In March of 1942, following the two-week Battle of Java, Canadian RAF Lieutenant Robert Wyse became one of thousands of Allied personnel captured by Japanese forces on the island, and for more than three gruelling years he lived as a prisoner of war in various camps. In a subtle act of rebellion and preservation, Wyse spent the first twenty months of his internment secretly documenting his experiences in a diary which he later concealed in a bottle beneath his prison hut. Astonishingly, these hidden notes were unearthed after the war, offering invaluable firsthand insights into the harsh conditions he and others faced. When he wrote the following entry in September of 1942, Wyse was confined to Lyceum Camp in Soerabaja.
The Diary Entry
There is damn-all charity between the British prisoners of war. Never in all my life have I seen such examples of selfishness. There was a riot over a case of corned beef, several boys injured. [Just] a spirit of ‘the hell with you, Jack, I am looking after myself.’ Officers and men alike sit in front of others and fairly gloat over food that they have been able to purchase. When the capitulation came, huge impresses were handed out to officers for disbursement and the common good, [but] large sums of it remain in their own pockets and those of their friends. Tonight I sold a pair of socks, a gift, which I do not need, for 2; also a half cupful of petrol for 1. Our atap huts present a lively spectacle tonight as the Dutch come from all over to buy up the few remaining possessions of the English. I don’t know who wins. Our lads need the money for food, they certainly don’t need many clothes in this climate, but we have been at great pains to issue them with shirts and shorts to cover their nakedness, and the minute they get a new shirt off they go to see how many guilders they can get, guilders of course representing food.
Robert Wyse’s original diary runs to 60’000 words. In 2011, it was edited by Jonathan F. Vance and published by Goose Lane Editions with the title, Bamboo Cage: The P.O.W. Diary of Flight Lieutenant Robert Wyse, 1942-1943.