One more day of waiting and then on the Fifteenth of September, Nineteen Forty Five (15.09.45), American trucks drove into our camp. We were on the move at last. Someone was sent up the road to tell the Chinese to move into our camp and to use up the supplies. As my turn came, I climbed on to the truck, my very few possessions in my side pack and Bill’s ashes in his box and away we went. It was an exhilarating feeling to be on our way home at last, after three and a half years of privation and forced slave labour.
We rode off down the road to Kamishi where American soldiers had organised everything perfectly. Landing craft as used for invasions were waiting ashore for us to walk on, then taken out to a hospital ship lying out at sea, warships were anchored nearby. Our landing craft came to rest alongside the hospital ship, I climbed aboard. It was another example of perfect organisation. We were told to strip off all our clothing and throw everything else we were carrying into nearby bins. I looked around for a sailor to hand Bill’s ashes so he could be returned home, I couldn’t just throw him in the bin. The sailor escorted me to a cabin where I gave Bill’s name, number and the details I knew of his home town etc, then back I went to be processed. All the new clothing that we had taken off was now thrown over the side, the sea a mass of floating olive green uniforms and boots. We were then shown into cubicles and spraying with chemicals to kill any skin infestations we may have had, then into the showers, as we left we were given U.S. navy denim trousers and shirt, underwear and shoes then a medical examination. I was told I was fit but needed fattening up and to go out of a door and onto the deck. On deck I watched landing craft going to the different warships unloading men. Later I was called to one and taken with others to a destroyer where at the rear deck, rope climbing nets were hung over the side, these we clambered up, being greeted by the sailors and shown our berths.
As soon as the required number of men were on board, we set off. Over the loudspeaker system we were told our destination was to be Yokohama and we should reach there the following day. We were also told that the ship’s crew would eat first as they had to work the ship, we would eat after and could take as long as we wished over our meal. When our turn came the dining room was empty except for the cooks who told us to eat anything and everything we wanted, they would leave us to help ourselves. We ate our fill following by lots of delicious coffee. I then went to my bunk and enjoyed a good nights rest. On awakening next morning, the destroyer was pitching in rough seas, so we decided we would stay in our bunks rather than face the wind and spray on deck, at least we were travelling in comfort this time round.
On arriving at Yokohama we disembarked. We understood that all our ex-P.O.W.’s were being brought here and then flown to the Philippines on their way home, but when we arrived a typhoon was approaching Japan, so the planes had been grounded, instead, we were to board a cruiser and go by sea to Manila.
All the American warships had been made to accommodate troops which had been transported during the battle for the islands of the Pacific, so were ideally suited to carry us.
Our food was served to us on large pressed stainless steel trays, with different dishes for each compartment, followed by plenty of fruit and ice cream. It was very enjoyable.
The typhoon reached Yokohama and we put to sea. Small ships were breaking from their moorings and smashing against the quay. After a night at sea the weather improved and we enjoyed a pleasant voyage to the Philippines. Each night on deck a film was shown on a screen erected on the rear gun turrets. A ‘Movie Call’ was sounded on a bugle over the loudspeaker system and all men not on duty rushed up to the fantail which was the rear decks.
The American Navy seemed entirely different to the Royal Navy, the Captain walked about the deck wearing a baseball cap with CAPT on the front. Any announcement was preceded with “Now hear this”. We had a marvellous time with them, they gave us free beers, chocolate and cigarettes and couldn’t do enough for us.
Arriving at the Philippines we were taken to a U.S. Army Camp and put into large tents. Their treatment and generosity knew no bounds. An issue of three bottles of beer, forty cigarettes, three cigars, a packet of pipe tobacco and bars of chocolate every day and wonderful food. We had another medical and X-Ray then kitted out in U.S. army uniform.
Outside the camp was utter devastation everywhere, so found we were better off staying in camp. There was entertainment every evening with films and live concerts, I remember Danny Kaye appearing there. Most of us ex-prisoners rarely attended the concerts and films, we found it difficult to mix and socialise with normal people. We had changed so much we found we could only feel comfortable when talking to each other. I did go outside in the vicinity of the camp for the occasional walk as we were there for a month and with so much good food and no work, I needed the exercise.
Coming back to my tent area one day after one of these jaunts, I suddenly heard a Japanese voice shout “Hyaku San-Juu Ni”, my prison number 132, which stopped me in my tracks. I turned and looked in the direction to where the call came from and there was my old adversary, the dock foreman from Hakodate shipyard Watanabe digging a trench.
I walked over to him, he was smiling and trying, I think, to convey to me the word ‘Remember’ and managed “You, me, Hakodate. I replied “You are the prisoner now”. “Cigaretto?” he asked. I turned to his American guard and asked if I could give him cigarettes. He seemed astounded and asked how I came to know him. I explained he had been my foreman at one camp for six months. He then wanted to know, “Did he give you any trouble?” to which I replied, no.
In the meantime, a rapid conversation was taking place in the trench between Watanabe and another Japanese soldier, who seemed rather bewildered.
I bent down and gave Watanabe some cigarettes, enough to share with his friend. I asked him if he was being well fed, also, if he knew when he would be going home. Yes, he was being well fed and would be going home in about six months time. I said goodbye and walked away, thinking to myself, what a remarkable meeting.
I was pleased he called out to me. He obviously regarded our ‘duels’ against each other without animosity or surely he would not have made me aware of his presence when he was at such a great disadvantage. I realised he could have made my life a lot worse at Hakodate by calling the guards to deal with me at times.
What surprised me most was that he was still able to recognise me, also, remembered my number, two and a half years later, especially as I was now wearing U.S. uniform.
I perhaps owed him more than those few cigarettes as I felt he may have inadvertently saved my life.