Sketch by Jack Chalker

Japanese POW

Second Part

Japanese POW

11th July 1942 - 15th August 1945

Before leaving the Ramses, we were addressed by a Japanese official, who informed us that we were being taken to a monastery at Fukushima, about two hundred miles north of Tokyo, where we would be cared for by the Japanese in pleasant surroundings. We travelled throughout the night of the 10th -11th July, arriving at Fukushima at 7.40 a.m.  The building to which we were taken was a French-Canadian convent that had been vacated by the nuns only a few days previously.  The building itself was a modern, airy building, with hardwood floors, proper lavatory and bathroom accommodation, with plenty of running water.


The convent stood in its own grounds of about three acres, and there was no reason why our stay there should not have been relatively comfortable had the Japanese authorities been at all reasonable.

The majority of the male internees were accommodated in rooms 12’ x 8’ into which three men were put.

Each man had a Japanese straw mat, 6’ x 3’, called a tatami, together with a mattress and a quilt; these two latter being rolled up at the head of the tatami during the day.

On arrival at the convent, we were addressed, through an interpreter, by the Chief of Police, and it was quickly evident from what he said that our conditions in Fukushima were going to be extremely irksome, and very different from the reasonable treatment that we had hitherto been receiving from the Germans.

There were 140 of us internees transferred to Fukushima, of whom 98 wore men and 42 women and children.

We were a very mixed company indeed, with not only British and Australians, but also –

17 Greeks,

5 South Africans,

2 West Africans,

5 Arabs,

9 Chinese,

1 Spaniard,

1 Armenian, and

1 Somali

Despite this very mixed polyglot community, we had very little internal dissension.

The internal organisation, as set up by the Japanese, was that Capt. Stratford, who was the Captain of the “Nankin”, should be the official “go-between” between ourselves and the Camp Authorities.  Capt, Stratford was a particularly suitable choice for this very onerous and thankless job, as having been trading up into Japanese waters for many years, he knew the characteristics of the Japanese people fair1y well, and any small amelioration of conditions was largely due to his untiring efforts on our behalf.

The rest of the camp was divided up into groups, and each group elected its own group leader, who was responsible for the discipline of that group and the allocation of members from it for various cleaning duties.

The women had a similar internal organisation, with Mrs. Thoms as the official “go-between”.

The Japanese Camp Authorities consisted of the Camp Commandant, (a Commissioned Police Officer), two police sergeants, end at first a total of fourteen to sixteen police guards.  Those guards wore later reduced to a total of only five, and with the gradual reduction in guards, we found that the trials of our existence tended to diminish, as the few guards that were left had enough other duties to keep them away from pestering the internees.



Our first complaint after arrival at Fukushima was on the subject of food, and on this we were obliged to make continual complaints throughout our stay in Fukushima.  We were, however, told that the food we were getting was mere than our brothers end sisters were receiving in England or Australia, and that we were extremely lucky to be allotted such generous rations.

The situation as regards the food rations that w received can be divided roughly into three phases - the first phase lasted for approximately six months, from the time of our arrival.  During this period, there is no doubt that we were deliberately half starved, and that at a time when there was absolutely no excuse for it whatever, because, at that time, all food supplies in Japan wore more than adequate.

Continual complaints from us about the inadequacy of the rations had no effect, and we were told it was useless our going down to the Camp Authorities, as they had no intention of making any alterations.  However, about the end of 1942, the bread ration was increased by 50%, and the other food also substantially increased. Why this increase was suddenly introduced, I cannot say.  It may have been that the continued lose of weight and debility shown by all the internees had been noted by the examining doctor, who had recommended the very necessary increase in food rations; or it nay have been that the Japanese authorities decided that, w it the onset of winter, an increase of rations was essential to keep us in any reasonable state of health.

The second phase of the food rations lasted from the end of 1942 until the early part of 1944, during which period the food was just sufficient to prevent any further deterioration in our physical condition, but during the third phase from 1944 onwards, when the food situation in Japan became increasingly difficult, our rations became more and more attenuated, until for the last nine months of our stay at Fukushima, we were living exclusively on bread, with possibly once every three or four weeks a plateful of so-called vegetable stew, which was simply turnip tops, and nothing else.

