Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"

CHAPTER FOUR - No Geishas or Cherry Blossoms

In the final choice a soldier’s pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner’s chains.

—General Dwight Eisenhower

Our group was now split in two. It was a strange feeling seeing half of our group disappear into the darkness. This was the last time we were to see many of our comrades and some we were not to see until years later.
The 300 Canadians had straggled to the railway station in the drizzling rain. We boarded regular coaches, a pleasant surprise, as after our sea voyage in the hold of a collier we expected to be herded into box-cars. We were allotted two coaches on what must have been a regular run, as there were civilian passengers on the rest of the train.
The seating was smaller than on Canadian trains and quite hard, but it was heavenly after our recent experience. Everyone was tired and as the blinds were kept shut, most were soon asleep. We had no idea where we were going as the Japanese were quite paranoid about giving out any such information.
The next morning we stopped at a station, at what appeared to be a small town. We were not permitted off the train or even to lift the window blinds, but as usual there was somebody who was able to discover what was happening around us. Of all places, the benjo (toilet) had no blinds on the window! There were numerous people on the outside who were curious as to what strange cargo was behind the drawn blinds. From our side there was a rush to use the benjo, which was already overtaxed by those with chronic diarrhea.
We learned after much confusion, that the purpose of the stop was to pick up some food. Our first meal in Japan was a pleasant surprise. The guards with some civilian help handed out little wooden lunch boxes. These contained attractively arranged portions of rice, pickled fish and seaweed, and a small set of chopsticks. I wolfed down my breakfast and when the same procedure was repeated at noon, felt that this pleasant introduction augured well for a better future. Even I was optimistic.
The prevalent rumour was that we were destined for a show camp, working on a cattle farm to demonstrate to The Red Cross and the world, how well prisoners-of-war were being treated. I have always marvelled, while a prisoner and since, how such rumours originate, and why they seldom suggest anything but future delights. While we had been marching to the boat in Hong Kong, it was seriously mooted that we would be boarding a large Swedish liner, well marked with the Red Cross.
Perhaps it was better not to know the truth, that we were on our way to open Camp 5-B in NiiGata. This was to be the worst Camp in Japan, by any standard, in those days isolated enough from Tokyo to give the Camp Commander absolute power. Unfortunately the first and third Commanders turned out to be pathological personalities. As a result, the morbidity and death rate were to be staggering, much higher than any other camp in Japan. It was to be an unhappy introduction to the so called Land of Cherry Blossoms, Geishas and Chrysanthemums.
Late in the day our coaches were shunted off the main train and we were lined up on the station platform. There was a fair sized crowd of onlookers gawking at us as though we were from another planet. We were herded outside to some waiting trucks, where we could see the station sign “NIIGATA”. We had arrived.
It was some distance from the station to our camp which was located outside the city. It consisted of a two storey building with a small yard that could barely contain the three hundred of us. We were given a meal of barley and greens, while in the yard and following this the Camp Commandant made a grand entrance flanked by the honchos who were to be our foremen at work.
Lieutenant Yoshida was a small, squat, ugly man who remains as a clear photograph in my mind. He was smartly dressed, with the open white shirt collar draped over his army serge. His highly polished boots reached up to his knees and this with his trailing sword gave him a peculiar duck-like waddle. His thick horned rimmed glasses and two or three steel-capped front teeth completed the caricature.
He stood on a table and “welcomed” us to NiiGata. He screamed and shouted like a madman and we soon discovered that indeed that was what he was. Most of his talk was in Japanese, translated hesitatingly to his annoyance by a young interpreter whose English was obviously inadequate, but he ended by addressing us in English:
“You are prisoners of the Imperial Nipponese Army. The war will last a hundred years and you will be here forever.” Then drawing his sword, grasping it with both hands, he slashed it through the air, shouting: “This is the punishment for disobedience.”
The future did not look too bright as we bedded down for the night. For once there were no optimistic rumours.
The camp was woefully inadequate for three hundred men. There was only one outdoor pump for the water supply and no other washing facilities. The outdoor toilet or “benjo” could not hope to accommodate this many men, let alone such a group who almost all had chronic diarrhoea. The benjos were emptied periodically by “honeywagons” pulled by bullocks, as the Japanese still used night-soil as fertilizer.
