Tom Marsh - Slaphappy Japs

The Japanese practice of slapping all and sundry, so prevalent among their own troops, was extended to the prisoners. I have told of Officers, NCOs and men being beaten among the prisoners. This slap in the face was often an almost childish exhibition of temper. At other times it was mean and vicious the forerunner to blows by fist, belt, boot or rifle butt. The Japanese Commandant at one of our camps was surprised that our officers did not beat the men. He asked, “ How do you punish them?” He was told the truth. “ Oh we put them in solitary confinement and just feed them bread and water.” So the next prisoner to be punished by the Nips was put into a pen by himself. No work and real bread to eat. The Japs noticed this, shook their heads saying they could not understand how this could be punishment and put the man back to work.

The Japanese private is slapped often by his Officers and sometimes severely beaten. I saw a guard being inspected by a Jap Major at Sham Shui Po Camp. The Major was in a towering rage, possibly half drunk on Sake. The Guard stood ridged to attention, NCOs as well as privates. After abusing them the Major took off his heavy leather belt and swinging the buckle end knocked down the man at the end of the line. Immediately two of his comrades bent smartly and carried him into the guardhouse. They returned and took their places in line. The Major then knocked down another. He was smartly carried away. Finally they were all knocked down and carried away except the last two who were left laying in the road as their Major strutted off. I thought ‘What an efficient Guard is left at the gate.’ The Major must have felt like the tailor who swatted six flies with one blow.

I was told that in the Japanese Military Hospitals at Hong Kong there were whole wards of slaphappy Jap soldiers knocked silly by their superiors. When the guards practiced their slapping of the prisoners it was held as a sign of military virtue if one took this slapping without flinching. The slightest sign of fear, or any other emotion for that matter, and the Jap went crazy and pounded into you, often beating a weakened prisoner unconscious.

I had an experience in Camp D3 of wholesale slapping that at the time was very distressing but which I can now recollect with some amusement. There were about twenty men in the double bay in which we slept, all laying on wooden platforms. It was midnight. The huts were ghostlike and fitfully lighted by the moon. Men tossed in uneasy sleep, bitten by fleas and bugs and run over by the occasional rat.

All was dark and quiet at midnight when the sentry made his rounds. He came into our bay, shone his flashlight on the sleeping forms then onto a board we used as a table. On this was an ashtray. It was supposed to be emptied and cleaned before we retired. Some ash had, however, been left in it. The sentry chose to regard this as a positive sign that someone had been smoking after ‘Lights Out.’ Therefore we were all awakened by his loud cries, “ KOO DA! KOO DA! YATAKI! YATAKI!” (Meaning get up, get up.) Those who were slow in obeying this order were thumped with his rifle butt. Half awake we crept out of our blankets. Some were naked others were in makeup nightgowns. One chap, I remember had a long nightshirt, a women’s nightgown he had picked up somewhere. The Jap guards, when in good humor, used to laugh at this gown, stand the man at attention, lift the gown and look at his legs. This night however the guard was in a vile humor. He stood us in two rows facing each other, still half asleep and groping in the half-light. He demanded to know who had been smoking.

The sentry moved down the line stopping in front of each man and asked if he had been smoking. When he received a negative reply he slapped the man. After slapping every man in the group he seemed to tire of this and decided we must all be punished. He ordered that we were to slap each other. At his signal all were to reach over and slap the man in front of him. There was a chap named Guy Stewart facing me and we exchanged perfunctory taps. “ Hit harder!” shrieked the Jap.

Still not awake and annoyed at the whole proceedings, I involuntarily hauled off and gave Stewart quite a smack. He retaliated with a hearty one. I returned the compliment. Now both awake we realized where we were and what we were doing and felt rather sheepish. From then on we traded love taps until our tormentor called a halt and allowed us to retire. It must have made a weird sight. Twenty emaciated prisoners, some still under the impression they were dreaming, some naked, others with only G-strings on, slapping each other to the accompanying cries of a little yellow devil with a flashlight ... Just a little corner of Hell on earth.

There is a sadistic trait in the Japanese, as I believe there is in many Eastern races. I saw that cruelty and callousness to the suffering of others was common. For one Japanese that made a gesture of helpfulness towards the prisoners there were ten who sought the opportunity to torture, annoy, and humiliate us. They were only prevented from destroying us by the fact that their higher ups believed that we might be of some use. First as hostages to compel further surrender and secondly as slave labor.

