Sunday, 18 December 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006. Part 4.

Sunday 4th June

This morning we took a taxi to the Eizen-Ji Temple to meet the Buddhist monk once again. He guided us around the temple where we saw the granite family shrines of local people. A specially commissioned monument for the P.O.W.’s who had died in Hakodate camp was also there with the man who had designed it and raised the funds for its erection there.

There followed a fifteen minute service with the priest chanting and striking a large brass urn that gave off the sound of a deep bell that resonated around the building, a large solid wooden drum was also struck at intervals, as the service progressed we in turn said silent prayers and burnt incense.

A film crew and reporters were present to record the event, and once the service was over, we looked around several parts of the temple before sipping green tea and eating traditional Japanese cakes whilst seated cross-legged on the floor, in a large communal room in the adjoining house. It was now lunchtime so we made our way to a small French restaurant where we had an enjoyable meal of soup, brioche and kebabs.

In the afternoon we went to the YMCA were I gave a talk in the hall to a group of 60 local Japanese majority of which were elderly, they listened in silence and with their impassive features I did wonder if I was making any impression on them. When I had finished speaking, several asked questions about life in the camp, I was surprised when an Australian got up and spoke, then later I met three who I learned were all English teachers, this rather amused Angela, the thought of Japanese students speaking English with an Assue accent.

As I left the platform a Japanese man took over and started to speak, pinning up a very large sheet of paper covered in Japanese writing, I recognised him as Mr Asari the man who I assisted planting the tree and rose bush, he was telling them that it was time that Hakodate remembered the P.O.W.’s who died there also the Japanese dead by erecting a city memorial.

Before leaving I was offered several thousand Yen for my visit, I refused to accept it, telling them to use it to start their fund for the memorial.

This engagement over, we returned to the hotel to collect our cases, then boarded the airport bus which took us a short ride to the edge of the city to a very modern airport.

The flight to Tokyo in the A.N.A. aircraft had the usual pilots view on the overhead cabin television screen which enables passengers to watch the take off and landing, switching to look vertically down as it leaves the ground and then switches back as it approaches the runway for landing. Our flight time from Hakodate to Tokyo Haneda airport was one hour ten minutes. We then boarded a limousine bus to Tokyo Central Station where we hired a taxi to our hotel and unpacked.

It was getting late when we took a stroll to a fast food bar for a meal of rice and tempura, miso soup with noodles and a cold beer.

Monday 5th June

Angela and Bari went off to Tokyo Central Station in order to book our seats on the ‘Bullet’ train for our following days journey to Hiroshima, they also called in at the British Airways office to book our seats for the homeward flight.

I had a relaxing morning and after lunch we decided to try the Tokyo underground system, a notorious rabbit warren. After studying the route charts, went to the Asakusa district, a main traditional Japanese shopping area, we encountered no problems in getting there, but we had avoided the rush hour! For the first time during our stay in Japan, more tourists were noticeable, most of the shops were for tourists, all selling similar Japanese goods, like elsewhere, there were some old streets, others modern. We did our shopping and then made our way back and went out for an evening meal.

Tuesday 6th June

Today we travelled without our Japanese companions, boarding the ‘Bullet’ train for Okyama, then a quick change of trains for the remaining journey to Hiroshima, a total journey time of just over five hours.

We disembarked and were met by Mr Kobayashi, the representative of the Japanese P.O.W. Network. We then travelled by taxi to the Memorial Park, there we were met by a young lady interpreter, also, I was introduced to a gentleman, Mr Mori, who as a child of eight years of age had remarkably survived, from only a distance of two miles, the blast of the atomic bomb that had been dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima. We entered a large hall where refreshments were being served and ordered coffee while Mr Mori continued with his story of survival. Apparently he was blown off his feet by the blast and into a shallow river, the weeds, reeds and mud covered him and protected him from the radiation, two other boys, his friends, who stood beside him, died.

I asked his views on the dropping of the bomb, “It was a terrible thing”, he said, “But it had saved many lives by stopping the war”.

Meanwhile, Mr Kobayashi had taken Angela and Bari around the museum, a place which I had already visited on a previous trip, I met up with them outside. Angela said she found the exhibits interesting but would have liked more time.

We returned to the rail station and caught a local train to the coastal channel port town of Onomichi, arriving at our hotel, the Green Hill, just after 18:00 hours. At 18:30 we attended a formal dinner in the hotel with a group of invited guests, which finished at 21:00 hours.

Wednesday 7th June

A small ferry from a dock immediately outside of our hotel took us across the short expanse of water to the town of Makaishima opposite, where a monument to the P.O.W.’s who had worked and died there had been erected four years earlier. I was then taken to a perk where the English Oak Tree that had been planted near the memorial had been moved to, it had been realised that it would have grow too large to leave by the towns road in a central location.

We then returned to the factory where the P.O.W.’s worked, this was now producing Japanese open toed socks. In the owners office while being entertained with the traditional cup of green tea, we were presented with three pairs of socks each.

Before boarding the ‘Bullet’ train for our return to Tokyo, we were taken up the mountain overlooking the town and the coastal inlets of the sea that interspersed this area forming a group of small islands.

Yoshiko, Taeko and Fuyuko were waiting for us as the train pulled into Tokyo Central Station. It was our last meeting and time to thank them for all that they had done to make this a most enjoyable and unforgettable visit. There was a lot of talk as we enjoyed our last meal together before finally saying goodbye.

Thursday 8th June

We made an early start to ensure there were no hiccups in getting to the airport on time. We left the hotel by taxi to Tokyo Central Air Terminal, from there to Narita Airport by Limousine Bus. A stroll around the airport shops for last minute presents, light refreshments, then boarding the aircraft which departed on time at 13:10 for our 10½ hour flight home across the top of Siberia.

Friday 9th June 

Arrived at London, Heathrow Airport at 16:47, just three minutes early from our scheduled time of arrival, ending our trip to Japan.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006. Part 3.

Saturday 3rd June

Meeting in the hotel foyer we had breakfast then went to the waiting press cars that were to take us to the old Hakodate camp site. On arrival I was introduced to the man who had bought the site on which the old prison camp had stood, he was now in the process of using the old huts to build a restaurant which would include rooms for paying guests. It was not yet completed, the decorating was still to be done. It had splendid views of the sea and bay which had been obscured from P.O.W.’s view by a high wooden fence that surrounded the camp site, today it was a splendid summers day.

The next surprise was that a local historian named Mr Asari, who I now met, was to plant a rose and black pine tree with me in the grounds overlooking the sea. My daughter Angela was asked to throw some earth then water them in, Bari was kept busy taking photo’s alongside the press men present. A wooden board was put in place with the date and my name on, which was to be replaced at a later date with a granite stone engraved to commemorate my visit.

This task completed, I was then shown round inside the building, it was constructed of old aged timber, a quarantine sign was screwed to an internal wall, a relic from one of the camp huts. We then went to the site of the old crematorium, a little way up the hill, it had been demolished long ago and replaced with a very modern building with a glass door frontage that could have been anywhere.

Further down the hill was a small café overlooking the bay, we sat in the garden and had lunch,  surprisingly, Russian food, Borsch and a Cornish pasty type pastry with a herb filling.

After lunch our next call was to a Buddhist Temple built in 1643, this was where the ashes of the P.O.W.’s who died in Hakodate were kept until the end of the war. Why I was given Bill’s ashes to safeguard, I don’t know, was it because I helped carry him up the hill to the old brick crematorium or because I washed and fed him? I will never know the answer.

The docks were the next stop, it was still the old dry dock that had been there for 106 years, I was told. I remembered this place very well with the winter winds and snow coming in off the sea. A large modern ferry boat was now in dock being renovated, looking very smart with its finishing coats of paint. I could still feel that cold wind there even on this glorious sunny summers day, so felt the need to don the zip-up jacket I had taken along, it had not changed and I had no wish to linger there.

The two reporters from the Hakodate newspaper were taking us to the cable car station, on our way we drove through the old quarters of Hakodate close to the old camp and saw the old British Embassy, the Chinese Centre and the Russian Church, throwbacks of the fish industries of the 1800’s. The press left us when we reached the station to return to their newspaper offices to write their reports. We then rode the cable car to the top of Hakodate mountain and had stunning views of the town, harbour and the twin coastline of the peninsular.

Another busy day out over, we returned to our hotel, then told that we would be dining out at a French restaurant where we were welcomed by an elderly lady, her Buddhist Monk son was to join us later. The restaurant had been closed to other diners and a grand piano installed with pianist playing western music. Several courses of food were served, excellent roast been being the main course, champagne and the finest wines made it a superb meal.

Well sated and expecting to say our thank you and goodbye to our hosts we were surprised to be told that the evening was not over yet, two cars waited outside to take us to the top of Mount Hakodate once again so that we could see the city lights on this clear night. It was a stunning view and an apt finale to an outstanding evening as the cars returned us to our hotel.

Friday, 2 December 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006. Part 2.

Thursday 1st June

Early morning a car from the Embassy arrived and took us to Tokyo Central Station where we were to meet Taeko and Yoshiko to board a Shinkansen ‘Bullet’ train travelling north east for 2½ hours at almost 200 miles per hour, to Hanemaki, changing there to a branch line train for a 1½ hour journey to the port town of Kamaishi. This was a very pleasant rural journey travelling through wooded valleys, rice fields and farming where flat areas were cultivated.

At Kamaishi station I was greeted by local Council officials, reports and a film crew, then taken by minibus to the local museum where photographs of Ohasi iron ore mine, the prison camp and war damaged Kamaishi town were shown to me. Great interest was caused when I pointed to myself dressed in a miners hat paraded with others before leaving for work in the mine. We then boarded the minibus accompanied by the press who interviewed me throughout the day.

First stop was the old Ohasi prison camp which was now completely flat with no sign of its previous habitation, I asked what hap happened to the camp and was told that the local people who had lost their homes during the air raids and bombardment from warships had dismantled it and taken the wood to build makeshift homes. The large stock of food we had left that had been dropped by air was given to the children, they were suffering from a shortage of food.

The gravel road and mine railway outside the camp to Kamaishi and the mine had disappeared, there now was a tarmac road in place.

