Sunday, 24 July 2011

20: Honourable Men and Rice Cakes – Part 2.

Christmas day 1944 arrived and gratefully we each received an American Red Cross parcel, we also had oat free rice that day. One of the mine officials entered our hut bringing with him a wind up gramaphone together with two records. I remember the two tunes, ‘Don’t sit under the apple tree’ was one, the other ‘Row, Row, Row’. Those two records were played continuously the whole day.

The official said his name was the equivalent of Smith in English, he also informed us that he was the mines official photographer and would like to take photos of us when the weather improved and if good enough, they would be printed in the Japanese newspapers, showing us to be fit and healthy cared for prisoners. The war with Japan had been going on now for three years, I felt that far more was happening that we knew.

The searches in camp were stepped up, our meagre possessions, even little odds and ends were inspected and turned over.

I wasn’t aware at the time, but heard later, that the closest they came to finding the radio was as the guards burst in at one end of the hut, it was being carried out the other end in a rice tub.

I felt our long imprisonment must end soon although at the time, we had seen no sign of allied planes.

About two hundred Canadian soldiers had been moved into the new hut that had been erected in our camp, they were mostly put to work in another level of the mine, a few of them on various other jobs. Therese men had been moved from a camp to the south, I believe, and did tell us they had seen American bombers.

The new camp for Chinese prisoners had been completed and was now being occupied, I never say any of these men at work.

Another man died in our hut, he was American and had given up. He had been suffering from vitamin deficiency and swollen up with excess fluid, he never went to work. There were four other similar cases who survived the war so it wasn’t a fatal illness. The dead man was cremated on an open fire on a piece of open ground outside the camp. He was laid on a pile of wood which was ignited and fed with more wood until completely incinerated. The next day before the afternoon shift, I was detailed with three others to clear the ground where the cremation had taken place. As we raked the ashes level, there were still small pieces of bone amidst the wood ash, but this didn’t upset us in any way, we had seen so much suffering and cruelty that our whole attitude to life and death had drastically changed over the last three years. It was simply as if we were raking the ground ready for planting.

More rumours of a radio in camp abounded and we heard the Americans were said to be recapturing islands and approaching Japan. Sakata said to me “The war will be over this year”, I fervently hoped he was right.

At camp we had a change of Commandant and the permanent staff. We hardly ever saw the old Commandant, except for when he was required for official duties to read out new orders to us prisoners. I wondered how we would far with the new one.

The iron ore at our level in the mine was running into a bad seam and was producing more slate than iron ore. This made work easier as the slate was much lighter in weight. More equipment was being transported to the mine, ready to make a start on another rock face in another direction. Pulling the loaded equipment into the mine were tractor type vehicles with low cabs and wheels that ran on the train lines, these were powered by the American and British truck engines that I’d seen in the hold of the ‘Dia Nicchi Maru’ on that never to be forgotten sea voyage to Japan.

There were days at the mine when we had to go out onto the mountain side to drag logs down to the valley floor where they were picked up and transported into the mine by train; these were used as pit props.

I remember on one of these occasions one of the wood cutters told us to have a break and produced a snake about four feet in length that he had killed, skinned and cleaned. He said that it was good to eat, lit a fire then proceeded to cut the snake into chunks, then placing a small metal sheet on the fire roasted the chunks on top. He then shared it between us prisoners not having any himself, it tasted rather like port. I’m sure he did this because he realised we were half starved. Looking back it is good to remember the humane as well as the brutal treatment we experienced.

It was pleasant to be working in the open in daylight at times, in contrasts to the darkness of the mine each day and then walking back to camp in the dark. I think we were mainly put to work outside when they were endeavouring to find new seams of iron ore for us to work on. So, after a couple of days we were back in the mine.

One one bright sunny day as we left the hut to form up for work, ‘Smith’ the mine official cum photographer, was waiting. He informed us he was going to take some photos to show the Red Cross so they could see we were being well treated, also they would be in the local paper showing the work we were doing. The official that carried a clipboard was also present and included in the photos. He, I believe, kept an account of how many prisoners were employed in the mine each day and was known to us as ‘Ori San’. He wore a Hitler moustache and, I thought, resembled a cross between Hitler and a Gorilla. We often joked at his expense, but he was amiable and one of the very few Jap’s that I actually heard laugh.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,
    I'm indebted to you for the explanation of how Iwashita happened to be called "Smith" ("Smith the Spy," or "Smitty"). Also for the detail of the wind-up gramophone. I knew about the gramophone but hadn't imagined that it was wind-up. Nor did I know the titles of the two songs played at Christmas 1944. The detail about the guard who was called "Hitler" because of his mustache, but who was actually pleasant and would laugh, was fascinating. As was the anecdote about the Japanese man who cooked a snake and shared portions of it. Details like these add an extra dimension to the camp experience. Finally, thanks for the marvelous detail about the radio being carried out one end of the barracks while the search party ended the other. This helps me a great deal!