Donald McLeod's Story

Dear Kelly,

I am sorry that this took so long and that I have made mistakes but I am not able to type or spell the way I used to. I hope you understand I have done the best I can. Hopefully it will give you some idea what it was like to be in a Jap P.O.W. camp.


Granpa Don


25 Dec. 1941 to Sept. 1945

I weighed 160 lbs at the outbreak of the war on the 9th of Dec. 1941 when the Japs first bombed the island.

I was in Queen Mary Hospital when the surrender of Hong Kong took place on the 25th of Dec. 1941. It was Xmas day and the Jap soldiers with their Colonel, Tokunaga, invaded the ward and took our wallets, money, watches, and rings. If you refused to give them up, the Jap would shove a rifle in your face with a threat to shoot you if he couldn't have the loot.

In some hospitals, the nurses were raped. We didn't see any nurses being raped but they were not beyond that sort of behaviour. Because of gun shot wounds, I didn't go to a P.O.W. camp until Sept. 11, 1942.

The early months of captivity for me weren't too bad as in hospital our food was a little better, like an egg once a week and bully beef every week. We didn't get sick as fast as the men out at camp. But even they didn't start showing signs of malnutrition for six months. They lived off their own fat.

By Sept. 1942 the hospital was closed down and we all went to Shamshuipo camp where nearly 8000 men were held until Jan. 1943 when the Japs started moving P.O.W's to Japan by boat.

The camp had been designed to house twenty five hundred men and the Japs crammed 8000 in the same area. We all had to sleep on a wooden platform built from one end of the hut to the other, about 100 men in a hut that normally held 40 men in peace time. We were so close together that you could feel the breath of the man next to you.

It wasn't long until we had to go on work parties to Kai Tak Airport on the eastern border of Kowloon. We were up at five a.m. and had our rice porridge and then line up to be counted. Then marched about three miles to Kai Tak with our lunch, a rice sandwich with nothing on it. But we would eat it. Then at five p.m. we would march back to the camp getting home about six thirty and have a cold rice supper.

By Nov. of 1942, sickness struck. Dysentery & malaria was a deadly combination. Not many survived when they came down with it and to add to our problems, diphtheria hit the camp. Under the sleeping conditions, it wasn't long before seven hundred were sick with Dip.

Up to fifteen were dying daily for weeks and that shook up the Jap Doctor. Saito had to report all deaths to the International Red Cross. Within a week, the Jap Doctor brought the anti-toxin into camp and those that had Dip were given their shots. For some, the shots were in time for others it was too late. I was lucky. First I got dysentery, recovered from that, and later came down with malaria. By now we had quinine and it wasn't long until recovery took place for me.

Diet was mostly white rice with Chinese cabbage or bok choy. And with the human compost which was used locally to grow veg, that was the cause of a lot of dysentery.

When you went out to work on a work party, you were paid 10 sen a day. A can of beans was 3 yen. @10 sen a day you worked 30 days for a can of beans.

Beriberi was another big problem. It is water under the skin caused by not enough food and lack of vitamins. So were other vitamin sicknesses such as scurvy, lack of vitamin C, and pellagra, lack of niacin B3. You broke out with septic sores all over your legs and arms and all we had for treatment was a saline compress and an increase in food, eggs and fish, mostly sprats, that was fried with rice. Most of us had those problems to live with, some worse than others. Otherwise, you went on work parties. The only excuse to miss work parties was to be in hospital.

We had to go on work parties to Kai Tak to build a runway for the Jap fighter planes, the Zero. At the time, it was the fastest plane. You received fifteen yen every six months. The money wasn't much good to you unless you knew someone that was dealing on the black market, so you could buy things.

But there was a lighter side to camp life. The chapel had been turned into a theater and we put on shows like Carmen Miranda, The Lady in Red. Two of the Portuguese boys, Sonny and Eddie Naronia who were members of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Corp, when they were dressed up as girls you couldn't tell them from real girls.

