Mr. Ralph Wilson, Oshawa, Ontario, April 2010.Historica Canada
"I was a prisoner of war for three and a half years. I carried sleepers; I worked on the railroad; and I worked on the road."
I joined the British Army in India and went all over the place, wherever they sent me. Infantry always was either ahead of us or behind us [Gunner Wilson served in the Royal Regiment of Artillery]. And when the last days come at Singapore [the fighting for Singapore lasted from February 8-15, 1942], there was three infantry [regiments] on one side and three on the other, and three of us artillery. We were just sort of disbanded in the sand in Singapore. That’s when [Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest] Percival surrendered to the Japanese. He surrendered, but we didn’t.
There was nine of us. Nine of us rode the boat night and day; and we rode all the way up the side of Malaya, up to the north and the Dutch took us over. And we thought we were going to fight for the same people again; and instead of that, they handed us over to the Japanese as prisoners. That’s right, I was a prisoner of war for three and a half years. I carried sleepers [railroad ties]; I worked on the railroad; and I worked on the road, highway.
No, not in Japan, in Sumatra. They built the highway from north to south of Sumatra. Then they built the railroad from north to south. And I carried every one of those sleepers. [laughs] Sometimes they’d come to us as a pap, you know, you know what a pap is? It’s overcooked rice. Sometimes it would come as dried rice with dry fish ̶ fish that is dried in the sun, cooked, given to you. Salt fish. We lived on that too. Then we used to get si-yu, which is vegetable cut up. We call it salad; they call it si-yu.
One night, we come in from work and one of the Japanese had shot a female orangutan. And when they laid her out on the table, she was exactly the same as a human being. They’re as big as a human being too, as you know. I couldn’t eat him.