The following is an account written by my Uncle Vince in
the 1950's. It is his story, in his own words, typed from hand-written
pages uncovered after his death in 1974.
The names and events in the text have not been verified but I knew my Uncle very well and saw first hand evidence of the horrendous physical and mental consequences of his time spent in Japan.
Bill Calder – Stoney Creek, Ontario
A GUEST OF THE EMPEROR
Taken P.O.W. in Hong Kong 1941
On April 28, 1941, I signed up with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. After being rejected 10 times, it was truly a happy day in my life, but little did I realise where it would lead me.
On May 19, we route marched from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Hamilton, Ontario. We then marched into Scott Park, Hamilton and were provided a lunch (may I be cynical?), Two jam sandwiches, coffee and a piece of cake after 15 miles of marching. Luckily, families and friends brought cakes and beer.
We then marched to the TH&B station en route to Nanaimo, BC, and after arriving in Vancouver on May 25, we boarded the CPR ferry to the Island. We enjoyed our stay in Nanaimo very much. We left on August 19 for Hamilton and home, arrived in Hamilton on August 23 and it felt like we had been away for a long time. The regt. left on or about the 15th of September for Jamaica and I left for Camp Borden, Ontario.
On October 18, our C.O., Major Rollinson, called for volunteers to go overseas and about 150 men fought to get on the list. For instance, a Pte. Kelloway gave $150 plus a case of beer (it has a little humour, hasn't it?) for his place. He died of wounds in Hong Kong. Pte. Lafferty (Lincoln and Welland regt.) gave up his furlough papers and train ticket in order to go. He was killed in action on December 25, 1941 at 6:15 P.M., in the only recorded bayonet charge in Hong Kong. Just the fortune of war, isn't it?
On the evening of October 23, 1941, we left Toronto in high spirits and arrived in Vancouver on October 27, 1941 and boarded the Australian transport 'Awatea' and with the 'Prince Robert' leading the way, we arrived in Honolulu on November 2. A group of Hawaiian girls danced for us until we left. As we left in the early twilight, the Hawaiian Islands were one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
I made the acquaintance of two of the crew and they invited me down for meals whenever I wished to come. One evening they had mutton and I disliked mutton intensely. Jock said to me 'Some day you will be glad to get mutton' and he sure was right. On the 13th, we sighted the Philippine Islands, and barren as they looked, they were still beautiful to us after so long at sea. On the 14th, we docked at Manila Harbour and it looked pretty swell to us. During the voyage, we took physical training and small arms training and were told we were bound for Hong Kong. On the 16th, we landed at Holt's Wharf and received a welcome from the city of Kowloon. What a great feeling to have our feet on solid ground again. We saw thousands of Chinese, Portuguese, Eurasians, East Indians and (god bless them) a few Yanks. The terrible noon heat wasn't noticed much that day; we were much too happy from being on good old mother earth, seeing strange sights and finding white people. We marched to the Nanking and Sham Sha Poo Barracks with the Royal Scot Band leading the way and the Winnipeg Grenadiers Band in the rear.
On entering the camp and being billeted, I must say that the place was filthy (or so we thought then). The beds and mattresses were crawling with bedbugs and impossible to sleep on. However, being very young and eager, we cleaned the place up in 5 days, but we were still eaten up by bugs. Though the Limey's could live in such filth and disease, we Canadians were taught better.
That afternoon, we were given a lecture on VD and the Chinese but please do not classify all of them the same, by any means. The professional Chinese prostitute is registered and has to report every week to be examined by a doctor. The VD percentage is high but not anywhere near as high as is reported to the public.
Even though we were confined to barracks for 2 days, we went over the fence and saw the city. Cpl. Jack Burns and I were the first 2 Canadians in Jingles 'Palace Hotel' and from then on, he couldn't do enough for us (imagine a T-bone steak and all the trimming for 28 cents). We certainly packed a lot of fun into 3 weeks and I know none of us regretted a day of it.
On the 6th of December, five of us went out to the border to take a look at the Japs and we couldn't believe that they were really fighting men, being so short and squat (they looked more like children). We soon found out that they were!
At this point, I would like to tell you about the prostitutes of China.
If you wanted to have a Chinese mistress, you had to pay the Amah (madam) an amount of money (about $75 Canadian). You then paid the girl $12.50 Canadian a month, and she provided you with a 3 to 4 room apartment, 2 civilian suits, food, liquor, cigarettes and your pleasures. Understand, you owned this girl, body and soul, and your wish was her command until such time as you no longer required her services. Then she would ask you 'you no longer wish me to stay here?' You replied 'no, you may go', and then you gave her another month's pay and she left to find someone else to love. Although I can hardly expect anyone reading this to believe it, it is true. As an example of the devotion that these girls have for their men, when the war was over for us and we were in prison camp in Hong Kong, these girls brought down to the camp baskets filled with food, tobacco, possibly a shirt or slacks and candy. This happened regularly for 13 months that I know of personally. God only knows what they must have gone through to do this, but to their way of thinking, if their man were free, he would continue to pay them so he still deserved their love and devotion.
War was declared on the 7th of December, 1941 and took everyone by surprise. There was no air support for us although we had seaplanes which were still in packages because the Limeys said we must save them (we did, for the Japs). The planes were brought to Fort Stanley for safekeeping (Fort Stanley is on a cliff with little or no beach). The navy ships (or so they were called) were scuttled and sunk the first day of the war. We did rather well anyway, our 8,000 troops against 42,000 Nips (they admitted coming in with that many on the 7th). We lasted 18 days with 8,000 men, while Singapore only lasted 8 days with 80,000 men (am I bragging? You ain't kidding). Everybody did a good job and the Japs admitted that we killed about 22,000 Nippers. The surrender of Hong Kong came at 10:00 am, December 25, 1941, on the orders of Gov. Gen. Maltby. Unfortunately, no one else knew about it and if communications had been better, quite a few lives may have been saved.
I was stationed at Tai Tam Gap. 'C' Company of the Royal Rifles stationed at Ly Mun took a terrific shelling and attack by the Nips (December 14) but successfully kept them from landing. The boys really showed the Japs who they were up against that day. The Japs eventually came in with a larger force than ours and managed to land but they lost plenty of men doing it. We took some shelling at Tai Tam Gap, but Repulse Bay, Ly Mun and Stanley Village took the worst on our end of the island. At 5:00 P.M. on the 25th, our boys got together for one last crack at the little brown devils. The morale was very high, being backed up by hatred, contempt and disgust for those wanton, raping, sadistic, cold blooded murderers from Japan. A Hong Kong volunteer defence corps captain, a vet. of WW1, later told me it was the finest bayonet charge he had ever witnessed. Of course, everyone didn't have a rifle and bayonet, some had only one or the other, and others had Brens or tommy guns. If you had 25 rounds of ammo, you had a lot more than some. I saw one kid who had been a ball player back home, carrying 10 hand grenades and when he threw them, he didn't miss a target. He was killed in the attack. We lost more men there than any other 3 battles combined. Pte. Lafferty died in that charge and Rfmn A.J. McKay, another swell guy, and I buried him. McKay was one of the best mortar instructors in the army.
At 8:15 P.M., we were back in Fort Stanley and everything was quiet and I guess everyone was looking at the sky and saying to themselves, 'thank God it's over'. Christmas night and everything was just as it should be, quiet, peaceful and a clear sky. Then the dirty Japs threw a barrage into Stanley and it must have been damn near everything they had left. We fell asleep listening to it.
On the 26th, we were told to turn in our weapons, but hell, there wasn't much to turn in and when we got through, there was a hell of a lot less. It was either smashed up or else buried or smuggled out when we left camp. I remember when Jack Burns came in on the 26th, Lt. McMillan told him to turn in his tommy gun and Jack had about 5 rounds of ammo left and for a minute, it was a toss up as to whether he was going to shoot the officer or not. He didn't know the damn war was over for us until we told him. That tommy gun was just a piece of shrapnel when he got through with it. We were warned on threat of death not to keep any guns but nearly all the pistols and automatics were kept and the sweat really poured if a Nipper looked hard at you. We ate fairly well until the 28th. The Limeys still insisted on hoarding the food supply.
