South African Military History Society

News-sheet No. 96. DURBAN BRANCH July 1981.


With the war against Japan, as presented by the film "Battle of Midway" last month, still fresh on our minds, Mrs. Kay Lander had before her a responsive audience when she addressed the July meeting of this Branch on how she and her infant son succeeded in surviving 3 1/2 years as prisoners of war, rather than civilian internees, in a Japanese concentration camp. Separated from her husband, a Shell Oil official, who was later killed in fighting in Hong Kong, she joined 4 320 internees who were crammed into a 15 acre walled area, the proposed new campus of the University of Manila in the Philippines, containing one half-completed three story block of the new university and practically nothing else. Her talk did full justice to its title "Survival" because every day was a battle to overcome incredible hardships and privations, a battle just to survive.

Tiny huts built only of bamboo and palm leaves, without a single nail or piece of string or wire, gave a little extra living space and privacy. The daily ration of 1 cup of some sort of mealie meal porridge and one cup of cooked rice per person with no salt or anything else had to be supplemented with grass and weeds, which were actually cultivated by the prisoners, and what insects like flying ants or grasshoppers could be found. Adjusting to this sort of diet actually became a matter of life or death. Those who could not face it simply perished, and a cemetery with 1 500 graves gave mute testimony to the insensibility and callousness of the Japanese.

In order to survive in an ordeal of this description Mrs. Lander considered that the three essential prerequisites were an indomitable faith, an ability to adjust and improvise, and last but not least a sense of humour.

In moving a vote of thanks fellow-member Ron Melrose commented on the necessity of hearing also of the other side of war, not that waged by soldiers but that suffered by civilians. A soldier is taught how to fight to win or to survive, defeat and death he accepts as calculated risks. Civilians, especially women and children, however, face a different fate, one for which more often than not they are totally unequipped and unprepared. Their sacrifices, endurande and quiet heroism are all the more admirable and praiseworthy.


A warm welcome is extended to new member Mr. David Bennett, and to Hugh and Alicia Simpson who recently returned to live in Durban.


Programme of Monthly Meetings
AUGUST 13THFellow-member "Midge" Carter will present an illustrated slide talk entitled "The Carrier War: Pacific Theatre 1941 - 1945".
September 10thCmdt Justin Hulme will give a talk entitled "D - FOR DESERTERS".
October 8thMajor Darrell Hall will present an illustrated slide talk entitled "At the Call of King and Country" which deals with the training and battles of his uncle who served in the 2nd - 3rd London Regiment (Territorial Force) affiliated to the Royal Fusiliers in WWI.
November 12thMr. Ian Player will give an illustrated slide lecture about the Philippines and the knowledge he has gained after eight visits to the country.

The venue for all meetings will be the Lecture Room, 'SB' Bourquin Building, the Port Natal Administration Board's head office, on the corner of Jan Smuts Highway and Buro Crescent, at the foot of Mayville Hill, on the second Thursday in the month commencing at 8 p.m. There is ample parking, under guard, in the grounds. Glasses and ice will be supplied so please bring your own canned or bottled refreshments. FRIENDS AND INTERESTED PERSONS ARE WELCOME.

(Mrs) Tania van der Watt,
Secretary, Durban Branch,
S.A. Military History Society,
Box 870, HILLCREST, 3650.
Tel. (031) 742970.

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