Eric Diss's Diary Feb 1942-Dec 1944

Transcription of Eric's Diary: February 1942 to December 1944

Kept in secret at the Palembang, P.O.W. Camp Sumatra, consisting of torn sheets from an old faded Exercise Book, with pieces of cardboard backing.

1942

9 th Feb

Miraculous escape from Jap "27" Magazine episode. Bomb 30 ft. from shop blows me head first into trench -- John has narrow escape. Shop declared unsafe for any further work.

10 th Feb

Our small C.D. detachment removed to empty Officers' quarters, already damaged by bombs. While collecting my kit, more bombs fall near, causing more damage (3 within 40 ft. radius) small pieces of shrapnel drill hole clean through my teacup.

11 th Feb

Widespread dive-bombing and machine gunning by Japs, still no sign of a single R.A.F. machine. Spent eerie night in new quarters -- small arms fire all round.

12 th Feb

Removed to F.P.R. War accommodation -- narrow escape from afternoon bombings -- trapped in hillside by fire. Camp is completely destroyed -- all my kit with it. 8 pm Ordered to proceed to Singapore. Ran into trench mortar fire -- took shelter in sewer. Spent night at Sea mans Mission to the music of heavy gunfire and whistling shells.

13 th Feb

Worked with Frank on Ack-Ack cables -- battery practically wiped out at 4 p.m. friend 'Nobby' Adamson killed instantly. 8 p.m. Ordered to fall in -- battle order All thought were destined for last stand in the trenches - but no. After marching a mile, turned sharply into blazing docks to board small naval auxiliary vessels. Sailed slowly through mine-field.

14 th Feb

Anchored near small Islands at dawn and pulled over camouflage net. Scores of bombers and seaplanes scoured the waters all day -- but no bombs were dropped on us. Weighed anchor at sundown -- sailed through night without incident.

15 th Feb

Continued during daylight -- more bombers passed over (thank God ) met up with three R.A.F. launches -- exchanged messages. Large Jap convoy sighted during afternoon going same direction -- changed course to avoid being spotted. Proceeded through Banka Straits at dusk -- spotted by Jap Cruiser and sunk by gunfire at midnight. (Pula Sugi 80 R.A.O.C. -- 8 crew -- survivors totalled :- R.A.O.C. 15 -- Crew 1 )

16 th Feb

After narrowly escaping being pulled under ship's propeller -- swam for 10 minutes and found a small raft with some of our men hanging on. Tried in vain to make land -- were beaten by strong cross-currents. At midday only four of us left on raft. 4 pm approx. picked up in heavy sea by captured R.A.F. launch taken into Muntook harbour. Taken up to Airfield -- worked until 2.30 p.m. slept on field.

17 th Feb

Worked all day on Airfield -- slept in prison at night.

18 th Feb

Reported sick with swollen foot.

20 th Feb

Night duty Orderly in Hospital wards. When fit enough crawl about.

22 nd Feb

Fall very sick with Dysentery. Losing weight rapidly.

4 th Mar

Volunteer for orderly duty on womens Isolation ward, have three patients to look after. One is a Malay-Eurasian, one a Russian Jewess who dies from lung congestion, and the other an English woman, Mrs. Watts-Carter.

22 nd Mar

Crossed to Palembang where I immediately fall sick with fever and renewed bowel trouble.

26 th Mar

Admitted to Dutch charities hospital in very weak condition. Receive excellent treatment from Dutch Sisters of Mercy, and make rapid recovery.

10 th Apr

Out with working party to Airport.

24 th May

500 of us moved to Airport Camp for three months hard work.

1 st Jun

Pay started 10 cents per day

30 th Aug

Airport party return to Palembang Camp -- due to outbreak of typhoid

31 st Aug

Parole Sheet crisis.

2 nd Sep

Parole Sheets signed. Food improves.

10 th Sep

Work restarted (15 cents per day)

12 th Sep

Collapsed with fever.

14 th Sep

Another session in Charities Hospital, which is now completely under Japanese control.

22 nd Sep

Return to camp.

24 th Sep

Leave Camp for driving job with Frank Joyes. We are quartered with the Japanese and enjoy their food which is good.

27 th Sep

'Dick' Thomas Waters joins us to make three drivers -- all get along well together. Food and "Presents" excellent.

1 st Oct

Getting nicely settled in new job. Called on to drive anything at any time. (B.S.A. M/Bike combination, Chevrolet, and Chrysler cars, two trucks and my special charge, a 38 Chevrolet, 30 cwt. civi Bus saloon.

10 th Oct

Have noticed with satisfaction that I am at last adding a little flesh to my skinny body. The food is definitely better than camp. Occasionally see some of the lads and exchange a few words while on my rounds.

21 st Oct

Speculation is rife. A very busy day driving my bus

28 th Oct

The monsoons have arrived. Terrific rains at night. Quiet driving period.

1 st Nov

Commence new month with everything running quite smoothly. The three of us find plenty to laugh at around here.

4 th Nov

News reaches us about the first arrival of comforts from the Red Cross. All bitterly disappointed -- there are no letters, but appreciate new clothing, food and cigarettes. It is wonderful to feel one is "on the map" again. (Comforts not yet received)

8 th Nov

Heavy rains last night again -- finish days.

13 th Nov

"Friday 13 th" again! A lucky day. Received Red Cross Comforts from main camp.

14 th Nov

Opened first tins of M & V. A great occasion indeed. We have bread to eat with it and silently thrill to the to the wonderful smell and taste of European food. Our tin of marmalade and condensed milk is the first taste for over nine months. Words fail me to describe how wonderful it is. Cigarettes also good, but won't last long.

16 th Nov

Captured exactly nine months ago to-day . Had inoculations against dysentery. Weight 67 kilos. Approx 11 stone (10 st 8 lbs) proof that I am regaining flesh. Must have been well below 10 stone three months ago.

23 rd Nov

Great excitement as Frank Joyes received a personal Red Cross parcel from his wife in South Africa. Only three such parcels have arrived for the Palembang Prison Camp. He is extremely relieved to know his wife is safe and sound in a friendly country. Dick and I are now more hopeful of having letters by Christmas.

27 th Nov

Received balance of comforts from Red Cross shipment (3 cartons of malt porridge, jar Marmite veg. paste, 5 tins Veg. carton cocoa, packet of dried fruit, between the three of us) Experiencing one or two rough periods with Ken who is very unreasonable, and P. Big gen with French beans.

1 st Dec

Christmas is coming!

2 nd Dec

A.R.P. pointers?

5 th Dec

Start new routine with bus which appears to be running reasonably well now (touch wood). Sounds like old times - sirens screaming at any time of day and night - accompanied by realistic practices.

7 th Dec

First Anniversary of Anglo - American Japanese War. More or less 'in the dark' about exact happenings of last twelve months, Develop blinding cold.

8 th Dec

Our ' friends' celebrate the first Anniversary of their War with big eats. Each man (including ourselves) has a very liberal issue of the following :- Rice, meat and veg. soup, pickled veg. spiced fish, egg omelette, sweet beans, sauce and bean curd, fried chicken and veg. patties -- all constituting one meal!. Last night had a very trying time with my bus in the dark!

9 th Dec

Many Happy Returns Darling. You are 30 today. I'll be with you next Birthday.

12 th Dec

Delighted to have Prisoner of War postcard for personal message to wife. Hope it will be forwarded speedily.

15 th Dec

Called out in torrential rain last night when just asleep. Just one of those things. Made myself one- stringed guitar.

16 th Dec

Ten months a prisoner of war.

17 th Dec

Everything seems to be progressing favourably.

24 th Dec

Christmas Eve. Very lucky to wangle some Chinese wine (poor stuff) so drink toasts to our wives and dear ones.

25 th Dec

Christmas Day Busy driving in the morning. For dinner we had meat and veg., spiced fish and rice, sweet bean dumplings, and gula Java sauce, tinned peaches and condensed milk, coffee. An excellent meal! Better than I had a year ago in Singapore! In the evening we are given permission to visit B Camp to see the Christmas Concert. Thoroughly enjoy meeting the lads again, and the Concert is first rate -- a really wonderful effort. When we arrive back at Suki Tai we drink two or three more toasts, and retire into our nets feeling well satisfied, if not some-what bewildered by such an excellent celebration. Sadly our thoughts are directed homewards - we try hard to imagine what our wives and families are doing. We offer a prayer that next Yuletide will find us again with our loved ones.

26 th Dec

Boxing Day Passed uneventfully with usual runs and routine etc.

31 st Dec

New Year's Eve The Japanese Captain makes us a present of a bottle of wine and three tins of pineapple between us. This is the Japanese equivalent of our Christmas, and we have issues of their traditional foods - including 'Muchie' which is compressed rice, and macaroni etc. Altogether, we do exceptionally well considering our position. We have increased pay ( now £2 per 10 days) and good tobacco is cheap. We have a nice collection of books left behind by the Dutch (English Books). I have made myself a one-stringed guitar which provides a little music at times. Tonight I feel particularly sad when my thoughts turn to Mary -- wondering what she is doing and thinking. How I yearn for her.

1943

1 st Jan

We greet the New Year with renewed confidence, and increased hope of reunion with our wives and families before 1944. Shall we? Only time will tell.

2 nd Jan

The Nipps celebrate their New Year with 3 days holiday festivities. We do our usual fixed duties, though have a reasonably quiet time. Do well in 'eats' department. It will soon be a year since our capture and still no word from Mary. Will that message ever come?

8 th Jan

Life still continues in its narrow vein - uneventful, we try hard to keep each other's spirits up and are succeeding so far. We observe our comrades in Camp now have Indian guards -- men who fought side by side with them in Malaya! Queer, the twists of War.

9 th Jan

Last tin of M & V, much enjoyed. Heavy rains continue.

14 th Jan

Another great flutter of excitement ! Frank Joyes receives two letters from his wife in South Africa. Dick and I are both sick with disappointment that there are no letters for us. However, we take cheer in the knowledge that letters are allowed and we shall just have to wait a little longer for ours to come through. Hurry them on Dear God.

18 th Jan

My 3 rd Wedding Anniversary. Mary darling, my thoughts are continually with you today. Lets hope that next year at this time we are both together in the happiest circumstances. A depressing day -- exceptionally heavy rains -- everything wet or damp. Let me hear from you soon dear. I am more than impatient to have a message from you -- this everlasting silence is dreadful. God Bless you Mary.

22 nd Jan

Much water has passed under our table.

24 th Jan

Completed four months on the driving job, with no visible signs of discontinuing. I count myself exceptionally fortunate.

26 th Jan

Commence growing French beard!! Nothing unusual to relate.

3 rd Feb

A busy day -- but enjoyed it. Having a little trouble with the beard!!!

4 th Feb

Very busy doing other people's work. If only we could hear some music.

8 th Feb

More rains -- rather busy day.

10 th Feb

Bus-car -- International -- change -- Now International a huge 4 & 1/2 ton lorry which takes some handling.

13 th Feb

Very busy unpleasant period. Left Singapore exactly a year ago tonight . Still no word from England. It seems that I am one of many lost souls, victims of War.

