Sketch by Jack Chalker

To Japan

The Japs were now running around again, shouting out orders, in a state of agitation.  We were bustled and pushed out of the junk’s hold, back on to the quay.  After going to the toilets, which were buckets and having a drink of water, we were given a couple of rice balls to eat.  This was the first time we had anything to eat in the last three days.  Later on, we were issued with a loin cloth, to cover our nakedness.  That same day, we were outfitted with warm clothing and split toe canvas and rubber boots, this was really appreciated by everyone.  Orders came through, that we were to embark that night on another Japan bound ship.  Apprehension and near panic surfaced among the prisoners.  We did not like running the gauntlet of American submarines a second time, but being prisoners we had no option.  I have never found out the name of this ship but we did get across safely.  The ship docked at a place called Moji.  From there we were split up into several groups and started on our journey to various prisoner of war camps in different cities.

Osaka the second largest city in Japan was to be our new destination.  The camp would be called “Osaka No. 1” and it was situated very near the waterfront, right in the danger area.  On arrival at the camp, we were ushered inside very quickly, as we were not a very pretty sight to look at.  Everybody was dirty, unshaven and haggard looking, the only decent thing about us was the jacket and cotton lined trousers that had been issued to us after we had been rescued from the “Lisbon Maru”.  It was bitter cold in the camp, there was no heating and we only had one blanket each.  Our first meal was two rice balls and a couple of pieces of squid or cuttlefish.  The camp itself was just an enclosed compound, off the main street.  It had one entrance, a cookhouse, storehouse, sick bay, prisoner’s living quarters.  Washing facilities was a pipe with a few taps (cold water) and toilet facilities was a hole in the ground.  There was about 100 of us in this camp.  There were several seamen from the Merchant Navy, already occupying one part of the building, they must have been captured recently.  The war news we heard from them, was all bad.  A full week passed, our health and strength was slowly returning, there had been no abuse or beatings and the Japs had not bothered us at all.  Our Camp Commandant was of German/Japanese extraction.  He was very strict, but seemed to believe in being very fair, this was something new to us.  Every Jap we had met (military) had been a sadistic monster.  At the beginning of our second week, we were made to parade for the Camp Commandant who was going to give us a speech.  The speech was exactly the same we had heard before, many times over, in our previous camp.  He also said, that we were to start work, as from the next day.  We retired that night, wondering what was in store for us, what would be our fate, under our new task masters.  Next day, fifteen of us were assigned to work on unloading a ship, anchored in the harbour, the remaining men were assigned to various steelworks.  The weeks passed slowly, our position was hopeless, we had no recreation facilities, the food was not sufficient to keep us in good health and there was complete boredom, nothing, but work and sleep.  The realisation came to us, that to survive and also help our sick mates, we would have to resort to stealing anything that could help us to survive.  We knew we were taking our lives in our hands, the punishment would be severe, if we were caught.  We became expert in the art of stealing and concealing, anything, that would help us to stay alive.  Sugar, fruit, tinned food, clothes and especially any sort of medicine or medical items, that we could lay our hands on, were brought back to the camp.  The Japs soon realised what we were doing, but only now and again did they search us, before letting us into the camp.  They had a good reason for doing this, as I will reveal later.  Usually the firms we went to work for gave us a meal at mid-day, which consisted of rice and seaweed or rice and dried fish, but somehow, we were always hungry.  As the months passed, we noticed a considerable decrease in shipping, it was noticed by us, as it was our only way to keep up with the war.  There had been no air-raids on Japan, and no rumours circulated in the camp.  During this period of time, several humorous episodes took place.  We had been unloading ships, carrying sugar and we decided to make the most of it.  That night, back at camp, everybody got to work making bags out of any spare cloth, which would fit to any part of body or around our neck and waist.  Normally a squad of fifteen men worked on a ship.  Next day the fifteen men were outfitted with these bags and told to bring back as much sugar they could carry.  After three days working, we had brought back to the camp a considerable amount of sugar which was very hard to conceal.  During the fourth day, while we were at work, the Japs had searched the camp and discovered the sugar.  That night we expected all hell would be let loose.  There was not much sleep that night.  The next morning, we were paraded before the Camp Commandant, before going to work.  He gave us a long lecture (through an interpreter) about how wrong it was to steal, he also said he could not understand why the Englishmen, who were gentlemen could resort to this sort of behaviour.  In conclusion, I am withdrawing all privileges (we do not know what he is talking about, as we had none), and you will have to work harder, now off to work.  That day we decided to take a risk, and carry back to camp as much sugar as we could possibly carry.  Bags of all sizes and shapes were filled and tied to arms, legs, round the waist, and worn like a scarf, prior to finishing that day.  After that days work, we were marched back to the camp, we must have looked a queer lot, with bulges all over our bodies.  We were halted at the camp entrance and counted by the guard, who reported all correct to the Camp Commandant.  