From Derrill Henderson (Past President HKVCA): Edison Yeadon was in prison camp with our men. As such he was allowed to join the HKVA and participated frequently in events.
Any errors in this account are probably due to glitches in the OCR process and should not be attributed to the author.
I was walking along Water Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a man came to me and asked me if I would like a job. I said I sure would. He said to follow him to the Norwegian Council, so off we went. The gentleman there asked me if it was alright for me to go to sea, I said sure. He asked me again if it was alright with my Mom and Dad, I said yes. He gave me instructions to meet the Launch at a certain time on the water front as the ship was anchored off.
I hurried home and borrowed a suitcase from my sister who lived nearby. Then I went home to pack, I told my mother that I had a job on a ship and that I was leaving home. She started crying. I just had to get out of there, I couldn't take it anymore, so I left her crying. I met my father on the way to the ship, I told him that I had a job on a ship. He asked if it was alright with my mother. I said yes. I heard after the war was over that my four brothers had come looking for me along the docks.
The Launch was waiting for me, it was a dark and dreary night. We took off for the ship, which was about a ten minute ride, and when we came along side, I saw this rope ladder, which I had never seen before. I climbed, suitcase in one hand, trying to make it up the ladder. It was a good thing she was low in the water, having been loaded with pig iron from India. We sailed the next morning, October 1941, I was just seventeen as of September 24. We travelled on our own to Sydney for coal and to pick up the convoy to Scotland, it was a five knot convoy. I had tried to go ashore in Sydney, but the Dock Guards wouldn't let me, I had just wanted to look around.
We sailed the next morning in convoy, with about fifty other ships. We made the crossing without losing a single ship, which was a surprise. The Germans must have run out of torpedoes or were called away. We pulled into Lock Hue, which was a beautiful site, mountains on one side and farms on the other. We were there for about a week. waiting for convoy to Dundee, the cast side of Scotland. We couldn't get to Dundee, we were too heavily loaded, we had to go to Leath Decks, Edinburgh. We were there about three weeks, unloading our cargo. The next port was Newcastle, for dry dock at Wallesend, we were there about two months building rooms for the gunners, putting on guns, engine overhaul, bottom scraped and painted.
I didn't have much to do at that time, so I walked around looking at things. I went to the novelty places in South Shields, I saw a line up for chocolates, I didn't have a coupon, but they gave me some chocolates anyway as they knew I was off of a ship. I went to the Norwegian New Year's Eve party, I felt like a duck out of water, I couldn't speak the language so it wasn't very entertaining for me. The British appreciated the Merchant Navy, we delivered food and everything needed to fight the war, travelling in submarine infested waters. The submarine almost won the battle of the Atlantic, but the Navy and the Air Force took care of that.
I was treated very well in the British Isles. but the time had come to leave. Newcastle area. We were docked at South Shields waiting for a convoy to Loch Ewe. 'l'he night we were ready to go, there was an air raid alarm, so we remained docked until the following night" then we were off.
It was some time in January that we left Loch Ewe for New York, this was in 1942. We were sailing along nicely at five knots one evening, just south of Newfoundland, when we heard depth charges going off. Suddenly a bright flare iit up the sky, it was a signal to separate and go our own way. The engine crew came running up the ladders, we had been hit by something and it rattled along the bottom of the ship. We figured later that it was a dud torpedo, we had been very lucky, the cold Atlantic wouldn't have been pleasant, especially this time of year. The next day the weather turned for the worst, which was actually a blessing, German submarines didn't like this type of weather, which meant we did, as it kept them down. The weather was so bad we had to put up a sail to keep the ship into the wind. When we made it to New York,we had to go into dry dock to check the extent of the damage done from our encounters with submarines in the North Atlantic. I spoke with a dock worker who had said we had been hit by something.
We left the dry docks to go over to the New York docks to load cargo from India We loaded military equipment, tanks, guns, oil in drums, ammunition and trucks on the deck. We were loaded, everything needed to fight a war with. Some of the crew and I went up to Times Square to take in a show, which was a real treat. It had taken us two to three weeks to load up. We then sailed down the American Coast, which was infested with German submarines at the time. We were to go to St. Lucia for fuel. but a ship was torpedoed in the harbour. We had to find another place to fuel up, which was St. -Thomas, in the West Indies. We were there for three days, then we were off to South America. After a week or so we arrived in Parnaiba, Brazil for coal, our ship was an old coal burner. Her name was Aust, a Norwegian tramp. She was a good old ship and I enjoyed being on her. We left Parnaiba, ten days out, on Good Friday, April 3rd 1942, just south of the equator, the Germans caught up with us.
