One day the word flashed through the camp that something big had happened in Japan. A bomb the size of a grapefruit had been dropped with devastating effect.
Sure enough, the guards began acting differently, and after a day or two, work parties were cancelled, and the guards seemed to have abandoned their posts.
What had happened? Had Chiang Kai Chek finally ridden his white horse over the hills and liberated us?At any rate, whatever had happened, we were sure it was in our favour.
We then assumed that the war was over, and, perhaps foolishly, boldly approached the guardhouse at the main gate to tell the Guards. T hey were still armed, and had nothing to lose by exterminating all of us. Why they didn't react in that way is something to be pondered.
One glorious day an American fighter plane flew low over the camp and dropped a spanner with a flag and a note attached. In the note, the pilot told us that we were to be liberated and that food and medicine would be dropped into the camp.
He advised us to clear a space to the west side of the camp and to stay clear when the big planes came over to drop supplies.
What a marvellous sight to see those huge red and white parachutes land with bundles of goodies attached!
Fortunately, most of the chutes landed inside the camp, but some fell outside. They were immediately rushed by Chinese civilians, who probably had not fared much better since 1941 than we had, and seized the opportunity to help themselves.
Those were days of jubilation in ShamShuiPo! The realization that we were no longer prisoners-of-war is a feeling that cannot be experienced by anyone who has not suffered the privation, hunger, sickness, and humiliation for almost four years. Long, long, years.
No more hunger! No more malaria! No more festering sores! No more rice and bak choy! No more lining up in the rain at midnight! No more blows across the back from a bamboo rod! No more digging tunnels in the mountain! No more dreams of roast beef and mashed potatoes!
No more waking up from a dream of home, only to find that home was as far away as ever!Plans for going home! Plenty of ice cream, and peanut butter, and BEER! Will Sally still be waiting? How are Mum and Dad?
First thing I'm gonna do is buy a car! Will the government pay us for all the time we spent in POW camps? Oh joy! Oh unbounded joy! The indescribable happiness!
Lance Corporal Les went out of the camp and returned with a 26 ounce bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label. He got a little table, about a foot square, and a small stool. He carefully spread a small white cloth over the table, and put the bottle and a glass on it. Then he sat down and poured himself a drink, He didn't get up until he had polished off the whole bottle. Then he got up and went out again.
When he came back he had a huge bottle of (and I'm not certain of the name) samshui. It is a sort of wine, and it has a horrible taste. He sat down again and poured a glass of it. He took one sip and toppled off the stool. We carried him in to his bunk where he spent the rest of the day sleeping it off.
Before many days, the HMCS Prince Robert, the same ship that had escorted us to Hong Kong in 1941, docked again in Kowloon. Our first contact with home was a visit from one of the officers from the ship.
This now famous picture appears in almost every book that was written by or about Hong Kong POWs. It shows the Canadian officer handing out cartons of good Canadian cigarettes to us at the main gate at ShamShuiPo.
If you look carefully you'll see a forlorn figure walking along at the upper right corner. That is yours truly, uncertain about what was about to take place, and not anxious to be seen in an emaciated state by the folks back home.
I said afterwards that nobody would see a picture of my skinny frame. I can identify most of the men in that picture, having lived in close quarters with them for almost four years.
I'll name them here, and I think I am right, but no doubt there will be differences of opinion. If so, I would appreciate hearing about it if you don't agree.
From left to right, in a general order they are, to the best of my recollection: Unknown, Henry Lyons, Dr. Grey, unknown, Raymond Quirion, Bob Olscamp, Col. Jack Price, George Everett, unknown, Jim MacLean, Louis Gignac, Canadian officer, unknown, Quentin Mulrooney, Roman Chapados, Ken Chesser, John Hoosha, Jim Cook, George Sands, Rfm Dimes, Graydon Heath, and of course, myself, upper right corner.
I am reminded of what one of our fellows, a farm boy, originally, said about being released. He said, "I feel just like a calf that has been penned up all winter, and when the door is opened in the spring, the calf will put out one foot cautiously, then withdraw it, then try again until he is sure that it will be all right to go out!" Major "B" had lived in comparative luxury, just inside the prison camp gate. He was believed by all of us to have been a collaborator with the Japanese. He was hauled unceremoniously from his hut and propelled by the seat of his pants down the main street, dumped into a latrine and locked in.
We lined up along the road and applauded his progress.I have heard that on his return to his homeland he was tried for his behaviour in the prison camp, and his contribution to the distress and discomfort, if not the death of some of his fellow prisoners. He was dismissed and released. None of us who lived through those years in ShamShuiPo wish him any kind of good fortune.
John Hoosha and I had been in the hospital together for a long time, and we developed a friendship that carried on after we were liberated.
One day we set out to visit the Prince Robert, still docked in Kowloon. On the way we passed a Japanese guard house, and boldly entered, to see about thirty or forty Japanese soldiers sitting around a long table.
In an adjoining room they had stacked all their rifles and Swords. We helped ourselves to a couple of samurai swords each, and started out the door.
One of the Japs approached us with a clip board and made motions that we should sign for the swords. The army is the army! So we humoured them by signing. I signed "Clark Gable" the first fictitious name that came to mind.
We proceeded on to the Prince Robert, where we were received royally, and offered anything we wanted in the way of food and drink. I remember biting into a slice of buttered white bread, the most delicious thing I had tasted in four years!
I gave one of my swords to a young sailor on the ship. I have often wondered if he still has it. I still have mine, on loan, perhaps permanently, to the Bay Chaleur Military Museum.
We met a native Chinese who had obviously been a man of substance in pre-war Hong Kong. He owned a car which he had dismantled in 1941 when the invasion took place, and he had placed the motor in one section of Kowloon, the transmission in another, and so on.
He done this to prevent his car from being used by the invaders. When hostilities were safely over, he re-assembled the parts and had his car back again.
He must have thought he somehow owed us a debt of gratitude for our failed attempt at defending his home, so he lent us his car to roam the city.
And roam the city we did! Bottles of Napoleon brandy had mysteriously found their way back into circulation. We raided a Japanese warehouse and availed ourselves of some woolen blankets which were eagerly accepted for bottles of the finest French Cognac.
The same family one day invited us to share a meal with them. It was a sumptuous affair! There were bottles of scotch, gin, brandy, and wine. We were seated around a big round table, on which the gracious lady of the house , and a servant, served course after course of Chinese delicacies, and urged us to help ourselves.
The meal lasted most of the afternoon. Never before or since have I been served more graciously, or has my appetite for food been so satisfied!
The car the Chinese gentleman had lent us was carbureted to burn alcohol. We found a Japanese fuel dump that had 45 gallon drums of the stuff. While attempting to get some of the alcohol for the car, I was accosted by a patrol from one of the British ships in the harbour.
I was dressed in some clothes I had scrounged from somewhere, a pair of army shorts, an army cap, and a pair of knee-length rubber Boots. When I answered them in English, they wanted to know what army I belonged to. I had trouble convincing them that I was a recently liberated POW.