Tuesday, 3 May 2011

14: Christmas, Red Cross Relief, Constant Illness and Death of a Friend - Part 1.

I had been at Hakodate for one month and my first Christmas as a P.O.W. was approaching, we were told we would have Christmas day off. The day arrived and we were given a British Red Cross parcel, which contained a tin each of corned beef, creamed rice and herring in tomato sauce, also some tea, sugar and powdered milk, the cigarettes had been taken out before being issued. How we enjoyed that food, it certainly helped to raise our spirits. I made my food last as long as I could eating it with the rice, but how I missed it when it had all gone. No one will ever see cleaner tins. We then had a bright idea and filled these empty cans with water, crowding them on the top of the stove to boil, this help temporarily to fill and warm our stomachs.

I think most of our thoughts that Christmas day were of home and the big dinner we would eat, then relaxing comfortably round the warm fire. So back to work next day with no improvements in conditions or weather, the snow, ice and howling winds continued and worsened and we were still having to stand singing in these conditions at the end of each working day. Soon after we were issued with a card which we filled in with our name, number rank etc, for the Red Cross. It was sometime in February that I received a card from my Mother with the permitted twenty five word message written thereon.

One night I dreamed I heard footsteps and thought it was my Mother bringing me a cup of tea in bed. The dream was shattered when I was woken by a guard prodding me with his bayonet, it was his footsteps that I had heard. I couldn’t collect my thoughts to accept the situation, more prodding from the guard brought me back to reality.

At work one day, my stomach seemed a little upset and uncomfortable, I just hoped it was not he start of dysentery. That evening I ate my meal and after roll call went to bed still feeling not quite right. I was woken during the night with severe stomach pains and needed to go to the toilet immediately. As I struggled to sit up the exertion and violet pain in my stomach doubled me up and I knew any further movement would empty my bowels. I tried to think what to do, I didn't want to ruin my bed, I had seen the awful results to those who had been unfortunate enough to have it happen to them, the almost impossible task of washing the blanket clean and, even worse, trying to dry them. Worst of all, was the loss of warmth of that unusable blanket.

I suddenly remembered that behind my head was my rice bowl and decided I would have to use that. Slowly I moved to make no effort at turning round, trying not to put any strain on my stomach, hoping there would be no further violent spasms before I had the bowl in position. I had just managed to ease it under me when another spasm left me with no control whatsoever over my bowels and it emptied into the bowl. I felt ashamed at what I had done and endeavoured to get out from under my blankets without waking the other men.

I went to the toilet and washed myself and the bowl thoroughly in icy water. Getting back into bed my stomach felt better and I was relieved that my blankets were still warm and dry. It was an emergency so was content that I had done the right thing. I decided to report to the sick list next morning, to see the orderly on my return from work. That evening I went to see the Jap sick bay attendant and told him of my stomach upset. The treatment he gave me was a hard case, not unlike a spectacle case but twice as large, which contained an inch thick charcoal rod, which he lit before closing the lid. He instructed me to go straight to bed placing the case on my stomach where most painful. Of course I had to get up for roll call, he also gave me some charcoal to chew. The case became rather warm and was very soothing as I lay in bed, but I had to return it the next day. The charcoal was not very palatable or digestible, but decided that if it was going to help prevent me becoming like those other unfortunate men who had started with similar upsets before going down with dysentery, I would persevere with it until I had use it all.

Once more my luck held, the stomach upset cleared up and I was soon back as normal as could be expected in the circumstances. There was one poor fellow, an Army chap, who we discovered when he died had soiled all ten of his blankets in turn, folding over each one as they became soiled. He had moved his bed into the hall before dying, to be near the toilets.

There were now small naval vessels coming in to the shipyard for their bottoms to be cleaned, which was one of the worst jobs that in the end proved to be the best. The men put to work on them, managed to keep some of the barnacles and that is where our Red Cross parcel empty tins came in for further use. There was now a mass of little tins containing stewing barnacles crammed on the stove top each evening. We were searched on our return from work each night before being allowed in, but a few barnacles didn't seem to matter. Those little pleasures helped to take our minds off the dreadful daily routine. Forever working, marching and standing in the snow, in the bitter cold, singing Japanese songs.

My hands were cracked, bleeding and painfully sore, it was a terrible existence. I felt that my mind was becoming affected also. In Java when resident in Bouie Glodok prison, I used to daydream about the end of the war and our forces releasing us from prison, but here at Hakodate, I didn't think much further than tomorrow and those thoughts were always depressing.

March came and still the snow and ice. We were not getting enough food to keep us going, the only vegetables in our diet were some radish and potato in our soup now and again and on the odd occasion, a small piece of herring for lunch measuring about two inches. We were paid enough to buy a packet of tobacco each month, a razor blade and toothpaste on occasions, soap was pretty scarce and food, definitely none.

About mid March my hands started to break out in sores between the fingers. These scabby sores then filled with pus. I washed them in the sea hoping the salt content would heal them, but this didn't work, they just worsened and soon were breaking out on my legs, below the knees at first and later above. At the same time my friend Bill’s hand started to swell, his fingers were twice the size their normal size. My hands were painfully sore and from time to time had to wipe the pus away as it ran down my fingers. My legs were in an awful state and the Japanese long pants would stick to them at night, so when I moved in the morning, they pulled the scabs off and blood and pus would run down my legs.

I told my foreman at work, no more kicking me in the legs and when I showed him why, he looked horrified, so we called a truce and I saluted him on leaving work. Meanwhile, Bill’s hands swelled up so he could hardly use his fingers. He was excused work and had to see the doctor on his regular visit a couple of days later. On my return from work that night, I found Bill distressed. He showed me his hands, the doctor had cut his palms open diagonally from forefinger to wrist without anaesthetic and scraped out the pus that had caused the swelling. He could use his fingers with some effort, but the whole episode had greatly depressed him. We badly needed something to lift our spirits and the opportunity presented itself a couple of days later at work.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    This is just appalling. It also fits in with what POWs at the Ohashi camp wrote about your group when it arrived there. According to some of their accounts, a prisoner named Stranks who came with you was beaten badly about the legs, at a time when his legs still had these terrible blisters and pus from his time at the Hakodate camp.