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We left Vancouver, B. C. on the 27th day of October, 1941, the Royal Rifles of Canada, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and also Brigade Headquarters, a group of around 2,400 men. We left Vancouver at night on the troop ship Awatea, a New Zealand ship, and the escort H.M.C.S. Prince Robert. We were quite crowded in the bottom deck and we slept in canvas hammocks. We made stops at Pearl Harbour, Manila and the Philippine Islands and were not allowed off the boat. One man died on the way and was buried at sea. Otherwise, the voyage was uneventful.
We arrived in Hong Kong harbour on November 16th, 1941, a journey of 20 days. As we arrived in the harbour, we were met by several sam-pans, a small boat that is around 25 ft. long and 3 ft. wide; a family lives on this boat a whole lifetime. They have hens, a small pig, and they fish for their food. lt is estimated that 15,000,000 people live on these boats and some have never been on land. We threw things over the side of the ship; coins, candy, etc., to them and there was quite a scramble to get to them.
We arrived at Kowloon (Mainland) and went to Sham Shui Po Barracks, a very well laid out camp. We were confined to barracks for a few days for tests and needles. After we were allowed in groups of three or more on account of being robbed; we also had to have side arms.
We travelled from our barracks by rickshaw to the Hong Kong ferry, a distance of about 3 miles. A rickshaw is a two-wheel cart with a seat that is hauled by a man called a coolie. The wheels on the rickshaw are in a position that when the staves are level, the rickshaw stops, and when he wants to speed up he lifts the shaves and the cart is overbalanced and it pushes the driver and he can take strides 15 feet long; when he wants to slow down, he lowers the handles. The life span of a rickshaw boy is 35 years.
Our Canadian dollar was worth $3.65 H.K. and we could go to Hong Kong by ferry for 3¢ a round trip or 1 ¢ per mile. We used to race and the winner would get 10¢ H.K. The standard wage was 8¢ per day. We had batmen to do all our fatigues, shine our shoes, do our laundry, make beds, kitchen fatigues, etc. You would wake up in the morning being shaved in bed and a cup of tea waiting for you - all for $2.50 per month. 40 oz. of the best scotch or rum or gin was 90e and American cigarettes were 40¢ a carton. We could go to the best clubs, with hostesses, drinks, dancing, for $7.50 H.K., $2.00 Canadian, and buy the best of suits and silk shirts for around $11.00 an outfit. Watches, jade carvings and ivory were also very cheap. We always had a pocket full of money, quite different from back home when we were broke a few days after pay day.
There were many thousand of refugees that fled mainland China during the invasion of the Japanese since 1931. If you walked on the streets, young children, abandoned by their parents, would grab you by the legs and ask for "sauvas" (charity); most were covered with sores and were hungry. I used to get very depressed. At night you were unable to walk on the street for people sleeping there and in the a.m. they would go around with a two-wheel cart picking up the dead bodies of those that died through the night.
There were many opium dens that I believe were legal. Once I went with the H.K. Police to collect a tax from the owner of one of the places, and I saw men lying down on cots that seemed to be in a dazed condition. Also, there were many prostitutes, around 80,000 registered, as this was a legal profession in 1941. "Vou come to my house, muck a hi comeshaw, shot time 25¢, long time, one dalla".
I used to sit for hours watching the many customs. I watched a funeral one day. They had a slide coming out the upstairs window and two coffins came out. One was empty to fool the spirits and one was real. The rich Chinese would hire mourners to follow the coffin, with a group playing flutes and symbols, also a group with lanterns and paper banners and another wailing and crying. The body is placed in a tomb with money for the other world, printed in the U.S.A. We were later to have a battle in the graveyard and a shell exploded and the tomb was damaged and there was a decaying body inside. We had to put up with the odour while we were there.
There seemed to be changing scenes every few minutes. There were little old ladies with small feet that were just stubs and they had difficulty walking. That was the style long ago, to have baby feet bound tight so they couldn't grow; so, it left them crippled for life. I saw a little old lady who weighed about 80 lbs. carrying two 45 gallon drums on a pole on her shoulders. I also saw a coffin carried on a pole with a big rock on the other end to balance the pole. They carried these loads with a little jog or run and seemed to have no difficulty. I was fascinated by the smells and sounds of hawkers selling their wares in different voices, and the sound of wooden clogs clip-clopping along.
We had a little trouble with the British forces, the Royal Scots and Middlesex Regiment--about a thousand men. The trouble was money. We were paid three or four times as much as they were and could do more things than they could and that caused a friction with us.
We had quite a battle in the Sun-Sun Bar and Restaurant in Kowloon. The bar was upstairs so we went up there to have a drink--about 6 or us. We were jumped by a group of the British troops and the battle began and others joined in. The police were called and a jukebox was pushed down the stairs and jammed in the stairway. We escaped by jumping from rooftop to rooftop and got back to the barracks. The next day there was a muster parade and they picked us all out: black eyes, split lips, etc. We were fined $175.00 each for damage but the war broke out and we did not have to pay. That fight was called the 11Battle of the sun-sun'. The Hong Kong police were partly made up of Indian Sheiks, all about 6'211 and over 200 lbs., so we didn't want to clash with them.
One Saturday we decided to go to Victoria Peak, a mountain about 1,800 feet above sea level. We took a sedan chair to the station to catch a tram to the Peak. The chair is carried by four men and is carried on their shoulders on poles, and the trams travel up and down the mountain. One tram coming down the mountain pulls the other up. At the peak, is a beautiful view of the harbour and surrounding area. The people that lived on the Peak were mostly white and were supposed to be of a higher class than most people there--mostly government workers. They did not want to talk very much or be friendly, so we did not bother with them.
There was quite a class difference. If you travelled on a bus or ferry, you had to ride upstairs--that was 1st class. I tried to ride downstairs and nearly caused a riot and had to move upstairs. We were learning all the tricks and the different things that were new to us.
The Island of Hong Kong is about 14 miles long, and 3 to 5 miles wide and contains 28 square miles. The water is piped from Kowloon across the Harbour in a cement catchment through the hills to a reservoir. The Kowloon Peninsula lies at the edge of what is known as the New Territories, the biggest part of the land area, around 350 sq. miles, and was leased to Britain in 1898 for 99 years by the Chinese. The climate is classed as sub-tropical, and the temperature rises in the 90's from May to October and in February it drops down to the 40's and 50's. lt is quite hot and humid in the summer and has an average rainfall of 85 inches.
