Hintok

On 1st March 1942 HMAS Perth was sunk alongside the USS Houston in the Sundra Straits by a Japanese battle fleet which was landing troops on Java.

John Wisecup was an American Marine who was captured and became a POW. In April 1943 he was sent to Thailand as a member of ‘H’ Force and was in the group of 600 sent to build the Hintok section of the infamous railway. Just 13 of these men were American. Many of these P’sOW did not survive as they were still under command of the Japanese Administration in Singapore, so a long way from communication, but they were also a long way from the life giving artery of the river which transported supplies to the POW Camps.

At Hintok the men were set the task of building large trestle bridges to carry the railway line over the rugged terrain. John Wisecup drew many sketches and cartoons showing the reality of life and death on the railway. He also wrote a poem post-war, called Saga of Bamboo Jack. This, combined with the sketches give some idea of the “part of Hell” that was Hintok.

SAGA OF BAMBOO JACK

 

Bamboo Jack they called him

I never knew just why,

But one good drink would start him in.

So signalled I would buy.

 

He was slouching at the bar now

With a dry discouraged look.

The round was served as with a bow

He grasped my hand and shook.

 

Jack downed his drink and then turned again

And started with his story

“I’ll spin a yarn. It may sound tame,

For in it there’s no glory.”

 

I starved and rotted ‘neath the Jap,

And bowed beneath his bluster

Just take a peak at Asia’s map

It shows the spot there, Buster.

 

We built a railroad, made it run

From Thailand into Burma,

We carted cross-ties by the ton

And cursed more than a murmur.

 

From Singapore Up country bound

A freight train cleared the station

In Thailand at Ban Pong town

It’s final destination.

 

That freight discharged six hundred men

They marched into the jungle

Four hundred n’er came out again

A cruel and senseless bungle.

 

Australian, Dutch, Yank and Malay,

The prisoners of each nation

We slogged on through the heat of day

A polyglot formation.

 

The buzzards watched from dizzy heights

With grisly fascination

The sickly fall back out of sight

Despite our exhortations.

 

A week long march one hundred miles,

We reached Camp Hintok hollow

Pitched our tents then with cruel smiles

Our captors bade us follow.

 

No brief respite in our new camp

We marched out to construction

A trestle ‘cross a swamp so damp

Would end with our destruction

 

We tugged the teak logs o’er the crags

In harness like an ox

Excretion running down our leg

The stench as strong as pox

 

Great timbers felled mid jungle hills

We sawed then hewed them to a size.

Despite the blight of swampland ills

That structure did arise.

 

Persuasion was a ‘slope head’s’ kick

‘Bah-gero…. Kurrah!’ Passwords.

Beatings, bashings of the sick

Were watched by hungry deathbirds.

 

I cursed the day that I was born

Yes I forgot to pray.

But out to work each rainy morn

We were living anyway.

 

Hard and callous men became A friend?…..

A friend no longer.

The niceties? None did e’re remain

Our tribulations stronger.

 

Seaweed, cold fish and cold red rice

For those you’d slay your kin

Starvation was the bitter price

For we beleaguered men.

 

We dined on dogs and cats and mice,

Those on a lucky day

Food was bought at any price

There was the hell to play.

 

We slept on the ground rolled in a sack

Malaria racked our bones

Home sweet home was a bamboo rack

Lullaby? Your neighbours groans.

 

We’d dream of home you may surmise

And Stateside when it’s done?

But home was a distant paradise

Beyond the dim horizon.

 

Hintok Camp! Filth ridden hole!

Our tents and beds were rotten

The lice and rain destroyed our soul

Men died forlorn, forgotten!

 

No pest house from a bygone age

Could match its stench and squalor.

The jungle held us as a cage

And only death could follow.

 

Mosquitoes, flies and lice did vex

The starving, sick and dying

This palsied lot of fevered wreck

Soon failed…long past trying.

 

No Jap dared enter this foul place

Stood up wind, numbed in wonder

Then shouted down from quite a space

The working party number

 

Cholera came and took it’s toll

We dug the graves ‘til midnight.

That mighty railroad had to run

We toiled by night by torchlight

 

Communal graves their final rest

Dank trenches wide and deep

One pondered was not it best

To take this final sleep

 

No gravestones there to testify

“Who, when or where? Their passing.

Unknown, unmarked now there they lie

In silence everlasting.

 

The Hintok trestles finished

The word is “pack and leave”

Our ranks are now diminished

But there is no time to grieve.

 

We staggered off from Hintok Hill

It’s stench I smell today

Through four decades it’s with me still

It will not pass away.

 

We leave it faster than we came

No need to strike our tent.

We’re used to sleeping in the rain

This move is heaven sent.

 

We leave behind those tattered tents

A’drip with monsoon slime.

We are a group of battered gents

As we crawl off this last time.

 

We shan’t forget four hundred souls

Now silent neath the clay.

Cut down in youth from Earthly goals

It was not planned this way.

 

The monkey’s chatter shrill farewell

As we scaled our bamboo ladder.

Our goodbyes to this jungle hell

Could not make us sadder.

 

We waited now at river side

Two weeks of lie and mould

Then packed aboard for this last ride

Like rice sacks in the hold.

 

At Tarso now a brief delay

Next flatcars in the rain.

To Kanchanaburi one night and day

Was good to see again.

 

A part of us was left back there

Deep in the jungle’s mist.

It may appear we do not care

We’ve crossed it off our list?

 

Our callous, jocular facade

Does take a bit of strain.

As through this weary life we plod

With memories of past pain.

 

“Say! One more round, I’ll tell you more….

Before my eyes get bleary…

Our final days at Singapore..

Perhaps you’re growing weary?”

 

I bought a round and let him rave,

He’s madder than a hatter!

This guy has gone too far to save

It really doesn’t matter.

 

Said I “You’ve lived through trials like this

The States must be a breeze.

You’d never ever go amiss

In this great land of ease?”

 

He mumbled, muttered “Say no more…

I thank you for the drink!”

Then turned and stumbled out the door

And left me there to think.

 

By John W Wisecup.

 

The poem and the remaining sketches which have been found are published in a book called “After the Battle – Hintok, the drawings of John W. Wisecup” and is available from the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

 

When you go home, tell them of us and say “we gave up our tomorrow for your today.”

Lest we forget.

 

 

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