In the fall and winter of 1944 we knew we were winning the war. The more intelligent Japanese also knew it. In spite of their bravado and ‘face saving’ the higher ups were preparing an out. American planes were now seen in broad day light in perfect formation, heading to and returning from Tokyo. The Jap workmen in the shipyards whispered furtively of what had happened there. We knew it would not be long before it happened to us. The majority of the prisoners accepted this with a certain amount of fatalism and grim satisfaction.
We could not visualize any ending of the war that would set us at liberty before the Nips has vented their spleen on us. But having survived so far, we were content to let the perils of the day and, as the bombing became more intense, those of the night suffice.
Around our compound we dug funk holes as air raid shelters. Just a hole covered with some old timbers and a pile of dirt. We went to this protection when the warning signal sounded, accompanied by our guards and carrying our scanty belongings and food supply, a few bags of rice.
The American pilots must have identified our camp. This was quite a feat for we were right in the middle of the factory district, being in fact quartered in the yard of an oil refinery and steel works. Again the Jap was using us to protect himself and his equipment for making war. It speaks well for the American Bomber Command that they spared this refinery and steel works to save the prisoners. American reconnaissance planes would sweep low over our camp, wave their wings and dart away.
One night in July a large-scale attack with firebombs was made in our district. The ack-ack was terrific. The whole world seemed aflame. In spite of the efforts of our guards to keep us from witnessing the sight we stood and gazed at the conflagration. Only a river running nearby and the fact that our huts had tiled roofs saved our quarters from the fire. Smoke and sparks were all around. I saw a terrible sight that night. I watched a string of American bombers, in line astern formation, following their leader. The lead aircraft made for the very center of the ack-ack fire and at this point burst into flames. Plane after plane followed to the same point and were shot down. Altogether I counted five. I felt sick. We all prayed for those gallant lads.
One of the Jap guard, like quite a few Japanese who prided themselves on their esthetic qualities, got quite a kick out of seeing his home town destroyed. He stood gazing on the burning city in rapt ecstasy and then raising his arms to the sky he turned to us and said in English, “ Drama! Drama.” he was convinced he had a front seat at a good show, all for nothing. He appeared quite mad and if he had a fiddle like Nero I’m sure he would have played us a tune.
For several days following the bombing we saw long files of civilian refugees filing past our camp trekking into the hills. The Japanese Officials had cleared the whole district of its inhabitants. The remaining hovels and dwellings that had survived the firebombing were pulled down to prevent the further spread of the fire but little was left to save.
The Nips had a kind of Red Cross organization, which took part in the evacuation of the population. All those, who had lost everything were given an emergency parcel, a gift from the Emperor, to enable them to carry on. It consisted of a tin of salmon, one small package of army biscuits, one ‘G’ string and a pair of white cotton socks, a box of tooth powder, a bamboo tooth brush and a small towel, and finally a paper flag to wave. They were packed off to the hills to live and starve in holes and caves. Docilely they went carrying the bodies of their dead loved ones.
It was three days before we returned to the shipyards. Our yard had suffered only minor damage as the buildings were spread out and many of the workmen had disappeared. The Japanese workers that were left appeared thoroughly frightened and told us the missing workmen were either burned out, dead, or sent away. Surprisingly the Japanese workmen did not seem to hold us responsible for the holocaust.
I asked one Jap workman how he made out. He smiled and replied, “ Wife dead, two children gone!” He reached out, patted me, and then walked away.
Some of the prisoners took delight in informing the Japs that this raid was nothing. The Japanese listened popeyed as they were told of the sky black with planes and of blockbusters so huge that everybody would be blown to smithereens. At the time they said this to impress the Japs but in actuality came very near to the truth.
Through the grapevine we heard that balloons were being used to bomb Canada and that the Rocky Mountains were afire. We had seen the Rocky Mountains and considered this report malarkey.
We also heard that half the American fleet was sunk and as one little Jap explained to me mathematically, “ One Japanese plane never return, sink one American battleship. Lots more Japanese planes then battleships! Result, little while no American battleships.”