The next stop was the ore mine which is now a thriving mineral water bottling plant. I knew from experience that there was plenty of water in the mine, but never envisaged this.

The mine had along history, being established in the mid 1800’s. In the main building there was exhibits of the different types of rock, minerals and ore that had been mined there, also relief models of the hillside and mine, further along were several boards which contained various photographs. I did enjoy learning the history of this mine where I had been put to work but cannot say it brought back memories because they have never left me.

Another short ride took us to the mine entrance which was blocked off by two large solid steel doors, I immediately felt disappointed as I had hoped to look inside, but need not have worried as shortly after a miner arrived with the key sent up by the mine management. I was so pleased I was able to go inside and touch the rock walls, it made my day.

We had stopped on our way to the mine to pick up a man who was a child when I worked there, speaking to him through the interpreter, I asked if he knew of the mine collapse in 1945, “yes”, he replied “there was also a collapse in 1942 and 1943”. I would not have felt so safe had I know that when I worked there. It was then time to return to Kamaishi to meet the Mayor.

We entered the Council Offices where we were greeted by the Mayor. He said he was very pleased that I had returned to Kamaishi and thanked me for doing so. We all indulged in a traditional cup of green tea, on leaving he thanked me again and to show his appreciation gave me some locally farmed caviar on departure.

A visit to the harbour was next, it had not changed at all, this was a sight I shall never forget, my mind went back to September 15th 1945, I could see the place where I walked down the ramp of the landing craft with my companions to be taken to the hospital ship in the bay with its escort destroyers. As I looked out at the bay I could see the ships there, waiting. An amazing feeling, one that I cannot forget.

Our final stop was the steel works. It was explained to me that steel was brought here from other works in Japan now and the products made here are steel wire for car tyres and iron dust for disc brake pads.

The blast furnaces were destroyed during the air raids and bombardment on the 9th August 1945 and never rebuilt. These were the first western type in Japan, built in 1857, their remains are a museum site now.

Now it was a hasty retreat as we had only twenty five minutes left to return to our hotel for a quick shower and change before presented ourselves to a formal dinner with invited guests in honour of my visit.

Friday 2nd June

Today I had a rather daunting task ahead of me, I had been asked to speak to 460 students, school officials and some parents, about my imprisonment in Ohasi and the work I did in the mine. I had never spoken to an audience of this size before.

On arrival we were taken to the headmaster’s office for introductions then sat round a table to drink tea and have a chat, then it was time for me to face the waiting audience. Clapping started as soon as we entered the hall, Yoshiko sat beside me on the stage to interpret and so I began to speak.

There was complete silence as I spoke which made me more comfortable and relaxed as the students listened intently. I spoke of the ups and downs of life during the two and a half years I spent in the Ohasi camp, also of the freedom when the war ended and we were all released.

I had managed to explain life as it was at the camp in the hour allotted to me, the students now had just thirty minutes in which to question me, they didn’t waste any time, the boys asked endless questions which I answered in turn until the headmaster interrupted to say that time had run out. Then a boy and girl both made a speech on behalf of the students thanking me for coming, I was then presented with a symbol of Kamaishi city, I replied that it had been my pleasure.

On leaving, the headmaster told me he was surprised at the students interest and the number of questions asked. As I made my final attempt to leave all the boys crowded around me wanting to shake my hand. I was as surprised as the headmaster was, at the amount of interest shown.

Outside the minibus was waiting to take us to the station. As we waved and said our goodbyes to the Kamaishi people there was a warm feeling that we all had enjoyed the visit and meeting each other.

Returning to Hanemaki railway station we boarded a ‘Bullet’ train to Moriaka where the fast track ended. We then changed platforms for an ordinary express to Hakodate, during the change over I noticed a member of the railway staff point me out to another so I assumed he had seen my visit on the television news the evening before although I did not see it myself.

The express was fairly fast speeding past mountainous scenery and through several tunnels, the longest tunnel was the one under the sea from the island of Honshu to the island of Hokkaido, which I understand is one of the longest in the World being 33½ miles long. We arrived in Kakodate at dusk after a total five hour rail journey from Kamaishi.

It was 19:30 in the evening when we arrived at Hakodate rail station and it felt much cooler this far north from Tokyo and as evidence, cherry blossom was still in bloom. Our hotel was just a short distance from the station across a large open square, next to the harbour and famous Hakodate fish market. We were feeling rather weary after another busy day so had our evening meal, then retired to be ready for another busy day ahead of us tomorrow.

Friday, 25 November 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006

In April 2006 I received an invitation to attend an investiture ceremony at the British Embassy in Tokyo. Two Japanese ladies, Mrs Taeko Sasamoto and Mrs Yoshiko Tamura who are founder members of the Japanese P.O.W. Network were to receive the award of M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) for their dedication and hard work in tracing details and final resting places of all British P.O.W.’s who had died in Japan. I became acquainted with these ladies when they visited my home in March 2004.

I decided to accept the invitation and extend my stay to twelve days intending to visit my old camps where I had been held prisoner. When I informed Mrs Tamura of my intentions she asked if she and Mrs Sasamoto could accompany me, I assented, they then arranged an itinerary. Unfortunately my wife was unable to travel with me as she had recently had surgery and not fit enough to travel, so my daughter Angela agreed to accompany me, also a personal friend, Bari Logan.

We booked flights, bought Japan Rail Passes and with the help of Mrs Izumi, who is a secretary of the British Empire, were able to book our accommodation at a hotel quite close to the Embassy, in Tokyo.

My companions and I took off from London, Heathrow Airport at 13.50 lunchtime, Saturday 27th May in pouring rain. Arriving at Tokyo, Narita Airport at 09:10 Sunday morning 28th May after a 10 ½ hour flight, only to find it pouring with rain, but not for long, soon the sun shone and stayed shining for the rest of our visit.

We boarded a Limousine Bus which took us to a drop off point in central Tokyo where we hired a taxi to our hotel, The Grand Arc Hanzomon. I had a pleasant view from my 15th floor room which overlooked the moat and grounds of the Emperors Palace.

Monday 29th May

Early morning, Yoshiko greeted us in the hotel lounge and explained the itinerary that had been arranged for us and to accompany us to the travel agent to pay for our hotels in Hakodate and Kamaishi which had been booked in advance, also our internal flight tickets from Hakodate to Tokyo, Haneda Airport.

First stop was Tokyo Central Station where we exchanged our Rail Pass Vouchers for Japan Rail Passes and made our seat reservations on the Shinkansen ‘Bullet’ trains.

This task completed, we boarded a suburban train to Yokohama where our next stop was the travel agent. Business completed we were driven by Yoshiko to the Commonwealth Cemetery where Taeko was waiting with two newspaper reporters, one from the Daily Telegraph, the other from the Asahi Shinbun, Japan’s number on Newspaper, who then proceeded to question me about my return visit and also of the time I spent in Japan during my P.O.W. years.

The reason for visiting the Commonwealth Cemetery was to see the grave of my friend Bill, who had died during captivity. I had kept his ashes with me until my release then handed them over to be returned to the U.K. In 2004, I learnt that his mother could not bear to accept him home in a box, she had not been informed of his death so was completely shocked, his ashes were returned to Japan.

Leaving the Cemetery our next stop was to a restaurant where we enjoyed a meal and chat after which the newspaper reporters departed. We were then driven to Taeko’s house for the afternoon where we indulged in more food, after a pleasant relaxing few hours we were taken to Yokohama station where we boarded a train to Tokyo returning without problems and back to our hotel.

Tuesday 30th May

It was only a short walk from our hotel to the British Embassy where the investiture ceremony was to start at 17:30 hours. Arriving at the gates we were admitted after the usual careful security checks.

On entering the building I was asked to put my signature beside my name on the list of guests, then escorted to meet the Ambassador, Sir Graham Fry’s wife, a charming lady who informed me I was the guest of honour and would be seated with the award recipients families, then went on to explain the procedure that would follow.

The guests were seated and the ceremony began, the Ambassador speaking in Japanese and an Army member of staff translating at intervals in English. A large group of press and television camera’s recording the event. Champagne followed, food and drinks were offered while people chatted. I was kept very busy by a number of people from the press and several members of the Japanese P.O.W. Network who asked to speak to me. The Ambassador thanked me for coming to Japan saying how much it was appreciated by all the guests and staff. It was a lovely warm evening as guests were able to stroll about in the gardens.

After a pleasant evening we made our way back to the hotel accompanied by fifteen members of the Japanese P.O.W. Network where a buffet meal and drinks had been ordered in the restaurant. They all wanted to speak to me, asking questions, so I was constantly passed from one person to another, it seems they rarely encounter an ex-P.O.W. to speak to, person to person.

It was the early hours of the morning before this happy gathering came to an end. I was pleased that my companions and I had a free day ahead of us, needless to say, we did not intend to rise at the crack of dawn.

Wednesday 31st May

During the day we took a stroll around part of the perimeter of the large moat that surrounds the Emperors Palace gardens, I then sat in the shade of trees enjoying the tranquility before returning back to the hotel for another rest followed by a meal out that evening.

Monday, 21 November 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 8.

England, at last!

It was another grey morning when we finally docked into Southampton. The Captain had done well; crossing in just four days and ten hours, not far short of its own record. Some Americans on board told us this happened with every crossing. The Captain would cruise to America at a slower pace, so as to conserve fuel, then burn what he had saved on a fast return to England.

Coming ashore, nothing seemed to have changed. There were just a few railway people on the quayside. We were instructed not to enter buildings as the customs men were there and would go through our bags. We were then directed to where the trains were waiting. Before long we were on our way to RAF Cosford, near Wolverhampton, and were informed by RAF personnel that if all went smoothly we would be on our way home that night. It was a great feeling knowing that our long journey was almost over. I longed to reach home after an absence of almost four and a half years.

