Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter V


Scouting in Captivity: Dutch East Indies, Formosa, Thailand


In the Dutch East Indies very much the same conditions prevailed as on the other side of the Banka Straits. After the capitulation of Java and Sumatra, one of the first actions of the Japanese was to forbid any form of youth organisation. All Troop rooms were closed and all Scout moneys confiscated. The Dutch Scouts were in a position of great danger, for to meet in secret was to run the grave risk of denunciation by the local Indonesians who, in general, preferred the Japanese to the Dutch. In July, 1942, all Europeans were rounded up and concentrated in twenty camps scattered throughout Java. The Scouts of Sourabaya and Malang, whose treatment was typical of that meted out to all, were sent to "a so-called colonisation place consisting of fifteen square kilometres of uncultivated woods and scrubs. Here a nice bit of Scouting had to be done; we did our own cooking, cut down trees and had plenty of woodcraft to do, not for pleasure or training this time but solely in order to keep on living. In all these camps it was in the beginning quite impossible to play games or to arrange evenings, as we were surrounded by spies of the Japanese police. Later on these spies gradually fell into disgrace with their masters and we got to know them too. So at last a Rover Crew could be established at the camp at Bandoeng to which we were all sent in the end."

The Dutch worked very hard to become Rover Scouts, and presently thirty of them qualified, half as Rovers and half as Sea Scouts. The numbers grew and other Troops were formed, all this very secretly, their activities being concealed even from the other interned persons in the camp. Their greatest handicap was under-nourishment which reduced them to a condition in which " we were not strong enough to do much practical physical work."

The Scouts and Rover Scouts were known as "Dads," each of them having control of twelve boys with whom they lived, fed and slept. They taught first-aid and signalling, and " arranged games in the evening and play-acting." Greatly daring, they decided to celebrate St. George’s Day and were in the midst of the Patrol competitions when the Japanese police arrived on the scene, seized two of the Scouters and thrashed them severely "in front of the Troop. After this there was a moment of standstill but soon we started again."

So the Dutch Scouts of Java lived and suffered like their brother Scouts in China and Malaya until at last "the delivery day came . . . and two Scouts hoisted the Dutch flag, the greatest moment in our lives."


In the Shirakawa Prisoner-of-War Camp, where food was scarce and conditions grim, one officer-prisoner, Major I. C. Pedley, R.A., formed a Rover Scout Crew consisting of American, Australian, British and Dutch prisoners. In spite of the usual extreme difficulties of circumstance under the yellow hand of the Japanese, several Crews were eventually raised and about 100 out of 450 prisoners belonged to them. "I cannot," wrote the Senior Officer of the camp, "sufficiently express my admiration for, and gratitude to Major Pedley and his Rovers for the work they did and the example they set."


In Thailand the most notorious prisoner-of-war camps in the world were set up. From the very beginning, all Scouting activities in them were strictly forbidden, the Japanese making it clear that to carry on Scouting was an offence against the Emperor punishable by death. Meetings of every kind were prohibited and this proved a great handicap. Nevertheless, Rover Crews were gradually formed in the greatest secrecy, and one, the Menam Qua Noi, called after the river on the banks of which the camp was situated, became so large that three Patrols were eventually formed. The Rovers made it their special duty to care for the sick. Presently the prisoners in the camp were moved to other camps and the Rover Crew consequently scattered. Individual members started other Crews in their new place of captivity, and in at least five different camps Scouting was organised to such an extent that the original twelve Rovers increased to zoo. In all these camps they took their orders from the senior British officer, who in some cases became an honorary Scoutmaster.

In these places of horror it was found that the example of the Scouts doing their utmost to turn out as smartly as possible and to keep healthy, clean and cheerful had a marked effect on the spirits of the men. "Patrol meetings took the form of discussions . . . and the item which proved of the greatest interest was the talk entitled ‘My own Pack, Troop or Crew, and how it was run,’ which every member had to give on joining the Crew…. With people from ten different countries in the Crew, you can imagine the large number of different ideas brought to light."

  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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