Their treatment of the Chinese was not governed by these considerations and therefore they seldom bothered to take them prisoner. If they did they soon executed them. I have heard the saying ‘Not a Chinaman’s chance.’ Well the Chinaman had little chance when he met the Jap. At Hong Kong any Jap soldier could kill a Chinaman and no questions were asked even after the battle.

At North Point prison camp, on the Island of Hong Kong, the Chinese had been driven out to make room for the white prisoners, however these refugees still hung around the camp. Homeless and starving they would try to obtain a scrap of food or a piece of wood for fuel. They stole anything they could lay their hands on. The Jap guard at the camp sometimes caught them and beat them with rifle butts. Once, as a warning to others, they hung two Chinese women, a mother and her daughter, by their thumbs outside the gate. They hung there until they died.

There was a small window in the hospital hut out of which I could see a portion of the prison yard. Along the side of this yard there had once been flowerbeds. Although neglected, some of these flowers still bloomed. One afternoon I saw a party of Jap soldiers lead a Chinaman to one of these flowerbeds. They gave him a shovel and made him dig a hole. When he was finished they forced him to kneel down. They cut off his head with a heavy sword and kicked his body into the hole without bothering to cover it. Then they started to pick the flowers. When each had a little bunch they came into the hospital hut and put them on our beds, smiling blandly. What a nice gesture. From one gallant foe to another as it were.

On my return to Canada I saw a picture of one little Nip carrying a large bunch of flowers to General MacArthur at the surrender. Possibly the idea is that if you smell the flowers you won’t smell anything else.

The harbour of Hong Kong and the reservoir were so full of dead Chinaman that they were unsafe even for bathing. Dead bloated bodies were everywhere. At North Point Camp I saw an incident of punishment that none but the savage could inflict. A Chinese boy was caught stealing by the guard. After being beaten he was made to crawl into a section of earthen drainpipe about four feet long and ten inches wide. When the boy had crawled in the pipe was stood on end and he was left head downward with his feet waving above the pipe. Throughout that hot day the pipe stood there and soon the legs stopped waving. When it was taken down in the evening the boy was dead.

I will pass over the treatment of white women at the time of the surrender. I saw their bodies littering the road. I did not hear of one case where some of the Japanese Officers made an effort to punish their troops guilty of this type of atrocity.

I have tried to keep my narrative to what I actually saw, however, this was told to me by those who did witness the incident. The Japanese soldiery ransacked a British Hospital unit and murdered the patients. The staff, which included a group of red Cross Nurses, was taken prisoner and a guard put over them. That night the guard raped all the nurses, bayoneting those that resisted. This incident came to the attention of the Japanese staff. A Japanese Officer, accompanied by one of our imprisoned Majors, visited the hospital and interviewed the surviving women. The members of the guard were paraded and the nurses were asked to identify their assailants. The younger women, hysterical and ill, were unable to do so, but some of the older ones were and they positively identified several of the Jap guard.

The Japanese Officer took out his revolver and handed it to the British Major saying, “Shoot them!” After the Major refused to do so the Japanese Officer stepped forward, put his revolver to the ear of the first culprit and shot him, then shot the others.

Torture of the prisoners was not unusual. Several of our boys had splinters of bamboo forced under their fingers and toenails. Some suffered the water torture where water is forced down the throat and when the stomach is full, bloated and extended the Jap would jump upon the prisoner’s stomach.

For certain diseases the Japanese doctors subscribed cure would be to burn the body in several places with hot coal. From this Japanese cure arose a new form of torture. I saw a prisoner forced to lie over hot coals fresh from a fire and do hand presses lowering and raising his body over the coals. Endurance only prolonged his ineluctable (Can. Oxford Dictionary, ineluctable – unable to be resisted or avoided) fate.When fatigue and exhaustion finally overtook him, his body dropped down into the cinders.

A more refined torture was the withholding of red Cross Supplies and letters from home. In all the four years of my imprisonment I received exactly seven letters and the other prisoners about the same. At Shinagawa Camp in Tokyo I saw whole sackfuls of letters, which the Japs were too indifferent to distribute themselves and refused to let us distribute. Bags of mail were burned at Tokyo before the eyes of the prisoners. Red Cross Supplies were stolen and consumed by the guards. Some were stored and allowed to rot. The little that was issued was used as bait to sick and exhausted men working. “No work! No food.” seemed to be the motto.

I think my reader will agree that the Japanese have proven themselves through the acts of their Army and of their camp Officials to be cruel, heartless and indifferent to the sufferings of others.