This page is dedicated to the women of Manitoulin Island who left family, friends and country to join their military spouses in a new country; to start a family, make a home in a land they would soon call their own.
At present the majority of material has been generously donated by Rick McCutcheon, publisher of the Manitoulin Expositor and taken from a current publication Women of Valour which honoured the Women Veterans of Manitoulin. This issue was released prior to the dedication of the Women’s Memorial at Veterans’ Memorial Gardens on Saturday, September 15, 2001.
If you find these stories interesting, why not drop Mr. McCutcheon a line and let him know you appreciate his contribution.
Anyone having stories, letters or remembrances of Manitoulin women who served their country from the home front is invited to share those memories here. Please submit to Manitoulin Women Veterans
WAR BRIDES: THEY CAME ACROSS THE ATLANTIC…AND SETTLED A NEW FRONTIER WITH THEIR MEN by Michael Erskine
MANITOULIN– Romance flowered amongst both the bomb blasted ruins of the industrial heartland of an embattled Britain and the quieter English countryside, where men and women prepared to repel the foe with, in the words of the ‘British Bulldog’ Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “blood, sweat and tears.”
Thousands of young women, in England, Holland, France and Belgium met their Canadian husbands while carrying out volunteer civil defense duties, tending the wounded or at that ubiquitous English social tradition, the tea.
Between 1942 and 1948, over 64,000 ‘war brides’ and their dependents made the long ocean journey from England’s shores to the ‘wilds’ of Canada, which was in those days still very much a developing nation and frontier.
Betty Timmermans of Little Current met her husband Gerry during the war while Mr. Timmermans served in the Royal Canadian Air Force overseas.
“It was at an afternoon tea,” she reminisced, “it was a favourite place for people to go in those days.”
Mrs. Timmermans remembered her parents in Yorkshire reacting to the news that she had met someone she quite liked.
“I remember telling my mother, ‘I met a really nice guy today, mum,” she said, “and my mother said to my dad, ‘I bet you she is going to marry that man, and he said ‘no way.’ It was kind of difficult, in a way.”
It was at a meal at home that Irene Dockrell, also of Little Current, met her first husband, Stan McDougall, “My mom used to invite some of the wounded boys up for a meal and he was the military escort for those visits,” she said.
Mr. McDougall was serving as a police officer with the 19th Canadian General Hospital Corps when he and his future bride met.
“I was just 17 when I got married,” said Mrs. Dockrell. “My mother wasn’t happy about my going to Canada at all. She said I couldn’t go unless it was on a large ship. When the word came, the ship I was going across in was the Queen Mary, and she couldn’t very well argue with that.”
Mrs. Timmermans also came across by ship, and while Mrs. Dockrell had a relatively smooth sailing, Mrs. Timmermans had a severe bout of seasickness.
“I was so ill, it was terrible, I lay in my room at the bottom of the boat for days before anyone found me,” she said. “When I finally landed in Blind River, my clothes were just hanging off me.”
“I was lucky I didn’t have any children when I came over,” said Mrs. Dockrell. “A lot of women did.” The experience of arriving in a new country, trying to get your land legs back after weeks at sea, was made even more difficult by having to contend with very small children, who were also experiencing the effects of sea travel.
Mrs. Dockrell, Mrs. Timmermans and many thousands of other young brides of Canadian service men landed at the famous Pier 21, in Halifax, where they were met by female escorts who directed them to the trains which would take them into the interior of the country they would now call home.
Mrs. Kitty Hocken, another Little Current war bride, on the other hand, travelled to North America by air, an unusual mode of transportation even in the early forties.
“I had never been in a plane before, and it was not very big inside,” she said. “It took us 13 hours to get to New York, and then we flew on to the airport in Malton. I was so tired I never even saw the Statue of Liberty,” she recalled.
“We flew to New York at first, and then on to Toronto,” explained Mrs. Hocken. “I took the train to McGregor Bay Station from Toronto. “There was nothing there really, no station house or anything, just the highway in the middle of the bush.”
Mrs. Hocken met her late husband Lloyd through a family gathering. Mr. Hocken served as a sapper throughout Holland and the low countries, but he was called back early by his father, Norman, who needed him to help run the family sawmill. Mrs. Hocken followed shortly after.
