Sketch by Jack Chalker

Fukuoka

The Rising Sun On My Back

FUKUOKA

 

We tumbled unsteadily of the ship on a typical grey English morning in drizzling rain.  We sat in lines on the cold slippery cobbled stones in front of a large building with many windows.  Framed in each were the faces of Japanese females of all ages satisfying their curiosity, pointing at those who were particularly well endowed, and giggling their delight.  They had never seen such wretched looking human beings, mostly naked skinny and still covered in that evil smelling black fuel oil which made our hair stick up grotesquely.  I felt tiered and sick and when I closed my eyes I could still feel the motions of the ship we had just left.  I began to shiver in spasms.  The cold from the cobbled stones began to permeate into my bones I could trace its passage upwards from my bony bum, through my body until shaking uncontrollably.  After a miserable hour or so we were led away to a roofed building with no sides where we were issued with a blanket and a meal of rice and vegetable stew.

After yet another wretched cold night, still barefooted we shuffled through the town to the accompaniment of shouted jeers from the population who were lining the streets.  Any who came too near received the wrath of the guards and the but end of a rifle. At this moment I believe there was an affinity between us since leaving Singapore we had shared many frightening experiences and had together brushed with death. 

We waited around at the station and after another meal we entrained for a town called Fukuoka.  Once again we were subjected to the taunts of the people as we marched through the town to our destination. 

I was very pleased when I saw our new camp which consisted of purpose built two storey wooden buildings, within a perimeter fence with machine gun towers at the corners.  We were like naughty school boys as we turned on all the taps and flushed the toilets, we had not enjoyed such luxuries for years.  We were chased out for a roll call and divided into groups for head shaving and photographing, taken with our POW number emblazoned on our chests.  Robbie was POW No. 156 and I was POW No, 157.  We shared a room with three others in what was to us the height of comfort.  Two inch thick rubber slabs, 6ft by 3ft encased in fine rush, covered the floor and two eiderdown’s each for bedding.

We removed our shoes before entering the rooms, there was no furniture and the floor was our bed.

We numbered 297 including two officers of the Malay Volunteer Force, Captain Wilkie and Barrett. We were issued with suits made of new sackcloth, with rubber shoes and tiny peaked caps with our numbers which the Japanese seemed to favour. We were employed in a factory making carbide. Most of the men worked at the 20,000kw furnaces or moved carbide and charcoal fuel about on the miniature railway which snaked its way between the buildings. Robbie and I with eight others worked in the moulding shop, the primary product of which was the special water cooled sliding door for the furnaces, and turntables used on the miniature railway.

Our journey to and from the factory led us through the centre of town where not unnaturally we created a certain amount of interest. The old people stood and stared expressionlessly, and the young taunted us and threw things. But they soon tired of this sport and in a short while we were accepted as part of the scenery. On the marches to work we were treated to the very pleasant sight of young girls working naked to the waist in the fields and when we returned to camp at night we were amused by the sights to be seen through the ever open doors of the communal public bath house.

On our return to camp each evening we were subjected to a most painstaking roll call (Tneko). This simple task was one  the Japs could never master. We were made to learn to “number off” in Japanese and when one considers that my POW number 157 when translated came out something like this “Hacoo joju roco”, it can readily be appreciated that we often got it wrong and an hour later were still trying. The guards ran round the files in fury, beating anyone who made a mistake and this made us make more mistakes. Finally the NCO in charge decided to punish us collectively. We had endured this form of punishment on many occasions before so we knew what to expect. “All men kneel” - “sit, all men keep still”. The guards would run along the files pushing everyone down to make sure they were sitting on their calves with feet pointing rearwards. Pain in the lower leg and feet gradually increased and became excruciating. When you began to think you could suffer the pain no longer the legs would gradually become numb and then lose all feeling.