Each person had a space the size of a tatami mat, about a metre by two metres, with about thirty or forty men to a room. A narrow hail ran along the building and that was it. There was a small shack outside where the cooking was to be done.
Apparently this was supposed to be a temporary camp, for use while the permanent camp was completed. It was temporary for four months.
We were divided into three groups, Rinko were to work in a coal dock, Shintetsu in an iron foundry and Marutsu as stevedores in a general cargo dock. I was unlucky and as number 124 was a member of the Rinko crew, which was by far the toughest place to work.
We were roused at five in the morning and after a breakfast of a potato and some greens we set out for our first day on the job. It was about a two mile walk to the coal docks where we were “welcomed” by the manager of the operation, Kojima, an older man with a long black beard, a black military style tunic and plus-fours to match. The dark ensemble was marred by the customary khaki army hat that all the Japanese men wore and brown puttees. He spoke quite tolerable English and commanded a good deal of respect from the honchos, so we knew he was the number one man. He gave us a repeat of the Camp Commandant’s speech in a lower key, emphasizing that we were there only to work for the greater glory of Japan. “Whiskers”, as he was known to us, was to be a hard taskmaster in the months ahead, and was indirectly responsible for many deaths. He had a good lawyer in the later War Crimes trials and was not punished, a miscarriage of justice.
Coal was brought from Manchuria and unloaded into small cars each holding about a half-ton. Each car pushed by one man along rails mounted on a trestle about 30 feet off the ground, was to be dumped over different storage places around the dock... or sometimes directly into a railway coal carrier on the tracks below. Other railway cars were loaded using the two baskets on a pole technique we had never mastered building the Kai Tek Airport in Hong Kong. Now we soon became experts as any error or slow down was rewarded with a sharp whack of the honcho’s stick.
By any standards it was a most inefficient primitive operation. The rickety trestle and crudely built coal cars belonged more to a scenario by Dickens instead of a country at war with the highly industrialized West.
NiiGata was quite a backwater in those days and no doubt Japan had some more modern industrialized areas then, but it still astonishes me to read how they are now using robots to make cars, leading the world in electronics and leaving us all behind in the world of business. What happened?
Most of us had no proper boots and this type of work was really tough on the feet, particularly feet swollen with beriberi. The Japanese who worked beside us had no such problems as they wore rubber-soled “tabis”, shoes with a split to accommodate the big toe. These were ideal for working on the high slippery trestle. Unfortunately we never did get any adequate footwear and the trestle took a heavy toll.
We were still wearing the clothes that we had been using in Hong Kong, most unsuitable for autumn in NiiGata let alone winter. I had picked up a sleeveless sweater in Bowen Road, and still had my original Canadian Army shirt and shorts. Somewhere along the line I had scrounged an old Al Capone type fedora of which I was very proud. It was great to keep the rain and snow off my face.
After we had been working for an hour or so it began to rain heavily, the first cold rain we had felt since leaving Canada almost two years previously. We were given straw raincoats. I remembered having seen pictures in “The National Geographic”, of Japanese peasants wearing these as they planted rice in the rain. It had all seemed so picturesque. Reality was quite a different picture! The coats soon became intolerably heavy and awkward with moisture, making manoeuvring on the trestle even more precarious and dangerous.
The foremen, known as “Honchos” or sometimes as “7Ups” because of the Japanese script on their armbands, were a mixed bag. A deplorably few were quite decent chaps who were understanding and perhaps even sympathetic to our problems. Others were just ornery and mean while still others were plain psychotic. They were all veterans of the army, most having served in China, who had been discharged from active service. As a general rule, the less action they had ever experienced, the harder they were on their charges.
They wore old army uniforms, complete with puttees, but without any military insignia. They all carried long heavy sticks, worn like samurai swords. Anyone who stepped out of line was given a whack with the stick, a very effective form of discipline.
In Japan the common hand signal to summon one is similar to what our body language uses to wave someone away. The consequent confusion could be quite hilarious even though it resulted in a sore head.
