Haku San Jou Nei
The concluding chapter
When my leave was up I returned to Cosford and found that the information I had asked for about my two pals was waiting for me. One had been to North Africa and Italy in charge of an airfield fire appliance and had survived the war; we met up later. The other had achieved his life long ambition and had become a Spitfire pilot. Taking his first operational flight on an offensive sweep over France, at a time when German FW190's ruled the skies, he had been shot down and killed. I felt terribly sad at the news. He was such a lovely chap who, before joining up, had worked at Liberty's in London. I remember that he had taken me along there to meet some of the staff when I spent a weekend leave at his home.
Not long after this I started to lose much of the weight I had gained on my long journey home. I went for numerous tests to find out if I still had worms but the results were negative. It appeared that my problem was that the starvation diet and infestations had damaged the lining of my stomach. I was married and everything seemed fine, but I was still not feeling right. Lena started to buy baby food for me, which seemed to help with the healing process. I was very happy for the first time in years, but then the nightmares started.
In my nightmares I was experiencing the ill treatment over and over again. During this period I needed to have a tooth removed and was given an anaesthetic. Once unconscious, I was back in Japanese hands again being beaten and maltreated. As I came to, I heard the dentist say, with concern in his voice, "We are supposed to stop pain!" I knew then that they had heard my reaction to what was going on in my head. I felt mortified. From then on, Lena was the only one I could turn to and relax with. I didn't want anyone else to know. I'm aware that some people feel that we should forgive and forget, but I still feel that that they owe me for three and a half years of slave labour. Their inhumanity I will never forget; the scars are too deep.
Inevitably, those parts of my story, which concern my life as a Japanese Prisoner of War, only relate to some of the events that occurred during my three and a half years of captivity. They don't attempt to record the day-to-day existence that, at times, was quite unbearable and soul destroying. Looking back on it, Hakodate was a terrible place and is still difficult to shut out of my mind. I recall that, at the start of each day, Japanese soldiers rushed into the hut where we laid on the matting floor and prodded us with bayonets, expecting us to leap to our feet instantly. If you didn't get to your feet as smartly as they wanted, there would be harder and more painful jabs. A quick wash in freezing water, then for breakfast a half-pint mug of rice with the same amount of soup which consisted mainly of water with some bits of green vegetable floating in it. Lunch consisted of the same amount of rice with an inch of fish, something like a herring, or if lucky, a sardine. This we took to work with us packed in a small wooden box.
Once breakfast, if you can call it that, was over we were herded out of the hut, lined up, counted and then marched off to work through ice and snow; I remember that our feet were soaked through in no time. Our footwear was rubber soled ankle boots with coarse cotton uppers. Once we reached the docks we were lined up and the dock foreman took over. We were then put to work, wire brushing, scraping and removing rust from the ship's sides and decks. It was back breaking work and we were watched constantly and encouraged to greater effort with frequent shouts of "Speedo! Speedo!" Within minutes, my hands were frozen and I developed deep cracks in my fingers to add to the pain. The bitterly cold winds off the sea just added to the misery. At lunch break we would try to find some shelter from the icy wind though there was not much available. The decks were always wet and often covered in blustery snow so we would crouch down with our backs against the cold metal to eat our rice and fish. The short lunch break over, it was then back to work until about 4.30pm when we were again lined up, counted and marched back to camp. To add to our misery and humiliation we were forced to sing Japanese songs as we marched, receiving blows of encouragement if we hesitated or faltered.
The snow was always deeper once we left the streets behind, often with deep drifts nearer the camp, which was on a headland overlooking a bay. If our sadistic Commandant felt even more sadistic than usual he would force us to stand in the deep snow singing for another twenty or thirty minutes before we were allowed back into the shelter of our huts. Inside the hut were five small barrel shaped stoves with a small amount of coal and once in, we rushed to get them alight. It is difficult to visualise it now, but there were two hundred and twenty men all trying to crowd round these small fires in a futile attempt to thaw out their frozen bones and to dry their sodden clothing. Even then there was no rest; some of us had to collect the barrels of rice and soup for our evening meal. There was the same amount of rice but the soup was usually thicker having been made with potato or pumpkins and occasionally, if we were lucky, included oxo sized cubes of meat. When divided out into individual rations, there would be two of these meat cubes for each person which we all ate as slowly as possible to make it last. In the meantime, we would have odd cans of water warming on the stoves to drink with our meal, helping to fill and warm our stomachs.
Once we had finished our meal, the next task was to wash our food bowls with cold water before washing ourselves and attempting to shave. It was still a matter of personal pride that we were trying to look smart in spite of our filthy clothes. During all this time, Japanese soldiers were walking about, in and out, watching our every move. Each time one entered, we had to stop whatever we were doing and bow to them. Even so, they always tried to find something wrong with some unfortunate soul and knock him about a bit. Fires had to be extinguished and the stoves cleaned by 7.00pm, our tasks completed in less than two hours. That didn't leave much time for a chat! We then had a roll call in Japanese, taken by an officer accompanied by a guard of soldiers. Then we could fall into bed, removing our still wet trousers, which we laid on top of our blankets hoping they would be a bit drier in the morning.
The rest of our clothing, which consisted of patched Japanese Army heavy drill, we would sleep in, hoping to keep out the penetrating cold. The soldiers constantly patrolled; no talking allowed, you've survived one more day. Unlike some of the men, I had no wife and family at home to worry about. Once in bed, you'd try forgetting where you were; your sore hands and aching body. The first thoughts that entered my head were of food, roast dinners, an easy chair and a roaring fire. Then I would try to work out how much they owed me in back pay and wonder how much longer in this awful place. Finally some warmth seeped into my body and I would fall asleep. All too soon there would be the jabbing bayonets forcing me once again to jump to my feet. Once a week there was a communal bath for all; no change of water. We had to wash both our bodies and our clothes in the same water so, not surprisingly, men were becoming sick and dying. This was our existence; day after day, week after week. For Java, simply change the snow and cold for blazing sun and thirst. At Ohasi, working in the mines was a respite from the guards as they were frightened to come into the once disused mine, which had only been re-opened to aid the Japanese war effort.
In 1988 I was invited to spend 5 days at the RAF Hospital in Ely for a thorough health check. When I saw the Psychiatrist, his first words were "How are the nightmares?" I told him, "They re not as frequent now as they been in the early years, but they were still with me." He explained that we should never have been expected to lead a normal life without extensive treatment; counselling I suppose they would call it now. He asked if I had told anyone about my POW treatment but if I hadn't, the first thing I should do when I got home was to write it down. He felt certain that the simple process of writing about those events would provide some healing of the scars I held deep inside me.
I followed his advice and can honestly say that it helped tremendously. Readers of the Village Pump have now read these jottings. To summarise all that befell me, I guess I recovered as well as I did because I was young when I was captured. My long rehabilitation owes much to my Lena, who has been my prop throughout the long years of recovery. I look at the Japanese now and see that to some extent they have become Americanised and have now moved into the twenty-first century. But you only have to watch their game shows on television to see that they still have that cruel sadistic streak. The more pain they can heap and humiliation they can heap on the contestants, the more enjoyable they find it. Perhaps we POWs were merely contestants in an early game show. It was called World War Two!