On the 7th day of December, we left our Sham Shui Po barracks and went over to Hong Kong Island to take up positions at Obelisk Hill by Ty Tam Tuk, as there was a rumour that the Japs were getting ready to invade. On December 8th, the Japs bombed our barracks at Sham Shui Po with about 50 planes. They also bombed Kai Tak airport and destroyed the few old planes they had there. Our full force of fighting men was about 10,000 to 12,000 men. The Japanese had 60,000 men for the invasion and they had as many spies and snipers on the Island as we had army. There also were Chinese that collaborated with the enemy and sabotaged communications and sniped at us.
There were many monkeys in the trees and I remember at night when I was on guard I would hear noises in the trees. Sometimes it was monkeys and sometimes it was snipers. We could hear them signalling to each other by different whistling sounds. The Japs' uniforms were covered with a net that they could put tree branches in and we could not tell where they were.
We were shelled, bombed and sniped at from the 8th of December until the 17th. On the night of the 15th, we were called to repel an invasion force. There was a down pour of rain and it was dark as pitch. I remember I was quire scared. The enemy was crossing the water by junks, small boats and rafts. The search lights lit up the area and there was heavy artillery and machine gun fire. They were stopped and returned to the mainland. The Jap artillery from the mainland put our search lights out of commission.
On December 16th, the Japs bombed the pillboxes and put more than half out of action. The Japs knew the locations of all the main defences and put them out of action by heavy bombing.
We were told that the Japs had very poor eyesight and were not night fighters. We were also told that they had little artillery, their standards were poor and that they had 5,000 poorly equipped troops.
We did not receive our vehicles. They arrived at the Philippine Islands - 212 vehicles - around the 16th of December, and were given to the Americans to use there. I was a company driver and I did not have a truck all the time we were there. Any move we made we had to walk and carry the things we had to use, such as mortar, bombs, Bren guns, ammunition. We were loaded down and most of our travelling was in the hills.
On the 18th of December, the Japs invaded the Island in three different points and we could not stop them. They seemed to be every place. From then on we had to go day and night. We had battles at Stone Hill, Palm Villa, Bridge Hill, Tai Tam Gap. We had several fights at close range.
I remember before daylight one morning we arrived at a spot near the top of Bridge Hill where the Japs were dug in. We had orders to take that Hill, so at the break of dawn, we crept up to hand grenade range, and with a signal, we let our grenades go. We made a charge and we fought it out hand-to-hand, and the Japs turned and ran over the mountain so they were no braver than we were. After we took the hill, we were looking for revolvers and cigarettes on the dead Japs. When one of our fellows bent over a Jap officer to get his revolver, he wasn't dead and he shot our fellow in the head and he died instantly. We had several killed and wounded, and then the Japs started to shell and bomb us, and after a few hours we had orders to retreat.
We found the Bren gun very good. We used to use it on single shot, and when a charge by the Japs came, we would change it to automatic. We fooled them several times as they thought it was a single rifle firing.
We went day and night with no rest and no water. We were so tired and dazed that we fell asleep as soon as we stopped. Some of our men were wounded and were unable to get to hospital. We gave them first aid the best we could and had to carry them with us.
Our doctor had been captured and also his staff. Around the 19th of December at 6:00 a.m. all the wounded were shot and the staff--all except one orderly and the Doctor, who were tied back to back and had to walk that way. The Japs had orders not to take any prisoners but I guess our Doctor was wanted to help their wounded. The Japs carried a hari-kari knife and when they were badly wounded, they would commit hari-kari by cutting their stomach open.
There were many things too numerous to mention that happened. I am not sure of the dates or places. I got lost or cut off from my company and landed with another company on December 24th and we formed a line near Stanley Mound to try to hold the Japs while the others were forming a new line across the Stanley Peninsula.
That night, Christmas Eve, we found a small hut and there was a barbwire entanglement in front, with a path through it. I was with three others to cover this opening while the others tried to get some rest. I was covering the two guards in front of me. I was laying in a water catchment trying to keep awake, thinking about home and the mess we were in, when along came two fellows who walked through the path in the barbwire. One of our guards was leaning against the hut and the other laying down when the guard standing up said: "Halt, who goes there?" There was a hesitation, then they said" "Canadians." The guard said: "Come on then." They never moved. The guard had his rifle leaning against the hut and he made a grab for it and the other started to get up. The two Japs made a rush for them and the guard swung his rifle and hit the Jap and the Jap ran into him. They both fell down. The guard hung on the Jap's rifle and the Jap shot him in the shoulder. The guard that was getting up was bayoneted in the stomach by the other Jap and he hung on to the Jap's rifle. Then, both Japs left, leaving their rifles behind and running back from where they came from. We opened up with the Bren gun and it was just like a hornet's nest. They seemed to come from everywhere. lt was quite dark and they put up flares, but we held until daybreak. We found ourselves partly surrounded. I found myself behind a boulder with four other fellows. We were about 40 feet from the top of the hill and we could not move; the fire from the Japs was so heavy--then they bombed us with mortar bombs and they were getting our range.
One of the fellows made a run for it and got over the top to the other side with a barrage of fire over his head. The next fellow to go did not make it; he just went a few yards and was killed. I thought, "This is it; I'm going to die." I asked the Lord for help and I said the 23 Psalm. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want ..." My fear of dying left me and I was able to think clearly. The other fellow and myself decided to crawl very slowly to the top; we did and got over to the other side of the hill, and the Japs were there too. We started to run towards the beach and the rocks. We were so tired that we only were able to walk, as our legs were going numb. We could see the bullets hitting in the ground by us. The other fellow got hit by the bullets in the hand and wrist. We got down to the rocks. I had a bandolier dressing on me and I got his blood stopped; he was having a lot of pain. We followed the shore line and came to seven more fellows hidden in the rocks. We came to a pillbox and there were six British soldiers, tied and switzlered with barbwire around the pillbox. One soldier was still alive and he was dying and told us not to be taken prisoner as the Japs had used them for bayonet practice. He died a little later.
