Gerry Gerrard's Story

Memories of Horace (Gerry) Gerrard

I grew up in Red Deer Alberta, population 3000. In grades 7&8 I was in school cadets and won the best shot badge in grade 8. I was also in the boy scouts where I learned signaling both semaphore and Morse code. At age sixteen I joined the army reserves, but had to boost my age to eighteen, the only reason I was accepted was they needed signalers for summer camp, so I went to camp Shilo in 1938 & 39.

On September 2nd 1939 I was called up and told that 10 men were needed in Victoria, Being Under age 17 I did not have to go but went anyway, caught the 3:30 train that afternoon, was sworn in at Calgary then back on the train that night for Victoria. The next morning the conductor informed us War was declared. In Victoria I became a gunner on 12 pounder and 6 inch coastal defence guns. Volunteers were called for a signal training course so being bored standing watches I signed up. Shortly after finishing the course I was sent to Fort Rodd Hill as a wireless operator working with the navy who were inspecting all shipping going through Juan de Fuca straits. Later on I served as a gunner at various forts, even on the breakwater. I was later transferred to Mary Hill fort as a signaler. After a few months all communications were taken over by the R.C.C.S. and a few months later I was sent to Barriefield Ontario for the start of the 4th division signals. While in Barriefield new orders came out that all non-combatants must have basic infantry training and so we received this. Two months in Barriefield and we were off to Camp Debert, Nova Scotia.

About the 17th Oct. 1941, 19 of us were called out by name for overseas duty We were given our mandatory 2 days embarkation leave but those of us from the west could not have travel time, so took leave there then boarded the train for Ottawa. The next day we arrived in Ottawa, had medicals new equipment and clothing. On Oct 23rd we boarded the train, joining the Royal Rifles, arriving in Vancouver on the morning of Oct. 27 1941 and immediately boarded the troop ship Awatea and put to sea that night. The Awatea was a New Zealand ship (accommodation 500) taken over by the British. Below decks stunk of rendering mutton which did not help those suffering sea sickness. The first meal was lunch a nice bowl of tripe. Being English I was used to this and quite enjoyed it but I noticed no one else seemed to be eating. The remaining meals were no better. On the third day after a breakfast of mutton stew there was a loud protest and an inspection of the galley produced Canadian food. The time at sea was spent training. The signalers did signal duties with our escort vessel Cruiser Prince Robert. Our next stop Honolulu for fuel also at Manila. Approaching Manila we were met by a British cruiser which escorted us through the islands and mine fields. The night was pitch black and at one point the captain asked me if I could locate the Prince Robert ahead of us, one blink of my signal lamp got a reply. The next morning, having refueled, it was on to Hong Kong arriving Nov 16th.

We left the ship that morning and marched to Sham Sui Po barracks in Kowloon which is on the mainland opposite Hong Kong. The next 3 weeks were spent training and getting to know the territory, learning the customs of the civilians, the do's and don'ts. We were told the 1975 Canadians brought the total of defending troops to 14,000 men. There were 65,000 Japanese lined up at the border plus an aircraft carrier near by.

On Dec.7 H.K. time the two battalions took up defence positions on the Island of Hong Kong. The signals stayed and set up a temporary wireless station on the parade square immediately in front of the Married quarters where we were housed. About 8:00 am the first wave of bombers came over, I saw the bombs exit the plane and only one hit our building while several dropped into the harbor. I was sent to join the British signals with the Royal Scots. Beside the Scottish battalion were 2 India Battalions, the Rajputs and Punjabs. All three were soon overrun by overwhelming forces and on Dec. 11 were ordered to retreat to the island. The Island is solid rock, very little flat land all very high peaks and valleys. We did not have maps and our vehicles were diverted to Manila. The roads are all narrow and winding being cut into the rock face. There was very little cover as all trees and bushes were cut down by the residents for fuel; now it is against the law. I stayed with the Scots regiment at Lye Moon Bay until Dec 13 then was sent to our signals at Wan Nei Chong Gap on Dec. 13. Brigadier Lawson commander of the Canadian troops was stationed about 100 yards behind us. It should be noted that the artillery ran out of ammunition and there was no anti-aircraft defence which allowed the enemy to have spotter planes overhead all day.

On Dec. 19 one of the enemy landings was Wan Nei Chong Gap. It was a dark night and the Japanese advanced right up the valley and by dawn we had to retreat. That day a British officer led us down to a place called the Jockey Club taken over by the British signals. The next day we did guard duty and then hiked to Wan Chi Gap.

