Chapter 10

Chapter 10



The ship was very crowded, so we all stood or sat where we could, and after a few hours heard the sound of a flight of planes which we knew could not possibly be ours, and sure enough the Tannoy sounded an air raid alarm with an order for all passengers to get below. Everyone would much have preferred to have stayed on deck, but of course we could not, and so crowded down into the very narrow passages below decks, which, I noted with horror, were a mass of steam pipes, and I thought that if a bomb splinter punctured one of them we should all suffer the most horrible death. The one gun on the stern started firing, and we blessed the gun crew, as it kept the planes from coming too low to machine gun us, or to bomb accurately, and then we heard the familiar burst of machine gun fire,and knew that the bombs had been released. A very short time later we heard we heard the explosions, and knew that we had not been hit. The planes then flew away and we were allowed back on deck , and the gun crew told us that there had been eight planes; all had dropped there bombs together, but all had fallen well to starboard of us. There were no further alarms, and soon darkness came to shelter us.


We had not been told where we were bound for, and we all thought Australia or India, but we were wrong, for as soon land appeared, it turned out to be Java, and before long we entered the port of Batavia, (now Djakarta), and docked. We were not allowed ashore and remained on board Francol for two or three days, while somebody decided where we should go next. Meanwhile we had heard that Singapore had surrendered, while we were at sea, and realised that it would not be very long before the Japs came and took Java, as they already had, as it was rumoured, taken Sumatra without resistance, and Java had no means of defence, having relied on the British hold on Singapore. In addition the Javanese population were only too keen to get rid of the Dutch, and were already robbing and killing Europeans in parts of Java. Some passengers managed to wangle their way on board a ship bound for Australia, mostly either Australians or New Zealanders, but the rest of us were not even allowed ashore, and had not the slightest idea where our families were or even if they were alive. We did hear a rumour that a ship had been sunk carrying a lot of women evacuees which later turned out to be true, the women evacuees, for the most part being nurses bound for Australia. Eventually we were ordered ashore to board a Dutch ship, the Oranje, which we gratefully did, firstly being screened to make sure that we were not deserters from the armed services in Singapore, as there had been ugly scenes on the dockside when Australian soldiers had tried to force themselves on board our ship and other ships before us.


On Oranje I met up with Gordon Ransome, and one or two others with whom I had lost touch, and before long when the ship was completely full, we set sail. There were quite a few women on board, Dutch and British, who had been hanging around in various ships for some time, so that all cabins were full, and there were still a lot of women without cabins. To begin with we just went to sleep on deck where we could, but soon the Dutch sense of propriety asserted itself, and all men were ordered to sleep in one of the holds, and the women in another, and we were provided with straw filled palliasses.


We set sail as soon as all were on board, still not knowing where we were going, but as usual rumours were rife. Sailing time was so arranged that we should pass through the Sunda Straits between Sumatra and Java in darkness, as that was where Jap submarines, if any, would lie in wait, but we went through without even an alarm, although we had to keep our life jackets on at all times, which did not make for comfortable sleeping, Once out into the Indian Ocean we could all relax, and everything became quite jolly. Food was fairly short, as the ship was carrying twice its normal number of passengers, and we had one main meal a day, which we queued for and ate standing up, and I personally lost a stone on the voyage. Eventually we arrived at Colombo, but were not allowed ashore although one or two did manage to disembark to join their families in South Africa. If I had known then that Budge and Sue were already in Durban, I might also have managed to get off. Soon however we sailed on to Bombay.


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