Friday, 2 September 2011

24: Supplies from the Skies and a Freedom Adventure from Camp – Part 1.

Next morning we discovered the badly burned men had been moved from the sick bay during the night whilst we slept, also, the army guards had left. The guardroom and main gates were now being named by Japanese military police.

At ten o’clock we all formed up on the square, the three American officers at the front, the Japanese officers and their staff of soldiers facing us. The Japanese Commandant then read out a statement saying our Countries had reached an agreement and that the war between us had now come to an end. The M.P.'s on guard at the gates were there to protect us from any Japanese who might wish to do us harm. He then handed over command of the camp to the American C.O. who inspected the Jap soldiers before putting them back on duty.

The C.O. addressed us requesting us to stay in camp until things had settled down, but we were free to go out if we so wished, also there was now a curfew covering the whole of Japan at night. He expected to hear more news on the elusive radio which the Jap’s had searched in vain for and apologised for not sharing the news with us in the past. He had understandably not wanted to risk losing the radio, as he felt we may have needed it for our survival. P.O.W. was to be put on the roof of our hut, plus a number four hundred for the total number of ex-prisoners in camp.

Once dismissed, we were free to do anything we wished, no more slave labour, no more hunger and brutality, it was hard to come to terms with, I lay on my bed wondering what would come next. Suddenly a cheer went up at the American end of the hut as they heard on the radio, those who had been Japanese prisoners for three years were all promoted two ranks up with pay to start from when taken prisoner, so we now had a Colonel in charge of the camp instead of a Captain.

We celebrated that day with two meals of port stew containing real chunks of meat, what a feast and how we enjoyed it. Not many of the men went out that day. About mid-morning the following day we heard planes, the sound coming from over the hills from the next valley then passing away. Shortly after we heard the sound of the engines returning, I went out onto the square and flying towards our camp were Hellcat fighters, which must have come from an aircraft carrier that was present when Kamaishi was attached. They flew low over the camp, waving and circling, the pilots throwing out packets of cigarettes and one small parcel. Inside the parcel were strips of white canvas and diagrams showing how to indicate what was needed most urgently, food, medical supplies or clothing. All we could think of at that time was food, so the relative diagram was displayed, the pilot acknowledged and then flew off. The whole camp was buzzing with excitement as to what would happen next, we hadn’t long to wait.

Early afternoon we heard the planes engines approaching and coming along the valley at about forty feet, were a flight of torpedo bombers and as they flew over they dropped kitbags full of loaves of bread, milk, a side of bacon hit the square with a thud, cigarettes, tinned fruit and some sacks of potatoes. They then flew off leaving a note to say they would feed us every day. Needless to say we really enjoyed that food – it is hard to describe the pleasure it brought and how we eagerly awaited their visit each day. We still ate rice as our main food, but it tasted so much nicer with all the extras.

After five days of daily visits, they dropped a message saying the aircraft carrier had to leave as their food stocks were running low, they must also have used all the sailors kitbags in which they had been dropping our supplies. They also wrote that the American air force would be bringing us further supplies in B29 Super-fortress’s and would be able to bring in bigger loads and would fly from Okinawa.

The next day all ears were pinned back listening for our new saviours, at last we heard the sound of the bombers engines and looking up, I was surprised to see they were at about the height as flown by reconnaissance planes, obviously no low level flights for them, maybe they were using bomb sights. There were three planes and as we watched, we saw the cargo leave the planes, parachutes opened and down came the containers, some snapping off the parachutes and whistling down sounding like bombs. One crashed through the roof of the Japanese guardhouse, hitting a Jap soldier who had been watching from a window and bursting out the side of the building, the man with it, I don’t think he survived. Another hurtled into our toilets, one of our men was using one at the time, as it smashed through demolishing half of the cubicles, the sewage from underneath gushed up through the hole the man was squatting over, covering him completely. He was rescued and washed down with a hose and appeared to be in shock, he was unable to speak for four hours.

After the raid, for that was surely what it had seemed with the camp suffering a lot of damage, there was a bit of clearing up to do. It was decided next time they came, we would take cover. The containers being used were forty gallon oil drums which had the bottoms cut out, then been spot welded together in pairs to double their size, making them far too weighty to be held by the parachutes when filled with the tins of food. Supplies had fallen outside the camp as well as in and orders had been given out, all food supplies dropped for the ex-P.O.W.'s was to be handed in, any Jap caught stealing any would be shot. One Japanese man came into the camp covered from head to foot with tomato sauce. Cases of the stuff had gone through his roof breaking his arm. Would we go and collect what was left he asked. He was cleaned up, his arm reset by the surgeon and given some cigarettes and food leaving the camp a happy man.

The Japanese army had organised the collection of the scattered supplies and soon trucks began to arrive with loaded containers and cases. There were boots, clothing, cigarettes and food, there were prepared meals labelled breakfast, lunch and dinner, also chocolate, everything we could possibly want was there. We had decided that during the next ‘raid’, we would shelter in a railway tunnel nearby. We didn’t have long to wait. The following day three planes appeared and we all rushed for shelter. It was a repeat performance with half the cargo damaged or ruined. The broken chocolate bars were like shingle on the ground and when pressing ones foot in the earth, evaporated milk would ooze up. The losses didn’t bother us as we were more than amply provided for.

We had started by dividing the drops equally but with just the second delivery, we were getting eight packs of cigarettes each. Of course we had to sort out the boots, picking out the size we required, this averaged eight pairs per each man and that was the scale of the drops with everything.

‘Smith’ came into camp with his gramophone one day. We asked for copies of the photos he had taken, he returned some days later with them, I cannot recall what we paid for them.

We felt that someone must have registered a complaint regarding the ‘raids’. As the planes approached on the third drop, a red parachute was released, we assumed to give us time to take cover, when the drop had been completed a green chute was released which was obviously the ‘all clear’ signal. The amount of supplies being dropped were far beyond our needs, we were rapidly running out of storage space and were now stacking the daily supplies that still kept coming, onto the square. Our Adjutant decided to visit the Chinese camp to see what their needs were and so it was shared with them.

The feeling of freedom from roll calls, orders, searches, being guarded and watched at all times and so many restrictions was marvellous. It gave a wonderful feeling of well being sitting around chatting, smoking decent cigarettes and the food, fabulous tasty food, no longer the gnawing hunger in the pit of my stomach that had been with me for three and a half years. No more beatings and almost freezing to death, no worms eating away inside me, my skin clear of sores and boils and best of all, being able to smile. I felt alive once again and found myself looking forward to each tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,
    Thanks so much for the great details. There are some radio details here that I hadn't known before. I did know about the damage caused by some of the food drops, but you've added more information. I'm so glad to know about the decision to share some of the extra food with the badly suffering Chinese prisoners.