies lying in the cots like shrivelled old men and women, with skulls too large and only bones jutting out of their little bodies. She said they were all dying, and there was nothing they could do for them. That sight haunted me for years.
As I left the hospital to go to my room, some of the children yelled “Jap-lover” as I passed—only to be pulled away by their mothers, who also turned away.
I crawled into my mosquito net and lay down beside Jackie. She was too weak to walk, but that meant she didn’t use up the little strength she had, and for me she was a little bit of heaven.
I kept asking myself “Why me?” Out of all those thousands of women did I have to be the only one who spoke Japanese? In a funny way I thanked my father for being such a task-master, and also my early days at school, when I had to fall back on some inner strength to see me through. I now had Jackie to live for and that kept me going.
That first evening when I went with the others to queue for our supper I noticed that I was slowly being pushed out of line by the bigger, heftier women. These pushed their way ahead of everyone, pushing aside the sick and the old as well. I was becoming very angry, for we had quite enough to contend with without any internal fighting. By the time I got to the head of the queue there was nothing to ladle over my cup of rice but vegetable water.
From then on Kimura used to keep me on the go from early morning to late at night. I was often too tired to even eat our poor rations, and in some perverse way I think it was because I never thought about hunger that perhaps I managed not to get beri-beri like so many others. I cannot explain it otherwise. I got no different food and was painfully thin with no reserves. I was eaten up with malaria, yet my ankles did not swell nor my knees or stomach.
I asked Sergeant Mori if I could try to clear up the food queue in my own way. I said that if Kimura would just stand by me the women would listen, as they thought of me as a spy anyway.
Mori gave Kimura instructions not to interfere this time, and as we left the main office the food trucks were arriving through the camp gates. As soon as these were in the yard they were attacked by swarms of children, grabbing anything they could. Every bit that was taken off that load meant less for the kitchen and less for the camp. I yelled at them to get down, and to my surprise they obeyed me. Itold them to return all they had taken to the trucks or I would take Kimura to their mothers. It showed how much they feared me that they did as I demanded. A group of parents then gathered and started to abuse me and spit at me—they said their children were starving and it was the survival of the fittest. When I said, “No, it will be fair shares for all,” they swore and said that they would get me in the end. I was to hear this taunt of “We’ll string you up one day” so many times through the years, and then again for years and years after the war in my dreams.
Kimura and I walked beside the trucks to the kitchens and made sure that all the food was delivered.
I had arranged for Jackie’s and my rations to be collected, and stayed watching that the queue stayed in line. Surprisingly, some of the women thanked me, but I knew that my only safety lay in the hands of Kimura. Without him I would have been killed. It was again a question of survival.

I went on my own to talk to the Dutch camp committee, such as it was. I think they genuinely wanted to help but found themselves in an impossible position. There was such a rough element in this camp that just asking for obedience didn’t mean a thing. We agreed that the rations were pathetically inadequate even if we got all that was meant for us, and that somehow we had to ensure that the food got to the kitchens. They said they would help. I think that what they used was the threat of “me!” We all needed a weapon to lean on.
I noticed that a record was kept of the dead, and even so early in the war most of these were due to malnutrition. They were signed by the camp doctors. I again stressed that I was only an interpreter, but that if there was anything they wanted to ask for I would speak for them, whether we got our requests or not. There was a little feeling that perhaps just a few of them might trust me.
I never ventured into the camp unless I was called for by the Japanese. Sometimes I worked a 17-hour day, and sometimes it was quieter and I could spend some time with Jackie. I was speaking Dutch to her now, because everyone else did, and I knew if anything happened to me it would be better so.
I had not been in the camp a week before Kimura started his fearful brand of sadism. When he called me to the office, I noticed that Mori had gone out. Kimura just said, “Follow me.”
