Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"

CHAPTER SIX - Another World

Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal
outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as
a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing.”
It would say; “I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.”

—William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

It is difficult for me to write about my return home and the first few years in Canada. Strange that it should be that way, now that more than forty-four years have passed. In some ways they were harder on me than the years in prison camp. There the only goal was to survive.
The trip to Guam took only a few days. The food was fabulous, even though by now we did not try to eat everything in sight. The American Navy spared nothing to give their men the best of rations. It was great fun to meet old friends we had not seen since leaving Hong Kong and exchange our naturally exaggerated stories of experiences in Japan. The warmth of meeting those who survived was tempered by the news of those in other camps who did not make it.
Once again, after being hospitalized, we were run through a battery of tests, examinations and interrogations.
I was impressed with how much the Intelligence Officers already knew of our captors, especially the bad guys, in the short time that had elapsed.
Then the blow struck. I was called in by one of the medical officers.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, Cambon.”, he said all too sympathetically.
I thought that he was going to tell me that my family had been wiped out or some other similarly horrendous external news. I couldn’t imagine anything being wrong with me as I was already gaining weight.
“It looks as though you may have tuberculosis.” he very slowly said. “We are going to have to follow this up with some more tests.”
My heart fell. I had visions of the poor creatures my family used to visit in the T.B. Sanatorium at Jeffery Hale’s Hospital in Quebec, lying on the screened balcony, even in the coldest winter weather. At that time the theory was that constant fresh air was the only way to handle the disease. Many never left the place, and as a child I always thought they had probably frozen to death. I immediately began to think how I could get out of this place.... a prisoner once more.
I hardly slept that night and scarcely ate anything the next day when I had more X-Rays and other tests. I knew I had to get out of there.
Two days later the same doctor came to see me, this time with a big grin on his face.
“Well, Cambon, you need not look so glum. I’ve got some good news for you today. Your Chest X-Ray is clear and so are your sputum tests so I guess you can go back to your group.”
Guam was an impressive sight. In a couple of years what had been a sparsely settled tropical island had been changed into a large military base pulsating with activity. The rows of buildings, the large air base, the bustle of trucks, huge earth-moving equipment and other vehicles were a tribute to American know-how and organization. I had a ride in a jeep, the driver amazed that I had been in the army over five years and had never before seen a jeep.
Our activities there were somewhat restricted as there were still some Japanese troops on the island who had never surrendered. I did manage to go and see some Japanese P.O.W.s, which was a curious change of stations. Some of them were not yet convinced that Japan had surrendered. I think I managed to persuade them otherwise, relating where I had spent the last forty-four months. It was a rather bizarre experience, and despite my background or perhaps because of it, I felt a twinge of sympathy for them. I still hate to see even an animal or a bird in a cage.
We devoured the latest newspapers and magazines. The atom bomb and all its implications took my attention. I was politically very naive, and probably still am. I was worried that the victors would make the same mistake as they did in 1918, and by punishing the defeated powers too severely, would lay the seeds for another catastrophic war. Looking at the success of the Germans and even more so the Japanese, it is evident that my crystal ball was badly clouded.
One did feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle. Who was Frank Sinatra? Who were all those generals whose names were bandied about and what had they done? General MacArthur, whose name to my friends from Bataan and Corrigedor was anything but on their Christmas card list, was now a great hero. I never met one American from the Philippine contingent that had a good word to say about him. He was known to all as “Dug-out Doug”. Like our brass in Hong Kong, he never visited the troops who were doing the fighting. In Corrigedor, according to George Francis, he never ventured out of the operations room tunneled deep into the rock. The consensus was that without him the resistance would have been much better organized.
Almost everything was a revelation. Jet airplanes, bazookas, the list was endless, we had really been born again. It was appalling to read how the Germans had deliberately tried to liquidate the Jews and other “undesirables”. I only hoped it was all propaganda. We, because of our involvement, almost expected this type of action from the Japanese. But from the Germans? It must have been exaggerated. Wrong again.
