Padre Laite's Diary

1945 January to March

New Year's Day 1945.

Yesterday our regular services were held. Davies and I led Communion services, Barnett preached at 1100hrs, and Strong at 1545hrs.

Today we fared fairly well with meals. For breakfast we had sweetened bran porridge, and tea; lunch - rice, fish and vegetables - Chinese style - fried in peanut oil, and coffee; supper - mixed vegetables fried in fat, rice, tea, and cake with peanut butter. Most of us will save the cake and butter for tomorrow.

Jan. 2, 1945. To my lovely wife, today, I say "Many happy birthdays and may I be with you and the children for your celebration in 1945. Naturally my thoughts are with you all, these days, and I know that you will carry on as I would like you to. We are in this game together. I will do my best to return home, while you will do your best to keep the home fires burning, never neglecting yourselves in any way, must because you may sometimes think that I may be having some unpleasant experiences. It must be very lovely at Vancouver now, and soon the first signs of life will be seen in your garden. Just today I have been reading  "The lure of the countryside" by W.C. Finch, and he quotes:

"With kiss of the Sun for pardon,
And song of the birds for mirth;
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth".

For all the beauty and happiness, Mom dear; which you have brought into my life; I am deeply grateful. When I awoke this morning, an old song was the first of my thoughts: "God send you back to me". I feel sure that on this, your birthday, it was the prayer of your dear heart".

Meals today: Breakfast - rice porridge, tea; Tiffin - potato soup, rice, and tea, with cake left from yesterday; Supper - rice with half tin sardines, i banana, tea. I feel sure that folk at home shared much better meals than these. Attended concert (New Year) this afternoon, put on by Club Canalusa.

Jan. 6. Many rumours about camp during the past day or so, largely due to absence of Hong Kong News in camp for 48 hours. They are as follows:
(1) That Japanese are refuting a statement of Moscow to the effect that Japanese Embassy has left Berlin.
(2) That American Air Force now based in France instead of Britain.
(3) That General Montgomery now acting Generalisimo in absence of Eisenhower. (4) That shipping diverted from Atlantic to Far East waters.

The News did arrive today, and states more air raids over Taiwan and parts of Japan. Prices of commodities are rising weekly now. Brown sugar is Y46.00; salt Y21.40, beef dripping Y150.00, cigarettes Y6.00 per pkge, white sugar Y99.90 per tael.

Wrote Grayson today but dated card as Jan. 10/45. Oranges purchased by me for Christmas were used - peel and all - with rice, sent to the steamer to cook. With sugar it would have been delightful.

Sunday, Jan. 7. Services today as usual. Communions, Strong and Barnett. I spoke at 1100hrs on "Pathways to God". Davies at 3.45pm Today Barnett and I celebrated our wives' birthdays - Betty's 14th and Mom's 2nd. Tiny Hume, whose wife's birthday is Jan. 1, came in with us. All had saved a tin of Red Cross bully beef, so I cleaned a few potatoes, tomatoes, spoonful of sauced beans, a few beans, and a pinch of salt, and had it steamed at the cook house. Added to our evening meal of fish and vegetable fried Chinese style, and rice, we made a good meal. For a sweet we had rice and a small bit of marmalade steamed. For another birthday celebration we managed to have full tummies. No bombing raids for the past few days, although planes must have been active in the vicinity as we have had several alerts.

Thursday, Jan. 11. During the week I have had several men thank me for my Sunday morning sermon, and one has asked for notes on it so will let him have them this week. Sermonising is difficult now as we have very little material for even worthwhile suggestions, and we do appreciate the commendations received, from time to time. It does repay us when we know that someone has been helped by our messages.

Monday, Jan. 15. Services as usual yesterday. Davies and myself at Communion, Strong at 1100hrs, and Barnett at 3.45pm.

This has been a day of very heavy air raids. The early forenoon one was very heavy. A number of pom-pom and ack-ack stuff fell, in the camp. In the afternoon fewer planes were over, but did much damage to shipping in the harbour. We have no shelter but our huts, and when the show becomes intense we shelter beneath our beds. Bombs will not likely drop in camp except by accident. The sentries use their fire arms, and the ack-ack keeps busy. From them there is the most danger. A couple of small shells exploded in front of our hut. Bullets were picked up by our windows. Pieces came through some roofs, and windows were broken. Our men on work parties were in the places of great danger, and some of them came back tonight with nerves on edge.