He walked into the camp grounds. I could see a group of women talking. They had seen us but were paying no heed. Kimura started yelling. I shouted for all it was worth, “For God’s sake obey him!” but I doubt if my voice could be heard. They had not bowed . . . he had them now in a line and told me to tell them to bow to him. Most of them made a sorry attempt at it, but one woman said, “I shall never bow to a Japanese!” I felt sick and knew what was going to happen. Kimura grabbed her and pulled her out of the group. He quite deliberately broke her arm and flung her to the ground and kicked her with his heavy boots. He wasn’t finished with her yet though . . . “Tell her to get up and bow,” he yelled at me. I translated. To my relief she struggled to her feet and bowed. He shoved her neck down lower and then told all the other women to bow low unless they also wanted their arms broken. He had no patience with dawdlers, and one who was taking a bit too long for his pleasure got a karate blow on the side of the neck and sprawled unconscious at our feet. “You will remember to bow next time!” Kimura said, and I had to translate. I kneeled down to feel her pulse only to have Kimura sarcastically say, “You ought to know full well that I know what I am doing. She won’t have a mark on her when she wakes up.” I told the women to get the one with the broken arm to a doctor.
That was the beginning of Kimura’s months of terror. The worst thing was, I had to admit, that because of the fear of him the women did behave. Food was getting through. He was pleased with himself, for without a doubt he was doing it on his own. I knew that Mori knew what he was up to—and perhaps those had been his instructions, I do not know—but hardly a day went by without somebody being beaten.
As the months wore on the women and children were a pathetic sight. There were dysentery outbreaks and tuberculosis was obvious, but there was nothing anybody could do but just live from one day to the next.
It was so sad to see that the strong young children who could run and play were the first to feel terrible hunger and die. The weak ones really stood more chance of survival by just not moving.
There was a bad outbreak in the hospital of a type of cholera. Nobody would go to scrub the wards out, but when I asked for volunteers I got help from a surprising quarter. The former prostitutes—a hard bunch if they opposed you—came and offered to do the job. They did many a dirty job during my time at that camp, and I hope that after the war somebody spoke up on their behalf.
All books had long since been confiscated, and there was no recreation. The Japanese said to me they were far more worried about controlling a hundred women than a hundred men.
One night I was just about to lie down with Jackie when I heard Kimura’s voice yelling for me. He was beside himself with anger. I rushed to get to the office before any more damage was done and wondered what had “turned him on” this night. He shouted at me for keeping him waiting and I could see by his eyes that he was very dangerous indeed. He had caught this woman red-handed, bartering for cigarettes under the barbed wire. He said to me that she was receiving messages from outside, but I asked her and she admitted wanting only cigarettes and that she had bartered some jewelry for them.
Kimura ordered her out of the office and walked her to the middle of the compound, where everybody could see. It was dark, and I could only see shadows in the background. My legs felt weak and my stomach sick. He started to beat her up, and when I say “beat,” I really mean it. He slapped her about the face with his open hand until it started to look like raw beefsteak. All the time he was giving me a running commentary of what he was doing. Although swollen and raw no blood flowed from her face. He then hit her ears, carefully demonstrating to me how he cupped his hands to avoid breaking her eardrum. She was reeling from side to side until she fell unconscious to the ground.
He turned away as a cat from a dead mouse. She didn’t amuse him any more.
I called out for help after he had gone and a few women came out and helped me get her to the hospital. We were in luck for once. Earlier in the day I had interpreted for the doctor, who thought she had a diphtheria victim and needed ice. Surprisingly, we got some brought in and we now packed this over the woman’s swollen face. Just as Kimura had said, you couldn’t see a mark on her next day!
As I said, I kept to myself and never went looking for trouble. A few women were now talking to me, but I was too distrustful to pour my heart out to anybody. Too many times I had had to translate some story or other that the women told the Japanese in payment for food. They encouraged this petty spying. They often said that I could work with them for extra food—I only needed to look at Mori for him to drop his gaze. It seemed to surprise Kimura that I seemed to prefer to starve than be fed. He couldn’t understand that I would not have been able to do my job if I accepted food that the others didn’t get. And really, though not trying to be noble, I guess when it came down to it, I would have preferred to die.

