Friday, 26 August 2011

23: Horror of the Sick Bay and End of the War

There wasn’t much work done the following day, we moved some logs and then had a break, this was the pattern of our day.

Back at camp, I prepared to do my turn in the sick bay, some of the men I discovered when I went for a wash before my stint, had been kept back from going to work that day, so they could help with the sick men.

I walked over to the sick bay, opened the door and walked in, the smell was nauseating, I lost my appetite immediately. It was just as well I hadn’t eaten anything, I think my stomach would have rejected it there and then. Schofield, the American orderly came to meet me, talking in a low voice, he told me the camp where the men had been billeted had been hit during the bombing of Kamaishi, they were sheltering in trenches at the time, when a blazing hut had fallen on top of the trench trapping them. They were all in a serious condition with no skin left on their bodies. I would have to feed the patient and help him if he needed to pass water into a bottle, to keep flies off him as his nerve ends were exposed and he would feel pain and I was asked if I could stick it out until dark when they settled down. He pointed to a bed saying “That man is English, will you go to him?”.

I went to the bed where this mummified looking figure lay. I gazed at this poor man, a blackened hole or his nostrils, a blackened hole for his mouth, a thin strip of gauze bandage lay over his nostrils and two eyes stared out of the strips of rag he was bound in. What a terrible twist of fate, having suffered and survived being a P.O.W. for so long and now this just when the end of the war and our freedom was in sight. I felt helpless, I smiled and said “Hello”. There was a chair beside his bed, I asked “Do you mind if I sit down, I’ve just finished work?”. His eyes moved up and down in assent. I needed to sit down, the stench from him was overpowering. I had to suppress my feelings somehow and try to help him, what could he be thinking? I asked “Is there anything I can do for you?” he replied slowly “Keep the flies off me”. I then asked where he came from, his eyes seemed to brighten and he started to tell me about where his home was, of the lanes and green fields, I didn’t understand the name of the village, his voice distorted, but he was happy to have someone to listen.

After a much longer chat than I expected, he asked if I could give him something to eat. On a small table near his bed was a dish covered with a cloth. I removed the cloth and there was a small amount of fish and rice in a bowl with a teaspoon. I fed him very slowly, he could only eat a third of the spoon at a time, obviously he was unable to move from his laying position. I then gave him a drink and he settled down closing his eyes, no doubt thinking his own private thoughts as we all did when laying in bed, dreaming of better places, of home, temporarily blotting out the reality of our existence. I watched over him for flies, one landed on him before I could prevent it, his eyes flew open. Later I had to put his burned penis into a bottle for him to pass water. This was a shocking experience for me, I had managed to overcome my revulsion once I had become used to the smell, and feeding him through the blackened hole that was his mouth had been fraught, but having to handle his blackened body was totally different, I was terrified I might hurt him. The realisation of how helpless he was, made me pull myself together.

Later, he asked where I lived, it was my turn to do the talking, so I chatted away about home and family and what I used to do whilst he just lay listening.

Night fell and Schofield came over and said they would be alright now, he asked what had been happening and I explained what I had done. I then said cheerio to my patient “I’ll see you again”. As I left the sick bay, I could hear moans of pain from the other unfortunates, I hadn’t noticed them before. I walked slowly back to the hut unable to get that man out of my thoughts, the sight of him out of my mind.

My food was on the table covered with someone else’s bowl which I returned with thanks, taking my food to eat on my bed but found I still didn’t feel hungry.

The following day I heard from some of the other volunteers how they had been given the task of scrubbing the decaying burnt flesh from the bandages the men had been wrapped in, the flesh adhering to the bandages as the dressings were changed, I’ve a feeling they also lost their appetites. I felt back to normal after a nights sleep, but found I could not rid my mind of those poor creatures laying suffering in the sick bay.

We walked towards the mine the following morning accompanied by the Honourable Men and two soldiers, then past the entrance onto the hillside of rough grass and shrubs. It was a lovely day and when we reached a flatish area, the guards halted us and told us to spread ourselves out and rest. This we did and after a while walked about or sat in groups chatting. “No work today” said one of the guards, we only wished we had some cigarettes then to make our day.