On the order “dismiss”, we made a rush for the entrance, to get in fast.  A loud shout of “halt, back on parade” was heard.  We were shoved into line, and made to stand at attention, this was in the main street, in full view of the public.  The Commandant was approaching us, holding aloft a bag of sugar, which had loosened and fallen off someone’s leg.  He demanded to know who had dropped it, nobody would confess, which was expected.  On a negative answer, he gave the order that everyone must strip.  To the Commandant’s surprise, clothes and sugar bags were dropping all around us.  The public stared in amazement at us and the amount of sugar lying revealed.  After stripping, we were brought to attention, the Commandant came forward and began looking at the loot, in front of each person, he seemed to be more amused than angry.  On confronting one of them, he bent down to pick up one of the bags which had interested him.  It was a long slim bag, which obviously had been tied around a waist.  The Commandant swung the bag at the man’s face, he ducked, and the bag wrapped itself around the face of the Jap Guard who was standing behind, it was comical.  Nothing was said about this episode, much to our surprise, but it did reveal the reason and the thinking of them.  They were obviously letting us steal, then when we were at work, they would hold snap searches and keep what they found.  They had figured it out, that we were a good source of supply for them, hence the light punishment we received.  About a month later we received a very pleasant surprise, we were told to line up for a Red Cross issue.  This was the first and last time we would every receive anything from the Red Cross.  One parcel was issued to every ten men, to be shared amongst them.  The men decided that night, to give all the parcels that were issued to the men in the sick bay.  It would do them more good, than us.  The Japs were very surprised at our action.  There was a sad sequel to this event.  During the night, two of our lads had broken into the camp store, to see if there were any more Red Cross parcels, they were caught in the act.  The next day we found out they had been handed over to the Kempei (Military Police), they never returned to our camp, we feared the worst had happened to them.  Another amusing incident comes to mind.  We had been detailed to work on a ship carrying pig-iron, a very unpleasant job, we decided to cause as much trouble as we could.  We sabotaged the winch, which would be used for lifting the loaded pig-iron nets from the hold, in which we were doing the loading.  Normally, barges came alongside the ship to receive the pig-iron.  We watched the lifting hook coming down to us for the loaded mat, which would be about three ton in weight.  The mat was hooked up and we watched it rising slowly out of the hold.  We knew what was going to happen next.  The load swung out over, until it was in line with the barge hold.  The winchman released the down lever, but it came loose in his hand, the load went down much faster, than it came up and caused considerable damage to the barge.  In the ensuing panic, the Japs told us to stop work and to come out of the hold and give assistance.  We came up, out of the hold and made tracks for the ship’s dining hall where we were to receive instructions.  We started a hunt to see what we could pilfer.  One of the lads spotted a small larder, we found a large, dried, rock salmon and a fair sized ham, this was a prized find, now we had to figure out how to get it into the camp.  Recently, the Japs had started to search all work parties returning to the camp, as so much pilfering was taking place, so we would have to be very careful in taking our prized items into the camp.  It was decided that the salmon would be tied to the tab of a man’s jacket and allowed to hang down his back, another man would wrap the ham up in his jacket and carry his jacket over his arm.  This was part of the plan, the other part would be enacted when it came to the search at the camp.  On arrival at the camp, we halted and were then counted, then reported all correct.  The guard came forward and started the search.  Just then, a man further down the line dropped in a dead faint, the guard on seeing him drop, pointed to the man next to him, you pick him up and take him to the sick bay.  Our scheme had worked perfectly, the ham and the salmon, were safely in the camp.  The months were passing ever so slowly, complete boredom had taken hold of us, we had no recreation, no books, no news, but we did notice that the Japanese civilians were not particularly happy either.  So far, there had been no air raids on Osaka, we suspected that it would not be long before there would be.  Our camp was situated in the dock area and would be in a high risk area.  As the weeks passed, work on unloading the ships became less and less, very few ships were coming in.  We now knew, that the tide of war had turned against the Japs.  It was round about this time, that the three of us were transferred to a hospital as cooks.  The hospital was a space under a stadium, fitted with two raised wooden platforms.  There was no bedding, sanitation was non existent, no medicine and no medical equipment whatsoever.  The staff was four Jap medical orderlies, who never attended any of the prisoners.  We had a surgeon lieutenant from the Royal Navy.  This man performed miracles, with razor blades and sharpened ordinary kitchen knives.  He would do operations on men’s feet and bodies with these implements.  A lot of the patients had gangrene, so the doctor was flat out, operating on these patients.  The Japs were firm believers in the fact, that when a man was sick or injured, he was of no use to them, therefore, his rations were cut in half.  This was practically a death sentence to the patients as the rations were hardly sufficient to keep a healthy man alive.  The three of us, as the days passed, tried our hardest to get extra rations of rice from the Jap quartermaster, but we usually ended up by getting a blow on the face for our trouble,  The men were dying off like flies.  