On the 28th, we started our march to North Point Prison Camp, starting at 5:00 am and getting there at 4:00 P.M. after steady marching. If you didn't have water, it was a long dry walk. Quite a few boys had to be carried. We limped into a discarded refugee camp that even the Chinese refugees wouldn't live in. It was swarming with (pardon me, while I scratch from just thinking about it) bed bugs, flies and lice. Our first meal (I'll never forget it), consisted of 5 pigs and a bag of greens for 5,000 men. I got a piece of the hide covered with bristles and chewed on the damn thing for 2 days, finally using it for a sole in my shoe (and I'm not kidding you). We slept on boards if you could get them, or else the concrete floor. We bought cigarettes, food and chocolate from the Chinese coolies at inflated prices (steep, even for the black market) until they asked too high a price. Then we just pulled the damn Chink over the fence and took his goods, then heaved him back out again. Usually a Jap caught them and they were either beaten up or shot, depending on the Jap's mood at that moment. This source of supplies only lasted a short time as too many Chinese were being shot. We were very annoyed to have our luxuries stopped (that's a joke, son).
During our stay in North Point, we could watch the Chinese pass back and forth on the street and see the girls bring their baskets to their men. Often, the Chinese would look in through the fence and if the Japs saw them, they would either beat them up or kill them.
One day, as we were standing at the fence looking out, a Chinese girl came along with 2 little boys and a little baby on her back. She merely looked at us and the Japs called her over and started to beat her up. The little boys started to cry from fright and the Japs shot them where they stood. The girl, afraid that the baby would get hurt, asked to set it down. For an answer, a dirty Nip grabbed the baby and smashed its head against the wall. They finished by gang raping the girl and then putting a bayonet in her stomach. This is not hearsay; I actually saw this with my own eyes. When they were finished, they brought 2 of our boys out and made them bury the 4 bodies. One of the fellows said the girl was still alive when they picked her up, so he protested and the Japs told him to shut up and then smashed her head in with a rifle butt. The boys took them in a wheelbarrow and threw them into a hole and buried them. I don't think they ate any supper that night.
If you find this little episode too hard to believe, let me tell you that this was just the lighter moments in a Jap's life. On December 27th, while on a burial party, we found an officer and 5 enlisted men with their hands wired behind their backs, bayoneted in the stomachs, gas poured over them and set afire. Still hard to believe? Then how about the sergeant who was captured and had a rifle placed in his rectum. The bullet came out his stomach. He was left for dead but he crawled 5 miles to a hospital. Remember what happened in Palewan, in the Philippine Islands? 150 POW'S were placed in an air raid shelter, gas was poured in on them and they were set afire. As they came running out, they were machine gunned and bayoneted. Some smashed their brains out by jumping over the cliffs; others tried to swim away and were either shot or drowned. I believe about 6 escaped. The Palewan episode can be found in Liberty magazine.
In February, we heard rumours of repatriation and hopes ran high. In March, April and May, we had very meagre rations consisting of 2 oz. of rice, a can of tea and a lot of hope. During this time, the Limeys were saving the food the Japs had given us, cartons and cartons of army rations. The Japs took it all away when they found out. The reason I mention this is that the Japs thought we were big eaters and had piled the food on us. The Limeys put MPs on guard over it and refused to use it up. The Japs took the food out in May, the hopes of getting home vanished and the tea made a fast exit also, leaving us with the rice and the Limeys. Dysentery set in for good in June and the majority either had it or else got it soon after. Very few missed getting it and I thanked God I was one of them. Pellagra also set in causing big sores on the body and limbs which refused to heal due to the terrific heat and dampness, as well as being forced constantly to work, which made them worse.
In September we were moved across the harbour to our old barracks in Kowloon - right into the worst part of POW life so far - dysentery and diphtheria. From this time on, we worked steady every day. The bugle sounded at 4:00 am and you knew your day had started again. We would line up for roll call and work assignments. It made no difference whether it was raining or not, we still went to work. 12 hours in the hot sun at Kai Tak Airport and you were ready to drop, making 16 to 18 hours from the time you got up until you got back to camp again. On arriving back in camp, the news was always the same - 7 men died today, or maybe it was 10. Each and every day someone died. One day, 15 men went out feet first.
There was always something to do in our camp - cross your fingers and go to work, die or make pine coffins for those who did die. When we first came to this camp in September, there were 4,700 men. When I left in January 1943, there were only about 2,300 left. While in this camp, we came in contact with a Canadian born, raised and educated Jap. He was the cruellest and most despicable Jap I have every come in contact with. He was born in Kamloops, BC, but I guess blood is much thicker than water, especially with these human lice. In November 1942, the Jap commandant lined up all the medical orderlies one day and accused them of not doing their best for the men because too many were dying. Major Crawford, MD, of the Winnipeg Grenadiers told him that they didn't have enough medicine to work with. The Jap said that was no excuse. He then asked the orderlies if they had been doing their best for the sick men. When they replied that they had, they had their faces slapped. The Jap then turned to Major Crawford and asked him if he also had been doing his best. When he replied that he had, a Jap officer slashed him in the face with a length of rubber hose. I can't understand how Major Crawford kept his hands off the Jap that day as he certainly had murder in his eyes. The Jap then told the men that if they still insisted they had done their best, to step forward and they would cut off their heads. At once, Corporal Varley stepped forward and the Japs asked him if he realised what he was doing. He replied, saying 'the sick men have been given the best medical care possible without medical supplies.' The Jap officer congratulated him on his bravery to still insist he was right but couldn't understand it. Cpl. Varley has been decorated with the military medal since his return home.
In January 1943, 1,200 men were taken to Japan (yours truly included). We thought we would get better treatment and food as well as a better chance of getting Red Cross supplies. I guess our minds dwelt on nothing but food, food and more food. We were also told the change in climate would help us overcome our illnesses. The Japs must have thought that was a good joke.
On the 19th of January 1943, we marched out of camp to the docks. We then boarded the 'Tatua Maru'. We were put in the holds where the heat was terrible. The ship was also carrying a large draft of Jap troops and they sure gave us a lot of bumps in the days it took us to cross over. The Chinese Red Cross had given us a large quantity of cigarettes and candy to take with us. The Japs at camp had 'kindly' given us some British Red Cross bully beef and M&V. The Jap troops on board took most of the cigarettes and the guards who received us at Nagasaki Harbour got the canned goods. It was a nice gesture by the Chinese but we didn't get to enjoy it very much.
The heat on board was terrible to men with hot feet (dry beri beri) and the one little toilet was always filled with men soaking their feet in cold salt water. It would numb them long enough for you to get to sleep providing no one stepped on or brushed against your feet. We were always careful not to touch a man's feet, thus avoiding a smack in the eye. Our feet were extremely sensitive, having a steady burning, aching feeling. Our meals consisted of 1-1/2 oz. of rice, twice daily and hot water, if you were lucky. We landed at Nagasaki on the 23rd of January 1943, and we received the only decent thing we were to get in Japan, 6 hot, sweet buns were given to us and were they ever good.
We left Nagasaki by train at 11:00 P.M. and circled the is land twice to throw us off our directions and finally detrained at Kawasaki 15 hours later, a short distance of 80 miles.
Well, we were taken to the most godforsaken hole in Japan. Of all the places to go to, we had been taken to a coal mine. It was miles and miles from nowhere, up in the mountains with nothing to look at but tar paper shacks and stinking little Jap coolies who thought they were God almighty himself. We were marched to our camp amid curious and sometimes malevolent stares. We had a few stones thrown at us and I got a honey, right in the knob. That's what happens when a person is 6'5". When we were almost at our camp, we were stopped and led to a school yard where 'his excellency, the all supreme' camp commandant (he was a scruffy 2nd Lt.) viewed us and announced to all and sundry Canucks that we were in perfect condition. He finished up by forcing us, on threat of death, to swear not to escape. We were then marched to our new prison camp and as we entered, we took off our shoes and walked into a dream camp compared to the one in Hong Kong. We had 3 blankets each and only 10 men to a room (about 18' by 18'). We also had a hot steam bath, which we fell in love with immediately.
