Friday, 29 July 2011

21: Beans, Quarry Work and an American Bomber – Part 1.

I had never liked working in the mine although it was an improvement on the dockyard at Hakodate, and wondered if I could possibly swap jobs with someone, our captors didn’t seem to mind, providing the mine had its full shift. Others had made a change over by saying they were giving their friends who were unwell a break. If the replacement worked well, there were no problems.

Suddenly the late shift at the mine was halted and we were now put on a day shift, leaving the camp in the morning just before the other daytime workers. I asked Sakata why the change, he said there was stealing in Ohasi and the mine working prisoners were getting the blame. It was not food that was going missing and he suspected it was the Koreans who were the culprits. I was unable to find out what was being stolen, or indeed, if there was any truth in it.

There was another thorough search of the building just as we were having our evening meal, it seemed that some of the prisoners working in the mine workshops had been too happy and the Japanese workers rather glum.

The Chinese camp now seemed pretty full and as we passed by, I could see a mound of earth had been built up which looked very similar to a volcano crater with a large fire in the centre, into which I saw two bodies being thrown. I surmised there must have been many deaths to need a fire that size.

Spring had arrived, the weather pleasant and were were still receiving our rice balls daily at the mine.

One advantage of working a day shift, was being able to go to and from work in the daylight after spending so many hours in the darkness of the mine. When working the late shift we still had to be up early with the day workers for roll call, the wood collecting had to be done before our shift, but now that we were on a day shift this task had to be done when we arrived back at camp and before evening meal.

Our diet was also being changed, sometimes there was barley mixed in with the rice, later, a third of the rice was replaced with soya beans mixed with our remaining ration. These beans were hard and went sour if not eaten straight away. The small pieces of fish that we had on occasions was also pretty scarce. Hungry as we were, we found even more unpalatable now. The beans began to cause stomach upsets and some of the men started to suffer diarrhoea, so the cookhouse agreed to cook and serve the beans separately from the rice. Some tried to trade their beans for rice, if successful, the price would be one measure of rice for three of beans. I was fortunate that I was able to eat the beans with no ill effect.

Remembering Hakodate and how the dysentery started, I took extra care with my food dishes and ate my beans separately before the rest of the meal. To starve off the hunger, some were saving a little of their daytime meal and consuming it very slowly in bed before trying to sleep. I tried for a time keeping a quarter of my breakfast and lunch so I had a reasonable sized meal at night, but found it hard to keep to when I was still feeling so hungry. The very real problem was that we were all starving, when I retired for the night and had time to think, all that filled my mind was food. There soon became a surplus of beans, some of the men couldn’t eat any without having problems, but I was managing to stomach them and at times ate extra that were offered to me. Eventually the Lieutenant, our go between was sent over to the Jap building to complain and was hit on the head with a shovel for his pains and told “No beans that night and any more complaints, no beans at all”.

I thought this a good time to try and get out of working in the mine, with a surplus of beans and to anyone not able to stomach them, the daily rice ball at the mine must have been quite an incentive. One evening I spoke to a chat who worked in the limestone quarry, it was a similar type of work to what we did in the mine, the limestone rock being blasted out, picked up and loaded into trucks, taken I understand to purify the iron ore in the blast furnaces. I had been working in the mine for two years now and really did feel in need of a break.

The rice ball was what we craved more than anything else, so we agreed on the story that I was feeling unwell and he was taking my place in the mine until I was better. This he told to the mine authorities and I to the limestone quarry management. We did the change over after the next rest day of our ten day week. I liked working in the quarry, it was sunny and I was out in the open air with no weight target to reach and the truck loads we had to push were much smaller, but during working hours there was no let up, we were hustled continuously. There was no rest in the mine either except when the foreman was out of sight.

I now enjoyed a smoke break of ten minutes, morning, afternoon and at lunchtime, it was a pleasure to be able to sit in the sun to eat my meal, to relax and feel the fresh air and not someone breathing down my neck. I felt free for a time, this was one of life’s normally taken for granted pleasures that had been denied me for so long and was greatly missed.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    Thanks for the details about the huge fire used as a crematorium outside the Chinese camp. This adds much to my understanding of the treatment of the Chinese prisoners, which was pretty horrifying.

    The very specific details about the prisoners' diet at this point are also very helpful. (I can understand why Jack Feliz has commented that the barracks sometimes sounded "like a drum and bugle corps" at night!)