Cosford was well organised and was ready for our arrival. We were passed through the various departments as quickly as possible. We each saw a doctor who gave us yet another check over and asked us a few questions about our health. Then a kit check and on to another department to receive our travel warrants and timetables. Lastly, we lined up at the pay desk to receive a sum of money; part of our back pay. I can’t recall exactly how much, but it didn’t really matter, we were home. The station personnel told us that if we wanted to know the whereabouts of any RAF pals we had left behind, they would willingly try to trace them. I left the names and numbers of two pals that I would very much like to trace.

One Final Walk and Home

A telegram was sent to each of our homes telling our parents of our expected arrival times. We said our goodbyes and away we went. So much had happened, so many experiences that really there was little to say. It was late at night by the time I arrived at my destination. My father was waiting on the platform to greet me as I climbed down from the train. There were no taxis available, so we walked home. I didn’t mind as I wanted the opportunity to familiarise myself with my new surroundings.

Half an hour or so later, as we approached our home, I could see a large banner across the front of the house with the words ‘Welcome Home Frank’. Once indoors, I found all my relatives had assembled to welcome me home. My Mother said she knew I didn’t like any fuss but had to put out the flags because all the parents were doing the same when their sons came home and she didn’t want them to think that she didn’t care about her son. She promised that they would be taken down in the morning. Questions were being thrown at me from all directions for the next three hours. Then everyone finally dispersed, after I had promised to visit them all over the next few weeks.

Trying to Adjust to Normal Life Again

I realised the very next day that it was going to be very difficult to get back to my old lifestyle. I felt very much alone. My friends, who had been my constant companions before I joined up, had all married and moved away. The first few days I spent taking long walks, assuring myself that everything would soon be fine and I would be able to settle down once again to leading the normal happy and contented life I once knew. Although I felt lonely, I actually needed to be alone while I tried to sort out my feelings.

I was due back at RAF Cosford in January after eight weeks leave so I was looking forward to meeting up with some of my old RAF pals. In the meantime, I decided to write to Bill’s mother. I mentioned early in this story that my mate Bill had died in Hakodate. I first met him in the hut when we were posted overseas; he and I left our friends behind and were given a cabin together, so we chummed up. We hadn’t much in common other than that we were both keen on motorbikes.

I wrote to Bill’s mum offering to pay a visit. I received a reply from Bill’s sister saying her mother had no wish to see me; she couldn’t understand why I had survived and her son hadn’t. Bill’s ashes, which I had kept and handed in on my release, had been safely delivered. His sister invited me to visit her at her home in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, as she needed to know the full details of his death. I did my best to explain.

After the visit, I decided to get away from home for a time and make the promised visits to all my uncles and aunts. My cousins, of course, were still in the forces. One of my first visits was to the parents of my best pal. He had intended volunteering for service with me, but his parents wouldn’t let him. Nine months after I joined up I spent a weekend with him on leave; telling him that I had volunteered for overseas service. He was now living in Oxfordshire, with a wife and child and still serving in the RAF. During my conversation with his parents they mentioned another family who were still awaiting news of their son. I told them that he had died in Java in 1942 but they shouldn’t mention this to anyone; I wanted them to hear the news officially in the proper manner.

I was invited to a dinner at the Conservative Club laid on for ex-P.O.W.’s like myself. The dinner was fine until I discovered I was the only Japanese P.O.W.; all the others were from Germany and Italy. They had lots of funny and amusing stories to tell of incidents that took place while they were in captivity. I’m afraid I could not recall one incident that was in the least bit funny or amusing, so I felt a bit of an odd one out.

My mother mentioned a young workmate who I vaguely remembered from the early days. We had both worked for a large building and decorating firm specialising in hotels and public houses. I was decorating apprentice and he, Henry, was a plumber’s apprentice. He left when he was eighteen, because of the poor wages, and went to work in a factory. He was a big strong lad and when called up joined the Royal Marines. Landing in France on D-Day, he was hit in the head and neck by shrapnel from a mortar shell. He was now a church caretaking living in a one-bedroom cottage close to the church with his wife and child. Henry’s mother had asked for me to see him, hoping it might help him in some way. When I did visit him I fond it quite an ordeal; he looked normal but there the resemblance ended. He had great difficulty when trying to speak and when he did managed to say anything he sounded like a backward child. He memory was impaired and I could see by his face the struggle he was having in trying to remember who I was. I found this very distressing but stayed with him all afternoon, hoping to see some improvement. Regrettably, it just didn’t happen.

Young Lady in the Office

I was kicking my heels by now, willing my eight weeks leave to end. I realised there were not too many people my age around; they were mostly under eighteen or over forty-five. I thought I might pay my old firm a visit to see if any of my old workmates were still around. I went to the office and spoke to the young lady who told me some of the chaps were decorating a dance hall in a hotel nearby. I went round there and, on entering the dance hall, received a very warm welcome. I enjoyed a cup of tea and a long chat with my ex-workmates, which left me feeling happy and relaxed. I asked who the young lady was in the office and whether she had a boyfriend? I was told “No!” They told me she was eighteen years old and at the moment she wasn’t interested in boyfriends. After a couple of dates they always seemed to make a nuisance of themselves, which I could well understand. I thought she was gorgeous and I found out her name was Lena. My mates went on to say that they had told her not to bother with the chaps because I was on my way home and was the one for her. As I took my leave from them I was asked when I would be returning to work. I wasn’t too sure about that!

Before making for home, I decided to pop back to the office to ask Lena out. To my delight, she accepted. Three months later, on our way to a former P.O.W.’s wedding, we changed trains in London and found ourselves passing a jeweller. I asked he “Shall we get engaged?” and she replied “Yes!” So, we popped in and I bought her a ring. We were married in the Parish Church six months later when Lena was nineteen. I had celebrated my 26th birthday the day before. It was, I must say, much to the disapproval of our respective parents. My mother felt that she had lost her son for the second time and Lena’s mother thought she was far too young, but grudgingly gave her consent after a bit of coaxing, we are still happy and contented after 65 years of marriage, so it could not have been a bad decision.

When my leave was up I returned to Cosford and found the information I had asked about my two pals was waiting for me. Once had been to North Africa and Italy in charge of an airfield fire appliance and had survived the war, we met up later. The other who said he would wait for what he had volunteered for, reached his ambition and became a Spitfire pilot. Taking his first operational flight on an offensive sweep over France at the time when the German FW 190’s ruled the skies, he had been shot down and killed. I felt terribly sad at the news. He was such a lovely chap who, before joining up had worked at Liberty’s store in London. I remember that he had taken me along there to meet some staff when I spent a weekend leave at his home.

I have a lot to be thankful for, I survived the war and here, the Memoirs of my war experiences end.

Next: Return to Japan – 2006

Saturday, 12 November 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 7.

From Canada to The United States of America

On the last day of our journey across Canada, our steward pointed and said, “Niagara Falls over there”. The train slowed down and we crossed into the United States of America at Buffalo. Along the way, three of the locomotives had been disconnected; they weren’t needed once we had left the gradients behind. The remaining one was replaced at Buffalo with a new locomotive with New York Central on it. The journey continued, passing through more densely populated areas of small town America. some of the names I remember hearing of before; Rochester, Syracuse and Albany were some of them. Finally, we reached our destination; Newark, New Jersey. Our journey had taken five days and four nights and passed through some of the most spectacular country I had every seen.

Collecting our packed kit bags we left the train and entered the station. We were then escorted to a ferry, which was within walking distance of the station. The ferry was crowded and busy but the service was frequent. Once the required number was on board we were on our way to the city of New York. A short way into our crossing we saw our ship, the Queen Mary, in the distance. With eagerness and some trepidation we left the ferry and walked to the ship. The last stage of our journey was about to begin.

The Greatest Liner Afloat

On boarding the Queen Mary, we were presented with a ticket showing our cabin and deck number. I was in for a shock. Everything was such a contrast to my trip on the MV Athlone Castle when leaving England in 1941.

The MV Athlone Castle was a liner that, before the war, sailed between England and South Africa. On that trip, Bill (my friend who died in the Hakodate POW camp) and I were given a cabin for two with wardrobe, cabinet and washbasin. The headwaiter had played a tune on a small dulcimer to announce that meals were being served. The only concession made for conversion of the MV Athlone Castle to troop carry was the installation of long tables in the dining room to replace the normal ones. We had enjoyed a nine-week cruise to Singapore back in 1941.

But now, on the greatest liner afloat, I was dumbfounded. Our cabins had been stripped bare and filled with metal bunks, four high on each side of the cabin. They were constructed from tubular frames with steel mesh stretched across and a thin mattress on top. The only standing space in the cabin was between the bunks. Fortunately for us there were only four of us in our cabin so we each had a spare bunk where we were able to place our kit. When seated for our evening meal we were given all the information that they deemed necessary. As we entered the dining room I had noticed a wall covered with a relief map showing England and America with the Atlantic Ocean between them on which was a model of the Queen Mary supposedly showing the ship’s passage. I had seen this on newsreels in cinemas before the war when the media had been shown around the interior of this huge liner. We were told that apart from the working crew on board, the Americans were now running the ship. On its return trip from England, having deposited us ashore, the ship would be packed to capacity bringing home 15,000 American servicemen; an uncomfortable trip I would imagine. We were told that they would be served two meals a day; one at 10:00 am and the other at 4:00 pm; we on the other hand, would get three meals!

Once again we were informed, no pay: Britain was broke. We would not, therefore, be allowed ashore. They were unable to say when we would be sailing but it would be as soon as the ship was refuelled and the provissions were brought on board. I felt that the sooner this trip was over the better! After a good meal that evening, most of us walked around the decks looking at New York’s skyscrapers and the lights. That evening Air Chief Marshal Tedder, General Eisenhower’s deputy during the European war, visited us; he walked around the decks talking to groups of us, questioning us about our experiences. He apologised for the lack of cash but told us that books, magazines and newspapers were being brought on board to occupy us.

In the daylight the streets of New York seemed a long way from the docks. Our only view was of warehouses and a three-tier road, which disappeared into the distance. An American soldier guarded the gangway onto the quay. Time dragged as we either walked around the decks or lay on our bunks. After dark some of the airmen went down the gangway and spoke to the guard. He explained that he had orders not to let anyone past but, if they climbed over before they reached him, he would look the other way. The few that did get ashore were treated to drinks but were unable to get into the city centre without a taxi so they decided not to bother.