Dec 22: While there I located the signalers but was called away when the shelling started again and shortly after I returned to see them but entered the wrong door of this all brick building. It was dark in there and as I waited for my eyes to become accustomed to the light a shell came through the wall. What saved me, I was blown through an opposite door into another room. There were a few men sleeping in the first room which now had a 6 foot diameter hole in the wall. We got the wounded out patched up and sent to hospital. By this time the shelling had ceased. My mouth and eyes were full of brick and mortar dust , my helmet was lost due to a hit on the head no doubt a brick. I wiped my hand across the back of my neck to see if it was bleeding , it wasn't so I forgot about it. A little bit of the old British army discipline came into play here. We were told we would spend the night with the Middlesex regiment at the bottom of the hill, so some of us started down only to be called back by a British signal sergeant, we had to line up and march down in plain view of the spotter plane. The men quickly formed up, then someone mentioned the rations were in the damaged room and I was one delegated to get them. Walking through that shell hole took every bit of will power I had. Arriving at the Middlesex bunker I sat down and was going to put my head in my hands when I noticed they were caked with blood and and I thought to myself that's human blood, thank God it isn't mine.

On Christmas day two others and myself were sent back to the Grenadiers at Wanchi but at a different area than before. We always set up our equipment apart from the regiment headquarters because the fighter planes would locate us. About the middle of the afternoon one man went to deliver a message to the Company headquarters only to find it occupied by Japanese. Luckily he saw them first and let us know we were behind enemy lines. We manage to make our way out but lost our equipment, so had to find our headquarters for a new supply. When we arrived they were preparing for the last stand, This was the Victoria barracks, the building's three barrack blocks were built one above the other up the side of the hill. I was posted on the top one with orders not to retreat as we would run into fire from the men below. I realized afterward that troops who would be attacking us were the same ones we had just left. The Japs would have lobbed mortars over the hill and obliterated us before we could see them. After waiting a short while for all hell to start, the order to surrender came through. I think the Japanese who came to us were tired and happy the fight was over, They marched us over to a telephone co. warehouse where we spent the night, no food. I slept on a large coil of wire.

Dec. 26: we were marched to the ferry and crossed to the mainland and back to our barracks at Sham Sui Po. It had been looted, the buildings of brick or tile and plaster were devoid of every bit of wood. We were assigned to a bare building with a cement floor, no beds, doors and windows gone even the frames. I had no blanket but somewhere had got a very light piece of canvas and that was my bed. The food supplied was very minimal so we were continually hungry. Washing facilities were standpipes outside. Twice a day we had to line up and count off in Japanese and if one made a mistake, he received a punch or slap in the face. I was told that 150 Canadian born Japanese returned to Japan just before the war and one of them was nicknamed by us “the Kamloops kid”. He was a tall husky fellow for a Jap and went to UBC. He was very cruel and not having a noticeable accent would walk among the men and say a nasty thing about the Japs and, when someone not noticing him agreed, he would beat him always with an armed guard looking on. One day at roll call we were one man too many at the hospital so we were short a man on parade. The Kamloops Kid punched out our officer and when the officer would not go down, he put his foot behind him and pushed him over.

The Canadians were moved to North Point on the island. It had been a refugee camp, the buildings wood and well constructed but some suffered from shell fire. The one occupied by Headquarters had one end shot off so we blocked it off with anything we could find. Another chap and I were given the job of repairing the lighting in the buildings that had been damaged. The padre asked us if we could install a light for him. He took us to a small storeroom with no windows where a soldier lay on a stretcher on the earthen floor with the hiccups. There seemed to be no way to help him. We put in the light but he died within the week.

One night we were called out, including the sick, for roll call about midnight. It was raining and we had to stand there until seven o'clock. Four men had escaped and had been caught They were found after the war was over, each had a large spike driven into the top of his head.

It was about the summer of 42 that we noticed the onset of of various diseases caused by a lack of vitamins such as beriberi, pellagra, open sores etc. There was a small hut next to ours and in it were some men with diphtheria, laying on stretchers on the dirt floor and who were not expected to survive, some had to have their throats cut so they could breath and a few survived. I had a cyst on my tail bone which was treated in Victoria and it flared up again in prison camp. I would just bend over have it cut open throw a piece of rag on it and away I go.

After a few months we were moved back to Sham Sui Po and started work parties. We would have to be on the parade ground at dawn for roll call then march to the airport to mix concrete by hand for runways, then be back in time to have roll call by dark. We maybe got a day off in 3 weeks. I remember on one day off I discovered my so-called sheet was full of black streaks. It turned out to be caused by bed bugs, luckily they didn't bite.

In early January 43 preparations were started to pick out the fittest men to send to Japan. On January 19/43 500 men boarded a ship I believe was a hospital ship. I was one of the first aboard and sent down the hold which to my surprise was lined with wood and well lit. The men kept coming down until there was just enough room for us to sit if we sat on the floor, spreading our feet so others could sit between our legs. Thank goodness the trip only lasted two days. In the evening of Jan. 20th we arrived in Nagasaki and boarded the train for Yokahama, from there by electric train to Kawasaki, then marched to our camp.