I had had seven very bad malaria attacks. I had fainted while interpreting for Sergeant Mori in front of all the women and woke to find myself lying on my mattress or in the hospital. After this seventh attack, which had been very severe, the doctor said that she doubted whether I would survive another. However, I was to have twenty-three attacks before help came.
There was no medical reason for my still being alive. I got jaundice on top of this last attack. I turned bright orange—my fingernails, toes, eyes, urine were all orange colored. My stool was white and looked like rubber. The doctor had a great sense of humor and told me not to eat fatty foods—meat, milk, or eggs!
One day I was told that supplies were being stolen from the hospital, especially sugar, which had been put aside for the dying children. A watch was kept by the women themselves—I didn’t want Kimura to know if possible—and they found the nurse who was stealing. When confronted by the doctor she replied, “Why shouldn’t I do all I can to stay alive—they won’t need it!” How can you reason with people who are dying of starvation; but I knew the only hope we had at all, if any, was to share. I threatened her with Kimura. I didn’t tell him, but it sickened me to see how much they feared I might. What kind of people had we become to steal from the young and dying? It seemed to make the war worse somehow.
I noticed a subtle change in the behavior of the Japanese. They were very nervy. It was late in 1944. I wondered what was going on in the world outside. We heard no news.
Kimura yelled for me late that night, and to my surprise I found him drunk. He said he was sick of life and that his hands were hungry. “Let’s go round the camp and see who I can beat up!” he said.
He was dangerous enough sober; I hated to think what he would be like drunk. So instead of my usual silence I said, “Let’s just sit and talk of the old days.” He talked on and on about how lovely it was before the war . . . until he fell asleep. It was now well after three in the morning. As I crawled under my mosquito net, a voice said, “Did you have a good feed?”
I didn’t bother to reply. I just crumpled up and thought I had now reached the end of my strength. I had a high temperature and must have been dreaming. I woke up in terror, pushing away a black figure which was reaching down to lift me . . . I was screaming and pushed with all my might and my right arm banged hard against the wall. The pain was terrible, but the black figure had gone. I was shaking with fever, my lips were blistered and my teeth chattered. I was rambling. Somebody must have called the doctor. I only remember an injection in my arm and falling away into a deep sleep.
I don’t remember how long I lay there. I knew people were lifting Jackie up and changing her. I saw Kimura vaguely, and Sergeant Mori, and heard voices talking, but it was days before I regained consciousness. I couldn’t move my right arm.
When I got up Kimura looked at my arm and said, “Who did that to you?” He looked around the room, but I remembered my dream and managed to explain that I had really done it myself. That had been my longest spell of delirium. I feel certain that I pushed “death” away that night.
I lay there holding Jackie close, not able to swallow my rations, and once again it was the yelling Japanese that made me get to my feet and go on.
My liver was hurting, and my spleen was swollen and my blisters hurt my mouth. I wondered how long we would have to go on.
Morale was very low. The food, if anything, got worse. I didn’t believe there was a God any more. Not after seeing all those children die. Yet I was not truly alone. There was some inner strength which made me go on.

The change in the Japanese behavior was not my imagination. They were very agitated. One morning a carload of soldiers came to the camp office and I was called and told I had to go with them. It was no good my protesting . . . I was being taken somewhere to interpret. We got to a camp called “Karampanas” I think. I was to tell the women there that they were being split up and taken to other camps. Imagine my shock when I saw Hanny standing in the row of skeletons before me. I pretended not to recognize her. Not with the Japanese in their present mood.
After the war was over I was told, although I cannot confirm the accuracy of the story, that the Japanese soldiers had gone to Karampanas and decided to collect all the young girls for their brothels. The women had surrounded the girls and defied the Japanese threats. Confronted by this wall of stubbornness the soldiers had had to depart. This was a great “loss of face” and when the officers heard of this they ordered that the camp be closed and the women moved away to other camps.
