Friday, 10 February 2012

Postscript Notes

The Ships: HMS Li Wo

I feel I must mention the Li Wo, it looked to me like what it was, not a ship that would go into action with the battle ensign flying against such odds, I had never heard of the action described below and I am sure not many other people have.

HMS Li Wo was sunk on 14th February 1942 (77 died; 7 Prisoners of War; her Commanding Officer was awarded the VC)

VC Won in Naval Action
The Times, Wednesday December 18, 1946

RNR Officer’s Valour

The King has approved the award of the Victoria Cross to: The late Temporary Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson, RNR.

On February 14, 1942, HMS Li Wo, a patrol vessel of 1,000 tons, formerly a passenger steamer on the Upper Yangtze River, was on passage from Singapore to Batavia. Her ships company consisted of 84 officers and men, including one civilian; they were mainly survivors from His Majesties Ships which had been sunk, and a few units of the Army and R.A.F. Her armament was only one 4 inch gun, for which she had only 13 practice shells, and two machine guns. Since leaving Singapore the previous day, the ship had beaten off 4 air attacks, in one of which 52 machines took part, and had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon she sighted two enemy convoys, the larger of which was escorted by Japanese naval units, including a heavy cruiser and some destroyers. The commanding officer, Lieutenant T. Wilkinson, gathered his scratch ships company together and told them that, rather than try and escape, he had decided to engage the convoy and fight to the last, in hope that he might inflict damage upon the enemy. In making this decision, which drew resolute support from the whole ships company, Lieutenant Wilkinson knew that his ship faced certain destruction, and that his own chances of survival were small.

Straight for the Enemy

HMS Li Wo hoisted her battle ensign and made straight for the enemy. In the action which followed the machines guns were used with effect upon the crews of the ships within range, and a volunteer gun’s crew manned the 4 inch gun, which they fought with such purpose that a Japanese transport was badly hit and set on fire.

After a little over an hour HMS Li Wo had been critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson then decided to ram his principle target, the large transport, which had been abandoned by her crew. It is known that this ship burnt fiercely throughout the night following the action and was probably sunk. HMS Li Wo’s gallant fight ended when her shells spent and under heavy fire from the enemy cruiser, Lieutenant Wilkinson finally ordered abandon ship. He himself remained on board and went down with her. There were only 10 survivors, who were later made prisoners of war. Wilkinson’s valour was equalled only by the skill with which he fought his ship. The Victoria Cross is bestowed upon him posthumously in recognition both of his own heroism and self sacrifice and of that of all who fought and died with him.

Lieutenant Wilkinson, who was 44, was the youngest of five sons of the late Captain William Wilkinson, of Widness. His VC is the 181st awarded in the war, and the 22nd won by the Navy.

HMS Li Wo became the most decorated small ship in the Royal Navy, the awards were as follows:

Victoria Cross
Temporary Lieutenant, Thomas Wilkinson, RNR

Distinguished Service Order
Temporary Sub Lieutenant, Ronald George Gladstone Stanton, RNR

Conspicuous Gallantry Medal
Acting Petty Officer, Arthur William Thompson

Distinguished Service Medal
Leading Seaman, Victor Spencer

Distinguished Service Medal
Able Seaman, Albert Spendlove

HMS Kedah

The Kedah, after disembarking those of us it had brought from Singapore to Batavia (Jakarta), Java, was not repaired but sent to Tilijap on the South Coast, the same port we were told to make for on the 6th March, nearly a month later, to evacuate the staff of General Wavell to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It had a charmed life as it was bombed again, en route, this time it proved too much and it came to a halt, it was then towed to Colombo, and repaired, it then did patrol duties until the end of the war. At Singapore it was part of the allied fleet which entered the harbour after victory.

The Dia Nichi Maru

Recent research has shown that the name plate on the deck stated that the ship started as the Eskdale built by Charles Connell & Co, Glasgow, Scotland, 1893. It was launched 25th November 1893, and was built for R. Mackhill & Co., she was sold to a Japanese company in 1912 became the Dai Nichi Maru. Records show that she ran aground of Japan at Omai Saki 21st 1931, later written off by Lloyds.

Ibuku Maru was completed by Mitsu & Co. Japan 5th April 1922 for Kyuei Shoka & Co then sold on to Italya Shosen & Co. on the 15th June 1935 and renamed the Dai Nichi Maru, she was one of the first oil fired power ships. I have endeavoured to find out if the Japanese Navy salvaged the original Dai Nichi Maru, when the war with China had started and put into war service. I thought the condition of the ship I travelled on was very poor if, as stated, just twenty years old at that time.

Dai Nichi Maru II could have been converted to coal as Japan was short of oil during the war, was the nameplate therefore a souvenir from the old ship. A Dai Nichi Maru was torpedoed and sunk southwest of the Island of Luzon in the Philippines, with the loss of over 2000 Japanese soldiers and crew

Friday, 3 February 2012

Postscript Notes

My attempt to buy a cake at railway crossing.

During my visit to the British Embassy in Tokyo I spoke to a Professor of Japanese culture asking him about my close encounter with beheading. He was very surprised that I had escaped death, his only explanation was as follows.