There is little doubt that, without the Red Cross food parcels, of which the first was delivered in March, 1944, many of us would have been in a very sorry condition by the time we were released.

It is strange that we were given bread and not rice as in most Japanese prison camps.  In fact, rice could only be obtained with the greatest difficulty for invalids who found they could not digest the bread.  It is probably due to the fact that we were on a bread and not a rice diet that we had no beriberi in our camp, whereas most other camps were full of it.  The soya bean flour and bone meal which was added to the bread also probably helped in suppressing beriberi and maintaining our physical condition.

The bread ration, latterly, consisted of about 22oz of broad daily, with a cup of very weak, unsweetened tea without milk, at each meal.

However, during this whole period, when the adults were receiving such extremely low rations, the children were relatively well fed, for the Japanese authorities always managed to produce for them two meals a day of rice, soup and some vegetable.

While, undoubtedly, the food situation in Japan was acute, it is equally certain that there was no necessity for us to be subjected to the very low, monotonous diet that was accorded us during the latter part of our stay at Fukushima, for as soon as peace was declared, the authorities were able to produce a certain amount of meat and vegetables, with a little butter and sugar in small quantities, and it is rather surprising that this could be produced a day after peace was declared, whereas for many months previously we had been told repeatedly by the Camp Authorities that they were doing their best for us as regards food, and that we were treated bettor than the Japanese people outside.  This, however, was readily disproved as soon as we were able to get outside the camp on the signing of the Armistice, for we were able to purchase readily from the local inhabitants apples, vegetables, eggs and other foodstuffs that we had been told were unobtainable.



The main feature of the treatment which we received from the Japanese during the whole of our period of internment was the humiliation to which we were continually subjected.  Their one idea seemed to be, not to treat us as human beings who had committed no offence, but to look upon us as dangerous criminals, who must in no way be allowed any rights or privileges.  We were regimented from the time we got up in the morning - 6 a.m. – until the time we went to bed at night at 8 p.m. in the winter - 8.30 in the summer.

The regulations to which we were subjected were innumerable and petty.  At one period, there was a total of 173 petty regulations, the breaking of any of which entailed punishment of some sort.  It can be well imagined that with this number of regulations in existence, it was almost impossible to do anything without breaking some of them, and as a result, there was always one or more of the internees undergoing some form of punishment.

Although there were no actual atrocities committed on internees in the Fukushima camp, quite a number of man were badly beaten up by the guards for very minor breaches of the regulations, and in some cases for no breach at all.

One of the favourite methods of punishment, apart from being beaten up by the guards, was being made to kneel for lengthy periods, either inside the camp commandant’s office, or just outside in the main hallway.  Frequently, meals were stopped as a form of punishment, and on the existing low rations, this was very severe punishment indeed.  Standing at attention for lengthy periods was also a favourite form of punishment, with guards continually passing by to make sure that there was no relaxation in the attention position.  I, on one occasion, had to stand for six days, because I sat on my blanket during the forbidden hours.  However, despite their threats, I simply refused to kneel to them, and for some unknown reason, although my refusal infuriated them, I was not beaten up, but only had to stand for two hours with a pail of water tied to my wrist.

Their most irritating and persistent form of humiliation was to make us bow to the guards whenever we met them.  If we were sitting in our rooms, a guard would suddenly burst in the door, and we would have to stand up and bow.  This would happen at frequent intervals throughout the day.  Although it was nothing, it was just a method by which they showed us that they no longer considered us members of a dominant race.



From the day we arrived at Fukushima, the women were complete1y segregated from the men, and no communications of any sort were allowed with them.  It was a very serious breach of the regulations to wave, smile, signal, talk or in any way communicate with any of the women internees.  Needless to say, of course, regular communications between husbands and wives took place, as there was only a steel door separating the women’s part of the building from the men.  The Japanese authorities suspected, of course, that this communication was going on, but were powerless to stop it, as we always employed scouts whenever any communications were going on between men and women through the steel door, to advise if any Japanese guards were in the offing.  On several occasions, they asked for a list of people who had been communicating with the women, and as everybody put their names down as being guilty of such a breach of the regulations, they were rather at a loss to know what to do, as they could hardly punish everybody when they knew quite well that only a proportion of the men and women had been communicating with each other.

