Padre Laite's Diary

1943 July to September

July 3, 1943. My dear Son:

This is to wish you many happy returns of your fourteenth birthday. I only wish that I could be at home with you all. I wonder what you would get on this day. I know that your lovely mother, and attractive sister, will remember you and add something extra for Dad. Hope your bike is still good.

By now you are quite a young man, and I can imagine the care you give to your mother. I was delighted to receive your letter, and so often fancy you at your home chores, and also at your school, and cadet sports. Have you planned for your future studies? Because you have been doing so well at school, it won't be long before you will, I hope, be going to University.

How I have thought of you, and talked to your photograph, today. I can fancy hearing you saying "Hello, Pop!" I am keeping quite well enough although I have lost nearly forty pounds in weight, and am nearly as thin as Bugs, but I hope to regain some of it before I reach home. How I am looking forward to that day.

I think of you, and pray daily that you will develop into a splendid man. With your wonderful mother as guide, I am not worried about the type of man you will become.

Today I celebrated your birthday by having an egg - very small - and my last - for lunch, with half a tin of our Red Cross bacon, it kept me from being hungry - which I am on most days - on your birthday.

With more love than ever, and best wishes,

I am, as ever

affectionately your - Dad.

July 4, Sunday. Services at 7:00 and 9:30, 1200 and 7:30 p.m. I preached at 1200hrs on "No other Name", Acts 4: 12, while Davies, Barnett, and Strong, took other services in order.

Sunday, July 11. Nothing out of the ordinary routine happened during the week. Hospital visitation daily as usual. The health of the men seems to have improved greatly during the past months and is still fair.

To date however since imprisonment our Force has lost 114 men. Now our total casualties since the war began stands at W.G.'s killed and missing 136. Died 51. Total 187. R.R.C. killed and missing 131. Died 55. Total 186. Brigade killed and missing 21, Died 8. Total 29. Grand total 402 or more than 25% of men leaving Canada on October 25, 1941.

On Wednesday Staff Sgt McNaughton had a birthday. He is about 55 but says he is 21 - or rather this is his 21st birthday, so he, with Sgt Pugsley, challenged Barnett and I, to a game of cribbage, and we beat them in two rubbers, three out of give games, and two out of three. What fun we had. I told him that I didn't have the heart to tell him how sorry I was, but that I would later write him a letter of sympathy. However since we had a few eggs on hand, we saved a few slices of our day's ration of bun, and give him egg sandwiches, to celebrate his natal day, and our victory. Before leaving, I put a black band around his arm, by which he could announce to the other sgts, his defeat.

Today the weather was fine so our regular services were held. Barnett and Davies taking communion services. Strong took the 1200hrs service when he spoke on "Patience", and at 7:30 I conducted Vespers. Since service tonight, Barnett and I have talked about things spiritual, and I thought of how Stan and I used to sit in our room at Bamfield, and talk. Good old Stan, I long for such other days. I have a young English chap coming to see me tomorrow afternoon at 4 o'clock.

Sunday, July 18. Capt. Davies was taken to hospital yesterday suffering from fever. Capt Porteous went to the Dysentery hospital suffering from Dysentery. A few of our men are still pretty sick, and if food or medical supplies diminish, we have our fears about their recovery.

I conducted Communion service this early morning - forty-one present - Padre Strong took one later with fifty-five present. Barnett preached at noon on "Christ the Door; Christ the Shepherd". Strong conducted the evening service.

Tuesday, July 20. I had a very interesting evening with Pte Marsh of Middlesex Regt, who was with his regiment in France as a truck driver. He was through the whole show until after the evacuation from Dunkirk. High tribute was paid by him to the Guards' Brigade which held up the German Army at Abbeville, three miles from Dunkirk, and so made the evacuation possible. He later spent three months in London, during the awful raids. He later came here, and was through the show with us. We did have a laugh when he told me that on the tip - $1.00 Canadian, or $3.25 H.K. - which I gave him on the day of our landing from Canada, for taking our grips, and us along to the Peninsula Hotel, he got drunk. He is not a drinker but, he said, that day everybody was so very excited over our coming, that fellows did things without thinking.

Monday, July 26. We are now beginning the twentieth month as P.O.W.'s. News reaches us through the Hong Kong News that fierce fighting is in progress at Sicily, and air raids are over Italy, and that severe fighting is being experienced along the whole Russian front. We are also daily told of activity between the forces in the Southern Pacific waters. This all leads me to feel that we may be in the last stages of the conflict, and that by the end of this year, the European situation may be very near the end. Not many months will elapse after that before the far Eastern situation will clarify itself.