Mrs. Hocken worked in the Marconi plant during the war, although she could only work part-time, as the rest of her time was spent caring for an ailing aunt. Everyone “did their bit” for the war effort in those days.
Mrs. Timmermans was nursing wounded soldiers when she met her future husband. “It was very hard,” she said, “I saw some terrible things.”
Most of the bombing was carried out against urban centres, far from Mrs. Timmermans’ Yorkshire home, but she did get caught in one bombing raid while on a visit with her husband to Manchester, near Leeds, and found the experience terrifying, but took it all in stride.
“You get used to these things when you are young,” she said.
Mrs. Dockrell was working in a munitions plant in Manchester, the industrial heartland of England, and served as a volunteer civil defense ambulance worker in the evening.
“At 14 years old I was Rosie the Riveter,” she laughed. “We were putting rivets in tanks. We worked right in the middle of Manchester, in a big industrial complex. Before the war the company made cars, then it was turned into war production and we made planes, tanks, munitions and boats, everything you could think of, our company made it. Our division made tanks.
Mrs. Dockrell also saw many of the horrors of war while serving as a volunteer ambulance worker, in the evenings.
“I usually travelled on the back of a motorcycle, I didn’t have my license yet, I was so young,” she said. “We would go down to the train station to bring the wounded to the hospital. Sometimes we would go out after the bombing stopped. I saw a lot of terrible things, especially the children. It was not a very nice job, but you did what you had to do. It was the times.
The terror of what might happen to your children during the regular bombing raids was an experience most peacetime parents never have to contend with. Even when your children were older, you were still gripped with a cold hand around your heart when the bombs begin to fall.
“We were in charge of the keys to the public air raid shelters, and we would unlock them when there was a raid,” said Mrs. Dockrell. The shelters were kept locked during the day, “to prevent any goings on,” she explained. “My mother would get very upset. She was in the shelter with my brothers and sisters and I would be gone; it must have been very hard for her.”
The new life that greeted war brides was different in many ways than the life they had left behind.
“My mum and brother came to Canada to visit in 1952 and they couldn’t believe all the food that was in the stores,” said Mrs. Dockrell. Europe had experienced rationing, from the onset of the war, and the deprivations continued well in to the 1950s.
Another pleasant difference she noted was the relative lack of social stratification in her new home. “There was no class distinction,” she said. “In England there was a definite class difference, there still is to some extent.” She found the people to be generally very friendly.
Mrs. Dockrell did find her new home very different from what she was used to. “You want t believe it,” she laughed. “I came from a large industrial city, where there was a bus every two minutes.” Her new home had no hydro, no running water and was very much a “bachelor farm.”
“I had to take a horse 14 miles into town to get the mail,” she laughed. “When we moved to Shining Tree, I even had a dog sled. My mother couldn’t believe the things I was doing. You became very self reliant, you had to be, the nearest neighbour was 14 miles away.”
The newlywed had a number of experiences that would be familiar to women of any period. “My first batch of bread was really quite something,” she laughed. “They set the loaves on fence posts and shot at them with rifles.”
Despite the deprivations and some minor homesickness, Mrs. Dockrell soon became very attached to her new country. After the death of her infant son, she returned to England for a visit in 1947. “After three weeks I was ready to come home,” she said.
Mrs. Timmermans also found her new home very different from the small town in England in which she was raised. “The food and everything was so different,” she recalled. “But Gerry’s mom was from England, and she cooked much the same way we did back home, so some things were not too different. There was a lot of rationing in England, though. We would get one egg every two weeks, Gerry would come back from leave with all kinds of things He still likes to shop, and does the groceries every week to this day.”
Mrs. Hocken also found that there were differences in diet. “I had never had corn on the cob before,” she said. “I liked that, but I wasn’t as fond of homemade mushroom soup, at first, now I quite like it. It is funny how things change.”
Mrs. Dockrell’s life in the wilds of Ontario’s North was completely different from her life in England however, including brushes with the local fauna.
“We had a rasher of bacon on the front porch, and one day I found a bear eating it,” she said. “I opened the window and shot it with a pistol. What else could I do? We needed that food,” she said. “I skinned the bear and tacked the hide up on the garage door, I hated the sight of that thing.”
For many young women, marriage was an escape from the pressures of family and a culture that dictated their every thought and deed.
