Friday, 9 September 2011

24: Supplies from the Skies and a Freedom Adventure from Camp – Part 2.

A full week had passed since the war ended, so decided I would like to have a look outside the camp. I walked to Ohasi hoping to see my friendly mine foreman Sakata, hoping to repay him in some small way for his fair treatment and attitude towards me. I did not find him but was given the information that as soon as was possible, he had left for Yokohama to be with his family once again.

Another day, four of us boarded a bus at Ohasi and travelled to Kamaishi. I had seen these buses on the odd occasion when walking to and from work. I believe they were run on wood fumes as a substitute for petrol, they made very slow progress. My mates and I were wearing the American olive green tropical uniform and boots, but the locals didn’t seem to mind us and on our arrival at Kamaishi, bade us good day. The destruction of the town had been complete, every stone and brick building had been damaged, no wooden houses remained, all had been burnt to the ground, only the small concrete roads between the houses remained. I looked around me and saw nothing but ashes which I noticed people were sifting through where their rice store had once been, we watched as they sorted out the scorched grains.

After a time we walked to the sea shore. The water was very clear and looked inviting, the sun was shining, so we decided to dip out feet in to start with and if warm enough, to take a dip. I put my feet in and the shock of the cold water immediately cancelled out any thoughts I’d had of bathing in these waters, paddling my toes had been more than enough. I let my feet dry in the sun and as there was nothing to see or do in Kamaishi, decided to go back to camp. We started to walk then managed to get a lift on a Jap lorry for the remainder of the journey.

A group of us decided to pay a visit to the Chinese P.O.W. camp. Walking round we were surprised at how few appeared to be there. We came across some eventually and from what we could understand, there were now only about sixty of them that had survived out of four hundred. They were terribly thin but were now eating better with the surplus food from our camp. Moving on we passed the huge fire where I had seen bodies being tossed in, it was still alight but probably just burning itself out.

Some of the men had become impatient at the delay in collecting us and had decided to walk over the mountainous hills behind the camp, to where about four miles on was said to be a railway station, they didn’t return so had obviously pressed on to some unknown destination. I spoke to one of the chaps and suggested we take a trip out but he thought we should wait a few more days in case of any developments. The forces broadcast on radio told us to “Stay where you are, Tokyo is full of American troops and you will all be collected as soon as possible”.

We waited until the twelfth of September, almost a month since the war had ended, we were restless. Next morning my chum and I started off climbing up and over the hills, there was a worn path so we had no difficulty in finding our way to the station. Arriving there we asked the Jap in the ticket office for two tickets to Tokyo which he wrote out. He spoke English and said there was a curfew on at night so we would have to put somewhere overnight, also not to take the next train but the one after. We had quite a long wait before our train finally arrived with Japanese soldiers on board. Two of them made signs for us to wait before boarding. They then cleared a whole carriage of civilians, then gestured for us to board. Two soldiers stood on guard, one each end of the carriage then off we went. We had taken food and drink with us from the bountiful supply at camp, so settled down to enjoy the journey.

It was late evening when we pulled into a station, one of the guards informed us “We stop here to sleep”. When we alighted there were three Japanese policemen and more soldiers lined up on the platform. One of the policemen stepped forward, I think he was the Chief of Police, shook our hands and bowed. He said the trains must stop here due to curfew so he wold take us somewhere to stay the night. Outside the station the road was jammed with people waiting to catch a glimpse of us, the soldiers pushed through the crowd making way for us. After a ten minute walk, we were ushered into a building and once inside saw it was a hotel. The policeman assured us we would be looked after and asked whether he and his two friends could join us later for a meal, to which we agreed. We were shown to our room and then the location of the bathroom. The beds consisted of the usual rice matting plus a pillow and quilt. We cleaned up then waited to be told when the meal was ready. It seemed to take hours, we had nothing to read to occupy our time, no radio to listen to and there was no furniture whatsoever in the room.

Dinner was served in our room eventually, a charcoal fire, a small table with rice, fish, pickles and hot thin soup followed by green tea and saki. Our guests arrived with the meal, the talk mainly consisted of where did we come from, did we like Japan, what were we now intending to do, was we in a hurry to go home etc? Before leaving, our friendly policeman asked what time we wished to rise in the morning, our reply was to catch the first train out. We were then thanked for having them and wished well, as they departed with a lot of bowing.

We were woken at five next morning and served a rice and fish breakfast. We settled our bill and then made for the station, still with our soldier escorts in tow. The train was already waiting in the station, we were ushered into another empty coach and off we went once again, with our guards as before. I sat wondering what might be ahead of us, we hadn’t much money as we had only been given just one small payment, enough to buy any odd item we might need. When starting our journey, we had no thought of staying in hotels. The train was making very slow progress and as we couldn’t afford another hotel, I just hoped we would reach Tokyo before very long.

After travelling for about an hour, the train pulled into a not very large station where we were asked by a soldier to alight who then pointed to a waiting room. No one else got off but we did as we were told. The soldier then boarded the train and was away, we were alone. We assumed the departing train was not going to Tokyo and we were having to wait for another. We hung about for an hour without seeing anyone and began to wonder what could happen next. We decided not to leave the station, just in case the train turned up in our absence.

It was still early in the day when a civilian suddenly appeared, he couldn’t speak much English and kept repeating “Red Cross” and walking towards the exit. He apparently wanted us to go with him, so as he obviously knew of us, we followed him outside the station where a large saloon car was parked, he opened the door for us to get in. We rode through the countryside for sometime, the scenery was hilly at times but we did not pass through any large towns. Eventually we stopped at what must have been a Japanese café for a rice meal and green tea which he paid for.

As we talked and gestured during the meal it became clear we were on our way back to Ohasi, a ship was calling there to collect us. It would be too difficult to move us by road or rail owing to the severity of bomb damage. In my view Kamaishi had no docks left to take any ships either. Resuming our journey, we arrived back at camp in the darkness. It seemed rather odd, no one seemed interested in where we had been or bothered about us getting back, it was as if we had just been for a ten minute walk. The day we had left for our journey to Tokyo, the food drops had ceased and the men informed they were to be picked up very shortly. There were still huge amounts of supplies stacked on the parade ground, enough to have filled a warehouse.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    The details about the devastated condition of Kamaishi (and yet the fact that the townspeople didn't seem to mind your appearing there in an American uniform) are remarkable. Likewise, the details about your visit to the Chinese camp. Thank you!