Sato was without doubt the worst of the honchos. He was small, even for a Japanese of those days and had a narrow, evil, hawk-like face. He was a sadist who was only happy if he was beating or shouting at some unfortunate. He walked, or more correctly, strutted about in a jerking gait like a bantam cock. Now I can understand that he almost certainly was a paranoid schizophrenic, who had been discharged from the army as mentally unfit. On the slightest suspicion he would unmercifully beat some poor soul into semi-consciousness. Even his fellow honchos were afraid of him.
In contrast, Saito, whose name only differed by a letter, was one of the good eggs. He was tiny, almost like a toy doll, and had a positively cherubic face. He would let us rest whenever the coast was clear and even shared the odd cigarette. At times he would shout and scream, but it was clear that his heart was never in it, and he was understandably under severe peer pressure. Oddly enough he was much decorated veteran who had been twice wounded.
What is surprising is that there were so few such guards or honchos. It would appear that they had been purposely screened to include mostly pathological personalities.
In comparison to the standard uniform of the guards and honchos, the dress of the P.O.W.s was an exercise in fantastic variations. Headgear varied from pukah-sahib topis to gangster type fedoras, the occasional wedge cap that had survived the war in Hong Kong and even the odd British regimental dress hat. South African and Australian wide brims contrasted sharply with the Japanese army caps that even the civilian workers wore.
Your prison camp number in Japanese script was on a flap sewed on the back of each hat. On the back of out shirts we had our numbers printed on a white cotton patch about a foot square.
There were many Japanese women in the civilian work force who worked beside us. They wore baggy trousers and padded jackets which would never make it into Vogue, but their appearance was not how I remember them. In contrast to the guards and the male workers they were always smiling and kept up a constant chatter punctuated by peals of laughter.
The work day was long, the conditions tough and the food most inadequate for such heavy labour. The first meals consisted of a potato and some greens. At first we were delighted to have a potato, but it soon became evident that rice or barley or sorghum was more filling. Seaweed was an occasional luxury and a more esoteric dish was grasshoppers cooked in soya sauce. These were quite tasty.
Reveille was at 5 a.m. The work party lined up at 6.00 and roll call was taken. This was often an exercise in confusion as some chaps never could master numbering off in Japanese, so it was usually 6.30 before we moved off. The coal yard was about two miles away and we were supposed to start work at 7.00.
There was next to no traffic as we trudged through the narrow streets; the odd bullock pulling a cart, the occasional truck and a rare car, sometimes with a big bag on top of it, filled with coal gas, as petrol was in very short supply.
Lunch was brought to us from the camp by a hand pulled cart and was cold. The potato was later replaced by a somewhat purple cereal which we called Korian. It was probably a form of sorghum. Usually there was a daikon soup made from the giant Japanese radish, and very rarely a small piece of fish or fish soup.
At 5.00 p.m. we were marched home. At first while the weather was still warm we were allowed a quick dip in the bay, which was wonderfully refreshing.
There was no place to move around in the barracks. We were confined to an area hardly larger than the space sufficient for each person to lie down. I remember the building as consisting of about ten large rooms, separated from each other by paper walls, connected by a hail that ran down one side of the structure. Thirty people were crammed into each room. We were each given a cotton blanket and a hard little pillow.
At one end of the building was the “benjo”, an outdoor toilet; at the other a pump, the sole supply of water for the camp. I forced myself to bathe every night in the cold water, which was a bit of an ordeal, but few did this and soon most were grimy with coal dust and before long everyone was lousy.
Such lack of elementary sanitation soon took its toll. Almost everyone got diarrhea with stomach cramps and vomiting. Food became scarcer and the weather turned cold and wet. We would return from work cold, hungry and despondent, with no chance of dry clothes, warm food or words of cheer. I was down to ninety pounds and could barely drag myself to work and back. I realized that if I was going to survive I would have to get off the coal detail.
One of the rooms had been converted into a hospital, if it could be called that. There was no doctor but two orderlies struggled to cope with the sick and dying. I approached the Japanese interpreter, Shiga, and told him I had been a medical student, which of course was not true, and that I would like to be a medical orderly. It was a desperate move and most disappointing when I received no enthusiastic response. The outlook was gloomy.