The floors were covered with straw mats where we were to sleep but the fleas were terrible. The first week we washed and steamed the bed bugs and lice out of our clothing and drew our mine clothing. We looked at it with misgivings as it was only made of cheesecloth. Our meals that week were pretty good, consisting of 2 buns and a bowl of cabbage soup. The Nips treated us pretty good and we thought we must be dead and in heaven. How wrong we were.
The next week they were hell personified. We put on the mine clothing; a pair of shorts and a little jacket made to fit the Nippers (and pretty small ones at that). When I put mine on, the sleeves didn't quite come to the elbows but the shorts were not too bad. We also got a pair of Tabbys (running shoes) which fit if you had very small feet. In February we started to work. It was the coldest place I ever worked in my life. The first day, my feet froze and I had to be carried back to camp. It sure stopped the pain from the beri beri but they hurt when the circulation came back again. To men who had weighed anywhere from 140 to 255 pounds and were now down to 70 to 150 pounds, it was very hard work. Some of the boys came down with pneumonia. First we were taken out and made to march to Jap army drills with Jap commands. The bamboo canes fell fast and hard in those days, so we learned to speak Jap pretty fast. After that, we were given jobs such as tearing down a hill and filling holes, carrying and mixing cement. After 2 weeks of doing this, the men were sent down in the coal mine to drill and clear a tunnel. Lucky for me, I was too tall and was put with the surface gang after one day of having to work on my knees.
The surface gang had men with dysentery (beri beri in its worst stages), men with bad hearts and numerous other illnesses. Those men with dysentery had to head for the toilet 40 to 50 times a day. One day, a chap in our crew was ordered to carry a bag of cement, but he had dysentery so I objected on his behalf. The Jap boss then told another man to carry it but he had a weak heart, so again I objected (the bag weighed 120 pounds). I offered to carry it myself. The Jap gave me a beating and told me to carry 2 bags instead. The place where it had to be taken was 1/2 mile uphill and I was never so tired in my life as when I got there. That night, on returning to camp, I was reported as an agitator and taken to the camp office and questioned, then given a honey of a beating all over again. Then I was thrown in the jail and got beaten up again. I remained there for 5 days and nights and whenever a guard felt like giving me a beating, he had the permission of the commandant to do so. These usually took place about every 5 hours, the guards liked to keep warm and they sure did while I was there. When I was not being beaten, I did a lot of P.T. to keep warm. My food consisted of 1 oz. of rice a day, made into 2 balls and well salted to make me thirsty. The lack of vitamins since being a POW plus these 5 days of extreme deprivation caused by feet to swell up to unusual proportions. On the fourth day, the Jap medical officer looked in on me and I was so cold I could hardly answer his questions. I asked him to get me out of there but he said the commandant was the top man and there was nothing he could do about it. He gave me 2 smokes and a few matches and did I ever enjoy them although they really made dizzy. One of the guards came in about an hour later and smelled the smoke and reported to the big boss that I had been smoking. I was taken to the office and accused of smuggling cigarettes into the guardroom. I replied that I couldn't have done that because my clothes had been stripped off before I went in. Expecting to get shot for this anyway, I also said that I hadn't been caught. The guard had only smelled the smoke. The big shot stopped to think this out and then replied 'true enough, you weren't caught smoking' (here he ordered another beating). 'This is to warn you not to get caught anyway.' The M.O. came in just then and warned the old boy that if I weren't taken out of the guardroom I would probably die. He replied 'what difference would it make? We have a lot more POW'S'. He also said that I had to do the full 5 days and nights so back I went; though they had to drag me there.
I felt like a million bucks when I realised I only had 1 more day to go. When they let me out at 11:00 P.M. the next night, I don't really remember how I managed to crawl to the bathroom. The boys said it took me 1-1/2 hours to crawl the 25' and the Japs wouldn't allow any of them to help me. When I finally made it to the room, 2 of the boys helped me into a hot bath and I guess I must have passed out then. I woke up 2 days later and the boys said that they were thinking they might have to make a wooden box for me. When I did finally come alive, the Japs made me go to work right away because I had been put in jail for punishment and I was not allowed to be sick. By this time, we had a new foreman on our gang. He had been wounded in China in 1938 and knew what it was like to be in agony, so after 2 days of working, he demanded that I be put in the camp hospital. The camp commandant tried beating me again but I was either too calloused on my hide to feel it or else I was still to numb from the jail, so into the hospital I went for 6 days. I was so stiff when I came out that I could hardly move. I went back to work and the Jap boss treated me pretty decently. If there were no higher ranking officers than him around, he would tell me to sit down and rest. I later made deals with this man for cigarettes and he was always fair with me.
Other chaps got into trouble through either their own negligence or else the Jap's false accusations (which was more often the case).
Shortly after we arrived at the camp, a young boy (Rfmn George Murray) lost all control of his stomach and through the brutality of the Japs and an English medical sergeant, he lost his life. This Limey cruelly administered beatings and told the Japs that he was just being a lazy Canuck when he soiled his blankets, which he often did. When he tried to eat, which was seldom, he couldn't keep the food in his stomach for long. The Limey first beat and kicked the lad terribly and when the Jap medical sergeant wanted to know why, the Limey told him that Murray was just lazy and was also selling his food so as to remain too weak to work. On arriving in Japan, the boy had weighed close to 125 pounds. By April, he weighed 85 pounds. As well as being beaten regularly, he was also made to work and on the 4th of May 1942, at 11:30 am, the boy who had been dreaming of going home, went home, over the great divide. Sergeant Roberts must have been very proud of himself. The Japs claimed he died of a bad heart but I know different. When he died he weighed 50 pounds. Not much for a lad who had weighed 165 pounds in Canada, is it? Our own medical officer, Major Robertson of the RAMC Imperials was not allowed in the Medical Office at all and when the Japs insisted that he sign a statement saying the boy had died of a bad heart, he told them the only statement he would sign was 'complete neglect and lack of medicine, plus brutality, on the part of the Japanese medical corps'.
On different occasions, men, including myself, had gone to Sgt. Roberts and asked him to stop beating Murray but it never had any effect on him. Instead, he would give us a beating to boot. Roberts was practically top dog of our men and the Japs would take his word on anything about us.
Sergeant D'Veneaux was in charge on our kitchen and he and Sergeant George Coutts were two of the finest men in our camp at that time. They would talk the Japs into giving them more food for the men or else just steal it from under their noses. When they worked in the mine, they talked the Japs into using more timbering to reinforce the walls and ceiling, thereby cutting down on casualties. These two, along with S/Sgt. Hugh Lim of the RE and Cpl. Jack Burns who obtained and read the Jap newspaper and also Major James S. Smith of the US Army Medical Corp. of whom you will hear more later, were the finest men I have yet to come in contact with. They went through the insults, beatings and anger to provide us with health as it was known to us, food and news of the war as it progressed.
On May 7, Red Cross packages came into camp. The Japs offered us 25 parcels and since we knew that 200 had come in, we refused to accept them. We told them we wanted all the parcels or none at all. They cut our rations down to nearly nothing, cut off the cigarette supply and gave us more beatings and work. In July, they offered us 50 parcels and when the answer was still no, they increased the beatings and work again and I guess it must have bothered them that they couldn't cut our rations any further. By this time, we had been well worked over and were so skinny that we didn't care what the Japs did to us or thought about us. They had been giving us quite a run-around but we meant to win on this decision. Finally, on October 7, we were offered 187 parcels, which meant we divided 7 parcels for 8 men. We took them. They had used up the other 13. They were well worth waiting for. Can you imagine a 6 oz. can of margarine lasting two months? Well, ours did. Don't ever let anyone tell you they can't get along on rationed food. That parcel was about the finest gift we ever received.