Yesterday, Sunday services were held as usual with Capts Strong and Barnett taking morning communion, myself in charge of noon service, when I spoke on "The Garden and the Cross", and Barnett in charge of the vespers at 7.30. The only unusual thing to happen during the week past was that our mess bought a pig - about sixty pounds and costing us over 85 yen or - according to exchange with Canadian money, $200.00 - and we have had two meals with pork in them, and two or three others with gravy, or pork flavor. It was good. The men are having one tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 28. We had a visit from six bombers and eight fighters yesterday afternoon at 5:15 o'clock. A group of us at service in the chapel were singing -

"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The storms ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessing on your head".

From Hymn - "God moves in a mysterious way"

It was certainly a coincidence to have our planes overhead for the first time in nine months. It is now 9:30 a.m. Planes are again overhead and we hear the sound of bombs dropping, ack ack and rifle fire. All of us are ordered indoors. We all breathe a prayer that they - the planes - know where our camps are.

Sunday, August 1, 43. On Thursday at 2:45 p.m. we had a real bombing raid, when some damage was done around the docks. During the past week we have had, these three visits, an announcement that we are to receive 24 yen, and were told of Mussolini's resignation. With the Italian nation out of the war, it should be greatly shortened, and we are all very hopeful of peace in early 1944. The morale of our men is fairly high, and this has a good effect, especially on our hospital patients.

This morning Communion services were conducted by Strong and Barnett. Strong preached at 12 noon from John 18: 15. He spoke well on the lack of loyalty to home and family, Church, and State. The cause of most of our troubles, and the result of which becomes international. Since the service an old agnostic has sent him two texts - Isaiah 51: 14, and Ezekiel 16:27.

I conduct the evening vespers at 7:30, which will be followed by the Sacrament of the Lord's Super. Eighteen letters came into camp for Canadians, yesterday. These are the first in about four weeks. Food is short just now and we are beginning to tighten our belts. I weigh less than 140 pounds now, but feel fairly fit, but with very little reserve strength.

Saturday, Aug. 7. This has been an interesting week. On Monday the camp was informed that a number of messages of not more than 35 words would be accepted, and sent to Canada, and Australia. The Japanese authorities ordered that our three O.C's be listed, teachers, officers who have done outstanding service in the camp, and the chaplains, and A.S.O. men were listed under this head, other ranks, etc., a total of twenty Canadians. Capt. Barnett and I drew lots for the favor, and I won. On Tuesday morning the bugle sounded at 10:30 and all men and N.C.O's fell in for immediate medical inspection. We knew this meant another draft, so wondered if one of us would be allowed to go with our men. Later we were told that one administration officer, one M.O. and one chaplain would go, so Barnett and I again drew lots and he won. He immediately went into the segregated area, but was keenly disappointed when, on Thursday, he was told that no padre would go. Capt Bardal is O.C. troops, and Dr. Gordon Gray, the M.O.

Twenty-four yen for each man has been in camp for quite a few days, but to date it has not been paid to the men, so we just cross our fingers, and patiently wait.

On Thursday I wrote another letter to Mom. There was so much to be said, but so little space allowed. Just one hundred words could be used.

Sunday, Aug. 8. Weather this morning made it impossible for us to have services at 9:30 and 1200hrs, but it cleared for the evening vespers. Padre Strong conducted them in the hall, while Barnett and I went to the chapel of St. Francis for a very unique service. The men on draft were not allowed out of their compound so at 9:30 this morning Barnett went in for a communion service, and at 7 o'clock this evening I led a combined Reception and Communion service. Barnett received six men into the membership of the Church of England, and I received seven into the membership of the United Church of Canada, and gave a letter to another who had been receiving religious instruction from me in view of becoming a member of the Presbyterian Church, on his return to Canada. At the close of the Reception service we held a joint communion service, and forty-five men received communion in His Name and for His Sake. Hymns asked for were sung - The Church's one foundation" and "Abide with me". The service, lasting ninety minutes, was very impressive, and will, I believe, mean much to each man who shared. I am now instructing a fellow in the faith of the Lutheran church. He married a Lutheran, and will join her church on his return to Canada. A member of the Lutheran faith has had books sent in from friends in Hong Kong, and is translating for me. So the interesting work in the interest of the Kingdom, goes on. John's vision of the twelve gates and four points of the compass are being fulfilled in this camp, and life for me is very interesting. A total of twenty young men have now been instructed, and received into church membership since our internment, with others to follow. The other Communions are also receiving men into their respective churches, and so we have faith, that, although war impedes the progress of Christ's church, it does not stop it. His Kingdom shall come.

Sunday, August 15th. Our 19th wedding anniversary. My thoughts throughout the day were with Sally and the children, as I know theirs were with me. Many happy memories came crowding in, and my day, while lonely, was blessed. I led 25 in Holy Communion in the morning, and felt near those whom I love and long for.