We came to some large boulders and hid. The fellow who got wounded in the arm and hand could hardly stand the pain. He laid down in the water edge and kept his arm in the water; it helped to ease the pain. We stayed there all night. I went to sleep and never woke up till the next a.m. We had nothing to eat or drink for the past day and a half. We found a can of bacon near the pillbox that we divided--about I slice each. My lips and tongue were so swollen I could hardly swallow the greasy bacon. This was the 26th of December. Everything was quiet. We could hear the Japs calling to us to surrender as the war was over. We didn't go as we didn't want to meet the same fate as the boys at the pillbox. A few went and we never saw them again.
We could see Stanley Peninsula about a mile across from where we were. We decided we were going to try to swim across--better than being tortured. We took our guns apart and threw them in the water, getting ready to leave--the ones who could swim. Just then, a Chinese with a white flag climbed down the rocks and told us the war was over and he would bring us to good Japs to surrender for tea money. We had around $70 to give him, and he took us through the rocks to St. Stephen's Village where we came to the first group of Japs. We put our hands up in the air and the first Jap hit me on the head with his rifle. I fell down on my knees; I was dazed; I got up on my feet again, and they searched me. I had a little pocket Bible in my pocket that my Minister had given me. He took a look at it and put it back, then pointed to St. Stephen College and made signs for us to run toward it. I went forward and there were Japs stationed along the road. As you passed them, they would take a swing with their rifles, across my back or legs. When they hit me across the legs, I would go down on my knees.
We arrived at the c·ollege. Between there and St. Stephen's Hospital there was a tennis court and they pointed toward there and we went in and they shut the gate. After a while, they came back with a heavy machine gun and set it up. Then they lined us up against the fence. We were standing at attention. I thought: "This is it, we're going to be shot."
Just then a Jap officer came along and he shouted to the gun crew and he slapped the Jap Sergeant's face and made them take the gun out of the court. He came over to us and told us not to move out of the court or we would be shot. He could speak English. After a while he came and got us to clean up some of the grounds. We picked up a lot of bodies and put them in a pile. They later poured gasoline on them and burned them.
I asked the Jap Officer for water. He said: "No water." After a while he came up to me and he passed me his water bottle, and I think that was the best drink I ever had. He said too: "Are you hungry?", and I said: "Yes. He said: "Come with me," and we went in the college kitchen and there was an ice box. Inside was a five gallon can full of hardtack biscuits and several cans of asparagus tips. We took it in the tennis court. He also gave us a record player and about fifty opera records that didn't do too much for our nerves. He said for us to stay there and he would get us some water as soon as it was available. That evening he brought us some water and we went to sleep. The next day, the Jap soldiers came to the fence to look at us and some of them gave us cigarettes. We felt like monkeys in a cage.
The day before Christmas Day, the Japs went in to St. Stephen's Hospital and bayonetted the patients that were wounded in bed. Around 150 were killed, including 3 nurses who were beaten, raped and had their breasts cut off. Two of our fellows tried to escape, and were cauqht, and the Japs cut out their tongue, ears, penis and eyes. You could hear them screeching for miles. One of my friends who is still alive told me the Japs bayonetted him through the stomach and he never moved; they left him for dead.
Our padre counted 170 dead bodies that they cremated. They would not let them bury them.
The blood was running down the stairway from the top floor. Anthony Eden in the British Parliament heard about it from soldiers that were able to escape and he made quite a protest to the Japanese.
The Japanese took some of our officers to witness the shooting of 14 Jap soldiers for going in the hospital and doing the killing.
We stayed in the tennis court for a few days then a Jap officer came to us and pointed towards Stanley and said: "Go." So we formed up, 9 of us, and we marched to Stanley. When we got to the gate of Stanley Fort, around 5 miles, the Jap guards seemed to be surprised. They let us in and we joined the rest of the Regiment. I was quite glad to see my friends and thankful to be alive.
The Royal Rifles arrived at Hong Kong with 962 men, all ranks. We had 357 casualties in battle, around 37%.
After being captured on December 26, 1941, we stayed at Stanley Barracks. On the 30th of December, we were ordered to leave Stanley Fort and march to North Point, a distance of 14 miles and we had wounded to bring along. We came to North Point refugee camp that was built in 1937 to help Chinese refugees from China escape the Japs. They were partly destroyed by shrapnel; they were looted by the Chinese; the windows, water pipes and fixtures were stolen. The camp had been used for mule and horse stables and was filthy.
At the end of the camp there was a dump that was used for reclaimed land, and there were millions of flies; the other end of the camp was littered with dead Chinese and animals, badly decomposed, that remained there for several weeks. The fearful stench that surrounded the area from filth from within the huts and from the corpses and rubbish was very hard to take, especially for anybody with a weak stomach.
We didn't have any latrine facilities. Our camp was bordered by a seawall. We had to use the seawall as a latrine. For several weeks Chinese bodies were carried in and out with the tide. Once a woman's leg was floating around with a silk stocking on it.
We had no cooking facilities. We found some large, rusty, iron pots that we used back home to cook for the pigs on the farm. We got some mouldy rice and pork the next p.m. We didn't have any utensils to eat with. I had a 19 oz. can that I used for several months or a year, and a spoon that I made out of a piece of wood.
The flies were so bad you could hardly see the pork in the rice; they would fly over the open pot and fall in. ln the rice were little white worms. I used to pick them out at first, but I got so hungry I ate everything. Our rations were a small salmon can of rice loosely packed, and two tablespoons of fish or meat soup, three times a day. We were very hungry. Most of the talk was about food, about favorite dishes, and everybody was going to be a cook or own a restaurant when we got back. I weighed around 185 lbs. when captured and went down to 105 lbs. I was active in sports and was on the Regimental team. I did some boxing and used to run 3 miles every a.m. and did P .T. every day, so I was in good condition when captured. We had the smallest man in camp--he weighed 59 lbs.--he usually weighed 135 lbs. He is still alive today and is fine.
Our sleeping facilities were the cement floor of the hut with the space of around 2 feet. We had a rice bag to lay on. After they used the rice, they gave us the bag. A few had blankets that they scrounged. The bedbugs, lice, and fleas took over within a few days. They came out of the wood and we were unable to control them. We were unable to sleep as they would bite all night and in the a.m. you would look like a person with measles. We built a place to boil our clothes, but it didn't do any good. A few hours after, everything was the same. Some of the men died trorn the effects of bites and infections. We had to go out on burial parties in the hills. We would dig the grave by the body, then roll or push the body in the grave. There was a stench that I'll never forget and I was sick for days after and would have nightmares for years to come (I still have them). Later, the Japs gave us respirators to use when we were on a burial party. Most of the bodies were badly decomposed and we just got their name tags.
