I did not know how far we would have to march but I knew it couldn’t be over seven miles as we were approaching Hong Kong. Seven miles is like a hundred when one is wounded and parched with thirst. I had not drunk since the night before. Many of the prisoners had probably gone longer without water.
I do not want to dwell on the details of this march for the sake of a horror story or for the opportunity of boasting of my own powers of endurance. However I do wish to let the reader know the extent of deliberate cruelty and indifference to others reached by the Jap.
Our group, like the others, was tied back to back. This meant that some of us had to walk sideways or even backwards. The big Englishman who was tied wrist to wrist with me was in a bad way. He was delirious and kept stumbling and falling. His companions in our group kept urging him to keep up but he dragged on me and we dragged on the rest. The stronger took the lead with the result that the weaker, like myself, were forced to walk sideways. Naturally our pace was slow. Fortunately we were not in the leading group for they set the pace being beaten, as we all were, to do so. At times the groups became so strung out that the leaders halted until they closed up again. We were the object of curiosity and evident satisfaction of every Jap that rode or marched by. Men were already falling from exhaustion. They were probed to their feet by bayonets and forced to continue the march.
It was evident to whoever was in charge of the party that he would never get us very far at the rate we were going. A halt was called beside a spring where a Jap soldier stood with his helmet full of water. As the prisoners reached him they bent over and drank. This took time and we were all grateful for the rest.
When my turn came I bent over but my leg was so stiff and my neck muscles so sore that I could barely reach the water. I had drunk only a very little when I lost my balance. My face fell into the helmet and almost knocked it out of the soldier’s hand. As I was struggling to my feet he raised the helmet and struck me in the face with it. In spite of this blow the little water that I did drink, and that which had splashed over me, refreshed me somewhat. Sergeant Pugsley, of A Company, who was in the party following mine, was certain at the time that I would collapse on the road, but he later told me that I seemed to pick up quite a bit after my encounter with the water carrier.
We passed from the main road to another that ran along the side of a cliff. Along the road, a little above us, Japanese troops were hurrying to the scene of combat. A group of these, evidently shock troops, broke away from their formation when they saw the prisoners and came bounding down the slope in high spirits with fixed bayonets with the evident intention of having some enjoyment by bayonet practice on our miserable carcasses. Luckily, for us, their own Officers restrained them by shouting and beating them with swords, returning them to their own ranks. This outfit evidently had no time to waste on prisoners and their column hurried on. Not so with us. We were going slower and slower. Men were falling now who could not get up and the others were dragging them. Orders must have been given to cut these men loose for we heard screams and later passed the bodies of unfortunates who, after being freed, were bayoneted and left by the roadside. I thought of falling down for good, come what may, but hearing these screams I decided to keep going as long as my weary and stiffened limbs would allow. I was past feeling heat, dust, or wounds. I was smothered in a sort of coma. I, like the rest, just staggered along, at every few paces trying to avoid a stumbling companion.
The big Englishman was in serious difficulties. In spite of the pleadings, mutters and curses from our group he continued to fall down. Each time he would be butted by the rifle of the guard, pulled to his feet by the others and made to stumble on. This is where I first met that phenomenon of misery and captivity. The greater misfortunes of others often tend to mitigate one’s own sufferings. The big Englishman, being beaten each time he fell, received most of the attention of our guard. His falling also gave us a breathing spell. But finally he could rise no more. We were halted. Wire cutters were produced. The Englishman was cut loose and kicked to the side of the road. I heard his scream of agony as they bayoneted him and threw his body over the cliff.
We were now able to make a little better progress. We passed through the residential districts on the outskirts of the city. The Japs had looted the bungalows that dotted the hills leaving household gear and the bodies of both men and women lying on the road or nearby.
The group in front of us had a disturbance in its midst and was halted. As we passed I saw a young Indian officer crying out in good English, “You are savages and you call yourselves civilized! There is your civilization! You bloody murderers! Look! That is how civilized you are!”
By the side of the road lay an old white haired lady killed by the Jap bayonets. She lay in a grotesque position, most of her body exposed and mutilated. It was a ghastly sight. The Indian officer was struck down with a rifle butt.
No more in our group fell and finally we staggered along the streets of Hong Kong to an old warehouse near the docks. Here we were cut loose and threw ourselves on the wooden floor.