A change came which we all welcomed. The camp commandant was transferred to another camp and a new one took over. After sizing him up, we decided to ask for more food and cigarettes. When he heard about our previous treatment, he immediately ordered them. He also advised us to keep out of the way of the guards as much as possible. He promised to secure medical supplies for us and to try to cut down on the abuse from the guards. Unfortunately, they would sneak into our barracks and beat us anyway. While this commandant was with us, a high ranking Jap officer inspected our camp and the Jap sergeant informed him that we were being treated too good by the commandant, and so this commandant, who had been a veteran of the last war and still had a soft spot in his heart for the allies, was transferred.
We thought we were getting a good break when the third commandant came to our camp. He warned the guards to leave us alone and he severely flogged a guard who hit one of our men with his rifle butt. For a while, everything was swell, no fear of beatings. Then he was warned that he had better start being rough on us and from then on, he was a black hearted devil. Our boys went to work, winter and summer, without clothing except for a loincloth. Food was cut, no more cigarettes and the abuse from the guards started again. Holidays were unknown and every once in a while, a chap about to go down in the mine would say 'I guess I'll break an arm today' and sure as shooting, he would surface early with a broken arm, leg or ankle. This gave him anywhere from 10 days to 6 weeks in the hospital regaining his health. One time a chap was brought in with a broken back and as we always did, we kidded him about getting a holiday for it. We didn't know that the ceiling of the place he was working in had fallen in. He took the kidding with a smile and claimed that he would still be on his back resting when the war was over. He wasn't and although he must have gone through hell with the pain, he always had a smile for everyone. His name was Private Forsberg of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. A Rfmn. named John Kane also had a broken back. Through courage, determination and the will of God, when the war was over, Forsberg was able to walk off the train and Kane, though helped, was standing up. With little or no proper medical care, these two went through tortures almost unendurable, yet they always had a smile for everyone. Some men had dysentery and were mere skin and bones. They were unable to hold food in their bodies for very long. They looked so much like skeletons that the Nips called them the living dead.
One day after the war, while having a beer, a man at my table was complaining of stomach cramps and was unable to work. I asked him why he was drinking beer and he replied that a couple of beers didn't hurt his stomach (he'd had 7 by then). He also said he only got paid a dollar an hour. I told him I knew of men who had worked for 10 cents a day with stomachs a million times worse than his and didn't complain nearly as much as he did. He said they were crazy. Just then a chap sat down and asked me if I had been a POW in Japan and when I answered yes, the first man just stared foolishly, then he bought 10 beers and told us to drink them as he was going back to work, adding that he was ashamed to say he couldn't work. The average citizen of this country of ours doesn't realise just how much work it is possible to do before a complete collapse occurs, nor what little food it takes to keep one going. I relate this tale merely to show you how little you could live on if you had to.
The black market was very popular over there. We traded clothing and money for cigarettes (1 deck = 10 cigarettes). Trading with the civilian Japs was punishable by a severe beating or even death. We traded with them out of necessity and for the pleasure of putting one over on the Japs. It wasn't very hard to do. For instance, in our shop (I worked in the Blacksmith Shop from November 1943 on), the foreman and I would exchange shirts for cigarettes. I would take a water canteen into work, cut the bottom out and then take it back to camp. That night I would find some chap with a shirt to sell to sell for, let's say, 10 decks of smokes. I would then cram the shirt into the canteen and take it back to work the next day. I would ask the foreman for 30 decks of smokes and offer the shirt in return. I loaded the canteen with the cigarettes after slightly warming it first to make it appear as if there was tea in it. I then slipped the felt case over it and carried it back to camp. In camp, they would always search you for either money or cigarettes, never both. They were, I think, too stupid for that. Once in camp, I would pay off the 10 decks owing for the shirt and use the remaining cigarettes for extra rations of rice or whatever I needed at the time. Everyone donated to the newspaper fund. The papers were expensive because any Jap caught selling it to us or even giving us any kind of news about the war was shot. One time, 6 of our men were caught reading a paper (we had an interpreter, S/Sgt. H. Lim) and they were severely beaten. An experience I will never forget happened one day when I had bought 2 decks of smokes and just carelessly put them in my shirt pocket (in the Blacksmith Shop we had to wear clothing because of the intense heat from the forge). Forgetting about them, I went back to camp that night and as we lined up for the search, I suddenly remembered about the smokes in my pocket. Well, it was too late then to cry about it, so I started praying to God to make it rain very soon as the Japs didn't like to get wet and would probably tell us to go inside so they could search us in comfort, thus giving me the chance to dump the smokes. No such luck, and to make matters worse, the beggar that was searching us was a dirty, brutal rat who delighted in beating us up. I thank God and Jap stupidity that he was searching for money that day and not smokes. He pulled the smokes out, felt my pockets for money and then calmly put the cigarettes back again. We often cursed the Nips under our breath for being as stupid as they were but that day I thanked God for making them that way.
When the air raids started, we would infuriate them by remarking how slow and obsolete their planes were. This resulted in the inevitable beatings. As time went on, we continually belittled their military equipment and if mental sabotage counts for anything, we were really in there fighting with both hands. One time, when we sighted the US planes, we ran out in the open waving our arms and shouting our heads off. Well, they nearly killed the bunch of us and I don't understand why they didn't. I guess the canes and rifle butts got too heavy after a while. Seeing the good old US made the licking we took worthwhile. We assured ourselves that they would get us out by Christmas and everybody started planning what they were going to do. We never got a chance to see them again because the Japs would force us into the mine whenever the air raid siren went off. After the Yanks had flown over us that time, the camp commandant told us that Japan would win the war and that the allies were even asking for peace. He said that Japan would not give them peace but would instead kill every allied person in the world. He was standing in front of us when he said this and we all did the most unbelievable thing. We laughed in his face and he went crazy and damn near killed us all. He honestly believed that we, after going through the hellish torture they gave us, didn't have faith in our countries to win this war and rid the world of these low creatures who claimed to be educated but were nothing but the scum and garbage of the world. There is no possible way to make you understand the heinous crimes these scum perpetrated against men, women and children in China and again in Japan. In Hong Kong, nurses (who were non-combatants and along with civilian women gave their services 24 hours a day) were gang raped, mutilated and shot by the Japanese. Often, at our first camp in Hong Kong, we would see the bodies of men, women and children floating in the harbour where these sons of hell had thrown them. Life is cheap in the Orient, but not that cheap. I once heard someone say, since my return to Canada, that all the Japs in the world should be put on the shores of Japan and then blown off the map with the atomic bomb. From what I've seen of the Japs as a race of people, it may not be such a bad idea. Recently, there has been a lot of bickering as to whether the Canadian born Japs should be returned to Japan. Why not? Who better to teach democracy to this uncivilised nation of the devil? In Japan, they say 'Japan for the Japanese'. Why not 'Canada for the Canadians'?
One day at work, while eating our dinner, 12 Jap planes went over doing about 175 miles per hour. At 2:00 only 3 returned. We remarked to the boss how they went over plentiful but came back few. Well, we worked 22 hours that day and when we got back to camp, we got a terrible beating. Their hope of a Japanese victory was starting to erode, and we took every opportunity to belittle their military equipment as compared to ours. We always took a beating for it, but our skin was getting pretty tough by then, so our morale remained high.
Our Christmas dinner in 1943 was quite a farce. We were seated at the meal tables with roast beef, boiled potatoes, vegetables, bread and butter, oranges, candy and beer placed before us. Pictures were taken of our smiling, happy faces while the Japanese guards served us. When the pictures were finished, the Japs ordered us to leave the tables without having touched the food. While we were leaving the tables, 1 chap was caught swiping some candy. 5 Japs nearly killed him for taking it. He was unconscious for 2 days and when he woke up, he claimed that he had the best dinner of all of us. At New Years, they tried the same thing but we surprised them by eating everything while they were taking the pictures. We only got 1 oz. of rice daily for the next 2 weeks, but we had a good New Years dinner out of it.