The Queen Mary set sail after three long days giving us a look at the Statue of Liberty as we headed for the open sea. Looking back, the skyline couldn’t possibly be mistaken for anywhere else in the world. The ship was very stable as we ploughed into the rough seas. We were well into November by now with grey skies and the weather quite chilly. We were all longing to reach Southampton; it seemed a lifetime since the war in the Far East had ended on August 15th, now three months ago.

Friday, 4 November 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 6.

Up early next morning, kit bags packed, we were off down to the docks to board a ship for a two and a half hour voyage to Vancouver. My emotions were rather mixed. I desperately wanted to go home but felt sad at leaving the people who had been so kind and generous, helping us ease our way back into society.

We arrived in Vancouver about three hours later and disembarked in two separate groups. One group to travel on Canadian Pacific Railways and the other on Canadian National Railways; I was to board the latter. After a short walk each group were settled in their respective trains, which were to travel, by different routes across Canada to our destination, New York in the United States of America. Our train was the largest I had ever seen with twenty-two coaches pulled by two locomotives. Our coach was comfortably warm with double-glazed windows and two settee type seats facing each other with two of us to each settee. There was also a pull down bunk above the window that formed part of the roof by day.

During the evening, whilst we were at dinner, the steward unlocked the pull down bunk and made that and the settees into beds ready for us to retire. I had the bunk. I felt a surge of excitement as we pulled away from Vancouver. As we left we could see the Rocky Mountains and soon we would pass through them. Vancouver was a surprisingly large city with lots of small towns and suburbs. But in no time it seemed we were in the mountains running along tracks cut into the mountainside with our speed decreasing as the train started to climb the steep gradients. As I watched from my coach window, which was near the front of the train, I could look back along the whole train, which by now had acquired two more locomotives. We now had two engines at each end of the train which I could see winding itself gracefully around the curves of the mountain with columns of black smoke and steam rising straight up from the locomotive’s funnels. The scenery was breathtaking, with snowy mountains, fir trees and riverbanks along which the track sometimes ran.

At the end of our coach there were washing facilities, toilets and showers. After dinner which was served in the dining coach, we sat on our beds chatting for a while before turning in. The rhythm of the train soon rocked us to sleep although we were half wakened occasionally by the unfamiliar sound of the train whistle. In the morning we found that we had passed through Calgary during the night. The steward told us that we would shortly be stopping at a town called Medicine Hat for a change of driver and fireman and to allow the train to refuel. There would, he said, be a further five stops along the way where we would be able to dismount for an hour to stretch our legs and have a look around. We would be alerted to return on board by the train’s whistle and bells which would sound at intervals ten minutes before the train was due to depart.

There was snow on the ground as we chuffed into Medicine Hat, the train bell ringing just like a small church bell. It was a small station without a platform. As the coach door opened, the metal floor hinged up revealing steps down to the trackside. I had donned my hat, greatcoat and gloves to face the weather but my first breath of air told me where my lungs began and ended. It was freezing with snow crunching underfoot. I decided to have a look round the nearest locomotive and noticed that the Company’s name had been removed from the coaches and had been replaced by a sign saying ‘Armed Forces Sleeper’. On the locomotive’s tender I read waster capacity 6000 gallons, coal 16 tons; an enormous amount I thought. I was told later that they also used 600 gallons of oil, which was sprayed into the furnace with the coal, the coal was fed into an opening in the tender floor, crushed in a worm drive then blown into the furnace under pressure with the oil.

Outside the station was a large log building with general store emblazoned across it’s front; some of us decided to go inside. A large iron barrel stove stood in the centre of the room, the remainder of the store being packed to capacity with everything imaginable, all one needs in this frozen climate. I’d never seen so many commodities in one place and could have browsed for hours. Instead, I thought I would explore some of the town, walking down a couple of side streets. There were no other shops in sight, the general store obviously being the main supplier to the local populace. The only inhabitant I encountered were some men wearing hats and earmuffs, lumber jackets and thick trousers and strapped knee length boots. It was a visual geography lesson for me but I decided I needed to get back on the train to enjoy its cosy warmth.

Next stop Moose Jaw; a similar journey, similar town except for the weather which was horizontal snow and freezing wind. I wasted little time in hopping back on the train. The scenery was also changing as we journeyed on with the countryside becoming flatter. We then reached the prairies, the wide-open spaces, which took a day and a half to cross. At one of the stops some English girls, who had met and married Canadians, were waiting to meet the train. They all talked of the loneliness, with no neighbours nearby. Three of them were so desperate they asked if they could join the train and travel home with us. I must say I had some sympathy with them because I was desperate to get home and could hardly wait for the journey to end.

The view from the train was just mile after mile of grassland with bushes here and there, of course this was November and the wheat and cereals must have been harvested, the occasional farm scattered the horizon, I felt that to live such a lonely life with no near neighbours and not another human being in sight would be hard to bear unless born into this vast lonely world. We did not stop at any of the large cities having pas Winnipeg about half way through our journey and now as we neared the end sped past Ottawa and Toronoto.

Friday, 28 October 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 5.

Friendship and a Social Life

One day we left camp late in the afternoon intending to visit a cinema that evening. We stood talking on a street corner when two young ladies in army uniform walked towards us. They stopped and said they had been told that there were a lot of ex-P.O.W.'s walking around town not knowing what to do. They had been given the afternoon off and some free cinema ticket so, would we like to go to the movies with them? So, in we went!

After leaving the cinema we went into a café for a drink and to try some maple syrup pancakes. One of the girls seemed very friendly towards me and asked if we had seen the totem poles and the park. They said they would take us there the following day, which they did. By late afternoon it was obvious that one of the other chaps and me were getting all the attention. Of the other two, one was getting married when he got home and decided he was going back to camp; the other joined him.

I now knew the young lady who had paired off with me was Laura. We had a meal out and a drink in a club then she took me back to her flat where I met mates of hers from the various flats in the house. Our meetings were flexible. We agreed to meet at the same time and the same place each day not knowing if she had to be on duty the next day.

One day the RAF chaps were taken to the RCAF station to be kitted out with uniforms. Tailors were on hand to do any alterations needed. We were given a kit bag in which to pack a greatcoat, which was accepted gratefully to keep out the cost night air. It was becoming quite frosty. We were also issued with black leather gloves, not the woolen ones normally issued in England. Back at camp all the airmen, including me, were busy sewing on badges and generally feeling smarter and more comfortable in ourselves. Laura thought I looked great and suggested we go for a walk. During the walk we passed other army girls on the other side of the road going in the opposite direction. They shouted as we passed. Laura said to me “Wait here” then walked across and spoke to them. On return I asked if she knew them. She said “No”, but they had called me a nasty name, which I can’t recall. she explained that all Canadian servicemen volunteered for overseas service; there was no compulsion. But everyone who stayed at home was deemed to be a coward. Apparently they had assumed I was one of the latter, which seemed rather strange as there were an extra 1000 or so men walking about in their new army uniforms. Laura said she had put them straight!

On the Sunday, Laura had arranged to take me to her brother’s house for dinner in the evening. By now it was late October and becoming very chilly. The house was very warm but the only sign of heating was a fire in the lounge. I asked how they managed to keep so much warmth when there were no obvious radiators. I was taken down to the basement where an iron barrel stove was glowing, burning just sawdust. On and around the stove was a metal casing with a pipe reaching the ceiling where further pipes branched out to vents in the skirting of the rooms above. These kept the rooms beautifully warm.

It was a nice detached house of timber and brick construction with unfenced lawns at the front. My host told me he had a good job as a welder in the docks, was always busy repairing damaged ships and had a car. After dinner he asked my intentions. I told him I hadn’t thought about it; I just needed to get home and sort myself out. He then said it would be easy for me to get a job at the docks, young people were needed in Canada and assistance was available to help them emigrate. I explained that I was only twenty years old when I left England and was now twenty-five. My parents would expect me to spend some time with them. I had volunteered for the RAF at nineteen and had been out of their lives for too long. Also, it must have been a worrying time for them whilst I had been a Japanese P.O.W.

We were by now settled into a routine. Mornings were spent in camp, mainly just hanging around. Most  of the airmen now had girlfriends and others had been adopted by local families who cared for them and showed them around the sights. Some just went about in groups. so afternoons and evenings were taken care of. Therefore there wasn’t too much enthusiasm when a day out at a flying boat station in the wilderness was offered. Eventually around fifty decided they would go; apparently they had quite a jolly time. It seem they were given a tour of the base and as much food and drink as they could managed. Also, a Christmas dinner was laid on with plenty of games. In other words, have what you like and do what you will; and apparently they did! The coast would be leaving to take them back to camp at 5pm. It seems that most of them ended up in the WAAF’s (women's) quarters, which are strictly out of bounds to airmen. The story goes that, at around 4.30 pm, the WAAF Officer entered the hut exclaiming, “What are you naughty girls doing to these poor airmen? Let them go at once. You know they should not be in here and their coach goes in half an hour”.

It was now over three weeks since we arrived here. The married men especially were getting restless and wanted to be on the move. We were all wanting to get home to try picking up the threads of our lives so we were happy when a notice was pinned up on the board notifying us of our departure in two days time. Laura and I had arranged to go to the cinema that day. When we met her first words were, “You’re going home!” I asked her how she knew but she just said, “We know!”

I had hardly recognised her the next day when we net; it was the first time I had seen her out of uniform. Her friend Jean, who I had met with Laura on the first day, had invited us with another couple to her parent’s house for the day. We arrived at a large, well furnished bungalow where a buffet meal had been prepared and a bottle of wine. Most impressive; not many people in England lived in this style. I think it was all meant to impress me as I realised the girls were keen for us to return to Canada. It was a pleasant evening; good company, chatting and listening to big band music on the radio broadcast from America. Laura said lots of girls would be coming to the docks tomorrow when we sailed, but she wouldn’t be there. We would say our goodbyes tonight.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 4.

