The Rising Sun On My Back
Late that night we reached harbour in Haiman Island. We dragged our weary bodies through the harbour to a large ship along side a jetty wall. As I began to climb the plank Robbie shouted down to me. he warned that the four Jap marines greeting us on deck were survivors of the first war ship sunk, and they were bashing everyone with their rifles. It was like running the gauntlet but I was too week to run and unable to avoid the blows. I was nearly brought to my knees but I had learned from previous beatings how to stay upright, and as I staggered away Robbie was there to help me. I the enemy was beating you with a weapon, you never took your eyes of it and you used your arms for defence. You never cowered and covered up so you could see the blows coming.
I was sure Harry and Grapper had perished, and there was no sign of Joe. It seamed that Robbie and I were the last links in my chain of friendship which had been forged two years earlier at the start of the railway. The Japs left us alone for most of the next day which I spent in a sort of twilight world alternately sleeping deeply and rousing to partial consciousness when I smelt food.
The next morning we were transferred to a fully loaded tanker anchored in the harbour several hundred yards from the shore. The deck plates were hot enough to fry an egg on. We were bare footed and danced around like dervishes, until someone found a number of cardboard boxes which were torn into pieces just large enough for our feet. I was burnt all over by the sun and still covered in black fuel oil. My head was sore and encrusted with a scab of oil and blood, and my eyes were so puffed I could only see through the merest slits. I had almost reached the limit of my endurance. I felt that the effort required to survive was too great. I needed help but there was no one to turn to; I was entirely alone. Many others were in terrible physical condition with broken limbs, blindness and shock, and cried ceaselessly for food. Later that same day Japs began to build wooden latrines out over the water.
The knowledge that we were to be transported to Japan on this potential firebomb struck terror in my heart. The next day they changed their minds, we jostled each other in our eagerness to leave the temple and we were transferred in lighters, (flat - bottomed boats for unloading and unloading ships no brought to wharf) to another ship. This was the 20,000 tone whale factory ship, the Kibibi Maru. In all 656 POW’s had been saved out of the original total of approximately 2,200 which had left Singapore in to ships, and once again we were below deck, in the cavernous whale butchering area which ran the whole length of the ship. All the machinery for rendering the rubber was still there and up in the narrow bow there was a row of miniature railway trucks on tiny rails, that snaked across the floor between machinery. I sat, hunched and dejected, and wondered what else lay ahead of us, was the effort really worth while. I seamed to me that all the threads with the past were snapping. There was no future. In fact, I did not allow myself to contemplate a future. I was very sick and unhappy, I felt like giving up the struggle. My philosophy had been to ignore everything unpleasant that went on around me, the deaths of friends, of dad, the ugly diseases and our evil guards, and I repeated to myself over and over “it doesn’t matter, nothing matters anymore”.
The sick and injured were placed near the gangway and the daylight filtering down the hatchway was the only light available - we sat or lay on the steal deck with no covering and nothing to lie on. We were left alone to fend for ourselves, but there was nothing on the deck to help us alleviate our discomfort, and the Japs supplied us with nothing - no medical supplies - no clothes and no bedding. We had the usual meals - rice with salt plumbs but no plates. We found a sheet of zinc which we bent over and over into creases and then tore into pieces. We ate with our fingers and shared several containers which some one had been able to acquire.
When we set sail for Formosa, a typhoon had whipped up the sea, and the whaler wallowed and shook making fearful noises and from time to time depth charges were dropped over the stern to scare off submarines. I was vomiting again as the ship rolled and pitched and every noise was terrifying. At every sound I started nervously and many rushed madly for the hatchway trampling over the injured. When the panic subsided and the Japs drove them back down the hatchway they trampled again on the injured. We weathered the typhoon and after four days arrived in Formosa. After a day in harbour we continued our journey to Japan, twice we were forced back into harbour by submarine scares, finally sailing on September 24th. The first night out there were a number of explosions, some very near, which caused panic. Once again men rushed blindly for the gangway. This happened several times during the night which I spent with my knees drawn up under my chin, my arms wrapped around them and my head in my arms, trying to shut out the noise. Ever agonising minute of the four day journey to Japan was an hour, every hour was a day. At one time I was shaken out of my deep torpor by a particularly loud explosion and we all panicked. We rushed for the gangway but after several paces I stopped, I was conscious that Robbie and Dickie Dent hadn’t moved and I was shamed into turning back. I panicked now at any noise. My nerves were shot, it would not be long before I collapsed into a gibbering heap. We learned from those that had been on deck that one of the escorts had been hit and exploded. If a sub had done the job it must have been sitting on the beach because the escort was between us and an island only a mile off our starboard side.
The next day (September 28th) we were in sight of mainland Japan and our guards chased us on deck to enjoy this doubtful treat. Our port of disembarkation was Omuta on the southern island of Kyushu. I was so relieved I kept laughing, I didn’t care who’s land it was, the anticipation of putting two feet once more on firm ground was almost too much to contain, some men unashamedly wept.