I worked in the props department and made wigs out of hemp bags that you combed until the wig was full of fine hair. Then they were dyed according to the colour needed for the show. Another job was making frames for the scenery out of lumber. Three feet by six feet with newsprint paper over the frame and tacked on the back. Sergeant Baptizes from the H.K.V.D.C. painted the scenery that was needed on the flats for every show.

The stage lighting was a set of overhead lights and footlights at the front of the stage. The overhead lights were wired through a rheostat that we made out of a clay drain tile by plugging one end with salt and water to increase the resistance. We connected a feed wire to a weight that we lowered into the water when we wanted the overhead lights dimmed. And we had to make our own spot light from two round tin cans with a mirror in the back to reflect the light on stage. To make the spot, we cut two holes on each side of the can and inserted two carbon cores, that we took from a dry cell battery, sharpened the ends and set them 3/8 of an inch apart and wired them in place on the side of the cans. When the power was turned on, a blue arc light reflected the mirror on stage. To change the color we used colored glass.

We also had our own regimental band that played the overture to open the show and the music for the show and the finale at the end of the show.

The Japs would get the material needed for the show and would come and sit in their chairs on opening night while the rest of us sat on the floor. I don't remember how many shows we put on. It was quite a few. That was the only entertainment we had other than bridge and cribbage.

Our eating dishes were also home made out of cans and bottles. My cup was made from a bottle cut with wet string with rosin on it. Then the rough edges rounded off with a stone and a handle made of tin and wire.

The camp had a small chicken farm and pig farm. The eggs that the hens laid were given to the sick in hospital and at Xmas the pigs were butchered for a Xmas dinner. That was our Xmas dinner. Each man received a piece of pork about 1 x 1 1/2.

In January 1943, the Japs started taking drafts of men to Japan to work in the coal mine and factories. I was not included in the draft because of my arm. But it did mean more work around camp like cleaning drains and toilets, washrooms, and also going out to Kai Tak on work parties.

In the summer of 1943, I came down with pellagra, open sores all over the arms and legs, and was in hospital for weeks until the Doctors found niacin B3 for me and others. We got better later in '43. My eyesight was disappearing at the time. My job was looking after two Doctors and two Padres. I reported to Major Crawford and we went to the M.I.R. and gave me shots. Within a month, eyesight had returned to normal.

By the fall of '43, most of us had adjusted to our diet and the worst was over. Thin, yes, but we were young and able to do our chores.

I never found out if the British had a Air Base at Peking, but one sunny Sept. day around noon we could see the Spitfire fighter and about nine Lancaster bombers heading for the oil tank farm west of camp, about a 1/4 of a mile away. The bombers dropped their bombs on target. The Spitfires were spraying the area with machine gun fire to stop the firefighters from putting the fire out. One shell came through the roof. No one was hurt but we were all badly shaken up. Not so for the guard on the corner tower. I don't know if he jumped out or if the concussion from the bombing toppled the guard off the tower or he jumped. But he was gone. And we had no guard on that corner until shift change.

That was the start of the bombing by Allied Forces. A shipyard was hit just east of the camp and bombing shipping in the harbor became a routine every few weeks. We were told to get under our beds, but we would sit in the window and watch the planes dive bombing their targets until one bomb missed its mark and slammed into the side of the hill behind the camp. The concussion from the blast blew me flat on my back on the floor of our hut. From then on, I did what I was told and got under the bed. Often out on work parties at Kai Tak, the planes came over and bombed the runway. When the air raid siren went, we would head for the shelters. But for most of the time, we would only get to the Admin building and lay flat on the ground with our arms over our ears and head, with the Admin building between us and the runway. No one was hurt other than the two guards killed by the bombs and some wounded. The wounded were given first aid and taken to the hospital by truck.

When the truck returned, we were taken back to camp. The next day on returning to the airfield, we found our tent was ripped to pieces with bomb fragments. We were lucky that we had got out of there or a lot of our boys would have been wounded.

