William Bell's Story

Camp Omori #8

I remained at Kawasaki 3-D until about March of 1945, when I was transferred to Camp Omori #8 at Japanese Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan (a man-made island reclaimed from the sea for the purpose of isolating POW's). I remained at Omori for approximately one month. Camp Omori (Nippon Tsuun), originally known as Shinagawa Camp, was used mainly as a hospital camp. It was located at Tokyo-to, Omori-ku, Iriarai-machi. While I was assigned to Omori I remember being out on a work party when we came across the dead body of an American pilot floating in the water near the shore. Even though I was saddened at the sight of a lost ally the one thing that caught my eye was a "ration chocolate bar" floating near his body.

My heart immediately started pounding because I wanted to get that bar so badly before the Japanese guards who were watching me, spotted it. I was lucky enough to snatch the chocolate bar and hide it under my shirt before the guards had noticed what I had done. We were then ordered to bury the pilot in the sand before returning to camp. Once I got back to camp I remember cutting the chocolate into small pieces and everyone in my hut salivated over the taste of real chocolate!! For more information and photos on Camp Omori please see the website at: www.mansell.com

Another place we were taken to labour was at a railroad line several miles away. We were made to unload cargo from boxcars, including large bags of rice and concrete. We always managed to rip some of the bags containing rice and other goods that we were handling, so that we could pilfer whatever we could to survive. This was always taken back to camp for sharing with fellow prisoners. Our Winnipeg Grenadier uniform had cuffs on the pant legs which made an excellent hiding spot for smuggling the rice we would pinch!

Many of us also constructed little bags from whatever rags we could get our hands on. We would use little pieces of bamboo to close off the bag. This bag was put inside the waistband of our pants and used to hide rice or anything else we were unloading. On many occasions there would be air raids by the allies while we were unloading boxcars. One time they dropped incendiary bombs all around us and we ran inside one of the nearby bunkers. One of the incendiaries hit the outside of the bunker narrowly missing us. Luckily, none of us were injured. I do remember running several miles all the way back to camp.

In the fall of 1944, after 3 years of forced labour, we saw American B-29 bomber planes in the sky. This was the first evidence of any help out there, but we were scared they would bomb the camp and the shipyard areas where we were forced to work

While I was in Camp Omori I witnessed bombing raids by the famous “Doolittle Boys” where they dropped incendiary bombs which devastated large areas nearby. On March 9th, Tokyo was bombed in the largest air raid, causing 130,000 casualties. Thankfully, our camp was spared. We had air raid shelters built in the ground which we called funk holes. One time, during an air raid, a large incendiary bomb came crashing through the wall of an air raid shelter we were in. Through sheer luck the bomb was a dud, and did not explode.

Luckily, I didn't have to work in the mines, but a fellow Grenadier and long time Winnipeg neighbour, George Nobiss, toiled many long hours in the Japanese mines at Sendai. He suffered his whole life as a result of the dust he inhaled. Ironically, George worked for a coal company, delivering coal throughout Winnipeg when he returned home.