16 th Feb

Rescued from a watery grave one year ago today. Driving job appears to be drawing rapidly to a close -- expect to be back in B. Camp any day now. Last three days have been extremely busy -- plenty of hard graft.

20 th Feb

Return to B.Camp with thanks and a nice present of food (15 tins milk) and cigs from Captain Suki. B Camp very crowded and bug ridden -- adapting myself with some difficulty to filthy new conditions. Good to see many old comrades again. Morale very high.

21 st Feb

Developed bad foot -- am glad to have attention from sick bay.

22 nd Feb

Foot worse -- can hardly bear to walk on it. Two great holes in my 2 nd toe left foot. Feeling more at home now again in camp.

24 th Feb

Foot still bad -- excused all duties. Once again enjoying camp atmosphere which is better than it has ever been. Plenty of food in canteen. Amused room mates with guitar.

25 th Feb

Foot very bad -- sent to A Camp. Long boring weeks, during which at times I go through agony. In the evenings endeavour to learn more Malay and German. Meet Monsieur Maugo.

13 th Apr

Now cannot walk -- so sent to Charities Hospital . Mosquitoes very active -- no sleep tonight.

18 th Apr

Weighed 10 stone.

28 th Apr

Return to B. Camp

1 st May

Commenced work on "Ramborah" -- foot still very unpleasant and stiff, but able to limp about all right.

7 th May

Day off. Spend the morning getting "Dhobe" straight etc. Had a pleasant hours chat with Roland Mauge over a real "French style" brew of coffee with milk and sugar. Made a very tasty fry-up for evening meal with bully and obies -- excellent!!

8 th May

Full day driving heavy loads of sand and bricks -- covered nearly 100 kilos. Foot still stiff and painful. Still no word from England -- will it ever come?

10 th May

Still driving "Smithies" truck ( he is down with fever). Everything running smoothly so far. The Camp has now quite a selection of animals:- Cats, Dogs, Chickens, Ducks, Monkeys, Rats, Mice, Lizards, Bugs, Fleas, Lice, Flies, -- yes -- we have them all. We are issued with a second Red Cross card to write to our next of Kin. No reply to my first one yet. Approx. 50% of Camp attending sick bay for some sort of treatment. Epidemic of Sepsis.

11 th May

Plenty of driving to do. Get very dirty and hot on the dusty roads.

13 th May

Do several longish trips to the more outlandish parts of Palembang -- always interesting to see new parts -- especially native settlements. Driving a 3 ton Ford V 8 truck. Free French friend Mauge has restarted work on the Farm Party. He finds it quite congenial.

14 th May

"Jeseme" Do my best to get my things clean for coming week. Very good to-day -- very good indeed!

15 th May

Rather an easier period -- time always drags somewhat.

20 th May

Gen. continues very good indeed. All pictures on the Camp walls have had to be taken down -- a Japanese Order -- also all steel helmets handed in. Darts and Netball still very enthusiastically followed in Camp. Still great shortage of water.

21 st May

Thank Heaven for another "Jeseme".

22 nd May

Easy day. Time passing slowly.

23 rd May

Much travelling under the scorching sun -- from 8.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. with loads of cut timber (old rubber trees). Foot getting very sore again -- same foot.

24 th May

XWP -- bad cold also -- very annoyed at prospects of having another spell off with bad foot.

25 th May

Still XWP though foot shows signs of improving.

26 th May

Foot much improved -- shall try work again tomorrow. Depressed to-day, don't know why.

27 th May

Out to work again driving when foot again becomes very painful. Doc.seems worried when he sees it, ordering more days in camp for me.

28 th May

In Camp. Very busy fighting dirt and bugs etc. in my kit --washing etc. Ted Apax turned very childish -- has sunk very low in my estimation. Enjoying a continuance of my friendship with Mauge. We delight in our conversations together over a cup (sorry can!).

29 th May

Still in Camp with bad feet.

30 th May

Ditto

31 st May

Ditto XAD -- commence sketching again to take my mind off the pain.There are many cases of semi-blindness in Camp due to lack of essential vitamins. They receive treatment in pill form.

1 st Jun

Still XAD

2 nd Jun

Roland gives me first lessons at chess. A very absorbing game indeed. Foot much better. Concert to-night was excellent -- a really wonderful show. The Magic Lantern made out of odds and ends with the Doc's magnifying glass is a mighty achievement.

3 rd Jun

Foot further improved - though bodily I don't feel at all well, off my food.

4 th Jun

Still in Camp "Biaki"

6 th Jun

Now very keen on Chess -- though a lot to learn about this extremely skilful game. A short description of my present living conditions would be useful for records. My "Mess" is room 4 which is a corner downstairs room about 12 ft 6 ins by 18 ft 6 ins. Thirteen of us sleep and eat in this room. Some have rough wooden self-made beds with sack-cloth nailed across -- others sleep on the floor. The Urinal for the whole camp is only 20 ft away, and the open drain from this, passes right outside our windows -- imparting to the air we breathe that very obnoxious smell. (No disinfectants available) On extremely hot nights when there is no wind at all, the stink is almost unbearable. At nights we to close the door to keep the rats out . There is electric light, plenty of bugs, lice and mosquitoes. Although most of the room pulls together quite well, there are two men who really interest me viz. Harry Warburton and Ken Berry. The remainder are either dirty, childish, or just plain dull.

7 th Jun

In Camp. A busy day.

8 th Jun

In Camp. Earthquakes cause great excitement in Camp. Those living on the second floor feel their beds and chairs swaying. Coffee and cigarettes with Mauge. Always a pleasant occupation when we are in Camp together.

9 th Jun

In Camp. Another more severe earthquake at 6 o'clock this morning. Some chaps make ready to "bail out" into the open in case of building collapse. Lamp swings 8". More Chess -- delighted with progress.

10 th Jun

In Camp. -- More Chess

11 th Jun

In Camp

12 th Jun

Restarted work on 'Rambara' though not at all confident that my foot will stand up to it.

13 th Jun

Work

14 th Jun

Work -- as I thought -- foot again bad! Rice ration reduced to 400 grams per man per day ! (about 6 oz. )

15 th Jun

Work -- foot very painful.

16 th Jun

In Camp again.

17 th Jun

In Camp for medical treatment on foot. Three years ago to-day I joined the Army! What would have been my fate had I not volunteered when I did?

18 th Jun

In Camp

19 th Jun

In Camp - still the same old monotonous life of waiting. No word from England yet -- seems it will never come.

20 th Jun

Restarted work

25 th Jun

Great wave of optimism in Camp. (The highest point reached on the optimistic chart up to present ). Feeling very fit now and hope to remain so. Started to regrow beard!

1 st Jul

Bad cold -- Everything still the same -- Res Non Verba (Deeds not Words)

2 nd Jul

"Jeseme". Enjoyable day in Camp with interesting chess games, and a few fried spuds.

9 th Jul

"Jeseme" Another good day in Camp. Feet very painful -- septic spots -- but can manage to keep earning my 20 cents. per day. Interesting International Basket Ball matches. English team very good. Issued two pairs of cotton shorts.

12 th Jul

Unexpected half-day's "Jeseme". Also to-morrow off ? Both feet very sore again -- covered with septic spots.

13 th Jul

Camp hears that no working parties will leave camp for another ten days.

14 th Jul

Very ill with fever.

15 th Jul

Making a double-deck bed in order to get above the dirt on the floor. Can hardly walk for bad feet. Certain men of Journalistic and Musical professions have been interviewed at H.Q.? Another victory over Mauge at Chess!

17 th Jul

Admitted to sick bay with chronic diarrhoea.

18 th Jul

Sent to A Camp - along with Toecock RAF Corporal -- Some very rough days.

20 th Jul

Inoculation against Typhoid etc. rough.

26 th Jul

Inoculation against Pneumonic Plague.

1 st Aug

Return to B Camp. Still no working parties. (Stoppage now 3 weeks ago).Camp is startled, shocked, amused, revolted, demoralised, and astonished at the news that a puppy had been strangled and eaten by three RAF chaps. Marcus D. Waters etc. Japanese rations to Camp still quite reasonable. No justification for this dog eating. Doc awards me 7 days XWP.

3 rd Aug

Working parties restart. Rice only. 70 men.

4 th Aug

150 rice. No 3 "Rambara" and farm party out today.

8 th Aug

Still in camp with bad feet . Ice Cream would be nice but it's finished now! First products of duck farm arrive for camp soup. 30 ducks.

9 th Aug

First duck soup. Delicious.

10 th Aug

Another Camp Concert -- very good indeed. Bodiescope show a real achievement.

12 th Aug

Sent to A. Camp Hospital for foot treatment! See a lot of Peter Morris -- have many interesting games of chess. Do a couple of repairs for the Officers' Camp, but they seem very long-winded at paying! Sent 'Tokei' 50 cents.

29 th Aug

Return to B.Camp.

3 rd Sep

4 th Anniversary of Declaration of War on Germany. Nippons Syenon Sinbun newspaper in English discloses a grave emergency in Italy, and the resignation of Mussolini on June 27 th last. Also the capture of Sicily by the Anglo-Americans. Feet not yet fit enough for work.

5 th Sep

Attended Special Church Service on the 4 th Anniversary of War. We remember our comrades in Arms, and those who have already made the supreme sacrifice. We pray for the speedy end of misery and privation for all people involved in this War horror. Peace soon, Oh. Lord we pray thee.

6 th Sep

Start a Chess game with Ken Berry at 3 p.m.

7 th Sep

Finish Marathon Chess game at 11.30 a.m. Ken wins. Score now 6-3 in Ken's favour.

13 th Sep

Charities Hospital Military patients removed to A. Camp. Patients from A. Camp to B.Camp. Still not out to work though feet are practically healed.

14 th Sep

Out on 'Rambara' again.

17 th Sep

"Jeseme". No money or tobacco left. Very grim situation! Ken v self Chess score now 8-5.

19 th Sep

First case of P.O.W. hitting back. What will happen now?

30 th Sep

No 'Jeseme'

1 st Oct

Discover that Dave Day (Sgt.) was in Worksop Hospital the same time I was there. He remembers me, and my wife coming in. I remember him by his greatcoat.

2 nd Oct Anti-bomb blast walls being erected in Camp.

10 th Oct

First 'Jeseme' for 16 days. Very tired and glad of an easy day inside.

14 th Oct

In Camp with 'Squits' and bad cold.

15 th Oct

Ditto

16 th Oct

Out to work. On return am shocked to hear my friend planter Richardson had passed away. Very sad indeed - he was a nice chap and very well liked.

17 th Oct

Unexpected 'Jeseme'. Had a good rest.

21 st Oct

In sick bay again with fever and rheumatism.

28 th Oct

Leave sick bay.

29 th Oct

Very ill again -- can't understand what is wrong. Doc says it is Malaria. Four years ago today I placed a diamond ring on your finger, Mary. Today I am very near you dear, and living once again that very happy day. This life -- this miserable existence seems never ending, dear, but freedom and happiness must someday be ours again. Let it be soon. I cannot wait much longer. (Captain Cook died within a week of 'Richie' recently At Camp A Hospital.)