Twice we were caught out at Kai Tak during an air raid. Most of the bombing was done at night after the ships were in the harbor.

At the surrender in 1945, the Japs were cruel but the guards we had on the camp were Formosans and they were better natured.

In order to get cigarettes to smoke we would pretend to have a fight and the winner would get a pack. This became a game each day. Someone would start a fight and the winner would get a pack. We kept ourselves in smokes for a while. The shag tobacco that the Japs provided was so strong that you had to soak it in a salt brine two or three times and then dry it. We had no cigarette papers so we tried making a pipe out of bamboo but that didn't work. Most of us gave up smoking until the war ended.

There was no toilet paper or soap. At first we tried to use fine sand and oil to rub ourselves down then shower. That wasn't so hot. We did get soap in time, and toilet paper. Later the Japs installed a Roman type bath that they used and then we could use it. By the time our turn came, the water was cold and you were just as clean as having a shower. The weather was not that cold even in winter. About 65F up to 80F in the summer.

Food was the big thing that most of us worked for. We would wash clothes and dishes for the officers or anyone who could afford to buy or give me food. I sold candy made with brown sugar that was made by the two Portugese and I would be paid with food, like a bowl of rice or some veg soup.

The only time the men were given clothes of any kind was when they were shipped to Japan. The Japs had captured the ordnance stores in 1941. Only those men going to Japan were fitted out with K. Drill and boots. All we had were loin cloths or G strings as we called them and wooden clogs for shoes. For all the time I was in camp and hospital that was all I had. That was another way to earn food, making clogs for the men.

Lice was not a problem as we showered daily and kept our hair short. But bed bugs were all over the place. You cleaned your bed daily and the next day they were back. Another problem was rats. They were all over the camp. To get them out of the hut, we would start a fire and make smudge smoke. That would drive them away but back they would come. We had to keep our dishes and utensils clean and the food cleared up if it was dropped on the floor.

Jap or guard punishment only happened to me twice. A slap across the face for being late on muster parade and once when I didn't salute a Jap Sergeant because I couldn't see him when my eyes were bad. As far as cruelty was concerned, the Formosan guards were well behaved towards the men.

The Red Cross ship came into port in the fall of 1943 and all the disabled were lined up and checked out by Dr. Saito, the Jap Doctor. Even though our military Doctors explained that we would be discharged when we got home, the Japs wouldn't let us be returned to Canada. We had high hopes of being sent home. Instead, the Japs opened up a hospital in the old Central British School in Kowloon and sent us up there. Spring beds and mattress with white sheets were back after so long sleeping on wooden beds. It was wonderful.

Col. Bowie of the Royal Army Medical Corp was in charge and he had done most of the surgery on my arm. He assigned me to a few light tasks where I could earn extra food. One job was grinding rice flour with a stone grinder. Two round stones with grooves in the bottom stone and a hole in the top where you poured the rice in and revolved the stone clockwise and make rice flour and take it to the kitchen. The other was repairing bed springs. Some worked in the kitchen and the laundry.

There was a Chinese garden just below the hospital and we would go down every morning and collect the veg and sweet potatoes for our meal at night. The food was much better for us at C.B.S. and more time for reading and recreation like cribbage and bridge tournaments. Also a small golf course and lots of room to walk around.

Even with better conditions, the death rate was two or three a week. Men that were brought in from camp with malaria and other types of sickness, and some with spinal meningitis we called brain fever. Those men suffered before they died. The Doctors had no pain killers to ease their suffering and no oxygen to ease their breathing. It was horrible to see. The cemetery was just down from the hospital and we always had to be on the burial party.

We knew how the war in the west was going via the bamboo wireless. That the surrender of Germany had taken place in the spring of '45, and that the landings in the Philipines and the bombing of Tokyo. Some of the Portuguese family had radio in Kowloon and the news would find its way into the camp and hospital.