We worried as to when the war would be over and about the folks at home but we reasoned that everything must be OK or the Japs would have given us no peace of mind at all. We heard that Vancouver Island and Australia were shelled from the sea, but we had confidence that the Canucks and Uncle Sam would look after these dirty little scum. Every once in a while, someone would feel down hearted and despondent but somebody else would cheer them up and the next day the 'cheerer upper' would get a little lift from someone else. Although we always took a tough beating and often underwent treatment too despicable and torturous to be imagined by civilised people, we always told ourselves that someday Uncle Sam would look after us and then we could look after the Japs.
A small example of the torture we were put through took place when I was in the jail within a jail for 5 days. They put bamboo slivers under my fingernails and set fire to them. Then they would feed me well-salted rice balls and not give me any water. One time they placed a sword tip at my throat. I was terrified of falling asleep. They also took great pleasure in opening old sores on my legs and plastering them with salt and iodine. This was just a small example of the torture that these devils liked to inflict.
Although the treatment was terrible, I really believe that it was worthwhile as we learned more through our experiences than we could ever have learned at home. We found out that life wasn't a bowl of cherries, that faith in God and yourself is extremely necessary. In short, an experience worth a million dollars and yet one that you wouldn't give a nickel for another day of. We learned to scrounge for food, tobacco and clothing in more ways than the average person could even think of. One day I traded a shirt and wanted to get cigarettes for it. It took 17 trades to finally get what I wanted. The 4 main things in a POW'S life were food, tobacco, news of the war and soap. Food was very scarce and therefore at a high premium. Tobacco took the place of food because a few pulls on a cigarette after a very small meal made us feel like we were on top of the world. News of the war was music to our ears as was news that the Red Cross parcels were coming to camp. Soap was needed as it was nearly impossible to wash coal dust, oil and grease out of clothes without it. If we had these 4 things, then we were as happy as kids in a candy store.
Life went along with its snatches of humour, thumps and bumps and as the air raids increased, work got tougher with longer hours. Food was scarce and our nerves sometimes got to the breaking point. Old grudges came to a head causing fights but when the combatants wore themselves out, they usually had a smoke together and shook hands on it. Even so, the morale of our camp never got to the danger line. If the news was bad, well maybe it would be better the next day. To those who might read this, please believe me when I say that we are not looking for pity or sympathy. On the contrary, we hate to hear people say that we must have had a horrible experience. When people ask what the HK stands for, we put on a big smile and say 'the best beer drinker in the regiment'. If they ask about the ribbons we say that they can be bought any clothing store for $1.35. We feel like heels for saying things like this but it puts a stop to the questions. While we are on this subject, let me say a few things about us. Although we appear to be casual, lazy and cynical, for the most part we are very emotional, lonely practical jokers. We drink too much, possibly laugh too much and look for too much humour in life. We look for too much beauty in everything. To quote one fellow who had killed the better part of a bottle of rye, 'although we enjoy all these things, we see beauty in the sky, the country, the water, the buildings and in people. Yet we are loners. We see things that other people can't; we want to do things other people wouldn't. We know why this is, but we can't explain it.' Maybe we are crazy for acting the way we do, but we are happy.
In August 1944, we received American Red Cross food and clothing, which made it like Christmas in summer. We all traded something for something else. For instance, 1 can of Nestles powered milk was worth 3 3-1/2 oz. cans of butter, 1 12 oz. can of bully beef or Spam, 1/2 pound of sugar and 2 packs of camels. A can of meat was worth 3 cans of butter. A can of butter was worth 2 packs of camels and 1 camel was worth 2 packs of gum.
On behalf of the Canadian POW'S in Japan, I would like to sincerely thank the American Red Cross for their parcels. The articles in these boxes were of a variety that supplied our every wish. The little hidden messages saying roughly 'thumbs up boys, we'll be there' went to our hearts in a way you will never understand. The parcels lasted us about 3 months and they were swell. Also, during this time we had a change of camp guards and did we ever hit the jackpot.
Our new CO and Sgt. were, for Japs, about as close to being human as they could possibly be. The first day the new CO took over, he lined us up for roll call and told us through the interpreter that 'as commanding officer of this camp, I intend to see that you will naturally be punished, if you try to escape you will be shot, but if you conduct yourselves as Canadian and American army men should, then you will not be molested by the camp guards, that I promise you.' As far as possible, he did just that. During air raids, we had been sent down into an old condemned mine shaft that had caved in on numerous occasions. It was so bad that the Nips themselves wouldn't even enter it. When the new sergeant saw the shaft, he wouldn't allow us to go in it and insisted we stay in the main shaft. It wasn't too healthy either, as it was mostly sandstone and therefore very dangerous without any timbering. If we heard a trickle of gravel or sand, it was time to head for other parts.
The next day there was another air raid. Down the mine we went, slipping and sliding down the main shaft. When we came out, a little trickle of gravel started as the last few men were leaving. A chunk of rock fell from the ceiling, injuring three men. The rock weighed about 20 tons. One chap got a broken arm from it and was delighted since this gave him a 3-week vacation. When we got back to the camp and roll call was taken, the commandant asked us to promise not to escape during air raids for the next 2 months if he allowed us to stay in camp instead of going into the mine. That was OK by us as we were firmly convinced that escape was impossible in Japland.
After we promised not to escape, he informed us that we were going to be allowed to build our own shelter the way we wanted it, on our days off from working in the mine. We drilled, cleared out and timbered our refuge from the bombs and since we had a very high opinion of the Yanks bombing accuracy, we made the shelter as strong as we possibly could. The Japanese engineers wanted to know why we made it so strong and we told them that the Americans were blowing the hell of Japan every day and we didn't see any use in going to hell with the Japs.
In November 1944, we got a load of mail which we were allowed to read and were we ever glad to get it. Before then, mail which came into camp had been set afire while we were made to stand and watch. We were always asked our opinion of this and the reply was always the same, 'it doesn't matter if you burn the letters because we know that things must be OK at home or they wouldn't be writing'. This always got us a beating but it also showed them that we still had our faith and hopes of getting home. One of the funniest things happened to us on a day when the mine boss caught us laughing and joking among ourselves. He told us we weren't to laugh and sing because when we did, it showed we were happy and we had no right to be happy because we were slaves of Japan and we would never see our homes again. Later, we got him into a conversation and we asked him why we weren't allowed to wear our leather boots while we were working. He replied that they were for us to wear home when we returned to Canada. When we all burst out laughing, he couldn't understand why until we reminded him that he told us that we were never going back to Canada. That brought us 5 hours extra work but it was well worth it. A friend of mine, Sid Skelton, received a letter from his wife, whom he had secretly married in 1941 and she enclosed a picture of herself with their baby daughter. He hadn't told us before that he was married and he was so embarrassed and yet proud that he didn't know how to explain it to us. Later, he received another picture from his wife with the baby, and lo and behold, another youngster. The second baby was his cousin's or sister's but he sure took a lot of ribbing on that one just the same. Another man, Louis Brown, heard that he was a grandfather and you couldn't hold him with a team of horses. Sgt. Major Caldwell and my self heard that our fathers had died, and although it hurt for awhile, the gang soon brought us up to par again.
When Christmas rolled around, we had nothing to look forward to except steamed rice and hot water for tea. It was pretty gloomy until 11:00 when the Jap sergeant came into the dining hall and said he needed 50 volunteers to carry Red Cross packages into camp. Every man that could walk or crawl volunteered and although we were pretty weak and skinny, we walked 2 miles to the station and back by 2:00. We couldn't believe it when we saw that there was a parcel for every man in camp. The commandant said he had held them back for 2 weeks so he could give them to us for Christmas. Our opinion of him went up another notch and when we tried to give him and the sergeant some candy and cigarettes, he simply thanked us and refused, saying that we needed the things much more than they did. In addition, we were given some candy, 1 bottle of beer between 2 men and 1 oz. of saki. He told us that we could have the run of the camp on that day and as long as no one tried to escape or got drunk, we would not be bothered. Well, I'll admit that I really got a glow on, the first drink in exactly 3 years and I really celebrated. I paid for it the next day with a terrible hangover. We had a concert in the afternoon and you would be surprised at the amount of talent there is in a crowd of men as we. We had home made instruments and I guess we sang every song anybody knew as well as some that were written in camp. Here is one that an English officer wrote in Singapore, but he never got home to publish it.