“It was quite different in those days,” said Mrs. Dockrell. “I would take my pay packet home and give it to my mother. She would give me an allowance, and sometimes I wouldn’t have enough for bus fare; then I would have to beg for more. When I asked if I could ‘keep myself’ as we used to call it, she wanted more for room and board than I made. Now kids see their pay cheques as their own money.”
The new lives that Manitoulin’s war brides made for themselves left them with few regrets. “It has been wonderful really,” said Mrs. Hocken. “It has been quite lovely, really.”
Asked if she had any regrets, Mrs. Timmermans said, “Absolutely none. We have been married 56 years last May.”
Mrs. Dockrell found her life, mixed as is any life with tragedies and setbacks, a rewarding experience nonetheless. “I have worked as a waitress and a housekeeper, all kinds of things really,” she said. “But I have also been a member of the War Brides Association in Lively, the Chair of Ontario Housing, and on the Little Current Place board of Directors. I was the supervisor of elections as well, starting out at the very bottom and working my way up to supervisor.”
The many thousands of war brides that made their way to Canada after the war have added an immeasurable dimension to the fabric that is Canadian life, contributing to the growth of the country into a major industrial nation, both as companions and helpers to their husbands in civilian life, and as individuals in their own right, making their marks as could only be expected of brave and self-reliant people.
Women of Valour
September 12, 2001
MARION RENEE SCOTT (Farquhar)
A daughter reminisces about her mother’s war work
by Ruth Farquhar
When I look at my mother’s picture in her air force uniform, I am astounded at how young she looks, big smile, eyes dancing, she is proud to be in that uniform. Marion Renee Scott was just 20 years old when she went on active duty on August 28, 1942 as a fabric worker packing parachutes. Mom didn’t talk much about that time in her life except for the odd quirky story and the fact that she met my father who was also in the air force. So the phone calls started to my three aunts, Eileen, Shirley and Billie, who were all delighted to reminisce about their sister “Mern”: Marion Farquhar; nee Scott. My mother and her sister Shirley enlisted on the same day in their hometown of Vancouver. Like many women during that time they wanted to do what they could for their country. Mom was sent very quickly to Ottawa for basic training but my Aunt Shirley did not fair so well – waiting patiently for her letter, she continued to work until one day she was hauled off by the RCMP for being AWOL. Explaining that she did really want to go they finally got it straightened out and she joined my mother in Ottawa. Following her basic training, Mom was stationed back in British Columbia at Abbotsford with the Western Air Command and her job was to pack parachutes. Given that her parents were in nearby Vancouver, Mom would occasionally make it home for Sunday dinner and Grandma would save up rationing coupons so they could have meat the nights Mern came home.
According to my Aunt Billie who was 14 at the time, Mom would inevitably show up with three or four air force guys who had no place to go for dinner. My grandmother would get frantic worrying about the lack of food and as Billie said, grandma would look at her and say, “Billie you will have to have a fried egg.” Always a few days later they would get an envelope with coupons in it for the family, a thank-you from the young men who had enjoyed a family dinner.
Mom met Dad at Boundary Bay Air Force Base and all of my aunts laughingly talked of mom sneaking over to Vancouver Island to spend some time with him before he was shipped out.
I can remember Mom telling me of the ‘Fly Boys’ taking the ‘girls’ up in the planes to see if they could scare them – mom took great pride that she could make it through flying underneath the bridge in Vancouver and doing a roll without losing her lunch. It’s interesting to think of my mom in those days and to imagine what it was like for her and thousands of other Canadian women – they were so ahead of their time. About 30 years ahead of any talk of feminism and yet there they were – working in non-traditional jobs such as driving ambulances, decoding messages, repairing aircraft and yes, packing parachutes. What was it like for them to go back to their old worlds when the war was over?
For my mother she started a whole new life, leaving her family and friends behind, coming all the way to Manitoulin Island to marry my father. Pretty gutsy. I often wonder if being in the war gave mom her adventurous spirit – packing up my oldest sister and brother and teaching herself to drive in an old army truck, working outside the home as the local librarian, the first woman cub scout leader and always helping out someone who would come to the house needing a meal or a place to stay.