Voyage to Canada

The days progressively grew colder so our gabardine jackets were necessary outside the hangar. Charlie, my near neighbour at home, still paid me regular visits bearing gifts of cakes, gateau etc plus tots of rum contributed daily by him and his friends. He would sit and have a chat about his lot and didn’t appear too happy. He was late joining up and was now keen for an early discharge. Before joining the aircraft carrier he was a gunner on the rear of a Fast Patrol Boat operating at night in the English Channel engaging German E-boats attacking our shipping. He became euphoric when telling me what a thrill he felt when strapping himself into a chair with its revolving twin cannon. A thrill no doubt enhanced by the speed of the boat coming from three modified aircraft engines below. There was a Second Lieutenant in charge of the FPB and all the crew were on first name terms. At the end of hostilities in Europe he had been shipped to Sydney, Australia to become a waiter in the officers’ mess; I clearly understood his feelings. As we neared Vancouver he asked if I could deliver a parcel to his father containing his tobacco allowance. He was very pleased when I gave him some of my cigars to add to the parcel; he had been a good friend.

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

It was a sunny autumn day as we sailed into a straight between Vancouver Island and the mainland of Canada. No standing to attention on this occasion. Our arrival had obviously been publicised and some small private aircraft flew overhead as we made our approach. Along one side of the straight the shoreline had been cut into the side of the rock on which ran a railway line. Presently a locomotive with coaches twice the length of any I had previously seen came into view. It slowed down to our speed, blowing its whistle and ringing its bell with its passengers waving welcomingly. After about fifteen minutes he went puffing on his way.

Our ship docked at Esquimalt near Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island, and not Vancouver City as we had expected. Coaches collected us and we said goodbye to our recently made sailor friends before we were transported to a large army camp. The Canadians amongst us were taken elsewhere. We were deposited in barracks, four to a room and were told where to eat. Another medical check was imminent. A voluntary organisation had placed people around to chat to us and put us at our ease. No date was given for our departure but we learned that it would be in about three weeks.

The next couple of days we spend around camp getting used to our new surroundings and finding out where we could go and what there was to see. We had been paid some Canadian dollars so felt ready to face the outside world with growing confidence. After a while we were informed that personnel trucks would be running from camp next day to take us into Victoria. We were told that each night to make sure we could get back to our billets. It turned out that Victoria was built on a grid pattern so it was no problem getting a lift back provided that one stayed put.

I think the ex-P.O.W.’s were still finding it difficult to be individuals. We seemed to need each other’s company to face the outside world. So my three room-mates and I prepared to hit the town together. A Canadian soldier asked if any of us were army personnel. We told him “No” but asked why he wanted to know. “Army personnel were all being kitted out in new uniforms” was his reply. “What about RAF?” we wanted to know. He said he would be telling the Royal Canadian Air Force how many of us there were.

Victoria was a nice place. It was the first town we had seen for some years, but we felt more comfortable with money in our pockets. It enabled us to walk into a café and buy a cup of coffee. Trying to be normal was a strange experience. There were no pubs, only clubs. If we entered one we found it difficult to buy ourselves a drink. The other customers would insist on paying which was very nice but we felt uncomfortable about it. We decided we might be less conspicuous if we went out in the evening.

Monday, 17 October 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 3.

Pearl Harbour and Honolulu

Soon the Captain informed us that we would be arriving at Hawaii (Oahu), the Hawaiin Islands, docking in Pearl Harbour. This immediately conjured up thoughts for me of grass skirts and golden sands. The Captain went on to say the ships crew would be at attention as we entered the harbour and all “hands” (as we were now called) must line up in single file at the ship’s rails along the flight deck if we wanted to watch proceedings. He added that he would be giving commentary as we sailed in so that we would all know what was happening.

Soon after breakfast next morning we were up on deck lining the rails as we entered Pearl Harbour. It was a massive, natural harbour full of warships and aircraft carriers. The captain named the ships as we slowly followed our passage through the moored ships and explained that it was necessary to dip our ensign to all ships larger than us. Most of them were; except for one which caused us much amusement. We were almost past this ship, which I assumed has less tonnage than HMS Glory and we were almost abreast of it when we heard the command from the bridge “Give him a blast, Mr Brown!” But before the order could be carried out the American ship dipped it’s ensign; we wondered if the Americans had also heard the command. Our ship glided alongside the quay, tied up and we were told we could stand down.

On the quayside, waiting to welcome us, was the U.S. Air Force band. I had always enjoyed big band music. Before joining up I listened on the short wave radio at home to this type of music from America so knew some of the tunes they were playing; especially Glen Miller. It was fantastic; we all clapped and cheered them. They seemed to appreciate our applause and responded to it by playing for an hour and a half before forming up and marching off to the St Louis Blues march; brilliant! I felt alive.

During the afternoon the telephone company “Western Union” sent personnel on board with the generous offer that we could each send a free telegram home. Naturally, we promptly accepted their kind offer. A talk followed, given by the Captain. He explained that there would be no pay parade; Britain was broke and nobody was getting any dollars. We were, however, able to go ashore the following day and at the gangplank would be given tickets of various denominations that had been generously supplied by the local traders. These we could spend in the bars and cafes. Later that day a troupe of grass skirted dancers accompanied by a Hawaiian band came on board and performed for us. It was a perfect ending to a glorious sunny day.

Next day a crowd of us decided to do some exploring. Our attire, U.S. Navy working gear, consisted of a light blue shirt, dark blue jeans, black shoes and no headgear. Going ashore we made for the dock gates where U.S. Military Police (‘Snowdrops’, when they were out of earshot) wearing their white helmets and with drawn truncheons were on duty. As we streamed forward one shouted out “Hey you there! Sidewalks are for walkers and roads for vehicles”. So we had to be patient and go singly through the narrow footpath entrances on each side of the road. Once outside, we pondered where to go. There were high wire fences each side of the road that seemed to go on forever. After walking for about fifteen minutes, we began to encounter uniformed soldiers behind the wire. They asked “How did you get out, dressed like that?” We spoke to some who told us they weren’t allowed out of camp ever; there were too many military personnel on the island. We asked if they knew the way to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach; they thought we had to turn right but a long way.

It was a long way, but there it was eventually. Lots of hotels but as for the beach, I'd seen better ones in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Malaya; that’s if sand and palm trees are to be considered. I felt disappointed. We piled into the cafes for a cool drink then wended our weary way back in the heat stopping occasionally for more cooling drinks. Our tickets spent, we made our way back to the ship and thankfully climbed back up the steps. Back on board it was home and feeling comfortable. Then we sat on deck roasting as the heat below decks became overpowering. Around midnight there was a commotion coming from the quayside. Apparently a group of P.O.W.’s went ashore to a club where some customers noticed them paying for drinks with tickets. The customers asked why and when the ex-P.O.W. status was explained, the customers insisted on paying for them. Several free drinks later they were given transport back to the ship together with a band and dancing girls from the club. There must have been some very tolerant MPs on the gate that night.

The officer of the watch on the gangplank said he would have to get the Captains permission for them to come aboard. The Captain, who had retired for the night, gave his consent and joined us. All the flight deck lights were switched on and we were treated to another performance of hula hula dancing; very enjoyable. I was ready for bed after that.

I didn’t bother going ashore again. With the sweltering heat, no money in my pocket and very long walks to get anywhere was something I wasn’t ready for. I was content to stay put and rest. Two days later we cast off and headed for Vancouver, Canada.

Friday, 30 September 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 2.

Sea Transport Arrives at Last

Eventually, after about three weeks we were informed that a Royal Navy ship, HMS Glory, an aircraft carrier, was on the way to take us home. After what seemed an eternity, we were told of it’s arrival and that we were to board next morning.

After breakfast we were ready to go, not much packing to do; a change of shirt, underwear and a waist length jacket. I also had a bag containing cigarettes that I was still smoking my way through and some tobacco and cigars I intended to give my father. After saying goodbye to our hosts, the Americans, we settled ourselves into the personnel carriers for the journeys to Manila Bay. The Bay, when we arrived, was absolutely packed full of ships of all descriptions. Gradually we were loaded into large craft type boats and out into the bay we went.

Someone nearby asked the U.S. Sailor steering the boat which ship we were making for; an aircraft carrier was his reply. We must have travelled three miles from the shore and the sea was still thick with ships. I came to the conclusion that they had all been readied for the invasion of Japan since, with all the surrounding Islands taken, only Japan remained to be resolved. I must confess I was pleased that the invasion hadn’t taken place as me and my fellow P.O.W.’s would not be on our way home; instead we would have been executed. Terrible as it was, I was thankful for the Atom bombs that had been dropped by the allies on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We approached the aircraft carrier, floating alongside a pontoon, from which steps led up the side and into the interior of the ship. We were then guided up to the flight deck. When we were all assembled, the Captain welcomed us on board telling us how glad he was to have the opportunity tot make our lives more pleasant. He then gave a brief resume of what had been prepared for us. All the aircraft had been flown off to Sydney, Australia; the empty hangars now contained beds for us. Our meals were to be taken in the ships dining room. Each of us would receive £20; two bottles of beer and a packet of cigarettes would be available for us to buy each day. Our destination was to be Vancouver, on the West Coast of Canada, stopping on the way at the Island of Hawaii. Our ship, HMS Glory, was underway as we settled in and tried out our beds; quite an experience after so many years sleeping rough.

A Neighbour Onboard Ship

The following day we were asked to list our names and hometown. This list would then be printed and hung in the crew quarters and the crew would be doing likewise for us. There were over a thousand sailors on board and it was explained that there could possibly be someone they or we knew on board. No duties were asked of us except to keep our bed space tidy. It was nice to be able to go up on the flight deck after breakfast where we were able to relax in the deck chairs that had been provided, have a read or just watch the sea. The weather was glorious!

A day or two after the lists were exchanged I had returned to my bedside where my few belongings were kept. I had just sat down when I noticed four sailors approaching. As they came nearer, the features of one seemed familiar. It turned out that he, Charlie, lived down the road from my home and was about 4 or 5 years younger than me. The three other sailors were his friends and they told me they had put their daily rum ration in a mug for me and would do so for the rest of the voyage. I protested and told them I didn’t want them to do that, but they had decided and were determined to do it, and they did. Charlie tried to fill me in as to what had been happening at home whilst I had been absent. He told me how upsetting it had been especially for my parents when I had been reported missing. It was April 1943 when they were notified that I had been captured and was a P.O.W. in Japanese hands. Charlie paid me regular visits, bringing me extra food to try to fatten me up and we spent much time reminiscing about our youth.