There was definitely something strange going on. I spotted Sakata and walking over to him, asked what was happening. He told me another large bomb had destroyed Nagasaki in one explosion and that the war would soon be over, today perhaps. We had been taken up the hillside because the Emperor was going to speak to his people at eleven o’clock, up here we would be unable to hear what he had to say.

After our normal lunchtime break then a rest, we were taken down the hillside towards the mine, as we descended we passed the oncoming two o’clock shift of Japanese workers. Sakata walked over to one of them and spoke to him, he rejoined us shortly after and said “The war is over, all men go home”, this was wonderful news, something I had dreamed about for three and a half years but didn’t dare believe. It would have been devastating if we found it not to be true, I decided I would believe it only if told officially. On reaching the main area we were taken to a large shed where repairs to locomotive parts were carried out, then shut in. We were told it would be for a short time only, but it was an hour before the door opened. We now had two extra guards and were taken back to camp, no search, just dismissed, it looked promising.

As each working party came in they were eagerly questioned, “Have you heard the war is over?”. Some had, some hadn’t, we couldn’t find any definite news but there was a feeling of anticipation and excitement. The food came at the usual time, we ate and talked about what we would do when free, my thoughts were with the men in the sick bay, someone must say something soon. We sat about, it was a pleasant summer evening, no guards had been near the hut and some of the men were sitting outside in the sun, it WAS different. I was just hoping this wasn’t all a dream, I don’t think I could have coped any more if on waking I found I was still a slave of the Jap’s. Roll call came as we watched the guardhouse through the window, not one soldier moved towards our hut.

Half an hour later the Americans decided to kill one of the pigs belonging to the Jap’s, that were kept behind our hut, producing some long sharp knives that they had hidden in case of trouble. A trail of burnt rice obtained from the cookhouse was placed on the ground outside the sty, which encouraged one of the pigs to investigate. As it left the sty one man struck its head with a piece of wood stunning it enough for the two with the knives to complete the job. Whilst this deed was being carried out, the guardhouse was being kept under surveillance from the window inside the hut. At the sudden commotion and loud squealing of the pig, a guard rushed out with a rifle at the ready and dashed round the back of the hut to where the noise was coming from. As he rounded the hut he stopped dead, surveying the scene, glancing at the dead pig, the knives the men were still holding dripping with blood, he said “O.K.” and smiled. One of the men informed him it was for the cookhouse to cook us the next day. Another smile and he was gone. The was must be over.

After dark when we were all gathered in the hut, the American Adjutant asked for our attention. He announced there would be no roll call in the morning, but we were to be on parade at ten o’clock. There was no lights out at nine o’clock that evening, so we just turned in when it suited us for the first time ever since in captivity.

Friday, 19 August 2011

22: Disaster in the Mine, a Lucky Escape Again, Distant Allied Bombing and Fighter Attack

One day in late July, we arrived ready to start our shift and went to level five hundred and fifty as usual, on arriving at the office we were told there was no work today, to go down to five hundred level. Kimura our foreman that day, led us into the main level in this part of the mine where there was a path running along a full size railway track, it was also much wetter, the office for this level was a half a mile in. Kimura went to the office and asked for orders, he returned bringing with him the box of rice balls from which we took one each. He then counted off the number of men he wanted, telling the remaining four of us to wait there until he returned. We like to keep our rice balls for later and normally did, but as we waited our hunger pangs got the better of us.

We were alongside the main line so looked around for somewhere to eat them. There was a large V shaped cleft in the rock wall big enough for the four of us to stand in, so in we went. We were concentrating on the serious business of eating, when a few moments later there was a loud muffled ‘Whump’ noise, like an underground explosion. Shortly after, a gigantic wind tore up the tunnel, we pressed ourselves further into the cleft, seconds later an empty sixteen ton iron ore truck came tearing along, being blown by the force of the wind, leaving the rails just beyond us, it crashed into the side of the tunnel and folded like cardboard. Shortly after Kimura and other workmates reappeared filthy, splashed with mud. As Kimura passed by without stopping he ordered “All men quick march”. Obviously there had been a collapse in the mine somewhere.

After walking quickly for about ten minutes, we could see a pin point of light in the distance, so we stepped up our pace eager to get out of the mine into the open. On arriving outside, some of the Japanese miners started to laugh at the state of some of our men, Kimura went over and spoke to them and the laughing ceased. We were told to move away from the mine entrance and wait for guards. More of our men emerged, most covered in mud. The Honourable Men arrived but we still had to wait for the soldier guards.

