I Was There! - From a Prison Camp We Tramped 1,000 Miles
Two Dutch submarine officers escaped from Hongkong and tramped 1,000 miles across China to a British Army outpost in Burma. One of them, Lieut. Roel Hordyk, tells their story, given here by courtesy of The Observer.
We were taken prisoner in December, 1941, when our submarine was sunk during an attack on an enemy convoy at the time of the Japanese invasion of the Malay peninsula. But within two days of being put in the prison camp we escaped.
How we escaped must still remain secret, but shortly before dawn on the third morning we were on the outskirts of a town. By hiding in ditches and behind bushes we eluded the Japanese patrols and reached the hills, where we stayed for seven days, and then, because we were getting weak from want of food, we decided to try to find a boat to take us to the mainland.
I had copied a map of China and knew roughly where we wanted to go. So on the seventh night we were down to the coast and luckily found a boat. The fifty-mile row to the mainland took three or four days, as we had to make our way from island to island by night.
Right from the start the Chinese helped us. They were wonderful. One island was inhabited by a small community of poor fishermen. After sharing their rice and fish with us they had a collection and have us half a Chinese dollar. And that was all the money we had throughout our trek (when we finally arrived at our destination we still had it). We reached the mainland at a place occupied bu Chinese guerillas. Their sentries surrounded us and took us to their leader.
We explained who we were and he gave us a “safe conduct” - a small piece of paper with Chinese characters written on it. It worked like a charm. Whenever we showed it people fell over themselves to help us. I pointed out to the guerilla leader on my map where I wanted to go, and he sent a man to put us on the road. And then our trek began in earnest.
There were a lot of evacuees on the road and we followed them. Mostly they were rich Chinese travelling with twenty or more coolies carrying their belongings. The Chinese walk fast and they never seem to tire. We must have averaged about 20 or more miles a day. The roads they took led up into the mountains. They were little more than rough, rock-strewn tracks, twisting and curling form mile after mile.
Cold and boredom were the two worst things with which we had to contend. The pace was fast, but after a few days we got used to it. We walked in silence most of the time, just concentrating on walking.
Our route led from hamlet to hamlet, clusters of two or three poor wooden huts perched precariously on the mountain rocks. Misty rain soaked our clothes – khaki battledress – and tennis shoes, and ice winds cut through them. On the bare heights we had to rely on the kindness of the villagers to feed us. Nothing could grow in such wild country. We ate practically nothing but rice throughout the journey.
Most of the towns and villages through which we passed had been bombed, and many of the Chinese had rebuilt their houses three or four times, only to have them shattered again by Japanese planes. Ultimately, after nine weeks, we reached a British Army outpost. There we were taken to a hotel, where we had our first bath and European food since our capture more than three months before. Then we were flown to Calcutta.
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