I was going to say the first movie was an unforgettable experience, but alas I cannot remember its name. It was also the name of a song and was about a veteran returning home. What was really impressive in it was not the somewhat corny dialogue, but the scenes of North American homes and streets, cars and women and children.... , especially children laughing and playing.
The first taste of beer was disappointing. It seemed odd to have beer in a can, and perhaps the power of suggestion was such that it made it taste a bit tinny. I still had a very sweet tooth, as is usual for anyone deprived of adequate food for a long period, and no doubt that was also a factor. This experience has continued to prejudice me against American beer and I no doubt quite unfairly wonder why the world’s leading nation drinks such lousy beer.
In a few days after we had been dewormed and generally detoxified we boarded the U.S.S. OZARK for the trip home. Sailing the South Pacific at that time of year was a delight. The meals continued to be first class and one could have as much as he wanted. The U.S. Navy had to be the best fed military organization in the world.
There was plenty of time to sit on deck, lounging in the sunshine, watching the dolphins display their acrobatics as the bow cut through the sea.
For the first time I began to wonder quite seriously where I might fit in the new world ahead of me. I reviewed my qualifications and came to the reluctant conclusion that I really had next to no curriculum vitae. After finishing Grade Eleven in 1940 I had taken a job in what in those days used to be called a soda fountain. Certainly I had no intention of returning to that job. The pay was ten dollars a week and rare tips. The hours were long and the work quite demanding, although it did turn me into a good short order cook, one skill I never lost.
Saturday was pay-day, and on this particular Saturday my pay had been halved because I had broken a coffee percolator. Walking home I passed a recruiting sign for The Royal Rifles of Canada and felt a burst of patriotism when I discovered the pay was a $1.30 a day. I never did go back to the soda fountain. Perhaps they were relieved as well. Instead I joined the army on a sunny July day in 1940. I lied about my age as one had to be nineteen to enlist. Nobody could have believed that I was that old, as I was not yet seventeen and looked even younger.
What about trying for a job at the Montreal Gazette? I had been a star salesman-carrier in my last years of school, and in the final year had worked in the Quebec office after school. But what could I do now? It was painfully evident that I had nothing to offer them. The “training” of the last five and a half years produced few skills in great demand.
Better still, what about going back to the Orient? I knew several old China hands very well who had been comfortably established in Hong Kong before the war. There was bound to be some action there, and then again if I perfected my Japanese there might be real opportunities with the Army of Occupation in Japan.
My horizons were shaped by the memory of the depression. Life had not been easy for our family and opportunities limited. I thought about going back to school and University but knew that such a possibility would be remote. In Quebec City, where I had grown up, only the wealthy could consider going to University. Scholarships were inadequate to cover the costs of going to live in Montreal and having to pay room and board. Besides I was hardly scholarship material and one was expected to help support the family.
I gave no more thought to the future, as we stopped for water, fuel and provisions in Hawaii, where we had the traditional welcome with hula dancers and music. About a half dozen of us managed to get off the ship to have a look around. I thought it most unlikely I would ever return to such a paradise and my comrades agreed. One of them had a Japanese sword which was an item in great demand by the local military. It sold for 200 dollars which seemed a fortune to us.
Despite our unorthodox dress with which we had been outfitted in hospital in Guam, we managed to avoid drawing the attention of the Military Police for some time.... a refreshing and really surprisingly innocent interlude, during which we quickly disposed of the two hundred dollars.
This ended when the M.P.s finally caught up with us. At first they did not believe our story of being returned P.O.W.s and Canadians at that, but soon we were whisked off to the Naval Hospital. Here we were treated royally again and fitted with Marine uniforms. I am sure no one really believed our tale about missing the boat.
The next day I was brought to what I believe was the British Consulate. There I was paraded before an old red-faced Colonel. (He probably was all of forty years old.)
He looked at me sternly and said: “Rifleman Cambon, you are in deep trouble. You understand what deserting the ship means.”
“Yes sir”, I replied meekly.
“Do you know what we are going to have to do?”
“No sir.”
“We are going to have to fly you home”, he answered with a broad grin.
