Tiger Treseder says Australian prisoners of war had a tough time but always looked after their mates.
Tiger Treseder says Australian prisoners of war had a tough time but always looked after their mates.

Tiger and other prisoners scrounged for food

By REN LANZONnewsroom@gladstoneobserver.com.au

TIGER Treseder turned up at the military recruiting station in Rockhampton in 1940 and told a whopping lie.

He was 16 years old at the time, but told the recruiting officer he was 21. A few months later he was a prisoner of war.

Tiger relived some of his memories of war yesterday during a special tour of the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum's new exhibition, In Enemy Hands: Australian Prisoners of War, due to open to the public today.

The problem during that first attempt at the recruitment station was that he was still wearing the clearly-visible Rockhampton Grammar School cadet insignia on his shoulder.

So he was advised to go back and register later that day, which he did after changing his shirt.

Tiger, as did most Gladstone recruits, hoped to get into the Navy, but as that was going to take a while, he enlisted with the Army and was assigned as a machine gunner to the 19th Battalion which was sent to Malaya.

He said the battalion was captured in Singapore. Tiger spent two weeks short of five years as a prisoner of war.

"We had 55 days of day and night fighting until we ran out of land,'' Tiger said.

"After our capture, we were sent to Changi in stages.'' He said food was scarce and the guards, particularly the Korean conscripts, were cruel.

Tiger's group was first assigned to the docks to load and unload food, where it was possible to outwit the guards.

He said one trick they used was puncturing a hole in a food can, drinking the contents and putting the empty can back in its position upside down.

'Some of the short guys used to hide cans of condensed milk by standing on them,' he said.

Later he was sent to work in the brewery. 'Yes, we took advantage of that to get some beer,' he said.

Conditions were worse while working on the railway the Japanese were building on the Chinese mainland.

'If you were too sick to work, the Japanese would not give you your ration of rice,' Tiger said.

'We had to eat everything that came our way ? if you threw the maggots out of your stew, you would have nothing.

'We used to pick the snails off the plants before the Dutch (prisoners of war) could get them and we'd cook them up with pigweed or seaweed.'

Yesterday Tiger expressed wonder at the amount of items on display ? particularly the photographs.

'How did they have time to do all that?' he said. 'We were always so busy ? but got clever enough to do some pretty clever things.'

One of these he remembers fondly was installing a radio in a drink bottle, which the prisoners used to obtain news from the outside world.

He laughed: 'The Japanese used to come and drink from it ? they didn't suspect it was a radio.'

Tiger returned home about the age he had told the recruiting officer he was when he enlisted. Despite his experiences, Tiger re-enlisted with the Army and served for 18 months in Korea in the early 1950s.



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