The Japanese Army with the capture of Singapore was exhausted and battle weary having fought a long battle with British soldiers all the way down the Malayan peninsular. The planned attack on Australia needed Java to be the next target and a fresh army was required, new recruits with some reserve soldiers, the Dutch surrender made this an easy task.

In the Japanese Army, status is paramount, the officer in charge of over 400 prisoners, the armed guard of  soldiers of all ranks, his authority, absolute law. In breaking ranks to buy a cake I had shown I did not respect his authority, insulting his position of rank, death was the penalty. His fury and rage at the insult I had done to him made him lose control of himself and when he did regain it, there was his sword above held by his two hands with he and I looking each other in the eye, it had all gone wrong, he had not followed his training, I should have got a lecture from him, made to kneel in a submissive position with my neck exposed for beheading. Now he had to regain his authority with the armed guard looking on possibly telling me that I did not know what honour was and he was magnanimous with his generosity and would let me live, returning his sword to his scabbard his honour and status intact. Motioning me to return to the ranks. After this explanation the professor told me that I was fortunate to to still be alive.

The move from Hakodate Camp to Ohasi.

On moving to Ohasi camp we knew that we were in a poor state of health, most men covered in ulcerated sores but did not realise that we looked dirty, it was no surprise that we had been given bedspaces at the end of the hut. There were over a hundred Dutch and lndonesians in the camp and their medical needs were treated by a Dutchman, E.W. Wim. Lindeijer, Snr. I have been fortunate to get an entry in a diary that he kept of our arrival there on 12 May 1943.

The last few days have been quite shocking, 29 of our people left for Hakodate and 39 British Pows arrived from there. Almost all of them have skin diseases, some are literally covered with ulcerating wounds. Terribly dirty. It took us a long time to pull their wounds open with pincers and cleanse them, there are hardly any wound dressings. This morning we repeated the treatment in the sun, that will do them a lot of good I think.

We were sent there to start working an additional mine level.


The incident when a guard came in as l was washing after finishing work in the mine around 11pm. I did not respond quickly enough for him to get my head out of the wooden sink and bow, I only knew of his presence when I heard his boots on the concrete floor, he kept smashing my head against the wooden side of the sink I was bent over.

In later life l had trouble with my vision and when I needed a cataract removed was told that the back of my left eye was covered in scars. At the hospital the surgeon who was to remove the cataract asked if I had been in a bad car accident to which I replied no.

On the day of the operation the senior nurse asked the same question and would not let the matter drop and thought I was lying. My eye would not respond to eye drops to enlarge the pupil. She went on to tell me a car accident could cause loss of sight as the eyelids are the only means of keeping eyes in my head. A special lens had been ordered as it was feared infection would break out.

The operation went ahead, as the anaesthetic wore off the eye started to pain me, it increased as time passed, no sleep during the night, too much pain, I laid there trying to think of the cause of the damage, then I recalled the Japanese guard in the washhouse. My wife drove me to hospital in the morning, on the way there I had a mild heart attack caused by the pain, she suggested that I should be taken to A&E, I said just get me to have treatment for this eye. I was treated immediately and given further medication, the eye has never returned to normality, it still pains me.

I am lucky to have survived situations where so many died and l lived to tell of it.

Hakodate Camp

Hakodate camp improved the year I was moved, 1943, the Japanese did not like the loss of slave labour after the hazardous conditions and shipping losses sustained getting the P.O.W.’s to Japan. A new camp was built with better living conditions, but the greatest improvement was the removal of the existing Commandant. A more relaxed atmosphere was allowed in camp, the last roll call and lights out was extended to 9pm. In the summer months, the camp now had a sea view, the P.O.W.’s could now walk down a path on the camp boundary and bathe in the sea.

At the docks they were well treated at work, as the war progressed the fit Japanese men had to leave to join the army, leaving only the old men and very young students and women to do the work. The authorities were doing all they could for the prisoners as they felt they were the best work force they had, but of course the P.O.W.’s were as usual doing all they could underhandedly to make things go wrong.

Shortly before the end of the war they were taken from the docks to work in coal mines, this falls in line with the orders issued to exterminate all P.O.W.’s in the event of an invasion of Japan.

The total number of deaths in Hakodate Camp was 114, most of these deaths occurred in the first six months before my removal from the camp to Ohasi. Possibly some of these men were still ill suffering from the dreadful food and conditions on the Dai Nichi Maru. The weather and wooden building we lived in did not help, the sadistic commandant added to our discomfort.

A further 29 men were detailed to be sent to Hakodate also died in a military hospital nearby the port of Moji where we docked, 12 dead men were also found in the hold of the Dai Nichi Maru when all the P.O.W.’s who could move had left the ship.

A P.O.W. camp named Mukaishima in the south of Japan also had 26 of the P.O.W.’s from the Dai Nichi Maru die in the first six months, the 140 men sent there experienced a better climate and brick accommodation which probably helped the recovery of some.

The voyage from Singapore to Japan must have been equal to the conditions experienced by the unfortunate slaves who suffered this misfortune 200 years ago travelling to America.