Nothing like this had ever happened where I had been, but I have no reason to disbelieve the story. When I got back to the camp Kimura wanted to know all about it, but as I knew nothing I could not tell him anything.
Food rations were again cut, and instead of rice in the morning we were given a form of tapioca which was unsweetened and tasted like glue. Although it filled one up for a little while, there was no nourishment in it.
Although there were many cruel women who taunted me, I was able to understand their hatred and distrust of me. I cannot express my admiration for many thousands of women who had to watch their children dying, and who suffered so terribly themselves.
The soldiers now started to make spot raids on the camp without warning. Kimura became more bad-tempered if that was possible, but in spite of his violent outbreaks I noticed he wasn’t beating people any more. He now had another game. There was a partition between the camp office and the camp, and he would stand me against this and tell me he needed bayonet practice.
He would lunge at me time after time. I had great respect for his talent, and knew he didn’t want to have an interpreter with a bayonet through her. What I could not count on was my own steadiness. I became dizzy so quickly and knew that if I swayed it could be fatal. My dress was drenched with sweat from fear by the time he released me. My discomfort amused him immensely.
One evening, without warning, Kimura came to my mattress and in a hushed voice said, “I’ve come to say good-bye. I’m leaving. I only did my duty, you know.” He shoved two bars of soap at me and disappeared.
God, I wondered, what now? I dared not tell the women he had gone. He was my security. So I said nothing.
The next morning there were about ten soldiers in the camp to replace him. These were a different type altogether.
Without us knowing, they had been building a replacement office at the other end of the camp. I was told to take my baby and get my things moved to the other side of the camp. I was allocated a small room with three other women which opened on to the office where typewriters had been placed for the camp office use. The Japanese quarters were now completely restricted and I was not called there. Now they came to me. Lists were to be made of all our names.
Sergeant Mori had disappeared. The camp was now patrolled by Japanese in twos. There were no more beatings.
Soon after this no firewood was delivered to the camp for the kitchen. The women went wild. They tore up planking, doors, window sills, and anything they could in order that the meals would be cooked. The Japanese reaction to this was most peculiar. Instead of raving and beating they called me aside and said that they were greatly troubled as these buildings had been only rented from the Catholic church and we must not destroy them. I duly translated this, but the whole atmosphere was changing.
We even had one or two soldiers come to us in the night with loaves of bread to give out to the needy. I said nothing about this behavior, but there were plenty of others who would, and we were told that this huge camp was going to close and we were all being transferred to other camps.

We were now well into 1945 when we were transferred to Camp Lampasari.
Again, the women had to walk, but now the column moved very slowly. The Japanese soldiers did not yell as before but just kept us in line. The very weak were taken in lorries, as were the very ill. Most of us had to walk the distance. I have no idea how far we walked; it seemed hours. The women and children seemed numbed and took little interest in the gaping crowds.
Imagine my surprise on reaching Lampasari when Hanny came rushing forward to meet me. She took Jackie in her arms (I had bound her to me this time, as I was afraid I would drop her, though she weighed little). I was so weak myself. Hanny had got a garage to herself again and her little daughter didn’t look too bad.
She gave me some coffee and she had some fruit and even a couple of eggs! She said that she had been trading all along with the natives and Chinese. Discipline was lax and she kept saying that the end of our time was near.
“I don’t want to know what you do, Hanny,” I said, “for they would not have to beat me very hard, or threaten me with Jackie for me to break! What I don’t know I can’t tell.”
She said there was a radio in the camp and that the news was good.
It was not very long before I was being called. This was a very large camp and I had to go uphill to where the Japanese had their office. Hanny helped me up, but in front of the Japanese I treated her as though I didn’t know her. I did not want them to know I had a friend.
The Japanese office and living quarters were apart from the camp office and out of sight to the women. The camp office comprised two large rooms. One was an office, and in the other I had to sleep with Jackie and two other women. One was a young half-caste girl, and the other was a German lady. The German was told to look after Jackie and me. I spoke only when necessary and rarely ventured into the camp. I never found out where its hospital was, or even how many thousands of women and children it held.
