Tom Marsh - The Flag

The British and the Dutch had each made flags of the respective countries and flew them when our planes appeared. Some of us felt that we too should have a flag and I spoke to Captain Reid about this. He reminded us that American planes were dropping our supplies and that our own Lieut. Finn was an American Naval Officer. “I’m sure he would like to see an American flag.” It was a great idea and with the Captain’s blessing a few others and I formed a flag committee and got busy.

We began by collecting all the red and blue materials we could find in the camp. These colors were very scarce and hard to find. We were almost stumped for blue when we heard that one of the prisoners had received a blue shirt in the supplies that had been parachuted into camp. The flag committee searched out the individual and only after great patriotic pressure was put on him was the shirt surrendered. We used a six by four cotton sheet for backing and, vowing everyone to secrecy, set up a workshop in a vacant room in one of the huts.

Private N. Zytaruk of the Grenadiers, had worked as the prisoners’ tailor, brought the camp sewing machine over and we went to work. For a guide we used a card with a picture of the American flag provided by one of the prisoners. All forty-eight stars were carefully measured and cut out and the bars spaced correctly. Within two hours the project was completed. We only had enough material to finish one side the flag so someone suggested having the Canadians sign the back. Over two hundred men left their signatures on the flag. A bamboo pole was provided and the flag was ready.

It was suggested that we form a color party so that the flag could be presented with full military honors to Lieut. Finn. At this time we had recovered our old uniforms and the American planes had dropped other supplies. We were therefore able to turn out a fairly smart guard dressed in khaki shirts, shorts, socks and boots, and even our old Grenadier wedge caps with badges. I was the Sergeant in charge of the color party. When all were ready it was decided to draw Lieut. Finn over by subterfuge. Sgt.-Major ‘POP’ Corrigan of the Rifles was detailed to go over to Finn’s quarters and tell him there was trouble among the men and to come immediately.

Soon Lieut. Finn could be seen hurrying across the compound prepared to deal with the same trouble he had been dealing with for many years. Most of the other Canadians were gathered around our small group and as Lieut. Finn approached I called the color party to attention. The flag was unfurled and our impromptu bugler,a bandsman who had recovered a cornet somewhere, blew the general salute. We all turned to the flag and saluted. Every man within the camp stood to attention with hand raised.

Lieutenant Finn looked perplexed as if he were still ready to deal with some dispute. When he saw the flag and the color party he stopped, stared, and slowly raised his hand giving a salute with tears welling up in his eyes. I presented it to him and asked that he accept it on behalf of all the Canadian prisons.The flag was a tribute to the United States of America, itsarmed services that had liberated us and to Lieutenant Finn who, at all times under the most adverse circumstances, had conducted himself towards the prisoners and towards the enemy as an American Officer and a man. As I presented the flag to him I could see his lips quivering with emotion. He accepted it and said “Its just what I wanted.” Clutching the flag close to his chest he hurried quickly away to his quarters and the boys gave him a great cheer as he went.

The names of most of the party have escaped me but I remember a lad named ‘Gooch.’ He was an American born Canadian and from that day on he attached himself to the flag. Whenever planes came over Gooch would wave the flag. When it was put on the roof of a hut Gooch watched it and made sure it was taken out of the rain. Later when we traveled by train Gooch could be seen waving the flag from the window. The last I heard of the flag, Lieutenant Finn had it at Yokohama ready to take home. It should make a wonderful souvenir and later perhaps a museum piece. Say what you will, a little piece of bunting can mean a great deal to those who had lost what it stands for, Liberty, the rights of man, tolerance, fair play and freedom. Long may it wave!

When the B29s dropped the main bulk of supplies it was a miracle that none of the prisoners were killed. Crates, barrels, and boxes tumbled out of the planes. Often the parachutes were too small for the heavy cargo and failed to slowitsdecent and could be seen coming in over the camp like streaming missiles. Occasionally a parachute would fail to open at all and the load of cargo would impact the earth like a bomb scattering itscontents, marked by a wide field of debris over the area. Supplies were strewn all over the countryside and parties were sent out to locate and retrieve them.

At first every effort was made to salvage all we could but as our stores mounted we became less particular and let the localJapanese have what was smashed and beyond keeping. On each container was written in Japanese‘This is the property of the American Government and must be delivered to the prisoners, signed MacArthur.’

From miles around Japanese came lugging in the groceries and were rewarded with some of the Japanese supplies we had remaining in camp. Within the supplies were small newspapers printed on the U.S. Carrier ‘Lexington.’ These were read avidly and brought us up to date on most of the war news. Now that the war was over it was a little strange that all kinds of Japanese supplies began arriving at the camp, fresh vegetables, oranges, fresh pork, soap, towels and toothpaste and many other things.

For four years we had been forced to save every little scrap of soap or a bit of rag and it became difficult to break the habit. Like squirrels we gathered our particular portion of the loot and scurry away to hide the goods in our own secret cache. For some strange reason my weakness was for soap and soon I had amassed a ridiculous amount. I had bars and bars of it, Japanese and American.

Three weeks had past since the surrender and yet we were still on our own. With the exception of the American planes we had seen our liberators had not come to find us. Although they did not know where to go the prisoners were impatient to be gone and we decided to affect our own release.

Captain Reid and the Dutch Captain went off to the town of Sendai by special car attached to a local train. Reid told us later that they had traveled like princes, private car, hotel accommodation, wines and the best food. When they arrived the Japanese they met shrugged their shoulders, bowed and said, “Much too bad about poor prisoners. It was the wretched war. So solly! So solly!”

They spoke with a Red Cross official from Geneva but he was of little help. When Captain Reid returned he said it was best to wait. This did not go over well with the prisoners, as they would wait no longer. Captain Reid and other Officers went to the mine officials and told them they wanted a train to take the prisoners to Tokyo and that was an order. Within a few days we were told that a train of coal cars awaited us at the siding adjoining the mine.