Out of the sky came a sea plane with a hook to cut our aeriall to prevent us from sending a signal that we were under attack. The sea plane machine gunned the deck, bullets flying everywhere, our air craft. guns had been put away, we hadn't expected anything in the middle of the South Atlantic. The raider was shelling us from a distance they continued until we stopped and went for the lifeboats. We didn't have a chance, we had to abandon ship. I ran to my lifeboat station and climbed into the boat, John Snowden at one end and I at the other, they lowered us down to the water. We hit the water and I saw the water coming in. The crew up on deck asked if I had the plug in, they didn't realize that the lifeboat was fu1l of bullet holes. The men on deck went looking for another lifeboat. All of the sudden, a man appeared on the deck, it was Ozzie Collett, the wireless officer, he was trying to get off a message. He was the last man off the ship. By this time we had drifted away from the ship. I don't know what was going through his mind, he hesitated to come down the rope into the water. I know now that he couldn't swim. It's a little frightful for someone to jurnp into the middle of the south Atlantic. We tried to get the lifeboat as close to him as possible, he had a life jacket on. The lifeboat was half full of water and hard for the two of us to move. We pulled Ozzie aboard and waited for the other lifeboat. We were lucky it was calm weather. It didn't take long for the other lifeboat to come around to our rescue. They came just in time. our lifeboat was just about ready to go down. We managed to get Ozzie into the other lifeboat, he was a little nervous. When we settled down, I took an oar and started rowing. Then a big ship came towards us, flying the Germarr flag, a question went through all our minds, 'were they going to machine gun us?' It was scary, but they didn't open fire.
T'hey tossed a scramble net over the side and told us to come aboard. We climbed the net, a machine gun carefully trained on us as we made our way up. We were searched, stripped and washed down. We were taken to a room three decks below. We were given hammocks to sleep in, which had to be taken down during the day as our space was limited. They already had the crews of three ships on board, but we didn't know that until we had been transferred to a supply ship. We were allowed on deck of the raider for only a half hour each day for fresh air. We were kept in a confined space, guarded by a young man, not much older than myself, he remained above us with a machine gun. The food we ate was off the ships that they captured, that's how the raider survived, she was like a pirate ship. Three days after they captured us, they came upon this English ship. When it was night, they turned the searchlights on her and fired twenty one shells into her, I can only imagine what a shock that must have been for the crew. Sixteen men lost their lives aboard that vessel, others were wounded. There was no chance of a lifeboat there, they were all picked up in the water. lt was a blessing the men in the water had lights on their life jackets. War is cruel.
When the raider would go into action, they would lock us in with a steel gate over the hatch. That was the last ship to be taken while we were on the raider. This raider was like a battle ship, she had six inch guns (I believe there were five of them). torpedo tubes, several other guns and a sea plane. The raider was camouflaged as a merchant ship. We think she fooled the navy with her tricks. When we were in our room below, we could feel her vibrate, which meant she was going at top speed, for about eight hours, using fuel she couldn't afford. The raider would get her fuel from a supply ship, sometimes they would capture a tanker. We thought she must have been at sea for a year or rnore. We continued to spend our half hour on deck each day and we figured we must have been heading south as the weather was cold and rough. The weather changed and became hot and sunny, after a month of being on the raider we were in the Indian Ocean.
The raider, named Thor', transferred us to the Regensburg. a supply ship, which was better than the hole we were kept in on the Thor. We had the foredeck to ourselves on the supply ship and we could leave our hammocks up. There were four of five ships' crew aboard and we would take turns at peeling potatoes once a week. The potatoes were old and hard to peel. The sun was so hot that we must have been close to the equator.
The raider went on a hunting trip, but this time she ran into a little opposition. an Australian passenger ship, the S.S. Nankin with a hundred and twenty passengers. She could do fourteen knots, it took the Thor a little time to capture her, seventeen hours in fact. This gave the Nankin plenty of time to get off a wireless message. Being a passenger ship, the Nankin had lots of food on board, which was the reason the Germans took the time to capture her. They didn't want to sink her so they took her as a prize, but the Nankin had gotten a message off and the Germans had to leave the area.
After two months in the Indian Ocean, we were heading for Japan. We were transferred to another supply ship, the Ramses at dock side in Yokohama, we were there three weeks. While we were there, the Germans brought a Japanese dentist aboard to pull teeth, no filling or fixing, just pulling. The dentist pulled five of mine, I never experienced such pain, I never got to sleep that night. The Japanese didn't supply any dentists in the camp. I watched some of the boys resort to pulling teeth with homemade pliers, it was an awful sight.