After a month or two in prison camp, the Japs took what rations we had in camp. We had brought some of our own stores into camp; bully beef and M & V pudding, and we used that at first, but they took it for their own use and they gave us flour with sandy weevils, (a crunchy little bug), that were sweepings from a warehouse. They made sour dough buns as they had no yeast and they gave us one per meal with greens and rice. By July, 1942, most of the men had dysentery and were weak and sick. We had a bowel movement from 20 days to a month, so you can tell how much we ate. We were sent to Kai Tak Airport in a work party to cut the grass with hand sickles, on our knees for about 10 hours per day. The Japs rewarded us with a ration of small peas in a very sweet syrup once during the day and it helped to control the hunger.
We saw some of our boys from Sham Shui Po and they were having a hard time there and many were dying from malnutrition. Four of our men tried to escape from North Point Camp. They were caught and shot before a firing squad.
There was a storm sewage pipe that came out in our camp and the Japs didn't seem to think about it. Our fellows used to go out at night through the pipe and do some scrounging in town and do some sniping. They were seen one night and the camp commander called a muster parade all night in a cold heavy rain. Some of the boys had to lay on the wet ground for six hours; they were unable to stand up and the many who fainted just lay there. The Japs split us up in groups of 5 and each one had to know where the others was at all times. They also had to sign a form saying: I will not try to escape while I am a prisoner of the Japanese Imperial Army". Dated this day of 17th year of Showa. The Commander in Chief: Signed:
There were 5 British soldiers that escaped to the mainland and were helped by friendly Chinese to get back to freedom. lt was they who gave the information about the massacre at St. Stephens Hospital and other things that were happening in camp, but the Japs didn't seem to care as they said they didn't belong to the Geneva Convention.
Many things happened that I've forgotten about . We stayed at North Point Camp from Dec. 30th, 1941 to September 26, 1942, then we went to Sham Shui Po camp in Kowloon, where the conditions were not any better. Many had Diphtheria, Hong Kong Bag, Electric Feet, Blindness, Pellagra, Tropical Ulcers, Beri-Beri and other skin afflictions.
I'm going to try and explain the different diseases. "Scrotum or Hong Kong Bag"--A skin disease. The skin peels off the scrotum, peels and cracks and becomes red and very itchy, very painful, unable to have anything touch, such as clothes. Some of the boys had a string attached to the penis and secured about the neck to keep the weight off the scrotum, laying there crying. One fellow got some Iodine and put it over the area that was infected; he went insane and we tried to hold him for an hour. This disease was caused by a germ in the water and by not drying well enough, as we had no towels after a shower. A few died from this disease. "Electric Feet"--Very tender feet and shocks like touching an electric outlet and getting a shock. We could feel a little pebble or stone through our army boot soles. Also, if fully asleep, you would pull up your feet if anybody was passing in the aisle; it seemed to be controlled by electricity. The only relief was to bathe your feet in water or walk on cool cement. Later, this was not allowed as the feet cracked and caused infection. I can still see these men hobbling, sweeping the cernent as they hobbled along--old men at 18.
I worked as an orderly for a while in a place called the agony ward. Some of the worst cases were in there; some blind, some with the loss of memory, I used to feed them with watery soup and try_ to get them-to eat or help them the best way we could. They seemed to be like babies. If you gave them a kind word, they would cry and give up and in a few days they would die. If you told them they were not trying, they would get mad and really put up a fight and in a few weeks they would be up and around. This seems funny, but it's true. We had some operations done by our doctors, such a appendicitis. The patient was tied down on a table and a razor blade was used and knives. The drugs were salt and peanut oil.
Many of the boys died during our shifts and we would wrap them in a blanket and carry them to a make-shift morgue and lay them on shelves. The next a.m. they would bury them.
One day a group of Jap doctors came to camp and orderlies and doctors were on a parade. We lined up and they blamed us for so many of our boys dying and they slapped our faces hard and said: "If any body says he is doing all he can to save these men, he will be shot." One of our men stepped out and said: "I'm doing all I can to save these men," and they took him to the guard house and later they gave him some cigarettes and told him he was a very brave man and let him go. ( He later won the M.M. for Bravery).
I later had to go to Bowen Rd. Hospital with diphtheria. I was put in an isolation ward with four other fellows and two of them died during the night. The next a.m. mine broke and I was able to get my breath but my heart was weak and I had a hard time to move. After a few days I began to feel better and was able to walk around.
One day, a group of Flying Tigers came over from Mainland China and bombed Hong Kong, some ships and other targets. We went out of the veranda and watched the excitement. The next morning, a group of Jap officers came in the ward and lined us up, about six of us, and an Interpreter told us that when the raid was on we were laughing at these planes and to step out one pace, one at a time. The first stepped out one pace and the Jap hit him with his fist, and he went down and stayed there--the same was done to the rest of us, except the last one. He ducked and all the Jap officers turned on him and knocked him down and kicked him and beat him. I don't know if he lived or not: I did not see him again.
After I went back to camp, the Red Cross ship, Gypholme, a Swedish boat, arrived with supplies--Red Cross parcels, sugar, cocoa, alta flour and gie oil. The Japs didn't give us any supplies for a few weeks and they helped themselves to the parcels as we could see some of the items they liked in empty cans in the garbage. They gave us a parcel in November. The parcelcontained: a pkg. of raisins or prunes, can of Spam or Kam, V2 lb. sugar cubes, 3 oz. coffee, 4 oz. Kraft cheese, 6 oz. salmon, I lb. butter, 4 oz. tea, 1 bar soap, a can of jam, 4 oz. sardines, 5 oz. chocolate, 12 oz. tin corn beef and 1 lb. biscuits. ln a very short time, you could see the difference in the fellows. I don't know what would have happened if we didn't have the Red Cross. I feel that it saved our lives.
The Japanese extended the Kai Tak Airport and we had to work on it. We moved a large sized hill with baskets, by hand. We would get up at 4:00 a.m. and have breakfast--rice and greens--and work all day, have a bun at noon and return to camp at night at 10:00 p.m. We were like zombies, going around in a daze. This lasted until the airport was finished.