Already there was a considerable assembly of prisoners in this camp. We were right in the danger zone for the battle of Hong Kong was still raging and fires were burning all around but like our previous hut there were no Red Cross markings and wounded and unwounded were thrown in together. I lay exhausted. It was cold for in Hong Kong at that time of year, December, it is winter and the days are often hot while the nights are freezing cold. I often wondered how the flies survived for each day there were fresh millions. Shells screamed over our heads and I thought it very likely we would be hit although I was past caring if we were or not. My hands were numb and partly useless. I was parched with thirst but later was given a drink of water by one of my companions.
Early next morning guards routed out the wounded and unwounded. I was so stiff I could barely move. As the sun came up its warmth helped a little. We were formed into groups, this time without tying our hands, and marched, I say marched but we actually staggered, a short distance to the dock where we were loaded on open barges and put across the harbor to the mainland. This was in broad daylight and on the same stretch of water that was being used to transport troops and ammunition. In fact our own barge had just brought troops over and was now returning for another load. The Japs were obviously using the prisoners as a cover for their army’s transportation of supplies and men over the channel. Our own guns maintained a constant fire and while still on the water I heard a nearby explosion which sounded like one of the Jap barges had received a direct hit and had blown up. Debris was in the air and fell around us.
Once more I landed on the shores of Kowloon. What a difference from our first landing. There were no bands to great us this time, not even the scurrying Chinaman. They had all disappeared. I saw some Indian troops under heavy guard loading the Japanese barges.
Once more we fell into sad procession. I believe at this time that the wounded were separated from those more fit. I know that I, with about fifty others, arrived at a girls convent run by the Catholic Church in Kowloon and staffed by the nuns. It was only about a mile from the docks but I had great difficulty in keeping up with the others. Because of this our group of seven fell behind. The guard kept beating and urging me to keep up. My thirst was unendurable and the dust of the road and the heat of the sun added to my fever. I was sure that I could not go on and thought of my late companion the Englishman. However my guard must have been a milder type for as I pointed to my mouth making motions of drinking he understood. As we came to a Chinese fisherman’s hut at the side of the road the he halted the party. Standing with his back to the door, his rifle pointing in our direction, he kicked with his heels against it. Getting no immediate reply he banged with the butt of his rifle. Presently the battered door opened and an old Chinaman peered out. The Jap made the Chinaman understand that he wanted a bucket of water. The old man disappeared and soon reappeared with a wooden bucket filled to the brim. How we drank this life saving fluid. When we had all drank the Chinaman clamored for the return of his bucket but was ignored by us all. There was still half a pail of water left and we were not parting with it without a struggle. The guard did not interfere. He motioned us on and swung a parting blow at the old man with his rifle as he did so. The group ahead of us noticed that we had stopped for a drink. They had also seen the bucket so waited for us to catch up. They drank and the bucket was emptied. The water helped immensely and I was able to keep up with the rest and stagger into the convent.
At the convent most of us received food and water. I was unable to eat but could drink. The nuns were doing all they could for the wounded and the dying. The place was crowded. I saw no Japanese attendants or doctors. Already some of the garrison Medical Corps, among them Capt. Banfield (Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) Banfill, S. Martin Captain (Att. to Royal Rifles) MD – T.Banham) of the Royal Rifles who had been captured earlier, were doing what they could for the cases that needed immediate attention. They could do very little as they had no supplies. Later I heard the story of Capt. Banfield’s capture.
He had been in charge of an advance dressing station and hospital located in one of the buildings in Hong Kong. It was plainly marked with Red Cross and as the battle proceeded it was filled with our wounded directly from the fighting. Many were stretcher cases and lined the walls of several rooms. Upon entering this hospital the men had removed their battle equipment, arms etc., which were piled in the hallway. When the Japs overran this part of Hong Kong and retreat was imperative the doctors and the staff of Medical Orderlies decided to stay by their patients and once having made formal surrender to carry on with their duties.