She never reacted in the way you thought a mother would react – like when my big sister ran away and played hooky from school, she just gave her a big hug; or when she caught one of us smoking, she just laughed and told us to put it out. She wouldn’t hesitate to pack all seven of us up in our old station wagon and take us on little trips. She taught us how to fish, she built us a raft and she encouraged us to swim across Lake Mindemoya to Treasure Island.
When she reached her sixties she didn’t hesitate to travel to Australia by herself, to drive across Canada numerous times to see her family in Vancouver. Did being in the war for three years bring out the adventurer in my mother? No one can say for sure, but there is one story that my Aunt Shirley recalled and she prefaced it by saying, “I’m not sure if it’s true” – she maintains that my mom parachuted out of a plane with one of the parachutes she packed. My family and I think if this was true mom would have told us about it – but you know what? I can imagine my mom doing that – eyes dancing, big smile – and I’m sure for those of you who knew her it wouldn’t be hard to imagine her taking that leap!
Women of Valour
September 12, 2001
ETHEL ROGERS MULVANEY
Prisoner of War
(Editor’s Note: Ethel Rogers Mulvaney was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who served congregations at Coldsprings and Honora. She taught school on Manitoulin, later studied social sciences at the University of Toronto and McGill University. As adopted Ojibway Princess Wabanumikwe, she acted as a public relations person for a visit of Northern Ontario natives to New York before the Second World War. Later in her eventful life, she married a British army doctor, was interned by the Japanese for four years during the war and by the early 1950s developed it idea of “Treasure Van:” getting to know about other cultures through their crafts which were sold at university campuses across Canada. Mrs. Mulvaney lived quietly in retirement in Mindemoya and passed away about a decade ago. The story that follows is about her experience as a Japanese prisoner of war, in her own words.)
by Ethel Rogers Mulvaney
For reasons that aren’t yet wholly understood, women are a tougher, hardier breed then men. They can survive more physical hardship and greater psychological stress. All this I know from personal experience and observation. I was one of a thousand women imprisoned in Changi Jail, Singapore, by the Japanese during World War Two. For 1,294 days we endured starvation, torture, humiliation, monotony, disease and fear. I entered prison on March 6, 1942 in perfect health, weighing 130 pounds. On the day of liberation in September 1945, I was a shriveled old woman, an 80-pound bundle of skin and bones. My body was covered with boils and carbuncles and my whole condition had deteriorated under hardship and indignity.
I was ill-prepared for the rigors of prison life. After a happy childhood on Manitoulin Island, I studied at McGill University and went on a tour of the world. In China I met Denis Mulvaney, a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps., and married him. When he was transferred to Singapore, I followed him. One evening when we were sailing straight into the sun (from our island) Denis looked at the orange and red sky and said, “It’s too beautiful. We’re too happy. It can’t last.” The date was December 7, 1941. That night Japanese bombers staged their first raid on Singapore.
Our lives changed abruptly. Denis spent all his time at the military hospital; I went on duty as a Red Cross ambulance driver with the rank of senior representative. The war went from bad to worse. The night before capitulation, a Scottish sergeant was destroying the pets by giving them injections of morphine. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he gave the needle to a beautiful collie who was licking his face. Like the other women, I was given two poison pills for possible future use.
I said farewell to Denis amid the confusion and shock of surrender. I parted with the words, “No matter what, I’m going to live through this war.” I never suspected then what strength it would take make good that vow.
The temperature was 105 on the day we walked the 15 mile jungle road to Changi Jail. There were 1,100 of us–a thousand women and a hundred children–a wide assortment of civilians trapped in Singapore by the capitulation. Most of the women were married–the wives of soldiers, government officials and businessmen. Like the other prisoners, I traveled light. I had the clothes on my back, a patchwork quilt made by my mother, an extra dress, my father’s small red bible, and an illustrated child’s book, Dutch van Deal. It was given to me by a beloved teacher when I was in fifth grade. In the terrible years ahead, it was a constant reminder that there was another world and another way of life. Changi Jail, which we entered 14 hours later, covered about four city blocks and consisted of a series of cell blocks and courtyards surrounded by a huge concrete wall. It was a civilian jail, built to accommodate 450 people. We were jammed into it, three to a cell, so crowded that one of us had to sleep with her feet over the toilet. Adjoining us, separated by a wall, was the civilians men’s jail with 2,200 inmates, including husbands and sweethearts of some of the women.