We had a Japanese Canadian as camp interpreter whose name was lnnouye, or the Kamloops Kid. He was born in Kamloops, BC and went to the University of Toronto and could speak better than most of us. He caused seven deaths in camp. He was the meanest Jap I met during my stay in all the camp. He left Canada in 1938 or 1939 and joined the Jap army and was a Cpl. He told us one day: "You fellows called me a little yellow bastard in Canada, but you're not going to do it here." I passed out at work on the airport, and when I came to he was there and .. he said: "What's the matter? You work harder in Canada." And I said: "We had more to eat." He said: "When we take over Canada, you bastards will work harder." He slapped my face and walked away. (P.S. At the end of the war, he was hanged for war crlmes.)
There are lots of things that happened that you would not believe, as I can hardly believe them myself during the time spent from December 26, 1941 to August 15, 1943 in North Point Camp and Sham Shui Po.
This poem was written by an unknown author in 1944 in Sham Shui Po:
A Prisoner's Prayer
You know Lord, how one must strive
At ShamShuiPo to keep alive.
And how there isn't much to eat
Just rice and greens at Argyle Street
It's not much, God, when dinner comes
To find it's just chrysanthemums.
Nor can I stick at any price
Those soft white maggots in my rice.
Nor yet these little hard black weevils,
The lumps of grit and other evils.
I know, Lord, I shouldn't grumble,
And please don't think that I'm not humble
When I most thankfully recall
My luck to be alive at all.
But Lord, I think that even you
Would soon get tired of ersatz stew.
So what I really want to say
Is: If we soon don't get away
From ShamShuiPo and Argyle Street
Then please, Lord, could we have some meat?
' A luscious, fragrant, heaped-up plateful
And also, Lord, we would be grateful:
If you would grant a living boon ..
And send some Red Cross parcels .soon.
Next, the 18 day boat trip to Japan; life in a Japanese Camp in Japan from September 3, 1943 to September 6, 1945.
We left Hong Kong on a tramp coal steamer that hauled coal, as there was coal in one of the two holds yet. The hold of the ship was about 1 OO x 30 and they put around 500 men in there. We had very little room to move around and could only sleep half on top of each other to get room. The port holes were closed during the day and were allowed open at night. One plank was left off the hole to give us air. One time they put a canvas over the hole in a big rainstorm and we nearly smothered and we got them to take it off. I was very hot. You could fry an egg on the side of the ship. They gave us a quart of water per day. If you took a drink, in a few seconds you would sweat it out. We had no toilet facilities but four cans that we used, and we had no place to wash ourselves. We received a bun to eat that turned mouldy after a few days. We received three per day. They got so bad we were unable to eat them; if you did, they would only go down a little ways in your stomach and stay there, and you felt very sick.
The Japanese tried to give us rice. They would send it down in 5 gal. cans. Sometime you could get some and sometime you couldn't. Many of the men were sick and were not able to stand up.
We came to Formosa or Taiwan. We were allowed up on deck to take a test for dysentery and were given fruit, "pomelo"--a fruit much like a grapefruit but tough divisions inside. They were very refreshing and we ate the whole thing, peelings and all.
We left Taiwan and landed in Osaka, Japan on September 3rd, 1943, a journey of 18 days. I think these were the hardest and longest days of my days as a P.O.W. We had to march to the railroad station carrying the ones who couldn't walk. At the station, we were divided in two groups of 250 men. The groups then separated. At the station, a beautiful place, we sat on the floor in the lobby and they brought us little boxes of food; rice, tiny fish, greens, salty cucumbers and pickles. The box was 12" x 12" x 2". We ate what we could and kept the rest for later on. Our stomachs had shrunk and we were unable to eat a lot at a time. The meal was very good and I thought to myself: "If the food stays this way, we'll all be o.k. We went by train to a place called Niigata, a day and night- by train, and were given the same food boxes on the way.
At Niigata, we came to new buildings that were about 75 feet long and 25 feet side with a platform on each side, about 7 feet wide and 1 foot off the ground, and another platform about 6 feet above. On the platform was a straw mat that ran from one end to the other. We were issued a blanket made from some kind of fibre, or some said a type of wood. We were given a pillow around 15 inches long and 4 inches around, made of rice husks. lt was very comfortable. lt just fit in the nap of your neck.
The building had a sand floor in the center about 10 feet wide and that was where we walked around, or we sat in our space in the bunk. There was a place at the end of the building where there was a hand water pump to wash, and a little room where the real sick or dying were put. When you were put in there, there was little chance of getting out alive, although some did make it--"Agony Ward No. 2".
We were on parade the next a.m., as we arrived the evening before, and we were addressed by a civilian Japanese in another kind of uniform with a sword. He was the boss of Wrinkle, a coal company. He was about 5 ft. tall and had a few long hairs on.. his chin. He inspected us and said to some of the ~ fellows. "You look like Clark Gable, and you look like Dillinger, the gangster." We called him "Rasputin". After the inspection, he got up on a box, and pulled out his sword and flashed it about' a few times, and began to speak to us. He said: "You are living corpses: you should be glad to be alive. If you do not obey our orders, you will be killed on the spot with this sword," and he went in frenzy and started to swing the sword around. I thought to myself, "Here we go again." I thought, "the first few days were too good to be true in Japan."
As we were standing there at attention, being given a bawling out, one of the fellows bent down to brush off a bug that was biting him on the leg, and he (Rasputin) left the box and ran to him and hit him and knocked him down, and the guards took him away. He said: "You will not see this man again." About a week later, he came back to us; he was badly beaten, but survived to come home and is still living.
We went to work at a coal yard, unloading barges and coal ships. They had a trestle built about 30 feet up and about a mile long that had a track and had coal cars that we pushed around the track, loaded with coal, that we dumped on different piles of different types of coal. The coal came up on a conveyor and was dumped into cars and we had to make about 34 trips a day. We had to work in our bare feet for a while as the Japs said the sparks from our boots could cause a fire.
