Christmas in the Camps

Those who are not with us are remembered - Christmas at Arlington Cemetery


Christmas 1941


Sailing to War


Alberts War


Paul Morrell


December 25th 1941. Christmas Day

There can`t have been many of the troops aboard West Point who could ever have imagined, that they would be spending a Christmas Day, aboard an American liner in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Les Pearson recorded his recollections of Christmas Day aboard West Point.

Mr. Les Pearson. 5th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters:

Christmas Day, The dinner was smashing and the units organised a pantomime, which was very good and made it a bit more like Christmas. The things we missed most, were of course our loved ones at home.

Jesse Adams shared his recollections of Christmas Day aboard West Point with me.

Mr. Jesse Adams. 1st Battalion the Cambridgeshires:

Christmas Day 1941, celebrated with American pumpkin pie and Lt. Lewis of the Cambridgeshires, singing “Rose of England”.



West Point


And to Think I Volunteered


Harry Thorpe

The next day we set sail again with many happy memories of Capetown. We soon settled down to the old routine, finding it very pleasant traveling on the Indian Ocean. The sea being a most lovely blue, with shoals of flying fish and pools of phosphorescence at night. About half way across towards India, our Convoy split into two and we were now traveling without escort. The Mount Vernon and the Orizaba going to British East Africa, to stay there over Christmas at Mombasa. We spent Christmas in the middle of the Indian Ocean having a good meal of turkey. At night several concerts were organized, but it was difficult getting into the festive atmosphere in over 100 degrees temperature.



Christmas 1942


Death Railway - Thailand


Private 5776807


Frederick Noel Taylor


At Christmas 1942 I was told some of Divisional HQ had arrived, so bribing a Jap guard with manjoui cakes, I inquired about my brother Jack, I found him looking very smart, in the gear he had picked up from the Red Cross in Singapore, he looked just like an officer. Going back to Otto, my Jap cook, I explained, tongue in cheek, that my brother was an officer and he could cook, Otto was only too pleased to have an officer working under him, so Jack joined me in the bakery.



Christmas 1942 at Wampo

The Commandant declared Christmas 1942 a special Yasume day. For pay purposes this would also count as a working day. In addition he made a personal presento of about a dozen chickens. Isn’t it strange how, at this festive season, most of us enjoy a change of mood and personality? It is a temporary phase which lasts one day only. We are nicer, jollier and better company. The mood seemed also to have infected our hosts. We did not rush down to the cookhouse in response to the bugle call, This was not necessary, it was clear there would be no need to even think of a Laggi queue. The cooks had given their all and worked through the night. We ambled down to the cookhouse; everybody had a smile on his face. We wished each other a Happy Christmas. Yes, it was a happier day.

For breakfast, we had papp with a generous helping of sticky sugar, a slice of fried rice bread and a small rice cake. The next two meals were a lot more extravagant and to make anticipation greater, the different courses were blessed with French names. The officers, true to tradition, helped dish out the mid-day meal. They smiled, joked and looked in a good mood. Maybe, they really did care. Heck, why be so damn crotchety, of course they cared. Two of my fellow captives Cpl David Rintoul of the Singapore Royal Artillery and Pte Jim Rea of the SSVF kept diaries in which the Christmas Day entries are a clear record of activities on that day including the meal menus.

The mid-day meal consisted of:

CONSOMME JUNGLE: Rice with usual quota of

RICE ECOSSAIS: boiled, marrowish stuff

MINCE PIES Pasty made from rice and and sweet potato

After lunch there was a cricket match with the officers playing against the other ranks. A tennis ball was used and the bat was home made. The Jap Guard Hut was taken over as a pavillion. The officers were soundly beaten 154 to 70 with Reggie Thoy scoring 101.

A Jap guard pottered into the Officers’ Hut and gave two packets of toffee to Colonel Lilly and one to Captain McCreath. He muttered “I, Santa Claus.” Other guards gave out hooch and at least one of our troops was gloriously elated. In the afternoon the canteen issued 4 small packets of mouldy Siamese sweet biscuits, 3 Red Bull cigarettes, 5 bamboo cigarettes and 2 eggs apiece.

