The War Ends
15th August 1945 – 14th September 1945
On the 15th August, 1945, we were told that we must have our lunch - one bun - at 11.30 instead of the usual time of 12 noon. We noticed that at 12 noon, all the guards and the Japanese kitchen staff, gathered in the office. Shortly afterwards, the Japanese National Anthem was played, and the Emperor, for the first tine in history, broadcast to the Japanese people. We, of course, did not know what was being said, but as the guards, on leaving the office, looked very glum, and the kitchen girls were weeping, we realised that something important was in the air; but whether it was a “backs to the wall” speech from the Emperor, or acceptance of peace terms that we knew had been offered as a result of the Potsdam conference, we were, at that stage, unable to determine.
However, the next morning, we stole our usual vernacular paper from the office, and there it was announced that Japan had accepted the peace terms.
Captain Stratford immediately went down to the office, and informed the Camp Commandant that we know that peace had been declared, and that if the Camp Authorities heard any sounds of hilarity from the internees upstairs, they must realise it as just natural relief, and not resentment against the Japanese themselves.
The Police Commissioner from the Prefecture addressed us at 11.30 a.m. that day, and said we were now free, as the Emperor had arranged for all belligerent nations to cease hostilities! He advised us, however, that it would be inadvisable to leave the camp gates as, for the time being, the attitude of the populace might be hostile. However, so far from being hostile, we found, when we started leaving the camp in the course of a few days, that they were really very friendlily disposed towards us. They looked upon our camp rather as a mascot, and thought it was because of our presence in Fukushima that the town had not been bombed and laid waste as so many other towns in Japan had been. According to one rumour prevalent in Fukushima, General MacArthur’s brother was supposed to be interned at our camp, which was the reason why there had been no bombing of the Fukushima District.
For the first few days after the cessation of hostilities, the Police Commissioner arranged for a heavy cordon of police around the internment camp in case of any hostile incident. Ho also informed us that he had been told to take his instructions from Capt. Stratford - a complete reversal of the previous relationship. There was an immediate improvement in food, although we had been told on so many occasions that food of any sort was impossible to obtain in Japan.
In addition to food that was obtained from outside the camp, we were now allowed to eat the potatoes that we had grown ourselves in the camp garden. Hitherto, the potatoes and other garden produce from the camp garden had either been sent outside or consumed by the guards, apart from small amount that were served to the children.
On the 24th August, we had instructions to mark the camp with a large “P.W.” that could be readily picked up by allied aeroplanes, as it was expected that a British or American plane would be coming over that evening. The first planes that came over appeared on the morning of the 25th at around 9 a.m. These planes were from the 94th Torpedo Squadron of U.S.S. “Lexington”. They dropped a few cigarettes and a letter of good cheer signed by all the members of the Squadron, and then came back again in the afternoon with further supplies of cigarettes, chocolate, dry rations periodicals, etc.
On the 27th, further planes cane over, this time from the 47th Squadron; thereafter until we left, planes were over almost every day.
On the 28th, a courier arrived from the Swedish Legation, advising us that we should be leaving any time after the 5th Sept,, and he thought somewhere about the 10th.
On this day there was a very tragic accident, when Mrs, Dimitrocopoulas, the Dutch wife of a Greek Radio Operator, was killed by a parcel of food dropped from one of the aeroplanes.
Large planes, probably B29’s, started coming over on the 30th, with bulk supplies of food dropped by parachute. So much food was dropped that we had to send a message begging them to send no more supplies. As it was, when we eventually left Fukushima, a large amount of food was left behind. Some of this was placed in the Church for the use of the nuns when they returned to the convent, but bulk supplies were sealed up in the police store at the railway station, and a receipt from the police authorities handed over to the Red Cross Representative.
