Friday, 15 April 2011

13: Hard Labour, Hakodate Shipyard - Part 1.

The next morning there was no mistaking the time to get up. The guards rushed into the building shouting and prodding us in bed with their bayonets, before we could struggle out. I went to wash and the cold water numbed my hands. The night had been bitter, even with ten blankets. The cold had seeped through the wooden floor and matting and I had kept waking up, unable to sleep, the cold so penetrating.

Roll call was at seven, then breakfast of rice. We were given another pack for our meal at work, then assembled outside ready to be marched to work. The Commandant of the camp appeared and through the interpreter, told us we would work where sent and in return would be paid, fed well and cared for, until they had won the war. He had a smile on his face whilst all this was translated, happy with the control he had over our lives, no doubt. There were about two hundred and twenty of us in this particular camp.

We marched off in our threadbare second hand uniforms and canvas boots, through the town to the shipyard where we were sorted into groups. Each group was to work with a foreman, who would be their boss from then on. There were about twenty of us in my group. I was handed a pot of red oxide paint and taken to where a pile of lifeboat davits lay in the snow. I pointed out to the foreman the ice and snow on the metal and how wet it still was when the snow and ice was brushed off, his reply was with gestures ‘to get on with it’. It was a day I thought would never end, it seemed to go on forever with bitter cold and freezing winds and snow flurries, hands so cold I could hardly hold my brush, it was complete misery.

At the end of the day, we were collected and taken to a road just inside the dock, were formed up by the guards who had arrived had marched back to camp where we had to number off. Back at the camp we were lined up, searched and counted once again before being allowed inside. We were allowed a small amount of coal and fires could be lit at five o’clock in the evening, which was about the time we returned to camp, but had to be cleaned out and tidy by seven o’clock sharp, when there was a final roll call. This caused some panic each evening as we hung on to the warmth as long as was possible, so sometimes in desperation we would run out and grab handfuls of snow to cool the embers. Our main thought as we returned that first evening, and every other evening for that matter, was to get the fires going. Everyone felt frozen and no one seemed to have been given a decent job of work to do, we were a very unhappy bunch.

Food was the usual rice and soup. The guards came in about five times in our two hours free time, which was to be a regular habit of theirs. Each time as always we had to stand and bow which didn't prove restful, we just hoped they would get fed up with it as time went by. It was a relief after last roll call to be able to lie down on the floor, wrapped in our blankets trying to forget the terrible cold and hardship, thinking of a life miles away from it all, the meals we would have and things we had enjoyed. That second night, I tried lying on top of two of my blankets to stop the cold through the floorboards, but it didn't seem to make any difference.

After a few days some of the men started to suffer from diarrhoea. It was possible that when we left the ship, some declared themselves fit so that they could stay with their mates, when they weren't really feeling one hundred percent. Our captors were not too pleased when the men became too sick to go to work. There was a Japanese military orderly and an Army doctor who called on certain days, and one prisoner was permitted to stay at camp to look after the sick men.

Later as more men became ill, we were informed that no more than twenty sick men would be allowed to stay off work at any one time. All others were to go to work without exception and dragged there by fellow prisoners if necessary. We were left in no doubt that twenty was the final number.

The surplus sick were told they would get light duties at work and rest times if needed, but under no circumstances were they to stay in camp. Some of the Jap shipyard workers realised these men were very sick and dying, so allowed them to hide or sit near the toilets. Those that stayed in camp were supposed to receive half their ration of food and threatened with none if more than twenty stayed behind, but we shared the food out equally as always. Those men that did stay in camp had no rest from the guards and were not allowed to lie in their beds, some were given jobs to do.

On our return from work one evening, we were given printed sheets of Japanese patriotic songs and told to learn them as we were to sing them when returning from work next day. What the words meant we did no know but had to take the sheets to work the next day and learn in our dinner break. The Commandant said he wanted to hear us singing as we arrived back at camp.

That evening as we marched back, an Officer told us to start singing with the guards who were also singing to give us the tune. It was a terrible walk back, the streets were snow covered, our trousers soaking we at always, and now this added burden of singing something we knew nothing of, the last thing we felt like doing was singing. The guards were punching and hitting us with their rifles at random in their efforts for more volume, but it didn't even end there.

Back at camp we stood with snow up to our knees for over half an hour singing and being beaten by the guards whilst the Commandant looked on grinning, until he decided he had heard enough. We had worked all day in the freezing weather at the docks, were soaked to the skin, our bodies frozen through and our empty stomachs gnawing with hunger. This went on day after day, our lives in absolute misery. We were losing a half hour of our meagre free time of two hours, so had just an hour and a half in which to light the fires, try to thaw ourselves out and dry our clothes. This was extremely difficult with so many men, it was impossible to get near the fire at times.We then had our meal, put the fires out and tidied up ready for roll call at seven o’clock, then lights out.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,
    This is just ghastly. I've read other accounts of bad treatment of the sick prisoners, but I think that this is the worst. I've also read about prisoners having to sing patriotic Japanese songs, but again, these conditions for having to do it really exceed what I'd seen.