From the beginning we were determined to keep our morale high. We selected a management committee. A corner of the carpentry shop was designated as Red Cross Headquarters, with me in charge. But within a few months, an alarming change had come over us.
The most pressing problem was the lack of food. We were being slowly starved to death. Our sole item of diet, prepared daily in the men’s jail was buyaam soup. This is an unappetizing green, slimy substance made by boiling a spinach-like weed in water. We had it for breakfast, lunch and supper for 1,294 days. We lost weight; we broke out with beri-beri. Some of the women, weakened and discouraged, stopped going to the food line-ups and quietly died. Occasionally, there would be a red-letter day; the soup would be enriched by a rat the men had caught.
Food became an obsession. To stay alive, at times we ate spiders, grasshoppers and the green slimy slugs that loitered near the prison drains. The latter were a rich source of precious protein. Once, not realizing it had no food value, I swallowed a three-page article out of a 1928 issue of the National Geographic magazine. We hungrily eyed the birds that flew about, and unsuccessfully tried to catch them. Occasionally the Japanese gave the children chocolate off their hands. Once someone discovered a small quantity of sugar We spent two days dividing it up: exactly 158 grains to each woman and child. A close friend lay dying in the hospital of tuberculosis, her weight down to 55 pounds. When I visited her, she wanted to talk about food. One morning she said, “Tell me all about the different kinds of omelets you’ve made.” Her eyes lighted up as I talked. A few hours later she was dead. I knew hunger so extreme that it goes beyond the ability to feel the gnawing stomach and head pains. I felt a numbness and grew frightened because I knew this relief for the familiar hunger pains was the prelude to death, and I prayed for the familiar hunger pains.
At one point, I decided to test my theory that if we could activate our salivary glands by suggestion, we would be revitalized. I gathered together a group of women and told them, “We’re going to start work on the Changi Jail Cook Book. I want each of you to contribute your most delicious recipes.” For a few hours a day, for months, we sat around discussing, describing and arguing about delicious foods. After we had decided on the perfect recipe, we would carefully enter it into a large prison ledger book. We ended up with a superb collection of recipes for cakes, pies, roasts, soups and fish dishes. And most important, it stimulated the flow of our salivary glands and stomach juices and made us feel more alive. Later, I was able to publish that book and raise $18,000 for the former prisoners of Changi.
But we couldn’t deceive our bodies indefinitely. We were slowly starving to death. Our parcels from the Red Cross were undelivered. Finally, I resolved to get permission from the camp commandant to buy food in the supermarket at Singapore. We had resources: a quantity of money in the Red Cross strongbox, kept in the dungeon. I was finally granted an interview with the assistant commandant, Okasaki, a man of 38, impeccably dressed. I stood in the small white circle in front of his desk waiting to be acknowledged. He nodded at me.
“Sir,” I began, “I’m sure you don’t want Changi Jail to be only a graveyard when the war is over.” No reply. “Sir,” I began again, “the buyaam soup is not enough. We are getting weaker. More sick are going to the hospital every day.” He dismissed me curtly. Permission not granted.” Okasaki was to grant me several more interviews.
One Thursday morning, which marked the 48th interview, I heard almost with disbelief -Okasaki granted us permission to go to Singapore. Our conveyance was a battle-scarred British truck that traveled on its steel rims because there were no tires to be had. I was at the wheel, accompanied by Anne Courtney and a Japanese guard. In my pocket was $100,000 Malayan, worth about half that amount in Canadian money. It represented most of our collective fortune but that wasn’t something to worry about now. We were about to have something to eat besides buyaam soup.
How strange to be in the outside world again! In the busy marketplace we bought hundreds of pounds of dried fish, over-ripe bananas, potatoes and sugar cane. For $4,000 we got a tin of powdered milk.
