The story of Bdr Hall's escape was taken by Eric from the Bombadier's diary, with his kind consent on 30th May 1943
A Condensation of the Adventures of Bdr Hall after he left Singapore in an abortive attempt to reach Australia.
With three companions I left Singapore around 21.00 hrs on 15th Feb, 42, in a small 12ft yacht without sails. Early next morning we grounded and stove in the boat bottom on the rocks of an unknown island, where we scrambled ashore with food, water and small arms. At dawn we were awakened by native voices. On asking them for the use of a boat they took us across the island and fitted us up with an old ships' boat and a couple of oars. Left same day in our newly acquired craft and sailed towards St Johns' Island where we picked up two Britishers, without going ashore ourselves. Passing on we came to the Dutch refuelling base - Rialu Dambo Island which was completely gutted by fire and deserted. Finding a small undamaged house together with various tinned foodstuff we had a meal and slept for three hours, leaving the island again at 16.30hrs.
At dusk we arrived at another unknown island where we ate and slept 'till nearly break of dawn. Rowing away again at dawn,(17-2-42), after about three hours we sighted what turned out to be a Chinese shop, built half in and half out of the water. The owners gave us a good meal of rice, veg and fruit, and fitted our boat with a mast and sail for the cost of 10 dollars. However, this was of little or no avail because none of us had any knowledge of sailing.
The breeze blew us along in the direction of a Chinese tonkam, which appeared at first sight to be deserted. On tieing up, however, we found it manned by roughly 50 British and Australian service men. We were allowed on board and after agreeing to pool resources settled down in our new floating home. The Officer in charge (Capt Crawley) decided it was unsafe to attempt sailing between the many small islands during darkness, so we anchored 'till dawn the following day. Our destination was now a small island close by the island of Morro, and we arrived there about 14.00 hrs (18-2-42). Here we received two days food rations, and instructions how to reach the Indragiri river (Sumatra).
We were delayed all night until high tide enabled us to put to sea again, having taken on board a further 60 men. Sailing throughout the day of 19-2-42 we arrived off the coast of Sumatra as night fell 20.00hrs and dropped anchor. At dawn, 20-2-42, we up anchor and sailed due South for 2 hours and enquired from a native craft, we came up with, the position of river mouth. This we reached with no further difficulty and proceeded up river for about two miles, but on account of the unwieldiness of our boat we had to drop anchor for fear of running aground. A Dutch river patrol boat came down and enquired about our trouble - shortly sent assistance in the form of a motor boat to tow us. In this manner we reached "Prigi Radjah" and stayed the night.
21-2-42. Left Prigi Radjah at 14.00 hrs - towed by larger motor boat - 50 extra men aboard us. After 5 hours travel the tonkam grounded on a mudbank, snapping the tow rope. As the motor boat reversed engines the broken end of the tow rope fouled the propellers - this held us up for two hours. Two men went overboard with knives to cut away the rope, while two others stood watch with loaded rifles in case of attack from crocodiles. Arrived Rengat 01.00hrs 22-2-42, and left same day in river boats destined for Ayer Mollet, where we were billeted in a rubber factory.
The remainder of the journey to Padang was made on foot and transport in Dutch lorries. Padang was reached on the 10th -3-42, where the Dutch confiscated all arms and ammunition. British destroyers were expected here to take us off to Columbo, but they never arrived.
n company with Major Nolls, Capt Jennings, Capt Tharlby, Cpl Goud and two privates I left Padang in a native pran with only one and three quarter gallons of fresh water. We were hurled by huge breakers on the isle of Atoll on the following day. Having refreshed ourselves with food and hot drinks we pushed out to sea again at low tide. Disaster almost overtook us when only a mile from the shore . The mast snapped nearly capsizing the boat, Paddling back again the boat was swamped and holed by the monster waves. Atoll was well stocked with fresh water and coconuts, but uninhabited. Repaired boat and left again 14.00hrs, 18-3-42, arriving at Sifara on the 20th, badly in need of water. The natives gave us plenty of food and drink. MENTAWI natives Christian. Next day Capt Jennings was down with Malaria.
Left again on the 24th with Malay guide arriving the same day at a small Kampong on another island, where we slept the night. From here we made Sikakaf, where we stayed until 1-4-42 and procured another boat - a 17ft Scotchia.After 25 days sailing against adverse winds and strong currents my companion Capt Jennings and Pte............ finally arrived at Engano. Here we modified the boat and restocked with food for our great attempt to reach Australia.
On the 1st May,1942, we set sail in our small craft for Australia. Little did we realise the immensity of the task before us. We had food for thirty days. Again and again we were blown and carried back towards our starting point - Engano. Days, weeks, and months passed at sea. We stretched our food over a forty day period by rationing ourselves to one meal per day. The test of endurance started after the fortieth day as the two of us faced tropical storms, squalls and starvation together. Rain storms provided us with some fresh water. We caught crabs and seagulls(which alighted on our boat) and on one occasion a turtle. Not having any means of cooking, - all we caught was eaten raw accompanied by thanksgiving to God for providing thus our sustenance. Our bodies shrunk, but we clung to life, keeping each other's spirits up as best we could.
More weeks passed and the tropical sun was rapidly sapping what little strength left in us. After the amazing period of 128 days at sea in an open boat we arrived at "Bayer Island" - still off the mainland of Sumatra, and only a short distance south of our starting point. When within 300 yards of the beach, huge 12-15ft waves overturned our boat. Again, by God's grace, and an immense amount of will power on our own part we found ourselves washed up on the beach - more dead than alive.
After resting a time we walked,- nay staggered with the aid of sticks, in search of food. Small land crabs were the only edible creatures to be found, and the shells of these were broken between rocks. These provided our first bit of food for four or five days. We found a rough native shelter, and with half a shirt as the only covering between us, we slept the dead sleep of exhaustion.
At dawn, the next day, we commenced to make our way slowly and painfully along the beach, with the aid of sticks. Frequent rest periods were obviously necessary. We continued like this for about five hours, when we sighted a group of about a dozen natives hurrying towards us. As they neared they appeared rather frightened. We must have cut a very dreadful sight - the pair of us - absolutely naked - all skin and bone, our faces hidden beneath a matted five months growth of beard!! They brought us food and clothing and accompanied us to their kampong, where hot coffee and food in plenty awaited us. To describe the delights of hot drinks and real cooked food again would be impossible. Heaven itself seemed very near.
And so our struggle - our hopeless attempt to reach Australia - was at an end.
Dutch civil police took charge of us until we were finally sent to the Sumatra mainland and handed over to the Japanese authorities. After treatment in hospital, we were kept in a jail until finally they sent us to the Prisoner's of War Camp, Palembang.