The guards would then walk round and push everyone over, it was impossible to gain ones feet unaided. When feeling crept slowly back into the legs, the pain was again acute, but our evil guards would make us kneel again, ensuring the pain was virtually continuous. Robbie turned his head slightly to wiser to me and before I could reply a blow to the back of the head from the rifle butt slammed him to the ground. He brushed against me and I toppled sideways. We helpless as blow after blow rained upon us. I covered my head with my arms in an unsuccessful endeavour to protect my head. More guards joined in we were dragged through the snow to the rear of the guardroom. I was pulled to my feet and a sergeant thrust his face close to mine I could feel and smell his stinking breath. He screamed, “Kiyoski ka”! (attention) and wrapped one of my clenched fists and indicated I should extend my fingers, then he screamed at Robbie. A second guard screamed at me to straighten up, and struck the same hand, indicating I should clench my fists. Every guard changed the instructions to the accompaniment of blows to the same hand, which soon became bruised and swollen. My feet and legs  were lifeless and I felt my body was suspended above ground. When I collapsed they gathered round and used me like a football. I fell into seep snow and this prevented them from directing clean blows at me. Thro’out the ordeal I had remained conscious and my instinct to survive, though not as sharp as usual was still working. They never realised that the more of them there were, then the better for us. They jostled and got in each others way, reducing the force and accuracy of their punching and kicking. Four men would have killed us before now. I was aware of being dragged towards the open door of the “sweat box”. Two of them picked me up and threw me into the dark interior, where I slammed against the rear wall and fell to the ground. My face was pressed against the ground which was sodden with urinal and excreta scrapings. I was wretched and my vomit added a further element toe the disgusting stink which prevailed the air in my prison. The “sweat box” constructed of steel and measuring four feet square and four feet high, was designed to prevent the occupant lying down or standing, so he was for most of the time, sitting on the putrid floor. I was enveloped by a darkness so intense that I could feel it and I was scared to move for fear of what I might encounter on the floor. I tasted blood through swollen split lips and the pains in my body merged into a huge beating pulse. In my weakened state I had wet my sacking trousers and I lie there too tired and weak to shift my position. The noise made by the opening of the door invaded my senses and though no word was spoken I knew that food had been placed on the floor. I squirmed around in the confined space until my hands contacted two Jap half mess tins one was half full of ice cold water and the other contained a cold “pap” that was sticky to my fingers. I swallowed a draught of water which left behind a freezing column from throat to belly. The “pap” was marginally less cold but I knew that to give myself every chance of surviving I must eat and drink ever morsel they placed before me.

When the door opened again hands groped for me in the darkness and pulled me from the sweat box, hoisted me to my feet and frog marched me to the front of the guard room where I was tied to a post. About an hour lapsed before I realised that every Jap who passed by struck me at least once, and this gave me the translation to a notice in Japanese fixed to a pole over my head. Robbie stood at the other end of the guard room receiving identical treatment from the same passers- by. When he was struck first, I knew what was coming:  When I was struck first he knew what to expect. At one time, during the three days punishment, with variations at the whim of each guard, I reached a point where I could no longer maintain the “brave” front I had shown to the Japs. I slumped in my bonds in utter dejection and misery. Contrary to my expectations, from that moment onwards the blows hurt less, the cold seemed less intense, and my mind became clearer. The remaining period of my incarceration became easier to bear, and when finally we were released I was considerably stronger than I had been expected to be. The memory of those days returns to me at times and I can still smell the fetid atmosphere in that confined space, which was created by the filth of successive occupants. When we returned the next day to work in the factory our appearance created considerable interest. They were highly amused to think that two prisoners could find the strength to fight each other so violently.

By questioning apprentices in our workshop and by studying Japanese papers when we could steal them we concluded that the Americans were now in the Marina and Saipan. In June 1945 we were subjected to fire raids which lasted three days. Every third bomb was high explosive which disrupted what little fire fighting and civil defence organisation was operating . Fukuoka was an industrial area with factories of all kinds. The wooden dwellings in the congested suburbs were particularly vulnerable to incendiary attack, especially oil bombs. Fanned by a stiff breeze, fires quickly spread into one vast conflagration, and people and animals alike were unable to escape. For those three days we were confined to the camp, our sole task to prevent the camp burning. When the raid ceased we could see that the gutted concrete buildings and the camp were the  only buildings standing. The next morning we gingerly picked our way over the rubble, where before there had been streets.

The charred remains of humans and animals were piled upon the bridge, on the roadways and in the canal. The conditions for the people were horrific and beggared description. The smell of putrescence that hung in the air over the whole area was overpowering and we all used makeshift masks.

The changed attitude of the people towards us was understandable, the guards no longer defended us and we suffered from blows and thrown missiles. Our days were taken up by working to get the factory plant operational.

In July we were bombed by low flying Lockheed Lightning’s, and by B29 Fortresses at high level. The factory was finished for good, but the casualties were light, a dozen or so civilians and two prisoners killed. On the 9th August, just before midday the air raid siren sounded and the guards chased us into the shelter. I avoided them and with Robbie, stretched out on the railway embankment, where we were hidden by long grass.

 

 

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[Sun on my Back] [Introduction] [Training] [Sailing] [Malaya] [Singapore] [Changi] [Rest Camps] [Speedo] [Kuala Lumpur] [Kachidoki Maru] [Kibibi Maru] [Fukuoka] [Nagasaki] [Postscript]

 

 

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