Sketch by Jack Chalker

Hoping

Well somehow or other my face became normal again and I resumed my work at the coalmine. I thought I would have lost my job, but now I felt better and back to square one so as to speak.

By this time the sirens were becoming very regular and we were in and out of the shelters. We found it very cold in there, as there was no heating etc. Nevertheless, the thought pf our planes being in the vicinity made us feel much more comfort-able.

Then the inevitable happened, one day we were at the coal mine doing our usual work when along came a Jap official who told us to follow him. We thought 'here we go again, what have we done wrong?' Now the usual routine was, you must not leave your place of work until your relief had turned up to relieve you. Well we followed this gentleman round to where we normally met before marching back to camp, and there we found all our mates who should have been down the mine. You can imagine our relief. It was unusual for the Japs to do this, because things were going their way as regards the war. So all sorts of thoughts came into our minds as to what was happening. This meant that at least there were approximately eight hundred P.O.W.'s standing in the compound, talking and hoping.

'What's it all about, Yank?' 'Don't know, Jock, there must be something going on.' 'Let's you and I have a walk round the offices and have a look and see.'

Well off we went and, of course, we were breaking the rule coming out of our ranks, especially to walk to these particular offices. This ground was for Jap V.I.P.'s only, so we knew we were taking a terrible chance but unbelievably nothing was said or done to us, so up went the prayers again. We rejoined the group on the compound and at the same time in the distant sky three aircraft were circling around. If they were American planes and they thought we were Japs, God help us. Down came the planes, everybody ducked, and on looking up there were the stars on the wings. What no flack? Is this first sign of freedom? It must be. We stood there for about two hours, terribly uneasy, hoping that the Jap guard who lined us up for roll-call found the count correct, he did, so we were marched back to the camp. Dazed we neared the camp and the usual cry at normal times was to march to attention, now this was a sort of goose step, as we neared the guard room. Well this order never came and we walked into the camp ordinarily. The Jap sergeant dismissed us and told us to bathe etc. and return to our respective rooms. Well we did this, got cleaned up as best as we could and began to walk round the camp without being interfered with by the guards. What was happening was uncanny. The guys who were sick in the camp did not have a clue what was going on, neither did the cooks. Also everybody was getting hungry, nobody mentioned food, until eventually the call came from the cook-house 'Food Up'. Off we went with our utensils and instead of our rice and soup as usual, we had a ration and a half and a portion of clams. We began to think of the time of year, it must be Xmas, no it wasn't and of course there was no bartering for food. Well we ate our fill and again had a walk round the camp.

We noticed that outside the wire from the camp there was a small farm. It appeared that the Jap civvy who owned this farm kept chickens. We could see these chickens roaming around. If ever I get out of this, we thought, this will be the first place I make for. Well it happened, we burst the wire and without any interference took two chickens each and not a word was said, we felt great, wonderful, marvellous, free? We took the chickens back to camp and they went into the soup, it did not make any difference to the taste of the soup because this was for four thousand men, but we imagined it did.

The next thing that happened was that all the men were paraded at once. We gathered in the camp's compound and out came the Jap officer in charge, our own camp commander and also the Jap interpreter.

At last it came! 'We are very pleased to tell you, the Japanese government has signed peace terms with the allies. You are free men.' Prayers, tears, hand shakes all round, oh, what a day, one I shall never forget, now if I remember rightly this was about twelve o'clock midday.

About that time, we were given a red cross box each, cigarettes, coffee, chocolate and other goodies, now we were used to getting a box between ten men, this made quite a change. If only the Japs had given these boxes out earlier on, while we were prisoners they would have got a lot more work done in their war effort, but of course even with all the beatings, etc., we were just unable to do any more work than we were doing. After receiving these boxes, the doctors told us to be very careful in eating these goods, because after three and a half years in captivity our stomachs had contracted and we would have to take it easy in our eating, but who cared. We ate and gorged and smoked until we were sick and I genuinely mean sick. Not only one of us, but practically the whole camp was ill, this was self inflicted. So we had only ourselves to blame.

 

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