The Will to Live
THE END MUST BE NEAR
Under a strong escort we left the mining camp and marched miles at bayonet point to a small railway station. Here we were crammed into railway carriages, standing room only. We stopped at a small village, ate our scanty rations of rice, then were forced to lift 50 lb. sacks of rice on our backs, while others had to carry heavy equipment. We walked along a narrow trail, but the country was steep and hilly which was hard climbing even without a load. The Japs pushed us on without a rest and with no mercy. I noticed while on the trail that we could see Japanese army camps in the valley below. When we reached the spot where we were to build the camp there was already one hut there for the Japanese to use. We got rid of our loads and with nothing to eat we laid down to rest and sleep, there was no shelter at all for us. Next morning the Japanese roused us from our troubled sleep and we had the usual breakfast of rice and water. Without further delay we had to start hauling trees and bamboo out of the bush. We were driven without mercy and we did not ask or expect any.
Every day, a party of 20 of us went to the village for supplies. This was, all told, a 20 mile hike back and forth. How we carried those heavy loads back even now is beyond me, but we did. One day we found a Japanese newspaper and being hungry for news, took it back to camp to one of the POWs who could speak Japanese. This gentleman did not understand the characters of the Japanese writing too well but after hours of studying one article he managed to read the date which was 1911. We were still able to laugh.
One of my more pleasurable experiences which is not difficult to remember happened one day when we were on the trail with our heavy loads. Two American Grumman fighters suddenly came flying down the valley with machine guns rattling away. Our Jap escort took cover but we stood there actually seeing and looking down at the pilots. How we cheered them on. I wonder if they saw us?
The camp was near completion and we were very proud of our work. At least we had shelter ready for our comrades. The fresh air had done us a little good and we were burned a grayish brown from the sun. Then one day our comrades joined us, less than 300 of them some had died since we left them to build this camp. These men were utterly exhausted and we were only too willing to help them and share our meager rations with them.
After the camp was built we were all put to work cultivating the land. This consisted of pulling out tea bushes and using the same old tool, the chunkel, to dig and prepare the land for sweet potatoes. Here we were able to supplement our small diet with snails, roots and the tops of the fern plant.
The Japs had become worse. The least infraction and men were tied by the hands and ankles to bamboo poles in such a fashion that if they did not kneel up straight the poles would cut off the blood circulation. Men were left for two days in this state and more often without food or water.
The work got harder and we were not allowed to even stretch our backs. Food rations were cut back and men became sicker. The Japs, in my opinion, were determined that no POW would live to the end of 1945.
We hoped desperately that the Americans would come in a hurry. We heard rumours that the war in Europe was finished and we firmly believed it, as the Japs were very upset and seemed desperate. The pace we were driven at was grim and the men were dying faster. 1 think it was around August 16th 1945 and we were working as usual. A civilian walking past us told some of us that the war with Japan was over. Word spread like wildfire from mouth to mouth, men fell on their knees, prayed and cried.
Work immediately finished as far as we were concerned but we were not too sure of our position. We stood around and the Japs did not bother with us. I think they were as much concerned with the news as we were. There was no official word given out.
Soon the Japs told us all to go back to camp, and that is where we stayed until the beginning of September. The rations increased slightly and we scrounged the countryside for food. The Japs no longer bothered us but still did not tell us the truth officially. Of course we suspected that all was in our favour, but we were patient. We had traveled a long hard road to this point and were not about to take any chances. Tragically, men still died during these days of hoping to be home soon.