1 st Nov

Feeling much better again now. What new surprises does this new month hold in store? Recently met Tim Heeley who hails from Dewsbury. He knows all the main people that I know. John Walker Don Tattersfield, etc. P.O.W. 21 months before we found this out.

4 th Nov

Restarted work on 'Rambara'.

9 th Nov

Many Dutch and English prisoners arrive, and are sent to a new Camp 50 kilos out.

10 th Nov

Very rough day on 'Rambara'. Having many curious dreams - shows the state of my nerves leaves a lot to be desired.

11 th Nov

Hell on 'Rambara'. Still no word from home. Nearly 2 years now.

19 th Nov

'Jeseme' again -- and mighty glad of it. Many chaps seem to be having nightly curiously confused dreams similar to my own. There must be some explanation.

28 th Nov

Our boss of 'Rambara' is changed. Everyone very relieved.

3 rd Dec

'Jeseme' Everything costing a great deal more than last year at this time. Still dreaming continually of wife and home. Mauge still at A Camp Hospital, though I hear he is almost normal again. Soon be Christmas -- hope it's the last under these conditions.

4 th Dec

Must have something wrong. This time exceptionally sore mouth. Can hardly eat or speak. Just have to grin and bear it -- no cure. Doc. says condition is due to lack of vitamins. Received $1.50 c from Finley and 50 cents from Dutch Officer. Quite a windfall and so unexpected! Wonder if next year at this time I shall be free to spend a real Old Fashioned Christmas at home with wife and family?

9 th Dec

Many Happy Returns of your birthday, Darling. Hope I shall be with you for the next.

10 th Dec

'Jeseme' To celebrate your birthday of yesterday, Mary, I have a little party of Coffee, Biscuits, and cigarettes. Beat Jack Clarke and Ken Berry at Chess. ( Ken 8 Self 2 ) Still suffering from sore mouth -- though somewhat improved.

16 th Dec

Unofficial 'Jeseme' Get my Christmas 'Dhobi' done etc.

17 th Dec

'Jeseme'. Very enjoyable day. Cannot get rid of my sore mouth.

22 nd Dec

Filled in another Red Cross post card to Mary. But when am I going to hear from her? Nearly two years now.

24 th Dec

Ram. 2. Official 'Jeseme' as usual. Get everything straight and ready for the great day tomorrow.

25 th Dec

Christmas Day in Chung Wha. In the morning Ken and I throw a party with decorations on our table. A great success and a very friendly gathering . In the afternoon, all the lads and Officers pay us a visit from A.camp. In the afternoon, the star Basket -Ball players gave a fine performance. Boxing followed -- then the biggest star concert of the year. Pork Soup tiffin. Duck soup supper. Considering the circumstances, had a very pleasant day. Thoughts drifted frequently homewards as we discussed what our various families and wives would be doing. Everyone agrees we shall not be here next year at this time. Time will tell. ( Tim Heeley owes me £5 - witness Norman Russell, should Red Cross Supplies arrive before 31 st August next, 1944). Same man has also the audacity to prophesy April 21 st next as end of War.

Ha! Ha !

31 st Dec

Our Official 'Jeseme' day, but we are out to work and late back in Camp. My God! Let us be out of this infernal existence before next New Year's Eve. What an unbearable thought -- that we should be still prisoners this time next year. A hard filthy days work. Feeling worn out and blue when my thoughts drift homewards. What are you doing, Mary, and what about Father, Mother, and sisters? Nearly two years prisoner, and still no word from home. It is truly remarkable how cheerful we manage to keep in spite of all.

1944

1 st Jan

A Happier New Year, Mary, and folks, and may we all be together for the next New Year. Work proceeding satisfactorily, and my luck seems to have all changed round. Everything seems excellent.

13 th Jan

Hello! Here we are again, another spot of bother. Collapsed with fever and gastric trouble -- sick bay.

20 th Jan

Still in sick bay alongside my 'townie' Tim Heeley.

23 rd Jan

First batch of mail arrives in Camp. Great excitement. "Warbie' gets 34 letters. I am told there are about 20 for me. These should arrive from Jap H.Q. in a few days time. Two years I have waited -- two long years. Still -- better late than never. I suppose. Wonder what news they contain? I'm Hellish impatient now!

1 st Feb

Out to work again

8 th Feb

Two inoculations (Fever plague and dysentery). Sick with fever again. My letters are not yet to hand -- but expected any day now. We have to wait a long time for things in this life.

12 th Feb

First mail arrived last night -- 15 beautiful letters for me! My delight at the sight of Mary's hand-writing, and the old post-mark is beyond description. Imagine two years almost to the day since the great tragedy, during which time my imagination was left playing, at times, very peculiar and unpleasant tricks. Now I have beautifully true words written by the hand of my dearest comrade and loved one. The mental excitement is terrific I hardly dare start the perusal. The dates of the letters start in September 1942 to January 1943, and no word has yet been received to confirm my safety. So you got your own way after all Mary, you naughty little devil! You are seeing the wide open spaces, oh? Well I guess your outlook on foreign service during a bloody war will have sobered a little by the time we reunite. You will soon get bored to tears with life in a smelly, sweaty, disease ridden land of strange people, and you'll soon long for your sweet smelling homeland - England. However, dear, I admire your pluck and action (which at first rather frightened me when I first read about it) makes me only realize, more then ever, what a millionaire I am to have as my wife, such a courageous woman, devoted to me and her country. Darling, your letters are better than a tonic -- and couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time. I have been rather under the weather lately, and finding it difficult to 'keep my head above water' so to speak. Fever is a deadly plague when it is continually attacking.

Letters received dated:- 19.9.42 - 26.9.42 - 2.10.42 - 9.10.42 - 17.10.42 - 23.10.42 - 31.10.42 - 5.11.42 - 21.11.42 - 28.11.42 - 3.12.42 - 11.12.42 - 11.1.43 - 12.1.43 - 25.1.43 -.

11 th Feb

Two more inoculations today. (Tab and Cholera ). Reported that more mail has arrived at H.Q. (False Alarm). Have been thinking continuously of Mary since receiving her letter from North Africa. Would give a lot to know just where she is, and how she is faring.

17 th Feb

Doing a lot of writing of whole camps' stories for Japanese, tedious work, but pleasant change to be writing again.

23 rd Feb

Out to work again. A long day. Vaccination in Camp at night. Felt very 'blue' tonight, so turn in early.

26 th Feb

'Jeseme' Damn it! I believed my vaccination has taken! What next? (A Camp complete with Hospital move in. A batch leaves here for new camp.) Mauge not looking too well.

4 th Mar

'Jeseme' front teeth giving trouble.

6 th Mar

Still jogging along fairly well, and frequently dreaming of happy days.

14 th Mar

My 30 th Birthday, and I'm in Camp again sick, and unable to celebrate. Cannot eat and have the 'runs'. My thoughts concentrate on the possibility of being free for my 31 st ? I wonder? Just 26 when I joined the Army and now turned 30! What a world.

18 th Mar

Moved to new camp on second draft of 130 men. A lot of work to be done here, but whole outfit will be much healthier than B Camp. Large huts, unfortunately with leaky roofs and many mosquitoes, but plenty of fresh air. Very soon to be separated from Ken, but hope he will join me shortly.

20 th Mar

Damp, but reasonably comfortable. Still TAD with bad stomach but on the improve. The galley are making a wonderful success of meals, giving variety, and the men pay 30% for extra messing. A great success.

22 nd Mar

Settling slowly into new Camp Life. Rain every night so far, with water pouring into bedding, and little or no light. Start light duty work tomorrow at own request. Time rolls along, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep spirits up.When will it all end ?

25 th Mar

Managing all right on light duty, work till 1. p.m. 'tis as much as I can manage. Very stormy weather, and much rain through the roof.

28 th Mar

Still carrying on with light duty work -- though very tired when finished. Food still well cooked and flavoured.

3 rd Apr

Started Q.M. job pro-tem., but don't care for it very much.

9 th Apr Easter Sunday

Still doing Q.M. Remainder of B. Camp coming up tomorrow with 3 huts still not complete. Feeling very weak.

21 st Apr

Still Q.M. though may have to return to Ram. Party. Camp not very happy, everyone had quite enough.

29 th Apr 'Jeseme'

We expect a little pork in the soup tonight. Paying 50% extra messing . Have noticed quite a few men are getting dull witted -- little wonder in this life.

9 th May

Still Q.M.!! Food shortage is making this existence very unpleasant. I am steadily losing weight again, and apathetic -- can't be bothered to do anything -- horrible helpless, lost feeling, just drifting from day to day. Had all my hair off yesterday -- now look like a wizened old convict - also shaved beard off. And so we go on -- hoping and wondering and hoping -- when will we be free again.

12 th Jun

Still Q.M. Weighed today 55 kilos (approx 8 st. 10 lbs). Only 3 stone under weight.

17 th Jun

4 Years in the Army.

20 th Jun

Another death in the Camp. There seems no end to this hideous existence.

1 st Jul

Another month. - renewed hope. Continuing as Q.M. and health slowly improving. Camp strength now over 1,000. Water situation critical -- no rain for 4 weeks.

6 th Jul

Loss of another comrade Sgt. Danny Crooks - Argyles - died this afternoon at 4 o'clock. Four deaths since we came to this ill-fated Camp.

24 th Jul

The drought continues - no rain for 67 days. Water situation critical. More mail has arrived, and I am among the lucky ones again -- get mine in a few days time - though Ken received his today. Two more comrades died this month, making the total 6.

29 th Jul

Peter Morris dies from Dysentery - poor chap - he was only sick a fortnight - death no. 7

31 st Jul

Overjoyed to receive 13 more letters -- 11 from Mary -- 2 from Father. They know I am a prisoner of war, have received my first Red Cross post card. Drought still continues.

7 th Aug

Two more deaths -- total 9. Drought still continues, everyone very thirsty and dirty. Still Q.M. (Had the job over 4 months now.)

9 th Aug

Another death -- total 10

21 st Aug

Three inoculations TAB, dysentery, and cholera -- laid out flat. Ken in dysentery ward -- what a bright life this is. Deaths in this Camp now total 19.

28 th Aug

Two more inoculations, TAB and cholera -- very rough for 24 hours. Deaths now total 23. Drought continues..

5 th Sep

Another inoculation for dysentery -- deaths now total 26

12 th Sep

Small quantity of Red Cross stores issued -- very welcome -- though small. Deaths 32.

4 th Oct

Six bags of mail at H.Q. Deaths 34.

20 th Oct

Weighed today 56 kilos (8 st. 11 lbs.)

2 nd Nov

Started on Rambara. Deaths now 42.

20 th Dec

Weighed 55 kilos (8 st 9 lbs) Deaths 54.

End of Diary

It would appear from the above that May 9 th 1944 was the turning point lethargy was beginning to take over. After May 9 th the diary becomes spasmodic eventually ceasing on Dec 22 -- when in previous years he would be looking forward to Christmas. No doubt the increasing death roll played its part.