About 376 of our Canadians with 126 Imperials, left for ship at dock in Kowloon, this morning at 6:30. We hear all kinds of rumours now about the type of ship on which they sail. We do hope that they may reach their destination in safety. Most of them were known personally and became part of my life, as I have been with most of them through fire, prison, and sickness, seeing some of them return as by a miracle, from the brink of the grave. About 17 of them joined my church on profession of faith.

During the week we received 24 yen from the Red Cross Society, and a day later - Wednesday, 11th - we were handed 30 yen as a gift from our Canadian people. It was a gift from heaven, and will mean renewed health to many of us. Prices are very high now, and there is very little to buy. Because of rate of exchange, if I had 19 Canadian dollars I could purchase 1 tin Bully Beef (12 oz), 1 pk cigarettes, 15¢ and 1 box matches, 5¢, or to buy 1 lb of Margarine I would need $30.00 Canadian. Prices in yen are Bully Beef 7.50, Margarine 12.00, and so on. Today Barnett purchased two tins of Chinese beans, and one tin tomatoes (4 tomatoes in small tin), price 2.70 yen, and we had them for our lunch to celebrate my anniversary. I later bought 2 tins tomatoes, and had 1 given to me. This morning we had rice and diluted sugar sauce, lunch vegetable soup, rice, and tea, supper - 2 sausages (bread and meat), rice, 2 slices of bun fried, and tea.

Our services are held regularly. Davies preached at 1200 noon, and at 7.30pm he, and Strong, received into the membership of the Church of England, by confirmation, 16 candidates. While we all received $30.00 Canadian, our senior officers, who are carrying the A.S.O. and myself on account, did not change their system, so the $30.00 will really benefit us. The R.R.C. seniors have asked Barnett, the A.S.O. and Subs, to pay their own way in September, which really means that they have the $30.00 extra to spend, while Barnett and others are cut to just a few yen. Some of us feel pretty badly about it, and consider it very mean on the part of men who could afford to be generous.

Sunday, Aug. 22. On Thursday morning our senior officers, including Lt Col Trist, Major Hook, Major Hodgkinson, Major Baird, Major Bailie, Capts Norris, Don and R.W. Philips, were told to be ready within one hour for moving to Argyle St camp. They were ready but did not get away until about 7pm. The seniors of the R.R.C. and Brigade, including Lt Col Hume, Lt Col Price, Majors Young, Parker, Atkinson, Bishop, and Capts Thompson, Hurd, and Billings, left as well. Now our O.C. W.G. is Capt N.O. Bardal, and for the next few days we shall be busy reorganising our work as units. This will include changing our mess set up, and we may, as from tomorrow, mess with the British officers.

Had communion at 9.30 this morning - 20 present. Capt Barnett led at 1200hrs, and Davies at 7.30p.m.

Sunday, Aug.29. My service at 1200hrs. I spoke on Psalm 46. Evening service by Capt Barnett.

During the week we have had four deaths in camp. Sgt Wood of the D.D.C. was a friend of ours, a member of our choir, and choral groups, and a member of the Methodist church in Hong Kong. His wife, son, and daughter are in Australia. I led the funeral service here in our hall assisted by Padre Strong, who later went to the cemetery at Argyle St. One of the French internees was accidentally killed while doing fatigue duties. It was his wedding anniversary, and before going to work he was able to speak to his wife across the wire. At his funeral, our Japanese commandant and his interpreter were present to pay their deep respects. Mr. Wada, the commandant, has shown his sympathy in many practical ways, and is thought highly of by the whole camp. Anglo-American planes have been over each day during the week. Some bombs were dropped.

Sunday, Sept. 19. During the past weeks there was a special inspection of our whole camp, and we were away from our huts for nearly ten hours. Sgt Pope died and was buried by Capt. Barnett. Services today as usual. I led the communion at 9.30, Barnett preached on "Matthew's Call" at 1200 hrs, and Davies conducted evening vespers. Tommy Weir is coming to me for instruction in his preparation for membership in the Lutheran church on his return to Canada.

Our Canteen comes in on each Tuesday. Prices are high, and according to prevailing prices and exchange, if I had to use Canadian money for a meal of Bully, with Beans, and Tomatoes, I would have paid $27.75 - Some Meal!

Sunday, Sept. 26. Time passes, and another week brings us nearer home. This morning I led the 1200hrs service and spoke on "Fundamentals of the Kingdom of God". Barnett and I are busy now checking with fellows in hospital about writing home. We each have about 75 letters or cards to write, or see written. Mail came into camp yesterday. Barnett had word from his mother-in-law. I hope to get one from home soon.