The evening meal was as follows:

RAGOUT WAMPO: bright green vegetable soup

RICE A LAANDE: rice boiled by a cook called Andy Paterson!

BOUR A LA SANTA CLAUS: a desert spoonful of mince

CRACKLING WECELES: 4 small discs of crackling per man.

THAI PIE: Sweet Potato Turnover with Batter

TEA: not tea, tastes like water tainted by burnt wood

The Carol Service was excellent with nine lessons and carols like the service broadcast from King’s College Chapel. At 9.00 p.m. there was a concert which began with the amazing appearance of a man completely dressed in a double breasted dinner jacket suit. There was a stunned silence then everybody burst out laughing at the strangeness of it all.

The stage was shipshape. There was a backcloth probably made from hessian sacks. These had first been stained or painted white and then coloured to give the impression of an Italian villa, complete with the odd statue and trees, painted to resemble poplars or cypresses. Two fires had been lit one just in front of each corner of the stage. Side drops were provided by using matting of some sort. Before the concert started we could hear the accordion being tuned up or whatever. The audience was given a starter by way of a short sing song and then the curtain was drawn. Craig, the compere was a natural, a few jokes, an attempt to sing and then the first act. You wouldn’t believe it, a troupe of about 10 dancing girls in very short skirts, brassieres to top the busty breasts and lovely blonde hair. What a lovely chorus line. How well they high kicked and kept time. The audience yelled for an encore and got it. More shouts of “More!” followed, but no luck. Gosh, these ten men were great. Then a solo by an Australian with a lovely voice. Now a quartet of swaying men from the South Pacific come on stage with their guitars. They wear grass skirts and sing those lilting song of the Pacific, not in English, oh no, they sing in the real lingo. Hard to believe they have not entertained in this way before. The Compere comes back and entertains for a few minutes and then De Cruz comes on the stage. He is in an impeccable evening suit and has a fine voice, sings two songs and then bows to the audience, cries for more and sings a third. Many more acts follow. These concerts were produced at about monthly intervals and were a very real tonic. Laughing faces and animated conversation were all about us as we walked back to the hut. The Concert Party did a magnificent job and is owed much credit for what they did to give us so many happy evenings and improve our morale. It was a very good show and gave us lots of laughs. The concert was followed by a speech from Colonel Lilly and another by Major Brodie who rightly, sang the praises of the Colonel and then led us in singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and three cheers.

By Kind Permission from Jonathan Moffatt



Infamous Death Railway


And to Think I Volunteered


Harry Thorpe

December 1942

The next big incident involved the weather. We had now entered the monsoon period, October to December. Every day with monotonous regularity the heavens opened up, water fell in sheets, almost like a curtain. At first this was great, we were able to take a daily shower under the eaves of the overhanging Attap. It was very interesting watching chaps disporting themselves in complete nudity, and a sorry sight some of us were, all skin and bone. Its amazing looking at your pals and thinking ‘look at that poor sod’, little realising you looked exactly the same. This was an experience I was to be confronted with some months later. We were in transit from one camp to another , and were allowed to spend a night in a disused Holiday Hotel. Passing down a corridor , there was a full size mirror on the wall side, I just glanced in the thing as I passed and looked round sharply to see who the skinny old man was behind me, and there was no one but me. What a shock, no hair, all had been close cropped by order of the Nips long ago, and my shoulder blades stood out like wings. It was a very sobering experience.

As the months passed, and the monsoons increased in intensity, the centre of our camp became a big pond. Our route to the cookhouse was cut off and we were forced to go outside camp, down a dirt road a distance of about a 1/4 mile. Every mealtime became a ‘bind’, as two chaps were detailed daily to fetch the food, by the time we got it, it was stone-cold.

At Christmas time our cookhouse staff surpassed themselves in what they provided by way of Christmas Fayre. Rice rissoles and vegetable stew, with a little meat. Even a little pork in batter called Pork fritters, also sweet potato fritters. These were real luxuries and much appreciated by the lads. This was when ‘Leggie’ queues had to be very carefully vetted, and it was our duty as the police to evolve a fair system, which we did by issuing numbers to different huts who took it in turns. This lasted about 6 months.