After several false alarms, we eventually left Fukushima with only two and a half hours notice, at 1 p.m. on the 11th Sept., by special train. The notice to leave was so short that one married couple, who had gone off into the hills for a day’s picnic, could not be found, though guards were sent off in all directions to search for them. So they had to be left behind, and their feelings, on returning to the camp to find it deserted, can well be imagined. However, the American Authorities at Shiogama promised to send a special car for then the next day, so it is to be hoped that their departure from Japan was not long delayed as a result of this unfortunate incident. I myself was out walking when the final notice to leave was received, but fortunately a guard found me at no great distance from the camp and passed on the glad news, giving me ample time to pack up and catch the train. Instead of going south to Yokohama, we went north to Shiogama, the port of Sendai. We passed through Sendai station about 4 p.m., where we saw our first U.S. and Australian troops. Those troops had only been ashore for about two hours and were purely on a sight-seeing tour, when they heard that a P0W train would shortly be pulling into the Station, so they came along to welcome us.
The devastation wrought by the American air raids could be well understood from the appearance of Sendai, which was completely demolished as far as one could see on either side of the railway. There were just the foundations of houses, skeletons of chimneys and the shells of factories left as far as the eye could see. At Shiogama, which was a few miles away from Sendai itself, we boarded the American hospital ship “Rescue”. There we were medically examined to see whether we were fit for travel, or whether we must receive hospital treatment.
On the 12th, at 6 a.m., those of us who were able to travel, boarded the R.A.N. Destroyer, the “Warramunga”, and. proceeded to Yokohama, reaching there at 5 o’clock in the evening. That night we spent aboard a U.S. Depot Ship that had been specially fitted up for receiving released prisoners and internees. After further medical examination, we boarded H.H.S, “Ruler”, an escort aircraft carrier, on the 13th, and finally left Yokohama aboard this ship direct for Sydney, calling only at Manus in the Admiralty Islands for food and water.
On looking back over my period of captivity, one of’ the first things that always comes to mind, is the difference between the German and the Japanese treatment of us. It was not that we suffered any definite atrocities from the Japanese themselves, but the general mentality of the Germans and Japanese prison authorities was entirely different. The Germans treated us as just unfortunate individuals, who had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and thereby were taken prisoner; whereas the Japanese looked upon us and treated us as the worst of criminals, although they had to admit, when taxed with this, that we were really just unfortunate.
Our stay at Fukushima need not have been as unpleasant as it was, because the building and the facilities were really very good, but the Japanese deliberately went out of their way in order to make things as uncomfortable as they could.
When the number of guards diminished, our existence became more comfortable because the few guards left had sufficient duties to keep them away from us.
The whole idea of the Japanese treatment of us was to humiliate us as much as possible, and to pin-prick and irritate us continually, but without going far enough to provoke any riotous reaction on our part.
However, after talking to prisoners from various other camps, I have no doubt that we probably were as lucky as any camp in Japan. Possibly one of the reasons why there were no definite atrocities in our camp was because we were German prisoners; and the Japanese might possibly not like to be called to account by the Germans should they treat any of the German prisoners in a way that the German authorities would disapprove. Also, the fact that we had women in the camp may have toned down the natural Japanese cruelty, though as I have said previously, if anything, the women had rather a worse time than we did.
One thing that has always mystified us was why we were kept “incommunicado” at Fukushima for so long, seeing that the rest of the “Nankin” passengers and crew, who were in a camp near Tokyo, were in touch with the Red Cross and their relatives from early 1943, whereas we were not in touch until twelve months later.
However, the fact that we were not officially handed over to the Japanese as their prisoners until the 1st March, 1944, may have been the reason why our presence was not notified to the Red Cross before that date. Until then, we were really nobody’s baby, and it may be that when the Germans finally handed us over to the Japanese on 1st March they, at the sane time, notified the Red Cross and the Swiss Legation of our presence in Japan.
As I said previously, the general attitude of the Japanese to us after the cessation of hostilities was very friendly; in fact, the change of face really was most remarkable. Previously, they had been very bullying and domineering, but afterwards they become obsequious and servile.