Despite the fact that the only regular communication was through the steel door, four engagements between unattached men and women were arranged during this period of segregation.

During the early part of our internment, the general treatment of the women by the Japanese authorities was really bad - in many ways worse than that of the men.  One woman was knocked down on to the floor, kicked severely about the head, and might easily have been killed had the guard not been dragged off her by the interpreter.

Another woman, merely because she shook the blanket out of the window was so severely beaten round the head, that she had continuous ear troubles with a painful discharge from it, for over six months.  These are only two instances of many cases of maltreatment of the women, but I believe even worse than the maltreatment of the women was the complete disregard for their natural modesty.  They were not allowed to lock the bathroom door, and one of the favourite sights for Japanese visitors to the camp was to be taken in to see the women bathe.

One woman, who gave birth to a child a few weeks after our arrival in Fukushima, asked for cow’s milk for the child, as her own milk was no longer available.   She was made to go down to the office, bare and squeeze her breasts in front of the guards in order to show that she no longer had any milk to feed the infant.

The Japanese Camp Authorities also exhibited a prurient end embarrassing curiosity about the effect of absence of sexual relations between husbands and wives, and months before any regular general meeting between men and women was allowed, they made a room, with bed, available, for the meeting of husbands and wives for periods of twenty to thirty minutes each, asking afterwards whether contraceptives had been used.

The first public meeting of husbands and wives did not take place until Oct., 1943, and this was only granted very reluctantly, because the women objected to the furtive meetings of individual couples in the above mentioned room.

Regular meetings between husbands and wives did not take place until after the visit of the representative from the International Red Cross in March, 1944.



I think the most surprising thing, to most of us, about the climate of Fukushima was the severity of the winter.  The first snowfall occurs during the latter part of November, and from early December to March, snow lies on the ground continuously.  The temperature at night usually falls to 140 or 150F, and water inside the rooms freezes.  Under normal living conditions, with adequate food, clothing and heating, it would be quite a healthy climate, but we naturally found the winter very exacting.  The convent at Fukushima was centrally heated, but owing to the shortage of coal, the radiators were only put on infrequently, except during the first winter, when the building was heated continuously for two months.

During the summer months, from mid June to mid September, the climate is very hot and humid, with hoards of mosquitoes which bred prolifically in the flooded rice fields surrounding the building.  Fortunately, they were not the malaria carrying mosquito.  In fact, malaria is unknown in Japan, but a fair amount of dengue fever was experienced.

The climate of the spring and autumn months was delightful, though the much famed Cherry Blossom was a great disappointment.



We were given a regular cigarette ration, which commenced at one per day and was gradually increased to five per day, until the tobacco shortage entailed a reduction to a daily issue of three only, at the end of our stay in Fukushima.

For a long time, cigarettes were the general currency in the camp, and almost any article could be bought or sold for cigarettes.



One of the most acute shortages in the camp was soap of any sort, which seemed to be almost unobtainable in Japan, even by the Red Cross or Swiss Delegate when they were able to visit us.  After many urgent representations to the camp authorities, we were eventually given two cakes of soap on each Sunday, bath day, for the use of the whole camp.  On this basis, one got the use of soap about once a month for personal use, though there was none for washing clothes.



Despite our many requests to the Japanese authorities, we were kept completely “incommunicado” until 1st March, 1944.

On innumerable occasions, we asked if we might be allowed to write to the Red Cross or to the neutral embassy looking after British interests in Japan or to the German Embassy, but all our requests were turned down.

Of course, it is possible that one of the reasons why we were kept so strictly isolated was the fact that we were German prisoners in Japanese hands.  When we asked the Japanese authorities if they could state whether information regarding our safety had been communicated to our own Government and to our relatives, they replied that that was the responsibility of the Germans, as we were German prisoners, but although they admitted that we were German prisoners, they still would not allow us to get in touch with the German authorities to assure ourselves that the necessary information had been transmitted to the British Government for on-forwarding to our relatives.