Memories of Xmas Past in Palembang - Sumatra


Syd Berkeley

1942 was our first Xmas in the bag, compared with what was to come was not too bad, we were inured to the standard diet of kang kong (a local water weed) on the day not enough of it despite its vile taste and a little extra rice ration.

At this time our physical condition had not dropped to the skeletal state of later years and believe it or not we had an inter service volleyball competition squadron leader Clouston being our star player and I didnt do to badly (boasting again).

In the evening a few carols and a general singsong which included a song written by LAC Jimmy Roy and called appropriately enough Heavens Just Over The Wall.

A couple of hours talking over better days and better food then retiring to my 3 foot share of the split bamboo sleeping bench which was usually alive with bed bugs.

The day over, a holiday?

The Japs only concession to Xmas.

Tomorrow back to the docks unloading a cement ship

Little did we know what lay ahead.

Syd Berkeley




Christmas 1943


Death Railway - Thailand


Private 5776807


Frederick Noel Taylor



When the railway was finished the Japs gave us more food and let us have other activities. I scrounged some paper and saved it for a Christmas Card for home, not knowing if it would get there, these were the times when the family could not be kept from ones mind.

The Japs gave us Christmas day off and it was spent laying on ones bamboo bunk thinking of home. Were they OK, was everything alright, were they still there, this was a far cry from home.

The cooks did their best with what they had and we did have a sing song in the evening.



Xmas Greetings to Both my Darling Wife and Baby

In Thailand Phil & Pat & though this day seems so dismal & unrealistic, it is brightined by the thoughts and love of my darlings. God Bless You my Dears, Pray next year he will allow us to spend it together.



Xmas Menu at
P.O.W. Camp. Non Pladuk

Rice Porridge - Fish & Rice Risole

Stew & Rice - Pork Risole

Pork Stew & Rice - Meat & Rice Risole


The Japs even let us play football. Before being called up I had damaged my knee playing and promised Phil I wouldn't play again, but the temptation got the better of me. I played centre half for the Norfolks and can even boost of playing centre half for England in the camps.



Christmas 1943 at Kinsayok

Ron Mitchell remembers

For Christmas Day 1943 a special surprise had been organized. Permission had been obtained for Colonel Lilly's bugler, Frank Street, to play the tune "Christians awake, salute the Happy morn!"on a clarinet instead of sounding the usual reveille.

We had not been told of this and it was a wonderful surprise. It does not seem much but it was like a dream. Suddenly there was this taste of civilisation, no hanging about for an extra five minutes sleep, we shot up, everyone was wishing all around, a Happy Christmas. There was a smile on every face, gone were all the petty squabbles, hell, life was really worth living. A few minutes later and there was the bugler calling us to the cookhouse door. Five bullocks had been killed for the camp and a good deal of canteen stuff was sent to the cookhouses. It was a feast for breakfast, a slice of fried bread, a fried egg, a mashed potato rissole and rice papp with as much sugar as you wanted. When I have talked about this feast since the war, people have looked at me as if I was a nut case, never mind, it was the most enjoyed breakfast of my life. The mid-day and evening meals
were just as lavish. All the dishes had been given French names and this seemed to add to the taste.

The finale was the evening concert. The organizers had prepared a revue, better than that of the previous year at Wampo and better than most I have since seen on TV. There were some doubts about the Concert going ahead because of the possibility of an air-raid but Colonel Lilly assured the Japs that Britain and America would certainly have a holiday on Christmas Day and there would be no planes.

L/Cpl Scheerder of the Singapore Volunteers sang Silent Night and a couple of other carols. What a gorgeous voice! He had missed his vocation. Another group of Volunteers, who played guitars, wore grass skirts and sang those gentle South Seas songs. They were great. Dancing girls went through breath taking routines and all this cost us nothing. The concert party sang "The Yanks are coming" then Colonel Lilly made a speech and to a man everybody stood and sang "For he's a jolly good fellow!"

That Christmas was an incredible morale boost and is still etched on my memory.

Kind permission from Jonathan Moffatt



Light Relief

From Stuart


     I cant match keith's prose or Ron's graphics, so it has to be a story...and even after 11/9, of course life goes on...From past experience, the pilots will find this more apposite than others.....I'm sure Lynette Silver's son will!

