40 Kilo Camp, Burma

Eventually, the POW camps in Java are emptied as the prisoners are shipped to Burma to complete a 258-mile-wide gap of the Burma-Thai railroad.

At this point, a little over halfway, Ship of Ghosts becomes a completely different kind of story. Instead of sea battles, we are dealing with jungles and malaria and dysentery.

Self has developed a habit of looking up each new name in the Appendix, to see if that person made it or not. It just occurred to her that of course that person made it; otherwise, they wouldn’t be giving interviews to James D. Hornfischer!

The Appendix was useful in another way, though: to fix the number of POWS who died in Burma. There was a pattern: the dying began in 80 kilo camp, but increased as one got to a higher-numbered camp: 100-kilo camp, 105-kilo camp, and 114-kilo camp (She didn’t see anything higher than 114-kilo camp — so the railroad was still unfinished at the end of the war)

The men at 40-kilo camp were lucky: a Dutch doctor named Henri Hekking volunteered to be sent there. Born in Surabaya to Dutch parents, Hekking’s grandmother was “a committed herbalist and healer, who set him on the path of studying native medicine.” He was captured at the Dutch hospital in Timor and became a POW. He began hearing of the plight of the men building the Burma-Thai railroad and offered to perform medical services on the line. When he showed up at 40-kilo camp, he became the “on-site medical caretaker.” Once there, he began “the most challenging kind of solo practice.”

p. 264:

  • He knew that palmetto mold could be used like penicillin, that pumpkin could be stored in bamboo stalks, femented with wild yeast, and used to treat men suffering from beriberi (it got them pleasantly drunk to boot). Tea brewed from bark contained tannins that constricted the bowels and slowed diarrhea. Wild chili peppers had all sorts of beneficial internal applications.

Another quick look at the Appendix: NO DEATHS in 40-kilo camp! Either there were no American POWs there, or Hekking managed to save them.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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