We three and the doctor, were really worried at this tragic loss of life due to the refusal of the Japs to give us medical supplies.  It was a terrifying experience watching men dying and not being able to help them in any way.  I was transferred back to the work camp after having a quarrel with one of the Jap orderlies, blows were struck.  Before leaving, I was given a good beating by the camp guards.  I arrived back at the work camp in a sorry mess, but I was really relieved that I was gone from that hospital of death.  There came the day when we heard the sound of lots of aeroplane engines droning overhead.  We could not tell whose, they could have been Japanese.  Shortly afterwards we heard the thump of bombs in the dock area and planes over Osaka.  We were overjoyed and boy, did we let the Japs know it, we now knew that the Japs were losing the war.  We were confined to the camp for a week and were not prepared for the sight, that beheld us, when we were eventually allowed out to work.  Everywhere was devastation, the city was flattened and this was after only one air-raid.  The docks were in ruins with warehouses gutted and rubble everywhere.  It was decided that the prisoners would start cleaning up the warehouse rubble.  I remember a particular day, one that affected me very much.  During the cleaning up operations, the Jap guards were very jittery and started taking it out on the prisoners.  We had been using handcarts for taking away the rubble and rubbish and we had been protesting at the size of the loads.  Running along the dockside, was raised railway lines, a big obstacle for loaded handcarts.  I remember very clearly, loading my handcart with burnt timbers and heading towards the railway lines which we had to cross.  A Jap guard spotted me and shouted at me, to come back.  He harangued me, to put more on top, I pointed out to him, that too big a load would topple off when trying to get the cart over the line.  That advice did not get through to him.  He took up a threatening attitude and started screaming more, more, you put more on top, so I did, knowing full well, what was going to happen.  At least, I would have the last laugh, as it turned out, it nearly was.  When the Jap was satisfied with my loaded cart, he told me to move off.  As I approached the raised railway line, I again pointed out to the Jap that it was foolish to try and get the cart over the line, but to no avail.  I got my cart to the railway line and proceeded to try and get it over the first line.  I managed to get one wheel over the line but in doing so, off went the load and the cart tilted over.  I stood there, laughing my head off not noticing the Jap guard heading towards me.  He had picked up a piece of timber and started hitting me about the face and head.  I saw red and grabbed him and immediately started to lay into him.  I think I was in a killing mood at this time.  Somebody pulled me away from him.  I gradually cooled down, as I was marched away by the other guards.  I knew I was in serious trouble.  The normal procedure would be, that I would be handed over to the Kempei (Military Police), and then never heard of again.  Much to my surprise, I was taken to a dockside hut, where my escort started beating me up, threatening me with the words, you dead, you dead.  I lost all sense of where I was and gradually lapsed into a sense of stupor.  I came to some time later with our camp doctor, washing my face, he told me I was in a sorry mess, he also told me I would be up before the Camp Commandant, that night, charged with seriously injuring a Japanese soldier, in the course of his duty.  I was a very nervous man, the rest of the day, yet the outcome did not worry me.  I had already suffered so much, since we were captured, that death seemed to be the best way out.  That night, I was taken out of the camp, under armed guard, and to the shouts of good luck Jim, we will see you soon.  Of course, nobody expected me to come back, neither did I.  If I was sentenced to prison, then conditions there would be no worse than the conditions we were serving under at present.  If I was sentenced to death, well, maybe it was speeding up the process of the slow death, which was inevitable if the war dragged on.  I arrived at the Commandant’s office, to the signs of much commotion, was ushered into the presence of the great one, the guard remained with me.  After some moments of sorting the paperwork, the Commandant started the questioning of what had caused me to strike the guard.  I told my story clearly, not missing out any points, relevant to the guard’s behaviour, or mine.  Much to my surprise, the Commandant seemed to be impressed with my side of the story against what the guard had said.  I was marched out of the office into an adjoining room to await the Commandant’s summary of the evidence.  I was recalled back to the office about forty minutes later, to hear my fate.  The Commandant then proceeded to tell me that owing to the punishment I had already received and to the truthfulness of my evidence, it has been decided that no further punishment is necessary.  Back to the camp, I was marched and dismissed much to the disbelief of my fellow prisoners.  Life settled down again to the usual drudgery of work, sleep and beatings.  We did not see any heavy bombing of Osaka after this, it was not needed that was our reasoning.  Everywhere was devastation and ruin.  The population of Osaka, were in complete shock, but their morale was still high.  Shipping was almost at a stand-still, no longer were we being detailed to work on the docks or ships.  The various factories now got our labour.  Time was passing very slowly, work seemed to be taking its toll of our health and food rations were cut.  It was well into 1944 when word came through that a squad of 40 men would be shifted to another camp called “Notogawa”, and I would be in that squad.


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


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