The camp was new with two large buildings, the wash facilities across the back to form a U, a row of sinks cold water only and also toilets Japanese style. There was a large bathing tub which would hold about thirty men. Unfortunately there was no fuel so it only got used a few times. The huts were built with ½" siding which did not interlock on the outside, nothing inside. There were three potbellied stoves in each building but again no fuel. The buildings had a center aisle with platforms covered with straw mats for sleeping. Each platform held twenty men head to head and two feet wide. We were issued four blankets, a pair of trousers and a jacket. We thought this was wonderful but the blankets were made from wood fiber and lay together like boards with no warmth plus the pants and jackets had to last to the end of the war.

The next day we were marched to work at the Nippon Kokan Shipyard; once there divided into work groups. My group was the largest with 150 men reformed into smaller crews. Our job was to construct the ships. The work was hard and by the time we left, the crew was down to 40 men the others having to be put on lighter work. The biggest problem was beriberi, our feet were painful all the time and it made marching to work, walking on girders etc. difficult. The Jap workers on the whole were not too difficult to get along with but we could not trust them.

It was amusing: the ships we were building were 10,000 ton freighters and the plans were British, many markings on parts were in English, for example a bracket would have BKT on it. Whenever the foreman described a job we would always understand before the Japs did.

Beside the other mentioned miseries there were worms. Those who had them would cough up worms the size of your little finger up to three inches long. Boils were another problem. We would go to the Dr. for hot water and hold hot rags on them to bring them to a head. When ripe the Dr. would stick his scalpel down into them, cut a cross and squeeze them out. I thought I had one and went to the Dr. and he put me in hospital immediately. Next morning out come four orderlies who held me down as the Dr. made a cut below my knee to drain the infection. A couple of days later the Dr. had the measles and was replaced by an American Dr. who decided to make the incision larger so out came the orderlies again. This time using a rod he broke away the flesh so the wound could drain better. After a few weeks it healed and came up above the knee. So out come the orderlies again, but this time it healed quicker. There were no medical supplies to help.

The weather in that area was about the same as Victoria. When it snowed we were marched to work one way and returned another to break a trail. The deepest snow we had was two feet. When the Red Cross came to inspect the camp, the company would bring in extra food and take it away afterwards. They also paid us some of the pay we were supposed to get, less of course the cost of our food. We were paid according to the number of days worked. The pay we could spend but we were offered five items and the only thing any good to us was a straight razor. It seemed odd to me so I ordered one. To my surprise I got it, no hone or strop. The men had some cash they could not spend. Some were able to buy the odd cigarette from a workman. Two men who bunked next to me got a secret deal going with some workmen; they got taken a few times but managed to keep the business going. Then one day the two of them were off work so rather than lose the business I took it over until one of them came back and then we would split them and smuggle them in.

Then one day Ernie got caught and being a buddy of his I was followed wherever I went in the shipyard, so my last delivery of smokes remained in a punch machine in the yard. Ernie was beat up pretty badly and had to stand out all night. Each hour a guard would dump a bucket of water over him.

June 1945: the camp was split up and we were sent to various camps. Due to the bombing and strafing we could no longer work in the yard. I was sent to a place named Kinaski [Kamaishi] in the north. It was 15 miles up a mountain from the ocean where the smelter was, in a village called Ohasi. Most of the men worked in the mine but I swung a sledge hammer in the blacksmith shop. This camp had 275 mix of Americans, Dutch, Javanese, Australians and British and we were 200. The civilians, who we saw little of were friendly, and the air was fresh but the food was still lousy. Out of our pay (which we never saw) were deductions for food and fuel. We had to have the trees chopped and tied in bundles and every so often after work we would have to climb the mountain and get the wood. If anyone was unable to do it some one else had to volunteer.

Down at the seaport there was the steel smelter and behind it was a British camp. Unfortunately two weeks before war's end the Nimitz Fleet shelled and destroyed the smelter killing a few of the prisoners and wounding others who were brought up to our camp, but we had no medical supplies until they were found after the war ended. A small locked building was full of Red Cross supplies.

The Americans had a radio in the camp and occasionally would tune into Australia. The news would be passed on by word of mouth. It took a week before we heard of the Atomic Bomb, and by this time we knew the end was near. Then one day the Jap workers kept getting calls to go to the nearest loudspeakers and listen to speeches. I received the message after lunch that the war was over. We marched back to camp that night, same routine, next morning lined up for work and discovered the guards had disappeared. We received instructions to stay in the camp until picked up.

Soon after supplies started to arrive by air drops. In September, Nimitz fleet was back to pick us up. We boarded a hospital ship had a thorough cleaning and those who were able transferred to destroyers where we proceeded to Tokyo Bay and went aboard troop transports. A couple of days in the bay and a typhoon came up. Ships as far as you could see were instructed to spread out. Our ship the USS OZARK was headed for Guam. In Guam we were warned if we went for a walk that there were Japanese soldiers who still would not believe they lost the war. Each ship and plane heading for North America took US troops and prisoners. I ended up on a ship to San Francisco via Pearl Harbor, a couple of days in a San Francisco de-mob center, a train to Seattle then the ferry to Victoria where my girl friend was waiting for me. It was a good thing because I had no home to go to.

Gerry Gerrard.