We were then taken to a Canadian Hospital ship which was in port on its way to Hong Kong. To our surprise, Kay Christie, one of the nursing sisters on the ship, had been with us in Hong Kong. She had been repatriated with civilians and diplomats in 1942. We were the first returning P.O.W.s she had met and was naturally very interested in hearing of our experiences and especially what had become of old friends.
I would gladly have stayed longer on the ship, as it was so clean and uncluttered and the hospitality was so warm. No doubt it was good for the ego to be the centre of interest. However, all too soon we were whisked off and bundled into a large seaplane.
This was to be my first airplane flight. I had watched many big bombers land and take off in the early days at Gander, Newfoundland, as they were being ferried over to England, and thought at the time I should have joined the Air Force. It was so inspiring to watch them rev each motor up as they strained at the end of the runway, and then streaked down the tarmac to soar into the distance.
The inside of the plane, which I believe was called a PBY, was a maze of aluminum pipes fitted together to make stretchers. These lined the sides and were stacked in three layers, as I remember it. We were strapped in these for takeoff. This sounds as if it was uncomfortable but in truth I felt more at ease than in the canned sardine ambience of current economy flights.
We took off with a great roar and seemed to take forever before being airborne. The ride after that was surprisingly smooth and despite the noise of the engines I started to doze. In what seemed like only a few minutes the co-pilot came back to the cabin.
“We are setting down.” he said quite calmly, “Make sure your straps are tightly fastened.”
I was amazed that we should have already reached San Francisco, and with good reason. An engine was on fire and we were making a forced landing. Landing is probably not the correct term as we were coming down on the water. It was not a big deal as we descended quite smoothly and really did not know that anything was wrong until a crewman went out with a fire extinguisher, and a patrol boat came alongside to take us off.
The next morning we took off again in an identical plane and had an uneventful trip, but this time I did not doze at all. I thought I must be dreaming as we flew over The Golden Gate Bridge, even more beautiful than I had imagined.
My only regret about the Hawaii interlude was that I had left my little pack on the ship, the little pack that I had kept ready for the expected escape from NiiGata. In it were some notebooks and “The Pocketbook of Verse” that had meant so much to me. It is out of print now, but I was able to find another one in a second hand bookstore in Montreal. Two small diaries were rescued by a friend and returned to me later in Canada. Fortunately for the world of literature, the rest must have gone into the garbage.
I spent the next few days in the Naval Hospital across a bridge from San Francisco. Here the same procedures that had been done in Guam were repeated. Several American Marines who had been in our camp at NiiGata were in the same ward. We had no difficulty in getting out of the hospital in the evening and walked over the bridge into San Francisco.
The trip almost ended in disaster. The first bar we entered refused to serve me a drink, as I looked so young, really quite a justifiable action. Willoughby, a big tough marine, reached over the counter, grabbed on to the unfortunate barman and gave him a lecture, (perhaps there might be a better term for his prose), on just who I was.
For a moment I thought the other barman was going to call the military police. Instead with the generosity so typical of Americans, he announced that the drinks were on the house. This was a relief but also a mixed blessing as that bar was all I saw of San Francisco. It was only many years later that I returned to visit and love that wonderful city.
The hospital authorities kept a close eye on us for the next few days and we were then sent to join a contingent of Canadian ex-P.O.W.s going by train to Seattle. From there we took a ferry to Victoria in sparkling sunny weather, a scenic delight!
We stayed a few days in Victoria where we had a great welcome, pipe bands, young Scottish dancers and crowds of happy relatives. I fell in love with the West Coast and decided that if I remained in Canada it would be my home. For once I was right.
The barracks at Gordon Head were a pleasant surprise; other ranks had sheets on the beds and the food was even better than in the U.S. Not the beans for breakfast I recalled so well on my initiation to army life. Even privates had ties and comfortable shoes. It was surprising to hear that food had been rationed and hilarious to discover how much was allotted.
At last we started the final leg of the route back to Quebec City. It was a very pleasant trip as we all had proper berths. We were being badly spoiled.
