Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter V


Scouting in Captivity: Malaya

"All these activities were going pretty strong when the blitz of the Double Tenth (10th October, 1943) occurred, when the Kempetai (the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo) raided the camp. According to Herdslet, who was called to his cell to open a locked bag, one of the searchers on our floor of the gaol was an ex-Scout, for he recognised Herdslet’s Silver Wolf, and it is probable that the same chap searched my cell also, for though nearly everything had been turned upside down and the place ransacked, my war medals and my own Silver Wolf badge had been replaced in my suitcase. A Union Jack, together with its component flags, which I had only risked painting for the instruction of the Cubs, had been merely thrown on the floor, whereas if a non-Scout searcher had found it, it would probably have landed me in the dreaded Y.M.C.A., the Kempetai headquarters from which a large number of the fifty-one persons detained on that and succeeding days did not return alive, or returned so badly tortured that they only lived a few hours."

So writes Scoutmaster A. R. Westrop, D.S.O., now in Southern Rhodesia, who was interned in Karikal in Malaya, and his report shows that conditions in that part of the world were far more severe than in the internment camps of China.

For a few days after the outbreak of war it seemed that there would be none set up in Malaya, for the Japanese attack would, it was confidently hoped, be held. In six brief weeks that hope was proved vain. On the 8th December, 1941, the day on which the Japanese landed at Khota Baru and opened the campaign, there were sixty-two Troops of Scouts some 2,000 strong in Malaya. In addition, there were large numbers of Scouters and Rovers either serving with the Strait Settlement Volunteer Forces, the local defence corps, the Special Constabulary, the A.R.P. Services or the Auxiliary Fire Services. The Scouts themselves, emulating their elders, volunteered, every boy of them, to act as messengers. Many falsified their ages and alleged that they were fourteen in order to be enrolled. On their own or borrowed bicycles they carried messages throughout the city during heavy air-raids, and regardless of danger increased this service during " that terrible week which preceded the capitulation." Many of them were in uniform at their posts when the Japanese forces marched in.

In addition to serving as messengers, they also acted as orderlies, rendered first-aid, and served in canteens, while the Sea Scouts formed a mine-watching corps and rendered great service in the waters round the port. They worked in twelve-hour shifts and spent them on the watch for Japanese mine-laying aircraft. On sighting any mines, they took bearings to locate the mine by means of a specially constructed compass which "though illuminated, was hidden from the air." Six bearings were taken from six different stations. They also served in the Kuala Loyang Boom Defence office at the depot near the yacht club, and in the telephone exchange.

While the Scouts in Singapore were thus fully occupied, those in Georgetown, Penang, were equally busy. They were the first to feel the full weight of the enemy attack. The town was heavily bombed, and being without defence the casualties and damage caused were very great. The Deputy Chief Air-Raid Warden, Koo Sin Teang, who was also Assistant District Commissioner of the Scouts, had encouraged as many as possible of them to join the A.R.P. Services. When the test came, their courage was remarkable. Two of them, Hooi Seng Tuck and Ooi Boon Ewe, were acting as spotters on the roof of Penang Free School when more than eighty Japanese aircraft attacked the town. The building was struck by H.E. and incendiary bombs, both of the Scouts were burned and otherwise injured, but remained at their posts until finally ordered to leave, though even this they refused to do until others had been found to take their places.

These boys and their comrades deserve special praise, for they acted with coolness and devotion at a time when the utmost confusion prevailed and when almost every European had fled, leaving the Chinese and native population to their fate. In such circumstances the behaviour of the Scouts is peculiarly meritorious and more than deserved the tribute paid to them by Mr. H. Hall, Director of Air-Raid Precautions, who five years later submitted an official report on their conduct.

The fall of Penang was followed two months later by that of Singapore. After the capture of the city Scouting officially ceased, for the Japanese military administrators forbade it. But though "its outward panoply" had disappeared, its spirit could not be quenched. The meeting of Troops or Patrols might be impossible, but two or three Scouts would come together and "in the midst of informers and spies they kept alive the flame of Scouting. Troop and Patrol log-books were carefully kept during the occupation…. The Troop which held the district flags found it no easy matter to keep them intact, but despite the danger which possession of the Union Jack entailed, these flags were safely preserved." The Malayan Scouts soon had the measure of their enemy. " When the Japanese authorities took possession of the premises in which the local Scout shop was situated, a certain Troop, by dint of collecting funds from all its members, managed to bribe the Japanese in charge and thus obtain all the badges in stock, which they presented to the local Association when the war was over." Singapore Sea Scouts were not so fortunate. The Japanese pulled down their headquarters and subjected them to various forms of persecution.

