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UNSUNG HEROES


CHAPTER 8

CAPTURE

During the two days at sea, the captain of the Mata Hari was aware that at least three vessels that left Singapore at the same time as the Mata Hari had been attacked and most likely sunk. This included the Vyner Brooke and the Kuala, both of which were carrying many civilians and Australian nurses escaping Singapore.

In the early morning of 15th of February 1942, chaos erupted. The ship's siren wailed as enemy planes flew above. In the pitch dark, bullets whizzed over the deck. Ominous black silhouettes had appeared beside the ship. Next, blinding searchlights shone onto the Mata Hari. Women and children screamed, and Jean went into convulsions. Ivy was terror-stricken. “Get down! Over the children!” Edna urged. Ivy dropped to the floor and she and Edna lay over the children to protect them. There they lay and braced themselves for the worst.

The captain of the Mata Hari, Captain Carston, conscious of the fact he was carrying so many women and children, raised the white flag. He was ordered to anchor in Banka Straits until daylight. The Captain informed all on board that he had surrendered the ship. He also instructed them to get ready to vacate the ship, taking only one bag each. Ivy and Edna were devastated and so were the other passengers. Shaken and fearful, the families who had managed somehow to get extra luggage on board, were now frantically shoving things into one bag and throwing out what they could not take.
Ivy went searching for practical items and managed to find a bed sheet for nappies, a towel and two dresses that had been thrown on the deck. She pushed them into her already full basket, then keeping the children close to them, Ivy and Edna awaited their fate.

Their captors boarded at daylight and Ivy, with Jean held tight in her arms, trembled. “Keep calm”, Edna whispered as she cradled little Ellen. After a considerable time inspecting the ship and giving instructions to Captain Carston, the Japanese Officers left. When the ship entered Muntok Bay as directed, the petrified prisoners were ordered off the ship and into little boats.  They were then rowed to Muntok, a port on Banka Island. Blood and bodies floated alongside their little boats as they headed to Muntok Pier.

It had been a very long day. Hungry and tired children cried and fretted.

When they arrived on the pier that night, Ivy gently wrapped Ellen and Jean in blankets that had been discarded. She noticed a table on the side of the pier and quickly put the children under the table to protect them from being trampled on. She and Edna also slept under the table.

The next morning, with nothing to eat or drink, all the passengers, crew and survivors who had been picked up from the water before the Mata Hari was captured, were made to assemble on the pier. A number of Australian Army nurses joined in the queue. They had managed to get ashore when their ship was sunk. Before commencing on the walk to the Internment Camp, they were first ordered to bow low to their Japanese masters.

Edna carried baby Jean in her arms and Ivy, with her basket on one arm, alternately carried Ellen on her good hip or dragged her along by the hand.  It was an interminably long, exhausting journey.  The blazing sun beat down on their heads, making their thirst even greater. The dust and dirt from the road caked their faces and cracked their lips. Hunger and lack of sleep also contributed to their distress.

On the way, Edna spied a bottle of water on the side of the road. She picked it up; she did not know whether it was drinkable but being so thirsty, she tasted it. Once she thought it was safe, she let Ivy and the girls have a tiny drink. She then gave a sip to as many internees as possible.

“Only one sip”, she repeated, as she handed the bottle to a grateful recipient.

Hours later, they arrived at a camp in the village of Muntok, a large area with an assortment of buildings including the local cinema. It was here the prisoners were to be held and processed before being sent to the various POW camps in the region. The women entered with apprehension, not knowing what was in store for them. Then they saw a couple of taps in the grounds.

“Water! Water!” they cried and ran to quench their thirst. The soldier in command lost no time in making it clear who was in control and his expectation for complete submission. After making them stand in a row to make the obligatory bow, they were divided into groups of approximately fifty and housed in coolie huts. There were no beds. Scrounging around, Ivy found an old tooth-brush and a quilt. Lining the floor with the quilt, she wrapped the children up and laid them on it. Then, completely exhausted, she and Edna lay on either side of them and squashed like sardines with the other women and children, passed out. The children’s cries eventually stirred them from their sleep.
When they awoke, they realised the appalling conditions they had to live in. Not only was there no privacy but there were no toilets and no washing facilities. Neither was there lighting nor furniture.
“Oh, Mum, how can we live like this?” blurted Ivy.  “The children …” She stopped short when her mother gave her a warning look – a guard was approaching them.

“Plenty of water,” the guard assured, “… drinking only, no washing”.

No one dared disobey the order. Before long, the stench from unwashed bodies and the lack of sanitation pervaded the whole camp.

Ivy’s hip ached and her leg had swollen up after the long march and she was hardly able to walk. Somehow, she managed to line up for rations: a meagre portion of broken rice, a little sugar, salt and a piece of meat, about the size of a little finger. There was no food other than these rations but plenty of water. Anyone who complained was slapped or kicked, and rations confiscated.

Making watery porridge with the rice, Ivy gave most of her share to Ellen. Jean was still breastfeeding but Ivy had no more milk left and the hungry baby cried in frustration. Ivy comforted her by feeding her the starchy water leftover after boiling rice. In desperation, she began to trade as much of her food as possible for milk and other necessary foods.

The prisoners suffered from malnutrition and harsh treatment. They were frequently slapped across the face, hit with truncheons, or thrown to the ground for any word or movement that was considered an offence to their brutal captors.

Ivy was determined for the family to survive, so they would be reunited with their loved ones, one day. She did her best to protect her mother and her girls, and bravely took the assaults on herself. She avoided being slapped or hit too often, by being respectful to her captors.

One day, she tripped and fell while she was queuing for rations, tearing the skin off her shin. To stem the bleeding, she tore a strip from an old rag and wrapped it around her leg. She did not dare ask for help. The wound became infected and would cause her much trouble over the following months.