We didn't know if the Japanese were going to take us as P.O.W.s, as we were at the dockside, it seemed like a long time, especially when you don't know what they had planned to do with us. They finally decided to take us, we were lined up on the dock. the first thing we had to do was bow to the Japanese officer. They loaded us into trucks and drove us all around Tokyo and Yokohama to Kawasaki camp 1 B in an open air truck, just to show us off. When we arrived at the camp, they were emptying the septic tanks. They had to build a new outhouse for us and a place for us to wash outside.
The Japanese took photos of us and assigned us each a number, I was number 138. There were about 150 of us at first, then they brought in soldiers from Hong Kong, Americans from Guam. They gave us army clothes that they had picked up in Ilong Kong, army boots and putties, we put them on to keep our legs warm. Ihe building was two storey, the rooms were small with eight prisoners to a room. The beds were made of compressed straw and the pillows were made from canvas and filled with sawdust, which made a lovely home for bedbugs, we had lots of them, and they'd fall from the ceiling. crawl up your legs and stink. In the summer of the last year we were there, they were so bad that we had to sleep outside. We were full of lice as well.
We were given one bar of soap a month to wash ourselves and our clothes, they were more like a bar of wax than soap, very little lather. There were stoves in the hallway to keep us warm, but they didn't light them. One day we came home from work and the stoves were gone altogether. They used the coal themselves, so that the guards could have hot baths every day. The bath tub was four feet wide, eight feet long and four feet deep. There were about twenty guards, thirty merchant marines and army officers to have a bath, then we were permitted to go in. We had to be pretty desperate to want to have a bath, that's why we became so infested with lice.
I worked on the railroad, very hard and heavy work, lifting bags of cement off the floor and carrying them to the truck. After a hard day's work we'd come home to a skimpy meal, a half cup of rice and watered soup, once a week for a while they gave us a hot dog bun, very much a bread and water diet. It was no wonder some of the men were dying off, nothing in their bodies to fight with. In the three years I was in Japan I had one egg. A friend of mine had been working on a cargo of eggs, he called me over and told me to get down in the corner of the box car, he punched a hole in each end and I sucked the egg. There was no milk, no butter, no dairy products of any kind. Some of the boys would stand outside at the garbage barrel, looking for leftovers from the guards. One time the cooks from the cook house sent over some bones from a pig. Somebody had a great idea, there were brains in the head and tallow in the legs. I had a taste of the brains, it was real good. We broke out in sores from malnutrition, but we still worked, some of the boys couldn't make it to the toilet, it was a terrible mess. I myself had a touch of it. This British soldier from Hong Kong had some pill for it, the rest of the boys in our room begged him to give me one, he gave me half of one and I got better.
I was walking along the railroad platform one day, I stuck my hand into this straw bag and pulled out a pair of white Japanese army gloves. I thought to myself that maybe my friend would like a pair. I walked down to where he was working and gave hirn the gloves. I pointed out that there was a Japanese worker watching us. My Scottish friend said that he was okay and that he wouldn't tell. I returned to my work. I was working on a box car loaded with sake, I remember wanting just a taste, but my hopes were soon dashed. Two army guards came up to me, they knocked me down and put the boots and rifle butts to me. By the time they were done I was black and blue all over. The camp commandeer came, he had a good look at me, that's all he did was look, I guess he figured I was punished enough.
I happened to get sick after that ordeal. Oh, was I ever sick, I couldn't eat, it felt like something was stuck in my throat. The P.O.W. doctors couldn't do anything for me, unless it was them who told two of our men to steal some oranges for me, which they did. I was nearly out of it at that point, and to this day I don't remember a lot of what went on. They told me it was worms that came up. I remember an American who lent me a pair of pyjamas which he had received in a Red Cross parcel. I was going at both ends. I'm pretty sure that he didn't want them back when I was done with them. I really don't know what ended up happening to them. There were only five pair issued to the Americans. I had been sick for about a month, I walked down the hall one day after I recovered and a man I spoke with had been convinced that I wasn't going to make it. When someone got sick, they were only given half rations, which really doesn't give you much to come back on. My weight had dropped to about seventy-five pounds by the end of my illness, I was no longer fit for the railroad, so they put me in the cookhouse.