This was to be the first of several shopping days. They helped in part to solve our food problem for a time. But unfortunately, the project had tragic consequences and it was only by the grace of God that I escaped the firing squad. This is what happened. We had many loyal Chinese friends in Singapore from prewar days and it soon became known that on Thursdays we were in the market place. On the third expedition, I was walking toward a stall to examine some sugar cane when a beggar in rags held out his alms bowl and shouted at me, “Nah Nee! Nah Nee!” There was something familiar about his face so I looked at him carefully, without attracting the attention of the Japanese guard who was only a few steps away. I almost gasped aloud. It was Seong! Seong was an old friend, a wealthy Chinese merchant in his 60’s who had managed to smuggle a few encouraging notes into Changi Jail. As I went by him, staring straight ahead, he slipped something into my pocket and whispered, “Buy the pumpkin in stall 38.” I acknowledged his presence with a wink, shouted at him, “Hut jao! Get out of my way,” and quickly moved on.
After much haggling, to avoid suspicion I bought 50 pumpkins at stall 38, I was wild with excitement as I drove home. What did the pumpkins contain? I prayed, “Dear God, protect the pumpkins so none of them will roll of the truck and split open.”
Back at camp, I had the pumpkins carefully unloaded and placed in a far corner of the dungeon. I was far too excited at the time to open them. But in the meantime, I must find out what Seong had slipped into my pocket. I went to the latrine, the only place I could find privacy, and pulled the package out of my pocket. It was a roll of money containing $30,000 neatly tied together with a black string.
I was bursting to tell someone about the money but my better judgment prevailed. Our Chinese friends had risked their lives to help us. The fewer people who knew, the safer the secret. From our observations in camp, we knew that the Japanese would go to any lengths to extract information. I must also keep to myself the secret of the pumpkins, which I discovered next morning. Alone in the dungeon, I opened the pumpkins and found them packed tightly with large denomination bills. Seong must have give us at least $5 million! Here we were locked up in Changi Jail and multi millionaires! I carefully emptied the money into an old sack and threw it into a corner of the dungeon.
One day I was unexpectedly summoned to the little white circle in front of the commandant’s desk. From the questions, it soon became evident that the Japanese had found out something about the activities of our friends, Seong and his grandson. The latter was a handsome youth of 17, well-known for his wide knowledge of Malayan music and his mastery of the vena, a large stringed instrument. The intent of questioning evidently, was to wear me down and make me confess my relationship of the Seongs.
The consistent theme of all the interrogation was music.
“Do you like Malayan music?”
“I don’t understand it. I haven’t the ear for it.”
“Do you like music?”
“Did you ever study music?”
“Yes. As a girl on Manitoulin Island.”
“Have you travelled in Canada?”
“Yes. I’ve been out West in the prairie provinces.”
“Did you hear cowboy music?”
“Yes, but you can hear it anywhere in Canada. They’re especially fond of it in the eastern provinces.”
I was questioned no fewer than 30 times at all times of the night and day. The longest interrogation lasted 14 hours, with a fresh team of questioners coming on duty every hour. Music…music…music. In time, every mention of the word made me recoil as though I was being struck on the head by a trip-hammer. But when it was all over, I experienced a sense of exhilaration deep inside me. I had told them nothing.
With our shopping expeditions forbidden, I lost all contact with the Seongs. Then, some months later, when we were moved to a near-by prison on Sime Road, young Seong re-established contact by throwing a stone over the fence with a note attached. He asked me to meet him at a certain place along the fence the following Thursday night, providing the moon and stars were blacked out by clouds. I sneaked out of my bunk and crawled carefully on my stomach to the meeting place. There was Seong on the other side of the fence, giving me news of the war and presenting me with a chunk of gulamalacca-a thick rubbery sugar. There were to be several such meetings. Then one night, he said, “Tonight I’m in a hurry. They caught me. I’m to be shot at daybreak. I came to say good-bye. A friend is standing in for me.”
“No..” I mumbled in disbelief.
“Yes, that’s the way it is.” I carefully reached through the fence, avoiding the electrified wires and cupped his face in my hands. I couldn’t speak. A few seconds later my hands were empty and Seong was gone. I struggled back to my bunk and lay awake praying in the darkness. A glimmer of light appeared on the horizon and a few minutes later some guns cracked in the distance. Seong was gone. Dear, wonderful, courageous, uncomplaining Seong who gave his life for his friends in the Changi Jail.