We were first allowed to write home letters in March, 1944, and thereafter we were allowed to write one letter a month, typewritten, and not to exceed one hundred words.  This monthly letter was sent off regularly from that date until the cessation of hostilities, with the exception of a few months, when there was no paper in the camp to enable the letters to be typed.

I was also latterly permitted to send off three cables.

In November, 1942, a very wicked, cruel hoax was played on the internees at Fukushima.  A certain selected few, about twelve in number, were chosen to write letters home, and those selected few were told they could write anything they liked, and need not limit themselves to any set number of words.  In fact, several people had their letters returned to them, with the suggestion that they were probably not long enough.  There is little doubt that those so-called home letters never left the building, and that the whole thing was just a cruel hoax played on us by the camp authorities, just to see what we would say about things in general if we were allowed to write.

We knew later that our presence in Fukushima was not known to the outside world until March, 1944, and that any so-called home letters that were written in November, 1942, obviously could not have been intended for onward transmission.



Lack of news from the outside world was the thing that we missed most during the first few months of our stay in Fukushima, but fortunately, amongst the internees we had the late Vice-Consul from Shanghai, who was a Chinese scholar.  As the characters in Chinese and Japanese writing are very similar, and in many cases identical, he found that he was able to make out the headlines in the vernacular paper, and thereafter, we started taking the local vernacular paper from the office whenever it was possible to do so.

This, however, was not always possible, owing to the number of guards that were always around the office, so the newspaper wrapping that was used for meat or fish was frequently pressed into service for obtaining news.  On one occasion, we had to resort to a piece of newspaper that a guard had used for blowing his nose to obtain much needed news.

On other occasions, newspapers were lifted out of the pocket of a guard’s overcoat that might be left hanging unattended for a few minutes.  Headlines were quickly extracted from the newspaper, which was unobtrusively returned to the guard’s overcoat pocket before he had the opportunity of missing it.

Various other subterfuges were adopted in order to get news, and as a result of this fairly regular news service the Japanese were never able to break our morale.

They realised we must be getting the news in some way, and on several occasions instituted a search of the rooms when we were outside, in the hope that they might be able to trace the leakage of news.

They, however, rather suspected some of the Chinese, of whom we bad several interned with us.

Had it not been for the news that we thus got surreptitiously, the fantastic tales told us by the Japanese would, undoubtedly, have depressed us very considerably.  We were told that Australia and New Zealand had been captured; that the whole of India had thrown in its allegiance with Japan; that the west coast of America was being attacked by Japanese forces.  While we should have discounted such tales to a very considerable extent, they would have had a depressing effect on our morale had we not been able to obtain official news regularly.

When the tide of the war began to turn very markedly in favour of the Allies, which presumably must have affected our bearing, we were told on many occasions by the Japanese authorities that we must remember that we were internees and must not be so happy.



Apart from the few books and playing cards that we were able to take with us, we had little or nothing to occupy our time, as the Japanese authorities supplied nothing, although there was an ample supply of English and French books in the convent that could have been made available to us.

At first we were all mustered, morning and afternoon, for compulsory weeding in the garden, and although this does not sound a very tremendous hardship, in our semi—starved condition, it proved to be quite strenuous, particularly with a Japanese guard standing by who would strike one across the shoulders with his sword if one ventured to take a rest period.  However, this compulsory weeding did not last very long, as it was found that they could obtain far better results by small squads of volunteers, who were offered as an incentive, additional cigarettes and food for work in the garden.  There was no other compulsory work in the camp, apart from that necessary for keeping the place clean, but early in 1943, we were offered the voluntary work of breaking down old textbooks and making them up into bags for packing fruit.  For this work we were paid a small sum in yen.  The principal virtue of this task of breaking down the textbooks was the fact that we could obtain there from very necessary supplies of scribbling paper, and we also were able to recover sufficient of the bookbinding thread to enable us to keep our clothes in a reasonable state of repair.

Of course, there were various other forms of amusements that we organised for ourselves, such as debates and lectures, and for many months chess was a very favoured game, with chessmen manufactured from pieces of wood obtained from the garden, and chess boards adapted from the backs of religious pictures.

