Friday, 3 June 2011

15: Move to camp near Ohasi, Honshu Island, hard labour in the iron mines - Part 2.

Instead of perhaps a little sympathy and understanding from our new fellow prisoners, we were shunned as if a leper colony had moved in with them. I presume it was just self preservation on their part. Eventually we were told by a Dutchman that we were unwanted prisoners at our last camp, so had been moved on to this one. We now knew why the far end of the hut had been reserved for us. No one had bothered to find out or ask us the circumstances of our move. The American Captain was a Texan who made it crystal clear to us, that we were not welcome at this camp, as if we were uninvited guests, so in turn we ignored him which annoyed him intensely. When he made any announcements to the inmates of the hut, we would continue to talk and carry on whatever we may be doing, but still listening with one ear. One evening he could not contain himself and yelled out “And this includes you shit birds down the end there”. We were winning the battle.

The Lieutenant asked us to bath after the rest of the camp because of our sores, we could understand that and hoped we could recover our health here. We were obviously in a far worse state than they, and our clothing was dirty in comparison with theirs. The routine was more relaxed, lights out at nine o’clock instead of seven as at Hakodate, morning roll call at seven. The men did various jobs, some in a timber yard, others overhauled and serviced the mine machinery and trucks, others at a limestone quarry and the remainder at the mine. The miners which included us new arrivals, did an eight hour shift starting at two o’clock in the afternoon, until ten in the evening. This meant assembling for a roll call in the square at ten minutes to one, where we were checked off by a mine official who carried a clipboard, checking and entering the number of workers for each level of the mine. We would arrive back at camp about eleven o’clock at night, after completing our shift.

Every tenth day we had off, sometimes eleventh instead, depending on the number of days in the month. Each month in our free time, we had to carry ten bundles of firewood down the sides of the valley for use in the cookhouse and for the bathhouse fires. These bundles each weighed about fifteen pounds.

The toilets were the usual holes in the floor over a cesspit and turns had to be taken in bailing the sewage out and tipping into a channel near the back perimeter fence, which ran into a fast flowing stream that ran down from the mountain. Three men at a time did this chore, one man bailing, the other two carrying and tipping.This work involved frequent changing of positions, no one wanted to be rear pole carrier, as the stench from the large open buckets was awful.

The area at the front of the building was out of bounds. We could wander about at the back of the hut in our free time, the guards still patrolled and the bowing had to be observed. Sitting on beds during the day was not allowed, but on the board at the end of the bed was acceptable. Those of us in the higher bunks were out of sight, so were bothered less.

I discovered that only twelve men had died in this camp in contrast to the fifty two at Hakodate. We were to be paid as before and in addition, on arrival at the mine, the company gave us a rice ball the size of a small orange each day. It seem my dock foreman at Hakodate had indeed done my a favour. After our midday meal of rice, the men that worked at the mine were paraded on the square with two guards. There were three separate groups of us, thirty in each group, the Americans, which included the six Englishmen who were already resident at the camp when we arrived, the Dutch Indonesians and our group the new arrivals. After the mining official had done his business of counting us, three mining company men then joined us, one to each group accompanying us as we marched out of the gate.

Once outside, I saw that we were in a narrow valley, the gravel road was about twelve feet wide, the mine railway line ran alongside. There were some Japanese houses a little way from the camp, the village was called Ohasi. As we marched along we passed cultivated fields before the valley narrowed, with a range of small mountains closing the valley in. There was a large watercourse running along the valley floor, where later a railway bridge was erected over. After a forty minute march we arrived at the mine buildings with a large entrance into the hillside. The mountainside was worked at different levels, the railway running through the lower entrance, where the electric train picked up the loaded full size trucks, taking them into the yard where they were in turn picked up by a steam engine. The electric train then returned to the mine with the empty trucks it had picked up.

The Americans and six Englishmen left us at ground level, we continued up the narrowing road for twenty minutes until we came to another entrance, this was where our group was to work, the Indonesians carried on up the road. We were marched inside for about a quarter of a mile, until we came to an office where we were issued with protective hats which we were to retain, also our rice ball. Our foreman was awaiting us, the guard then left.

Electric cables with sockets provided light as well as miners lamps. As we went with the foreman, I noticed light railway tracks with medium sized trucks. It was then that I realised it wasn’t the coal we had expected to mine but iron ore. The rock face was drilled during one shift and detonated and blasted at the shift change over. Our task then was to fill the trucks with the blown out ore, working four men to a truck. There were four trucks for each man, sixteen tons to be collected and loaded by each man per shift.

On our first day we fell short of our target. The foreman came to each group of four men in turn, trying to speed us up. The rock was the heaviest I had ever lifted in relation to its size. We had the usual Asiatic tools for the job and a large hammer to break the rocks. After loading, the trucks had to be pushed to the chutes dug through the rock to the lower level railway line, we then tilted the trucks sideways so that the iron ore emptied into the chute and filled the trucks below.

Placed across the opening of the chute, were some old railway line to prevent the truck toppling down with the ore. Work over at last, we came out into the night and our guards were waiting outside to escort us as we walked down the mountain side to join the others. We walked back to camp, the guards at the rear chatting to each other. We were very tired, had worked hard but not achieved the target set for us but it was a pleasant evening, not the cold we had been accustomed to for so long. The American group that included the half dozen Englishmen, had walked much faster and got well ahead of us and were waiting a short distance from camp. The guards formed us up and we marched through the gates, a quick look in our bags and we were dismissed.

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