We were next moved back down Malaysia and back to Singapore by train, another trip in those metal enclosed trucks to River Valley camp. After a day or two we were moved to the dock area and boarded an old cargo ship, our Hell Ship, the Singapore Maru, a transport ship that still had its brass plate mounted at the front of the bridge, it was built in 1923 in Glasgow.
We moved in convoy, at sea the conditions were terrible. The quarters were in the hold and we were only allowed out once a day to be fed. After a week at sea the ship’s Captain, who spoke very good English, relented his orders and allowed us on deck at all times. The journey was uneventful until we were nearing Japan when the convoy was attacked and the leading Destroyer took a direct hit, disappearing beneath the waves within minutes. We assumed it was an American submarine, they of course weren’t to know the ship was carrying allied POWs. After the attack there were lots of depth charges going off for about an hour.
Life in Iruka
We arrived in Japan and were met by a group of Japanese civilians. Our party was split up with our group of about 100 boarded a train for Iruka (now renamed Itanya). We arrived at Iruka Branch Camp (Nagoya 4-D), established on 25th June 1944 as Osaka No.16 Branch Camp at Itaya, Iruka there were 300 British POWs transferred from the Railway here.
This camp had been specially built for us with a high boundary fence, we'd never been boxed in before the jungle had naturally done that. Here the conditions were vastly different to the jungle with running water and a dry blanket and beds which were made in platforms. We were given two days to settle in and issued with new work clothes, a kind of Hessian cloth with a number on the back, mine was number 242 which was later changed to 24.
We were marched out of the camp on the third day, through the village to the mines of the Ishihara Industry Company. Rumour as to what we were going to do soon became known. We alighted on a kind of miniature railway and entered into a drift mine, stopping at three stations splitting the party up. My station was the last ‘Sobo’. This was a copper mine where we were instructed that our task would be Compressed Air Drilling.
I was issued with a type of tin helmet and a carbine lamp. My place of work was two decks down by cage, a hell of a sensation the first time. Here we were paired off, one to do the drilling, one to be the spanner-man. There were two types of drilling machines, one to drill into the roof, the other to drill forward. The expectation was to drill 10 to 15 holes per shift, each one should be one and a half metres deep. Sometimes this was achieved depending on the rock condition and which way the copper seam was running. One of the Japanese would mark up where to drill each shift and the clearing up was done by Korean women. I transferred to the nightshift which was better as I saw a bit more daylight.
Two lads were killed while we were at the mine. One from a roof fall and the other by a snapped cable. I had a nasty experience with the carbide when I went to fill a lamp the container burst burning the side of my face. The treatment was excellent at the village medical room they covered my face with a mask with slit holes for eyes and a mouth and I was allowed one week off work.
There were more incidents, the electric went off which meant the water pumps were out of action. Consequently the water level was gradually rising and it was up to knees before it was rectified, we also got overcome with foul air and had to be bought out of the shafts, the treatment for that was a swig of vinegar.
At Christmas 1944 we had a meal provided and I managed to smuggle out a dinner menu which I have since donated it to the Northumberland Fusiliers Museum at Alnwick Castle.
We were very rarely excused work but on one occasion we were taken to the Village Hall to be shown a film about the Russian and Japanese in the war at least this was all we could understand.
Another day we were lined up and marched out of the gate but not towards the mine. After about two miles we came to the river. It was a glorious summer’s day and we were allowed to strip off and swim in the river, even the Japanese officer did the same but a little further upstream from us.
And so far I have forgotten to mention we received a ration of Russian cigarettes in the early stages but this only lasted for a couple of months.
The first Red Cross parcels arrived towards the end of our incarceration, there was a part parcel between four men, after the Japanese had taken what they wanted of course. I received a pair of US army boots but I was only allowed to wear them in camp, outside I had to wear my other pair of shoes, a Japanese issue canvas type shoe.