World War Two veteran recalls experiences of liberating Changi POW camp and stepping foot in Hiroshima

Posted: 29/10/2019 | Scottish War Blinded

John Taylor, 92, of Bannockburn, was a Sergeant and Pipe Major in the Cameron Highlanders, having joined the Army in 1943 aged 16.

After completing his training, he was initially sent to Ireland to guard a German prisoner of war camp before moving on to Egypt, Singapore and Japan.

Recalling the moment John learned he would be heading to the Far East, John said: “After Ireland, we had been sent to Egypt and had to change all of our uniform to sand colour as we were preparing to go into the desert.

“Then one week before we were due to go into the desert, we were told: ‘change your kit back to green boys’.

“We were just told that something had happened in the Far East, so we changed our uniform back to jungle colours.”

John travelled to Singapore, which was occupied by Japan.

“The Japanese had never seen a man in a kilt before, and they mistook our pipes for a three barrel gun,” he said.

“We quickly got the nickname ‘Ladies from Hell’.”

Veteran John Taylor on left in army uniform, age 17, and now, on right, age 92

 

Liberating Changi POW camp

John and his fellow soldiers made their way to one of the most notorious Japanese prisoner of war camps, Changi.

John said: “We had to get the British prisoners of war out of the prison which was up a mountain, but at the bottom was the Raffles Hotel which was occupied by Japanese soldiers.

“We couldn’t get the Japanese soldiers out of the hotel.  We could have easily thrown grenades in but we didn’t want to blow the hotel up. It was a braw hotel and there were too many civilians around.

“We eventually got them out and our bullet holes are still there to this day as a reminder of what happened there.” 

John eventually got to the jail and discovered the prisoners of war in a worse condition that they had anticipated.

“They were just skin and bone. They hadn’t been fed which made us all the angrier,” John recalled. 

“Red Cross medics were following us so they took them away and we carried on.

“We just had to release them then go. As long as we had the advantage to keep going, we went.”

 

Hiroshima

After Singapore, John travelled to Japan by boat and remembers seeing a plane headed for Hiroshima fly overhead.

As they approached Hiroshima harbour, the young sergeant, who was a Gamekeeper to Trade, was tasked with shooting the many mines which littered the harbour to allow the boats to dock safely.

“I had an accurate shot so I had to blow up the mines to disarm them before the boat reached them,” he said.

“We arrived in Japan shortly after the first bomb had been dropped, and as I was a piper, I was the first soldier to step off the boat so I could pipe the men off.”

John recalls walking into Hiroshima, which was covered in dust, saying: “We had to wear bands around our arms in case of radiation and were told to watch out for any spots. If spots appeared, we had to get out!

“I remember walking further inland and coming across a garage. There were tools lying on the floor, but when I touched the spanner with my foot it turned to dust. The tools and the toolbox looked perfectly intact, but they just disappeared.

“That’s how strong the bomb was.”

 

Through the jungle

John and his unit travelled from city to city through the jungle. “It was easy to get lost because the jungle was so thick”, he explained. “If you strayed away from your neighbour you were lost!

“We had to try stay in contact with each other but in those days we didn’t have the equipment we have now. We had wee radios and a map so it was a lot harder to know where each other were.

“Years and years later, I was a policeman on duty checking the young ones in a pub and heard someone shout my name. He then said ‘it is you!’ and then told everyone that I saved his life in the jungle.

“The man I met was in the same unit as me and he got lost. Was as simple as that, but I somehow managed to find him and he never forgot it.”

John recalls that one of the biggest problems they faced when travelling through the jungle was finding a safe water supply.

He said: “The Japanese soldiers had poisoned all of the water sources, so we couldn’t drink out of rivers or wells. So we either had to catch rain water or eat fruit.

“I quickly learned that if I picked a fight with the monkeys, they would run up a tree and throw coconuts at us. So we caught the coconuts, stabbed a hole in them and drank the water.”

John also encountered several seven-foot snakes and a black panther when he was walking through the jungle.

“My experience of being a gamekeeper helped me a lot in the jungle as I could navigate well and had an accurate shot,” John said.

“I saved a few lives that way.”

As the soldiers were advancing so fast through the jungle, they also didn’t have much of a food supply.

“The Air Force would drop rations down to us, but we had to be in the right place at the right time or the Japanese would get to them first,” John explained.  

“We were given biscuits which were filled with meat and vegetables, but they were so hard we couldn’t bite into them.

“The sun made them drier as well, even hitting them with a rifle didn’t break them. I managed to steal water from the Japanese one day, which meant we could soak the biscuits in the water. We all got a good feed that night.”

He also recounts an extremely close call with Japanese soldiers: “I got a jaggy stick stuck in my shoe and when I kneeled down to take it out, I heard the click of the bullets in machine guns next to me. The Japanese soldiers were hiding in the bushes waiting for us. I was at the back so I shouted at the boys to dive. I’d have been shot first.

“We had to grow up quickly in the army. We were living on our nerves all the time; we just didn’t know what was round the next corner or hiding under a bush.

“On another occasion, I was walking through the jungle with two men on either side of me when we were shot at.  The two men lost their lives and I was hit in the leg.”

 

The return home

Although the war had ended in Europe, John and the rest of his unit spent months in Asia up until Japan surrendered. He and his fellow soldiers returned to England eighteen months after World War Two had ended.

“When Japan surrendered, we were just told we were going home. We travelled to England on a small boat. All of the men apart from me were seasick.

“When we got back to England, we didn’t even get a ‘thank-you’, John said.

“We were given civilian clothes and a train ticket and were sent on our way. We just felt lucky that we had made it. That was the end of my army career.

“As we were some of the last soldiers to come home, everyone fighting in the Far East were the ‘forgotten army’. I really hope my grandchildren never have to go through a war like that.” 

 

Back
Back