Tom Marsh - Prisoner of War

The Jap sentry was as much surprised as I. He was squat and ugly with a short straggly growth of black beard. Upon seeing me he let out a loud “Koo ia” and put his bayonet level with my stomach, making short jabs and foaming at the mouth. Besides being at a great disadvantage I was in no condition to fight, so I raised my arms and stood facing him. At his first cry several Japs, headed by a Corporal, came running out of the pillbox. They were all very dirty, their eyes bloodshot, and foam around their mouths. I believe they must have had a tough time job in taking this particular pillbox. They seemed to be doped with some sort of drug. Seeing that I stood still and was wounded they decided to take me prisoner. They removed my rifle, ammunition, wristwatch and some personal belongings in my pockets. At the point of a bayonet I was urged inside the enclosure where I sat against a wall. It was still early in the morning and the sun had not risen. I sat surrounded by six squatting shadows. They seemed to be highly nervous and especially upset by the noise of our guns and the occasional shell that passed overhead. Pointing at me they jabbered in Japanese. Evidently they were deciding what to do with me.

My head and throat were swollen. Although most of the bleeding had stopped I was still spitting out blood clots and gristle. Motioning to my mouth I tried to make them understand that I wanted water. Finally one of them handed me an open tin of diced carrots. This I was unable to eat. I believe now that this little patrol was hiding out and none to eager to get into the midst of the fighting again. Their wounded must have been removed. Perhaps they were destroyed as the Japs seldom bothers with badly wounded men. If a wounded Japanese solider cannot walk out of action the Officers often shoot him.

My capture offered a good excuse for this party to get further away from the firing line. When day broke I was prodded out of the pillbox and made to stand while my hands were tied tightly behind my back with thin wire. All Jap soldiers carry a loop of this wire attached to their belts. They had practiced on helpless civilians in China and were adept in tying the wrists so tight that the wire cut the flesh stopping the circulation.

Having tied me securely, and assigned on their number as my personal guard, the whole patrol started down the hill towards the Japanese line. I soon lagged behind and was prodded by my guard to keep up, which I was barely able to do. Down in the valley we came upon some thickly strung barbed wire. The Japs scrambled over but I was unable to do so. In spite of threats and blows from a rifle I could not make an effort. The Corporal at the other side of the wire was gesticulating and screaming at my guard. He and his party were impatient to get on. I did not understand Japanese then but I had the conviction that he was telling the guard to finish me. At that moment there was a deafening explosion. I do not know weather it was caused by a landmine or from a shell falling short. All went blank. When I recovered my senses I was over the wire and being hurried along by the same guard in the rear of the same party.

After a short time we reached a road crowded with enemy troops. They were all streaming towards the battle zone, infantry, guns and lorries full of soldiers. Many glanced curiously at our party. Officers on horseback seemed to be urging the traffic forward. Japanese Military Police were posted along the road. From these our Corporal sought direction and finally we came to a halt in front of a low wooden building at the side of the road, evidently a point of assembly for prisoners.

I was turned over to the NCO in charge and was again searched and ordered by signs to remove my boots but my leg had stiffened and I was unable to bend it. I also had difficultly in moving my head. I therefore found it impossible to untie them. The Jap guard jabbed me with the butt of his rifle and, with another guard, took me to the door of the hut. They opened it a little and thrust me in. I fell headlong inside and subsided on a cement floor.

Someone was blabbering to me and I looked up and saw a Jap with clubbed rifle urging me further back into the shed. This was the inside guard. The building was a low roof shed about sixty feet long by thirty feet wide with a concrete floor. There was some heavy trestle tables down the center. The shed had probably been used as a mess hall by the garrison. It was now crammed with prisoners of the Japs, Whites, Chinese and Indians. Most of them were in some sort of uniform. Many, like myself, were wounded and some appeared to be dead. The floor literally ran with blood. There was not enough room in which to lie down, so closely were we packed. Most sat huddled in attitudes of despair with their knees drawn up. The only clear space was around the guard by the door and he kept it this way by the swing of his rifle butt.

