Veteran Stories:
Chris Williams

Air Force

  • A photograph of Chris Williams in 1957 in Clinton, Ontario when while he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

    Chris Williams
  • Chris Williams with a pony on the Tanjong Caso Estate, Sumatra in 1939.

    Chris Williams
  • A family portrait taken in Aberdeen, Scottland in 1946 after they had been liberated from Japanese prison camps (from left to right): William's Grandfather, Chris Williams, his mother, sister Robin and his father.

    Chris Williams
  • Chris Williams and his wife Gert in 1997.

    Chris Williams
  • Chris Williams and his wife Gert leaving for their honeymoon in 1954.

    Chris Williams
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"When I got to Si Rengo Rengo, there were 1,235 people in that camp. Seven months later, 750 walked out."

Transcript

[Chris Williams was 8 years old and living with his family in Sumatra, Indonesia when Japanese troops captured the region and sent most civilians to prison camps]

Well, we became worried and the managers and the other Europeans started getting ready for the possible invasion. And we made plans to meet at various locations as a group and the automobiles that were owned by the Europeans were disabled and we went to horse and buggies.

On February the 22nd, 1942, the Japanese took possession of the estate my father managed. In fact, they came in at night and he was in the showers and they took him from there. And he was taken away and my mother and sister were left behind and the Japs said they would return for us.

We decided to go to Nikirk, which was a palm oil estate and we had two natives to guide us through the rubber plantation to Nikirk. And one of them disappeared within 10 minutes but the other one took us all the way. When we got to Nikirk, all the oil in the tanks were on fire. And we were there for five days. During which time all European homes were looted and everything really. Reunited with my father when the Japanese brought him over and moved everyone to Tanjung Tiram, into an old Chinese school for four to five days.

When we got there, it was a dilapidated school and there was not enough room for people to lie down. My grandfather, who had no sense of smell, or taste, the only place he could lie down was next to the toilet. And we had to count off in Japanese. And if you got it wrong, you ended up on your backside in the ditch. You were beaten. That was about all that there was, the beatings and stuff until I got to Si Rengo Rengo. There, the beatings were to the extent that some of the men being beaten were killed with a karate chop to the Adam’s apple.

The Japanese policy was to starve all the Europeans to death. The food was so scarce that people came down with Beriberi and dysentery and all other kinds of diseases. The boys, anybody in camp that could catch a rat or a cat, Japanese cats or dog, whatever, the meat went to the hospital to give them some nutrition.

My grandmother died in camp because she was a diabetic and there was nothing for her. My grandfather survived numerous beatings from the Japanese and it was my luck that he happened to be in Si Rengo Rengo, otherwise, I would not be talking to you today. He had, like I said before, he had no sense of smell or taste and the food that we were being given, most of it was inedible as far as I was concerned and he would give his rice rations to me and he would eat the other stuff.

Although I did have an ex-uncle living in Si Rengo Rengo, but he died of dysentery because he’d swapped his food for cigarettes when he could find them. And I attended his burial, that’s the only family that I went with. But there was burials every day.

When I got to Si Rengo Rengo, there were 1,235 people in that camp. Seven months later, 750 walked out.

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