Categories 1941

Singapore struggles to cope with Air Raid victims

Malay women mourn the loss of a child during one of the frequent Japanese air raids on Singapore during which thousands died.

Phyllis Briggs was a nursing sister in Malaya at the outbreak of the war in December 1941. She had attended Arthur Scarf while he lay dying in the Alor Star hospital following his defiant single handed mission to bomb the Japanese. After a difficult journey south to Singapore, she was once again working in a hospital. On the 31st the Japanese reached the end of the Malay peninsula and the final battle for the island of Singapore began:

Now Singapore was coming under ever more frequent bombing attacks and the civilian population was bearing the brunt of them:

I was asked to work in the Kandang Kerban hospital and moved into the Sister’s Quarters with my few belongings. In normal times it was a maternity hospital but now it was used for air raid victims. I began to work in the resuscitation ward. This was filled with Malays, Chinese and Indians all brought in direct from the streets. Many were already dead, others were dying. To these hopeless cases we gave large doses of morphia and wrote the amount given on a strip of plaster which we stuck on their foreheads. Those with a chance of recovery we sent up to the wards when a bed could be found for them.

I was put in charge of the acute surgical ward. We were terribly busy and the doctors operated day and night – Mr. Laurie, Eliot Fisher and Dr. Shields. They were splendid to work with and we all got on well. At first we used to put the patients under their beds during the raids, but it became impossible to do when the raids became frequent.

By this time men, women, children and servicemen were being admitted to the same wards and some were on the floor. During the raids many Chinese jumped into the monsoon drains by the road sides. They put their heads down and bottoms up – with the result that many Chinese were brought into hospital with shrapnel wounds to their buttocks.

Some of the patients had infected wounds crawling with maggots. It was the one thing that made me feel quite sick. One chinese woman had half her face blown away. I have never forgotten her pleading eyes. Large maggots were crawling out of what was left of her nose.

On 31st January the Causeway was blown up because the Japs had reached S. Jahore. It was difficult to get any rest at night as the bombing and explosions made so much noise. Everyone was very depressed and people were being evacuated from Singapore by every available ship – most of them going to Australia. The guns sounded much nearer and some terrible burn cases were brought in from the ship “Empress of Asia”.

Read more of this story on BBC People’s War.

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