At Winnipeg most of the Grenadiers were met by hordes of relatives, bands were playing and it was great to stand on the platform and watch it all. It was not fun and games for everyone. Already some had heard of deaths of wives and children, while others had received “Dear John” letters.
The next day some Counsellors from The Department of Veterans’ Affairs boarded the train. They briefed us on the different options available to returning servicemen. Canada has to be very proud of the way they helped veterans of the Second World War, more so than any other country.
I was astounded to hear that the Government would pay my tuition and also give me 60 dollars a month to go back to school. This was more than the 10 dollars a week I had earned as a soda-jerk, or a “fountaineer”, as we called ourselves at The Citadel Cigar, opposite the City Hall in Quebec City. For the first time I began to think that perhaps I could go to University and possibly become a doctor.
In Montreal a reporter from the Montreal Gazette came aboard, sent by George Carpenter, who had been the Circulation Manager when I was a carrier, and was now the Managing Editor. He sent me a personal welcome message and invited me to visit Montreal at the paper’s expense. This was a very gracious gesture and typical of the newspapermen I have had as friends since then. He also advised me to go back to school.
The Quebec Railway station was jammed with people. The band was playing our regimental march as we all trooped off the train searching for familiar faces. We were the first of The Royal Rifles to make it back and I am not sure just what people expected to see.
I had no difficulty recognizing my family as they were in the front of the crowd. It had been a long time.
The first few days at home were spent getting to know the family again. It was difficult to adjust to a soft bed and home cooking but much more difficult to adapt to the family patterns which were expected of me. I was no longer the young boy who had left to join the army, nor could I play the role of the returning hero. Real heroes seldom make it back.
My two sisters had both been overseas. Margery (Bunny) had been one of the first Nursing Sisters to go overseas, and I had not seen her since 1940 when I joined the army. Noreen had been in the Air Force as a W.D. Officer involved with the radar operations in Britain. Bunny had been married to a Canadian Sergeant who was still over on the continent. They had been married by my mother’s brother, John, who had been a chaplain in World War 1 and later became a Canon in The Church of England. My uncle Chris (the one who had shot the colonel of the regiment) who was then Regimental Sergeant-Major of the Royal African Rifles, was also there.
Bunny had been chosen with four other nurses to join the First Canadian Plastic Surgery Team at Basingstoke, which was most demanding work dealing with badly burned patients. The group remains in contact after all these years.
Noreen was planning to go into nursing and had been accepted to train at Vancouver General Hospital, beginning in a few weeks.
My brother was nine years younger than I and had been in elementary school when I had left, and was now in high school. We all had a lot of catching up to do.
My mother was a very dominant lady and it had been a matriarchal family. She was quite disappointed that I did not care to go on public display or cater to some of her other whims. She had always been very over-protective of the family and it was not too long before I began to feel smothered. Now I wish I could have been a little more understanding.
My father had always been far in the background. Indeed my mother had left him twice to return to Ireland for prolonged stays, the last time with the three children. I had scarcely known him when I left for the Army, but did know that he had come to the U.S.A. from Scotland as a young man with no money and little education.
When I was a little boy I remember him coming home from work with frosty icicles dripping from his nose in the bitter cold of the Quebec winter. He would reach into the deep pocket of his greatcoat and dig out a fig or a date for me. But he made no decisions, nor was he asked. I cannot remember him ever having a holiday.
On my return we had many long walks in the crisp fall evenings, and he did the talking. He was a quiet man and was very proud of me and was anxious that I should avoid at least some of the mistakes he had made. .. , especially not ever getting an adequate education. He told me of his early days in America when he had survived by playing a saxophone, other times painting picture postcards and he even had done some professional clog-dancing.
He left Scotland to go to the U.S.A., landing there with only a few pounds. He played in several eastern orchestras before deciding to come to Canada, where he joined the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Band in Kingston. That is where he met and married my mother. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Quebec City.
Like the proverbial lad of twenty-two I was amazed how articulate and worldly-wise my father had become while I had been away. We developed a close, warm relationship that unfortunately did not last nearly long enough as he died shortly after I returned. He was only fifty-eight years old. One of my deepest regrets is that he never lived to see me graduate from University.
