Friday, 27 May 2011

15: Move to camp near Ohasi, Honshu Island, hard labour in the iron mines - Part 1.

Naturally my mind was occupied with thoughts of where we, myself and the other twenty nine prisoners, would be going. Fifty two men had died in the six months we had been at this camp, nearly a quarter of our number, surely it couldn't be any worse elsewhere. Many of the men were now covered with sores, it didn't help that we had to all bathe in the same water when the bathe was lit once every ten days and then do our washing in the same, by now, filthy water. When this was eventually drained and the fire put out, one of the sick men would be given the job of  removing the duck boards from inside and cleaning the scabs and muck out of the bottom.

Next morning came and directly after the workers had left, we were marched off with two guards. I had expected that we would be put into trucks, as we had heard there were coal mines near Hakodate. We neared the dock and my spirits lifted as I saw we were making for the ferry. It was early May and the ice on the streets had just melted. I felt great pleasure at the thought of leaving this grey world behind. After being shut up for so long like a caged animal, I felt elated, as if I was on a days outing, sitting on a seat looking out of the window at the sea, doing what normal human beings would naturally do.

We left the ferry and boarded a train travelling south, the green vegetation flashing past was a sight to behold after so many months of our grey colourless existence. We travelled on all day until arriving at a large town, where we were told to disembark. We were then marched to a large factory, where we boarded a small train which took us fifteen miles up the side of a valley, stopping outside out new abode. The camp had large wooden gates, the perimeter fence made of logs about fifteen feet tall and reminded me very much of the forts the Americans built in the Wild West. Just inside the gates to the right, was the guard room and next to is was  building which housed the Japanese. These had been built on raised ground, about three feet up. To the left of the gates was a large wooden building housing the prisoners and in between this building and the Japanese quarters, was a large earth and gravel square.

Behind the prisoners hut at one end, was the cookhouse and at the far end was the washroom and toilets, situated behind these was the bathhouse. On the extreme perimeter fence were housed some pigs, kept by the Japanese. Once inside our quarters, we discovered the beds were on two levels. These consisted of boards in two tiers like shelves, the lower about two feet from the floor, a ladder leading to the top level, the usual rush matting for a mattress. The empty bunks were down at the far end of the hut. I went to an upper bunk, made my bed and after a chat, fell asleep.

In the morning it was the usual rude awakening, there was a door at our end which the guards burst through, shouting and banging about, roll call was shortly after. The formality over, two men were detailed to collect the rice and soup from the cookhouse. The food was a little better than at the previous camp, we discovered later that a small supplement towards our food was paid by the mining company. Two volunteers portioned the food, the tubs having been washed and returned to the cookhouse. The prisoners were made up of approximately fifty Americans, one hundred and twenty Javanese and Dutch, six English and four Malay Chinese. In charge of the hut was an American Captain who worked in the village radio station. An American Lieutenant was a go between, passing on orders from the Jap's to the prisoners. Our reception from these resident inmates was very cool, any attempt at conversation failed.

We must have looked a bedraggled sight to them, we had come from a camp where there had been no let up. We had been starved, brutally beaten and overworked continuously, our strength and spirits had been drained, stretched beyond the limits of endurance at a camp run by an evil, sadistic Commandant. We were covered with sores, dishevelled clothes hanging on our spare frames. We could not have survived much more of this treatment, and I for one, am certain that I would not have walked away from Hakodate, had I remained there much longer.

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