Harry Warburton who lived in Brierfield near Colne, Mary's home town, was in the Record Office at Palembang and he it was who sent all the papers from Palembang on to Singapore, whence they were eventually sent on to the families. Harry met both Eric's Mother and Father and his In-Laws shortly after arriving back in England.

From information given by Eric's great friend Harry Warburton, who was in the Camp's Record Office, Palembang, Sumatra.

Things took a serious turn in May this year ( After Germany's Surrender). The Japs took 400 of the strongest men from the Camp to Singapore. Soon after they left an order came through cancelling all entertainment and sports in the Camp, and the rations were cut by half -- approx. 6 oz. of rice, per man, per day. Our boys knew that it was to be a fight for their existence, and as the doctors had practically no medicine or drugs left, the death rate in the Camp went up rapidly. Our boys were kept informed of the war news by the use of a secret radio, and Eric lived to know of the Jap surrender and the use of the Atomic Bombs.

Eric was in Hospital again, appeared to be making good recovery from another attack of dysentery. The Hospital was a bamboo shack, and the beds made with bamboo strips -- the bedding and covering were rice sacks. It appeared that Eric had improved to the extent of having been moved into the convalescent hut.

On the night of Aug 19 th, Eric's friend (Harry ? ) was beside his bed -- they had a cigarette and coffee together, and he was shocked when he heard that Eric had passed away in the early hours the next day. Eric was then less than 7 st. (Original weight 12 st.10 lbs.) and his hair was almost white.

 

ERIC DIED 20 th AUGUST 1945 (AGE 31)

FIVE DAYS AFTER THE SURRENDER, AND ONLY THREE DAYS BEFORE THE AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE FLEW SUPPLIES IN.

"The Story of Eric and Mary"

Diss "The Story of Eric and Mary"

 

 

Diss

"The Story of Eric and Mary"

Eric died 20th August 1945

aged 31

at

Palembang Prisoner of War Camp

Sumatra.

Five Days after the Japanese surrender

and

three days before the Australian Air Force flew in supplies

 

The "Diss" Family of Halstead S - J/ 05

 

 

From

Frederic Sydney Diss and Annie Hird married in Barrow-in-Furness in 1911

 

on S - J/02

 

Eric Diss

1914 - 1945

 

Marriage

 

 

Eric Diss born 14 th March 1914 married Mary Blacka, born 9 th January 1913,

at St Oswald's Church, Little Horton, Bradford on 18th January 1940

 

Eric and Mary Diss

Their Story.

 

 

Engagement and Marriage.

We became engaged on the 29 th October 1939 and married on the 18 th January 1940 at St. Oswalds Church , Little Horton, Bradford. I had been staying with my Father's Uncle at Little Horton. The Reception was held at the Midland Hotel in Bradford --- Bunty had kept a copy of the menu.

Dewsbury Round Table 1934

A report in the paper announced the formation of a Round Table in Dewsbury. Eric was appointed the Secretary. The following comment made by Eric is reported. "I can see our membership in the Heavy Woollen District growing so rapidly that under the vocational restriction, our problem will be how to limit the numbers rather than secure them"

[Dewsbury Paper 9 th October 1934]

The Business

By the start of the war Eric was a Director of the family firm F.Diss & Sons Ltd. Market Place Dewsbury now part of the Goldsmith's Group. He had left school at 16 and served an apprenticeship as a Watch and Clock Repairer. Later he qualified as a Gemologist and was elected a Fellow of The Gemological Association. Sydney was rather proud of the occasion when their shutters were painted "Red, White and Blue" - I have seen a photograph of them and they did look striking. It was probably a publicity "stunt" at the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1935.

In 1935, probably also associated with the Silver Jubilee, there was a National "British Clock" Window Dressing Competition. Eric won the 1st prize of £30 which in those days was quite a sum of money, equivalent to the amount earned by Mary in her first year as a nurse.

From a conversation with Mary it appears that Eric did not get on very well on with his Father and disagreed with much of his policy. Mary told me she was very proud of Eric when he walked out of the firm for 6 weeks. Mary also told me that Eric was a wonderful person, very thoughtful and caring, taking after his mother Nan. I had always thought that their family troubles started with the traumatic events surrounding Eric's imprisonment and death. It appears that this was not altogether correct. Sadly after Nan's accidental death in 1954 matters got considerably worse as she had been a stablising influence on the whole family.


Eric out for a drive

 

Eric and his father Sydney

 

Mary's Story

I met Eric in 1935 in my second year of training at the General Hospital, Fell Lane, Keighley; at the first dance we had at the hospital. We used to meet most weeks for an evening as we only got one day off a month. We used to spend a lot of our days off in the Lake District or in the Dales. I passed my State in 1937 and went to the Halifax General to do my midwifery. I saw more of Eric when I went there and was better off financially as my salary went up from £30 per year to £60 . Quids In !! I passed midwifery in 1938 and took a Sister's post at Manygates Maternity Hospital in Wakefield. When there I saw much more of Eric but the threat of war loomed.

We became engaged on the 29th October 1939 and married on the 18th January 1940 at St. Oswalds Church , Little Horton, Bradford. I had been staying with my Father's Uncle at Little Horton. The Reception was held at the Midland Hotel in Bradford --- Bunty had kept a copy of the menu.

 

Menu

 

Hors d'Oeuvre Varies

 

Consomme Julienne

Creme Andalouse

 

Merlan Bercy

 

Poulet Roti, Bread Sauce

Celeri Braise

Pommes Parmentier

 

Salade de Fruits Glacee

 

Cafe

 

Midland Hotel

Bradford 18/1/40

 

We went for our honeymoon to the Grand Hotel, Scarborough -- the hotel which fell into the sea in the 1990s. Everywhere was snowbound and Eric got pneumonia shortly after.

We went to live at 25 Derwent Road in Dewsbury and Eric joined the Auxilary Fire Service. Later he got very worried about the war and said he should offer his services so he joined up as a private in the

R.A.O.C. later being transferred to R.E.M.E. as a Instrument Maintenance Mechanic.

Eric was posted to Aldershot so I got a job at the Cottage Hospital Maternity Unit so that I could be near him. Later he was posted to Hucknal, Nottingham. When Eric got pneumonia I went to stay at an hotel nearby until he got better. I then got a job at the Childrens Hospital, Nottingham on night duty but continued to live at, what was I think, the Royal Hotel. One night Eric walked me to the hospital with a friend and arranged to meet me at the hotel the following evening. That was the last time I saw Eric as he never appeared the next night. He had been posted to Singapore. I wonder if he had known that he was being posted that day and kept quiet about it.?

I then worked for a Nursing Agency and was posted to Brockhall, near Stonyhurst where I stayed for some time. I was then posted to a Nursing Home in Bedford. I was anxious to get overseas and joined the Queen Alexandra Nursing Service and after time at Aldershot and Peebles got my first overseas posting to North Africa. I was in the Flagship, the Strathallan, and after being torpedoed spent over 11 hours in a lifeboat. We lost 6 Nursing Sisters and about 30 men. After the North African campaign which took me to Alexandria, Cairo and Algeria I was posted to Bari on the Adriatic Coast of Italy. Going on duty one night I heard a hell of a bang and orange flares everywhere. I was blown up two staircases but went on duty having only received facial injuries. A lone German raider had hit the only ship carrying mustard gas. The first 500 casualties came to us and the dry ones we put to bed. The wet ones we relieved of their clothes. It was the dry ones who got so badly burnt as we were not told for 48 hours that the ship had been carrying mustard gas. Sadly a lot died like flies.

Later I was in Naples, Rome and Taranto and it was when I was in the latter I learnt I was to be sent home. [continued at end of section "Prisoner of War"]

[Letters dated 11th February 1996, 8th March l996 and Telephone Conversations about this time.]

Eric arrived in Singapore in May 1941

Extracts from letters from 7634791 Pte Diss E.S. R.A.O.C. 9th Coast Regiment R.A. Malaya sent from Singapore during 1941 variously to Sydney and Nan, his Father and Mother and Marjorie and Sylvia [Bunty] , his sisters.

Letter dated 21st May 1941 to Marjorie Bunty and All

I was overjoyed to receive your cable and letter shortly after arrival here. The letter evidently came all the way in our ship, together with one from Mary but being in a sealed mail bag could not be opened until we arrived. ----

We arrived exactly two months after leaving the old country ----- and that seems years ago now. Perhaps you have received one or two of my letters posted at various calls on the voyage. Although the climate and other conditions here are rather trying I am mighty glad to get off that ship. Cooped up there for eight weeks was no joke I can tell you. ( Let anyone advise me to take a cruising holiday when I return and I'll break his or her neck!!) ---

You have no idea what a wretched sensation it is being stuck here at the other end of the world for the duration. Leaving you all to endure the air raids and privations, while I have only to work hard, and try to avoid sickness. The atmosphere is extremely humid here -- about 60-70 % although the temperature rarely rises above 92 F. Considering we are so near the equator it is surprising to find the climate reasonably bearable. Of course on account of the humidity everything feels and is damp, but the hot air prevents any bad effects. Most of us have had stomach trouble, but are now settling down to make the best of it. The tropical vegetation is a wonderful sight , coconut trees, bananas, pleasant smelling , lightly coloured flowers, in fact trees and plants of a thousand types. They are always green and fresh looking because the weather remains the same all the year round. It rains every day for a short while but there is abundant sunshine which obliges one to wear a topee until 6 pm. There is of course the expected thousands of insects and "things that creep in the night". On the first morning one of the chaps found a centipede 6 inches long and 1/2 inch wide in his toilet case!! We have lizards, big spiders and millions of ants (large and small) inside our tent as constant 'companions'. Not forgetting huge butterflies and moths the size of pigeons, and colossal bats that swing about at night. However, I have found nothing more serious than ants in my bed yet! (Touch Wood). There is a storm every night and sometimes torrential rain , which soaks everything in the tent, but we are expecting to move into wooden huts in a few weeks time. The sooner the better!

By the way, dears, before I forget please don't send me any cigarettes etc. They are very cheap here -- sealed tins of Capstan or Gold Flake 50 for 45 cents (1/2 d), Matches are 4 boxes a 1d. Bananas 4 for a 1d. Because of the plentiful crop of sugar cane all tea and coffee is nearly stiff with sugar -- ugh! it is really sickly sweet. And now I had better tell you what I actually do each day. At 5.45 am our "boy" brings us a cup of tea and wakes us up. Breakfast 6 to 6.30 and on parade 6.45am for work. Work until 12 noon, when we break for lunch until 1pm. then resume work until 4pm. On return to the tents we have another mug of tea brought to us by the "boy". The rest of the day is free, although we are a fair distance from the nearest city and we have to make our own amusement. There is a N.A.A.F.I. canteen, thank goodness, where we can buy an iced fruit drink and a cake. The workshop here is wonderfully equipped, and I am at last getting down to the real thing. A beautiful swimming pool, about 10 minutes walk away provides us with a 'cooler' when we feel we are inclined.

There is so much to tell you that I cannot possibly get it all in this letter which I intend sending by air mail, so I will continue in my next. Pehaps I had better just mention one other thing, the food is excellent and actually served by Malayan boys. We have plates and real tableclothes.

