James Kerr - Pap and pumpkin stew

Running time
2 min 52 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


Well, just being what you are and accepting what you've got. If you can't get something, you can't have it. Don't worry about it. We knew what our meals were going to be three times a day if you're lucky, three bowls of rice, just a normal mug full of rice. Our breakfast for quite a while was what they called "pap", which is the Dutch word for porridge. That was a watery rice that they'd make so it was virtually real mushy. So you'd get a cup of that, and that's what you went out and worked on the railway on. No sugar, no salt, no nothing. That's what you went and worked on the railway on. Lunch time you got your lunch out and the rice would be sour by the time you got to it. It might have been something a bit dry to eat with it, but by night time, you'd get another mug of rice or hopefully a watery pumpkin stew with some veggies thrown in or something.

But that's what our meals were, we knew the water we were getting. The water had to be boiled once the cholera came through the camps, we were only allowed to fill our water bottles unless it was from water which had been boiled. There were no taps where we were going, you had to turn on, fill your bottle to get a drink. You accepted that was the water that you had, and it had to last you the day, and you couldn't just knock off your work in the railway to go and have a drink until they told you to have a rest, which wasn't very often, what they called "yazmi" [?].

It didn't happen very often. They might give you a 10 or a 15 minute, but it didn't happen. Once "Speedo" came in there was no breaks, then. Just go, go, go…That's why there was so many skin diseases, of course, because you never had the nutritional value just in rice. The best part of the rice is the husk, of course, and that's done away with. The rice polishings we didn't get any in Thailand but got now and again we got it in Changi if I remember rightly because that's got all the goodness in it. But actual rice itself, there's virtually nothing in it. You get a water cup and bang, it's gone. So yeah, and to work on this mug of watery pap as we called it, that kept you going for 4 or 5 or 6 hours before you'd need your lunch. But that's what you had to work on, there certainly wasn't going to be anything else.

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