Sketch by Jack Chalker


I must recap and go back to the time we were picked to go to Japan. We were told to learn how to count up to one hundred in Japanese. This was an order given by the Jap officers in charge of the party. Ich, ne, san, se, go, rocco, sitchi, matchi, ku, ju, which is one to ten, toten, ju ich, je, ne, jue san and so on. In our state of health, who the hell wanted to learn Japanese? So we decided, when roll-call came and we were tested out, to stand in the same place every time and kept to the same people on our right and left, all we need to remember was one number.

Well this worked all right, until the Jap officer got wise. 'All men changey,' was the order. 'Good God, that's done it,' we said. After a few slaps across the face, etc., we all thought, well we might as well learn all we could about the counting in Japanese. Now the reason I have gone back to this time is because when we had our first roll-call in our new camp, we were all given a number, mine was 1788, sen nana, haku, hatchi, ju, hatchi and you had to remember it, as I shall soon disclose. This was the first time I had ever heard of anyone bartering for their food ration.

Practically all the camp was made up of Americans, only a few British, which included the British who were on the first convoy to Japan. These tommies were working in the zinc mines and were bringing home a quantity of baked potatoes now and again. These were bartered to anyone with any money or anything that may be of value.

In the mess hall there was all sorts of bartering going on. The cry would be ‘Soup’, now for rice and soup tonight 'Who wants soup', five cigs for soup and so on. It was hilarious, something

I had never experienced before, so the old saying was 'If you can't beat them join them' so we tommies joined in but only to get extra food, you can’t live on cigarettes so food was uppermost.

We did not know until the next day what our work was going to be. We were paraded in the compound, given this number as I have stated and were told we would be working in a coalmine. Well all sorts of things came into my mind, I had never worked in a coalmine before, down in the bowels of the earth scared me stiff.

But first of all, the Japs gave us some experience on the top of the mine. We had to run at the double carrying a pit prop round the top of the mine. Whether this was to get used to handling these props, God only knows, but I soon got left behind as my legs started to give out, 'Curra Begaro' was the cry from the Japs 'Speedo Speedo'. It was no good, I flopped under the prop and there I lay unable to get up. After a smack across the face from the guard, I was told to join the rest of my squad, and we were then marched back to the camp. So much for my first day at the mine, and I really didn't have a taste of what it was like down the mine, I perished at the thought.

In this camp, the accommodation was very good. We had a mattress, a blanket, a duvet and a pillow. Something we were not used to, so we thought we were being spoiled. If at any time you went to the loo, or left the room, you had to put a tag on the board at the door, so that if the guard came round he knew where you were. If you failed to do this, then you were marked as absent and wobetide you, more bashings would follow.

Our first meal was exciting, you had the pick of rice and soup or a small miniature loaf of bread and soup. If you were ill and unable to work then you were on half rations. Now what I mean

by ill was this. If you reported to the doctor the first thing in the morning and said you did not feel well, he examined you and diagnosed you. This did not mean a thing, as the Japs needed as many men as possible to go to work, so the doctors were frightened to put you on the sick list, only if you were really bad. So it was a case of keeping your fingers crossed and hoping. In-variably you were passed fit enough for work. So off you would go, collect your rations and parade for a day's work in the mines. 'My God, what a job.'

We had to parade in front of the Jap guardroom, counted and then marched Japanese style for about one mile to the mine. Children and workers were jeering us all the way, being P.O.W.'s was one of the lowest forms in their eyes, so we had to grin and bear it. They did not know what we were saying to one another, a good thing they didn't!

When we arrived at the mine, the Jap guards handed us over to the civilian miners and they were just as bad as the guards. We were put in a large shed and a Jap miner would start shouting numbers. You had to listen very carefully, because if you missed your number, it meant another hiding, when the Jap shouted your number it sounded different than how you would pronounce it, so through no fault of your own 'here we go again' smack. At long last I heard my number, joined about four more P.O.W.'s and was led away by the Jap civvy to pick up our miners' lamps, etc.

The mine did not have a lift to go to the working spot, no we had to board a train and go down to our place of work that way. It was cold and wet down there and being only partially fit things became extremely bad. Well I got over the first day without any mishaps, but the second day it was extremely unfortunate for me. We were shovelling coal onto the trucks when all

at once my back gave out. I fell to the floor, this Jap civilian saw me, thought I was skiving and gave me a hit on the back with a pick helve, that did it! I knew nothing else until I landed up on top of the mine after being carried by my mates to the train. When I finally made camp, I reported to the doctor and he put me on sick for the time being, and I had to report to him every day.

Being sick, meant half rations, full rations were bad enough, but half, well I don't know. Now at this time, being sick did not excuse you doing light work in the camp and in charge of this was an American sergeant who had only one arm. Sergeant Bennett was as bad as the Japs. He gave his men a dog's life. He must have been very bitter about the loss of his arm and was taking it out on the men under him. One day I happened to be on his party for light duties and not being an American asked what he was playing at.

'I have a duty to do,' was the reply, 'and I am going to see it is carried out.' 'But there are no Japs about,' I replied. 'Are you disputing my orders?' 'Yes,' I said, 'and what are you going to do about it?' 'We shall see,' he said.

The next day I was brought in front of the American C.O. of the camp and was severely reprimanded for talking back to the sergeant, but I said, 'I am British.' 'As long as you are in this camp you will obey the American rules or else see the Jap commander,' was the answer. Well after that, I thought here I go! as soon as I am fit enough I am back to the coal mine again. Luckily, the next day I reported to the doctor and he returned me to full working order, and said that I would have a different job at the mine.

