Stanley was hard, but others were worse

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am

If Dr Bernice Archer had to choose where to be imprisoned during the second world war, she would have picked Stanley above other camps.

'Firstly, it was a mixed camp,' says the British academic, who interviewed mothers and former child internees for her research on civilian detainees.

'There were men, women and children interned together. This gave it a normal atmosphere.'

Having help from the men also made life easier as few of the colonial women had practical skills at that time.

'The women worked very hard, but at Stanley there were [male] engineers and technicians. They had a structure created for them that they were used to in colonial life.'

And while summers at Stanley could be sizzling, internees could look out to the sea, says Archer. It was better than the humid, stifling atmosphere of Changi prison in Singapore.

Children in Stanley also had some education and there was space for them to play. In Java and Sumatra, the Japanese would treat child internees as adults by the time they were 11 or 12, Archer says. 'The boys would initially go into the camps with their mothers. But later they were put to work. They would be looking after the sick and the older men. When the men died, these boys would have to carry the men's bodies out to be buried.'

A number of Dutch children interned in Indonesia found it very difficult to adjust to family life once the war was over.

'There was a great tension,' says Archer. 'Parents wanted them to be children again. None of them had fathers nearby during that time and they hardly recognised them after the war.'

What should have been a time of exuberance for reunited families was a time rife with problems, she says.

'Many of the children had never been to Holland. When they went back, it was a strange country for them, and bitterly cold, too. Holland was still in a terrible state when they got back. Many [former internees] are still suffering now.


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