Tag Archives: Garden & Woods Area

Another Short Wave Broadcast and The Return of “F” Force

By Sears Eldredge

Another Short Wave Broadcast

The fifth in a series of recordings for short-wave broadcasts “from AIF hospital in Malaya” occurred on 16 December. The Australian announcer, Capt. Alan Bush, reminded his listeners that on the last broadcast they had heard the “very colorful number ‘The Race that Rules the Rhythm of the World.’”[i] (Whether this song is referring to the Japanese or the White race is ambiguous.[1]) Then he launched into the first sketch:

Announcer: All roads today led to Circular Quay [Sydney] to welcome home thousands of soldiers returning after years in Malaya. As we reach the Quayside, we behold the tall, lean, sun-tanned Anzac marching down the gang-way. . .. And there’s a pretty girl with a beautiful blue-eyed baby in her arms waving to them. This will be a touching wartime reunion and I’ll take the portable microphone over close and we’ll listen to their conversation.

A.  My darling little wife, gee it’s great to be back.

B.  Sweetheart you are looking wonderful.

A.  Yeah! And so are you, honey, but tell me, whose baby is that?

B.  Why, that’s our little Benny.

A.  Our little Benny? But I’ve been away for four years. That kid can’t be more than 6 months old.

B. Don’t you know, Benny’s from Heaven?

Then came a takeoff on the song “Pennies from Heaven” closing with the lyrics,

Now every kid must have a Dad,

They’ve always taught us.

But little Benny had,

A flying fortress.

No use to ask the preacher,

St. Peter’s the one to see,

For Benny’s from heaven

And not from me.[ii]

The mention of “a flying fortress” as the father of the “blue-eyed baby” is a reference to the American airmen stationed in Australia as part of the war effort. Everyone seemed to know the saying, “The Yanks are overpaid, oversexed, and over here.” Fearing the worst about the G.I.’s behavior with their sweethearts and wives, this was a warning to the “girls” back home to toe the line.

The Return of “F” Force

That same day, 16 December, members of “F Force” began to arrive back in Changi. “Most were in very poor state of health and their morale at a low ebb,” observed Nelson.[iii] The Australian returnees would be accommodated in huts on the padang in Selarang Barracks.[iv] The British returnees would be relocated to the Garden & Woods Area.

Four days later Huxtable reported that “All the AIF of F Force are back except such as are still in hospital,[2] too sick for the four and a half days train journey.”[v]

One of the Aussies who came back at this time was Stan Arneil. His diary records the moment when they emerged from their transport boxcars.

The people from Changi stood back and uttered not a word. It was really quite strange. We lined up on the road as best we could and stood up as straight as we could. Those who couldn’t stand up straight were on sticks. And those who couldn’t stop shaking with malaria were held by their friends. We thought this was what we should do as soldiers to say that we were not beaten. The sergeant major dressed us off and we stood in a straight line as he went over and reported to Colonel Johnson. Johnson went over to [GCO] Black Jack Galleghan and he said, “Your 2/30th all present and correct, sir.” And Galleghan said, “Where are the rest?” The major, he was a major then, said, “They’re all here, sir.” And we were. Black Jack Galleghan, the iron man, broke down and cried.  It was an incredible scene. We wanted to show them we were soldiers.[vi] 

If the word from “H” Force about POW treatment Up Country wasn’t bad enough, the word from “F” Force would be worse—much worse.

Huxtable saw “young Wycherley, the pianist and accompanist, but all the rest of the celebrity concert party, who used to entertain us so delightfully both here and at Roberts Barracks have been wiped out by disease,[3] with the exception of the violinist Denis East. The latter, we hear, is still in hospital up north,[4] but recovering.”[vii] 

Huxtable was aware that for many of the returning POWs, it still wasn’t over. “Since the last date of entry,” he wrote in his diary, “I have taken part is some hard work at the hospital and seen much tragedy and death from sickness. The men are so emaciated from malaria and other disease that they die easily.”[viii] 

This horrific situation made it all the more important that the concert party Christmas shows not only had to be excellent in execution but wild with laughter.


[1] The ambiguity allowed any Japanese to understand it his way while the listening POW audience understood it a different way.

[2] Up Country in Kanburi Hospital Camp (see my online book, Chap. 4 “The Interval: Thailand and Burma).

[3] Not entirely accurate. Because he couldn’t keep up with the rest of the marching troops, Reginald Renison was beaten to death on the long march up to their work sites on the border with Burma. John Foster-Haigh died of starvation in a camp in Burma.

[4] Actually, East was in Kranji, a hospital for chronic cases that had been established in the northern part of Singapore Island. According to my interview with East, he insisted that he had never gone Up Country.


[i] Frey, Kerrin. Shortwave Radio Transcript, 1.

[ii] Frey, Kerrin. Shortwave Radio transcript, 1-2.

[iii] Nelson, 124-126.

[iv] Huxtable, 144.

[v] Huxtable, 144.

[vi] Arneil, in Nelson, Prisoners of War, 68.

[vii] Huxtable, 144.

[viii] Huxtable, 145.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22