"I shall never forget the words: “Gentlemen, the Japanese have signed the total and complete unconditional surrender. Men, we’re free."
My name is Reginald Charles Bulled. I was in the Royal Corps Signals in the English Army. I joined the territorial army at the age of seventeen, and so I was called up for full-time for the armed forces four days before war was declared. And I was finally medically discharged at the end of August, 1946.
I spent about two and a half years in England setting up radio stations, and then we were sent abroad. We went from Liverpool, England, to Halifax, Canada. There we were shipped onto American luxury liners that had been made into troop carriers. And then we went down to South Africa, and across to India for a few weeks, and then on to Singapore. The troop ship I was on, the Empress of Asia, was sunk going up the Malacca Strait by the Japanese air force, and we had to abandon ship. We were finally picked up by small boats coming out from Singapore to find survivors, and when I found my unit, it was too late to send any messages back to England - the last messages had gone, and so I was reported as Missing in Action. And my parents didn't receive any confirmation that I was alive from me for twenty months, when they received my first card from a Japanese prison camp.
I was first of all in Singapore in Changi jail, and then on the docks at Keppel harbour, loading and unloading the boats. And then, because of sickness, I was sent back to Changi. And finally, we were sent up to Thailand, to Bangkok. We were locked in metal cattle trucks for four days. The doors were opened once a day to feed us - we had a little rice and some water which came out of the engine boilers, greasy. And we went up and worked on the Railway of Death for the whole time it was going - from the very beginning, to the final when the trains started running on it. It took the lives of sixteen thousand prisoners of war, and over one hundred thousand civilians to build that railway in twelve months. We were beaten, starved, tortured, diseased - whatever. The last day that we went out to work, we worked for thirty-two hours to get it done on time. It was hard, and it still gives nightmares.
I think the thing that sticks mostly into mind was when we were called on parade, and the medical officer gave us the news. I shall never forget the words: "Gentlemen, the Japanese have signed the total and complete unconditional surrender. Men, we're free." We just couldn't understand it. We just couldn't believe it, because we had no idea that there was anything going on anywhere around us. We'd been completely cut off from all information. We didn't even know the war in Europe was over. And I think that was the worst part of the prison camp, is just not knowing, and thinking we'd been abandoned by our own governments.