Sketch by Jack Chalker

Japanese POW

Japanese POW

By Alf King

Transferred from oil tanker to Dutch hospital ship, “Up ten Noort”, which had been shelled and taken over by the Japanese,  all the doctors and nurses having been taken prisoner, and were to remain so right through the war.

Up ten Noort

Dutch hospital ship during WWII

Japanese captured and used the Dutch ship, re-naming her the Tenno Maru

Scuttled  Wakasa Bay, Japan - August 1945.

400 of us were put down the forward hold, which when we got there already held 600 Dutch prisoners, so that put 1000 of us in there all told, conditions were pretty bad, no room, no bedding, water was rationed, about a cup a man per day.  Rice was served in balls about the size of a teacup, one per man a day.

For 8 days we were kept down there while the ship steamed eastwards.  Eventually we arrived a place called Makassar in the island of Celebes.

Makassar, Celebes

We were landed about noon in the blazing sun, we were only 80 miles from the equator being kicked and punched about by the Japanese soldiers who were waiting for us.  After about 2 hours of being counted and recounted, we were marched away from the dock and passed through the native part of the town, where there was much cheering and jeering at our undressed condition, none of us had any footwear, clothes consisted of vests and under pants, some even without the vests. Walking on the road was almost unbearable, it was like walking on red hot coals sometimes we would jump to the dirt tracks on the side of the road to ease the pain.  But we were hit by the butt of a rifle or a boot back onto it again. This lasted about 2 miles, when we arrived at the old Japanese army camp.

The huts were of stone and very cool, they consisted of stalls, ten each side, 5 men to a stall, stone floors. There were about 4000 men in the camp.  Dutch and Indonesians were the majority  with about 50 Yanks.  Food that night was one biscuit each, thank goodness water was plentiful. Sleep at night was a nightmare, no clothes, no bedding and those mosquitoes were like dragon flies, they took lumps out of us, we worked a rota system, among the 5 men in my stall, one man in the middle, 4 round him for warmth, the nights were very cold after the heat of the day.

In the days that followed some attempt was made to get some food, but Japanese he say “ solly no rice”. You live on biscuits, 4 a day, after 3 or 4 weeks we were beginning to feel the strain, could hardly stand, weak as kittens, still no clothes or boots. Then after about 5 weeks we were told that 50 men from each hut was required for work in the docks, which had been badly burnt by the Dutch.  Some  sight,  that  march to the docks, all hobbling and crawling then given picks and shovels and told to get on with it. Then lo and behold we found “gold”, at least it was to us in a burnt down whorehouse we found tins and tins of evaporated milk.  We shook them up to see if they had gone off or not.  While others kept lookout we smashed the pick into the tins and drank them, it tasted wonderful, natives came round to sell bananas during our so called dinner break, rice alone.  We crowded around the native but no one had money, but within minutes the natives were without a banana, a hungry man is  a savage  man.  The queer point was the Japs stood there laughing at the natives, they loved to see someone suffer. Days passed much the same as other, topic was always about food, men dying or someone having been beaten up.

The Dutch contingent in the camp had suitcases full of Dutch guilders,  which had been taken from the banks before they had capitulated, so if anyone had anything to sell they were in a position to buy.  We who had no money were unable to buy from the natives whilst out on working parties.  So we decided to form groups in which we would sell some of our biscuits and so have capital to do some buying ourselves.  This we did for about a fortnight in which we collected roughly ten quilders. Then when working we bought some bananas and palm sugar which we sold back in camp to the  Dutch at about 600% profit.  Of course one had to take a  chance on returning to camp to get past the search parties.  When if one got caught you stood to have the club and water treatment i.e. explain source thus the high price on anything brought in (explain when having had coats, shirts and trousers how stuff was brought in)  We now had been moved from the docks to work up in the mountains, about 20 kilometers from camp cutting a road through the Jungle to an aerodrome,  we worked simply in a lion cloth and cooly hat. working in spells of half an hour, 10 minutes break,  heat was deadly explain arrowroot plantation the rough ride back and fore to camp.  Shortly after 3 Dutch escape, caught after 2 days and executed as a lesson to us, in future for every man who escaped 10 men would die.  Men now beginning to suffer badly from Berry Berry and tropical  ulcers, rice now main diet with spinach and grass, relied mainly on what we could buy from natives when on working party to supplement.

