Friday, 8 July 2011

19: Goodbye to Worms and a Surprise Feast

My army boots were by now worn out, I was now having to wear the Japanese rubber soled boot which gave no protection and were not suitable for working in the mine. On occasions we had to work in other levels of the mine, our regular level number was five hundred and fifty.

On level five hundred, instead of us prisoners working together as usual, each one of us worked either with a Japanese or a Korean. There were a considerable number of Koreans on forced labour, who the Jap's had brought over from Korea together with families and put to work in the mine. They were housed separately on the outskirts of the village and seemed afraid to communicate with us for some reason.

One hard job we sometimes had, was to carry the drill bits used to bore the iron ore ready for the gelignite to be put in. These were up to four metres long and were mounted on an adjustable mounting, jacked up between the floor and roof and driven by compressed air. Water was sprayed to keep the drill cool. The drill bits were solid steel and an inch and half in diameter and extremely heavy. These we had to carry on our shoulders to the workshops when they needed re-sharpening or to be returned. Whilst drilling was in progress the noise was intense and very unpleasant to work near.

My stomach pains returned after a month. I now realised how I had become infected with worms, when I learned that the sewage from the cesspits in the village, was used to top up the large holes of about six cubic feet, which were dug in the corner of the fields. This was left until spring and then spread over the crops. Eating the raw, unwashed potatoes that I had stolen from the fields, had been the obvious cause. The pains, which felt like something trying to bore through my inside, continued but I saw no evidence of worms, until one night I awoke and felt one at the back of my throat, it was the most nauseating feeling. As I lay on my side, it was trying to thrust its way into the back of my nose. I sat up and tried to reach it with my fingers without success, I then tried coughing and eventually manged to grab hold of us, tugging it out and wrapping it in a piece of paper to show the surgeon next morning.

When I show him my three inch worm, which as about as thick as an earth worm, he told me I was in luck, he had recently been given some American Red Cross medical supplies. He handed me two large capsules to be taken after eight hours without food. I’d had breakfast at eight o’clock before seeing the doctor, so did not eat my midday meal before going to work. I also left my evening meal behind my bed. On my return to camp that night, I filled up with water.

Breakfast time next day, I swallowed my capsules, twenty four hours after my last meal. As the capsules dissolved in my stomach, I could taste the fumes, not unlike petrol and felt rather giddy. I went and laid on my bed, resting before going to work at one o’clock. Suddenly the guards burst in demanding a wood collecting party. I had brought down three of my ten bundles so far, it was a waste of time trying to tell the guards I wasn’t well enough, so off I went. We walked up the hillside to the wood pile and I decided I would only carry the one bundle down that day. These were carried by placing a robe round the waist, then winding it round the bundles on our back, the rope ends were then thrown over our shoulders and gripped in each hand. I was surprised at how weak I felt, when having placed the bundle on my back and standing up, I immediately fell over backwards and was unable to get up. A couple of men helped me up and to avoid a repeat performance, I managed to get back to camp in a crouching position. I returned to the hut to rest until it was time for work.

Roll call came and I took my evening meal with me today. I had accumulated four meals of rice which I had stored in my mug, bowl and soup dish, I had given my share of soup up. Walking to work I still felt rather weak and arriving at the rock face, my three workmates did most of my share of work, knowing I hadn’t eaten. After about two hours I felt then need to evacuate my bowls, so took a lamp and went to a worked out rock seam that was used as a toilet area. I emptied my bowls, held the lamp to see if I had passed any worms and was astounded to see on the ground a large cluster of about forty to fifty of them, two to three inches long, all dead. I had passed nothing else, just worms. I felt greatly relieved that at last I had seen their demise. What we would have done without those American Red Cross supplies, or our surgeon and his helpmate for that matter, I do not know. At meal break I ended my thirty four hour fast. I felt so much better after eating and could hardly wait to get back to camp for a midnight feast of the rice I had saved.

It was a wonderful feeling walking back that night with no more worrying about those ghastly worms eating away inside me, so off we went with the Americans plus the six Englishmen in the first group, sprinting ahead closely followed by the Indonesians who made up the second group, our group bringing up the rear followed by the guard and camp foreman. If our group had seen anything worth stealing, I suppose we would have been doing a sprint, but personally after my recent experience with the potatoes, I was not too keen on the idea of chancing having another bout of worms. One of the Indonesians told me some time later that they also stole potatoes from the fields, but only on bath nights. The fire under the bath was always left burning for the miners when they returned about eleven o’clock at night. When everyone had bathed, the Indonesians put their potatoes in the hot ash and by the time they had done their washing, the potatoes would be cooked ready to eat.

There was not the comradeship in this camp, each of the different nationalities kept in a tight circle, keeping their secrets and perks to themselves. There was none of the sharing or helping each other that I’d experienced before.

One evening on our walk back, an extraordinary event occurred. On one route we passed the Korean dining hut and apparently the cooks regularly put the scorched rice that was scraped from the coppers it was cooked in, outside for the prisoners to collect on their way past. Of course the Americans had kept this little secret to themselves, hence their sprint ahead of us each night. On this particular evening, finding no scorched rice outside, the Americans had entered the dining hut and helped themselves to rice from the tubs on the tables and of course then the Indonesians arrived and saw what was happening, in they went.

Our group arrived as they were leaving the hut with rice piled high in their lunch boxes, their hats and anything else they had to carry the rice in, so without hesitation in I went. There were tubs of rice and large chunks of red salmon on the table, so I helped myself to six pieces of salmon and filled my side pack with rice. As I was leaving, the guard came rushing in and the two Koreans cooks fled at the sight of him. The guard then ushered the remaining prisoners out and ran to the Americans who had by now eaten their rice, some of the Indonesians still had some and we English group hadn’t started on ours. We had taken rather large amounts, I had enough rice for at least six ordinary meals. The guard came along frantically telling us to eat it up or throw it away. We then knew that he was in a panic and had lost control of us. He was obviously frightened that he would be in dire trouble for failing in his duty. If he had raised his rifle and threatened to shoot, we would have regretfully thrown the food away. We realised that we were on top for once and told him we were going to keep it and reasoned with him that it would be seen on the road and questions might be asked, some might want to know how it got there. Also we couldn’t eat it all and intended sharing with the men in the camp who didn’t work at the mine.

We walked on slowly, eating some on the way. As we neared the camp, the guard had one more try, stopping us and telling us to eat up, we told him “No search in camp tonight”. He was still very worried, so we suggested we wait outside whilst he went in to check if the Sergeant was about, this he agreed to do. He went away and shortly after came hurrying back saying “OK move quick”, which we didn’t need telling twice. We formed up quickly for him and were dismissed, no search, what a relief.

Normally when we arrived back in the hut around eleven fifteen at night, it would be rather quiet with some of the men asleep, but within minutes they were all wide awake and rather noisy, with everyone busy eating and talking. We tried to keep quiet as we didn’t want to alert the other guards that something unusual was going on and all the food had to be consumed in case of a search the next day. A guard did come into the hut eventually whilst we were still eating and told us to be quiet. Strangely enough he didn’t put the lights on or demand to know what was going on, which was most unusual, so we did wonder if he was a friend of the guard that had escorted us back that night.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    I am so sorry to hear about the lack of sharing and help between the different nationalities.

    What a horrible experience you had after unknowingly eating those potatoes!

    Thanks again for all the detail. The only thing that I can contribute here is that the Koreans were housed in the original barracks used for this camp. The original barracks was on the outskirts of Ohashi. In April 1942, the prisoners moved to a "new camp," which in my understanding was lower down in the valley, three or four kilometers east of Ohashi.