10 May 1943, John Charter's wartime journal
Of the MY100 that we managed to get changed, we asked that MY30 should be kept in town and that lard, milk powder and rolled oats should be bought with the money. The other MY70 came in (minus 5% commission to the chap that brought it in – whoever he was). After a week or two had passed, and no parcel made its appearance, we heaved a sigh and resigned ourselves to our fate, believing that the money had somehow gone into the wrong pocket. However, our kind friend made urgent enquiries and discovered that the person who was sending in the stuff had sent it to me at first to Argyle Street Officers camp, then Sham Shui Po. On both occasions it was returned! And it finally reached us here! At our rate of exchange (1 MY = 1$ USA Gold) this MY30 represented about 6.15.0 English money (pdv £320) I don’t know if either of us had formed an idea of how much we should get for this sum; we had asked for MY10 worth of each of the three commodities. I must say I was a little shocked at the smallness of the parcel when it arrived. We received about 1 ¼ lbs of milk powder (full cream and quite good stuff), 2 lbs lard and about 5 lbs rolled oats! Milk powder at about 2 pounds (pdv £90) per lb; Lard at 1 pound (pdv £45) per lb and oats at 8/- per lb (rather weavilly to boot). With the remainder of our money we bought stuff at the canteen. We felt it wisest to buy as much tinned food as we could – in other words, invest our money in tinned food; for prices are continually rising and as yet there is no news of another food ship.
We bought more than a dozen 15 oz tins of pilchards @ Y3.10 per tin (14/- per tin, (pdv £33) or almost 1/- per oz). We also bought a sealed tin of lard and some cheaper pork fat rendered down which, though not so refined, tasted very good on toast or bread. These again cost about 1 pound and 15/- per lb. I have not the least idea what the Military Yen is worth now and these prices are computed on the rate of exchange I was given in buying MY100.
The only other guide is pre-war prices: HK$1 = 1/3. The current rate is MY1 = $4, so if the HK$ is still reckoned at 1/3 (which it cannot be) the MY must be 5/-.( pdv £11) We also bought 4 lb of soya beans from the canteen at Y1.15 per lb; 4 lbs dried peas at Y1.45 and 4 lbs onions at Y1 per lb. We also bought as much sugar as we could at Y1.60 per lb (pdv £17). We are limited to ½ lb sugar and ½ lb wong tong (the unrefined residue left after the refining process of ordinary sugar) per time. We now take it in turn to go to the canteen and everyone gets a ticket once in approximately 3 weeks. Beans and peas, Dr Herklotts says, contains quite a good percentage of protein and are a good buy. We bought 2 eggs each per week at from 35 to 40 sen per egg (pdv £5) and 2 bananas each at 7 ½ sen. Chinese bacon was brought in by the canteen, but we could not afford to buy any of it. We used to smoke 3 cigarettes per day each, but have now reduced it to 2 per day. We will soon have to do without smoking again. Some time ago I bought some Chinese tobacco from the canteen for my pipe. It is nothing to write home about but it is certainly less poisonous than an earlier lot I bought – and managed to resell.