Friday, 15 July 2011

20: Honourable Men and Rice Cakes – Part 1.

Christmas 1944 was approaching and things seemed to be changing, some guards seemed more friendly, others more sullen and brutal if given an excuse. We heard that the war was going well for the Allies. Rice seemed to be getting scarce, so we were now having a mixture of oats and rice which wasn't very palatable, but still received our rice ball at the mine.

A new P.O.W. hut was being built in our camp about the same size as the one we were housed in. Also, past the village of Ohasi on the way to the mine, another large camp was under construction. Sakata told me it was for Chinese prisoners, who would possibly be put to work improving the roads.

During one meal time, I was asked to take over dishing out the soup. I hesitated at first, remembering how I had been accused of being unfair with the rice and then thought to myself that they were all just like me. Hungry men with not enough food inside them. There had to be a change now and again to ease the tension, so I agreed to take the job on. If there was an uneven number of solid bits in the soup, there was no need for me to remember whose turn it was to have an extra lump. I would just ask who had three pieces and who had two the last time. I was never asked to step down from that job and kept it to the end.

Late in 1944, the regular army guards were reduced in number and were replaced by the Japanese equivalent of the home guard, who took over many of the guard duties. They were old soldiers who had been slightly wounded, we called them ‘Honourable Men’. There was one of them to each mine level party, so instead of one guard accompanying us all to and from work as before there were now three. Being old soldiers they new all the tricks. One evening they brought some sacks of satsumas into the hut to sell. I had very little money, but was able to purchase thirty three and managed to consume them over three days, including the peel.

The greatest benefit of having these ‘Honourable Men’ as guards, was when there was to be a search. One of them would come charging through the hut shouting “Search, search, search”, and then ask if anyone had anything he could look after whilst the search was being executed. Of course he wanted to see what we had and then come back later offering to buy whatever we had worth purchasing. The RAF blue pullovers were in great demand, so the old guards would wear them under their uniform until after the search and then come bargaining, there was quite a good market for them apparently. Of course we know it was the radio that the search was all about.

The foremen at the time soon got to know about these blue pullovers by talking to our new escort. At work one day, foreman Hai San approached me and asked if I was in the RAF which I affirmed, and if I had a blue pullover. I told him the only piece of the RAF clothing I had was my blue jacket. He told me to bring it to work and if it was of any use, he would buy it. I could not use it, we had only been allowed to wear the Japanese issue of clothing since arriving in this country. So next day I took it to the mine, but after looking at it, Hai San said it was of no use to him he wouldn’t be able to wear it under his jacket like a pullover but perhaps his wife might be able to make something from it for his little son. Hai San’s wife said she would be able to make some trousers from it, so agreed a price of thirty rice cakes. I asked for five a day to make them last as long as was possible, the pay off to start the following day. The cakes were one and a half inches wide, five inches long and half inch thick and were made of rice flour and sugar. Next morning Hai San said he had my cakes and I was to collect them at dinner break, his wife had given him ten, five was too small a batch to bake. I was a little disappointed and ate five after my dinner deciding to chance taking the other five back to camp.

Searches at night were not so frequent now, so put them in my side pack under my rice box, as at times we had to remove and open the box for inspection. As we marched into the gate that night past the guardhouse, I noticed the Sergeant of the guard standing watching us. The guardhouse being three feet higher than the square, he was able to watch the guards search us. The guards had formed us up ready on the square when the Sergeant called out to him, and proceeded to do the search himself. As he walked along the line I noticed he wasn’t looking for rice boxes, but telling each man to remove his box and looking in the bag instead.

My turn came, so I removed my rice box, he looked into the bag, then thrusting his hand in pulled out my five rice cakes and asked, “Where did you get these?”. I was trying to think of a plausible answer when he said “You have stolen them from a Japanese man’s dinner box”. Stealing was a bad offence, a crime and selling to a Japanese wasn’t very favourable either. I told him my foreman had given them to me for being a good worker, he looked at me and said “No stealing, what was the foreman’s name?” “Hai San” I replied. He then kept repeating “Good worker” as if it was a huge joke. When he stopped he screwed the five cakes into a ball and hurled them on the ground as hard as he could, then followed this by jumping up and down on them until they were flattened out. He then picked them up pushing them into my face before hurling them to the ground once again. His fury spent, he calmed down pointing to the jailhouse and told me, “Do that tomorrow and you’re in jail.” Hai San didn’t mention it, whether he had been made aware, I do not know but he paid off his debt with two more batches of ten rice cakes, which needless to say, I ate at dinner break, leaving some of my dinner rice at camp for a midnight snack.

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