Tuesday, Jan. 16. We had a very full day. Ten hours of very intense raiding, presumably by American carrier based planes. We had thirteen planes lost. During the day Staff Sgt Williams of the Liaison office, who went to hospital suffering from Malaria, died. Last week Sgt McCulloch of the Ordnance Corps died. These are the first two deaths for some time. For this we are very grateful. Today's paper says that war has been intensified all around this Eastern theatre - Burma, China, and the Philippines.

Saturday, Jan. 20. Three years ago - yesterday - with many others, I came from Queen Mary Hospital to this camp, and was billetted with Lt Col Sutcliffe, Major Trist, and Capt Golden, in a room at the Jubilee building. Many changes have taken place since then.

Some particulars about the heavy raid on Tuesday are to hand. More than 300 planes - carrier based - were over, that day. The Alert has gone every day since, and on Wednesday, vessels near our camp were machine gunned. I have just been given the address of Mrs. Williams, whose husband died in hospital on Tuesday. I must write to her as soon as this war is over.

Mrs. E. B. Williams
21 Kexby Avenue,
York, England  (Deceased - Herbert Joseph Colin)

Jan. 22. Willis' birthday. Here's wishing you the best, old boy. Trust your family keeps well, and that soon we shall meet. Memories of our years together are blessed indeed.

Yesterday our services were: - Barnett and Strong leading Communion services in the morning. Davies at 1100hrs, and myself at 6.15pm. Sacramental service at close. I spoke from John 7, last verse, and first verse of chapter 8.

During the afternoon a number of planes - some say more than 30 - bombed the Hong Kong waterfront, and did much damage. This morning a large number of troops, fully equipped, moved past our camp. Pack horses, mules, etc., were with them. Apparently they are taking up positions in the New Territory section, or maybe moving towards Canton. Rumour has it today that Singapore has fallen, but what are rumours? We place little credence in any of them, although all are told with a wish that they become a statement of fact later. I have greatly enjoyed "The golden milestone" by F. W. Boreham.

Monday, Jan. 29. A great deal of interest has been created by the call for a special work party of one hundred and fifty men, and three officers, to go from this camp to the island of Hong Kong, for a period of approximately twenty days. They left this morning. Rumours are rampant already. The most persistent is to the effect that they will be housed at Bowen Rd hospital, and will work at Happy Valley, at gardening. However some spade work will be done since one hundred and fifty spades have been taken along. Mail came to camp yesterday, but I did not receive any. Most of the mail was written in 1944.

Services as usual yesterday with Davies and myself at early Communion, and Barnett at 1100hrs "St. Paul's Conversion", and Strong at 6.15pm on "The Church's contribution to world order".

Meals are very poor these days. Ricco in the morning; sloppy soup or vegetable stew at noon, and about the same at night, with an occasional fish Chow Fan in the evening - the difficulty is to find the fish in the Fan.

No worthwhile news comes to camp these days, and while a big fight is on at Luzon - Manila - very little is written of it. Burma, New Guinea, are also involved, but very little news comes through, and above all, we have had very little European war news for many days. Dame Rumour is very busy. Bets are being offered, and hopes are high, that the whole show will be over this year, and maybe early this year.

Jan. 30. Thirty seven extra men were taken out of camp today, to work with those who left yesterday.

Feb. 6. Services on Sunday were as usual. Strong and Barnett at Holy Communion. I spoke at 1100hrs on "How Christ won through", and Davies led at evening vespers.

The weather was very wet and extremely cold. News comes through daily about heavy fighting on the European and Pacific fronts, with the possible collapse of Germany at any time. We are really tired of this prison life, and believe that the whole world is now tired of this senseless warfare, and privation, and misery.

Meals are exceptionally poor these days, with just Ricco for breakfast. Rice and poor vegetable stew for lunch, and either a similar stew or vegetable Chow Fan for supper. We learn today that we are to get no more fish as it is needed for Japan's 23rd Army stationed around Canton, and centres near here.

Mail again today. I have yet to receive my first 1944 mail. I do pray that all are well at home. Mr. Porteous received word today, in a card written in June 44, that his wife died at home in January 44. This news really upset the whole hut, and he has everyone's sympathy. None of us are physically fit to stand a heavy shock, and especially one of this nature would sap one's energy to breaking point. Porteous has been having a rough time with his health lately, but he is facing this ordeal with commendable courage.

Feb. 12. Services yesterday - Davies and myself at early Communion; Strong at 1100hrs, and Barnett at 6.15pm. Nothing unusual happened during the week. Our three officers - Boots, Smith and McKechnie - came from Dysentery today. More mail during the week, but none for me. News would indicate very active warfare around the Philippine section, as well as on the Russian front. Meals are very very poor and scanty these days. But for the capsules from the Red Cross we would all be faring very badly by this time. Meals this week much the same as last. No fish whatever. It has been very cold during the past week or more, and many small fires were made by us, in our huts. The huts were very smoky but those around the fires were warm. Cans of tea were brewed and drunk by many of us.