Just As It Was Before
Is my favourite pipe still resting on the mantelpiece?
Is that funny knocker on the door?
Are you still as lovely as you were in times of peace?
Is everything just as it was before?
Does the dog still bring the paper in?
Is that faded carpet on the floor?
Have you still that funny little hat upon your head?
Is everything just as it was before?
Although you're far away, I'm dreaming night and day
of the happy time when we'll be together again
Is the church still standing where you whispered low 'I do'
A day that I'll remember evermore
Are you still as much in love, as I am with you?
Is everything just as it was before?
Just as it used to be
Is everything just as it was before?
In March 1944, Major James Smith, a doctor in the USMC, was transferred to our camp from the Philippine Islands. He had been captured in 1942 and was part of the Bataan death march. From all reports, the men on this march went through all the avenues of hell possible. They knew starvation, thirst and death by torture, bayonets and machine guns. When Major Smith was sent to our camp, the Philippine medical officers (whom he commanded) gave him medical supplies for himself. I found this out from the two medical orderlies who came with him. He was very sick, and at the age of 36, looked like a man of 55. When he arrived at our camp, we had a number of men who were very sick with dysentery, malaria, broken bones and lesser illnesses. He immediately set in and treated them with his own personal medicines. When these ran out, he managed to talk, cajole and bribe the Japs into bringing more medical supplies into camp. I'm sure that 3 months after he came, we were the healthiest POW camp in Japan. He often had to tell men that he couldn't give them anything except sympathy and iodine, but he managed to heal them with the magic of his brains and hands. He was advisor, healer and all around good Samaritan to the men in camp and especially to me. I would say that he was the finest man on earth and we became very good friends.
In March 1945, one of the guards (whom we called the 'brown bomber' as he was a short, stocky little fellow, about 5'5" tall, 160 pounds, thick lips and a heart filled with hatred) came into one of the buildings one day and we knew he was on the rampage. We had learned to stay out of their way when they are looking for trouble. This day, he stood with his back to the hallway when one poor fellow with night blindness (a sickness caused by lack of vitamins and malnutrition) came feeling his way along the corridor and walked right past the Nipper without seeing him at all. In a Jap POW camp, a man is forced to bow when he is not wearing a hat or salute when he is. If he did not, then he received a beating. You can imagine how many beatings we got until we got used to this rule. Well, the Jap immediately started clubbing this boy and when the led fell unconscious on the floor, he would have kicked him to death if our boys hadn't stopped it. 2 of our men jumped in and pulled the Jap off the boy and then escorted him to the camp commandant. Action like this by our men would normally have meant death by firing squad but we had faith in this commandant to do the right thing. He brought the guard up for trial, and after hearing both sides of the story, he ordered us to select our best man in camp to beat the guard up. He promised that there would be no harm done to the man who did this deed. Naturally, we all volunteered for the honour. We drew cards and when the winner was selected, he in turn promised to smack the Nipper twice for every man in camp. There were 700 men in camp and I think he must have hit the Jap at least 4 times per man instead of the promised 2. It went on for 2 days and every time the guard fell unconscious, a pail of water was thrown on him and our boy too. Remember, we had been taking about 3 years of starvation as well as mental and physical agony from these little sons of hell and a person can store up a lot of hatred in that time. After being beaten for 2 days by our man, the guard lay in the guardhouse for 2 weeks and was then sentenced to 10 years at hard labour in a Jap penitentiary. I guess our boy is still tired. He said it was the most enjoyable, yet hardest work he had every done in his life.
All through our visit to Japan, at the expense of the emperor, we had been getting a certain amount of news from them which we took with a big grain of salt. About every 6 weeks, they bragged that their planes had sunk the entire Yank navy. We had to wonder how many navies the Yanks had. We could sometimes trade cigarettes or clothing with the Nips for newspapers. One time, the boys scared a Nip into giving newspapers to us for nothing by telling him that they were going to tell the guards he was giving them to us for cigarettes. He finally got so scared that he left the mine.
In May 1945, when we heard the war with Germany was over, our hopes went sky high. We had always though that, when Germany surrendered, Japan would try to hold on for a month or two and then claim that since their allies had double-crossed them by giving up, they could not continue fighting the world by themselves. After May, our treatment in camp continued to be fairly good, but at work it was no fun whatsoever. We took more beatings those days than ever before because the Nippers knew the war was on its last legs. We knew it also, and so we only laughed at them and they realised that some day soon, we might just get a crack at them too. For the past 1-1/2 years, we had the camp planted with dynamite in case they tried the same things on us that they did in Palewan. Excitement was running high those days in camp, with everyone planning what he would do when he reached home again. The first thing, agreed on by all, was to get on our knees and kiss good old mother Canada and whisper, no, sing 'home sweet home'. On May 9, I received a letter from home (mailed in 1942) wishing me a happy birthday, and although it took three years to get there, it did arrive on my birthday.
In August we heard of the atomic bomb and reflected about the nights when Nagasaki and Hiroshima were bombed. The sky was lit up brilliantly (maybe it was coincidence, but it looked exactly the same as the sky on the 25th of December 1941, and everyone commented on it). However, the atomic bomb to us was just another bomb dropped by Uncle Sam and we didn't think there was anything unusual about it.
On the night of the 15th, while standing on parade, we were told that there was an official holiday and there would be no work on the 16th. We really started to wonder if it was over and yet were afraid to believe it in case we were wrong again. Then the same thing happened on the 17th and 18th. We decided to try and take over the camp and when we did, there was no resistance at all. In fact, the high and mighty Japs were scraping the skin off their heads trying to bow low enough to us. As the boys went out to relieve the guards of their rifles, the Japs cringed away and begged not to be beaten. When asked to explain their behaviour, they replied that they had been told by their superiors that the white men would cut off their heads if Japan ever lost the war. Another guard said that he had been told that the Americans were just wild Indians and that they would scalp the Jap soldiers and burn them at the stake. We tried to explain that we had no intentions of hurting them but these people had been brought up to lie, cheat and distrust their neighbours and nothing we said would convince them. Don't ever let anyone tell you that the Japanese aren't afraid of death. In the Japanese army, if you did wrong, you were either shot or else stood at attention and beaten with a bayonet, rifle butt or anything that was handy. The only time they will commit Hari Kari is when they are so doped up that they don't know what is going on or else when their superior tells them that he will kill their entire families and they have no alternatives. I remember when I first started in the Blacksmith Shop, there was a kid in there who was in the boy's brigade as a Sgt. Major and he told us that the Japanese were all powerful and when a bullet hit them, it just bounced away. I heated up a piece of steel, and when it was white hot, I tossed it at him. Well, you never saw a kid run so 'all powerfully' fast in your life. I would also shake him up by using the sledge hammer and hitting the anvil instead of the heated iron.
The night of the 18th, we raided the stores and took the remaining Red Cross supplies and celebrated the end of the war by eating good food, drinking coffee and playing cards all night. On the 20th, we had our first white visitor, a POW from a camp about 30 miles away and he told us that the Yanks had dropped food supplies called 'K' rations to them from B29's. The next day, we took the radio out of the office and locked up all the guards meaning to hold them until the Americans relieved us. We then put the commandant and sergeant of their honour not to attempt to escape and gave them the run of the camp. We heard that General MacArthur had made a speech saying that POW'S had a right to anything in Japan and to help ourselves. We took cattle back to the camp for a good feed. When our stomachs were getting full again, our thoughts turned to beer and saki. Our officers told us that we could trade the Japs for it but we must bring it back to camp to drink and then if we got drunk, they would know where we were. We minded our own business fairly well and only took the liquor without paying if they tried to get too high a price for it. We also had our own military police and they did a very good job. If you did drink in town and got drunk, they would simply bring you back to camp, put you to bed and the next day give you some menial job as punishment. We left the civilians strictly alone unless they invited us to drink or have a cup of tea. We really got a kick out of getting a haircut (what little we had left) and shave from the female Japanese barbers.