H.K. has done what we expected of him. No roughing for him --- bless his soul !!

[ H.K was Harold Keeble, a contemporary of Eric's who started life on the local paper. He later acquired fame as a Senior Editor in Fleet Street for over 40 years, where he was regarded as the top man in his trade . He had been Editor of the Sunday Express at 41 and after this was Editor of most of the National Daily Papers at various times, reorganising them all in turn. The above reference by Eric will be to H.K.'s appointment to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office for which work he was appointed an OBE in 1944. Harold was engaged to Marjorie for ten years 1935 to 1945 but in the end they did not marry and Harold married another. In 1959 Harold's wife died in a motor accident and ,complete with Rolls Royce , Harold tried again to persuade Marjorie to marry him without success as she felt she had to look after Bunty . A letter from Moore and Smalley our accountants in 1959 suggests changes to the financial structure of the business in view of the fact that Marjorie was getting married ] . Father's decision to close the shop two days a week is a very sound idea.-----

Letter Dated 17th August 1941 to Marjorie

You appear to be well looked after these days --- by officers I mean! The young Lieut in the snap looks a very cheery bloke. Mary appears to be having great fun with his kit. By the way, the letter containing these snaps came through in very good time, just about eight weeks. Some times the ordinary Air Mail Service, which only carries the mail to and from South Africa to Malaya , takes as long, sometimes longer, than the usual surface route. So if at any time you want to get a message through really quickly be extravagant and use the Pan-American Air Service, which flies the whole way here via the Atlantic and Pacific in about 14 days.----- Please congratulate Father on being re elected a Director of Staves. [ this was a jewellers wholesale cooperative] -----

Sorry to read that the Barrow had a packet, also Uncle Cecil's bad luck, but pleased no one is hurt.

I am just managing to stick this existence but the war can't end soon enough for me. Everything is so unnatural, and I detest this climate.

Letter dated 10 th September 1941 to Mother and Father

I have now reached the stage almost approaching stagnation -- nothing fresh to report. We are still living under emergency conditions, but there appears to be a chance of peace being maintained after all. It is to be hoped so! On the other hand Germany seems to realise she is beat and is now trying to bring America and Japan into this bloody struggle. The casualties on the Russian Front must be terrible and I'm afraid many more millions will be killed or wounded before this ghastly war ends. However, our present position seems improved and next year should see the decision.

While working hard and still finding this climate somewhat trying I am managing to keep fit. My only complaint is the persistence of filthy skin diseases which seem to refuse all treatment. My body is still covered with lumps, spots and red patches that itch continually. However, these little troubles are hardly worth mentioning.

I am working hard and finding the coast defence work very interesting. It provides plenty of variety and travel. My transport is sometimes a cycle, a motor bike, a car, or a motor launch --- then again I have plenty of use for my two legs! At times my jobs take me through areas of thick jungle where one can see all the vivid life of wild creatures. There are myriads of highly coloured birds and insects living in the amazingly beautiful tropical vegetation. We get plenty of amusement watching the antics of monkeys, and occasionally see a snake wriggle speedily away. The largest bird is the huge white- bellied Malayan eagle which has a wing- span of about 8 feet. It has been known to attack man when alone, and often can be seen swooping down on a colony of monkeys and whisk one up like greased lightening. We have to swim in enclosures on account of sharks. Any way it is impossible to attempt to describe this life --- it must keep until I come home.

Roll on Victory.

Poem written by Eric while in Singapore, 1941.

Letter dated 21st September 1941 to Sylvia

The only commodity that is cheap now is cigarettes. Everything else has gone up in price and money slips through your pocket like water.

We are allowed to wear civilian clothes in the barrack area, and this is quite refreshing after a hard sweaty day's work in khaki drill. So you see there's another continual item of expense --- clothes! I often thank my lucky stars that I am not an officer out here --- the expense is terrific.

By the way Father mentioned that Jim France and Tony Trillwood either followed or preceeded me out here. If I knew what rank Tony Trillwood had I could quite easily contact him. Perhaps he has a commission?

Letter dated 30th September 1941 to Marjorie

Yesterday I also had a letter from Mary enclosing three new snaps of herself, one taken in the "garden of Eden" (Sorry! Ashfield ) where she was partaking of the sun's health-giving rays in a scanty swim-suit! Yes ! It is very snappy indeed! She is evidently quite set on joining a nursing organization which may send her East. I still don't like the idea of her taking added risks on the sea, and if she came here the climate is far from good for any woman, -- though strangely enough, women appear to stand it better than men! However in wartime she must b e allowed more latitude, and she has every right to please herself and make her own plans, I suppose. She is obviously feeling our separation badly now -- the same as I am, and should she manage to get within range of my station I shall be overjoyed naturally.

I should like some extra money to help me find some sort of amusement at Xmas, so if this arrives in time , please ask father to cable me £10 of my money to the G.P.O. Singapore -- which is not too far away for me to collect. There is a chance that I may "run dry" before December, in which case I shall cable. 12/= a week goes just no distance at all in this place, and one has to keep moving in the evening to avoid getting morbid and depressed. I go very often to the local cinema, (known here as the 'Gaff' !) We get plenty of up-to-date films from America, and luckily get quite good news reels also. But that is our only entertainment after work, apart from what we make ourselves. One grows to dreadthe evenings with their everlasting problem "what can I do with myself tonight ?" I am always happy to get up in the morning at 6am, and after a cold shower march off to work.I'm extremely lucky to have a good boss. He has a very handsome yacht, and we go for many a pleasant sail together at weekends.

Yes, Dear, I am still a private! Sorry to let the family down and all that! However, I may be able to give you a surprise one of these fine days. Being a ranker doesn't worry me much though ----- I know I am doing an extremely useful and essential job of work ----- possibly more so than if I were an Officer. Honour and Glory of uniform has no attraction for me, and I know definitely that an Officer has to lead an expensive life out in these parts.

You mention that Tony Trillwood has a Commission in the RAF out here. It is no use my trying to contact him ----- as Officers just cannot mix with the common soldiers in this outpost of the "Old School Tie" . There is not half the true democracy compared with life in England as I knew it seven months ago. That is what makes a common soldier feel so small here ----- always confined to this or that part. However when I review my financial position compared with some I meet ----- I am able to have a quiet laugh up my sleeve !

Keep well and cheerful, I feel next year will see us nearly through the war.

Letter Dated 14 th October 1941 to Mother and Father

At the present time we are holding important defence exercises. It reminds me more of Blighty now ----- seeing the men in fighting dress instead of white polo shirts etc. This place is properly "clearing the decks for action" and if the Japs do decide to 'have a go ' they are going to get a very hot time!

Everyone is keenly following the news of the day, which unfortunately is the grave position of the Russian forces and the threat to Moscow. One of today's papers reports the landing of large BEF forces in Northern Russia but there is no confirmation from official circles . I do so hope we are making a military move at last. We appear to have done very little so far ----- from the action point of view ----- in the struggle now going on ---- which means so much to us. Indeed if Russia was subdued what then? However it is little use my commenting on the present position of things, because the whole layout will most likely have changed by the time this reaches you! ( One of your letters took 13 weeks to reach me !!!! )

You mention that Tony Trillwood and Jim France are also out here. That is interesting but unfortunately I have little chance of contacting them. They are both Officers and consequently are not allowed to associate with the common soldier. The distinction is somewhat exaggerated out here ----- and the best Hotels are labelled " Officers Only " . So unless Tony attempts to contact me, I shall certainly not risk the possibility of embarrassing him. Don't misunderstand me I will explain the position more fully one day.

Your item of news about Derrick T. is not really surprising, but it is ----- as you say ---- very disgusting. It makes me extremely annoyed to think that anyone can get away with such barefaced cowardice at such a critical time. I'll admit I am not doing a great deal just now, but I do feel I am at least a useful link in the chain of Empire defence, ----- what's more I'm sweating like a nigger in the bargain !!! There's plenty to do in my present job, and believe me ----- it is of vital importance although we are not yet at war out here.

Mary continues to keep a wonderful stream of letters flowing out East, and she is still determined in her efforts to join a nursing association which may post her near me. She doesn't realize, however, what distance is, and how war conditions can limit one's plans. I would much rather she continued her good work in England, where ---- Heaven knows ---- there is plenty to do. She has an adventurous spirit though, and I can fully appreciate how she feels. I am greatly proud of her spirit and pluck, and the way I am feeling at this moment I would give my right arm to see her again. You two have never known what it means to be separated by such a great distance for so long.

I recently received a long and interesting letter from Fred Roberts -- the first . Incidentally he is the only member of the Round Table that has written to me so far, in spite of the correspondence duties detailed in the R.T. bulletins which come to me from time to time !!

I am once again pretty well rock bottom for cash and will have to wire you for a further £10 in a week or two. Apart from cigs, things are not cheap now out here and it is impossible to keep sane on £6 per week. so please send me a further £10 three months ----- every three months ---- from my next request.

The V. Campaign has swept through Malaya like wildfire. Some Chinese have even got a coloured V on the side of their topees!

 

Letter Dated 31 October 1941 to Mother and Father

 

Firstly I must thank you for so promptly arranging for another cash amount to be sent through ---- have just received notification from a Bank in Singapore. I hope to be able to manage a trip down there to collect it shortly. Have been very 'stony broke' lately and believe me it's a stiff order trying to kill time and boredom on 2/3 per day ! Please be good enough to arrange with my Bank to forward similar amounts every three months, and if I get moved from here I shall cable you at once.

Christmas draws near, though I must say I shall be glad to see it over. It will seem so odd out here in the sticky heat, and my thoughts will centre on you all gathered together around a cheery coal fire. Perhaps I shall be lucky enough to join you all again for a "spot of turkey" in 1942.

As I write there is still the war tension out here. We continually carry out large scale practices and the last few weeks have seen me behind many a big gun getting temporarily deafened by the terrific roar of batteries tuning up to concert pitch for the reception of Japanese adventurers! The blackouts are very trying here on account of all buildings being semi-open ---- for ventilation. We shall have to develop cat's eyes if the worst comes to the worst!

I am still keeping fit and well ---- on plenty of hard work, and an occasional game of hockey. Hockey, incidentally, is a very popular Army game and certainly provides plenty of strenuous exercise. I smile when I think of my first game ---- during which I ran myself to a standstill !!!!

The war appears to be spreading out in a more definite pattern now. It seems that Germany together with short-sighted Balkan countries, Italy and Japan are prepared to challenge the rest of the world. America sees her shipping going down ---- including a destroyer, and skilfully averts an immediate break with the Huns. Roosevelt is obviously not going to declare war until the bulk of America's public clammer for it. He is is playing a very high strategy, and I think we can safely say that by next spring the

Yankees will be marching side by side with the British and Imperial troops.

There'll be no "Dunkirk" in the Far East ---- you can take that from me ! If things do start it will be a bitter fight to the end. From what I have seen of our Far Eastern defences, I should say that Japan would definitely be committing suicide if she decided to challenge both American and British interests in these parts. I often wish the bubble would burst out here ---- the air certainly needs clearing.

