Under our circumstances it was hard sometimes to draw the line between what would be considered collaboration and what the Japs expected of us. All NCOs and men were supposed to work. How hard they worked and how efficiently were largely up to the man himself. He could make trouble for others as well as himself or play along. He could be smart and ingratiate himself with the Jap and receive favors without betraying anyone. He could do the same thing and betray his comrades.
One of the Canadian prisoners I knew in Hong Kong was smart and soon picked up the Japanese language and their customs, especially the one of bowing to a superior. He bowed to them all with a smile. As most of the other prisoners at that time were sulky, the Japs loved it. He was soon given little privileges and was consulted on many matters pertaining to the running of the camp. The rest of us were suspicious of him but he always played it safe. When there was a conflict of orders or a minor rule infringement and one of the boys was up for discipline he, being the only one that understood both sides, was brought in as an interpreter. He always deftly explained away the action or lack of action of the accused. He was so adept in translating their own regulations to the Japs to the benefit of the prisoners that they finally preferred to get along without him. He was far too ready to help and a darn sight too smart for them.
There were a few that carried their fear of what might happen to them to the extent that when they returned home they stood charged with collaboration with the enemy. I was with one of these in Hong Kong. I remember an incident that might give insight to his character. We were on a work party when American planes came over and bombed the docks. The Jap guards were very excited and made our group of prisoners squat down in a circle while they surrounded us with leveled bayonets. Some of the prisoners were openly enjoying the show and praying for some more direct hits on shipping and other targets. The guards were showing their fear and anger and seemed to need little provocation to massacre the bunch of us. The collaborator sensed this as I did. He glanced fearfully at the guards and back to us.
“Make like your scared,” he said, “like this.” and he assumed a position of groveling fear. Most of the boys were disgusted. I said to him bitterly, “If you want to show them you’re yellow go ahead but leave us alone.”
Fear can make men do queer things. As we were being marched to prison camp before the surrender I saw another, diligently driving one of our ambulances loaded up with Japs. He was a prisoner that was making himself very useful to the enemy.
The Officers were forced to collaborate to a certain degree in helping to enforce the rules of the enemy in running the camps. Men and Officers for that matter were punished for actions, which would not be regarded as punishable by our own military or civilian authorities.
For example at Yokohama I had jaundice and for a short time was put into a hospital hut. There were about twenty patients in this hut laying on platforms slightly raised off the floor. There was a small stove but no supply of fuel. It was winter and very cold. The boys working outside the camp would pick up the odd stick of wood, hide it under their clothes and bring it into the hospital so that at night there would be a fire and some warmth.
About this time there were some American Naval Officers placed in the camps, survivors I believe, of the Philippines. One of these, nattily dressed in white and with peaked cap with the large golden eagle badge, a typical young American Officer, paid us a visit. Finding it cold in the Officers’ quarters this young fellow had found a book and a box to sit upon and had taken a place near the stove. He sat reading his book by the dim light of a yellow bulb that lighted the hut. He read quietly. The twenty sick patients envied him his health, composure, and appearance. He typified the best of our civilization, physical perfection, personal cleanliness, education and subscription to all the rules of Naval and civic etiquette that made up the world with which he was familiar. Then came the Jap.
The door partly opened and a cruel yellow face peered in. It was the guard armed with rifle and bayonet. He looked around the hut, saw all the patients lying on their beds and then saw the Lieutenant. He was curious for he had noticed the big gold eagle in the cap. This was not an orderly. It was one of the American Officers. He waddled into the hut freeing his rifle and fixed bayonet from his shoulder. He stood with legs apart regarding the Officer. The Lieutenant glanced up from the book he was reading, saw the sentry, stared at him for a moment and then went on reading. The sentry's face became distorted with rage. He drew his lips back and bared his teeth like an animal then he leaped and knocked the gold braided hat off the young Officer’s head. “ YATAKI” (stand at attention). The young fellow was startled and amazed. Many emotions registered on his face, anger, fear, and shame. He slowly stood to attention. Then the stocky guard belabored him, slapping his face, making him pick up his hat, stand to attention, salute and bow, the last without a hat. He jabbered in Japanese which some of the patients, like myself, could partly understand but which the Officer evidently could not. He beat him with his rifle butt, smashed his clenched fist into the Officer’s face. They stood glaring at each other. All the hatred and differences of their respective races were here expressed. The Jap wanted to be regarded as a superior being by one whom he knew to be his superior. He hated the white man for that superiority and was determined to humiliate him.
The white man had not risen and bowed when he had come into the room. He had no right away from his quarters. It was the guard’s opportunity; here was the superior type of white man. Ferociously he beat him. It made many of the boys in the hospital; myself included, physically sick and retarded our recovery. Men covered their eyes and ears. To me it was one of the worst experiences I suffered and do not know how we contained ourselves from rising en masse and tearing the sentry to pieces. The young man stood, deathly white, with blood on his face and his uniform, glaring at the Jap. He knew and the Jap knew that a false move and the Jap would try to kill him. If he killed the Jap they would torture him to death. So he stood and took it for over an hour and we shared his hell with him. These Officers, newly captured, did not know the Jap as we did and therefore often angered him by not understanding an order.