This job was on what was called 'Kogai'. This meant working on topside of the mine on oil extraction. Now what hap-pened was some men stood by a conveyor belt and picked out bricks that were among the coal. These bricks contained a certain amount of oil. They were carted in barrows over to the retorts where I was working. The bricks were then put into the retorts by us, and the oil then was extracted by the heat and put into barrels. I thought, this will do me. So here I was twelve hours per day extracting oil to help the Jap war effort.

One day as we were getting ready for work, I saw a Jap mess tin standing by the Jap guard room. Now food was still scarce, and the first thing that came to mind 'I am going to have that' Well I did, stuck it in my armpit and off I went to work with the rest of the gang. At the first chance I got, I opened the tin and to my relief it was full of rice and fish, how lucky! At the first break, I devoured the contents and threw the mess tin into the retort. 'They'll never find that again,' I thought, that's gone. Now my belly felt extremely comfortable and I felt very happy. After we had finished our duty, we were again marched back to camp and outside the Jap guard called the roll. After the count, out came the Jap sergeant in charge of the guard and through an interpreter said, 'Will the prisoner who stole the Japanese mess tin, step forward.' What have I done? No way am I going to step forward, I thought, so I stuck to my guns. 'Well,' said the interpreter, 'all men stay here, no food' no sleep.'

Now this was the month of March and the snow was lying on the ground. Within half an hour, out he came again with the same request, well there started to be a murmur all round the ranks and I began to feel very guilty. These men had been working in the coal mines for the last twelve hours and although they probably thought nobody would step forward, I plucked up the courage and took a step forward.

'Dame, Dame' was the cry from the Jap sergeant, well he brought his hand right up from the ground right across my face and through the interpreter said, 'That's for not stepping for-ward in the first place.' God knows what was to come. They then dismissed the men, all except myself, made me take my boots and socks off, my pants and shirt and stood me outside the guard room. All the civvies were going back and forward to work and the children going to school. Every now and again the guards would throw buckets of cold water over me. They were really enjoying it. When the next shift was ready to go to work, they brought me into the guard room and obviously they must have enjoyed themselves because I was given a mess tin of rice and soup, a loaf of bread, twenty cigarettes and a pomilo which is something like a melon and I got nice and warm by their fire. A pat on the back from the Jap guard and sent to bed for the next twenty-four hours, but was it worth it? Not not so likely. They did this because I had done my punishment, stuck it out and with a 'very good' from the Jap sergeant, but I thought, if ever I am spared and with God's help I get out of this, I shall look for you and heaven help you. But no such luck as I shall reveal as I go along.

As I've said, the camp was run by an American commander. The cookhouse was run by his own men and believe me they all looked very fit. To look at them, one felt very jealous, why should I suffer in the coalmines and they live like lords? but I suppose as I worked in the cookhouse and on the 'Railway of Death' I knew what it was like, so one could not blame them for looking as they did.

We had what we called a 'Yasme Day' every month, a day of rest so a bunch of us would stand outside the cookhouse door and hope to be picked for K.P. duties. Fancy offering our services for K.P. duties, you only did this when you were on defaulters, but there were visions of more food' so hence the volunteering. Well, out came the American cook sergeant, his eyes fell on me and I was one of the ones for K.P. that day.

Well you nibbled and nibbled all the time and when mealtime came around you were so full up you could not eat anything. Never mind, that was a lovely day, the only thing that was wrong, you could not take anything out with you for any of your mates. Which of course, could be a good thing, because I thought the cook sergeant was very fair when he was selecting people, he tried to give everybody a spell of being on K.P. so that on the day one was completely full up, good luck to him!

Now l will say this about the Japanese. They were very particular about spreading diseases. When we had finished our day's work we were told to take a bath. Of course, hot water and plenty of soap made us feel better. Then it was back to the line-up for our ration of rice and dog soup. Dogs were bred in Japan for eating purposes and when one is hungry, any sort of meat is appreciated to help the rice down. As for the rice in Japan, it was sort of a brown colour, this is because it was unpolished rice. This gave it more vitamins and this did not make it such a bad meal to digest but, don't forget I was still minus my false teeth but my gums were now so hard, that I did not miss them as much as before. Anyway, we were still on a small ration per person.

There was still the usual bartering going on 'Soup now, for soup tonight' was the call. 'Rice now, for rice and soup to-night'. What a life, you wouldn't believe it unless you saw it for yourselves.

I remember I traded soup at lunch for soup at night. It was one of the worst trading deals I have done in my life. It was an American I traded with, I was really looking forward to a double

ration of dog soup and when I went to collect it he had eaten it. Well an argument cropped up and an American sergeant came along to enquire what the ruckus was all about. After explaining the situation to him, he went to the cook sergeant and came back with a ration of soup and gave it to me. This sort of bartering became a business, but I never indulged in it again.

One night, going for a walk round the camp, a terrific argument could be heard between an American and an Australian. I didn't know what it was about, but I stood and listened and from nowhere an American produced a couple of pairs of boxing gloves and gave them to the culprits. Well, what do you know? A boxing match, that made a change. Wherever were they going to get the energy from? But they started, no rounds, a fight to the finish. Of course, a crowd gathered including the Jap guards, well I must say that this was one of the best fights I had ever seen, neither one would give up, until eventually two American sergeants had to stop it, or one would have been killed. At the end, they hugged one another and parted the best of friends. All this on a bowl of rice and dog soup! It's unbelievable what a body can stand if certain obstacles are put in front of you, but in the end those two guys must have been pretty sore all over given the punishment they took. And don't forget, they had to be at work the next day, even though they did create a great deal of entertainment to the rest of the P.O.W.'s.


Next Chapter

Fukoka Coal Mines