The films being shown on board were mainly newsreels of the war years but others were of mishaps on the aircraft carriers, which I found distressing to watch. Damaged aircraft limping manfully back only to disappear over the side of the ship or crash and burst into flames.

Friday, 23 September 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 1.

September 1945 – Manila, Island of Luzon, The Philippines

It was now almost two months since our liberation from the Japanese and we still didn't know when we would go home. I continued my daily walks having no idea as to where the permanent U.S. Army Garrison I was billeted in was situated. Surrounding it on all sides were wide areas of open countryside shaded by coconut palms, with a few bushes here and there.

On our arrival here, we the P.O.W.’s had all been checked over, had X-Rays and given inoculations for heaven knows what. Returning to my tent one day I had been left a card instructing me to report to the medical centre and to take the card with me. At reception I handed the card to the medical orderly on duty who, after reading my number rank and name, looked up and said “Are you really in the Royal Air Force?” To which I replied, “Yes!” His face beamed as he said, “I just can’t wait to tel my Ma and Pa that I’ve actually met someone from the Royal Air Force. What luck I just can’t believe it!” I said “Thanks” and then enquired where I was to go. He then said he would take me and showed me to a room with a doctor in residence.

After the formalities I was questioned about the mine I had recently worked in. My chest was then examined and the doctor asked me if I had TB. I told him no, but when very young about five years of age, I’d spent some time in an isolation hospital with Diptheria. “That’s it” he exclaimed and then went on to explain that it had left a scar on my lung. I was very relieved it was nothing more serious.

Reading some of the glossy magazines provided by my generous hosts, America seemed like another world to me. Some of the advertisements seemed unbelievable. For instance “We are sorry you cannot buy your new Mercury, Oldsmobile, Chevrolet or whatever but when you GI’s come home we'll make sure you don’t have to wait too long.” I thought of the Americans in our camp at Ohashi who had owned cards before they joined up and with the ‘two rank’ instant promotions they had been given wouldn’t have any cash problems when they returned home.

White and Black – ‘Firewater’

We British ex-P.O.W.’s hadn’t received any pay but we had no real need for it as our hosts were catering for all our needs. I recall one amusing incident when taking one of my daily walks. Once I had moved outside the camp I noticed a parked caravan ahead. As I approached, I could see it had an open side with soft drinks, beer and spirits for sale. A black G.I. stood at the open side and a young Philippino lady served behind the counter. I was unaware at the time that a very strong segregation of coloured and white troops was normal; never acknowledging one another. As I walked past I nodded and said “Hello, it's good to be in the shade in this heat.” The G.I. looked at me rather strangely and asked, “Where you from?” “England” I replied. He then wanted to know what I was doing there. I told him I was one of the ex-Japanese Prisoner’s of War at the camp awaiting to be transported home. He asked if I would like a drink. I said, “No thanks. I haven’t received any pay as yet. He then told me not to worry about paying so I said, “Thanks, I’ll have an orangeade”. He said, “I’ve heard about your limeys”; a reference to the drink I ordered, I think. The G.I. was drinking from a bottle of whisky and I could not help but notice the label. It read White and Black, Fine Scotch Whisky; not the usual Black and White Whisky we would see back home.

I enjoyed the orange drink buy my new friend kept insisting that I have a drink with him. By now the potency of whatever he was drinking was taking effect and it was obvious that my refusal to join him was beginning to upset him. He called for another glass, which he half filled from the bottle. I wished him good health and took a swig from the glass. Firewater would be an understatement; the fumes went to my head and what felt like liquid fire went down my throat. I gulped down the orangeade to try putting out the fire. I asked him if I could see the bottle; it had been distilled in Manila. I told him I was unable to drink that out here in the heat, as my stomach couldn’t cope with alcohol after so long without decent food. He then wanted to buy me a bottle to take with me. I thank him for his generosity whilst pouring my glass of firewater into the orangeade bottle, telling him that was quite sufficient and that I would drink it later in the cool of the evening.

Thinking I had been very diplomatic and about to continue on my way, he asked, “How did you get on for women?” “Women!” I exclaimed and emphasised “No women!” I was taken aback and wondered what type of prison camps he was thinking of; certainly not ones run by the Jap’s. I should have departed then, but he hadn’t finished with me, not by a long chalk. Pointing to the young Philippino lady behind the counter he said, “Will you?” She smiled broadly and nodding her head vigorously said No, she wouldn’t mind at all. Suddenly, illustrated lectures that I had attended in initial training and on board the ship going to Malaya where two doctors graphically described the results of venereal disease flashed through my mind. I certainly had no inclination or wish to participate, so simply shrugged and told him I needed to get my health back but, “Thanks anyway.” I then beat a hasty retreat and, needless to say, I didn’t drink the firewater!

I noticed every few days an aerial spray was being carried out by U.S. air force lighting twin fuselage fighters. P.38, I think they were called. I was unable to find out what was being sprayed or even how much of the camp was sprayed. I came to the conclusion that it was just the area where we, the ex-P.O.W.'s, were camping.

Friday, 16 September 2011

25: Liberation by Americans, Yokohama and Manila in the Philippines

One more day of waiting and then on the Fifteenth of September, Nineteen Forty Five (15.09.45), American trucks drove into our camp. We were on the move at last. Someone was sent up the road to tell the Chinese to move into our camp and to use up the supplies. As my turn came, I climbed on to the truck, my very few possessions in my side pack and Bill’s ashes in his box and away we went. It was an exhilarating feeling to be on our way home at last, after three and a half years of privation and forced slave labour.

We rode off down the road to Kamishi where American soldiers had organised everything perfectly. Landing craft as used for invasions were waiting ashore for us to walk on, then taken out to a hospital ship lying out at sea, warships were anchored nearby. Our landing craft came to rest alongside the hospital ship, I climbed aboard. It was another example of perfect organisation. We were told to strip off all our clothing and throw everything else we were carrying into nearby bins. I looked around for a sailor to hand Bill’s ashes so he could be returned home, I couldn’t just throw him in the bin. The sailor escorted me to a cabin where I gave Bill’s name, number and the details I knew of his home town etc, then back I went to be processed. All the new clothing that we had taken off was now thrown over the side, the sea a mass of floating olive green uniforms and boots. We were then shown into cubicles and spraying with chemicals to kill any skin infestations we may have had, then into the showers, as we left we were given U.S. navy denim trousers and shirt, underwear and shoes then a medical examination. I was told I was fit but needed fattening up and to go out of a door and onto the deck. On deck I watched landing craft going to the different warships unloading men. Later I was called to one and taken with others to a destroyer where at the rear deck, rope climbing nets were hung over the side, these we clambered up, being greeted by the sailors and shown our berths.

As soon as the required number of men were on board, we set off. Over the loudspeaker system we were told our destination was to be Yokohama and we should reach there the following day. We were also told that the ship’s crew would eat first as they had to work the ship, we would eat after and could take as long as we wished over our meal. When our turn came the dining room was empty except for the cooks who told us to eat anything and everything we wanted, they would leave us to help ourselves. We ate our fill following by lots of delicious coffee. I then went to my bunk and enjoyed a good nights rest. On awakening next morning, the destroyer was pitching in rough seas, so we decided we would stay in our bunks rather than face the wind and spray on deck, at least we were travelling in comfort this time round.

On arriving at Yokohama we disembarked. We understood that all our ex-P.O.W.’s were being brought here and then flown to the Philippines on their way home, but when we arrived a typhoon was approaching Japan, so the planes had been grounded, instead, we were to board a cruiser and go by sea to Manila.

All the American warships had been made to accommodate troops which had been transported during the battle for the islands of the Pacific, so were ideally suited to carry us.

Our food was served to us on large pressed stainless steel trays, with different dishes for each compartment, followed by plenty of fruit and ice cream. It was very enjoyable.

The typhoon reached Yokohama and we put to sea. Small ships were breaking from their moorings and smashing against the quay. After a night at sea the weather improved and we enjoyed a pleasant voyage to the Philippines. Each night on deck a film was shown on a screen erected on the rear gun turrets. A ‘Movie Call’ was sounded on a bugle over the loudspeaker system and all men not on duty rushed up to the fantail which was the rear decks.

The American Navy seemed entirely different to the Royal Navy, the Captain walked about the deck wearing a baseball cap with CAPT on the front. Any announcement was preceded with “Now hear this”. We had a marvellous time with them, they gave us free beers, chocolate and cigarettes and couldn’t do enough for us.

Arriving at the Philippines we were taken to a U.S. Army Camp and put into large tents. Their treatment and generosity knew no bounds. An issue of three bottles of beer, forty cigarettes, three cigars, a packet of pipe tobacco and bars of chocolate every day and wonderful food. We had another medical and X-Ray then kitted out in U.S. army uniform.

Outside the camp was utter devastation everywhere, so found we were better off staying in camp. There was entertainment every evening with films and live concerts, I remember Danny Kaye appearing there. Most of us ex-prisoners rarely attended the concerts and films, we found it difficult to mix and socialise with normal people. We had changed so much we found we could only feel comfortable when talking to each other. I did go outside in the vicinity of the camp for the occasional walk as we were there for a month and with so much good food and no work, I needed the exercise.

Coming back to my tent area one day after one of these jaunts, I suddenly heard a Japanese voice shout “Hyaku San-Juu Ni”, my prison number 132, which stopped me in my tracks. I turned and looked in the direction to where the call came from and there was my old adversary, the dock foreman from Hakodate shipyard Watanabe digging a trench.

I walked over to him, he was smiling and trying, I think, to convey to me the word ‘Remember’ and managed “You, me, Hakodate. I replied “You are the prisoner now”. “Cigaretto?” he asked. I turned to his American guard and asked if I could give him cigarettes. He seemed astounded and asked how I came to know him. I explained he had been my foreman at one camp for six months. He then wanted to know, “Did he give you any trouble?” to which I replied, no.