Living without men was not an easy adjustment to make in Changi Jail. What made the situation particularly frustrating was that many of the women were separated from their husbands and sweethearts only by the high wall between the two jails. We made various attempts to establish contact. The first was by throwing notes attached to stones over the wall. This ended when the Japanese redoubled their vigilance and meted out a hundred lashes to the stone-throwers. Billie, a beautiful 18-year-old Anglo-Indian girl with long black hair, worked out her own system of keeping in touch with her sweetheart, Danny. Promptly at six each evening, she would stand in a certain position in the courtyard and sing Danny Boy in loud clear voice. Danny, by peering through a certain cell window about two hundred yards away, could see and hear her.
But the problem of contact between men and women was not solved until, by a stroke of good fortune, we were able to organize the Drain Talkers Club. This came about by the discovery of a manhole cover in the ground about six feet from the wall that separated the two prisons. An inquiry revealed that there was a similar cover on the men’s side and that they both opened into a common drain. Furthermore, we found that two people could converse audibly, despite the foul odor and the gurgling of the water every time a toilet was flushed in the prison.
We carefully organized drain-talking sessions. A list of women’s names was drawn up and a copy of it was smuggled into the men’s jail, so that their husbands and sweethearts would stand by. Promptly at nine, armed with sticks, eight of us would remove the huge iron cover. A chain of sentries was unobtrusively stationed at all approaches to the drain with instructions to cough if Japanese guard approached. Talker No. 1 would now be lowered into the drain, with a woman hanging on to each of her legs. For the next three minutes through the foul drain that carried all the jail’s excrement, would flow the sweetest words of love and affection and loyalty.
With Easter approaching one year I recalled the inspiring sunrise services I had attended in various parts of the world. I suggested that perhaps we could conduct one. “But will the Japanese let us?” was the immediate question. I decided to petition the commandant. “Why do you want to do this?” he asked.
“Because Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning. Not even death could hold Him captive.”
It took another dozen interviews to get permission. We started our preparations two weeks before Easter. We practiced singing, filing out into the courtyard, the massing formation-all timed to the split second. The word spread to the men’s jail. They worked out a system whereby each of them had a two-second turn at the cell windows from which our service could be seen.
We were up at three on Easter morning. There was only one guard posted on duty, a man named Ichehara, and he was unarmed. That was the only time Changi a guard appeared without a gun. We filed out just as rehearsed. Faces appeared from the cell windows of the men’s side. At the first sign of light, our choir leader brought down her baton and the singing started. It ended with the victorious line, “Hallelujah! Christ arose!” A great peace lay over the vermin-infested prison.
I was the last person to leave the courtyard. As I was about to step into the passageway, Ichehara furtively looked about him and then handed me a little orchid, with the roots attached. “Christ did rise,” he whispered, and turned on his heel and hurriedly walked away. We hadn’t known it, but he was a Christian and had taken this great risk to express his feelings. This orchid was to bloom for months and given an honoured place in our Silence Hut.
The erection of the Silence Hut was perhaps our greatest single achievement. I conceived of a building that would serve as an oasis of cleanliness and serenity amid the crowded and noisy prison. In the course of some 30 visits to the commandant, I explained what we wanted to do and why. I told him that we intended to build a hut with our own hands. We wanted nothing from him. Perhaps through curiosity, the commandant agreed, and gangs of men were sent into the jungle to fetch us bamboo and coconut trees.
At the end of six months, we had completed our Silence Hut, complete with a fence. The rule of absolute silence was strictly enforced. Each woman, by turn, had the privilege of reserving a tiny cubicle for a day. Here, she could enjoy the unbelievable luxury of spending hour after hour in quietness, thinking, reading or sleeping. It was a great morale builder. I have stayed in some of the finest hotels in the world but I can’t recall a room that has given me a greater feeling of luxury than the cubicles of the Changi Silence Hut. We sorely needed whatever comfort we could derive from the Silence Hut. We were rapidly becoming weaker, thinner and more ragged.
My greatest personal agony in Changi Jail occurred in the months just before the liberation. For reasons that are still unclear to me, I was placed in solitary confinement for 120 days. The only light that pierced my bare silent cell came from a barred window beyond my reach. The only human being I saw was the silent guard who brought me my daily ration of buyaam soup and water. My only possessions were the green kimono I wore, my father’s little red bible, and the stub of a pencil.