We called the Japanese Commandant of D3 Camp Charlie because he had a Charlie Chaplin moustache and he was a real smoothie. He owned a chain of hotels in Japan and as they were destroyed one after the other he had taken up his quarters at the camp with two young women companions and lived luxuriously on our Red Cross Supplies. He inaugurated the practice, which I have since found prevailed in some of the other camps, of not distributing Red Cross parcels. He would open them and turn over a small portion to our cooks for incorporation in our boiled rice issue. The remainder he kept for himself and friends. During the time of the bombing he gave us several lectures.
“You must all be prepared if this camp is struck. Look! I am always prepared My Hotels are burned down. What do I care! I have plenty of money. Do not be scared of what people may do to you. The Japanese Imperial Army will protect you. I am the Army! One Japanese soldier can protect you from everybody. The people respect the Army! Many great men in Japan are soldiers. I am soldier!”
I wish at this time to pay tribute to Captain Reid, Medical Officer, Sgt.-Major Shore of the Royal Rifles of Canada and Regimental Sergeant Major Keenan of the Grenadiers who were in charge. All were upright and honest in their handling of supplies and for this they were hated by the Japanese officials. This kind of talk went on for an hour or more in a high shrill voice. Few bothered to listen after the first few minutes.
There was a cement bathtub in the guards’ quarters and the water was heated in a nearby boiler and then poured into the tub. As fuel was scarce about the only time we could get hot water to wash our clothes or ourselves was when Charlie had a bath, which he did at fairly frequent intervals. Accompanied by his two Geishas he would disappear into the bathhouse and they would wash him and later themselves. Only after they were finished did a lucky few of us get to use the hot water.
Once in a while Charlie would give a party for the shipyard officials out of the Red Cross supplies. The food was washed down with Sake. To cover himself in case of future investigation he asked Sergeant Pollock to sign a document purporting to show that these goods went to our cookhouse. Pollock refused to sign saying that later he would have to account for those same supplies. Charlie did not mind, he signed the forms himself.
Our usefulness as a protection to the shipyards, and as workers, was pretty well at an end by the spring of 1945. The shipyard was at a standstill so we were addressed by a retired Japanese Admiral. His talk was entirely different to the one we had received from the Army big shot when we first arrived. Now we were told that we were the wards of the Emperor and that he would protect us. He went on to say that through out history many brave had been taken prisoner and for your own protection we were to be sent out into the beautiful country where the air was fresh and the grass green. We thought this sounded pretty good until he went on to say we were going to a coal mining camp where we must work diligently, safe and warm. He dismissed us almost benevolently. We thought it couldn’t be very bad and most were glad to go.
During the bombing we were visited by a group of twenty-five Dutch and other allied prisoners of war. They were in a terrible state and evidently had been much abused. They carried one of their number who had been bayoneted by their guards. I saw several of them being beaten. One particular big Dutchman was beaten terribly. They were not allowed to communicate with us. Apparently their camp had burned down and after an overnight stay they were hurried away.
Just before we were due to leave we were given a new suit of overalls, Red Cross boots, two good shirts, a uniform and an army overcoat. Most of this stuff had been held in storage and during our long stay denied to the prisoners. We were also given a little extra food ration, which was a great benefit as all were desperately under weight and riddled with disease.
Our old camp was to be taken over by the Rising Sun Boys. This was a large group of delinquent Japanese youth who worked in the shipyard building gunboats. They were disciplined along Japanese Navy lines and did everything on the double. They wore thin cotton uniforms with the red blot of Nippon on it. It was pitiable to see these kids in winter. Without overcoats and shod in running shoes, running to work behind six of the most robust who ran abreast blowing short blasts on bugles. Half the party would fall behind and be whipped by the guards who carried long bamboo canes for the purpose. Many of these children were like us prisoners, suffering from malnutrition and disease. I was told they worked on twelve-hour shifts, day and night. I thought, “suffer the little children”. Was it any wonder that if these children survived and later went into the services they paid little attention to cruelty and suffering?
Before we left, some of the boys and I went to say goodbye to those Japs we had found friendly. We gave them the possessions we could not carry with us, an old coat or some other piece of equipment. Some seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. We went around to the cubbyhole and found the Master Painter. He was highly nervous and had difficulty in understanding what we had come to say. “ Tri ana la” Goodbye, Goodbye.” He was not bad as Japs go and we left him as he furtively slipped back into his cubbyhole.
Under the Command of Captain Reid around two hundred Canadians entrained for our journey to Camp Sendai.