Sketch by Jack Chalker

Internment

Christmas Day 1941, a day that will be etched in my memory, until my death releases me from my torment.  On that fateful day, I and thousands more became prisoners of war of the Japanese Imperial Forces in Hong Kong.  This was the beginning of nearly four years of degradation, starvation, brutality and slavery.

Later that week our regiment (Royal Scots) were transferred to the mainland, under heavy guard, and marched to Sham Shui Po barracks which was to be used as a prisoner of war camp.  The camp was in a shocking state when we arrived, the Chinese people had looted and stripped the barracks of all its fittings and anything that was removable.  Sanitation was negligible, the looters had seen to that.  It would be only a matter of time before disease broke out.  The camp would have to be organised extremely fast, without panic.  The few officers who had come with us, would have to enforce discipline and keep our morale at a high peak, that would be top priority.  Within a week, toilets had been dug, a rough hospital had been established, for the very sick, and toilet buckets had been supplied to the hospital.  There was several thousands of prisoners now, in the camp.  Conditions were sub-human, the food was rice, which was served up in a half cooked, watery mess, (which was cooked much better later on), and anything else which could be obtained to make it palatable.  It was very noticeable that within a short time, every cat and dog disappeared.  Everybody started showing signs of malnutrition and various diseases started to break out.  Diphtheria and dysentery and pellagra were rife after a short time.  Men were dying off like flies, because the Japanese would not release medical supplies.  As the weeks passed it became evident, that it was going to be a battle to survive, but our morale was still high.  We learned very early to stand up to the Jap and not show any fear.  The Jap guards were a vicious, sadistic, sub-human lot and were for-ever picking on some unlucky person who happened to get in their way.  They would start beating him up and would not stop until he had satisfied their blood lust.  After a few months in the camp, conditions had deteriorated so much and so fast that all the men were becoming listless and losing the will to live.  There was no mail from home and no recognition from the Red Cross, it was as if the world had forgotten us.  So far, the Japs had not used us for working parties, but rumours were in the air, that the fittest men would be transported to Japan, to work in the factories.  During this period there happened an incident which upset the entire camp.  It was an established practice, that six men would daily be deputised to empty the toilet buckets of the hospital patients.  This was the worst job in the camp and you were at risk to all the diseases that were raging in the camp.  This particular day, I and five others were to be the detail for this job.  Our Officer-in-Charge gave us specific orders, that we were to empty the patient’s buckets and that was all.  It was hard work carrying these buckets to the sea wall and then emptying them into the water below.  In due time, this job was duly done and we prepared to return to our quarters.  It was then that fate stepped in.  The Medical Officer spotted us moving off and asked, where do you think you are going!.  We told him we had completed our task as per orders.  He then informed us, that we had to empty the medical orderly’s buckets which we refused to do.  The Medical Officer then told us that we would be on a charge for disobeying an order given by a superior officer.  On return to our quarters, we sought out our Officer-in-Charge and told him what had happened.  He told us to forget it and not to worry as he would take a record of it in his report.  Next day our Officer-in-Charge took us to one side and told us our case had been put in the hands of the Japanese Camp Commandant, much to his surprise.  It was now our turn to dread what was going to happen to us, as the charge against us was now changed to one of disobeying an order given by the Japanese Imperial Forces.  This normally meant death by the firing squad or beheading, if found guilty.  That day, there was a flurry of movement in the camp.  Platforms were being set up and Japanese soldiers were running everywhere.  Everybody was wondering what all the excitement was for, they were soon to find out.  The Japanese Guards started shouting for the whole camp to parade at once.  Our Officer-in-Charge came over to us and told us that we were to be charged in front of the entire camp and that punishment would be carried out immediately.  He told us to be brave, to hold our head up, and show them no fear, whatever the sentence and that our case would be recorded for future use.  I remember the six of us being marched to a position, facing the entire camp, followed by a Japanese Guard of six, all carrying their weapons.  We were placed in the position of facing each other and things looked ominous for us.  A murmur of resentment was beginning to ripple through the entire camp and I suspect it would not have taken much to start a riot, owing to the state of tension which now existed. The entire camp guard was now placed on a state of alert.  Everybody was on their toes, as the Jap Commandant made a belated appearance, followed by his interpreter, and his retinue of officers and mounted the platform.  After a lot of discussion with his officers, he started to read out aloud, the nature of the charge against us.  The interpreter gave us the version in the English language.  The sentence was to be a severe punishment, meted out by guards who faced us, and was to be witnessed by the entire camp, as a stern warning against disobeying orders.  The sentence was duly carried out, much to the enjoyment of the guards, who punched, kicked, and used their rifle butts to every part of our bodies.  We were a sorry mess at the end of our ordeal, but we took everything they did to us, bravely, without breaking our spirit.  This was not the end, the entire camp was kept standing in the camp square, for hours and nobody was allowed to help us until the camp was dismissed.  The weeks passed by ever so slowly and our health was rapidly diminishing.  Constant efforts by our officers to awaken the Japs interest in our health failed to get any response.  They were on the crest of a wave, over their victories all over the Pacific area, to worry about us.  Another new crisis arose, when the Japs demanded that all prisoners would sign a form, stating, that they would not attempt to escape.  On the advice of our officers, we were told not to sign this form, as it was totally against British Army Regulations.  The Japs retaliated by surrounding the camp with machine guns and threatened to massacre us if their demand was not carried out.  After prolonged deliberation, our officers decided that it would be in the best interest of all prisoners, if the forms were signed and were recorded as being signed under extreme duress.  The crisis duly died out, but I reckon it was touch and go that time.  Rumours were now very strong, that the fittest would be sailing for Japan very shortly.  The rumours finally gained substance when, in September 1942, we were told that a draft of 1800 men would be sailing for Japan shortly, to relieve a labour shortage in the factories. Leave for Japan2

Come 25 September, the draft was assembled, consisting of navalmen, artillerymen, and members of the Royal Scots regiment and Middlesex regiment.  Clutching the few possessions we had, we were off and moving towards our points of embarkation.  On arrival there we were bundled onto several barges, which took us out to a large cargo ship, moored in the middle of the harbour.  This is the start of the most traumatic and tragic event in my life, a time when I finally decided that there was nothing left to live for, and that death would be a welcome release from all my suffering.   

 

Next Chapter

Lisbon Maru

 

 

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[J. McHarg Miller] [Stationed] [Siege] [Internment] [Lisbon Maru] [To Japan] [Notogawa] [War is Ended]

 

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