Quite apart from the major issue, a number of whites out here need a few screaming bombs to bring them to their senses. Honestly, they have not the slightest conception of what modern war means! They almost revolt at the thought of paying a few shillings in the pound on incomes over £2000 a year !!!!

Mary's letters, which are always cheery and full of life, continue to give me the courage I need to face this most un-natural life. I don't claim to be undergoing terrific hardships, but there is definitely a serious strain on one committed to living this way. No matter how comfortable are the barracks and canteens, there is always the complete separation from our beloved people and England, which indeed drives many a man to insanity. Have no fears about me though ---- I know how to keep a mental balance.

Well folks it will be great to get back to the fireside of an English home once again. I shall look forward to a cup of properly mashed tea ---- instead of the poor stuff we get dished up. Fresh milk is practically unknown, and most things like it come out of tins.

My work recently appears to have greatly pleased my bosses, and my O.M.E. has recommended me for upgrading. If it comes off, I shall get the magnificent sum of 6 d per day increase in pay, and at the same time place me in a better position for promotion ---- if ever such a miracle comes my way !!!

This will probably reach you early in the New Year so I will close with the wish ---- A Happier New Year to you all, and may Victory be won in 1942

Don't worry about me ---- I can take it.

 

Letter Dated 10 th October 1941 to Marjorie.

I am surer than ever that I shall be back again with you all in 1942. We seem to be building up a mighty offensive to strike at the right moment and it won't be long now.

Letter Dated 23rd November 1941 to Mother and Father.

Last week I paid a few days visit to my old section ---- which is not very far from here. [Since September Eric appeared to have been attached to the H.Q. Wing of the Regiment] The object of the visit was an attempt to up-grade myself by a trade test. However , my luck was not in ( as usual in the Army!! ) and they chose to test me on my weakest point. I am trying to take this minor defeat as well as I can, but after such a real top-notch effort it is a bitter disappointment. Now if they had chosen the test from my actual work over the last three months I would have run away with it . As soon as possible I shall have another crack at it.

You will no doubt be a little surprised to see type-written letters coming through, but I couldn't resist buying this little "Remette" - which I got quite cheaply and which I hope to bring home intact ( I wonder ? ).

Last week I received my first letter from Ru, and it was most entertaining reading. He appears to be doing quite a bit of travelling around -- even to the extent of using an Army plane on one occasion. They appear to have both recovered from their dreadful experience down at Plymouth.

The big news this week has been the British offensive in Libya, and so far we appear to be doing extremely well. The only thing that bothers me at the moment is the question of France. Will she play right into Hitler's hand, and allow him to send troops to French North Africa ?? It is unbelievable to think of them being so blind and so traitorous. Mind you, I think it mostly on the part of their leaders. Are we going to restore France to her pre-war status after such hamperings and insults ? Time only will answer that question ..... Unless things start to hum out here I have every hope of getting home next year sometime. Of course, if Japan wants a bloodbath in the Pacific -- then she'll get one alright, but it will all take time I suppose.

Did I ever mention that my new job often takes me into parts that are covered with thick jungle-land? In many of these outforts, huge Cobras are sometimes caught by the ' lads ' - as long as 24 feet - who get the skins cured to take home! Comparing my lot with that of the chaps who have to live months in those parts I am very lucky.

Judging from Mary's recent letters she is more restless than ever, and it would not surprise me to hear she joined up for foreign service, though I hope and pray she will never do that.

I often wonder how the old firm is doing these days. Hope you are managing to carry on alright, though I guess it will be a long time yet before our stock is expended. How is the opposite policy of "sell all quickly" proving itself at Barrow ? I shall be very interested to know.

Please try to remember my request for a further £10 early in February

 

Letter Dated 28 November 1941 to Grandma Diss

After three months under canvas, I have now become more or less settled in a Royal Artillery barracks "somewhere in Malaya". It was a welcome change to start living in dry quarters instead of the perpetual damp and "live stock" of camp life in the tropics. My work, which is quite interesting , takes me to many different parts across land and water. I belong to a small band of Ordnance known as Instrument Artificers, and we are responsible for the maintenance and repair of many very delicate instruments used for range finding etc. Unfortunately one has to be very experienced in this type of work before promotion comes along. However, I am at present content in the knowledge that I am doing a very useful job of work which is more than I can say for some people in higher positions.

One gets used to being constantly wet through with sweat and rain, and if worry can be avoided the life is just bearable. This is a part of the world I shall never return to --- that is a certainty !! One gets heartily sick of seeing native faces, and a hundred and one other things.

Father writes me concerning the ever growing difficulties of business, with the distinct possibility of having to 'close down' shortly. That is indeed startling news but I guess there are thousands of British families in the same or worse positions.There are far greater issues at stake now than making money, and it is up to each and every one of us to pull our full weight. Money will be of little use if the savages from Germany take control.

War is likely to break out here at any minute, in fact it seems inevitable. Well let's have it all over at once I say!!

 

Letter Dated 30th November 1941 to Mother and Father.

Your letter of August 31st , father, was very interesting, though the news regarding the position of the business is somewhat startling. I cannot easily imagine the old place being completely sold out and deserted, but if money is coming in at the rate of roughly £400 weekly then it is obvious what the situation points to. You can well imagine how I felt reading that part of your letter -- with visions of becoming a bus conductor when I come home!! However, I feel sure you will find some way of battling through, provided the war doesn't last too long. I only hope that you are not allowing yourself to get upset and worried about it. It is very difficult not to worry with our particular dispositions, but after all it does not the slightest good.

Last week I met two chaps who came from Batley, -- they had both been in our shop many times! Such meetings make the world seem very small -- provided you keep your eyes off the map.

Life continues with the same old daily routine, broken by an occasional "scare" . Yesterday we had the biggest "scare" since I came out, and everyone quite thought the Japs had started. The situation out here is is very critical indeed, and I still think we shall be lucky to see Christmas over without a complete state of war. If the worst comes to the worst, I shall be so busy that letter writing will be almost impossible , but I shall endeavour to keep sending you monthly cables. did enjoy having those snaps of you all. Still can't get over Marjorie's amazing increase in weight, but she looks very fit on it. ( I wonder is she trying to compete with Auntie Mollie at Barrow ?? ! - Alright, Marjorie, I only dare say such things when I am 12,000 miles away!!! ) Wait until you see me arriving home with a complexion like a Chinaman ! You'll be able to get your own back then.

Last night was the first time for nearly nine months that I set foot in a house and enjoyed the comforts of domestic surroundings. I felt like a fish out of water !! Needless to say I enjoyed the visit very much.

Sometime early in the New Year I shall apply for a fortnight's leave to visit one of the many rest camps now inaugurated. It will be very nice to get a change of surroundings, but I shall need some money -- so watch out for another cable. !!

 

Letter Dated 3rd December 1941 to Father and Mother

Malaya is at present in a state of emergency, which means we have to carry full fighting equipment

around with us everywhere we go. Can you imagine what a joy that is in this climate ?? !!! I am more of a grease-spot than ever -- but we are all in the same boat.

 

Letter Dated 6th December 1941 to Marjorie

I have just received a record mail - which is the envy of all the other chaps in the room. No less than 16 letters and two parcels. I had a long chatty letter from Evelyn and this was something of a surprise as you can guess! There's little new to report from this part, though war appears just around the corner. We keep expecting the balloon to go up any minute, but the dirty Japs still hesitate. They can keep on hesitating as far as I'm concerned.

 

Letter Dated 13th December 1941 to Mother and Father

This is short note with the main object of warning you to expect fewer letters from me in future. The reason is obvious to all of you I feel sure -- as I am kept very busy working all hours of the day and night now that the fight has begun out here.

At 4am last Monday the surprise attack on Malaya started, and it was so swift that most of us couldn't believe it at first. However here it is in stark reality, and we are going to face our new enemy with the same resolve as do our armies in the west. You may well imagine the shock we felt after the rapid sinking of our two battleships, which had only just arrived here . But the spirit of the men is the true British type, and soon recovered from the sad news. All decks are now cleared for the terrific assaults we expect, and I cannot say I am really sorry that I am once again in the battle zone sharing risks equally with you all at home. The blackout here is far far worse than in Blighty as the buildings are all half open, and have to be kept open for ventilation -- the result being no light to read or write by. We have approximately twelve hours in twenty four of darkness -- which is not very pleasant, I can tell you ! While there is light we work. When there's no light we --- , well we haven't quite found out what to do yet !!!

I shall now endeavour to send you cables every three or four weeks, providing you can see to it that some of my money is sent regularly. I cannot afford many cables on my present weekly pay.

Try not to worry, I shall look well after myself, and you can rest assured I shall not fail to pull my full weight on this side of the world. l will be home with you all next year.

 

Letter on Christmas Day 1941 to Mother, Father, Marjorie and Sylvia

Allthough we are working right through the usual holidays, I am snatching a few minutes to send you all a Christmas Day Greeting.

I hope you all are having as jolly a time as possible under the circumstances. My thoughts are with Mary and you all at home -- wishing I could be there to enjoy the usual good fare !! However, next year will bring victory and a return to normal life -- then will be the time to celebrate.Keep smiling, and don't worry a bout me -- I'm fit and well and ready for anything.A Happier 1942, and love to you all.

Affectionately Eric.

The above was the last letter received from Eric while he was in Singapore.

 

 

 

 

 

The family became aware later that Eric was a P.O.W. in Sumatra and were in contact with him. However they had no news of him following the Japanese surrender.

 

The Following "News of Eric" was sent out by Sydney to family and friends on November 1st 1945.

As we were keenly seeking news of Eric we were advised to have his photograph posted in the P.O.W. Club , Leeds. This we did a few days ago. Early last night we had a phone message to say that one of the Leeds men who had recently returned from the Far East recognised the photo at once, and had to give us the sad news that Eric had been quite well until only a short time before supplies were flown in, and our men released. He died just before relief arrived, and was buried at Palembang , in Sumatra, where they had been since very soon after the fall of Singapore.

We obtained the name and address and went over to see him last night. We took other photos of Eric, and there was no doubt about him knowing Eric well, in fact he was a special pal of Eric's. He was so ill himself and would not have lived more than a few days had not the RAF supplies arrived in time. When he got on the boat he weighed less than 7st. and when he began to pull round asked about Eric , and the other boys told him what had happened -- he died from lack of food , and finally dysentery. We came away convinced that the news was only too true. Mary is on her way home and is expected any day.

 

Extract of letter from L/C T.L. Roberts who was a P.O.W. in Singapore, to his brother Fred Roberts in Leeds who was Eric's friend [in the Round Table]

Hospital, Bangalore, India

"Eric appears to have died about the 17th August this year, after the Japs surrendered, but before the P.O.Ws were released. There are several men in this Hospital who knew him including one who helped to carry out the final ceremonies. He has given me addresses of the Camp Commanding Officer, the man responsible for personal effects , another who was said to be a close friend , and a fourth of an artist who made a portrait of Eric at the time he had a beard. --- Let me express my sympathy to you for the loss of a good friend who must have been a sterling bloke. The prisoner of war bestows his admiration on those of sound character only. Eric certainly received that admiration.