In the meantime, a rapid conversation was taking place in the trench between Watanabe and another Japanese soldier, who seemed rather bewildered.

I bent down and gave Watanabe some cigarettes, enough to share with his friend. I asked him if he was being well fed, also, if he knew when he would be going home. Yes, he was being well fed and would be going home in about six months time. I said goodbye and walked away, thinking to myself, what a remarkable meeting.

I was pleased he called out to me. He obviously regarded our ‘duels’ against each other without animosity or surely he would not have made me aware of his presence when he was at such a great disadvantage. I realised he could have made my life a lot worse at Hakodate by calling the guards to deal with me at times.

What surprised me most was that he was still able to recognise me, also, remembered my number, two and a half years later, especially as I was now wearing U.S. uniform.

I perhaps owed him more than those few cigarettes as I felt he may have inadvertently saved my life.

Friday, 9 September 2011

24: Supplies from the Skies and a Freedom Adventure from Camp – Part 2.

A full week had passed since the war ended, so decided I would like to have a look outside the camp. I walked to Ohasi hoping to see my friendly mine foreman Sakata, hoping to repay him in some small way for his fair treatment and attitude towards me. I did not find him but was given the information that as soon as was possible, he had left for Yokohama to be with his family once again.

Another day, four of us boarded a bus at Ohasi and travelled to Kamaishi. I had seen these buses on the odd occasion when walking to and from work. I believe they were run on wood fumes as a substitute for petrol, they made very slow progress. My mates and I were wearing the American olive green tropical uniform and boots, but the locals didn’t seem to mind us and on our arrival at Kamaishi, bade us good day. The destruction of the town had been complete, every stone and brick building had been damaged, no wooden houses remained, all had been burnt to the ground, only the small concrete roads between the houses remained. I looked around me and saw nothing but ashes which I noticed people were sifting through where their rice store had once been, we watched as they sorted out the scorched grains.

After a time we walked to the sea shore. The water was very clear and looked inviting, the sun was shining, so we decided to dip out feet in to start with and if warm enough, to take a dip. I put my feet in and the shock of the cold water immediately cancelled out any thoughts I’d had of bathing in these waters, paddling my toes had been more than enough. I let my feet dry in the sun and as there was nothing to see or do in Kamaishi, decided to go back to camp. We started to walk then managed to get a lift on a Jap lorry for the remainder of the journey.

A group of us decided to pay a visit to the Chinese P.O.W. camp. Walking round we were surprised at how few appeared to be there. We came across some eventually and from what we could understand, there were now only about sixty of them that had survived out of four hundred. They were terribly thin but were now eating better with the surplus food from our camp. Moving on we passed the huge fire where I had seen bodies being tossed in, it was still alight but probably just burning itself out.

Some of the men had become impatient at the delay in collecting us and had decided to walk over the mountainous hills behind the camp, to where about four miles on was said to be a railway station, they didn’t return so had obviously pressed on to some unknown destination. I spoke to one of the chaps and suggested we take a trip out but he thought we should wait a few more days in case of any developments. The forces broadcast on radio told us to “Stay where you are, Tokyo is full of American troops and you will all be collected as soon as possible”.

We waited until the twelfth of September, almost a month since the war had ended, we were restless. Next morning my chum and I started off climbing up and over the hills, there was a worn path so we had no difficulty in finding our way to the station. Arriving there we asked the Jap in the ticket office for two tickets to Tokyo which he wrote out. He spoke English and said there was a curfew on at night so we would have to put somewhere overnight, also not to take the next train but the one after. We had quite a long wait before our train finally arrived with Japanese soldiers on board. Two of them made signs for us to wait before boarding. They then cleared a whole carriage of civilians, then gestured for us to board. Two soldiers stood on guard, one each end of the carriage then off we went. We had taken food and drink with us from the bountiful supply at camp, so settled down to enjoy the journey.

It was late evening when we pulled into a station, one of the guards informed us “We stop here to sleep”. When we alighted there were three Japanese policemen and more soldiers lined up on the platform. One of the policemen stepped forward, I think he was the Chief of Police, shook our hands and bowed. He said the trains must stop here due to curfew so he wold take us somewhere to stay the night. Outside the station the road was jammed with people waiting to catch a glimpse of us, the soldiers pushed through the crowd making way for us. After a ten minute walk, we were ushered into a building and once inside saw it was a hotel. The policeman assured us we would be looked after and asked whether he and his two friends could join us later for a meal, to which we agreed. We were shown to our room and then the location of the bathroom. The beds consisted of the usual rice matting plus a pillow and quilt. We cleaned up then waited to be told when the meal was ready. It seemed to take hours, we had nothing to read to occupy our time, no radio to listen to and there was no furniture whatsoever in the room.

Dinner was served in our room eventually, a charcoal fire, a small table with rice, fish, pickles and hot thin soup followed by green tea and saki. Our guests arrived with the meal, the talk mainly consisted of where did we come from, did we like Japan, what were we now intending to do, was we in a hurry to go home etc? Before leaving, our friendly policeman asked what time we wished to rise in the morning, our reply was to catch the first train out. We were then thanked for having them and wished well, as they departed with a lot of bowing.

We were woken at five next morning and served a rice and fish breakfast. We settled our bill and then made for the station, still with our soldier escorts in tow. The train was already waiting in the station, we were ushered into another empty coach and off we went once again, with our guards as before. I sat wondering what might be ahead of us, we hadn’t much money as we had only been given just one small payment, enough to buy any odd item we might need. When starting our journey, we had no thought of staying in hotels. The train was making very slow progress and as we couldn’t afford another hotel, I just hoped we would reach Tokyo before very long.

After travelling for about an hour, the train pulled into a not very large station where we were asked by a soldier to alight who then pointed to a waiting room. No one else got off but we did as we were told. The soldier then boarded the train and was away, we were alone. We assumed the departing train was not going to Tokyo and we were having to wait for another. We hung about for an hour without seeing anyone and began to wonder what could happen next. We decided not to leave the station, just in case the train turned up in our absence.

It was still early in the day when a civilian suddenly appeared, he couldn’t speak much English and kept repeating “Red Cross” and walking towards the exit. He apparently wanted us to go with him, so as he obviously knew of us, we followed him outside the station where a large saloon car was parked, he opened the door for us to get in. We rode through the countryside for sometime, the scenery was hilly at times but we did not pass through any large towns. Eventually we stopped at what must have been a Japanese café for a rice meal and green tea which he paid for.

As we talked and gestured during the meal it became clear we were on our way back to Ohasi, a ship was calling there to collect us. It would be too difficult to move us by road or rail owing to the severity of bomb damage. In my view Kamaishi had no docks left to take any ships either. Resuming our journey, we arrived back at camp in the darkness. It seemed rather odd, no one seemed interested in where we had been or bothered about us getting back, it was as if we had just been for a ten minute walk. The day we had left for our journey to Tokyo, the food drops had ceased and the men informed they were to be picked up very shortly. There were still huge amounts of supplies stacked on the parade ground, enough to have filled a warehouse.

Friday, 2 September 2011

24: Supplies from the Skies and a Freedom Adventure from Camp – Part 1.

Next morning we discovered the badly burned men had been moved from the sick bay during the night whilst we slept, also, the army guards had left. The guardroom and main gates were now being named by Japanese military police.

At ten o’clock we all formed up on the square, the three American officers at the front, the Japanese officers and their staff of soldiers facing us. The Japanese Commandant then read out a statement saying our Countries had reached an agreement and that the war between us had now come to an end. The M.P.'s on guard at the gates were there to protect us from any Japanese who might wish to do us harm. He then handed over command of the camp to the American C.O. who inspected the Jap soldiers before putting them back on duty.

The C.O. addressed us requesting us to stay in camp until things had settled down, but we were free to go out if we so wished, also there was now a curfew covering the whole of Japan at night. He expected to hear more news on the elusive radio which the Jap’s had searched in vain for and apologised for not sharing the news with us in the past. He had understandably not wanted to risk losing the radio, as he felt we may have needed it for our survival. P.O.W. was to be put on the roof of our hut, plus a number four hundred for the total number of ex-prisoners in camp.

Once dismissed, we were free to do anything we wished, no more slave labour, no more hunger and brutality, it was hard to come to terms with, I lay on my bed wondering what would come next. Suddenly a cheer went up at the American end of the hut as they heard on the radio, those who had been Japanese prisoners for three years were all promoted two ranks up with pay to start from when taken prisoner, so we now had a Colonel in charge of the camp instead of a Captain.

We celebrated that day with two meals of port stew containing real chunks of meat, what a feast and how we enjoyed it. Not many of the men went out that day. About mid-morning the following day we heard planes, the sound coming from over the hills from the next valley then passing away. Shortly after we heard the sound of the engines returning, I went out onto the square and flying towards our camp were Hellcat fighters, which must have come from an aircraft carrier that was present when Kamaishi was attached. They flew low over the camp, waving and circling, the pilots throwing out packets of cigarettes and one small parcel. Inside the parcel were strips of white canvas and diagrams showing how to indicate what was needed most urgently, food, medical supplies or clothing. All we could think of at that time was food, so the relative diagram was displayed, the pilot acknowledged and then flew off. The whole camp was buzzing with excitement as to what would happen next, we hadn’t long to wait.

Early afternoon we heard the planes engines approaching and coming along the valley at about forty feet, were a flight of torpedo bombers and as they flew over they dropped kitbags full of loaves of bread, milk, a side of bacon hit the square with a thud, cigarettes, tinned fruit and some sacks of potatoes. They then flew off leaving a note to say they would feed us every day. Needless to say we really enjoyed that food – it is hard to describe the pleasure it brought and how we eagerly awaited their visit each day. We still ate rice as our main food, but it tasted so much nicer with all the extras.

After five days of daily visits, they dropped a message saying the aircraft carrier had to leave as their food stocks were running low, they must also have used all the sailors kitbags in which they had been dropping our supplies. They also wrote that the American air force would be bringing us further supplies in B29 Super-fortress’s and would be able to bring in bigger loads and would fly from Okinawa.