I got a sharp piece of coal in my foot and was unable to get it out so I kept on working. After a week, it started to fester and a lump came out in the centre of my foot so I was limping about when a Jap guard asked me what was the matter, and I told him. That night, two guards can:ie and made me lay on the floor and they took a knife and cut a hole in the bottomot my foot and took a piece of wire and dug the piece of coal out, then took a piece of rag and pushed it in the hole. I let a howl out of me and one of the guards gave me a kick and I fainted. After a few days, they changed the rag and my foot healed up after a few changes but was very tender. I had a graft from my leg after I came home and was in hospital several times since for treatment for plantar warts. My feet are still sore and I have problems walking at times.
The Japs later gave us skivies or sandles--that helped. They later gave us sneakers with the division for the big toe, that the Jap soldiers wore in battle. They were silent and they could get a good hold with your big toe going up a mountain. We had the big boots and they could hear us for miles. ln the winter, they gave us straw boots woven with straw, and they used to get wet during the day, and at night we had to sleep with them on or they would freeze, and in the a.m. we were unable to get them on.
We had no fire in the huts and on a cold night we had to huddle together to keep warm. They also had straw coats that we wore when it was raining or sleet. We put it over our clothes and it kept our shoulders dry, and they were warm. The Japanese gave us later in the Fall, Japanese uniforms for the winter. They were lined and were a God send as we would have frozen up on the trestle.
During the first few weeks, many of the boys died and were put in the place where the water pump was, and when we came from work we had to step over them and the same in the a.m. They left them there for several days and they were swollen and were turning dark. The Japs told us that they were waiting word from Tokyo to know what to do with them. After a while, they took them out on a three-wheel motorbike with a box on the back to a crematorium, and they took a witness with them, and they gave him chopsticks to pick out a few bones and put in a little box 811 x 811 with his name and Reg. No. and they put that in a shrine some place.
The reason when we were sick and unable to work that we did not stay in camp is that the Jap guards would come around in the a.m. and give you a beating stick. The Japs would tell the real sick fellows: "secua matte cheeze hi hyuko" (little while, little box). Very cheerful fellows, those guards. I had a friend from my home town that was in the agony ward from the boat trip and I was wondering how he was. One night after work we were at the pump house and the room where he was, was next door. They had paper windows that slid to and fro. I looked in and he was between two fellows that have been dead for a while and had swollen up. His face was sticking out and he was crying. He was unable to move and he was dying. I started to laugh! I don't know why. I guess it was my nerves or something. I've never seen a face so pitiful and the laugh was not meant. He later came out and I saw him a few weeks ago and he is well, except for his feet and. legs. He never leaves his home except to go to church. He never got married. He told me later, "You son of a bitch, you laughed at me when I was dying. But yöu know, that got me out of there. I was really mad at you and I was going to get even; but you know, that saved my life!
Our life at the Coal Company went on as usual. I used to ask the Lord for help on days when I was climbing the ladder to go up on the trestle to work. He certainly gave it to me as I was able to make the day and many days to come. Our food wasn't very good; we got rice, greens, dackens, a type of radish that they made soup with. From time to time they also gave us grasshoppers; they were crunchy and I liked them. You had to be careful when you were eating them as their legs were hard and would stick in your gums or cheek, but they were tasty. We picked different roots and plants to put in the soup. One day the guards had a little pup and they were playing with it in the a.m. and we said: "How kind they are to animals and so rough to us," But at noon, they had him cooked for dinner. We had a ration, about a cup of kelp (seaweed). There was very little taste to it but it filled us up.
One day, around 4:00 p.m. the Japs guards told us we had to take a bath as the Red Cross were coming for an inspection. lt was the first bath we had since arriving in the Camp for about 3 months. We had a cold water pump at camp but no towels and we had no fire or heat in Camp. We would wash our hands and face and that was about that. About a group of 10 went to a building, a shed. One end was a place where they cooked for the Jap workers and the other end had a bathtub in the corner. The guards were in a hurry as they had a hundred men to go through the bath. They had four women working in the room and they came to where we were to have a look. We stripped down to the G string (a piece of cloth about 4 inches wide with two strings on one end that you tied around the waist and you brought the cloth up between your legs and folded it over the string in the front). The guards were shouting: "Hyacle, hyacte," (hurry, hurry) and started hitting us with their sticks and telling us to get in the tub. One of the fellows said: "Tell the women to go away." "Ni, Ni," that meant "No, No," so we took off our G strings and the women looked at us and pointed to the fellows with the big ones and made quite a fuss. You could see the fellows blushing and crawling in their shells.
The bathtub was made of wood with a little wood stove at one end and a pipe ran through the tub to heat the water. The tub size was 6' x 8'. We took a little tub and rinsed ourselves before we got in the tub. The water was very hot and it took up some time before we could get in the water and get used to it. When we got out we were red. lt was a very cold day but we felt warm for hours.
The Japanese brought in quarters of beef and other things for the Red Cross inspection, and after they were gone, they took fhem out. We were not allowed to talk to the officials.
A few weeks before Christmas, 1943, some Red Cross parcels came in-- we saw them at the Staff Office. They used the things they liked out of the parcels. One of our men stole a can of salmon and ate it. He left the can under the straw where he was sleeping, and the next day while we were at work, the Japs made a search and found the empty can. They took the fellow who slept there and ones on each side of him, and tied them each to a post in the yard. One was a young American boy, not much older than 16 or 17. They were in their bare feet and were tied to a post by their hands and around their neck. If they tried to struggle, they would strangle. The young boy cried at night and moaned as he stood in his bare feet and light clothing in the snow. He died the next night or was killed by the Japs for making a noise. The fellow that stole the can was set free, and the other fellow lasted 3 nights: he died. He was the toughest man I ever saw. He said to us when we were passing going to work: "These yellow bellies will never get me down." I was looking at his feet after he died and the toes were just bones; the flesh was all gone.
We had a typhoon and one of our huts blew down and seven men were killed and several hurt. I was lucky and able to get out but the heavy roofing tiles were wired together and we had a hard time getting them apart in the wind, (over 100 miles per hour), and to get the fellows out from under that building. The next day, the Japanese took us out to pick pearapples, a mixture of the two. I ate till I was full and that was one of the times that I really felt full. The typhoon did a lot of damage to the area.
Things were bad at work. A lot of the boys were dying and some were weak and would: pass out. The guard would stick a cigarette or a match on you. If you moved, you were ·really in trouble. One guard, the "alley cat" as he was called, used to stand on the corner and every time you went by, he hit you with a stick made like a sword if you were going too slow.