    Santa Claus, like all pilots, gets regular visits from the FAA, and it was shortly before Christmas that the FAA examiner arrived.

    In preparation, Santa had the elves wash the sleigh and bathe all the reindeer. Santa got his logbook out and made sure all his paperwork was in order.

    The examiner walked slowly around the sleigh. He checked the reindeer harnesses, the landing gear, and Rudolf's nose. He painstakingly reviewed Santa's weight and balance calculations for the sleigh's enormous payload.

    Finally, they were ready for the checkride. Santa got in, fastened his seatbelt and shoulder harness, and checked the compass. Then the examiner hopped in carrying, to Santa's surprise, a shotgun.

    "What's that for?" asked Santa incredulously.

    "Well", the examiner said, "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but you're gonna lose an engine on takeoff."

    Happy Christmas, everyone




Christmas Day in Taiwan


Brothers in Arms


Maurice Rooney


Christmas comes but once a year

As a prisoner of war it was not of good cheer

When you read these few lines you'll no doubt understand

How Christmas was spent in this far distant land;

Reveille was sounded an hour before dawn

And roll call was taken, t´was a bitter cold morn

Number! (or Bango!) in Japanese

We did as were bid, and not as we please

We returned to our huts when dismissed from parade

To find on the tables our breakfast was laid

One bowl of rice, one bowl of stew

That's all we got, but what could one do

The meal completed we could only patiently wait

For dinner in a bowl instead of a plate;

'Twas not Christmas for the Nips, but it so happened the date

Was a day in the year which they celebrate

So out on the parade ground we stood in the cold

Bowing our heads and hearing strange stories told

This over, a service for us we requested

And for once in our lives we were left unmolested

And dressed in our clothes of no great apparel

We sang 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful' and two other carols;

Mid-morning the 'hut leaders' by the bugle were called

And five fags per man in their hands were installed;

Then dinner-time came, a delightful surprise

"There's meat in the stew", from the cookhouse came cries

It was the first we had seen for over six weeks

And greatly preferred to 'potato tops' and leeks

Never before had we been given a sweet

But today we had bananas, it was such a lovely treat.

The afternoon was quiet, with so little to be said

And with nothing better to do, we lay on bed

Sleep I am sure only came to a few

As in our minds were our loved ones, and also we knew

That back in dear `Blighty´, our country, our home,

They were thinking of us, as we were of them;

Six o´clock came, we thought our meals to complete

And with chopsticks not spoons our tea we did eat

Instead of rice and veg: stew it was rice and fish sauce

With a rabbit stew at seven as an extra course;

With eating completed we all started singing

Hark! what is that sound, is it not church bells a-ringing

Alas no!, 'twas the bugle being blown, for roll call is at eight

Then an order was shouted "It will be an hour late"

So we kept on with our singing as if we didn't care

For all that was missing, yes even the beer

We sang 'Auld Langs Syne' a few minutes before nine

And as the bugle call sounded we fell into line

The Jap officer came round and to end our delight

Came "roll call is over, put out the light";

So that's how we spent Christmas, you'll no doubt say a hard case

But we're not too down-hearted we know a change must take place

And when that time comes, how happy we'll be

To return to our homes contented and free.

This is a verse written by M.A Rooney (No 766) `Kinkaseki´ POW Camp Taiwan




British Sumatra Battalion

Changaraya (114 Kilo Camp) 1943

Thailand- Burma Railway

In mid December some Red Cross parcels arrived at the camp, the first we had seen outside our dreams. They were American and it worked out there was enough for one parcel to be shared between fourteen men. Each contained small tins of chopped ham and egg, a few cigarettes, tinned fruit and so on. Jack and I drew lots with the others for our allocation of one fourteenth share. It fell to us to receive a small tin of instant coffee.

This was something that we had never seen before and when we opened the tin the contents looked like black pitch which was so hard it was almost impossible even to chop it, and when we threw the whole tin into boiling water in disgust it still remained the same. We watched with envy as the others devoured their tiny taste of civilisation while we gazed in disgust at our unhappy share.

Burials were now a daily occurrence, and I found out quite by chance that it was Christmas Eve; this was to be our second Christmas as POW’s.