Feb. 13. A letter dated Jan. 11/44 reached me today. It was delightful to see Mom's signature, and to get news that all are well at home. While letters may be a year or so old, it is marvellous to receive them. We can imagine the thrill which is experienced at home on receipt of any news from us here.

Feb. 18. Services today - Barnett and Strong at Holy Communion, Davies at 1100hrs, and myself at 6.15pm when I spoke on "The mists of the morning", John 21:4.

Feb. 24. This week has been very interesting. Rumours were around camp that Red Cross parcels were due. Men who had gone to Hong Kong for farming duties, and were billetted at Bowen Rd. returned on Monday with this rumour, and one of the patients returning from Bowen Rd with the working party, brought a list of articles in the American Red Cross parcel, which is: 2 lbs milk powder, 1 tin milk, 1 lb egg powder, 7 kinds meat, 1 lb chocolate, 1 lb cocoa, cheese, jam, syrup, and butter. A comfort parcel consisting of underwear, shaving kit, pipe, tobacco, and cigarettes, was also listed as having been distributed amongst prisoners in Japan.

Imagine our interest, and how keen we became when on Wednesday our Adjutant came and asked for volunteers to work on Red Cross parcels. Nearly all of us volunteered. Yesterday morning the trucks rolled in from the docks and began to unload parcels. We had thought only in terms of American Red Cross. Instead we received about 6000 (6012 exactly) Red Cross parcels as sent two years ago by England. The cartons containing them look old and dilapidated, so we fear that the contents are at least two years old, and much will be spoiled. Some medical supplies and a couple of boxes of cigarettes, and some clothing also came. Altogether about 39 tons. When the camp adjoining ours, Stanley, and Bowen Rd hospital, have their quota, there will be about one small package per person, so today everyone is keenly disappointed. Some think that the real shipment has not yet arrived. We shall wait and see.

About 200 sacks of Canadian personal parcels have also been seen - so we are told - and taken to Japanese Headquarters, who will get them, and when, rests with the M. O. According to the manner in which we have been getting mail, a month may pass before we know anything further about them. Now we are fighting our disappointment, and continuing our starvation diet of rice, green horror, and more rice, but hope springs eternal, and so we crack jokes about the whole thing and hold on.

Delighted with the letter on the 22nd saying all well at home and Stan visiting for a week - date May 15/44. I mailed a card to Stan, just before receipt of it.

Feb. 28. Letter today from Mom - July 13/44. Note the new address at 3650 West 19th. One from Cis - Sept. 20/44. Glad with such late news, and to know all so well.

Yesterday the personal parcels came from H.Q., and our names were listed. We were then taken to Japanese camp office and given parcels. Most of the officers were fortunate to receive personal parcels, and cigarettes. Ten of us just received cigarettes, and we were so disappointed, after waiting three years for them, that I don't think any of us slept well last night. I felt sad because I thought of Mom and the children, and others, packing mine with a hope of my receipt of it, and how they will be disappointed when they know. However we must be content, and hope that we may later receive them.

I needed my comfort parcel for now socks, underwear, shirts, etc., are very ragged, and cannot stand a mending, and I feel like a scare crow. Many of the men are without parcels, so we share each other's regrets and hopes. Out of my 1600 cigarettes I have given 600 away, many of the others will go during the next months. The smokes are a treat and I am enjoying the Sweet Caps, and British Consols. The 600 came from Mom, and the 1000 from the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 255 Bay St., Toronto - sent by George A. Touche and Co, 67 Yonge St., Toronto.

Sunday, March 4. Services today - Strong and Barnett at Communion, myself at 1100hrs. I spoke on "Visions that disturb contentment" (Rich young ruler), Mark 10. Davies preached at 6.15pm.

During the week our British Red Cross parcels came. Each man received one - later there was 1 1/2 given for every two men. Since then we have been feeding a bit better. I made a pudding of rice, chocolate, sugar, and eggs, for Barnett and myself, as well as another of bad cheese, 1 tin tomatoes, rice and salt. Our cigarettes have been exchanged for eggs, and so we have enjoyed our meals for the past day or so.