We had another guard called "the chìcken" (he was a small Jap), and he was in charge of the 11Beouka11, the sick fellows. Where there were officers around, he would holler, but when they left, he would tell them to sit down; he was a good fellow. After the war, we found out where he lived and gave him some of the things that were dropped to us by plane. He was also recommended for a job after the war.
There was also an elderly woman that worked at the Coal company. She left rice balls on the post where we could get them. We called her "Mom". There were some kind people among the Japanese people. They had a hard time and worked very hand and had little to eat. I watched them having lunch and they had rice, two tiny fish and a salty pickle for dinner, and they worked just as hard as we did, men and women.
We had a change in jobs. We loaded coal on gondola railway cars with baskets. We called it "yo-yoing".
A pole with a basket on each end was used, and held there by ropes, with a line for tripping the baskets to empty them. The baskets were about 36 inches in diameter and you would stack the coal about 3 feet high in each, around 200 lbs. They had a plank from the ground to the top of the car, and a plank across. We used to have to take a run to get up the plank. The pole was supple and we moved it up and down to get the balance when we ran up the plank. I was 3 months learning to do the timing needed. Some fellows were unable to do this. Most Oriental people learn to do this when they are young, and can carry big loads by this method. I had a hard time at first as I walked stiff-legged and would fall off the planks. After I learned, it was quite easy and we could load a car in 2 hours, 4 men, 2 on each end, two shovelling in the baskets and two carrying, while one was loading the basket, the other was up the planks. I guess that's how it went. I'm as mixed up as you are!! We used to fill our pockets up with coal to bring it to the kitchen for cooking. The guards knew that we had it but never said anything.
Once a month, they brought to camp the inside of an animal to make soup, also the head of a horse. They boiled it for days. You could smell the odor of manure when it was cooking. We got about 2 tablespoonfuls over our rice. One fellow got an eye in his. Sometimes they brought bones with the meat taken off. Once in a while, we got a small piece of whale blubber, 2 inches square. There were lots or.rats and some of the boys cooked them and said they tasted like chicken. The Japs brought in a cat to catch the rats in the warehouse that were stealing our rice. He was in camp about 2 hours and was being cooked. They told the Japs that a piece of ice fell off the roof and killed the cat.
On Christmas Eve, 1943, the bones from the soup had to be given back. They were used again for some manufacture so they left them outside in a straw bag. John and I sneaked over at night and stole the cheekbones of the head and hid and ate them. They were boiled so long that they were soft and tasty. We went back for a second helping and got caught. We were given a beating and only for Ted, the cook, I don't know that would have happened. He told them that we were hungry so they let us go.
Christmas Day, they left us in camp and let us make a fire in a drum. They also gave us a few Red Cross parcels. They had to be drawn by numbers and four men to one item. If you drew a can of bully beef, it was divided in four and so on.
ln the Spring of 1944, we changed jobs and went to work unloading soya beans on the docks, taking them into the warehouse. There were two men lifting the bags on your shoulder and neck. They weighed 120 kilos. When they put them on you, you would drop to your knees and we used to get a beating. There were little Japanese girls, about a hundred of them, that were runn.ing back and forth with the same bags and having lots of fun. We gradually got ' strength to carry them. One thing I think that helped give us strength is that we made a pocket in our G string, between the legs, and we -took a .few handfuls of beans into camp with us. The Japs would search us but- they never found our secret place and we gave them to the cook. We would mix them with the rice and you could see the boys coming back to life. We sometimes parched them in a shovel over a fire and they really tasted like peanuts. The Japs never understood where we got the beans.
The girls that we worked with were cute little things. We were told we would be punished if we talked to them. One problems that I had is when I wanted to urinate. One could not leave the group and had to stand there and do it. They did not seem to notice. I'd be dying to go and I'd stand there and couldn't get started as I was self-conscious. So, I'd turn my back and I'd start right away. Then the girls would come around me to see what I was hiding and say to me: "Nanda?" --"What's the matter?"-- and I would shut off right away.
We sometimes worked on other shipments. One time I worked in a hold of a fishing boat up to my waist in herring. I had to fill a basket with herring and pull the rope to lift the basket to the deck. I had to stand under the basket and the juice from the herring fell on my head. lt wasn't a pleasant job but I had a good feed of herring, raw.
Sometimes we used to load box cars with dried smoked herring and would steal some to eat. One day a group of Jap soldiers came in from some place. One of them came over to watch us. We were passing all kinds of remarks like: "He looks like he is hungry." After a while he said in English: "Do you like those smoked herring?", and he walked away.
Many things happened that are too numerous to remember; every day something happened. I was talking to a friend one night about home and the next a.m. I tried to wake him up and he was dead. We had a mean commander at camp and every time you saw him, you had to yell "Youski," attention, and bow to the ground. Near the end of the war they replaced him with an old, kind, gentle man, and our food got a little better. He stayed with us till the end of the war. There were 125 boys that died in our camp in Niigata. lt was the worst camp for the P.O.W.'s that went to Japan. Many of our boys were sick; some gave up and in a matter of a few days they were gone.
The Japanese changed our rations. They gave us "courton", a little red grain that was used for chicken feed. lt was quite tough; you could chew it for hours and would not get any farther ahead. Many of the boys got Beri-Beri, including myself. My feet got about 4 inches thick and my legs got like stove pipes. My face was double the size and I could hardly see out of my eyes. At one time, I was unable to walk and had to crawl around. My legs were quite stiff and I could not bend them. I was lucky as some of the fellows were unable to get around. A few messed their bed and were taken to the toilet room and laid on the floor. The latrine was an open slit in the floor and the maggots used to get out and crawl over the floor. The Japs used to take the contents of the cement box to their gardens as a fertilizer. We used to yo-ho the big buckets to the gate where they loaded the contents in a cart that had a water-tight box. This was hauled by a caribou, a type of an ox. The fellows that were put in the latrine never made it out; they gave up and died.
One evening a woman and a man came into the camp and they made us lay on our back on the floor. They took little sulphur wicks and put on our stomach and legs then set fire to them. They burned right through the skin and the water came out the holes, big pans of it. They drained the fluid and I felt much better. I fainted during the burning, but I guess that saved my life. Many of the boys who had it as bad as I did died before that treatment was given them. My swelling came down and I felt better.