Shortly after this I had an acute bout of dysentery and had to go on the sick parade which was conducted by the Japanese Medical Corporal, Takeo Takahashi. The interpreter was there and told my story to him.. This time the reaction was more favourable as I guess they were overwhelmed by the numbers of sick and dying.
So I became a medical orderly again. It was a hard, thankless job as the small room set aside as a hospital was filled with cases of pneumonia and dysentery. The lack of a doctor and adequately trained personnel was compounded by the absence of any modem medications. We were given injections of camphor to use for pneumonia. This was understandably ineffective, in fact I sometimes wondered if it made things worse. The dysentery was treated with bismuth subnitrate, but we had no way of coping with the dehydration that was the killer.
As winter approached a curtain of gloom fell over the camp. There were no optimistic rumours.
Then a group of American prisoners arrived from Cabanatuan in the Philippines. They had been captured at Bataan and Corrigedor and were in much better shape than the Canadians. In the Philippines there had been a large farm at the camp, which kept them much better fed. They were better clothed, all had mess tins and water bottles and their high spirits temporarily boosted morale in the camp.
At first they boasted how easy the work was at Rinko, pushing the cars around at a great clip, but this did not last long. The diet, dreadful working and living conditions soon took their toll. Soon they were indistinguishable from the rest of us.
The only medical care, if it can be called that, was offered by Corporal Takeo Takahashi. He was a vain pompous little man who had been a dental assistant before the war, and did not hide his contempt for the prisoners. In the two years or so that he was in control of the health care of the camp, I never once saw him show any compassion for a sick or injured man. He would smile at the oddest situation and it was only after a long time I realized this facial gesture was to show off his gold tooth of which he was very proud. He dispensed useless powders to those with diarrhoea and the inevitable camphor injections to those with pneumonia. Nobody died without receiving a shot of adrenalin in the chest. He suspected even those at death’s door of malingering. Many died and more became disabled. Work parties shrunk to a fraction of their original size.
The Camp Commandant perhaps became frightened about possible blame by his superiors. There was no knowing whether he tried unsuccessfully to get a Western type doctor or whether he believed strongly in his home tutored medicine. In any event he arranged for two acupuncturists to treat, or at least to tend our ailments.
Two saffron robed gentlemen appeared early one morning. Those of us with the most severe dysentery or pneumonia were assembled in one hut and ordered to lie down. The acupuncturist kneeled beside the patient. After exchanging a few words to and from the interpreter and the sufferer, he took the patient’s pulse at both wrists and ankles, brooding over the count as some venerated Merlin in a mystic trance.
Some of the group he treated by inserting the conventional acupuncture needles into their skeptical hides, twirling the needles with remarkable dexterity.
Other sick prisoners were detoxified differently. Small cones of dried leaves were placed in a pattern of the Cross of Lorraine on the abdomen. The occasional patient had one placed on the pinna of the ear. These cones were then ignited and the tiny smouldering fires allowed to burn so far down as to raise a blister on the skin. The procedure was somewhat painful but no one whimpered. Pride dictated stoicism.
This type of treatment, known as moxybustion or moxa, is a cousin of acupuncture. The little cones are made of powdered mugwort leaves, (armesia vulgaris), the word moxa being a corruption of the word mokusa, meaning burning herb.
This scene was repeated several times over the next few days. The treatment was uniformly successful... in producing tender infected sores... the dysentery and pneumonia raged on unabated. In two or three weeks a British doctor arrived and the priests never returned.
The arrival of the doctor, Major Bill Stewart, R.A.M.C., helped raise the sinking morale. Even though there were next to no drugs available, it was comforting for the sick to be in the hands of a professional. He was a kind and gentle person who tried hard to cope with the impossible. We became close friends despite the difference in rank and background and it was largely due to his influence that I later went into medicine.
He was an Ulsterman, who had been in Singapore with the British Army, but after the surrender, managed to escape in a small sail boat, making it safely to Java. There he embarked on a British ship bound for Australia. Unfortunately the ship was sunk by a German raider and his bad luck was compounded when the raider dropped off all the passengers and crew in Japan.