 

Latest News of Eric

Yesterday we had the official news from the War Office that Eric died in Palembang in Sumatra on the 20th August this year.

The date is just five days after the surrender, and makes true what we were told, that he had lived up to a few days of the RAF supplies being flown in, which might have saved his life. -----------

Eric's wife has been delayed a week at Naples, but is at last on her way home. We now have to face the sad time when we break the news, as she is so looking forward to their reunion.

 

Extracts from Dewsbury Papers -- November 1945

 

Death Of Pte E. Diss

Buried in Sumatra

Sad News for Dewsbury Family

 

Official information has been received by Mr & Mrs F.S.Diss of Ashfield, Oxford Road, Dewsbury , that their son Pte. Eric Diss (31) who in February 1941 went out to Singapore, died in Palembang Camp, Sumatra , on August 20th five days after the Japanese surrendered. Pte Diss who was educated at Wheelwright Grammar School , Dewsbury was a Director of F.Diss & Sons Ltd, Jewellers of Market Place Dewsbury and a Fellow of the Gemological Association. He was founder-secretary of Dewsbury Round Table and joined the army in June 1940.----------

---------Mr & Mrs Diss on Tuesday contacted a great friend of their son in the Palembang Camp, Harry Warburton of Brierfield, near Nelson, who brought back Eric's personal effects with him. The package contained a diary which is truly amazing , showing a most courageous fight all along against great odds and great powers of endurance. ----------- It was two years before he received any mail from home or his wife. These letters are now all in Mr Diss's hands again along with a number of charming crayon sketches his son made of parts of Palembang.

A wife who is on her way from Italy to Yorkshire hoping to see her husband after nearly four years, will not know until she lands that official news was received today that her husband -- a prisoner -of-war -- died five days after the Japanese surrender.

 

In Dewsbury Rotary Club Bulletin Rotarian Jim Taylor writes to the members:-

" You will all deeply sympathise with Past President Syd and Mrs Diss and family in the very sad news they have had concerning Eric. Eric had come through his grim ordeal with courage and his chin up until the very end, and then ,like so many more of those brave lads, succour came too late and Eric lies in a little mound in Palembang , Sumatra, a place which will for ever be British. We grieve for Syd, Nan and Mary, Eric's wife, yet those boys who have sacrificed so much count it not. They would have us be of good cheer and light of heart. To be killed in action is tragedy, but to come through the rigours of Jap imprisonment almost to the bitter end is the biggest tragedy of all. The uncertainty and hope of all those years. What cross could be greater.

While he was a prisoner of war in Sumatra the late Eric Diss , son of Mr F.S.Diss of the firm of F.Diss & Sons Ltd , Jewellers of Market Street Dewsbury, secretly kept a record of his experiences on torn sheets of an old, faded exercise book with pieces of card board backing. When the bookshelves , gift of the Wheelwright Grammar School Old Boys Association, in memory of former colleagues who died during the 1939-45 war , were unveiled at the school last October the first book placed on the shelves was a copy of the diary . Now a limited number of copies are to be printed and bound so that personal friends shall be able to have a permanent record of the time Eric Diss spent in Palembang Prisoners-of -War Camp and the fighting spirit which carried him through nearly three years of confinement.

In November 1945 Sydney received a letter from A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes that gave the background to his time with Eric both in Singapore and as Prisoners of War on Sumatra.

54 , Bicester Road

Richmond

Surrey

17th November 1945

 

Dear Mr Diss,

I have only just returned from a short holiday, hence the delay in writing. I am very proud to have numbered Eric amongst my friends, and we have been together since he arrived in Singapore until his death in Sumatra. I will try and give you an outline of our adventures together.

Upon arrival in Singapore, Eric was posted to Changi Workshops and became my workmate, he often said that this was the first time since he enlisted that he had had a real job of work to do, and I found his assistance invaluable, as we were overwhelmed with work. We had some very happy times together although his heart was in Dewsbury. He often spoke of his wife and was very proud of her achievements.

When the Jap War started, we were in closer contact than ever, as we used to live as well as work together. We had a very narrow squeak when the Changi Magazine blew up, we were in a slit trench right on top of it, quite a number were killed on that occasion. Another time, we were trapped in a blind tunnel when the bombers came over and bombed us, setting our Camp alight and the wind blew the flames up our tunnel, we had a bad ten minutes lying on the ground to avoid the flames and fumes and just outside was a hand grenade dump, these livened up the proceedings by exploding as they warmed up. We finally made a dash when the flames had died down a bit with the grenades still exploding around us. We were bombed out of three workshops and finally evacuated Changi on the 12th February, 1942, with the Japs sending over shells from the beaches where they had landed. On the 13th February, we had a very busy day working on the very badly bombed Anti-Aircraft sites in Singapore. When we arrived back in our billets at 7pm, we just snatched a hasty meal , and were told to fall in with full fighting order. We thought that we were going into the trenches as the Japs were then in the town, the mortar fire was coming over fairly heavily with occasional bullets from snipers in buildings. We marched through Raffles Square, Singapore and were surprised to get the order 'right

turn' which led to the docks. Upon arrival at the docks, we were told we were sailing to Java to set up an Ordnance workshop , and Eric and I with about 80 others, boarded a small vessel named Pula Sugi. We sailed at 1pm with about a dozen other craft - we had no escort. When we looked back at Singapore, it was one pillar of flame, rubber warehouses and oil installations blazing fiercely. We had an uneventful voyage until the night of the 15th when we ran against a Japanese invasion fleet in the Banka Straits. They opened fire on us and sank us without our having any means of reply.

We were seperated in the confusion, myself swimming to the Island of Banka, it took me 14 hours. When I arrived, I was captured with many of the survivors of the other boats which left with us, these boats were all captured or sunk. We were immediately taken to the Airdrome at Muntok where the Japanese Captain said to us " You make my Airfield and I give you your life " When I arrived I was delighted to see Eric safe and well ----- A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes' letter continues later after Eric's letter dated 14 th March 1942.

 

In November 1945 Mary received a letter from a lady who had been interned in Sumatra for the duration. She enclosed 3 letters from Eric written in March 1942.

4 Hill Crest

Mannamead, Plymouth

17th November 1945

Dear Mrs Diss,

Your husband gave these letters to post you should I get home, or rather free from the internment camp in Sumatra where I remained for the duration. Somehow we thought that women and children may get away, but we didn't. The Japanese opened your letters, but gave them back to me, which I forward now.

I didn't reach England until 27.10.45 and was then too ill to unpack what little I had left. I hope your husband reaches home safely.

Sincerely Yours

Violet Pulford.

 

These letters were written in pencil on scraps of paper with Chinese writing etc. on the reverse.

Japanese Prison Camp

Dutch East Indies

6th March 1942

 

My Dearest Mary,

God has brought me through a terrible ordeal, during which I faced death many times, and I am safe. It must have been a dreadful shock when you heard of the fall of Singapore. I can well imagine you all think I am dead. That is my great immediate worry -- that somehow or other, I must get the news to you that I am living.

There are several women prisoners here, and I am counting on their early release -- so am giving one of them this note to post to you as soon as they are free, also two or three others have got your address to let you know I am living.

Darling, a few small boats left Singapore just before it fell, and I was on one of them. However we couldn't manage to break through the Japanese net, and our ship was sunk by gunfire two days out. We lost three quarters of our men on board, but I was one of the lucky ones, who was able to jump for it, and cling to a raft for 14 hours, until I was picked up and brought ashore. Imagine how I felt after being in a shark infested sea for that time, and given up all hope of rescue. God evidently intends me to return to you dear wife.

The Japanese have been quite reasonable in their treatment so far, and as long as we can keep alive, that is all we ask, Rice is our sole diet, with an occasional bit of sugar in it, but never any milk. Still, I guess we shall all hav e to try to live on it.

I have been down for a fortnight with dysentery, but I managed to pull through alright in spite of lack of medical supplies. I shall fight through it all, dear, so don't despair, I will be with you again. Keep faith, and know that I'm thinking of you and loving you always. If this ever reaches you -- let the folks know immediately, won't you. dearest.

 

God Bless You and Keep You Safe For Me.

Your Eric.

 

12th March 1942 Same Prison Camp

Darling

The previous note was written just prior to an impending move from this place to another island. However , owing to a further outbreak of hostilities , the move was cancelled.

I am beginning to feel much stronger now, though a little plain boiled rice doesn't give one much of a chance. Five days ago, I resumed my voluntary work with our primitive 'Hospital'. I am at present working on the Women's Isolation Ward. There have been a few deaths, but amazingly few really under existing conditions. I will be able to tell you all someday.

We all continually dream of food -- sausages and eggs etc. etc. and at times it becomes quite an agony this lack of food we are used to. What about hiring an American Clipper, and bring me a few dozen eggs with chips and fish? Darling, I shall go crazy when I see food again.

When I'm off duty, I get plenty of time to dream of you, and I live the memories -- such heavenly ones -- of our life together. Be of good cheer, my dearest, we shall soon be starting a new life together.

All love and fondest thoughts

Eric.

 

13th March 1942 Same Prison Camp

Darling,

Four weeks ago to-night, we left ill-fated Singapore, but I thank God once again that I am alive -- after seeing so many of my friends killed there, or drowned during that unsuccessful attempt to evacuate at the last minute.

Well dearest, I am still keeping my pecker up, though at times it is difficult when one is so hungry. I am hurriedly writing this further note, dear, because it seems we are moving in a day or two and may get separated from the civilians.

Just to illustrate my wonderful luck in the Army dear-- I was made a full Corporal a fortnight before we left Singapore, but as one has to keep that rank for three months before it is permanent -- old Pinkie loses them, and returns to rank of Private! We have the Japanese to thank for that.

am constantly wondering how you are, sweetheart, and all the folks at home. It is Hell being cut off from all news like this, but I feel sure you are still wearing a smile -- as I am trying to do.

Tomorrow is my 28th Birthday. What a place to celebrate in !! Still it only goes to make our future celebrations more exciting. We'll make up for all this, my darling. If God will give me life and strength to come through safely -- then I shall dedicate myself to bring you all the happiness within my power for the rest of my life.

My thoughts and fondest love are always with you.

God bless you Dearest.

Your Eric.

 

A.Q.M. Sgt Joyes' letter continues

[I was delighted to see Eric safe and well,] ------ he had managed to grasp a raft and clung to it for 15 hours when he was picked up in the morning by the Japs, and had preceded me to the Airfield. We had a very tough time , and in a few days Eric went down with dysentery. We only had rice for food, and many other victims of this terrible scourge could not make their recovery on this diet , however, Eric made a great fight of it, and pulled through.

About six weeks after this , we were sent to Palembang, Sumatara, where I got a fairly convivial job driving the Camp Ration truck, after a week or so, I managed to wangle Eric out with me, and we had the happiest nine months of our imprisonment. We were fairly free, and more important, got plenty of food from friendly Indonesians. We have plenty to thank them for, some of them were splendid. We finally lost this job through refusing to sign a parole form. After that we maintained our friendship and kept together through some very trying times. Eric had several bouts of fever which sapped his strength , and when he finally contracted dysentery again, it was too much for him. and despite his never failing optimism, he died on the 20th of August 1945. I would add that never for a moment did he let himself think that he was going under, and the Doctor said that he made one of the greatest fights for life that he had ever seen.