In October all camp fell in for medical was one of 200 British chosen to leave and go to somewhere else.  On day of leaving Jap Gestapo tells English  men have money Dutch have none.  Arrive on ship in dock with 600 Dutch and Indonesians, 50 Americans all pushed into lower hold, battened down for 10 days, no idea where going,  Eventually arrive in Japanese port of Nagasaki, landed in shipyard, very cold after tropics, insufficient clothes, boots no toecaps. Speech by Japanese interpreter, we are now prisoners of Imperial Japanese Army, (must have been in other camp for past 7 months) we would be prisoners for maybe 5 years, 10 years or maybe forever if Japan won.  Very cheerful indeed, stood for 3 – 4 hours listening to all this, very cold, very hungry.  Eventually marched to our new camp which was in process of being enlarged, this was Fukuoka 2B - Nagasaki.

Was separated into rooms, 56 to a room and given a full bowl of rice and barley and seaweed stew, made to eat with chop sticks for first time.  In camp for 2 days, then marched to shipyard and told we choose which ever job we fancied, riveting, caulking, electric welding, gas welding, furnace work, chose latter for warmth.  Then marched to respective jobs chosen, found on arriving that furnace was in process of being built.  For 6 weeks did nothing but carry bricks from seven in morning till 6.00 pm, with half an hour break for lunch, consisted of small tin cold rice and dried fish. 

Eventally started work on furnace itself, beating red hot plates into various shapes required  with 28 and  56 lb sledge hammers, hands full of blisters for months.   Arrive back at camp every night exhausted.  The general routine was to get up at 5 o’clock, dress and go outside to cold water pipe to wash, no soap available.  5.30 fall in to be counted,  6.00 breakfast and dinner issued at same time.  6.30 fall in for work, counted again, march to shipyard counted on entering.  Report to job, counted again, same routine on return to camp, eventually arriving in camp about 6.45.  Supper at 7pm , sick call 7.30.  9.00pm fall in to be counted and so to bed which consisted a long platform each side of the room, lying feet towards the centre of the room, lying on bare boards, straw bricks for pillow, 2 blankets summer and winter.  First winter men dying at the rate of one a day, pneumonia main reason, no medical supplies available.

Roughly 12 months after being taken P,O,W Red Cross notified of our existence,  Up to then my wife considered a widow.

The warmer weather began to come and so did all the vermin which one associates with it.  The camp began to be full of bugs, fleas, lice and rats.  Sleeping at night was almost impossible with them.  The Japanese now insisted that we learn to  count in Japanese, to save them when we were being counted.  Most of us got cuffed or butted for not saying the right number.

No news was available anywhere the Japanese working in the yard were cock-a-hoop with their success at this time used to brag, how many ships and aircraft they had sunk or shot down, but we found out that if we counted all these so called successes we shouldn’t have had a ship or aeroplane left.  We used to say “Mati Mati – wait and see.

Weeks and months went by with nothing to cheer us up, having only one day a month rest, so men used to devise means of going on the sick.  Out here whenever a temperature was taken the thermometer was put under the arm,  so men used to have a small bottle of hot water under the arm and just when the doctor used to put the thermometer under they would lift theirs and the bottle would drop down to the waist,  they would then have a temperature of about 102 –103F but there was always someone to spoil this, one chap had his bottle too hot and finished up with a temperature of 120F,  then again a chap would hit himself on purpose so that he would have a swelling, some chaps got clever at this.

