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Interview with Cyril J. Morris

Great Britain
Great Britain

Name & Surname: Cyril J. Morris
City of Birth & Country: Cardiff, South Glamorgan, Wales
Rank in Royal Navy in 1942: Joined RAF Volunteer Reserve 1939. Service in various units. Aircraftman 1st class trained as Engine Mechanic on Aero Engines – Rolls Royce Merlins Bristol Radials.Duties to service and maintain engines (routine inspections).

[This interview with Mr. Cyril J. Morris was done in late 1999 with a kind help of Denise and Derek Hewett via e-mail and is posted here by his kind permission.]

When did you join RAF ?

I joined RAF Volunteer Reserve 1939 and served in various units.

Did you perhaps also took part in Battle for Britain in 1940 ? What type(s) of aircraft were assigned to No. 211 Squadron ? Where did you fight all before being sent to Dutch East Indies ?

We were based at Hawkings Airfield, nr. Folkstone Kent during Battle of Britain 1940. This was a front line operational airfield operating fighter aircraft – Spitfires and Hurricanes. Heavily bombed by Luftwaffe during that time. Moved than to RAF Ringway (now Manchester Airport) to be involved in the development of Troop carrying Gliders. In 1941 we were moved overseas abroad SS Orcades out of Liverpool. In convoy with Naval Escort calling at Sierra Leone and on to Durban, South Africa. 3 days of overwhelming hospitality. Transfer to SS Mauritania Durban to Suez. Sues (Port Twefik) Cargo Ship to Port Sudan.
Part Train to Air Strip (???) to Wadi Gasouza. First contact with 211 Squadron Blenheim Bombers late 1941. In December 1941 we heard on radio that Japan had entered the war. Shortly afterwards all maintenance personnel transported via 3 days on Nile Riverboat to Cairo.

You served as an aicraft fitter. Could you briefly describe the job of an aircraft fitter ?

I was Aircraftman 1st class trained as Engine Mechanic on Aero Engines – Rolls Royce Merlins Bristol Radials. Main duties were to service and maintain engines (routine inspections).

What impact did it have on soldiers a Great Britain declaration of war to Japan? Was there any concern among men ?

There was no concern at that time about declaration of war on Japan.

Had you been briefed on the situation in the Netherlands East Indies before you boarded the transport ? Was the briefing accurate ?

There was no briefing before boarding ship (name unknown) at Suez but it was generally assumed that our destination was Singapore where we expected to meet up with Squadron aircraft.

Could you describe the situation in Sumatra and Oosthaven at that time. Who was your commander ? What kind of weapons did you have ?

Situation rapidly deteriorated and we were diverted to Sumatra presumably to meet our aircraft there. However the disembarking at Oost Haven was a total disaster, since the Japanese invaded. We were able to evacuate some tropes from N. Sumatra to Oost Haven using local dilapidated buses. No senior command and no equipment apart from a few .303 rifles. Situation at the port was chaotic – civilians and military all fighting to get abroad ferry – cars, buses and belongings being dumped in the harbour. I took in no other part in any battles in either Sumatra or Java.

How did the Javanese civilians act towards the R.A.F personnel ? Any problems ?

No problems with Javanese civilians until after Japanese occupation when they would inform on any escapees, resulting in the execution of those caught.

What type of aircraft were you bombed by at Tjilatjap ? High Altitude twin engine bombers or single engine naval type ? Did any Japanese fighters perform any strafing attacks during this time ? Knowing what you know today do you think you that could have been safely evacuated from Tjilatjap to Australia ? (note: The IJN sank a lot of ships fleeing NEI at this time).

Tjilitap was bombed by Japanese Zeros – was not aware of strafing. No chance of being evacuated from this port as was intended – all ships had left. The port was totally deserted.

How would you describe the average Japanese soldier guards? How would you describe their officers ?

Japanese at first – appeared to be very illiterate peasant types only interested in our watches and rings. Kept on about out utter disgrace in surrendering. We had little contact with Japanese officers. They gave almost total authority to their Gunsos NCOs, who were mostly brutal, as well as to Korean Guards who were treated as inferiors and often beaten.

What was your worst experience as a POW ?

Being forced to watch executions and punishments and while I was crammed into the hold of a merchant ship, below the water line with little illumination or room to lie down, with the constant threat of being deported. Toilet facility was box hung over the side of the ship.

What was your work exactly during your period on Haroekoe Island ?

Dawn to dusk hard labour building an airstrip. The brutality, disease and malnutrition resulting in a death rate of 10 burials a day.

Did you ever hear news about the advance of the war ?

None but rumour had it for years that Americans were near!

What were the most common diseases ? Did you yourself suffer from any health problems/diseases ?

Most common- Dystentry, Beri Beri, Ulcers, Malnutrition. I have suffered from these myself, reduced to half normal weight.

How were the survivors transported back from Haroekoe Island to Java ?

We were transported back to Java by ship.

How were you transported from Java to Singapore near the end of the war ?

After recuperations small number shipped by ferry in total blackout to Singapore for work in Singapore docks.

When did you finally returned back to home ?

We were released at Japanese surrender, visited by Earl Mountbatten and soon shipped back to England from Singapore.

Mr Morris, you have also wrote a book about your POW experiences in Dutch East Indies. Could you tell us some words about it ?

My humble book is entitled ‘NADIR’ (lowest point) and covers my experience from 1939 to 1943. Have not managed to get it published.

JAPANESE DEATH CAMPS – some data by Cyril J. Morris

12,433 British Prisoners dies in captivity, i.e. of those captured.

Many of those surviving have suffered and will suffer for the rest of their lives permanent physical injuries plus gastric and mental problems and sleeping disorders.

100,000 prisoners of other nationalities out of a total of 300,000 captured, i.e. 1/3 died as a result of brutal treatment, disease and malnutrition.

BURMA RAILWAY (257 miles) built by prisoners.

14,000 Allied Prisoners died.

Being sick was a crime. Men who collapsed were of ten mercilessly beaten. Only 1 in 10 could report sick.

February 1942, Singapore surrender
Japanese commandered hospital beds for their wounds. Killed staff and patients.

Manila 1942
2,500 prisoners died within six months, one every 104 minutes.

Manila 1944
1,618 prisoners shipped to Japan – less than 400 arrived.

Rice daily:
- 300 grm for outside work
- 200 grm for inside work
- 150 grm for no work

Rice was either brown or red, of poor quality and contained rat droppings, weevils and maggots.

No medical treatment for vicious tropical illnesses. Dysentrary, malaria cholera, Beri Beri, Leg ulcers and a multitude of skin infections.

Humiliations daily
Beating for trivial acts such as not bowing low enough. Being forced to parade and work in extreme discomfort often with diarrhoea running down the legs from dysentery.

Summary Justice
Senseless Tortures and Beheadings.

Final desperate act by some, achieved by banging their heads against walls, cutting arteries, drowning in affluent or simply losing all will to live.

Veterans of the Dutch East Indies Index . Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
Copyright 1999-2000 by Cyril J. Morris