I started out by being the boy to the Japanese sergeant of the cookhouse. They gave me a bottle half full of green rice and a stick to polish the rice, polishing was a straight up and down motion. I had to change it from green to white rice. It was illegal for the Japanese guards to eat white rice. I lost my job as a boy, the Japanese sergeant just wasn't too thrilled with me. The sergeant took on an Indian from India, who massaged his back, I wasn't into that kind of work. I became second cook to the Chinese cook. We had to get up at two O'clock in the morning to get the fires going under the big boilers.
The Chinese cook had lots of tricks, he would take the Japanese keys to the storehouse and make duplicates. Then he would go into the storehouse at about three o'clock in the morning when there was nobody around, with the exception of the guard making rounds. I was the lookout man, as soon as the guard was past the cookhouse. the Chinese cook would go into the store house, pick up some sugar and some flour. I remember we had to pick the rat droppings out of the sugar, but the Chinese cook would take these ingredients and mix them together, then when the fires were pulled from under the rice, he would shove his mixture in. We didn't have it that often because it was very risky, it was near the end of the war.
There was other things going on in the camp that the Japanese had a hard time figuring out. The boys had made up a home made hot plate and they would use it to cook up doughboys, which don't smell, under the floorboards after the lights went out at eight-thirty. 'Ihe Japanese couldn't figure out what was blowing the fuses, especially since most of the lights were out. The boys worked in a factory during the day where they picked up the equipment they needed to build their hot plate. They were caught eventually, and punished. They were made to stand outside with a bucket of water over their heads, every time they dropped the bucket the Japanese would hit them with a bamboo stick. By morning they were kind of sick looking.
I am getting ahead of myself, it wasn't long after first going into the camp when we had our first death. The captain of one of the British ships, thirty-two years old, died of pneumonia. Our second death came around Christmas time, he was forty years old, leaving five children back in Scotland. He had yellow jaundice, at least that's what t called it. He had eaten a can of raw bacon that had come in a British Red Cross parcel. I think it had been meant for the army in Hong Kong where they could have cooked it. The Japanese had picked it up there when they invaded Hong Kong. When someone died, the Japanese just took them away, I don't know if there was any kind of services, we weren't permitted if there were. We were just sent back to work as usual. I was told that they break the bones of the dead and put them into a small box to wait to be cremated.
Robert Owen was a very good friend of mine, I enjoyed his company, and he taught me how to fold my blankets to keep wann. Robert died of pneumonia, he was forty-five years old. He had five children in Newfoundland. He was given a board shaped like a wedge to bring the top part of his body up to help him breathe. It wasn't long after that when Robert passed away. I was only six feet away from him as he slept in the bunk just below me. When I woke up that morning he was gone, his bunk was empty and we were just sent off to work with no seryices that I know of for Robert.
About a month before the war ended the Japanese sent twenty of our men to the waterfront to work, they were all killed, a direct hit on an air raid shelter. Then there were workers on the railroad who drank this alcohol, twelve of them in all. they staggered into the camp, three of them fell on their bunks, their muscles folded, their legs and arms folded. The doctors of the camp couldn't do anything for them, they died that night. The rest of the twelve staggered out to work the next morning, they lived. but they were very shaken up.
The Japanese had the officers working, not only did they have them emptying the toilets, but a major was in there dipping them out, the other officers were carrying it in buckets to dump in the sewer about a hundred yards away from the camp. Ozzie Collett was struggling with a bucket full, he was halfway to the sewer. I asked him if I could help, but he was worried that we might get into trouble. Ozzie and I were the only Canadians in the camp at this point.
Why the Germans dumped us into that hell hole like that is beyond me. I can't remember ever taking my clothes off, only to wash them, which wasn't very often. We slept in them to keep warm. We would stand outside with just a gee string on to wash the clothes, very few of us had any extra clothes. Every two weeks we got a day off to do this, we patched our clothes at the same time, I became pretty good with a needle and thread. There was no such thing as entertainment, in this place it was just work. For three years I was with the Japanese, five months with Germans. In a place like this you don't care if you live or die, it was just awful.