The following is an extract from the report he gave the Canadian Government on returning home. It was written while en route from Tokyo to San Francisco while NiiGata was still fresh in his memory. This is copied from his original pencilled notes and I have not edited it in any way. His dates and some names differ from some of my text. No doubt his are correct as the passage of some forty odd years can somewhat dull the brain.
He and his charming wife, Helen, visited us in the summer of 1983 during which time he gave me these notes as well as some forbidden medical records I had helped keep in camp and had managed to hide from the Japanese.
“On August 25th, 1942 arrangements were made to transfer 160 officers and men from the ship to a Japanese Prison Camp. We were not informed of our status but were handed over like so much merchandise. We never did discover if the German Government retained any power of supervision of our welfare. Probably not, as we never heard from them again. Any reference to our previous status to the Japanese brought forth threats and punishment.
Conditions under Japanese rule were very different from what we had experienced. The Germans had questioned us civilly, fed and watered us and generally left us alone. The Japanese pushed us about, shouted at us and subjected us to all possible restrictions. The action of the guards was completely unintelligible and unpredictable. This resulted in a persistent mental strain which was to be the background of our lives until the day of release.
Kawasaki 1B in Tokyo was in comparison with the camp I subsequently went to, almost a model camp. It certainly was better than most of the other camps in Japan. The reasons for this I think were:
1. It was established in August, 1942 when Japan was in a victorious crest and anticipating a short war.
2. The men were all physically fit on arrival.
3. The men still recognized the authority of their officers, though the Japanese endeavoured to destroy this. They had not suffered the frustrations of defeat, beatings and other maltreatment with consequent degeneration of morale and disrespect for authority. This was to prove a great disadvantage in camps subsequently formed from drafts from Hong Kong and the Philippines.
4. Captain Cant, the senior officer, was a leader of outstanding quality, quite apart from the authority vested in his official position. Within a short time he had by tactful means, created a reasonable understanding with the camp officials. He convinced them that they would benefit from his assistance in handling the men. As it was done so tactfully and relieved them of many onerous duties, the Japanese soon saw the light. At times this exposed the Captain to cannonades from both sides, but he was up to the occasion.
The health of the P.O.W.s in Camp Kawasaki was good on arrival, and after a slump due to the change of diet, continued so. This was fortunate as there were next to no medical facilities available.
The main feature of this and other camps was work, work and more work. This was the consuming interest of the Japanese staff. Their efficiency was judged by a vague number, the average daily percentage of the camp population that went to work on outside projects. The various camp commandants sought to have this as high as possible regardless of the means employed. If the number fell below the target for that camp, then there was an immediate purge of the sick list.
Sick Parade was held every evening. If recommended to be excused from work the following day, they then had to see the Japanese Corporal or Private of the medical department. These men were completely ignorant of medical problems, having had only elementary first aid training. If they decided to admit a new case they would choose a boil over a mitral stenosis. The number of cases to be admitted was usually determined before the patients were ever seen.
“These men are here to work, not to be sick.” was the answer to any query on our part.
Men on the sick list were allowed only ‘/2 to 2/3 rations. Since local arrangements could usually be made for distribution of food through the camp, the total amount was reduced by any increase in the number of sick, and as most of the sickness was due to undernourishment, it was a no win situation.
Of those recommended to be excused, generally the Japanese only allowed fifty percent to remain off work. The remainder were termed malingerers and often slapped around a bit. Not too helpful a treatment. In an effort to keep this punishment to a minimum and remembering that a boil was more liable to get preferential treatment to severe heart disease or pneumonia, the numbers taken to see the Japanese medical orderlies were kept as small as possible. This was apt to lead to misunderstandings on the part of the P.O.W.s. Their lot was a hard one but on occasion they did not assist greatly those trying to help them.
The role of the medical officers in these camps was a unenviable one. Whatever policy pursued was certain of kicks from both the Japanese and the P.O.W.s. My personal policy was:
1. To try to fight the Japanese for all truly sick men, and those whose ailment caused pain or discomfort at work.
2. To try to appease and gain the confidence of the Japanese. This I considered of prime importance, and at a subsequent Camp, (NiiGata), I was to discover how important when all my authority was temporarily removed. When they took over the sick parade the results were disastrous. The number of men who went to work was initially and to the last day the only interest of the Japanese.