The next day all ears were pinned back listening for our new saviours, at last we heard the sound of the bombers engines and looking up, I was surprised to see they were at about the height as flown by reconnaissance planes, obviously no low level flights for them, maybe they were using bomb sights. There were three planes and as we watched, we saw the cargo leave the planes, parachutes opened and down came the containers, some snapping off the parachutes and whistling down sounding like bombs. One crashed through the roof of the Japanese guardhouse, hitting a Jap soldier who had been watching from a window and bursting out the side of the building, the man with it, I don’t think he survived. Another hurtled into our toilets, one of our men was using one at the time, as it smashed through demolishing half of the cubicles, the sewage from underneath gushed up through the hole the man was squatting over, covering him completely. He was rescued and washed down with a hose and appeared to be in shock, he was unable to speak for four hours.

After the raid, for that was surely what it had seemed with the camp suffering a lot of damage, there was a bit of clearing up to do. It was decided next time they came, we would take cover. The containers being used were forty gallon oil drums which had the bottoms cut out, then been spot welded together in pairs to double their size, making them far too weighty to be held by the parachutes when filled with the tins of food. Supplies had fallen outside the camp as well as in and orders had been given out, all food supplies dropped for the ex-P.O.W.'s was to be handed in, any Jap caught stealing any would be shot. One Japanese man came into the camp covered from head to foot with tomato sauce. Cases of the stuff had gone through his roof breaking his arm. Would we go and collect what was left he asked. He was cleaned up, his arm reset by the surgeon and given some cigarettes and food leaving the camp a happy man.

The Japanese army had organised the collection of the scattered supplies and soon trucks began to arrive with loaded containers and cases. There were boots, clothing, cigarettes and food, there were prepared meals labelled breakfast, lunch and dinner, also chocolate, everything we could possibly want was there. We had decided that during the next ‘raid’, we would shelter in a railway tunnel nearby. We didn’t have long to wait. The following day three planes appeared and we all rushed for shelter. It was a repeat performance with half the cargo damaged or ruined. The broken chocolate bars were like shingle on the ground and when pressing ones foot in the earth, evaporated milk would ooze up. The losses didn’t bother us as we were more than amply provided for.

We had started by dividing the drops equally but with just the second delivery, we were getting eight packs of cigarettes each. Of course we had to sort out the boots, picking out the size we required, this averaged eight pairs per each man and that was the scale of the drops with everything.

‘Smith’ came into camp with his gramophone one day. We asked for copies of the photos he had taken, he returned some days later with them, I cannot recall what we paid for them.

We felt that someone must have registered a complaint regarding the ‘raids’. As the planes approached on the third drop, a red parachute was released, we assumed to give us time to take cover, when the drop had been completed a green chute was released which was obviously the ‘all clear’ signal. The amount of supplies being dropped were far beyond our needs, we were rapidly running out of storage space and were now stacking the daily supplies that still kept coming, onto the square. Our Adjutant decided to visit the Chinese camp to see what their needs were and so it was shared with them.

The feeling of freedom from roll calls, orders, searches, being guarded and watched at all times and so many restrictions was marvellous. It gave a wonderful feeling of well being sitting around chatting, smoking decent cigarettes and the food, fabulous tasty food, no longer the gnawing hunger in the pit of my stomach that had been with me for three and a half years. No more beatings and almost freezing to death, no worms eating away inside me, my skin clear of sores and boils and best of all, being able to smile. I felt alive once again and found myself looking forward to each tomorrow.

Friday, 26 August 2011

23: Horror of the Sick Bay and End of the War

There wasn’t much work done the following day, we moved some logs and then had a break, this was the pattern of our day.

Back at camp, I prepared to do my turn in the sick bay, some of the men I discovered when I went for a wash before my stint, had been kept back from going to work that day, so they could help with the sick men.

I walked over to the sick bay, opened the door and walked in, the smell was nauseating, I lost my appetite immediately. It was just as well I hadn’t eaten anything, I think my stomach would have rejected it there and then. Schofield, the American orderly came to meet me, talking in a low voice, he told me the camp where the men had been billeted had been hit during the bombing of Kamaishi, they were sheltering in trenches at the time, when a blazing hut had fallen on top of the trench trapping them. They were all in a serious condition with no skin left on their bodies. I would have to feed the patient and help him if he needed to pass water into a bottle, to keep flies off him as his nerve ends were exposed and he would feel pain and I was asked if I could stick it out until dark when they settled down. He pointed to a bed saying “That man is English, will you go to him?”.

I went to the bed where this mummified looking figure lay. I gazed at this poor man, a blackened hole or his nostrils, a blackened hole for his mouth, a thin strip of gauze bandage lay over his nostrils and two eyes stared out of the strips of rag he was bound in. What a terrible twist of fate, having suffered and survived being a P.O.W. for so long and now this just when the end of the war and our freedom was in sight. I felt helpless, I smiled and said “Hello”. There was a chair beside his bed, I asked “Do you mind if I sit down, I’ve just finished work?”. His eyes moved up and down in assent. I needed to sit down, the stench from him was overpowering. I had to suppress my feelings somehow and try to help him, what could he be thinking? I asked “Is there anything I can do for you?” he replied slowly “Keep the flies off me”. I then asked where he came from, his eyes seemed to brighten and he started to tell me about where his home was, of the lanes and green fields, I didn’t understand the name of the village, his voice distorted, but he was happy to have someone to listen.

After a much longer chat than I expected, he asked if I could give him something to eat. On a small table near his bed was a dish covered with a cloth. I removed the cloth and there was a small amount of fish and rice in a bowl with a teaspoon. I fed him very slowly, he could only eat a third of the spoon at a time, obviously he was unable to move from his laying position. I then gave him a drink and he settled down closing his eyes, no doubt thinking his own private thoughts as we all did when laying in bed, dreaming of better places, of home, temporarily blotting out the reality of our existence. I watched over him for flies, one landed on him before I could prevent it, his eyes flew open. Later I had to put his burned penis into a bottle for him to pass water. This was a shocking experience for me, I had managed to overcome my revulsion once I had become used to the smell, and feeding him through the blackened hole that was his mouth had been fraught, but having to handle his blackened body was totally different, I was terrified I might hurt him. The realisation of how helpless he was, made me pull myself together.

Later, he asked where I lived, it was my turn to do the talking, so I chatted away about home and family and what I used to do whilst he just lay listening.

Night fell and Schofield came over and said they would be alright now, he asked what had been happening and I explained what I had done. I then said cheerio to my patient “I’ll see you again”. As I left the sick bay, I could hear moans of pain from the other unfortunates, I hadn’t noticed them before. I walked slowly back to the hut unable to get that man out of my thoughts, the sight of him out of my mind.

My food was on the table covered with someone else’s bowl which I returned with thanks, taking my food to eat on my bed but found I still didn’t feel hungry.

The following day I heard from some of the other volunteers how they had been given the task of scrubbing the decaying burnt flesh from the bandages the men had been wrapped in, the flesh adhering to the bandages as the dressings were changed, I’ve a feeling they also lost their appetites. I felt back to normal after a nights sleep, but found I could not rid my mind of those poor creatures laying suffering in the sick bay.

We walked towards the mine the following morning accompanied by the Honourable Men and two soldiers, then past the entrance onto the hillside of rough grass and shrubs. It was a lovely day and when we reached a flatish area, the guards halted us and told us to spread ourselves out and rest. This we did and after a while walked about or sat in groups chatting. “No work today” said one of the guards, we only wished we had some cigarettes then to make our day.

There was definitely something strange going on. I spotted Sakata and walking over to him, asked what was happening. He told me another large bomb had destroyed Nagasaki in one explosion and that the war would soon be over, today perhaps. We had been taken up the hillside because the Emperor was going to speak to his people at eleven o’clock, up here we would be unable to hear what he had to say.

After our normal lunchtime break then a rest, we were taken down the hillside towards the mine, as we descended we passed the oncoming two o’clock shift of Japanese workers. Sakata walked over to one of them and spoke to him, he rejoined us shortly after and said “The war is over, all men go home”, this was wonderful news, something I had dreamed about for three and a half years but didn’t dare believe. It would have been devastating if we found it not to be true, I decided I would believe it only if told officially. On reaching the main area we were taken to a large shed where repairs to locomotive parts were carried out, then shut in. We were told it would be for a short time only, but it was an hour before the door opened. We now had two extra guards and were taken back to camp, no search, just dismissed, it looked promising.

As each working party came in they were eagerly questioned, “Have you heard the war is over?”. Some had, some hadn’t, we couldn’t find any definite news but there was a feeling of anticipation and excitement. The food came at the usual time, we ate and talked about what we would do when free, my thoughts were with the men in the sick bay, someone must say something soon. We sat about, it was a pleasant summer evening, no guards had been near the hut and some of the men were sitting outside in the sun, it WAS different. I was just hoping this wasn’t all a dream, I don’t think I could have coped any more if on waking I found I was still a slave of the Jap’s. Roll call came as we watched the guardhouse through the window, not one soldier moved towards our hut.

Half an hour later the Americans decided to kill one of the pigs belonging to the Jap’s, that were kept behind our hut, producing some long sharp knives that they had hidden in case of trouble. A trail of burnt rice obtained from the cookhouse was placed on the ground outside the sty, which encouraged one of the pigs to investigate. As it left the sty one man struck its head with a piece of wood stunning it enough for the two with the knives to complete the job. Whilst this deed was being carried out, the guardhouse was being kept under surveillance from the window inside the hut. At the sudden commotion and loud squealing of the pig, a guard rushed out with a rifle at the ready and dashed round the back of the hut to where the noise was coming from. As he rounded the hut he stopped dead, surveying the scene, glancing at the dead pig, the knives the men were still holding dripping with blood, he said “O.K.” and smiled. One of the men informed him it was for the cookhouse to cook us the next day. Another smile and he was gone. The was must be over.

After dark when we were all gathered in the hut, the American Adjutant asked for our attention. He announced there would be no roll call in the morning, but we were to be on parade at ten o’clock. There was no lights out at nine o’clock that evening, so we just turned in when it suited us for the first time ever since in captivity.