Here was gathered all the misery of military defeat. There was no food and worst, no water. Thirst, doubly prevalent when one is wounded, was an acute torture. I saw no Red Cross or any attempt on the part of the Jap to minister to the wounded. Many collapsed and died where they fell. A few of the prisoners tried to help a comrade or an immediate neighbour but most of us stayed huddled, awaiting we knew not what. It was now high noon and the sun was hot in the sky. The place was thick with flies pestering the wounded. Although I did not recognize them all, there were several Grenadiers from A Company in the hut, among them the Mitchell brothers, both Lieutenants, also Sergeant Pugsley, Cpl. Hiscox, and Pte. Matte.

The guns of battle were still booming towards Hong Kong. The Japs had planted one right beside our hut and its discharge shook the building. I heard the sound of a nearby mortar shell exploding and knew that our own mortars were seeking the range on the Jap gun position. Then it came. Two mortar shells, almost simultaneously, one landed squarely on the roof of the building. There was a blinding flash, shrieks and moans all was confusion. Instinctively I had thrown myself under the only available shelter, the trestle table, on top of what I later discovered to be a dead Imperial with half his head blown off. Under him was a live Chinaman who was bleating piteously. Miraculously I was not hit. From my vantage place under the table I saw that the place was a shambles. There was a gaping hole in the roof and beneath it a pile of bodies. The only reason that many escaped death or further injury was the fact that we were so closely packed our companion’s bodies protected us. Most of the survivors were splattered with fresh blood over bandages and previously caked and dry wounds. The Guard by the door was killed outright. Moans and groans could be heard on all sides.

The door was flung open and excited Japs pulled out the body of the sentry but forced all others back into the shed with their bayonets. The door was then closed and it must have been an hour before it was again opened. We quite expected there would be another direct hit. With apprehension we awaited the explosion but it never came. We heard the jabbering of Japanese voices and the doors were thrown wide open. They had reached a decision about us.

A dozen or more guards entered and began sorting the living from the dead, the seriously wounded from those who were able to walk. Those able to walk were crowded to the door and out onto the road, where their hands were tied behind them with wire. In groups of six or seven they were herded to one side. As the first group went past the door I heard a click of a machine gun. I thought, “This is it! They are going to shoot us!”

I thought desperately of some subterfuge to avoid this fate. I noticed that there were a few Imperial and Indian Officers present and that the Japs had put them aside from the first group. There was a dead Imperial Lieutenant near me and I thought of taking his coat and thus passing for an Officer but I gave up this idea when I saw that they were now wiring the Officers as well. I thought, “What’s the use? Might as well get it over with.”

So I staggered to my feet and joined the next group feeling eager to die a clean death to end this horror.

Out in the glare of the sun our party’s guard hurried us to join the other groups standing against a small bluff or cliff. Here we faced two machine guns and their crews. The gunners sat behind the tripods and swung the guns backwards and forwards, covering us all in turn. Our guards withdrew to the sidelines and waited. Two Officers jabbered. I do not know if anyone prayed. I was too sick to care what happened but I hoped that if they were going to shoot us they would get it over with quickly.

We were a forlorn and helpless looking band, a pathetic mixture of Indians, Chinese and whites, old and young, officers and privates. We were evidently waiting for final instructions to be received. As we waited some sunk to the ground. Now a message had arrived and evidently it was in our favour for we were herded back onto the road and each group was wired together back to back with at most only a foot of wire from the next man. Some, like the big Englishman wired to me, were wired wrist to wrist. There must have been at least one hundred prisoners in the party and possibly more as fresh arrivals were coming in all the time. I supposed we were to be marched for some distance as we were arranged in column of route along the road. There was still plenty of traffic. The air was thick with red dust and the ever-present black flies.

Like myself many of the prisoners were wounded and wore bandages. Many were half naked as the Japs at this assembly point had systematically searched all the prisoners and taken away everything they had fancied. Some had lost their boots and walked bare footed. All were bare headed and exposed to the blazing sun. I had been lucky in keeping my boots. I had on at this time underwear, socks, khaki shirt, battle dress, boots, and my web equipment. I also carried a water bottle that was, unfortunately, empty.

Among the badly wounded left in the shed was Lieut. E.L. Mitchell. His brother Lieut. W. V. Mitchell refused to leave him when ordered to do so by the Japs. He chose to stay with his wounded brother and share his fate. That was the last time they were seen alive. There is little doubt that all those left in the hut were killed.