No consistent policy could be adopted as different Japanese required different handling. Some were responsive to flattery; others to feigned authority. However this sometimes resulted in the Medical Officer receiving a slug in the face.
On October 30, 1943 I left Kawasaki 1B under orders to proceed to NiiGata 5B, arriving there on the evening of the same day. This was the camp where I was to serve until peace came nearly two years later. Major Francis Fellows, Field Artillery, U.S. Army, was the senior P.O.W. and I got the story of the camp to that date from him.
The men were in temporary accommodation but were expected to move to permanent quarters under construction about a mile away.
The camp had opened two months before in September 3, 1943 with the arrival of 300 Canadians from Hong Kong. Early in October 350 Americans from the Philippines arrived. Neither contingent initially had any officers or a Medical Officer. On October 20th five American officers and 3 U.S. Medical Corpsmen arrived.
The report I got was a grim one. No clothing, inadequate housing, no washing or bathing facilities, starvation level diet and overwork. There had been constant rain and high winds. The Canadians especially were in poor shape. Seven had died to date and many were acutely sick at present. Their deaths were to arise to 102 before we were released.
There were approximately 150 excused from work, malnutrition, beri beri, pneumonia and dysentery being the leading causes. A room was in use as the hospital ward. There were approximately 30 mats all occupied, including 12 pneumonia cases. There were a dozen more acute pneumonia in quarters as well as many cases of dysentery, severe polyneuritis, oedema and injuries from work. All this obviously indicated gross, callous neglect on the part of the Japanese.
Worst of all was my first interview with the Japanese Camp Commandant, Lieutenant Yoshida. I told him that the men needed rest from work, relief from exposure until adequate clothing and housing could be provided, better food and proper medication.
He informed me in the toughest of tones that these men had been sent here to work, and work they would or die. Unfortunately, before the winter was out many did both. Others managed to survive, but remained physical and mental wrecks to the end of the war.
There were three work projects:
This was the worst assignment and consisted of loading freight cars with coal from Manchuria, or pushing coal cars around a high level track to different storage areas.
This was rather a primitive foundry such as would have been found in the United Kingdom at the turn of the century. The work in here was general labour and had the advantage of being inside.
General stevedoring on the docks. This was the choicest as there were opportunities to pilfer food and other goods.
The Evening Sick Call began later that evening, when the men came in from work cold, wet and without hope. There was no room available for this, certainly no space in the hospital, so the men lined up in the corridor. They wanted to see the newly arrived doctor, hoping chiefly to be excused from duty. About half the work force was there. One look at them confirmed my belief that no more than 10% were fit for work of any kind.
Most had diarrhea, if not that they had oedema of the legs in all degrees, depending on how dehydrated they had become from the diarrhea. Many were so weak they could hardly stand. Some fell and were carried away. Slowly they filed by, that is if they were allowed to because many were intercepted by a Japanese guard or Honcho who slugged them with a stick. The Japanese worked on the principle that if they were sufficiently sick this treatment would not dissuade them.
There was no treatment to be given. All that could be done was to separate those who were most likely to die. This was the first of what was to become a daily nightmare. Nevertheless it did seem better than the system which had been in practice before I arrived. Under that system there had been no sick call at night except for “treatment”. The following morning all men who had been at work the previous day paraded for work. Anyone considering himself not fit reported to the Japanese guard. I had helplessly watched as one man was beaten into unconsciousness the morning after my arrival because he had reported sick. I decided that at least that must stop.
Day after day the same scenes were enacted. The most acutely ill were taken into the hospital room; the excused were examined daily; interminable lines waited to see me each evening. An effort was made to have as big a turnover as possible daily, resting a man for three or four days. It was extraordinary that a simple rest from work for three or four days should have been the means of preventing a man’s death. Such was the delicacy of the dividing line.
The sick excused list had risen from about 150 to 240 after about a month. The general health seemed to be improving. Some men had more clothing than others. Major Fellows had managed to have this more evenly distributed. It almost seemed as though things might get better.