On the first of September, 4 of us (S/Sgt. E.A. Johnson of the American army, Sgt. Bill Stickles, Cpl. Jack Burns of the Royal Rifles and myself) left to see what shape the harbour at Nagasaki was in. We saw the remains of the city and it was one of the finest sights (to our eyes) we had ever witnessed. The only thing left standing were the smoke stacks and we just burst out laughing. A Kempti (Jap civilian policeman) asked us what we were laughing at and when we told him that this part of Japan was gone completely, he got very angry and told us to be careful what we said as the allies weren't in this part of Japan yet and we just might find ourselves pushing up poppies because the people of Nagasaki were not pleased with the idea of losing everything they had. We quite naturally agreed with him and he cooled off when we offered him a carton of cigarettes we had swiped from a small town. We asked him if he could secure a car for us and he did this quite quickly, especially when we told him that we were very high ranking officers in the American army and that when we returned to camp, he could come along as interpreter and eat and smoke all he wanted. Fortunately, the dope believed us and we rode to Hiroshima in a '40 Buick eating fairly well along the way. The city of Hiroshima was as bad as Nagasaki and as we stood on the 10 mile limit, our noses started bleeding from the pressure in the air. We then left and started back to camp, stopping along the way to booze it up. We left the Kempti on the side of the road, sleeping like a new born babe. I often wonder if he was angry when he woke up to find us gone or if the hangover was so great that he didn't notice.
On the 6th, the 4 of us went to Moji and although they didn't have the pleasure of getting acquainted with the atomic bomb, they still got a fair share of bombing. When we arrived, it was raining quite hard and right out of nowhere, some B29's came along and dropped 'K' rations by parachute. There was about 100 chutes and it was then that we saw another POW camp. We went over to get some smokes and a cup of coffee if possible. We met two boys that were in the RCAF and had been taken POW in Java in 1942. They were from Toronto and their names were F/Sgt. Rocky Dunn and F/Sgt. Ed Horton. They told us we were the first Canadians they had seen since leaving Java and they made us very welcome. We left that night to catch the train back, taking some American cigarettes that Dunn and Horton had pressed upon us, saying they still had plenty, while we were there, Sgt. Johnson heard that there were only 7 men left out of his own company of 180 men.
We arrived at our camp the next morning. Cpl. Burns and S/Sgt. H. Lim were told to go to 'Goneye' to contact the Americans. They left immediately. We told the other men how the boys in Moji had plastered their roofs and yards with 'USA' and 'POW' in big block letters. That night, our signs went up and the next day a fighter plane came swinging low over our camp and dropped a note saying they had been looking for our camp for 5 days. That afternoon, B29s dropped drums and drums of food and we nearly went crazy when we saw them coming. When the chutes opened, well, you could never imagine the thrill we got out of that. Thanks boys, whoever you are.
That same afternoon, 'Yank' Jack Burns came swooping over and dropped a box of chocolates and a note saying that he was on his way to Okinawa. The day was slightly dimmed when 6 men died from drinking saki containing wood alcohol with a 50% kerosene content. They are started out in the morning and made various trades for chickens and vegetables. They left 1 man in camp to cook them up and the other 5 went out to buy some beer and saki. 3 of them bunked in my room but fortunately for me, I had never associated much with the English boys. Well, they had their chicken dinner and then proceeded to finish the day with 5 2-quart bottles of saki. I had a few snorts of it and it may have been lucky for me that later in the day I was sick and brought everything up that was in my stomach. That night, one of the fellows was very drunk and also very sick. I went down to get Major Smith and when we returned, we found that the fellow had fallen out of the window and his knee was very swollen. After dressing it, we went back down. We had no idea, at that point, exactly what those men had drunk that day. Everyone was, to some extent, celebrating and feeling their oats. The Jap medical officer told us that there was some American medical alcohol in the hospital and we decided to help ourselves to it. We started to make merry with the alcohol and Major Robinson, the Limey MO, wanted to mix the drinks, claiming that he was an expert at it, although I'm sure that he couldn't mix cream in coffee. We had some peppermint oil and what a drink that Limey made up. You would have sworn it was straight peppermint, so we asked him if he really liked it like that and when he answered yes, we gave him the batch he had mixed and then mixed our own. We were 5 men to 1 quart and of course, it didn't last very long, but it made a nice drink anyway. When we finished, Jimmy and I took a walk around the camp discussing our plans for the future and then decided to look in on the sick boy before bedding down for the night, although neither one of us could sleep anyway, what with the excitement and everyone in camp whooping it up. When we got to my room, where the sick boy was, he was moaning and groaning quite a bit and Jimmy thought that he was probably feeling the pain in his leg. He woke up and complained of a lot of pain and Jimmy said he would give him a shot to put him to sleep for the night and as he was doing this, the lad invited us to have a shot of saki and although we looked hard for it, we couldn't find it anywhere. At 10:00 the next morning, he was in terrible pain and Jimmy sent me for his stethoscope but the boy died before I got back with it. Jimmy then suspected that maybe it was the liquor. The lad's two drinking buddies in the room were moaning also and they were woken up and asked where they had obtained their drink. One chap said he could only show us where they got it from, so Pte. Waller, AMC, who was the best friend of the dead boy, immediately half carried and half dragged the chap to the place where they had bought the booze. Then Waller beat the truth out of the Jap, who finally confessed to selling them wood alcohol with kerosene in it. The remaining 5 men were immediately moved to the hospital and one of them walked in unassisted, in complete control of his senses, yet he later died. We signalled that we needed a plane to dump medical supplies to save them but they arrived too late. Major Smith never left their sides, but 18 hours later they were all dead. Every man in camp was warned, as soon as these boys were put in hospital, to get a stomach wash and flush if he had been drinking the day before. Naturally, I was worried and I took plenty of that flush. I swore that I was dying although it was probably just the taste of the flush that was making me ill. One poor devil, who had been out all night and had a terrific hangover, tried very hard but he couldn't bring anything up. He must have drank a gallon of stomach flush trying to get rid of it but it was no good. He managed to survive anyway and got home OK.
The next day, CSM Bean of the Imperial Army returned with a rescue plane carrying 6 Americans and did they ever look like Gods from heaven. They had nice thick wavy blond hair (we hadn't seen that for 3-1/2 years) and they looked fat and very fit to us. They said they would take 15 men out by plane and of course the sick men went first. There were still 5 places left and everyone drew for them. Major Jimmy Smith drew one place and although he said he would rather remain with the men in camp, everyone insisted that he should go. He also received the thanks of the whole camp for his efforts during our imprisonment. After they had left, I got a very empty feeling in my heart because both Jimmy Smith and Sgt. Johnson were on their way home and Jack Burns was probably already in Okinawa. As we wandered back to camp after seeing them off, an American boy came up to me and asked 'what time are you leaving, Vic?' And I replied 'tonight, on the next train'. At 6:00 P.M., 15 of us left fast and quiet as we were under orders not to leave camp after the six men had died. At the station, we met S/Sgt. Lim and explained to him that we were heading to Gomoyeto, to the American camp. He asked if we would mind if he came along. He didn't know that we had our fingers crossed, hoping that he would suggest it because if he hadn't, he would have been kidnapped by us. With his knowledge of Jap speech, we went much faster and he had also just returned from there and his help was certainly invaluable. We reached it on the 10th and had a swell meal that night. We then boarded a C47 (jungle skipper) and landed in Okinawa about 3 hours later. When we got there, we saw one of the greatest sights in our lives. An American Red Cross wagon with coca-cola, coffee, doughnuts and (God bless their hearts), three white women. We were all standing in awe when one lad said 'you look just like my girlfriend' and the girl asked him what he intended to do the first time he saw her again, and when he replied 'well, kiss her of course', the girl said, 'you had better get practiced up first' and the lad said 'is that an invitation?'. She didn't get a chance to answer, but I'll bet they were kissed more in that 1/2 hour than they were every kissed in their lives.