Whilst waiting, a train came down the tunnel pulling flat trucks and when it passed through the entrance it stopped. Lying in the trucks were bodies of men completely covered with black mud. I notice one man blowing bubbles of blood through the mud covering his face. There didn’t seem to be any first aid available, the men just lay where they were while others stood around talking. Once the soldiers arrived, we were taken onto the hillside and told to sit down until it was time to return to camp.

Back at camp that night the bathhouse fire was lit specially for the miners, not one of the P.O.W’s had suffered injury or been killed, although some had amazing escapes. One man had been working alongside a Japanese miner, when part of the roof had caving in killing the Jap. The top five hundred levels where the Indonesian worked had not been affected.

Next day we were back at work on the mountain side collecting pit props. We now alternated between this job and taking drills down to the workshops, to be sharpened or returning the sharpened ones to different levels – we never worked in the mine again. All three foremen were outside with us as we were spread over quite a large area. Sakata was most talkative and seemed rather worried about what was happening. Kimura and Hai San seemed oblivious to the fact that things were changing and that the war was nearing its end. Sakata told me that forty eight Japanese and Koreans had been killed in the mine collapse and thought it amazing that more than fifty P.O.W’s working in the same mine had escaped unhurt.

I had seen some extreme weather in Japan and on the way back to the camp one day, there was a sudden hailstorm, the hail was the size of pigeons’ eggs. We were on the open road with no protection, the stones really hurt, so I wrapped my arms over my head and face, bending forward so they hit my back but still they hurt. The miners protective helmets would have been handy but as we were not working in the mine at the time, we were not carrying them. Thankfully it only lasted ten minutes.

One day in early August whilst at work, we heard the sound of exploding bombs in the direction of Kamaishi. It wasn’t a full scale raid, about nine planes I thought, there was also some anti-aircraft fire. I did wonder if they might come further along the railway line next time to do some bombing. We were still working on the hillside at the drill forge, cleaning the spare drills lying about and any other odd job that could be found for us to do. Soap was almost non existent now so together with about ten others, I had all my hair cut off to keep my head clean. Some had made the decision months earlier, but I had hung on to mine a bit longer.

A few days later another raid started, this time on a much larger scale. We could hear planes and at intervals the explosion of bombs, but something seem rather odd, so we stopped and listened and noticed a regular crash of explosions, that could only mean that the allied navy was also bombarding Kamaishi. This went on all day.

Walking back to camp that evening, two fighters came along the valley flying low over our heads. We could hear machine gun fire, which seemed to be coming from the direction of the mine buildings being shot up. I was relieved to see the fighters fly past us as we were all dressed in Japanese uniforms and thought there was every chance of being fired on. Perhaps the pilots had been warned there may be P.O.W’s in the area. As night fell so the raids and bombardment stopped.

The next day I believe was the 12th August, it was work as usual and I was working with Sakata. He told me the war would soon be over, the Americans had dropped a gigantic bomb. I asked if yesterday’s raid on Kamaishi was that bad. He said “Kamaishi” was nearly destroyed by fire, bombs and shells, the fighters had shot up trains and transport”, but no, he was not talking about Kamaishi. The Americans had dropped just one bomb and completely destroyed a Japanese city. He drew 50,000+ in the soil with a stick and remarked they were wiped out in one big bang. I could not imagine a bomb that big or powerful but he insisted it was only one bomb.

The working parties arrived back in camp and when we were all present the American C.O. asked for silence as he wished to speak to us. He then told us there had been some badly burned P.O.W’s brought in during the day and were in the sick bay. There were no bandages available, so if we had any linen or sheeting of any kind in our possession, would we please give them to the sick bay as they were desperately needed. Also tea if any was available. We were asked to help by washing bandages or feeding and helping the injured men in any way we were able. I volunteered and was told to go to the sick bay after work the next day and before I ate my meal.

Friday, 5 August 2011

21: Beans, Quarry Work and an American Bomber – Part 2.