Dysentery was very rife also so that some men could hardly stand, the Japanese used to say the only cure was to be without food, as if we wern’t half starved already.  One Indonesian working on the furnaces contracted Leprosy and was banished to a little hut at the edge of the camp, only the doctor was allowed to take food or communicate with him.  The loneliness he must have suffered must have been heart breaking.  He asked for a piece of bamboo to make a flute, this was given him and in a few weeks he had completed it and was practicing with it.  At first the noise was anything but music, but gradually he got better and on quiet evenings it could be heard all over the camp. There was something haunting and beautiful about it.

We continued to wait for any signs of Allied aircraft but none was forthcoming at this time and moral began to sink lower.  We had understood that P.O.Ws would be allowed to write home but we had not had a chance to do so up to now.  Then one day the interpreter told us to our surprise that we soon would be able to do so.  We went wild with joy, thinking of what we would say and what to ask for.  Imagine our disgust when we were told that we could only put in what they decided for us.  Phrases such as “I am in good health and am being well fed.  I am working for pay and am well cared for by the Japanese people, who are very kind and you should not fight against them”.  We had to choose any two of these and a few more words, they would check up to 40 words then we would sign it after being typewritten.  Well we thought at least they’ll know we are still alive and maybe we’d get a letter one day.  After a few months we were told that mail had arrived in camp, there was great excitement but it was a few more days before it was delivered to the camp, we were like children and kept reading them over and over.  But it was pitiful to see men who hadn’t had any mail sitting with their heads in their hands, or others whose relatives had killed in air raids or wives who deserted them. They certainly had our sympathy. We were later to write three more cards before the end of the war and to receive many letters and one photograph from home.

We were now being paid 10 sen a day, roughly one and a quarter pence,  for working and were able to purchase cigs at 30 sen for 10,   that is 3  days for 1 packet and 10 sen each a week. was put into a pool to buy at an extortionate price a Japanese newspaper from one of the Japs in the yard and smuggle it into camp to be translated into English by one of the Singapore Chinese boys who were in the camp,  This at least gave us an idea of what was happening in the world.  In 1944 we had our first Red Cross parcels to arrive in the camp, enough for one a man, the men began licking their lips at the thought of a bar of chocolate.  But it was not to be, the Japs kept 95% and gave us one parcel between 20 men, and there they were walking around the camp flaunting our cigs and telling us British Coffee very good and there were we trying to make salt for ourselves by boiling sea water in buckets at work and scraping the brine off after it boiled dry melting to allow and mixing it with our rice to try and put a bit of fat in our bodies, the wind in the winter used to come from Siberia, we used to call it the Lazy wind as it preferred to go through rather than around us.

I remember one day my friend and I were hiding under some steel plates with holes in them when a welder tipped his carbine tank over and through the plates covering us , we shouted up and called him all the slant eyed so and so we could think (carry on the story on the cuff).  Just about this time the man bringing the paper into the camp  got caught during a search coming back into the camp.  He was tortured to say who was the Jap who was giving him the paper, but he wouldn’t say and for 8 days he was tied to a pole never allowed to sleep being questioned every hour until our Senior Officer told him to confess as the Japs would kill him,  anyway word had been got to the Jap who had flown.

June 1945, 3 years and 3 months after being taken P.O.W something happened that was to boost our moral sky high, about 2 pm we heard the air raid sirens for the first time, there was panic everywhiere, everyone running towards air raid shelters, looking up we saw wave upon wave of American bombers, we started cheering and the Japs went mad lashing out with their clubs and pick handles but did we care, this was what we had been wanting.  It became routine from then on and we started something in the shipyard which could be stopped.  We’d ask our guard if we could go to the toilet and he’d say hurry up, so we’d start to run through shipyard, that was enough before you could say Jack, everyone was running, to the air raid shelters.  So it began a regular thing with all the prisoners.  Things were beginning to get close to us now, the shipyard being bombed and our camp had no markings so it looked like a normal barracks, so we hoped the Americans would take a shot at us now that freedom seemed so near.

On August 5th the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the next day in work the Japs were very quiet talking amongst themselves, we could hear the Hiroshima being mentioned.



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