We buried four of our mates that day, and on Christmas Day six more. There is no doubt that the British Sumatra Battalion had reached the depths.

Information from The British Sumatra Battalion by A.A. Apthorp



Omori Camp, Tokyo

Xmas 1943


Janice Schaub (Hines)


Harry Hines was taken prisoner in Singapore and was in Changi. He was then taken to Omori, Tokio, Japan where he was put in solitary and then worked in a factory. My Uncle was with him till then, but he went to work on the Thailand - Burma Railway. Also they had a cousin with them in Singapore. My Dad was sick most of his life due to a bug he picked up there. His name was Harry Hines and I have his service number, any help would be greatly appreciated.

Janice -


The picture is definitely the picture that was "staged" by the Japanese on Christmas, 1943.

Omori was a small, man-made island in Tokyo Bay where the Japanese placed most aviators and submariners, after they had been interned at a place called OFUNA. Ofuna was an interrogation center run by the Japanese Navy. Most men were kept in isolation and beaten regularly.

Roger Mansell
Center for Research, Allied POWs under the Japanese



Christmas 1944


Christmas Dinner



My Dad had Cholera and was at Chungkai, so I guess it may well have been while he was there.

Much like Peacock he thought that was a good camp or posting as he referred to them, in fact the only one he ever "complained" of was the job they were on at Xmas 44 and in early 45 where Bud Smith died. on Xmas day 1944 he ended up being the only English man in the small party, the rest was made up of Malay Volunteers, and some Indian troops who had been taken prisoner in Burma also some Dutch that were out of Java or somewhere there abouts, there were 44 of them and they NOTHING at all for food.( I think this could have been the camp they were with under Capt. Pitt - Dr Hardys Diary )
The camp immediately down from them was almost as badly off but had somehow got hold of a wild pigs head, I guess the Japs had had the body or something ( not sure), but they chopped the head in half and sent it up for them with a note " love from Father Christmas ".
Christmas Dinner was always SO VERY SPECIAL to the old chap, and he would always say grace, I am sure many many years he thought of that Christmas Day, and his grace was always the same " We thank you God for this Good Dinner, AMEN", when he said grace this last Christmas day, I knew in my heart it would be his last, WHY ,I don't know, but bless him it was.

Ahh, I must not be sad, I must count my blessings just as he did.



Christmas Camp

Tavoy Road 1944

It was Christmas Day and we arrived at the clearing which was to be our camp, at about 4.00 p.m. This place was immediately named “Christmas Camp”. We pitched our tents and lit a fire to cook the Christmas Dinner – RICE!!! This was followed by a bonfire, carols and an impromptu concert.

We were half way through the meal when we first heard a group of men singing the Trek Song “Sare Marie”. The sound was faint at first but gradually became stronger. It was about another ten minutes before we sighted the marvelous Male Voice Choir. It was the group of about thirty Dutch prisoners we had left behind when we started off from Halfway Camp that morning. We went forward to meet them and someone started singing the Trek Song, everyone joined in. The Dutch had the advantage, it was their song and they knew the words. Many of us knew the English words of one line of the song and lustily sang “Bring me back to the old Transvaal, la dar dar dar de dar!” The main thing is that we knew the tune and this was a good back up to the Dutch. The approaching Dutch looked exhausted but what sticks out in my memory is the sight of a Dutch POW staggering in the lead, carrying the guard’s rifle. The Jap had swapped places with him because he had been on the verge of collapse. The Jap and his POW partner, carrying the load, were leading the rest and the Jap had a huge grin on his face.

It was strange, we had never mixed with the Dutch before, but now there was loud applause, handshakes and Christmas Greetings. It was a bit emotional, as if Christmas had suddenly burst in on us. We had water on the boil, and handed out cups of tea. You would have thought we were all old buddies, meeting after a long absence. After eating their meal, our new friends joined us at the bonfire. We started off by singing the inevitable “Knees up Mother Brown,” “Tipperary,” “We’ll meet again,” etc. Each of our songs was interspersed by Dutch favourites and the finale was The Trek Song. This was followed by recitations, rude things, like Eskimo Nell, and Charlie singing:

“My brother Sylvest He has for-ee farsend fevvers on his chest.”