The head of the Japanese guards was a Captain Kaneko. A very straight and samurai-type of man. He did not fraternize at all. I was, however, nervous about the fact that Anna, who shared my quarters, and another teenager called Marie did chat with the soldiers, and there was a constant supply of cigarettes and soap and fruit. I had seen nothing like it until now and still would have nothing to do with them. When the soldiers tried to be friendly I said I had Jackie to care for, or was feeling too ill.
My first encounter with Kaneko was when he said that they had heard the rumor that the camp had a radio and it must be found. He said that there was a lot of smuggling going on and although he had a certain amount of sympathy with the women, the Kempeitai had ordered him to get things under control.
However, thank heavens for me, he did not take me with him when he and his soldiers went into the camp. Perhaps they knew I was at the end of my strength. But he was certainly a different type of man from those I had seen to date.
He threatened that if the women persisted in smuggling he would cut all the sugar ration. They continued . . . and he did . . . but only the weak suffered.
Then one day, unexpectedly, I overheard the soldiers saying there was going to be a raid on the camp. I pretended I’d heard nothing, but taking Jackie in my arms I walked casually down to Hanny. I told her to get rid of her money because I knew trouble was brewing and I said I could not bear to watch her being beaten.
I did not stop and tried to make the visit a casual meeting—there were no Japanese about that I could see but plenty of women, some of whom I had seen too often in and out of the Japanese quarters.
The raid was sprung suddenly. They tore through the camps searching mainly for the radio but took any jewelry or money they could find and any books.
That day was one of the worst of the whole war for me. Kaneko called me into his office and he looked grey. The Kempeitai had given him a list of women who were to be called to the camp office. They had been found with bartered goods in their possession (the Japanese were fanatic about the women receiving news and messages from the outside). There were about twenty names and the women were called for and gathered outside the Japanese office. They could not be seen by the main camp. The lorry of soldiers left and I wondered what was going to happen.
The women were formed into two rows and told to kneel on the ground. Two long bamboo poles were then placed behind their knees and they were told to sit back on their haunches. I had not seen this form of torture and the immediate terror [of it] did not dawn on me. But in a very little time at all, the women started to scream. Of course the blood circulation was stopped from flowing to their legs and if any one person so much as moved the others would cry out in pain. Some, thankfully, fainted but awoke to the agony again and again. Kaneko had gone inside his office and two soldiers stood guard.
The women begged me to help and I could not just stand there. They begged me not to leave them. I went inside and pleaded with Kaneko to let them go. I actually got down on my knees and begged, but his expression did not change.
He got up then and said he would be leaving to receive his instructions about what to do.
While he was gone I begged the soldiers for water, and they even helped me to give the women a drink. It was a brave act on their part, for the Japanese were quite merciless with their own troops when it came to discipline.
Kaneko returned and said that the women could go. The soldiers helped lift the long poles off the women’s legs, but as for “going” . . . they could not even stand. The slightest movement made them cry out in anguish.
I rushed into the camp and called for volunteers to carry the women to the hospital, and finally the yard was quiet. I then started to cry—the German woman said nothing, so I just lay on my mattress and sobbed.
A few days later I found a little parcel on my bed. In it was a tiny exquisitely embroidered blue dress and bonnet for Jackie with just the words “thank you—we will remember” written on them. No names. I never saw any of those women again, but I heard that some never did regain complete use of their legs.
I was ill again and shivering with malaria. I had a great deal of pain when I passed water and noticed some grit and blood in my urine. The doctor came to see me and said, “Yes, it is malaria again, but I have nothing to give you. Also it would seem you have kidney stones. I have nothing for that either.” My chest did not feel too good either, but as I was not spitting blood I considered myself fortunate.

