Tom Marsh - Hospital Treatment

At the time of the bombings in the fall of 1944, while working in the shipyard near Yokohama, I suffered from a mild attack of dry beriberi and then developed jaundice. At this time the Japanese had established a central Hospital camp for prisoners called Shinagawa Camp at Tokyo. Acting on instructions from Tokyo about a dozen of us, too sick to work, were bundled one morning into a truck and driven several hostile miles to Tokyo. A Winnipeg Grenadier named McPhearson, who had been caught in some machinery while working in the yards and broken his arm and several other bones, lay on an improvised stretcher at the bottom of the truck. The road was rough like most Japanese roads and the truck bumped and swayed as it careened along. McPhearson was in great pain and we had trouble in keeping him on the stretcher. We pleaded with the driver of the truck and the guard beside him for more careful driving. They both laughed and paid no further attention.

Going through parts of Tokyo we saw grim evidence of the effectiveness of the American bombing. Whole areas were laid waste, most being burned out. Shinagawa Camp was placed right in the heart of the district and the Japs were using it to protect themselves from American bombs. The camp itself was much the same as the others. A high board fence surrounding a collection of low sheds with tiled roofs and few windows. Here were held most of the medical personal both American and British that the Japanese had captured during the first two years of the war. The medical Officer in charge under the Japanese Commandant was a Commander Surgeon of the British Navy captured at Hong Kong. He was a tall, elderly, distinguished looking Englishman who always wore full navy regalia, gold braided hat and coat sleeves and ribbons were possibly the only clothes he possessed. He did not wear a monocle but it would have suited his facial expressions perfectly. When questioning the patients his jaw would drop, one eyebrow would come down and he would constantly saw “ Haw” He was however a very good surgeon and a helpful, honest and well intentioned man.

He was often in trouble with the Japs, as they hated his type and what he stood for, but they wanted to pick his and other doctors' brains. They had Japanese doctors watching all operations and turned many of them into experimental demonstrations often at the cost of life and limb of the unfortunate patient. The Commander and the other white doctors were in some cases compelled to operate secretly and at night to avoid having the patients experimented upon. As usual there were few Red Cross supplies in the camp and practically no medicine. All the medicine I saw was a few white pills. Most of the operating equipment, surgical instruments and an X-Ray machine had been made or set up by a small group of officers from a Norwegian merchant ship. These men were very clever and seemed to be able to make anything. I believe they had a radio hidden somewhere and the Japs knew it for several times they instigated searches but always without success.

The Japs were continually punishing both the doctors and the patients. An American doctor had performed an operation without the knowledge of the Japs and was sent to work in the shoe shop, mending boots. He showed me his hands and told me that they were ruined for any future surgical work. All the patients were on half rations and remained at the edge of starvation. A small bowl of rice with a few greens but at least we didn’t have to work. In spite of our condition the Japanese doctors continued to torment and terrorize the patients. The walking patients were paraded and exercised and forced to attempt the impossible such as bending, stretching, and running exercises. All the patients lived in fear of the Japanese experiments and their treatments. One of them related earlier, being the use of live coals to burn the body believing this counter irritant would produce a cure. No one was allowed to smoke and this was a great hardship to the men as they were constantly being punished for breaking this rule.

I had jaundice for quite some time before being moved to the hospital. I was already recovering when admitted so in three weeks I asked to be sent back to work. This was a request the Japs always granted whether you were fit or near death. The Japanese could care less. All they were interested in was to get as much work out of us as possible.

I was taken before the British Commander and a Japanese doctor. Upon examination they noticed my arm, which I could not straighten. It had been broken during the shelling at Hong Kong and had healed itself without treatment. The Jap made a quick motion of breaking something, meaning that it should be broken and reset. I heard our Commander explain in Japanese and English that there was a growth in the elbow and re breaking the arm would do no good. The Jap then made the motion of whittling and said impatiently, “ Scrape it off. Scrape it off.” The Commander then informed him that if they operated I might possibly lose my arm and that in any case he was certain I would be unable to use the arm for a very long time. This seemed to convince the Jap. He asked if I could now work with the arm. I said, “Yes!” and demonstrated its use. They seemed pleased so I was allowed to return to Camp D3.

Our Commander that day saved my arm and no doubt my life for I believe I was in no shape to endure such a painful operation and a prolonged recovery.