I was allowed to stay in camp to work cleaning the office and bringing the guards' food from the kitchen, and serving them their meals. After, I would wash their dishes; they would give me the leftovers and I would divide it with the boys, so many a day, 'till each one would get their share. When the guards got their "Saki", a Japanese wine, they would not eat very much and I would have quite a lot of leftovers. They got a ration of wine every two weeks and they - were very pleasant and kinçl when they were drinking. One time they gave me a bottle of Saki.
At the office, the first thing I would do is look for a newspaper and take the part with a map on it, then put the cigarette butts from the ashtrays in the paper. When I finished my work, I would bring the paper out and if I was stopped by the guard, I would show him the cigarette butts and he would let me go. One of the American boys could read Japanese and we could see that the Japanese were not doing so good as the fighting was going on in the Philippines, Guam and other Islands. And of the naval battles and air battles, the Japs were always the winners by four to one, but we could read between the lines and took the opposite view.
One a.m., as I was going the a wash stand that was used for washing their clothes, a dark Jap that worked in the office, quite homely, was swearing: "Dami, Dami, Buguro, Burugo," the only swear words they have. I went over to see what was going on and he had a half-pound box of Kraft Canadian cheese out of a Red Cross parcel and was rubbing like mad on his underwear and wasn't getting much suds. He told me: "American savon dami, darnl," (savon means soap). He said: "American B, ne ju cu (829 bomber) dami, dami". He was some frustrated; nothing that was American was any good! The 829 flew quite high. All we could see was the vapour streaks in the sky and the Ack-Ack guns could not reach them or their planes. One night, they came in low to drop mines in the entrance of the harbour and one 1,000 lb. mine dropped near our camp but did not explode. One of the planes got caught in the search lights and was shot down on fire. The crew bailed out but was machine gunned with tracer bullets as they wère coming down.
They dropped incendiary bombs in Niigata, and when you looked up you would think they were going to hit you but were quite a distance away. Things got better as the summer came. Our guards were good and the camp commander was an older man and was quite gentle. The commander before him was quite cruel and was taken away because there were so many deaths in the camp. Before he left, he caused the death of an American (Mormon) boy who went out at night through the fence and stole from the gardens and brought food back to camp and gave it to the sick. They caught him once and they put him in the Acle (jail), a place just big enough for a man to stand, and the door closed. You had no place to move; if you passed out, you could only drop so far. He stayed there three days then was let out. A week later, he was caught again, and the Commander ordered our carpenter to build a coffin, and that was the last we saw of the Mormon boy.
Things were looking up. At the middle of June, the boys were unloading things from ships that were coming back to Japan from some of the Islands they occupied. One time they unloaded bales of yen (Jap money). One bale broke open and the guys who were working in the box cars loaded down with the money, hundred of thousands of yen. They played poker with it. lt was of no other use as we could not buy anything.
One evening I was bringing the guards their supper. They were a friendly group and I gave them a 1000 yen each "savous" (to give). They took it and were quite excited. That night one of the guards brought me a carton of cigarettes. After that, I used to bring them money to get cigarettes, 25,000 yen at a time. We even bought Saki wine, and we had lots of money left. I know it was a stupid thing to do, and if the guards had turned me in, I would not have been here today. I often think of this and shudder of what could have happened, but I guess the Japs were concerned at that time with other things. I guess they thought it was their own people who stole the money and not the P.0.W.'s. I even had some when I arrived back in Canada and gave it away as souvenirs to children on my way home by train. The Canadian Government exchanged the yen, 9 for 9 Canadian dollars. After we came home, I had $29 worth left that I exchanged.
The guards that I had the connections with were exchanged and left, and I went back to work unloading bean boats.
We had about 4 miles to walk to work and we noticed the people were getting hostile. We had to be watching all the time for rocks that they were throwing at us. Also, they used to spit at us. The guards had quite a time keeping them away. Also, at camp a few nights, a mo..b of people came to the gate and were shouting at us, and the guards and other troops were called and they were sent away. s of ships and hundreds of B29 flying in formation, a very thrilling sight!
I was working on the docks, and every day at noon a B29 would go over and we were sent to a warehouse and stayed there till the sirens gave a clear signal. This happened for a week then they left us at work while the planes flew over. When we came into Tokyo Bay all the fleets in the Pacific area were there: American, British, Australian, hundred
Our first stop was Guam. We were put in a Medical Centre and given treatment and were allowed to go to concerts and shows. There was a troop of American actors and actresses putting on shows. They were serving the food at meal time. We hated to see any food being thrown away so we only took small helpings and went back if we felt we needed more. If anybody had a piece of bread left, he would offer it to the next fellow, even though there were heaping platters before him. Another habit we had was to look behind to see if the guard was coming behind you. For weeks, months and years that habit stayed with me. Even yet, when I'm walking on the street, not thinking, I'll look around to see if the guard is coming. My wife used to get upset when we were walking on Montreal streets and I would turn around to look back. She said: "What are you doing that for?"
We were very well treated by our hosts at Guam. We left after a few weeks and our next stop was the Hawaiian Islands. We landed at Pearl Harbour and saw all the sunken ships - quite a difference from the time we were there 3 3/ 4 years before. We stayed there a few days and left for San Francisco. We got quite a welcome when we arrived - thousands of people.
We went to Fort MacDowell in the Bay, near Alcatraz, the Federal prison. We stayed a week then left by train for Seattle, Washington and from there to B.C. by boat. We got quite a welcome at Victoria where we went to a Naval base nearby for treatment and physical checkups. We then left for the East and home. We got a big welcome at Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec. Every time the train stopped, there were hundreds of people to welcome us home and our seats were filled with all kinds of goodies-- milk shakes and other rich foods that we couldn't think of eating. We gave this to children when we stopped at stations.
When I got to Toronto, I met my sister and I didn't know her. There were many changes, but I was glad to get home again.
I was discharged from the Army on May 6, 1946 with a 15% disability pension, around $22.00 per month, and had quite a hard time finding a job. I tried to stay in the services and they said I was not fit. I said I was fit when I went in. Anyway, I was glad to be back in a country where you could have enough to eat and not worry where it was coming from or when.
The story is true of my experiences, or as near as I can remember.