All the indications were that things were reaching a climax. There was a rumor spreading throughout the camp that we were all going to be taken to Borneo and others that we were to be exterminated—I couldn’t see the point of either. We were dying quickly enough anyway.
It was now June 1945. The Kempeitai came and took me and the two office teenagers to their headquarters. On the way I heard heavy droning above me, and the guards said, “Whose planes do you think they are?” I just replied, “Yours, of course,” and they swore at me. Every now and again when the siren sounded we were taken off the truck and made to lie in a ditch.
We were taken upstairs at the Kempeitai headquarters and brought to the desk of the officer in charge. He spoke in Malay and said we all knew why we had been brought there. I didn’t and said so. I was told to shut up.
We were then taken into another room.
Poor Anna was beaten first. Two soldiers used the inner tubes of tires and I could see her swelling under their blows. She was then taken away and we could hear her screaming.
Anna didn’t come back, and then the soldiers came for Marie. There was a small balcony—I stood near it trying to get some fresh air. I was shivering although it was very hot, and the sweat poured down my face. I had never been so scared in my life. The guard on duty said, “It will be your turn next!” I was numb with fear and too sick to make any answer.
Suddenly they all came back. Marie hadn’t been touched, Anna was being carried, and we were all told to get back into the truck.
What was it all about? What were they going to do to me? We weren’t allowed to talk.
When we got back to the camp I was told to pack. When I got back to my room Anna was crying and I asked what they had done. “Water torture,” she said. “Why?” I asked as I rolled up my mattress. “They wanted to know who their own soldiers had talked to, and who had been the one to tell us the war was over.” Well, it would seem it was Marie who had been told, and I guess she identified the soldier.
Hanny had heard through the ever-present grapevine that I had been taken away, and she had taken care of Jackie. I could only thank her and say I was being taken somewhere else. I wasn’t given a chance to talk to anybody else.
The guards carried my mattress and mosquito net and bag onto the truck themselves. I carried Jackie and her pot and off we went again.
I was too ill to appreciate this action. I ached everywhere—my liver, my spleen, my bladder, my chest and kidneys, my blisters, and I was so cold in the glaring heat. But I was not sick enough to go to hospital. This was more or less the normal state of the inmates and I was by no means special.
The truck took us to a camp called “Halmahera.” This was a smaller camp. I was again billeted near the Japanese office, but I had a tiny room to myself. There were iron bedsteads . . . no more bedbugs to haunt me. We had been riddled with them and the stench of them when squashed was terrible. We had at last got rid of our lice. I cut Jackie’s hair as short as I could, and mine too. I had got some kerosine from the kitchen which I rubbed into my hair and then bound it up with one of Jackie’s napkins. I could feel the lice running over my scalp trying to escape, but by the morning they were dead. I smelled of kerosine but had no more lice.
The women who met me glanced at me carefully. They looked chiefly at that wretched band on my arm. I lost consciousness but noticed when I awoke that Jackie had been washed and cleaned and a plate of rice and a mug of water were beside me. I tried to thank the women, but nobody claimed that they had helped. I was bewildered. Obviously they didn’t trust me, so I went back and sat with Jackie in my room. When the women saw that I was obviously not rushing to the Japanese, nor in any way was I curious about their camp, they started to talk.
It seemed that they too had had an interpreter, and she had also been taken away that morning and was not being returned. I had known of one White Russian lady in Soerabaya when I had worked on the Telephone Exchange who was married to a Dutchman; she spoke Japanese but had not wanted to help. I also knew of a lovely Japanese girl who had been married to one of my husband’s friends, who had not been allowed to help. I didn’t know of any others who spoke Japanese. But it seemed that the Japanese were terrified of the truth getting out and were determined to discipline their soldiers who, perhaps, had talked too much.
One of the women gave me some clothes which she said didn’t fit her any more. I left off my armband and hoped nobody would notice.
I was called to the Japanese office where the soldiers were very subdued. I could hear planes overhead. The officer in charge said to me that the women were not to look upwards . . . what a hope. As I left the office a plane flew very low. I could see it was one of ours and the pilot was waving to us.
