Tigers in the Park
Funk Holes in Singapore
‘X’ Work Parties
The POWs in Changi were assigned to work parties starting in the spring of 1945 and, in the coming months, groups designated as the ‘X Parties’ made their way to various camps around the island. The exact allocation of men to these parties requires further research. The compilation of rolls for the parties is complicated by the short-lived nature of the work and the transfer of men between camps once clear of Changi. Many men returned to Changi before the liberation and their time on the X parties remained unrecorded in the excitement of the last few days of the war.
Life in the work camps the second time around was to be particularly harsh. Resources across the island were limited and there was little time to spare as the allied invasion threatened. With fewer supplies available to local communities and falling food stocks, the arrival of hundreds of workers into the area stretched the goodwill of the neighbourhood to the breaking point.
Chaplain Lionel Marsden of the 13 Australian General Hospital acted as the padre for the group of Australians sent to Adam Road as part of the X8 Tunnelling Party. He summed up his time at the camp:-
‘During this period, the men were forced to work very hard for long hours, making tank traps, underground food store-rooms, trenches and gun positions. At this period also the food was very bad, both in quantity and quality.’
‘From April until August, when the surrender came, I saw men working from 10 to 12 hours a day on a few ounces of rice and a little dried whitebait. The issue of fish, which was our only source of protein, was very irregular.’
Some of the best eyewitness accounts of the work undertaken by the X parties along the Adam Road do not however come from the POWs. Civilian internees also joined the excavations on the promise of extra food and a chance to get out of the camp. Men on the parties often found time to trade, barter and catch up on the news from the local overseers.
Mary Thomas living in the Women’s Camp at Sime Road, writing in her account of the final days of captivity noted that:
‘They [Japanese] took great gangs of men to dig horseshoe shaped tunnels through the hills both within the camp and outside the camp.2
Speculation was indeed rife as to the purpose of the new tunnels. The more fatalistic internees believed they would be rounded up and gassed in the underground chambers. The POWs working on the sites had a more pragmatic understanding of their work believing the tunnels were entrances to civilian air raid shelters and not contributing to the Japanese war effort.
2 Thomas 2000, In the Shadow of the Rising Sun’, p.181.