We boarded a truck and went to a decontamination camp where we were given a bath to kill all the bugs that might be on our bodies, then into a hot shower and then we were given new American army shirts and slacks. We were taken over and given the first real meal in 4 years and we didn't waste time talking. We were then taken back to the stores and given a pair of real boots and then shown to our tents (with wooden floors) and received cigarettes and 3 cans of American beer. We thought we were in heaven. I ran into Jimmy Smith there and he wanted me to get an xray for asthma and also to meet an old friend of his in the medical corps who lived about 5 miles up the island. We got a jeep and away we went. The xray had shown that the asthma wasn't too bad so his friend suggested that we drink to it. As you know by now, we were pretty well teetotallers but it was a hot day and we did not want to disappoint his friend so we agreed to knock off a 4 oz. shot. Also, it was 'Haig and Haig' which he had hoarded for 3 years. Since we didn't want him to get in trouble for hoarding this scotch, we kindly helped him to finish off the quart. Well, the doctor friend decided to take the rest of the day off so we climbed in the jeep and set off to find more booze. I drove, since I had the most experience at driving a jeep, having watched a driver of one for 15 minutes once when I was on duty one morning back in Canada about 4 years ago.
We started off across country and it was a bit bumpy here and there, but we didn't mind. We came to a river and decided that the jeep could fly across it, so we backed up about 500 yards and got it in high gear and boy did we ever travel. We landed in the middle of the river and almost drowned but it was not very deep and we managed to drive the jeep out. We finally met the guy who had beer for sale and he only had 20 bottles left. We had a pretty good day, even if the sun was a little warm.
On the 14th of September, we left for Manila and because you had to sign through as either a British subject or an American when you left and my buddies were all Americans, I signed through as an American merchant marine. We travelled aboard a B24 and it was a thrilling ride, especially when the bomb bay slid open and all there was below was water, water and more water. We landed in Manila 5 hours later and were sent to repatriation camp #29 where we were again given clothing and full army equipment. On the day we landed, I sent my first telegram and letter home. We again slept in tents with wooden floors and the cots were very soft and comfortable, compared to the straw mats of Japan. Although there were regular meals, if a person got hungry, all he had to do was walk over to the kitchen and load up again. We received a ration card allowing us 3 cans of beer, 2 packs of cigarettes, 4 cigars, candy, gum, matches and soft drinks. If you cared more for beer after your 3 cans were used up, you went up to the bartender and he simply punched out the candy or matches or anything you didn't want on the ration card. We were able to get a lot of beer, thanks to the camp personnel who gave us their ration cards. Those GI Joes gave us anything our little hearts desired. The first night in Manila, I went looking for Major Smith and was directed to the Club 21 (Officers Mess) and although I didn't see him that night, I had a very good time and every thing was courtesy of the USA.
The next day I met him and he had just been promoted to Lt. Col. and of course, we celebrated. We also met a few of his friends who were POW'S in Japan, so it was quite a celebration. The rum and cokes were on the house and we certainly took advantage of it that night.
On the 18th we had to fill out papers for identification so I filled mine out truthfully. When the officer looked at mine, he asked me why I was in this camp instead of the Limey camp and when I told him that I didn't care for the English, he said he had been to England and didn't care for them any more than I did. He told me to stay put and he would see what could be done, but warned me that I wouldn't get home until I was positively identified.
On the 20th, a captain in the PAMC called on Jimmy and myself and invited us to go out to visit his family. Jimmy told me it would probably be a good binge, so we put a very good meal under our belts before we started. The captain was driving a brand new '42 Ford and we asked him how he managed to still have it. He replied that he had hidden it under his house and then built around it (the Filipinos built their houses on stilts). This made the car completely hidden from the Japs. We first went to his home, where we were treated like kings and given a bottle of very excellent pre-war 'Teachers Highland Cream' with soda water which went down very nicely indeed. His wife made quite a fuss over Jimmy as he had brought their youngsters into the world before the war (Lt. Col. Jimmy Smith had been a pediatrician before the war). They actually considered him like a God and I got a big kick out of his obvious embarrassment. From there we went to the father's, where we received a very big welcome. They had a lovely dinner of barbecued pig. We begged off the greater part of the meal claiming that our stomachs wouldn't take a large amount of food anymore. They insisted that we have some ice cream anyway. After two big bowls of this, Jimmy told the father that he (Jimmy) would be very angry if the father didn't give the ice cream to the little kiddies instead. He insisted that the kids needed it more than we did. We then sat in the living room but the radio needed a tube, so I went back to camp on a borrowed motor cycle and swiped one from the tent radio. I started back and ran out of gas about 1 mile from the house and had to walk through the pouring rain the rest of the way. It stopped raining just as I reached the house. They got quite a laugh out of that. Smitty said it was to repay me for stealing the tube, so then my conscience felt a lot better, and the booze didn't hurt either. The first station we got was New York itself. I think it was the Jack Benny program and we sure felt at home again. We drank 4 bottles there and then had to go and visit the rest of the family (14 in all). We never got back to the camp for 2 days and when we did, we could hardly crawl, let alone walk. I remember getting out of the car and helping Smitty up to his tent when suddenly the same thought struck us both. What if the liquor was the same stuff as in Japan? Well, we started for the hospital and woke up at the bottom of a hill. The mud was so thick we could only crawl and slide. We crawled about 1/2 mile before we realised that we were going in the wrong direction so we started all over again. Some MPs stopped in their truck and asked us if we needed some help getting to the hospital but we insisted that we, as gentlemen, could make it quite easily ourselves so the understanding fellow said 'OK gentlemen, you're on your own'. However, I'm positive they made sure we got there OK (and they probably got a good laugh out of it too). Finally, we made it to the hospital and asked for a stomach flush and although we brought up quite a load, we felt drunker than ever. I guess they must have carried us after all, because I woke up in my own little bed with no idea how I got there. By this time, you probably think we are habitual drunkards, but Smitty lives in Miami, Florida, and I live in Simcoe, Ontario, and when we parted again, we knew it might be for a long time so we were out to have a good time while we were able to.
On the 20th, Smitty got his orders to report to the Club 21 for passage home. Well, of course, we had to have a farewell party which immediately got underway. I met Capt. John Kelly, one of Smitty's closest friends and we two decided to make sure that we got him on board the truck that would take him to the boat. Well, Smitty really got tight and of course Johnny and I didn't stay completely sober, so needless to say, Smitty didn't go and in the morning when he realised where he was, it nearly broke his heart. However, he did get out on the 22nd, even though we did celebrate again.
That afternoon, I got impatient and went over to the Canadian camp and after a medical check-up, I was drafted for home. I left on the 28th aboard the naval ship 'Admiral Hawse'. We settled down to enjoy the trip as much as possible. Below decks, it was hotter than hell and we slept on deck most of the time. We got up at 3:00 am for breakfast and they served 2800 men which took 5 hours to do. The trip was uneventful and seemed slow to us as we were very eager to get home. We steamed into San Francisco on the 15th of October and received a very nice welcome. They didn't seem to care if we were Canadian or American and one old lady said 'tell your mother I welcomed you home for her'. We went to Ft. McDowell and saw Admiral 'Bull' Halsey's fleet coming in. It certainly meant a lot to us to see those high powered giants of the sea coming in after the part they played in the South Pacific. We were given good feather beds to sleep in at Fort McDowell and received the best possible treatment from them. We all sent telegrams home via the Red Cross. Believe it or not, I actually met Jimmy Smith and Jack Burns just hauling in on the 16th, so having beat them home, I got the last laugh after all We left Frisco on the evening of the 16th and arrived in Portland, Oregon the next night. We had a 5 hour stopover and everyone wanted to see the city so we were told that if we did, to come on to Victoria or else Seattle and of course I missed the train. However, we managed to arrive in Victoria without any real problems, and then went on to our homes.
Well, this is the end of my story, but in closing I would like to thank the people and government of the United States for their generosity and kindness to the Canucks who came back from Hong Kong and Japan.
Rifleman Vincent A. Calder
Royal Rifles of Canada