The first two or three weeks at home involved a good deal of socializing with high school friends and some chaps from the regiment. This really consisted of sitting in smoky bars, reliving our war experiences and drinking a good deal. Soon I was bored with this and knew that it was not meant for me. Mother was annoyed at the late nights, and more so at the occasional night that I failed to return.
I became very restless and anxious, developing bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. Food was no longer the most important thing in my life. I was still trying to decide what to do. I even took a train down to New York with a friend. We saw all the usual things at very little expense as veterans were still treated handsomely. But it did nothing for me.
Shortly after my return I got a call from George Carpenter, the managing editor of The Gazette. He invited me up to Montreal just as he had promised, and put me up at The Windsor Hotel. We had a long talk and he again advised me to go back to school. He suggested I should go up to McGill University and find out the score.
I was naive enough to go right to the Faculty of Medicine. The Registrar, Dr. McIntosh, a kind man, was very understanding as he explained to me that before going into medicine it was necessary to take at least three years of undergraduate studies. This threw me for a loop as I had no idea of “wasting” seven or eight years. Then he added that I had to realize that I would be fairly low on the list of applicants, as preference had to be given to veterans. I was in civilian clothes and probably looked like a recent high school graduate.
Happily, I refrained from any sarcastic answer, but let him discover that I had been in the army for 65 months and indeed still was a member of The First Battalion, Royal Rifles of Canada. He was just great to me and encouraged me to go to register for the next semester in the Faculty of Arts.
I made the big decision. I abandoned forever the idea of returning to the Far East. Now in my old age I wonder how I would have made out there. Would I have ever become a real Taipan in the board-room or just another seedy expatriate at the bar in the club? So I returned to Quebec City and requested my discharge from the Army. There was a certain resistance from the Medical Authorities, but I persuaded them that I wanted out. Indeed my only real military distinction is that I was the first Hong Kong Veteran to be discharged from the Army. I still was having a good deal of gastro-intestinal problems but naturally I did not mention this. I just wanted out.
It was a relief to leave home. I was still very much a loner, reluctant to trust anyone, not nearly as socially mature as I pictured myself.
Montreal was another world again. I had never lived in a big city and it was and still is one of the exciting cities of the world. Housing was at a premium and I finally found a dump on the east side of the city. I was eating in greasy spoons and occasionally would have to dash outside to vomit, but it really wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I was excited and somewhat apprehensive about beginning University.
Just about that time I happened to run into one of the officers of the regiment, Captain Charles Price, on St. Catherines Street. I guess I didn’t look that great and he was appalled when I told him where and how I was living. He took me in tow and we went to see an old friend of his who was some functionary in the University.
He arranged for me to enter one of the residences where room and board were part of the deal. I was most grateful and later concerned when I discovered I was to go to The United Theological College. Having been an atheist from a tender age, this did not exactly set me on fire. Nevertheless, I went along for the ride.
I was introduced to my room-mate, Don Clark. We were very polite to each other, as we each assumed the other was a theology student. Finally Don asked me if I had any objection to his having a drink, and I reassured him quickly that there was no objection as long as he poured me one as well.
So began a friendship which lasted until his death over 40 years later. Don had been an officer in the Navy, had already had some university experience before he went into the service and now planned to finish university and go into business. He was a talented classical pianist and a great bon vivant. I was amused that he took courses in philosophy and psychology and only one in economics. He must have been right as he became a very successful business man.
I enjoyed his courses as he used me as a sounding board for all his papers. My own studies were the bare bones required to get into the Faculty of Medicine. What any real university education I received was indirectly through Don and the other members in the residence.
The second floor was occupied only by non-theologs. Our room became the focus and gathering place of the floor, perhaps because there was never any lack of booze, but more likely due to Don’s charisma. We were blessed with some wonderful characters, most of them returning veterans.