I personally managed to fill in a lot of time by trying to teach a youth the rudiments of chemistry, geology and geography.  As there were no textbooks available, this was almost a whole-time job.  The lad concerned was a passenger in the “Gloucester Castle”, and had been caught subsequent to the “Nankin” by another German raider and came to the Fukushima camp at the end of 1942.

In April, 1944, after the first visit of the International Red Cross Delegate, we obtained supplies of books and games from the International YMCA, and from that period onwards, our lot was a very much happier one.



The first visit of the International Red Cross Delegate was paid to our camp at the end of March, 1944.  He informed us that the existence of our camp was not known to the Red Cross until the 1st March, l944; upon receipt of this information, he had visited us as soon as he could possibly make the necessary arrangements.  He had also, prior to his visit, arranged for the despatch of much needed food parcels.  Subsequent to this first Red Cross food parcel in March, 1944, we received further parcels in Sept, and Nov., 1944, and March and. April, 1945.  A total of ten individual food parcels was received by us altogether.  The Delegate paid a second visit to us in April, 1945.

In addition to food parcels, the International Red Cross also sent small quantities of very urgently needed clothing supplies and drugs and dressings.



The Delegate from the Swiss Legation, which was the protector power looking after British interests in Japan, paid his first visit to us in April, 1944.  Needless to say, he was presented by us with a very lengthy list of grievances, few of which he was able to adjust, but as regards the majority of our grievances, he said that they were past history, and that such incidents would not be repeated.  There is no doubt that, after we once got in touch with the Red Cross and the Protector Power, the various incidents of harsh treatment to men and women were largely stopped by the Japanese Authorities.  Several incidents occurred subsequently, but they mostly took place without the knowledge of the Camp Commandant.

The Swiss Delegate arranged for us to receive a monthly allowance of fifty yen, though when he gave us the money, he said that he was afraid it would not be of much use to us, as he doubted if we should be able to buy anything with the exception of a few cigarettes.  He was absolutely correct in this supposition, and we were only able to buy very little, and. what little we wore able to buy was mostly rubbish.  Further visits from the Swiss Delegate were made in August, 1944, and June, 1945.



A member of the Swedish Legation was the Chairman of the International Y.M.C.A., and as a result of his good offices, we were well supplied with books after we once got in touch with the outside world.  In addition, the Y.M.C.A. was able also to supply us with such small articles as they were able to purchase locally in Tokyo.



As I mentioned when being transferred from the “Regensburg” to the “Dresden”, we were all convinced that we should be released at an early date.  This hope of release or exchange was kept alive by repeated statements from the Japanese authorities that we were definitely for exchange, and that ships were being fitted up to take British internees away in exchange for Japanese internees ex Australia and India.  Whether there was any truth in those statements from the Japanese authorities, I am, of course, unable to say.  It may have been that the whole thing was a hoax, and that they were just telling us this in order to keep us quiet and prevent us from asking for too many things in the way of clothing or communications with the outside world.

However, we knew definitely, from the vernacular paper, that in 1942, British, Australian and American exchanges were arranged, and a further American exchange was also carried out in 1943.

We understood from the Swiss and Swedish Delegates, who were able to talk freely to us after the signing of the peace, that the British and American Governments had tried their best to get us out during the latter stages of the war when they realised our unfortunate position, but although they had offered two Japanese in exchange for one British or American, the Japanese Authorities were not prepared to arrange for an exchange.

Those Delegates also told us that, in order to relieve the food situation, the Americans had offered to send food ships to Japan for the prisoners and would leave the ships for the use of the Japanese.  When this was again refused, they offered to fly over food supplies for us and present the aeroplanes to the Japanese, but all those offers to alleviate our lot were refused.

At that time, of course, the Japanese were very incensed because of the sinking of the “Awa Maru”.  This ship had been down to Singapore with Red Cross Relief Supplies and was sunk by an American submarine off Formosa when on the way back.  Actually, on the way back, the “Awa Maru” was off her course, steaming without lights, and was also full of civilian and military passengers, so it is not surprising that it was sunk by an American submarine.



Medical treatment and supplies from the Japanese authorities were of the scantiest.  We were supposed to have a medical examination by a Government Lady Doctor every three months, but after the first few examinations, this lapsed.  It was a very cursory examination in any case, and presumably was only intended to find out if there were any infectious or contagious diseases in the camp.

