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.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,
    It's very interesting to know that apparently each level of the mine had an office. Also, the description of how you and the other Ohashi prisoners realized, gradually, that Kamaishi had been bombarded is extremely important. Likewise, the details about your being asked to help with the burn victims who were brought from Kamaishi to the Ohashi camp.