Within the hour a car full of officers—some of the highest ranking ones I had seen over the years—came into the camp. They asked for me. This time, they saluted me. I did not bow. It was over. But much of the impending horror was not appreciated.

The officers told me to impress upon the women that it was for their own safety that they must remain in the camp until our own soldiers came to relieve us. The Japanese guards had been told to guard us from the Indonesians! My God, I hadn’t even thought of that. It seemed that they couldn’t wait to get rid of the Dutch and make sure once and for all that they were not colonized again.
The officers asked me to tell the Allies that they [the officers] were to be held responsible for everything and that the soldiers had only carried out their orders. They offered me a large box of biscuits, which I refused. They left then and let me tell the camp committee what they had said. It was up to them now to stop the women from leaving the camp—my job was nearly over.
The Japanese had put guards completely around the camp, with their guns pointing out!
The immediate inclination of the Japanese was to commit suicide, but they said that the Emperor himself had broadcast and ordered that they keep the prisoners guarded.
I was truly amazed at the apathy of the women. There were a few who demanded to be let out and went. Most stayed.
At first it was said that the Americans were coming, and this was greeted with great joy. Later we heard that it was the British that were coming, and as the weeks went by the women vented their anti-British feelings. I was taken aback by this (obviously, as I was speaking Dutch they hadn’t taken me for British). They said the British would take weeks getting the best bargain before they would come to our rescue!
I learned later that the British troops had met tremendous resistance from the Indonesians on landing in Java, and it took quite a time to convince them that they were only interested in liberating all the prisoners-of-war and were not interested in conquering Java for themselves!
The days crawled by and the Japanese soldiers were nervous. I regularly walked around the barricades and spoke to the guards on duty, trying to find out what was happening. One night as I approached the gun-post there was a noise behind me. The soldier on guard sprang forward and plunged his bayonet into the stomach of one of his own men who had come to relieve him. It was over in a minute. The soldier thought someone was attacking me.
We lay him on an improvised stretcher and got him to the hospital. He lay there on his stomach with his guts spilling out of his back. There was nothing we could do. Women had gathered in the doorway, and I could hear them commenting on me—but I could not just walk away. He asked me to stay with him until he died. He made no noise but bit through his lip. I tried to talk about his homeland, and he did seem to take a long time to die.
The next day a car flying the Red Cross entered the camp. A few of these men spoke with the women in charge and said they wanted all the lists of inmates completed and ready to hand over to the Allies, who were now coming. . . .
The next morning when I woke up I found a Gurkha guard at my door. All the Japanese guards had been removed. I was transferred immediately to the British Headquarters. It was the 23rd Indian Division under Brigadier Bethell who rescued us. I was to work at their H.Q. to translate Dutch and Malay—they never let me near a Japanese.
The British troops were wonderful to us. They gave us so much food—as much butter, chocolates, etc., as we could ever have wanted. It was ironical for we couldn’t eat much. I would go out with the British soldiers in their jeeps to buy fresh produce from the country people. It never occurred to me that we were in real danger.
Dr. Sukarno with his large number of outriders came to headquarters to see the Brigadier. All guns had to be hidden, and nothing was to upset him, as it was explained again that all the British were there to do was repatriate the prisoners.
Many years later I was to meet Hanny again when she came to England. She told me that she had been one of the women who had left the protection of the prison camp and had taken her daughter and managed to get to Soerabaya. She had not expected to be caught up in the street fighting and just managed to get to British Headquarters there before being killed. She was sent on to Singapore by the British.
From what I gathered, the released Dutch soldiers fought the Indonesians. After the British had left, the fighting for independence went on until 1949, when the Dutch officially gave up their claim on Java.
I was once again down with malaria. The hospital ship “Oranje” was in the harbor and Brigadier Bethell made sure that Jackie and I were on it. We were both very ill. I can remember the movement of the boat but saw nothing of Java as I left it.

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