News of the increase in the sick list reached Tokyo. A warrant officer of the Medical Corps, Sergeant Major Fugi, was sent to take the necessary steps. He ordered all to work except 20 and those in the hospital. Men who had been recovering immediately lost ground and so it went on.
On December 24th, 1943 we moved to the newly built camp. Our temporary quarters had been bad, but these were unspeakable. The buildings were not completed. There was no kitchen; food was cooked two miles away and what was left after local pilfering was brought into camp cold. Probably only 50% of our allotment reached us.
There were no windows in the buildings. The window areas were roughly boarded up, leaving large cracks through which snow and rain found their way. There was no water supply in the camp, water being brought in big wooden barrels. There was no heating, no chance of getting a warm-up even once a day.
The men were hungry, cold, wet and miserable; they would stop at nothing for food. Some gave up hope. Some still hoped they might get a day off through sick call.
Then on New Year’s Day of 1944 at 2.00 A.M. one of the buildings with 50 men in it collapsed, killing eight and seriously injuring twelve.
Work parties continued throughout all this. The men returning each evening brought in stories of cruel punishment by beatings, until such occurrences became so much routine that they lost all their news value. Morale fell to a new low. Death had revealed itself to be a biological fact of life. No one smiled. Hardly anyone spoke. Self respect had gone overboard. It is difficult to maintain self respect with constantly streaming diarrhoea and no toilet paper or adequate substitute.
Long lines still waited each evening to see the Medical Officer. Each told his complaint in a matter of fact way. Frost bitten feet were common because of defective footwear or oedema making it impossible to put on boots. Still they had to trudge to work and still it rained and still it snowed. Still the Japanese did not change, and still they called me into their office daily and ordered me to stop the men dying, and still they refused to consider my recommendations.
Finally in mid January they finally realized that something must be done. They admitted the camp was not a success! We were moved to still another set of quarters.
The camp was now split into two sections; Shintetsu, (the foundry men), were moved to one camp and Rinko, (the coal workers), and Marutsu, (the dock workers), to another. From now on we had little contact with the Shintetsu group.
The Rinko and Marutsu Camp was a great improvement over the others as regards housing. We were still very much overcrowded, but this was not a serious disadvantage at this stage.
Four stoves were installed and the men would all carry back pieces of coal from the Rinko Works. Everyone had a weekly bath at work and toilet paper, soap and more clothing were provided.
At this time we received our first Red Cross parcels since arriving in Japan and morale soared.
There was no let up in the amount of work expected but the walk to work was much shorter and the attitudes of the honchos more lenient. With the general improvement in conditions in camp the hope grew that spring would bring better days yet.
The Japanese guards were still as belligerent as ever. In fact two of the most brutal crimes occurred during this period. We still had 15 to 20 deaths per month but most of these were the aftermath of previous pathology.
About the middle of March a new Camp Commander was appointed, a 2/Lt. Nemeto. Although not entirely satisfactory, he took more interest in the camp and definitely curbed to some extent the irresponsible action of the guards. Previously they had roamed continuously throughout the P.O.W. quarters armed with fixed bayonets, using these and rifle butts indiscriminately against all and sundry for no apparent reason. It was a great relief to see Yoshida go.
On April 1, 1944 we moved back into the camp we had just vacated, the buildings now at last having been completed. A kitchen had been built, there was running water and even a big bath house and much more room in the barracks. Rest days were established on a regular basis for all men, four days a month.”
This is all of Dr. Stewart’s diary that I have available. It may be that he did not write more than this, as he became heavily involved in the later War Crimes Trials.
Full Text of GUEST OF HIROHITO Please Click Below for:
CHAPTER ONE - Before the Battle Page 1
CHAPTER TWO - My War Page 18
CHAPTER THREE - Prisoner in Hong Kong Page 32
CHAPTER FOUR - No Geishas or Cherry Blossoms Page 54
CHAPTER FIVE - Fears, Hopes and Freedom Page 73
CHAPTER SIX - Another World Page 101
CHAPTER SEVEN - Epilogue Page 118
Appendices: Excerpts from War-Crime Trials Page 136
Return to GUEST OF HIROHITO Introduction Page
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