I was determined to emerge from this fresh horror alive. I told myself, over and over again, that I hadn’t survived the hell of the past three and a half years, to die, ignominiously, alone. I realized, from the start, that I must keep my body active. I worked out a routine of life. Ten times a day I would walk around my small cell 30 or 40 times, and then sit down and massage my muscles.
During solitary, nourishing my mind was as difficult a task as nourishing my body. I began memorizing the bible. With the stub of my pencil, I made notes and drawings in the margins of my bible, recalling my past life.
On the 120th day of my solitary confinement I doggedly continued my exercises, cleaned my nails, made entries in the margins of my bible. I knew that if I broke my routine I would die. Then, suddenly, at four o’clock the Japanese guard threw open the door and said, “You are free!”
Stunned, I cautiously staggered along the corridor and looked out the door. I beheld a strange and unbelievable sight; the camp was ringed with clean, fresh looking Allied troops! In the deep and dark silence of my cell we had been liberated without my being aware of it.
Our troops, led by a brass band, came marching in and drew up at the flagpole. The Union Jack was raised. There were tears trickling down the cheeks of one of the bandmen.
Later I said to him, “Why were you crying?”
He pointed to us, “Look at you,” he said, “It’s like entering the Valley of Death.”
“Cheer up,” I said, “I’m feeling pretty good.”
And I was. Like most of the prisoners who had entered Changi Jail after the fall of Singapore, I had survived. And I know that, whatever the future held, I would never again suffer anything as hellish as those 1,294 terrible days.
Women of Valour
September 12, 2001
A doctor and his wife reunited after separation as POWs
(Editor’s note – This story about the freeing of Dr. and Ethel Rogers Mulvaney from a Japanese prisoner or war camp was published on the front page of The Manitoulin Expositor on October 25, 1945. It’s headline was “Mulvaneys are freed from Japs”)
Dr. and Mrs. D.P.F.Mulvaney (nee Ethel Rogers), were re-united recently after being prisoner of the Japs since the fall of Singapore. They were separated by the Japs and for two years didn’t know whether the other had succumbed under the hardships of the prison camps.
Mrs. Mulvaney, in a letter to her brother, Harvey Rogers, Honora, relates her experiences and hardships of prison life. The letter is dated September 30th, and was received here last Monday, October 25th.
She begins her letter with the words: “We are free! After a long and terrible nightmare.
None can imagine, who has not been a prisoner of war just what joy it is to be alive after these grueling times. The prisoners always wondered what the next move would be by the cruel and god merciless foe, and they all agree it was no picnic. The food was terrible according to civilized standards, and didn’t induce more attraction than a pig’s trough. The staple food in the reg consisted of rice, (not much of it) with bayam, a coarse spinach and a little red, palm oil, all boiled into a sloppy soup. It was a lucky day when salt was added. It was served from buckets and the white prisoners lined up to receive their pint of this messy mixture.”
That everyone lost weight on such scanty and unusual food is understandable, besides many developed various ailments from malnutrition. Mrs. Mulvaney who weighed about 145-148 lbs. upon imprisonment was down to 108 lbs. when released.
She writes that thousands of white soldiers were beaten or starved to death. One example she relates as ghastly was when Indian soldiers were executed and their thighs and arms sold in the native stores as meat.
All the civilian prisoners were to be executed by shooting on September 15th, but surrender in August saved them.
Dr. and Mrs. Mulvaney are both weak but recuperating in Bangalore, India, where they intend to stay for the winter as they believe that the colder climates of Europe and Canada may be too much in their weakened condition. Mrs. Mulvaney relates that they sleep 13 hours a day and that there is no limit to the food they can consume. Her fondest dreams are centered upon food, particularly she is longing for Morelles, bread and butter, rabbit stew and raspberry pie.
Women of Valour
September 12, 2001
October 25, 1916 issue of the Manitoulin Expositor
Mrs. Effie Miners,
Little Current, Ont.
Dear Mrs. Miners:
Will you kindly accept my sincere sympathy and condolences in the decease of that worthy citizen and heroic soldier, Private Nelson Miners.
While one cannot too deeply mourn the loss of such a brave comrade, there is consolation in knowing that he did his duty fearlessly and well and gave his life for the cause of Liberty and the up-building of the Empire.
Again extending to you my heartfelt sympathy.
Women of Valour
September 12, 2001