Duggan was a tall aristocrat whose family still owned the seigneury allotted to his ancestor for serving as a brigadier under General Wolfe in the Battle of Quebec in 1759. Duggan had been a Captain in the Army overseas and had a distinguished war record. He had a great admiration for the Germans, their efficiency and discipline. All this conflicted quite sharply with my beliefs, as I still was influenced by those days with my Welsh miner friend in Hong Kong.
Despite these differences and our contrasting backgrounds we became very good friends. I was impressed by his savoir faire, his tongue in cheek cynicism and his rapier wit. He was very kind to me without being patronizing.
On one brief term break we took the steamship down the river to his home in Mal Baie. In those days this was a summer resort for the wealthy, both Canadians and Americans. I found it all very interesting and most enjoyable, but knew that this was not for me.
Daniel Oduber was in the room next door. He was a Costa Rican lawyer, ostensibly studying Philosophy, but really planning for the political changes in his country. He was a delightful man of the world, a suave handsome Latin with an eye for the ladies. Duggan called him “The Count” and that is what he became known to all of us.
He and Don were taking the same Philosophy courses, and they would often discuss the issues in our room. I have found these discussions to have been more help to me in my professional life than the Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics that I was then taking.
Dan returned to Costa Rica at the end of the academic year and he later became President of his country, the only true democracy in Central America.
Jean Maurice was the youngest student on the floor. He came from a small Quebec township and was a devoted Catholic who at times seemed more concerned with the fires of purgatory than more pressing earthly matters. He probably was the brightest one on the floor. We used to have great discussions, the confirmed atheist and the devout Catholic, who really felt he should have become a priest. No one wins these arguments... but he was a great help to me in my introduction to the biological sciences, of which I knew nothing.
He later had a brief but meteoric medical career, becoming the Dean of a Medical School before catching the eye of Pierre Trudeau, who saw him quite rightly as a future mandarin. Still later he became Chairman of The Canadian National Railways. It was with some glee that I wrote him:
“Jean Maurice, I always pictured you as treating lepers in darkest Africa, but I suppose there must be a fair share of lepers around those board room tables. Bon Chance!
Dr. R.B.Y. Scott was the rector in charge of the College. He was a fine compassionate man, who was very helpful to me during several crises, and gave me new respect for his profession. Every Sunday evening he and his wife would entertain the residents to tea and interesting discussions, especially on the Middle East.
He was a dedicated Biblical scholar and was deeply involved with the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. I found this quite fascinating and was even more impressed by the different aspect of the Palestinian problem as he saw it then, quite different from the reports of the press of those days. He later joined the faculty at Princeton University to crown a most distinguished career.
To all these friends and many others I owe so much. They did for me what no medication could have done. My gastro-intestinal problems did not disappear but became quite tolerable and I was very happy.
To my surprise, I did very well academically and after the first semester I took some extra courses. I was lucky enough to be accepted into Medicine in the fall of 1947, the beginning of a new life, and the real end of my military career.
I owe a great debt to so many friends and family who pulled and pushed me back into the world of the living, but the greatest is to a young blond woman, Eileen Nason, who caught my eye in the first class in medical school. It took a lot of persuasion, but I’m a hard guy to shake, and we got married at the end of second year.
We were the first married couple to graduate in Medicine from McGill. She put up with my unpredictable gut, the nightmares of the early years, the ever present financial difficulties and God knows what else. To her I owe whatever success I have obtained. I am most proud to say that she has been most successful in her own practice and has been recognized by her undergraduate Alma Mater, the University of New Brunswick awarding her an Honourary Doctor of Science.
After our internship we spent two exciting years in general practice in what was then British Guiana. Then a memorable year in London where we began our respective specialty training. This we completed in three more years at the University of Texas... such wonderful people, the Texans. Our first daughter was born there and we have only fond memories and many friends in The Lone Star State.
We came to Vancouver knowing only one person in the city. The Gods have been most kind to us and we have led a most rewarding and exciting life. All that is another story.
I have been so lucky, but that is not the case with many of my comrades. The reasons for this are complex and not always entirely related to physical disabilities. Perhaps some never really escaped from those dreadful years. Freedom is more than a lack of a barbed wire fence. My heart goes out to them.
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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