Tom Marsh - Homeward Bound

How quickly we packed. The prisoners were loaded down with duffle bags filled with cigarettes, chocolate bars and spare clothing. The Jap Commandant, without his sword, and his crew came to see us off and stood at salute as the train pulled out. Some, still keeping up a pretense of responsibility, came with us and were the best behaved although a little nervous. They were unsure how the Americans would receive them at the other end of the line. Although we were packed in coal cars all that mattered was that we were on our way home.

We laughed and sang and each section waved its flag from the side of the train. We still had Old Glory and Gooch was there to wave it. Our route was a hundred and twenty miles long and we threw gum and chocolate to everyone we saw. As we neared Tokyo we witnessed the incredible devastation the American bombing had caused in the towns we passed until finally we reached Tokyo and disembarked to change trains.

As we detrained on an open platform another train came to a stop opposite us. It was full of Japanese troops returning to their homes. We stood staring at each other and all became very quiet. This had been our enemy. Long tense moments passed. Then someone laughed and threw over a package of American cigarettes and a dozen Japanese went to pick it up. This broke the tension and more cigarettes were thrown over and the Japanese began throwing back oranges. This was my last contact with the Japanese. Shortly afterwards we arrived at Yokohama and were met by a regiment of American Cavalry with their band.

We were overjoyed to finally see our liberators. I jumped out of the train carriage before the train had even stopped and flung myself upon a stout, red faced, American Major. I thumped him on the back, shock his hand and all but kissed him. Others joined in and began pounding him on the back from all sides. The Major struggled to keep his parade dignity for this was a formal reception and the American troops were not allowed to break ranks.

Some of my comrades were more fortunate first greeting. They were met by a real American WAC (US Women’s Army Corps), dressed in nifty uniform she was there handing out chocolate bars to the liberated prisoners. When I managed to reach her she was already surrounded by a group of gaping ex-prisoners. This was the first white woman they had seen in four years and were completely paralyzed by her presence. They would have liked to pinch her, but they were so mesmerized none dared reach out to her for fear she may disappear.

The Americans took us in charge and whisked us to a warehouse refitted as a reception center where we were given a delousing bath, a complete change of clothes, food and an opportunity to send a message home. When the American soldiers and seamen saw us for the first time I believe they were a little disappointed that we were not as thin as they had pictured. We had been stranded for the three weeks at our camp eating the plentiful supplies dropped to us and this had made quit a difference and all had put on weight.

At this clearing center particulars were taken of our imprisonment with the emphasis on abuses to which we had been subjected. As I gave my own particulars I remember a big American Sergeant of the Military Police with a six-gun at his side say to me, “You name ‘em buddy. We’ll go and get ‘em.” How I wished to introduce him to Frog Face. They would have got on well together.

When you are all skin and bones, a grass mat on wooden planks with no pillow is a difficult place to sleep. That night we slept in beautiful white cots with real sheets and pillows and soft mattresses. The next morning we were taken on board a hospital ship and were given a preliminary examination.

Later the same day a party of thirty of us, with Sgt.-Major Brockwell in charge, were taken out by a landing barge to the U.S. battleship ‘Iowa’. We were greeted in great style. A marine band played ‘Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the Lord’ and Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching.’ Thousands of white clad sailors cheered as we reached the fore deck where we were addressed by the Captain, “Whatever you want, name it. You are the honoured guests of the U.S.A. The ship is yours.”

Immediately upon dismissal we were taken in tow by a crewmember whose business it was to show us around and look after us. We had showers, a wonderful supper with fresh fruits, ice cream and jellies. Later we watched a picture show. They treated us so well that later that evening when we were told that fifteen of our number who wished to volunteer could fly home only ten came forward. I was one of them.The rest wanted to go home on the ship. It was heaven on water, everything a man could desire was there, outside of feminine company and most were quite prepared to let the ladies wait. Five others had to be detailed to join our group and we soon left by the same tender for Yokohama airfield.

I was lugging around two big duffle bags filled with clothes, boots, cigarettes, candy, soap, cheese and much else. I had lived for so long without anything that I just could not bring myself to part with such supplies. At the airport we scrounged around for souvenirs as I had given away the Japanese money I had to the sailors on the ship. I found a Jap helmet and stripped the breech mechanism off a machine gun of a Jap plane. These I added to my already heavy load.

I came across an unexploded bomb, while prowling around the airport which had been bombed many times. I informed the military guards and a soldier was placed over the explosive pending its removal.

Soon we were aboard a C54 and headed over the broad Pacific towards Guam and landed there the following morning. We continued over the Marshall Islands and on to Honolulu where we transferred to a luxurious flying ship equipped with reclining bunks and a stewardess.

As we flew through the darkness towards San Francisco the stewardess came and sat beside me and said, “ You have been away a long time.” I replied, “ Yes will have a lot of catching up to do. There are bound to be quite a number of changes in four years. You know I don’t even know the popular songs that are sung in America and Canada.” She smiled. “ I used to be a singer. I will sing some of them to you if you like.”

As the motors roared and my companions snored I listened as she sang, “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer”, “White Christmas”, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”, and others. What a wonderful country is America and what a wonderful people. Four years of hate, suspicion and torture. Here comfort and understanding. Little girl your song was the great heart of America and Canada welcoming us home.