Our new friends did their bit and then came the finale, Christmas Carols. The Japs were sitting around and although they did not understand the words, joined in the applause. Time to get our heads down, much shaking of hands and then a good sleep. The Dutch moved on the next morning and when we met again a few weeks later, we were once more, almost strangers. Anyway, in spite of the misery of the trudge to Christmas Camp, it was a happy and memorable day.

I marvel at the way our minds can delete from a memory bank much of that which was awful and yet retain fond memories, seemingly for ever.

Well, well! The spirit of Christmas had spread to the Jap Sergeant. He declared Boxing Day should be a Yasume day. For a minute, one would have been tempted to believe he may have been converted by our carol singing of the night before. Wishful thinking, but not true, it was an aberration and it was there for all to see, he still had that permanent look of anger, cum despair.

By Kind permission from Jonathan Moffatt



Banyu Biru (Java) 1944

Civilian Camp 10


Elizabeth van Kampen

There were many rumours in Banyu Biru camp 10, The Japanese were losing the war, the Americans, British and Australians were on the winning hand.

Banyu Biru 10

Banyu Biru 10 , this picture was taken after World War Two

The Japanese camp keeper and his soldiers were very quickly angry about next to nothing, the yelling at us became louder, and more Dutch women were slapped in their faces. That must be, so we thought, a positive sign since it was very clear that our Japanese suffered from a moral degeneration. But of course we were not sure, we had no contact with the Indonesians either, also the Heiho's were under strict control of the Japanese camp keeper and his soldiers.

But one day in December that year when my group worked outside, we met our fellow-workers who were also working outside their camp Banyu Biru camp 11. Our group leader could exchange a few words with one of the ladies and so we were told that someone had hid a small radio in BB camp 11 and she had heard that indeed the Japanese were losing badly. This was really wonderful news for us, but we were told to keep quiet about the radio!!

I kept my word, I told my mother that in camp BB 11 people knew that we were going to win the war. My mother didn't believe me, she said that I was far too optimistic.

And indeed I was too optimistic, I thought that about at least another three months we could be free, but it took nine more months before the Japanese emperor Hirohito ended World War Two in Asia.

Now and then some of the women tried to smuggle. Because near the high walls was a gutter, so from our side of the wall we offered some clothes, table-covers and other small material and from the outside were Indonesians offering some food. When the deal was done the women quickly run back to their mattresses. My mother gave Mrs. toe Water now and then something to deal with and then she received Indonesian food. This Mrs. toe Water was my hero during my time in Banyu Biru. She was never scared although she has been beaten up twice.

But now and then a high Japanese officer drove into our prison and then we all had to stand and listen to him, it was then translated by a Swedish interpreter, we were warned that if he would hear something about smuggle business in our camp, he would take the women smugglers and hit them with bamboo sticks just until they were half dead. So we were warned. But at the same time we were all starving from hunger, so some of the women went on smuggling, also Mrs. toe Water.

Christmas came, a hungry, a filthy, a sad Christmas in 1944.

My mother could only think and talk about food. She started writing recipes all day long on every single piece of paper she could find. When I came back from my work she read them out aloud to me while I was hungry and dead tired.

My sister Henny looked very tired and skinny and she was very nervous. My youngest sister Jansje was just as hungry and had like my mother and I, many malaria attacks.

And so when Christmas came there was absolutely no Christmas feeling left in the four of us. Only I knew about the radio in camp BB 11, so only I could stay more optimistic.

And how was my father treated in the Kempeitai prison from Malang? Of course he was very hungry and tired as well. And of course he was now thinking about a Christmas with my mother and his three daughters. I tried to dream and tried to see us all back at Sumber Sewu, but it seemed so extremely far away, it seemed almost unreal.

How can you dream while you are locked up in a dirty, overcrowded prison, when you are laying on a most filthy mattress full of bugs? How can you dream while your stomach cries for food? How can you dream without a sound of music?

I was seventeen years old, but I became a little scared to dream at all.



Merry Christmas To You All


Win Rainer (Wife of a Fepow)


May your Christmas be what you want it to be

Loving and giving around the Christmas tree

Christmas night quiet peaceful and still

That wonderful feeling of goodwill

May it grow in strength throughout the year

The world can do with it, to be able to live without fear



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