The Scouts at large in the town of Singapore maintained a precarious freedom. There were others, however, not so fortunate who still contrived to maintain Scouting in the dreadful prison of Changi. That they did so was due in great measure to the devotion of the former Deputy Commissioner for the State of Victoria, the Reverend A. Rowan MacNeil, a chaplain serving with the Australian Forces. On the first day of his internment in Changi he appealed for Scouts, putting notices in the camp orders urging all who were interested in Scouting to get in touch with him. A "Catch My Pal" campaign resulted in the formation of the first Troop. Prominent among them was Bob, something of an inventor, who made "a flag by getting some blue cloth from the lining of a tropical suit." True, when treated with acriflavine it turned green, but it was the intention that mattered and "the same dye used on strips of white sheets made quite good yellow material for the badge and lettering." Wrist badges were cut out of stray pieces of aluminium by using a broken dental drill, and the design was carefully adapted from the Chinese character meaning prisoner-of-war. In this manner the Japanese guards were deceived.

To talk about Scouting, however, MacNeil realised was not enough, and he therefore formed a Rover Crew and "by breaking down our organisation from a Troop to a Crew with practically autonomous Patrols, we entered upon a new lease of life, and incidentally, proved that the Patrol system of Scouting is the mainspring…. Our experience rams home to the hilt the wisdom of dealing with small numbers. Crews and Patrols carried out their own programmes." MacNeil worked unceasingly and was more than rewarded by the spirit prevailing at Changi, which despite increasing troubles and privations remained one of undaunted courage. In failing health, and in flat disobedience to medical advice, he moved daily round the prison inspiring all with whom he came into contact. The tribute paid to him by seven Scouts shows what manner of man he was. "He interpreted the true spirit of the Scout Law," they write, "and we who belonged to different churches, each different from that of Padre MacNeil, are deeply grateful for the material and spiritual advice with which he encouraged us for so long."

Conditions in other internment camps, such as Karikal, near Kuala Lampur, were much the same. There for some months the Scouts were allowed to attend a prison school, "where there were almost more teachers than boys," and a certain amount of Scout training was made available through the efforts of old Scouters. It was thought expedient, however, to mask it by describing it as junior recreational training. The arrival of Padre Eric Scott, Cub Leader from Malaya, increased Scouting activities. Possessed of a strong personality, he had soon organised a Cub Pack with himself as "Akela," Westrop as "Bagheera" and a Jewish Cubmaster named Silbermann as "Baloo." "Our meeting-ground was a tiny patch of ground which at our earnest request was kept uncultivated." (Vegetables covered every other square inch of space.) . . . "We did not risk anything in the way of uniforms."

Matters continued thus until October, 1943, when a period of severe repression set in. Rations were reduced, guards increased, and embargoes laid on lectures, concerts and amusements. More work with less food had the inevitable effect on the health of the internees, who rapidly tired but continued nevertheless their Scouting activities. In May, 1944, they were moved and then an unfortunate state of affairs developed. The Scouts, who comprised Muslims, Tamils, Singalese, Malays and Chinese, developed a marked antipathy to Jews, and the inclusion of this race "led to the resignation of practically all the remaining boys." Thus was a great blow to those who had organised the Scouts, particularly to Eric Scott, but he was undeterred and formed an all Jewish Pack, which by the time the war was over had seventy members. Throughout the period of internment the Scouts of Karikal had depended on one copy of Scouting for Boys on which all tests and training were based.

At last, in August, 1945, the ordeal was over. As elsewhere, Scouts freed from prison came into the open and resumed their well-loved uniforms. In Singapore "On September 6th eleven of us in full uniform rode on bicycles to the den and hoisted the Union Jack and Scout pennant on an improvised flagstaff," while at Changi "there was a grand rally and such uniforms and badges as were available were worn." The time of trouble had been long and arduous. As in other places of bondage, the Scouting spirit had sustained both those who, since they were Scouts were naturally imbued with it, and their companions who were cheered and strengthened by their example.

Not all were present on the great day of freedom. That spirit, which burned in all, had enabled some like Scoutmaster G. M. Pamadasa and the Scoutmasters and Scouters of Karikal, victims of the Kempetai raid of the "Double Tenth," to endure to the end with unflinching fortitude, and to die in agony, victims of those fabled tortures of the East which, when the day came, proved revolting reality. Theirs was the coldest, the most adamantine form of courage, and their example is and will always be an abiding inspiration.

  Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948
Chapter V: Endurance. Scouting in Captivity
Part One: Introduction
Part Two: China
Part Three: Malaya
Part Four: Dutch East Indies, Formosa and Thailand
Part Five: Germany
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