Friday, 10 June 2011

16: Warm Weather and Tobacco

It was May, the weather warm and my legs were at last beginning to heal. I can't say it was a pleasant life but it was certainly much better than the existence at Hakodate and the shipyard. The work was heavy and tiring, the hunger was always there but we were gradually beginning to reach the target set for us by the end of the shift. Our foreman began to leave us alone for periods, so we would take the opportunity to rest making enough noise and throwing the occasional rock into the truck to satisfy him that we were still working. We were allowed just half and hour for our meal break, if things were going well, they would shout “Smoke”, we would then have a ten minute break.

We had three regular foremen and one other on just odd occasions. One regular was a barber from Yokohama, who had been put to work in the mine because he could speak a fair amount of English. He told me he used to cut the hair of seamen and had learnt the language from them. He was a nice man who never said outright, but hinted, that Japan would never win the war against America and Britain, his name was Sakata. The second foreman was short and stocky and went by the name of Kimura, he would always work us hard endeavouring to get the very best from us plus that bit extra. He would work with us moving from one gang to the next, it was always a relief when he moved on. The best way to stop him helping out and making us work even harder, was to look industrious as he walked around. The third foreman, named Hai, seemed rather full of his own importance, I had the feeling that this had been promotion for him. We called him Hai San the Japanaese equivalent of Mister, he was fairly easily manipulated.

We had no problems provided we kept working. If we had been troublesome and didn't work well the foreman could call the guards who were stationed outside. This would bode ill for us as the guards didn't like having to come into the mine.

Food was still our priority, we received the same amount of rice as at the previous camp, obviously a standard ration, plus the rice ball given by the company. After our midday meal the miners were given their ration for the evening meal, which we took to work and ate four hours into the shift. By the time we had finished work and walked back to camp at night, we were ravenous with nothing to eat until breakfast next morning. Instead of the soup to accompany the rice to take to work, we were given a small piece of fish or pickle. The men that did a day job were given their midday meal after breakfast to pack and take to work and were able to have their evening meal after work and relax. There was a tap outside the cookhouse where we were allowed to draw hot water to drink before our meals, this helped to fill our stomachs and prevented us eating so ravenously.

The summer weather was hot. When not working or collecting bundles of wood or emptying the cesspit, I spent most of my remaining free time inside the hut, there was nowhere to sit outside. A lot of this time I spent trying to repair my clothes, this before leaving for work after our midday meal. Most of the guards would leave camp with the workers each morning, this enabled us to do our washing without too much interruption.

My hands and legs had healed completely, being able to walk about comfortably made life so much easier. I felt cleaner and so much better in myself. I found that the despair I had felt disappeared and once again without any concious effort, found myself looking forward to the end of the war.

The tobacco we were now smoking was a fine as hair and nicknamed ‘Frog Hair’. The main problem was obtaining paper to roll the cigarettes, which I had managed somehow at Hakodate. What I needed was a Japanese pipe to smoke, so asked Sakata if he would get me one, this he did and if I remember rightly, only took a token amount of money for it. This pipe had a metal mouth piece and a metal end with a bowl which was about half the size of an acorn cup, these two pieces were connected to a stem of bamboo. To smoke this was an experience. A small ball of tobacco was rolled between the fingers, placed in the bowl and lit, two inhalations and then blow the glowing ash from the bowl into a tin lid, place another ball of tobacco into the bowl, press this into the hot ash then two more inhalations repeating these actions until I had finished my smoke.

The guards were changed once a month and still we had our share of brutal ones turning up. The main reason for the regular chance was so they didn't become friendly with prisoners and favours given. One night after work, I was washing when I heard the sound of guards boots enter the washroom. I had my head over the sink and before I could was the soap from my eyes and turn round, he was behind me smashing my head on the sink after which I had to turn round and stand to attention.

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