Submitted by Tara Vivian on the Facebook group Hong Kong Veterans Tribute, and copied with permission.
I wanted to write pages from my great uncles diary as a POW. Sorry for the long post, history doesn't write this way in school. GRAPHIC CONTENT, IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE OR SUFFER FROM PTSD PLEASE BE WARNED.
It all started in 1940. No work for the young folk, and even less money. We decided to join the army and see the world, and have some fun at the same time. But life in the army wasn't at all glamourous. The rigours of training camp meant getting up early and working late. The pay was $20 dollars a month, which was pretty good because the army supplied you with clothes and with three solid meals per day. The day I was called up, I was being transferred to Winnipeg Grenadiers, along with several other buddies of mine from the queens own Cameron Highlanders. We were being shipped overseas, which was just the kind of action we were looking for, we wanted to participate in the fighting.
We were marched down to the CPR station, but instead to our surprise of being shipped east as we expected, we were sent west. We landed in Vancouver on October 23rd, 1941, and were marched aboard an old Australian freighter called "Awatea." We set out to sea, and eight days later we landed in Honolulu.
We landed in Hong Kong on November 16th, 1941, and for a couple weeks we had fun exploring the island. Coming from the prairies of Canada it was a new experience for us to ride in rickshaws and fancy boats. The war in Europe seemed very remote, but the fun didn't last long.
We were at camp on the island of Manaving off the coast of China on December 6th, 1941, when we awoke to the sound of planes overhead, each plane had a large red spot on each wing. We were told that Japan had declared war, and we were in the middle of it. We spent the next few days in foxholes, living a nightmare, with air raids and artillery fire all around us. I was deathly afraid of being ripped apart from flying shrapnel. I'd seen it happen to so many men and women, heads, arms, and legs blown into a million pieces. After a few weeks, I got accustomed to seeing blood and the dead and dying lining up the roadside.
One night at Woncha Gap, we were under a heavy barrage of artillery fire when one shell landed amongst our group, and exploded. It left nineteen of us dead and the rest wounded. I was pretty lucky compared to the others, two pieces of shrapnel in one leg and bad contusions to the chest. After the fall of Hong Kong, I was taken from the queens hospital at Won Chi, to Bowen road hospital in Victoria, there I was to spend the next seven months.
I was never so lonely in my life as I was in this hospital. I had a bed on the west wing overlooking the sea....it was very scenic because the hospital was built on the mountainside, as you could see for miles. Mourning doves would perch in fig trees of hospital grounds, and that mournful tune of theirs would make me feel like crying. Home seemed so far away.
Then came the day when the doc said I was well enough to be sent to Stanley point prison camp, which was situated on the north point of the island of Hong Kong. The island of Hong Kong is approximately twenty six miles all around, with mountains on the seashore. Stanley point had been a British garrison before the war, but by the time we got there it was practically all wrecked. There were no windows or doors on the huts. The Japanese had put a three strand electric fence outside the six foot page wire fence. The beds were bunk style with wooden slats to sleep on. If you were me of the lucky ones, you had a blanket, if not you scrounged a couple of potato bags and made one.
It wasn't long before the place was crawling with bedbugs, lice and fleas. There was nothing to kill them with but your bare hands, so you just had to get used to them. The first two months, we were inactive, but the Japanese had no intention of letting us sit around and do nothing. They decided to build an airstrip so they could land their aircraft on the mainland.
Every morning at 6:30 am, we were loaded onto a ferry and taken to what is known today as the Ki Tac airport, one of the finest in the world, and built with the sweat and labour of the POW's. Dirt was carried in baskets Chinese coolie style, and rocks were excavated with pick and shovel. Because I had dysentery, I was shipped back to Bowen road. From there shipped to Sham Shi prison camp just outside of Rawloon. This was closer to work, and they didn't have to make so many ferry trips, as it was only four miles march by road. It was in this camp that we lost so many men to dysentery, malaria and malnutrition.
We were burying as many men as eighteen a day. After being in this camp for a month, I was given the option of staying here or going to Japan. Considering we were losing so many men here, I thought a cooler climate might be better. It turned out to be just as bad, if not worse.