As I mentioned previously, however, it may have been these examinations during the early part of our stay that induced the authorities to increase the starvation rations that we had for the first five months in Fukushima.

Apart from this routine medical inspection, we were told that a doctor would always be obtainable in cases of necessity, but the policy that was acted on by the Japanese Authorities was that a doctor was not really necessary, because the patient would either recover without medical aid, or die!

The only medicines that were obtainable were small quantities of aspirin and laxatives, and apart from personal supplies that had been brought by the various internees, little or no other medicines were available until the arrival of the Red Cross First Aid Kits in April, 1944.

We had three deaths from natural causes, during our stay at Fukushima, two men and one woman.

The first man to die was an engineer off the “We1lpark”.  His life could undoubtedly have been saved had he been placed on a special diet.  He had a duodenal ulcer, and the raw vegetables, which was all we had in Fukushima, were not suitable for anybody suffering from such a complaint.  Continual requests, however, for a suitable diet met with no response, and as a result, this engineer died suddenly in August, 1942.

The second person to die was in Sept., 1942, when the Chief Steward from the “Nankin” died of a stroke.  He, in any case, was an elderly and rather feeble man of 64, but it is fairly certain that being brow-beaten by the guards into weeding for five or six hours a day in the hot sun of a Japanese summer must have hastened his end.

The third person to die was the stewardess from the “Nankin”, who succumbed to a strangulated hernia, and it is improbable that any medical attention could have saved her, though had prompt attention been given, the amount of pain she suffered could have been eased vary considerably.

As regards dental attention, the dentist came at irregular intervals, but either he could not obtain, or else he would not use, suitable materials, with the result that many people’s tooth, as a consequence of their stay at Fukushima, are far worse than they should have been.

Actually, a very much better dentist was available in Fukushima, as we found out after the conclusion of hostilities.  He, however, having been an American trained dentist, was not allowed. to visit our camp, because he could speak English, and the authorities were desperately afraid of any English speaking person coming into the camp for fear that we might either receive news or get messages away.



It was not until the end of 1944 that air raids were taken at all seriously in Japan.  In April, 1942, American carrier borne planes made a demonstration raid over Tokyo, but only dropped leaflets advising that they would be back again in due course.

The first serious raid was in July, 1944, on the Yawata Steel Works in the northern part of Kyushu.  This raid and most of those immediately following, was carried out by China based B29’s.  It was not until the end of 1944, when the Saipan-Guam based B29’s started raiding the southern part of Japan with increasing frequency and intensity that the authorities in Fukushima took any serious interest in air raid precautions.

At first our only shelters were a few shallow trenches dug in the garden, close to the building.  Owing to the nature of the soil, however, these trenches rapidly filled with water, and were quite useless for the purpose for which they were built.

It was then decided that we should utilise the cellars and the boiler room.  These rooms made excellent air raid shelters, as they were built below ground level of reinforced concrete.

At first the alarms Fukushima were not very frequent, but as soon as carrier based planes began attacking Japan, the frequency of the alarms became much greater, and for the last two months in Fukushima, we were under a state of continuous alarm, day and night.

The carrier based planes came over between daylight and dark, and during the hours of darkness, the B29’s were over at various times.

Fortunately for us, however, only one bomb was dropped in the Fukushima district, and that was half a mile from our camp.  It seemed that the Valley in which Fukushima was placed lay right on the east/west and north/south routes for raiding aeroplanes.

Whether Fukushima would eventually have been raided, I, of course, do not know, but by the time we left, it looked as though the whole of the Fukushima Valley had been completely isolated by the intense incendiary and high explosive raids that had been carried out on various railway centres, industrial towns and ports surrounding it.

The day after the atomic bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, we were called together by the Japanese Sergeant, who said he knew that we were rather sceptical about the necessity of going down to the shelters whenever an alarm sounded, but informed us that the Americans had just started using a new kind of bomb that was so destructive that one bomb would destroy the whole of London or New York.  He said it was only the size of a match box and came down by parachute.  At the time that he was talking to us, full details of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb were not available, but enough was known about it to scare the populace thoroughly about the effect that it would have on Japan if used extensively.


Next Part

The War Ends



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