The walk to the quarry was in the opposite direction to the mine, so I had a change of scenery. On the way we passed the village rice store which was the only brick building in Ohasi, and a safeguard against the risk of fire. This building was about the size of an average detached house and to my astonishment, the lower courses of bricks were being chopped out and round straight tree trunk rollers placed underneath with blocks. The work had already been well underway before I had started walking in that direction and after a few days, I actually saw the building being moved and rolled some distance away from the wooden buildings. When the next rest day came round, I spoke to the chap I had changed jobs with and asked how he was getting on in the mine. He said he missed the outdoor work but once he had become used to the weight of the ore, there was no difference, the rice ball was the real bonus so he didn’t wish to change just yet.

Ten days later during the next rest day, several of the prisoners numbers were called out and told to report to the sick bay, mine was one of them. Being near the end of the hut, I was one of the first group to go, injections or health check I supposed. It was certainly a health check, the fittest men were needed to work in the mines, the food was having a bad effect on a lot of the men and targets were down. I went to the surgeon, he sounded my chest, listened to my heart, took my pulse and told me to jump on the scales, I weighted eight stone, “OK” he said, “Report to the mine working party tomorrow”, I pleaded “I have only been working in the quarry for twenty days after two years solid in the mine”, and he replied “You wouldn’t want a sick man down there in your place would you?” I said no. He got up and came to me, felt my back in different places and said “I know it’s tough just as you’ve got yourself a better job, maybe it won’t be too long, you have a back as good as any I have seen and are capable of doing the work”. Capable I thought, on an empty stomach?. I returned to the hut feeling a bit down at the depressing thought of returning to the mine, but consoled by the fact that I was as fit as could be expected in these circumstances.

Next day I returned to level five hundred and fifty in the mine, Sakata asked if I felt better, I replied “Yes thanks”. Later I asked him about the moving of the rice store that I had witnessed a week or so before. He told me the rice store was a reserve in case to earthquakes, fire or other disasters. He then said to me “The war will finish soon, Germany has been beaten”. I kept that piece of news to myself, he would have been in trouble talking to me about the war, especially heart lifting snippets like that.

There had been no change in our routine. Sakata had mentioned earlier that fishing boats were being sunk, making fish scarce. I think our captors knew that we were aware of what was happening and stepped up their searches for the radio.

One day in July a group of us were out on the hillside collecting pit props to take down to the valley, when I noticed rows of railway trucks loaded with iron ore standing idle at the sidings near the mine, an unusual sight as they were normally taken away as soon as a train load was assembled. That afternoon as we worked, I heard a place and gazing up, saw it was a four engine plane. I did not know of a Japanese one with four engines and knew it must be an American bomber and by its size it was clear that long range was possible. We watched as it approached and flew round before disappearing, minutes later he was back again for another look round before flying away. There had been no anti-aircraft nor appearance of Japanese fighters. Our foreman and the woodcutter watched with us and when it had gone out of sight, one asked if it was American, this was affirmed. My guess was that he had come for a look round, the next time no doubt would be a raid, the obvious targets being the blast furnaces and iron ore works at Kamaishi, a seaport and industrial town about fifteen kilometres away.

Work resumed in the mine the next day, we carried on as usual, it was still maximum output, the truck loads were now being moved on once again. Whilst at work, we were discussing the plane and what we had seen. I drew a rough outline of the shape of the plane with some black soot from the miners lamp, on the side of the iron ore truck. It was Hai San’s shift, he saw us talking and came over, looked at the rough sketch and asked “who drew that?”. Expecting trouble, I replied that I had. He then asked if I could draw a Japanese plane for him on paper, I said I wasn’t that brilliant but could do it.

Next day he presented me with a sheet of paper and pencil and asked me to draw the plane with no markings, he promised me my workmates would not have to make up my sixteen ton quota of iron ore, so I set to and drew him a plane. This he seemed very leased with and promised to reward me with more rice cakes. Three days later he gave me the news that his son had put Japanese markings on the drawing and had taken it to school, he was now number one pupil. So for a few days I was supplemented with rice cakes which I ate at work, saving a little of my rice for the night time snack.

The mine seemed to have run out of good ore and we were having to work in areas that had been worked out previously, where large walls of rock were supporting the roofs. In earlier workings the amount of ore taken out was equivalent to the amount left so as to support the mine, this amount was now being drastically reduced.