Sketch by Jack Chalker


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The Will to Live



Thirty POWs were picked to proceed to North Formosa to one of the mining camps. Apparently I was one of the fittest although I had just got over a bout of malaria and still had a touch of beriberi. We handed in our blankets and dishes, picked up the pitiful personal belongings we had, and said goodbye to some of our friends, some of whom we would never see again. We tried to be cheerful telling them that we would see them in Blighty soon.

Our march was a short one of about 3 miles, then we boarded a train - 3rd class coaches. We felt as if we were boys going off on a Sunday School picnic. Our guards were pleasant and did not mistreat us at all on the march or on the train. We were allowed to look out of the windows and almost felt free. Our eyes really soaked up the scenery. Only at the station were we ordered to draw the blinds. Halfway on our journey we were given a meal of a small rice loaf and a drink of water. The guards did go out of their way to obtain some fruit for us, even a tin of jam appeared. These guards were the best that we had ever been in contact with. They even shared their food with us. Towards evening the country we were passing through became more hilly and rougher than the south of Formosa.

We arrived at a small station and started a long march to the POW mining camp. I do not remember the distance. We started of light hearted, singing as we went which amazed the Japanese guards. The dirt track seemed to be a never ending climbing of hills. With being inactive all day on the train, the beriberi in my legs started to bother me quite badly and the march became a nightmare. I remember telling myself to keep going, other men were in the same state as myself Although the guards began to do a lot of shouting, they did not molest us in any way.

I cannot remember too clearly how we arrived at our new camp, but it was late at night. We were lined up at the entrance and handed over to the camp guards, our escort left us, saying goodbye in Japanese.

There was the usual head count but the Japanese never seem to get it right first time and we were too exhausted and dazed to worry too much. Suddenly these brave Nipponese soldiers began beating us with their rifles and sticks as we could not understand them too clearly. We were then pushed into a hut where we fell exhausted and slept until next morning. We awoke, stiff from cold and very hungry, but I was glad that my beriberi had been going down the mine in my bare feet for some time as my old army boots had worn completely out. One of the checker girls threw me an old pair of straw shoes which I was very thankful for. Yes, the Formosan civilians were very good people, they did try to help us. Many times we got some medicine and bits of food from them.

Sabotage by the POWs in the mine was carried out frequently. Rails were smashed, holes were made to cave in, rocks instead of ore were filled into the bogies, electric wiring was pulled out when possible. Men were killed trying to do their bit, even in the miserable state we were in. I do not remember the names of the men but I do remember their broken bodies being carried back to camp for burial. These men had given the supreme sacrifice for their country.

Time marched on. 1 was frequently bothered by beriberi and malaria and was carried down the mine by my comrades. I, in turn, carried them when they were bad. We learned to live this way and I am sure that every man in that camp was carried at one time or another. Death, sickness, disease and injury were part of our way of living. We went through the phase of survival of the fittest when it was every man for himself, dying and sick were practically forgotten and hate for the Japanese was predominant with us. It was if some supernatural force changed us to humans again, the fit needed the weak as much as the weak required them. The dying and sick were being cared for, hate for the laps was out of us, comrades became comrades again, we had accepted our way of life. How time dragged,-- the Japs were getting nastier, the rations less, the men were becoming sicker and the death toll was rising alarmingly. Many of us wondered how long we could keep up this pace, it was beginning to seem so hopeless and we were on the verge of despair.

News of the war was very scarce, only what the Japs told us that the war would last 100 years. Then one day in 1944, in the fall, we were overjoyed at seeing three American fighter-bombers fly right over our camp. We were fortunate as it was one of these unusual days when we were not working. Yes, there was a lot of excitement amongst us that day. We knew that the war was coming towards us and our spirits rose, hope was with us again. We began giving ourselves six months and we would be home. The air raid sirens were sounded more often as time went on, and now the laps had other things on their mind. We were not going down the mine as often now. We suspected that the reason for the use of the tunnel from the camp right through the hilt to the surface of the mine was to force us into this tunnel if the Americans attacked Formosa. Just as well for us that this did not happen as no doubt we would have all been slaughtered. There were reasons for us to believe that an attack would be made as the Formosan civilians were asking us to sign papers saying that they were good to us. I hope our signatures were of some use to these people later.

Early in 1945. Fifty of us were chosen to go deeper into the interior to build a new POW camp.


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