I heard the Dolittle air raid, I think it was in 1943, it really shook up the Japanese. They started building fire blocks, that's a big, wide space along the road so that fire can't jump from one block to the other. Then later on in the war, we could see these b29's flying high in the stratosphere, which was a beautiful sight. They were taking pictures, the Japanese fighters couldn't get near them, you have to have oxygen to fly that high. In the early summer of 1945, the Americans started to bomb. They came over one morning, a beautiful day, the sun was shining. They must have hit oil tanks in Yokohama, because day suddenly tumed into night, it was so dark. Our camp was between Tokyo and Yokohama. Then they started bombing at night. I saw several raids at night, one particular night the bombers came over and dropped incendiary bombs, we could see them hopping all over the place. We had no air raid shelter at the camp so they sent us to the rice fields. The fire was so big, it caused small tornados and terrific winds, pieces of houses were flying overhead. It tore the roof off of our camp, there wasn't a house standing for miles towards Tokyo. It was the biggest fire in the world, two hundred thousand people killed in that raid. It was the atom bomb that saved our lives. The Japanese were going to kill us if the Americans invaded the mainland of Japan.
The surrender of the Japanese was a great day for us, the B29 dropped food and clothing, we threw our old clothes over the fence. We then received word that General MacArthur wanted all prisoners of war sent to the beaches. They loaded us into trucks and took us there. We waited on the beach for an hour or two, then came the landing barges, we all climbed aboard and were taken to the American destroyer, the USS Lansdown. about two miles off the coast. They gave us our first great meal. 'Ihen they took us to the hospital ship, another two or three miles away. When we got there they lifted us aboard, they wouldn't let us walk up the steps. On board we saw our first white woman in nearly four years. It wasn't what you may be thinking, it was just a thrill to see someone like that. We were standing in line to get examined by the doctor, some of the boys hadn't fared too well, they had tuberculosis and were sent to Australia to recover, they were British from our camp. We were on the hospital ship for about two days.
Ozzie flew home.
They put me on this British aircraft carrier, she was a converted ship, just for carrying spare airplanes, she had one spitfire on board. She must have left her cargo in Japan. I had never seen so many ships in all my life as there were in Yokohama harbour, they were there most likely for the invasion of Japan. We passed the battleship Missouri when we were on our way to the Philippines, they were signing the peace treaty on the Missouri that day. The aircraft carrier was quite an experience, she rolled like you wouldn't believe, I was almost sick, and I kept myself busy looking at different things. It took us about two weeks to get to Manila, once there, they put us up in tents on an arrny base for another two weeks. We had to be examined in every way before we were able to board the ship to the United States.
We lined up on the dock to board the troop ship to the United States. I can't remember too much about the troop ship. There was a lot of card playing going on, which is a good pastime. We never had that in the prison camp, we were always too tired to do anything after work and lights out at eight-thirty. I was just a spectator, watching the American soldiers play cards. I had my 21st birthday in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I didn't celebrate though, I was with a lot of strangers. We left the ship in San Francisco for Victoria, British Columbia. We were on the train two or three days, I was with the Hong Kong soldiers, again with strangers, but I soon made friends.
I was in Victoria about three days, I had an American uniform on, so they gave me a Canadian one. I was well-outfitted for the army. We all went through another medical. I lined up for the medals with the Hong Kong boys, but I was told there would be no medal for me. They gave me a Hong Kong badge. I was just pleased to be on Canadian soil and alive. We boarded the train in Vancouver for home, Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was on the train and this man came up to me and asked if there was anything he could do for me. I said that I would like some civilian clothes. I think he was from the Red Cross, he told me he would take me off the train in Winnipeg and get me some clothes. That turned out to be a big mistake, he put me up in the Y.M.C.A., one of their fifty-cent beds and gave me a free breakf'ast, which was a good thing as I didn't have any money. I didn't see that gentleman again. They took me into downtown Wiruripeg to pick out some second-hand clothes. I was a little shocked when I saw the clothes they were going to give me. I wrote Ozzie and told him what had happened in his hometown, he was really upset that they could do something like that. The only job they had for Ozzie when he went looking for work was a job in the lumber camps. He couldn't handle that, after being a prisoner of war, he was run down and weak, but that's how the government handled the merchant navy.
When I arrived a day late I didn't do anything for a while, I just enjoyed the freedom of living. I borrowed money from my dad, about three hundred dollars. Well, I thought I had better get a job and the only thing I knew was the sea. When the Aust went down, our wages went too, if I had been in the military, my wages would have kept going. I was away from home for four years almost to the day. I ended up going back to the sea for two or three years after the war.
I was on a pilgrimage with the government to the Far East in 1995, thanks to Gordon Olmstead and his friends. We went to five countries over there to lay wreaths and remember our fallen comrades. What impressed me most was the young men that died in prison camps, at the hands of the Japanese. In the Tokyo area alone there must be a thousand grave markers in the Yokohama cemetery. If they had proper medical help there shouldn't have been that many.