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.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    This entire entry is just riveting. Both the account of the burn victims from Kamaishi and the manner in which you and the other prisoners gradually knew that the war had ended are incredibly important.