In discussion with the Police Commissioner, there would seem to be little doubt that it was not the atomic bomb or the Russian declaration of war that defeated Japan. She had already, according to this official, been beaten to her knees. He told us that we had absolutely no conception at all of the condition of Japan, particularly in the industrial areas of the south. He said all communications and industries were, to all intents and purposes, at a standstill. This information was confirmed by a Swiss priest who, after peace was declared, was allowed to come and visit us whenever he wished, whereas during the war, he was never allowed to come into our camp, although we had, on many occasions, asked for the services of a Roman Catholic priest.
When we were able to get out end explore the countryside around Fukushima, we found that it was a town of about eighty to one hundred thousand inhabitants, situated in an extremely fertile valley, on the main road and railway running from south to the north of Japan. It had not many heavy industries, but it would appear that arrangements were being made to develop some underground factories in the outskirts of Fukushima for the manufacture of aircraft.
I believe this valley, in which Fukushima was situated, and which extends away north up to Sendai, was one of the most important granaries of Japan, and as completely untouched by the war, though, of course, all the surrounding places had been completely devastated. Large quantities of rice, millet and fruit of all kinds were grown in the district, and from the quantities of fruit that we were able to obtain as soon as we were allowed to go outside the gates of the camp, there is no doubt that we could have received much more varied food rations than the bread, had the camp authorities allowed supplies to come in. We were, at all times, prepared to purchase supplies of items like fruit, and we understood from the interpreter that fruit around Fukushima was not only un-rationed, but really plentiful.
During our stay in Fukushima, we had a total of four camp Commandants. Of those, the third one was really an intelligent and considerate officer, but as regards the other three commandants, I am afraid one can say very little in their favour. We had also latterly one Japanese Sergeant, who was really quite sympathetically inclined towards us, and particularly towards the women. On several occasions, he managed to obtain small supplies of medicines when the camp commandant said it was absolutely impossible. Also, he would frequently reverse the camp commandant’s decisions if he thought that they were unnecessarily harsh.
Of the interpreters at the Camp, the first was the official police interpreter from Yokohama, who only stayed with us a fortnight. He was then replaced by a Mr. Midori Kawa, who had been thirty years in San Francisco. He was really the most venomous and spiteful brute that I have ever met, and he seemed to take a delight in mis-translating for us and presenting our requests in the worst possible light to the Japanese Authorities. Eventually, the Japanese Authorities themselves got wind of this, and he was replaced by two girls, who carried out their duties of interpreting much more kindly and efficiently.
There were two police commissioners of the Fukushima prefecture during our stay. The first one was totally unsympathetic, and we rather think he made quite a bit of graft out of supplies to the camp. On innumerable occasions food that came into the camp, intended presumably for us, was taken out again, either for his own consumption or for disposal in the black market.
In fact, the Japanese Camp Caretaker, who had worked for several years previously with the nuns, told us that the Commissioner, and the first Camp Commandant, would finish up after the war as very wealthy men owing to the amount of graft they had been able to make out of our camp.
The second police commissioner, while he was more sympathetically disposed to us, was undoubtedly an extremely busy man, and we feel that he was unaware of a number of incidents that took place in the camp. He was certainly very anxious that no adverse report of his administration should be handed to the Allied Occupying Forces.
As regards the work of the Red Cross, and the Swiss and the Swedish Legations on our behalf, I am satisfied that they did whatever was in their power, but from comments that they made to us after the war was over, it is obvious that they had to be extremely cautious when visiting us, as if they expressed any opinions adverse to the Japanese, any further visits or communications with them would be interrupted.
Their comments on the general Japanese treatment of prisoners was very bitter, particularly as even up to the time we left, they were still discovering camps all over Japan of whose existence they had only just received any information.
However, despite the uncomfortable, monotonous, humiliating and somewhat grim experiences I endured during my three and a half years of internment, I am-a physically not much the worse, and any effects of the prolonged malnutrition are rapidly being rectified. In any case, as a guard told us on one occasion, the Japanese police treat their own people the same as we were treated, and he, therefore, couldn’t see that we had any possible grievance.