Tuesday, 26 April 2011

13: Hard Labour, Hakodate Shipyard - Part 2.

Work consisted mainly of painting deck components for the new ships, sometimes on the ship at other times, outside the workshop in the shipyard. Another task would be the scraping of decks, sides and bottoms of barges and small submarine chasers.

A few days after arriving at the docks, our party was taken to a ship in the harbour to unload its cargo of salt and transfer it to barges. The first day we lined up in the hold where two dock workers proceeded to lift these large sacks of salt onto the shoulders of each man, at the same time giving him a token to present to the man on the barge, where two more dock workers were taking the sacks and stacking them. My turn came and as I took the full weight, I decided I couldn't possibly carry those all day. Without thinking, I did the most foolish thing and threw it off saying, “I can't carry that, it’s too heavy”. I could not account for my action because knew there was no escaping from anything and fully aware of what the consequences might be. All the Japanese workers started shouting abuse and this was interspersed with kicks from the boots of the loaders, the salt was slung back on my shoulders and then helped on my way. I spent the rest of the day carrying these sacks which weighed more than a hundred weight, sixty kilos I believe. The next two days we were put to work in the hold which was full of loose salt, shovelling it into chutes.

One lunch break we had a visit from a Japanese Officer who spoke some English, he laughed and said “You can have all the salt you can eat whilst working on the ship”. Some men tied the bottoms of their pants at the ankle and put salt in the legs, but I didn't think this worth the risk. Those two days were physically tiring but it was a lot warmer and dryer working in the hold.

At the end of each day, when we were marched to the assembly area, we were supposed to salute our foreman as an act of courtesy. I’m afraid I didn't think much of that idea, so used to get in the back row and bend out of sight, but after a few days he caught on to what I was doing, and came after me. He would kick and punch me until in the end I had to give in. It was the only way I could show any defiance or rebellion and get away with it lightly, always making sure the guards didn't catch me out.

There was one instance when I was put to work on a barge scraping the deck and wire brushing the rust away. Over the side of the barge, a carpenter was finishing off the wooden fender, so I continually brushed the dust and rust over him, in return he kept threatening me with his adze. As he started to climb on to the deck, I went to the foreman and told him this man is getting dust over him from me working above and was going to hit me. I reminded the foreman that he was the only one allowed to hit me, which he agreed and started to argue with the carpenter, ordering him to get back over the side. I went back to my work feeling happy that I had done something to break the awful monotony of my life. It helped temporarily to take my mind off the awful predicament my mates and I were in.

Another incident I recall. One evening as we finished eating our dinner, the Commandant came in, we stood and bowed. He walked around grinning, as always, asking if we had enjoyed our soup, of course we said yes. He then said there was more meat in it than usual, as a cat had fallen into it and drowned the previous night after it had been prepared. This had been cooked in our soup. I think he was a disappointed man, it didn't have the desired effect that he had expected. Nothing could be worse that the condition we were already in. Sometimes the soup would have potato but was like water with soy flavouring, sometimes a bit of radish and if lucky enough to get meat, we might get one or maybe two inch cubes.

Dysentery and the death that accompanied this illness had started again, the twenty sick allowance was rigidly adhered to, consequently these gaunt and very sick men were still sent to work although too ill to actually do any, it just hastened their end. These poor souls crawled around the docks doubled up, just skin and bone, their clothes hanging loosely on them. Back at camp, obviously some of them were unable to reach the toilets in time, so the floor of our hut became filthy at times, but no one complained. The men would always clean up after if able, but if not their friends would do it for them. They wore no pants or trousers around our quarter for fear of soiling them as washing and drying facilities were sadly lacking. We certainly suffered less visits from the guards.

The bitter war between the foreman Watanabe and myself at work continued, but as time went by, he became less vicious and aggressive, I’d like to think that perhaps he had begun to understand why I behaved in the manner I did and what I was trying to convey to him, that I wasn’t supposed to be helpful to his cause and worked as a forced labour prisoner.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    The instances of defiance on your part are so interesting, and no doubt greatly helped strengthen your ability to survive.