Sketch by Jack Chalker

Ambon Again

Prisoner Under The Rising Sun

Ambon Again

 

Shortly after, a converted fishing boat took about a hundred of us back to Ambon. We had a very stormy crossing, the guards tied themselves to a handrail along the side of the boat and were looking green with sea-sickness. There was a machine gun mounted on the deck. By now we were all becoming desperate men and I had a crazy idea of dashing across to the machine gun and taking the ship. Having climbed out of the hold and reaching a mast which I clung to, I was joined by two navy prisoners. It was pointed out to me that there was no ammunition clip and that we were too close to land from where a patrol would soon reach us. I would probably have fallen overboard or been shot by a Japanese officer on the opposite side of the ship if I had made a dash for the gun. But I was in despair. Thankfully, they stopped me from putting us all in peril and very soon the ship reached Ambon.

We all went to two huts under escort of some new guards. A Dutchman who was in residence made us welcome to what he called "Miami Camp " .We spent several days going across the bay to the town of Ambon with its concrete bungalows, air-raid shelters and large coal enclosure. We moved coal to the coaling points and continued to build up the Japanese-style air-raid shelters. During the days we dug holes under the large tree near to the shore. The idea was for shelters to be made with the tree roots helping to form roofs. Logs were first placed at the sides and more logs were fixed into the uprights. On these logs were placed sheets of matting, then earth was thrown on top. Later another skin of logs and earth was added. The entrance to the original hole was through the root system. The general idea being that any bomb would explode on the top and the next layer would stop the bomb from any further penetration.

The task that we were really needed for was done at night. Ships with barrels of petrol and oil would come as near to the coastline as possible and drop the barrels overboard. We would wade or swim out to them, bring them ashore and roll them under the cover of trees. We had about a week of this, then, one morning, we were really scared by the scream of aircraft engines and over the hill dived two fighter aircraft firing along the boats moored at the side. I did not recognise the aircraft because when we were taken prisoner, certain aircraft were still a closely guarded secret. They certainly frightened the Japanese. At the first sound of action, I dived behind the biggest pile of logs. I heard the thud of the bullets into the logs and discovered after the action that the logs about three feet above me had been tom to shreds. It was a quick way of making matchsticks! I hoped that I would not have that experience again.

It is said that variety is the spice of life and we certainly had that for a few days. I was working on a Japanese camp near to the coast, it was evidently being used as a storage depot and eating house for the Japanese working on the airfield. I spent my time carrying and stacking up wood from where it was being chopped to some field kitchens. Logs were being split up by a large native with an axe, he looked like Joe Louis. I was carrying as much as I could each time to save time and energy but it was not fast enough for one of the Japanese cooks who threatened me with a large meat chopper, but changed his mind when the large native picked up his axe and intimated to the cook that if he did anything to me he would do likewise to him. I asked the native his name later and it rather startled me -  “Jesus Christ MacNamara”. He may have been joking.

There were a few more air raids and on one occasion many bombs were dropped. We could see dense clouds of black smoke coming from where we thought the air field lay and large fires were blazing in the woods. It must have convinced the Japanese that it was time to move us on. We were put aboard a small coaster. All the available space was taken up with sacks of rice, dried fish and seaweed, a hundred and twenty-six prisoners and fifty Japanese. As we sailed out of the river mouth into the open sea a couple of bombers commenced another raid on the air field and surrounding woods. We steamed steadily out to the open sea and I thought we were going back to Java when out of the sun came two Mitchell bombers. The leading aircraft dropped several bombs to the side and rear of the ship, the one at the stern seemed too close for comfort, the other did a run from the side firing its guns. The amidships was hit by a lot of bullets and the first aircraft then attacked from the other side. During this raid one prisoner was killed and two Japanese were wounded. The ship did not sink and limped on to a new location. There, as always, there was a camp. After the stores were landed, the next job was slip trenches and latrines. It must have been built as a permanent camp as there was already a cookhouse.

 

Next Chapter

The Camp on Moena

 

 

 

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