He always kept me posted on his wife's adventures, and he received quite a reasonable amount of mail after waiting two years for it. He learned of her being pushed back to Alexandria and going on to Italy. I always felt as though I knew her, and although he always said that she was going into too much danger, he was extremely proud of her. He often spoke about the business, and one of his favourite jokes was how you used to break your pipes in the safe door. -----------

A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes' Letter continues after Eric's Diary

Transcription of Eric's Diary February 1942 to December 1944. Kept in secret at the Palembang, P.O.W. Camp Sumatra, consisting of torn sheets from an old faded Exercise Book, with pieces of cardboard backing.

It would appear from the above that May 9th 1944 was the turning point - lethargy was begining to take over. After May 9th the diary bcomes spasmodic eventually ceasing on Dec 20th -- when in previous years he would be looking forward to Christmas. No doubt the increasing death roll played its part.

Harry Warburton who lived in Brierfield near Colne, Mary's home town, was in the Record Office at Palembang and he it was who sent all the papers from Palembang on to Singapore, whence they were eventually sent on to the families. Harry met both Eric's Mother and Father and his In-Laws shortly after arriving backin England.

 

From information given by Eric's great friend Harry Warburton, who was in the Camp's Record Office , Palembang , Sumatra.

Things took a serious turn in May this year ( After Germany's Surrender). The Japs took 400 of the strongest men from the Camp to Singapore. Soon after they left an order came through cancelling all entertainment and sports in the Camp, and the rations were cut by half -- approx. 6 oz. of rice, per man, per day. Our boys knew that it was to be a fight for their existence, and as the doctors had practically no medicine or drugs left, the death rate in the Camp went up rapidly. Our boys were kept informed of the war news by the use of a secret radio, and Eric lived to know of the Jap surernder and the use of the Atomic Bombs.

Eric was in Hospital again, appeared to be making good recovery from another attack of dysentery. the Hospital was a bamboo shack, and the beds made with bamboo strips -- the bedding and covering were rice sacks. It appeared that Eric had improved to the extent of having been moved into the convalescent hut.

On the night of Aug 19th , Eric's friend (Harry ? ) was beside his bed -- they had a cigarette and coffee together, and he was shocked when he heard that Eric had passed away in the early hours the next day. Eric was then less than 7st. (Original weight 12st.10lbs.) and his hair was almost white.

ERIC DIED 20th AUGUST 1945 (AGE 31)

FIVE DAYS AFTER THE SURRENDER, AND ONLY THREE DAYS

BEFORE THE AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE FLEW SUPPLIES IN.

******

AMONGST ERIC'S PAPERS RETURNED TO MARY WAS A CRAYON PORTRAIT OF HER DRAWN BY ERIC ON 27TH JANUARY 1943 AT PALEMBANG. ON THE BACK WAS WRITTEN THE FOLLOWING POEM.

 

Letter from A.Q.M Sgt. Frank Joyes continued

Confidential reports were kept of individual conduct during captivity, and our C.O. told me that Eric's report was one of the best. Many men fell down during this testing time in their lives, but Eric never once lost his self respect, or let his fellow men down. You will find enclosed a duplicate of an application made by Eric to confirm his promotion to Corporal. I, personally, would like to see it forwarded, because apart from monetory benefits, I know that he merits this small recognition of his services to his country. It was always my endeavour to get his rank to Staff Sergeant, and if Singapore had not fallen so quickly I am sure that he would have attained this rank, at least. The address to which this application should be forwarded is :- R.E.M.E. Records Office, Tichborne Street, Leicester. The signature on the back is that of Lieutenant Colonel Morgan. If I can add to any details, or clear up any points you might wish to know, I will be very pleased to do so.

May I convey my deepest sympathy to all of you in your great loss.

Yours Sincerely

A.Q.M. Sgt Joyes

 

P.S. We were able to get news secretly on the Radio, and Eric knew that the War was over, and that his sacrifice had not been in vain.

P.P.S.I did not write to you on arrival in England, as I felt that it would be better for you to receive the news officially first. F.G.J.

 

Copy of letter enclosed re Eric's promotion.

Lieut. Col. Morgan R.A.O.C.

P.O.W. Camp, Palembang.

 

Subject:- Promotion to rank of full Corporal Instrument Mechanic.

Sir,

During the early part of December , 1941, I was informed by A.Q.M. Sgt. Joyes that notification had been received from Major Koe, R.A.O.C. Fort Canning that a vacancy existed on the strength of the 9th Coast Defence Regiment , Changi, for a full Corporal Instrument Mechanic. This vacancy had existed from October 1941 and I had been attached to the H.Q. of the above Regiment since July 1941. Lieut. Bormond, O.M.E. Changi, mentioned that he had recommended me for this appointment, and later , I was informed that Lieut. Fleetwood D.O. Changi had added his recommendation. As A.Q.M.S. is now in this camp, he will be able to bear out the above statement , and add more exact details. During the latter period at Changi, it was impossible to keep in touch with orders, but as my appointment appears to be war substantiated, I hereby respectfully request , Sir , that my case be investigated when circumstance permit.

 

I remain Sir Your obedient servant

 

[signed] E.S.Diss

Pte. Diss E.S. 7634791 R.A.O.C.

To Officer i/c R.A.O.C Records Ref, Reverse [Above]

 

I interviewed No. 7587442 Armt. Q.M.S. Joyes, R.A.O.C. on this subject , and he states that the facts are essentially true. Major M.B.Coe, R.A.O.C. occupied the appointment of D.A.D.O.S., (E) and would conduct correspondence on such matters. Armt. Q.M.S. Joyes actually saw the original letter of recommendation , and subsequently heard that the promotion to Corporal had been promulgated.

Affairs were in such a turmoil during the latter stages of the Singapore Campaign as to render it impossible for normal routine procedure to be followed. Detached units were constantly moved due to enemy action, and correspondence was delayed. Although I have heard from several sources that large batches of promotions were promulgated. I can trace very few individuals who actually saw them, and these are hazy with regard to details.

 

Armt. Q.M.S. Joyes speaks highly of Pte. Diss's work, and as he has conducted himself in an exemplary manner since he came under my attention, I consider that he is eminently suitable for the rank of Corporal. ( The War Establishment of 9th Coast Defence Regiment should be available to ascertain if the vacancy existed in October , 1941

 

Letter to Mary enclosing a sketch of Eric as the writer, a fellow P.O.W., remembered him.

St. Brigid

227 Chester Road,

Sutton Coldfield

January 26th 1946

Dear Mrs Diss,

 

Yesterday I returned from Falmouth in Cornwall, where I have been staying with an ex-P.O.W. friend before returning to work.

Thank you for your photographs and letter. Today I have done my best with the sketch of Eric as I remembered him towards the end of those grim days in Sumatra. I am afraid that he looked old and very thin. His hair, of course , was shorn close, his eyes were sunk deeper, his nose rather pinched and his checks hollow. His expression I have tried to make determined as he always was. Actually I'd rather you remembered him as he was and destroyed the sketch -- but that is up to you.

You ask me if Eric ever thought he wouldn't come back, but that is rather difficult to answer. It was the thing nobody ever mentioned. We were all of us very optimistic --always -- that the Boys would be landing "soon" but during those last months, when the Japs cut the rice down to less than half a pound a day and failed to send any meat or fish at all, then it was that men started to merely fade away and collapse as they walked about. Each day then, or more especially each evening you felt a little weaker than the day before and candidly you knew roughly how long you had left. Even so, you tried not to think that way and, above all, never mentioned it to anybody else. However, it was rather difficult as ten to twelve men were going "through the gate" , as we used to call it, each day. Moreover , darkness used to fall about 8 o'clock each evening and as conversation had "petered" out in 1944 sometime, there was not much to do but lie on your bed and think. I know that on two occasions I went "cold all over" at the prospects and had to tell myself to "snap out of it" and I suppose at times everybody must have thought the same thoughts, especially if they fell ill with beri-beri or dysentery, knowing that there was little if anything , that the doctors could give them.

My friend in Cornwall was the principle "orderly" in the dys. ward and apparently Eric had recovered from actual dysentery and was moved to the "convalescent" hut but died as did most , from absolute lack of everything. Frankly most of those who died did so from Starvation with an enormous capital S.

I know that some little time before Eric went in with dysentery , he collapsed one evening from sheer

weakness on the way to evening parade --- in fact I carried him back to his hut and I remember how terribly thin he was. I myself was down to 7 stone when the war finished and I knew very well that I had about 10 to 14 days to go.

Well,I'm afraid I've been horribly frank and probably written too much: it is better forgotten naturally.

However, I hope the sketch is something like what you wanted. If ever you are in this dirty city of Birmingham I wish you would ring ERD 3108. I should always be glad to meet you and have a chat.

 

I am Yours very Sincerely

 

Rex Spencer

 

Memo from the War Office E2c/1 dated 10 th September 1947 to Mary.

Ref. Dutch East Indies 10-14?A.G. 13

 

Dear Madam,

 

A later report has been received from the Graves Registration Services Overseas which states that

Your husband 7634791 Corporal E.S.Diss of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. is now buried in Plot 1 Row E Grave 12 in the Palembang Military Cemetery, Sumatra, Dutch East Indies.

---------- having been moved from the temporary grave in which he was buried to a permanently maintained cemetery.

 

Yours Faithfully

p.p. Director Graves Registration and Enquiries.

 

Letter from Commonwealth War Graves Commission dated 30th April 1962 to Mrs M. Diss 11, River Street, Colne , Lancs.

It has been agreed with the Government of Indonesia that the Commonwealth war graves in Java and Sumatra, and in the adjacent islands, should be transferred to a new site made available by that Government at Djakarta, the capital of the Republic.

The purpose of this letter is to advise you that the grave of the late Corporal E.S. Diss, R.E.M.E. has now been moved with care and reverence to Djakarta War Cemetery and that the new location of the grave is Plot 5, Row A, Grave No 1

 

This next letter is from Russell Braddon, an Australian, who may have been a P.O.W. of the Japanese. He was frequently on the radio and T.V. after the war but gave it up to write a book on the Japanese.

C/O 294 Earls Court Road,

London S.W.5

22 February 1952

 

My dear Mr Diss,

Many thanks for your letter and for the enclosure of your late son's diary. I found it absorbing ---- and tragic, as all these things are. I am accused of lack of taste and delicacy in harrowing the feelings of such bereaved parents as yourself with my book. I can only reply that many people don't know what heroes lads like your son were; most don't care what fiends the Japs were; and practically none will appreciate that Nippon is already on the rampage again (viz: their trade tactics: their aircraft factories: their fantastically large armed " police force" and their renascent merchant marine ) . If, to point all this out, I must harrow the feelings of some parents I do so without compunction because to remain silent would be criminal and ----- in any event ---- I feel those same parents would prefer the truth known rather than forgotten so that it may happen again.

Once again thanks both for your letter and the diary.

Yours

Russell Braddon.