Men were coming from Shamshuipo with broken bones and told us that the Japs were digging tunnels in the hills for safety, while the P.O.W. would be between them and the Allied Forces. That was something we always knew would happen. That the P.O.W. would be in the middle. But the Americans dropped the atomic bomb before that could happen.

We woke up one morning in August 1945 and the guards were gone. We stayed put until we knew for sure that the war was over. The next day, planes flew over dropping pamphlets telling us that the war was over. A radio appeared in the hospital like magic. Then we had first hand news of the war's end and Winston Churchill's address to the world. The next flyover by the planes dropped supplies, mostly parcels that contained bully beef, powdered milk, chocolate bars, and sugar. Our first meal of meat & vegetables and the bars for dessert. You talk about being sick. So sick that we couldn't eat again for days.

After a week, those that could walk went back to the Shamshuipo camp. From there, we were able to visit our old military nurses that were interned at Stanley Prison Camp for a day.

It was nearly ten days before the first Canadian warship arrived, the H.M.S. Prince Robert. She was the escort ship when we went to Hong Kong. In 1945, the ship docked at the Old Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon and the ship's M.O. Dr. McLure came to camp with his staff to give us a medical. (Phillip: Dr. McLure brought you into the world in Mission City.)

Then we were given Canadian K.D. shorts and shirts to wear. The medical crew weighed us and I weighed 95 lbs. In a few days we were invited to have our meals on board the Robert. That was the first bacon & egg meal we had in years.

The next ship in was the Australian carrier. They rounded up all the guards and their arms. They decided that we should be taken on board The Empress of Asia to Manila. Waiting for The Empress of Asia was the longest two weeks of the P.O.W. time. We were free and couldn't go any place, except downtown in Kowloon and visit the Robert and the carrier. The Doctor said no alcohol. There was none anyhow.

We sailed on The Empress of Asia to Manila and was transported to Camp 5 Military Camp out near General MacArthur's holdings, where we stayed and were issued American military clothes and had another medical, also our shots.

The trip home was on the Admiral Hughes. That brought us to Work Point Barracks in Esquimalt. The food was excellent on board the troop ship, a carton of cigarettes daily. The coffee was something we hadn't had for years and there was always hot coffee to be had in the canteen, free. We loafed around on deck and kept up our suntan.

We stayed at Work Point until we received our Canadian uniform and two hundred dollars cash. That was the first cash we had in nearly four years. The C.P.R. ferry took us to Vancouver. I was met by my Uncle Murdie, Aunt Clara and Aunt Tillie (At that point I had never met them before but knew they lived in Vancouver.) They had phoned me at Work Point and told me that they would pick me up at the C. P. ferry dock. I stayed with them for a week before the army had my tickets ready to travel so I could go home and see my family. Looking back, Uncle Murdie went to a lot of trouble to give me a good time. Although at the time I didn't drink, they had a party for me and I received fifty dollars as a gift plus the two hundred the army gave me. So I went home with a lot of money, the most I ever had.

The trip home was on the C.P.R. and lots of parties on the train. Everyone wanted to buy us drinks and have an excuse for a party.

At the time, Dad and the family were living near Glen Robertson. Dad picked me up at the station at Glen Sandfield with John and Lillian. I remember the first thing both of them did was to hold out their hands for candy. Another party was held by a MacLeod family for me and another purse of a hundred dollars. Man, I was making more money than I'd ever seen in my life before, thanks to all the family.

Footnote: Thanks to Granddaughter Kelly Ann McLeod for having me recall part of our stay in the P.O.W. camp. Also my friends for loaning me the book "In Enemy Hands" where I was able to gather a lot of information that I had forgotten.

Donald A. McLeod

Editor's Note: The author's spelling and punctuation have been corrected for ease of reading. The original document can be accessed through his Individual Report, H6055 Donald McLeod, Additional Notes, Line 7.