The Visit to Pampanito
The Sub that Sunk Me
By Alistair Urquhart
Mary left - Alistair Centre - Joyce right
The visit to the Pampanito, originated by the kind thought of Mary Michael, and my daughter Joyce and I , were booked for San Francisco to arrive Friday 12th September 2008, and I was booked for Stonecliffe, Ontario, Canada via Ottawa on ZOOM airline for departure from Glasgow on Thursday 4th Sept., but 7 days prior, ZOOM went to the wall, leaving me with a task of finding a seat elsewhere. Fortunately, after a flurry of phone calls, managed to get the last seat with a Thomas Cook flight to Toronto, not Ottawa, alas, for the next day , Friday 5th. September and was met at Toronto by Joyce and her husband, but were forced to spend the night there, as the journey to Stonecliffe takes 5/6 hours, and finally arrived at their home on Saturday 6th September.
Having then celebrated my 89th. birthday on the Monday, it was rest for the next 2 days before Joyce and I headed for Toronto, by car on Thursday 11th September, to stay overnight, and with a 4 am. start Friday to catch the plane to San Francisco. Arriving San Francisco Airport, where , I was in a wheel chair, going through, with Joyce , to collect our baggage, through Passport Control, and just ahead, was a barrier, where a large crowd, holding cameras, and also a film crew, waiting for , what I thought was some celebrity, coming off the plane, and said to Joyce , I wonder who it is.
Just then, a lady, who turned out to be, Mary Michael, broke through the barrier, and ran towards to me, our first meeting in person, hugs over, I asked her, who all these, people, were waiting for? It is you, Alistair, imagine the shock, and from thereon, I was filmed , all the way through , the airport, By John Schindler and Jeremy, his film cameraman, having travelled all the way from Australia, to film me on this historical event on board the submarine Pampanito, which sank the Japanese ship , the Kachidoki Maru, transporting 900 FEPOW's, myself included, on the 12/13 th. September 1944. The Remembrance Ceremony was to take place on Sunday 14 th September 2008 at 5 PM, which is exactly 64 years, since we were sunk, in the South China Sea, whilst en route to Japan from Singapore.
Our party, including John and Jeremy, joined Joyce and I , for lunch at the hotel where Joyce and I were to stay. Lunch over, John , said to me, "We will go down to the Pampanito now, and film you from the quayside onto the sub and then down through the bowels of the Pampanito, from stern to bow". I replied, "John, there is no way, whatsoever, am I, going there today, I am too tired, Joyce and I had a 6 hour drive to Toronto yesterday, and to catch the flight to S.F., we were up at 4 O'clock this morning, so , sorry , it is not on." "Then, tomorrow morning ? ( Saturday 13th ). " Yes , John , 10 AM, Joyce and I will be there".
Saturday dawns, and arrived on time, but the filming could not commence, as the crowds waiting to visit the Pampanito, then wanted photographs, most , wanted to be photographed alongside, myself, so in all , it was 11am before John and Jeremy, could start filming. Bear in mind , visitors were passing, and stopping to ask who I was, and in the tight confines of a submarine, where 2 can not pass , without one or other, squeezing in between pipes , valves, torpedoes, etc., which hindered progress, and also I had to talk my way through, the sub, which took the best part of two hours. So to lunch, and San Francisco , is a wonderful city and one can eat well, and Joyce and I , never had a bad meal during the 7 days we were there.
As Diane Cooper, (the Curator) and other people, joined us for lunch , always, Mary Michael and Craig, her husband, were with Joyce and I, sometimes Mary's daughter, Amanda, dined with us, and during lunch , I was informed, Roger Mansell wanted to interview me , after lunch at the Pampanito. All during interviews, we were interrupted, by visitors, wanting to know who I was, and more questions and handshakes, my hand was painful for 7/10 days after we were back in Canada, Later we all had dinner together, to round off the 1st day.
Sunday 14th. September dawned and yet another interview at the Pampanito, strange, every one, was at some stage , conducted, in one of the torpedo rooms, kind of eerie really, for me anyway. Lunch with the "gang" in a different place, all excellent, dining.
Back to the hotel, for Joyce and I to rest up for the Ceremony later , scheduled to start at 5 PM, but in essence, because of the crowds that had gathered, with a piper , in full regalia, T.V. and film crews, and cameras clicking constantly, all and sundry wanted to be photographed with yours truly, the actual Remembrance Ceremony, did not commence until after 6 PM. I was then piped on board the Pampanito to the sounds of the Gordon's marching tune "Cock of the North" , shoulders back and all that.
The Ceremony on the deck of the sub. was impromptu, not re-hearsed by anyone, with an introduction bt Diane Cooper (Curator), who gave me a graphic and concise history of my part in captivity. My reply, was to give utmost praise to the whole crew, who put their lives at great risk , by returning to the scene of the sinking of the Rakoyu Maru, and staying on the surface, to rescue 73 of our lads, who had survived, but were in terrible straits, covered in oil, near death, and gently and slowly, getting each one onto the sub. and amazingly managing to lower them down the hatch into the submarine. At any minute a Japanese plane or surface craft, could have spotted the submarine , and 157 lives would have perished.
This to me, having transversed all the way through the sub, more than once, was a miracle of heroism, when with a crew of 84, they gave up all to clean and care, for the British and Australians, only one died ( a Gordon Highlander) but all remaining 72, reached safety and their homelands. I closed my speech, by saying Each and everyone of that wonderful crew, deserved a medal of honour, for their actions, way beyond the call of duty. Finishing off I read a poem relative to the sinking of the Kachidoki Maru, then to the sounds of the pipe, laid a wreath in the waters of San Francisco Bay, a very emotional moment, as I looked down into the murky waters, and watched the wreath float away.
The ceremony ended , when I presented, on behalf of the Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, a plaque with our crest, to the Manager, Aaron Washington, to mark this historical event, the likes , of which, will never be seen again. Finally I was piped ashore, to the waiting crowds on the quayside, Refreshments and a seat was a bit of relief, interrupted by photo shoots and handshakes, not forgetting the kisses and hugs from the females.
Monday and Tuesday, was again at the Pampanito for filming and interviews for the newspapers, including a trip out on a fire engine, through the busy streets of the City, driven in style by Mary's daughter Amanda, who , believe me, is some lady, and lives in , what is considered "a man's world". I was dressed up in full firemen's gear, the weight of their , gear and to crown the lot, given a 3 ft, axe to hold. When the photographs surface from the U.S.A,, they will be a hoot!!. Joyce and I finally, managed to visit Alcatraz Prison, Aaron, running us down to the ferry, having also bought our tickets, and on boarding, Joyce and I chose the lower deck, where there were tables and seats, we had only just sat down , when a lady came over, and said " Are you the gentleman, who was in the Chronicle at the Pampanito?" Having agreed, she then pointed " This is the.............., and so it was an impromptu talk over to Alcatraz. We also took a tour in a double decker bus, and again the driver , announced, a celebrity was on the lower deck!!!.
However, my visit , although tiring, has spread the word globewise, and reached a bigger audience, than I expected, so that is well worthwhile and a great satisfaction to me personally.
The film, being produced as a documentary, on World War II in the Far East, and in which filming of myself at home and in San Francisco, is expected to be ready , July , next year.
Alistair’s account of the Kachidoki Maru sinking
Photo Gallery of my Visit:-
(Please click on a photo to enlarge)