Sketch by Jack Chalker

Fukuoka Coal Mines

 

Now another thing that sticks out in my mind. We had finished our day's work and joined up with our mates ready to march back to camp. The Jap began to count us and found one man short. Well they counted and counted and still there was one man short, so there we stood in the snow, not my fault this time, I thought. So a search was made down the mine and there the one bod was found asleep behind one of the trucks. Perhaps the poor guy could not help it because of the tiring day and lack of food. Then he was brought up to the topside, taken back to camp and put in the "ace hole". This was a hole made in the Jap guard room. Six foot long, three foot wide. In this space one had to go to the toilet, eat food etc..

When the man came out he could not see when the light hit his eyes, the Jap guards prodded him with their swords, another form of entertainment. He kept bumping his head on the walls of the guard room, with tears in his eyes he kept murmuring, 'I shall get you s.o.b.'s, I shall get you.' This I saw with my own eyes, as we were told to watch it to make sure that no one went to sleep again at the coal mine. What a way for one man whether he be black, yellow or pink to be treated by his fellow man, it is absolutely diabolical and in my opinion such as it is never forgivable, no way.

Well time was rolling on, prayers were being said, hunger pangs rife but still we were soldiering on, always thinking of home. Then one day after we had our usual bath 'oh yes', the camp was well rigged for that, we were making for our huts, when for once a siren went off in the camp. One started looking around for the sight of a fire, then all of a sudden, the Jap guard came running 'All men down' was the cry from them. 'No lookie, no lookie,' but one just had to have a look and in the sky was the prettiest sight I hadn't seen for a long time, twenty-one of the loveliest bombers with the American star logo underneath. What a sight for sore eyes. It was beautiful. Unfortunately the centre one of the last three was hit by ack-ack fire and was brought down, the crew came down by parachute, but were never heard of again. Was this the first sign of freedom? please God let it be.

Well, of course, we started looking for these bombers every day, as they usually did and the Japs made us go into the shelters they had prepared. At least we knew something, somewhere was taking a hammering and felt cheered by the thought, we saw it as a sign. Perhaps God had not forgotten us after all. So in the shelters we started singing 'Land of Hope and Glory' it won't be long now, 'Come on you Yanks, keep up the good work!'

At this point we were beginning to find our guards were becoming a bit more lenient, maybe we imagined this. How ever, one day I had to go sick as I was unable to walk properly and I felt very dizzy, I thought perhaps it was the lack of food, as the food we were given lacked the necessary vitamins needed to keep the body going. The Japanese were used to this food but accustomed as we were to it, it was off to the loo as soon as we'd eaten. As you will probably be aware rice is only water, so no goodness is in it whatsoever.

As I said it could have been the lack of vitamins. The doctor put me on light duties such as they were. Well, the next day, I visited the loo and forgot to put my tag in the proper place. Around came the Jap guard and took my tag away. In the meantime one side of my face had become completely swollen and I really did look a mess. Looking in the mirror I felt very sorry for myself. The next procedure was to go to the guard room and explain my mistake of putting my tag in the wrong place. I was prepared for the worst, because this meant coming up in front of the Jap Commander and then become further entertainment for the guards by being slapped now and again and being humiliated in front of your own mates. The experience of being hit, and not being able to hit back, is very degrading to say the least. One of my mates hit back once and he regretted it very much. Two of the guards held his arms, while the Jap sergeant beat the hell out of him, he said that one day he would get his own back, the day came and he searched for the Jap sergeant, but the latter had made himself scarce.

Then it was my turn in front of the Jap sergeant. 'Currah Begaro' was his first mouthful. I thought 'Here goes, brace yourself, Jock,' but when he saw my face he pointed to it and said, 'Payokay Ga' which meant in English 'you very sick'. I said, 'yes' and tried to explain the reason for my tag not being in the right place.

To my surprise and relief he gave me two cigarettes and sent me back to my bed. Hence the reason why I thought that either they were losing this war, or something like that and that he could have been hoping for leniency after the war. This made you think of a lot of things that could be happening outside. The Americans were driving the Japs back, Tokyo was being bombed. All sorts of rumours abounded, some we believed, some we didn't, although we wanted to, helped with morale. You see, you get so low that it's difficult to go on caring about what happens personally, it's only the thought of your family at home that keeps you going. Also knowing how lucky you are to have got as far as you have gives you the courage to fight on, looking for that light at the end of the tunnel.

Again and again the bombers were coming over, bound for Tokyo. Someone or some city was really taking a hammering, give it to them we thought, we have suffered enough, we could feel our hearts thumping and our eyes filling up with tears. 'Oh Lord, can it be long now? Please let it all end. Visions of home came in front of our tear-filled eyes, one was not embarrassed in any way by crying in front of one's mates, because, as a matter of fact, we were all at it. Swallowing very hard and trying to keep the tears back.

 

Next Chapter

Hoping