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.

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