Tom Marsh - Rumours of Peace

Rumors of peace began in August and suppressed excitement seemed to be troubling the Japs. When we were around they kept looking over their shoulders with apprehensive glances, they were afraid. One morning we were told that we didn’t have to work and then we knew the end was near. All punishments were stopped and the camp staff, including the Japanese Sergeant, suddenly became considerate and obliging. Even ‘Frog Face’ kept his distance and left us alone.

A few days later the ‘Child’, the camp Commandant, called the white officers to his office and told them that Japan had made peace with America due to the fact that America had developed an atomic bomb which he stated was much worse than gas, “Which you know,” he added, “is outlawed by all nations. Therefore to ensure the survival of the Japanese nation a peace has been arranged.”

Our officers were told that they must be responsible for the conduct of the men in the camp as the situation was delicate owing to the threat of the uprising of the civilian population and the break down of communications. At the time there did not seem to be any direct communication by radio with the Americans.

When Captain Reid and Lieut. Finn returned, they advised us to be patient and not to break camp. The Japanese military still supplied a guard and roll call was still taken every morning. But the prisoners were impatient to be released. All the pent up disappointment and bitterness of four long years was now finding expression. The prisoners demanded more food and threatened to raid the stores. The Japanese had already reopened the stores to reissue our boots, uniforms, and overcoats. Captain Reid and Lt Finn called the men together and listened patiently to their complaints. The men were asked to appoint delegates to take up these complaints. The most clamorous were expected by the men to head this committee of complaint. However those who had made the most noise and trouble did not step forward. They did not want to be held responsible for the actions of a mob they had little or no control over. The result was that with the loyal support of most of the NCOs a certain amount of order was maintained.

Our jailers and taskmasters slunk around furtively and the worst of them like the ‘Frog’ simply disappeared. Captain Reid told the Jap Commandant that if these particularly hated individuals were not removed he would not be answerable for what the prisoners might do. The Jap still clung to his authority expressed by the armed guards at the gate. The Commandant did not yet know the score, as the Americans had not landed yet. How impatient we were and rumors became rife. The British and Dutch had re-imposed military discipline by parades and drills.

Our own disciplinarian, Lieut. Finn, excused the Canadians these parades upon the assurance that the boys would make no trouble. In spite of this assurance long suppressed disputes erupted among the men. For the next few days Lieut. Finn was kept busy running around settling these disputes.

The men had determined to break into the stores in spite of the Jap guard when we saw our first American plane. It was a fighter and as it circled high above our camp we all ran out into the compound. It made a long loop over the hills then dived on the camp. Six hundred men went wild. We could plainly make out the red, white and blue and the white American star. A little figure leaned out of the cockpit making the ‘V’ sign. Over come with joy, naked figures dressed only in G-strings jumped and sprang around like a bunch of savages. Men slapped each other, shock hands and cried. It was true. It was really over. Our liberators were here. Now we would be free.

The little fighter disappeared and returned shortly with a whole squadron. They dove all around us, did stunts, and were as wildly excited in the sky as we were on the ground. We danced, waved blankets, shirts or any rage we could find. Men climbed onto the roofs of the sheds signaling and waving their arms. The fighters dropped several notes giving the names of the pilots and the number of their squadron and telling us that soon planes would be back with supplies. They also asked that we identify the men and their numbers by making the roofs of the huts.

With the sun shining on their silver wings each plane would dive skimming the roofs of the huts. The pilot would slide back his canopy and lean out waving and making the sign for victory. They were so close and powerful I was certain one of the pilots would fall out. We marveled at the cohesion and control the pilots had of those splendid little planes and the gallant figures waving so cheerfully. They were God’s own angels sent to liberate his people. They meant freedom and happiness. It was a beautiful day … the best day of my life!

I was overwhelmed by the sudden release of emotions that had been suppressed for four long years. I could not control my feelings and a wave of tears flowed down my face. I returned to my hut and cried like a baby without any shame. Others were so hysterical they had to be hospitalized while some sat motionless, too dazed with happiness to be able to speak.

The next day the fighters returned and after swooping low over the camp several times came into the wind as slow as possible and dropped large duffle bags. They were loaded with food and cigarettes but they fell with the speed of a bomb and some burst on impact scattering the contents over a wide area. There was a wild scramble to recover the goods and if the men realized the danger of being struck and killed by one of the bags they did not seem to care. One of the bags crashed through the roof of my hut, struck the floor, and in a flash had swished right out the door spraying it’s contents with a whole gang of prisoners chasing after it.

Once again the fighters swooped down over the huts, waving and dropping notes. The notes explained that full supplies would soon be dropped by bombers and for us to take cover when this happened. The bags were collected and their contents distributed as equally as possible among the prisoners. We all had plenty of American cigarettes and how good they tasted. We also had delicacies we had long forgotten the taste of, cheese, jam, chocolate, oh how we enjoyed them.

The real joy was that this was not a Red Cross parcel that had to be nibbled to make last. We ate everything. We had our good angels promise that plenty more was to come. We had seen the might and power of the American Air Force and we believed them. For the first time in many years the prisoners slept with smiles on their faces.

This demonstration of air power was all that was necessary to break down the last vestige of Japanese authority. The military guard disappeared. Tojo’s pets slunk around making themselves as inconspicuous as possible. The prisoners disarmed those Japanese still with weapons. The ‘Child’, the Commandant, had his sword taken from him and the Dutch Captain appeared wearing it trying to assume the authority of the deposed Jap. The Canadians would have none of him and respected only their own officers.

We were able to get some whitewash from the mine and I climbed up onto the roof of a large mess hut, with some of my old paint gang from Yokohama, and in large letters painted on the tar paper roof, “569 MEN”which was the exact number of prisoners in our camp.