They loaded four hundred Canadians, Americans, English, Dutch and Aussies onto the "Santa Maria" and set off on a rough eight day journey up through the China sea. We had no room to move around as the ships hold was packed like sardines. Sanitation facilities were practically non-existent and many men died. When we arrived in Nagasaki, we were handed two buns each. We hadn't seen food in quite a while, and they tasted like cake. They loaded us onto a train for Yokahama, where we were set up in a POW camp called 3D. This was to be our home for the next three years.
Here they built us huts out of plywood with sliding doors. On the floors they had built a raised platform covered with straw for us to sleep on. Up at 5am, work till 5pm, then march us back to camp again. You had to work 30 days, and were allowed one day off to wash your clothes, and repair and mend them. In summer, we sweltered in temps over 100, and in winter we froze when the thermometer dropped to 30 and the monsoon rains soaked our clothes.
We had no heat in the huts to dry our wet clothes. They gave us each of us two blankets made of paper and running shoes to wear. Many a night I cried myself to sleep with the cold. When you got wet you had no way to dry your clothes. We only had a pair of pants, two shirts, and no underwear. Sometimes two guys would get together, and huddled together with your clothes on and four blankets, the body heat retained would dry the clothes.
The food was lousy. A cup of tea and a bowl of rice for breakfast, a couple buns and tea for dinner, and two small potatoes and a cup of tea for supper. We were marched two miles to work by army guards. At work we were guarded by "Fu-men" - a meaner, uglier bunch of men you could ever meet. Many a beating I took from these men, and many a night I cried myself to sleep.
I was cold and hungry all the time. I used to take the tea leaves and pour hot water on them and drink the tea. The next time boiled them and ate the leaves. You never threw anything away. You could cut a cigarette into five pieces, and roll a cigarette from each piece. I used the same razor blade for a year by sharpening it on an old bottle. You learned to appreciate every little thing.
Early in 1944, the Americans bombed the shipyards were we worked, so they shipped us to Sendi #1, which was a small coal mining village in the north of Japan. Conditions were similar to the last camp, however we did have heaters in the huts. Meals were split into three a day, or everything at one meal. So I crammed everything all in one meal because I was afraid that I wouldn't make it to the next one.
This was the worst place I'd had ever been. They sent you down into the mines before daylight, you weren't allowed to come up until after dark. One meal a day, we lost a lot of men. It was a case of survival of the fittest. I continued to lose weight, most of the men were living skeletons.
Meals were similar to the other camp, rice and tea, bun and tea, potatoes and tea. A piece of pumpkin cooked with skin on, a herring cooked head and all, a small bowl of horse meat soup. Seaweed greens were the worst, it was similar to green hair, and when it was cold, all you could do was close your eyes and swallow. Potato greens weren't too bad when you were real hungry.
I learned there was very little you cannot eat. About the only thing was carrot tops, they're as bitter as gall. Roasted locusts are like eating potato chips with legs. Water bugs when roasted, are very tasty and similar to glossetts. Snakes make good stew, and sparrows make good eating too. It got to a point where anything that crawled or flew stayed clear of our camp, or it was in the stewpot. When you are hungry you will eat anything. We would sneak behind the staff cook shack and pick the burnt rice out from garbage cans.
One morning, we woke up to find the camp empty. No guards were at the gates. The war with Japan was over. The Americans dropped some food supplies for us, and after spending time in hospital in Tokyo, Honolulu, and San Francisco, I was shipped home by train to Winnipeg Manitoba.
~Stanley Edwin Edgar
I had the privilege of knowing uncle Stan and saw him at family events and reunions, I know of a few stories, and what he wrote here. I will share in some short stories linked to this... Stan was named after his own uncle, my great grandmas favourite brother Stanley Edwin Yardley, who was killed in action in the battle of the Somme France. Stan hated porridge, and his parents made him eat it anyways. They'd tell him, "Someday you'll wish you had it." Those words haunted him in the POW camps. While in Japan he made friends with a local man on the other side of the POW fence. They'd talk daily, and he would help him with his English. The man said he would give him a cup of milk daily, and hide it by the fence for him. He would find the hidden milk daily, and drink it, this local man risked his own life by helping him. Stan said that cup of milk, saved his life. The fat content alone would have kept his liver function going. Just goes to show you, not all people supported the war in Japan. I always wondered what happened to this man, he helped bring my great uncle home.
Tara Vivian-Great niece