Air raids are experienced by night and while sleep is disturbed, we feel that all will be well. Because no comfort parcel came to me, I have not been able to renew any clothes, and I am now reduced to very poor clothing. My shirts are ragged and beyond repair. My undershirts are worn thin, my underpants have been made out of an undershirt, and my socks have been darned and darned and darned beyond description. The words of the proverb were certainly true in many cases this week, especially in the experience of men who hoped for, but did not receive, a personal parcel. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick". Most of my cigarettes have been shared by others particularly amongst men who did not receive any, and who could appreciate and enjoy a good smoke.

Sunday, March 11, 1945. Services today - Davies and I led Holy Communion services, Strong preached at 1100hrs, and Barnett at 6.15pm.

The weather is getting warmer now, and we shall soon be able to discard the battle dress heavies. I have very little clothes now, especially underclothing and socks. Maybe our personal parcels may come to hand soon, and if so, I know that mine will contain necessities.

Food is more palatable because of addition from our Red Cross parcels. Cigarettes (Canadian) are fetching high prices in Yen currency - 25 Black Cat for 5 duck eggs; 20 British Consols for 4 duck eggs (85 and 75 Yen respectively). Small fires are to be seen in all huts. I made a stove, and had a frying pan made, so now we can have a cook up. Today we had a fig pudding for lunch. Tomorrow we shall fry our galantine with onions, with vegetable chow fan, for supper. It is interesting and amusing to see everyone trying to make something a bit tasty for meals. A fried, boiled, or poached egg, mixed with rice or chow fan; a bit of cheese or condensed milk mixed with ground soya or plain beans; a bit of galantine, tomatoes, and a pinch of salt, added to rice or chow fan - always rice and chow fan - a piece of bread toasted, roasted, or fried in butter or peanut oil. Any of these things help us to forget our malnutrition, and the hunger of the past.

My weight today is 138 lbs, so I have still a long way to go to reach 185 or my pre-war weight.

A package of Jap cigarettes and a piece of bread, today netted me a week's or more - supply of wood. Frying pans, tea kettles, etc., are being made out of scrap metal. I had a frying pan made of a piece of steel drum, and an egg boiler out of our cheese tin. The latter will just hold an egg. My toaster is from a piece of grating with a short piece of iron bar attached. We are learning here how expensive modern life really is, and yet how little should make us happy, but I would surely prefer our home and modern cooking to the primitive and crude methods here.

Tuesday, March 13. We were amused today at noon. Four or five Japanese soldiers came to our hut trading eggs, sugar, etc., in exchange for Canadian cigarettes. One fellow in particular had purchased a pipe, and had no tobacco. He procured enough for a smoke in the hut, and he toyed with his pipe and smoking something like boys who are having their first smoke.

Monday, March 19. Services yesterday were conducted by Davies and Strong at Holy Communion, Davies at 1100hrs, and myself at 6.15pm, Sacramental service at close. I spoke on the Shepherd Psalm, and today have been thanked by some for the exposition. Barnett went to hospital on Saturday, suffering from Diarrhoea, so he will be off duty for the next ten days. Today we learn that Bowen Rd personnel is to move to this camp, and there has been re-grouping and re-crowding because of it. We have had less than thirty in our hut until today. Now we have the extra fourteen and we are like sardines in a tin. This re-crowding my be just temporary - so Boon says - and if so we may be given other rooms for some of us, until then.

Books which were sent to Barnett had been taken to H. Q. and returned yesterday. Some very interesting books are in the lot of 22 and we shall enjoy reading them.

Saturday, March 24. Our camp was mildly excited and keenly interested during the week. The whole personnel of Bowen Rd Hospital moved to this camp - 179 patients and staff members. Most of them are on the road to recovery. Others are still confined to bed. We learn that this is a temporary move as a large school near our camp is being prepared for them, so during next week most of them will likely be taken there. I expect that most of our Canadians will remain with us. It is very pathetic to see many of them helpless from malnutrition when food would put them on their feet. The past three years have surely been testing each and every one of us, and it is remarkable how so many have been able to carry on in spite of the D's (Diptheria, Diarrhoea, Dysentery, Dementia).

Major Squires (C.F.) will take on of the services tomorrow as Barnett is still in hospital.

March 26. Services yesterday - Davies and myself with Holy Communion services, Strong at 1100hrs, and Major Squires - here from Bowen Rd - at 6.15pm, with Sacramental service at close.

During the past week I had trouble with stomach and bowels, but feel better since my stool produced worms - one 12 inches long. Appetite much better now and nerves steadier. Today Red Cross clothing will be issued, consisting of shirts, pants, shorts, underwear, socks, handkerchiefs, and towels. I received 1 pair long pants, 1 khaki shirt, and 1 handkerchief.