They therefore gathered in the lobby to meet the Japanese who were headed by a Major who spoke excellent English. Pistol in hand he advanced into the lobby confronting Dr. Banfield and others who stood lined up in their white uniforms and Red Cross arm bands. The Jap bowed and Dr. Banfield informed him that this was the hospital and that he and his staff were at the disposal of the Japs but trusted that they would be allowed to continue their work of mercy. While his men overran the building, taking everything they fancied, the Jap Major talked with Dr. Banfield and told him that he had lived in Canada and had attended University there. He named the University. Dr. Banfield replied that it was the same University from which he himself had graduated. The Jap Major was pleased and smiled. Dr. Banfield hoped that by this chance happening he could get a break for our wounded. Then it was reported to the Major that a quantity of arms and equipment had been found hidden in the hospital. This was the equipment and arms of the patients and was not hidden but the Major pretended to believe that it was and that the hospital was being used as a secret ammunition and supply dump. He upbraided Dr. Banfield for what he called the abuse of the Red Cross flag and the Geneva Convention. He brushed aside the explanation that this was the clothing and arms of the patients. He was ‘So sorry’ but an example would have to be made. All in the hospital would have to be shot. Guards came into the room and covered the staff.
“You my friend, for the sake of our old Alma Mater, will be spared.”
And before the Doctor’s horrified eyes the Jap gave the order and every one of the staff was shot down. Then the Japs ran amok in the wards bayoneting the wounded. The hospital was a shambles. At the convent Dr. Banfield, still shaken and nervous, was trying to do his best to alleviate suffering but his experience had placed its mark upon him.
At last the doctor examined me. Noting that the bullet had passed through my head he shook his own and said that he could do nothing for me, not even change the dressing as there were none. I did not sleep that night and suffered agony. Shells were still falling in the vicinity and the boom of the guns was constant.
Next morning Japanese guards appeared and we were told to prepare ourselves for another march. Many were unable to rise and were left. At first I had great difficulty in standing. My leg was swollen and stiff to the hip. My head seemed to be twice its normal size. I had not yet recovered the use of my hands and still could not move thumb or fingers. I managed however, with the help of another prisoner, to roll up a blanket given me by the nuns.
Now commenced another march, thankfully a short one, in the blazing sun. It has been said that the Japs deliberately marched their prisoners in the heat of the midday sun to torture them. I can vouch for this statement. This day we marched again along the streets of Kowloon. What a change from the time we marched with bands playing and warm meals and good billets awaiting us. Now we hobbled along on sticks and makeshift crutches, many supported by stronger comrades. Others were carried on wooden stretchers. Finally we entered the compound of Argyle Camp, lately used as a Chinese refugee interment camp. Our group was halted and I collapsed upon the ground where I stood. I had made it this far but I could not go a step further. I desired nothing so much as to sink down to the ground, to be left alone, and to make no further effort.
All of the group were allotted to certain dilapidated huts that surrounded the compound, the badly wounded to two huts designated as hospitals. When all were gone I was left alone lying on the square. An Englishman, a medical Corps Orderly, came over and knelt beside me. Placing his arm beneath my head he raised me to a sitting position, “Come on chum!” he said encouragingly, “You can make it!”
They told me later that they had all thought me dead but he, noticing a movement, had come back to make sure. The Englishman half carried me to one of the hospital huts and turned me over to a friend of his, a big Scotsman who had been badly wounded in the thigh while fighting in the streets of Hong Kong with the Volunteers. He was a marine engineer but his ship had been scuttled and lay at the bottom of the bay. Scotty lay on three boards raised about a foot from the ground on the framework of an old wooden bunk. He helped place on the boards next to himself, groaning as he moved over to make additional room. He took my blanket and as he had none, wrapped it around the both of us. He then made himself my personal nurse and physician.
The hut was crowded with wounded, most of them lying on the damp cement floor. In places there were actually puddles of water. There were only a few bunks and Scotty had one of them. Before the Japanese had taken over, and after the garrison retreated to the Island, the Chinese had looted this camp and had removed everything portable including the bunks, which they used as firewood. Wood was very scarce in Hong Kong and also very necessary for the winter nights.
Scotty provided me with a pillow made like a box of bamboo. Huddled against him that night both of us fearing to move in order not to hurt the other. I slept uneasily, sweating and shivering, but I did sleep … the first sleep that I had in three days. This rough seafaring engineer with red beard and bloodshot eyes, his face flushed with fever, was a Florence Nightingale to me and but for his attention I would surely have died. My throat was so swollen that I could not swallow. Scotty produced, of all things, a tin of condensed milk, which he had procured through his friend the Orderly. The Orderly had obtained this tin from the meager stores in the camp. The prisoners themselves had brought the stores in on their arrival. Many of the troops who had surrendered, and also some civilians, were able to carry in what food and supplies they happened to have with them. Some arrived with large bundles. All this was confiscated by the camp Commandant, as there was no other food supply. Later the Japs issued rice with a meager ration of shriveled greens and occasionally some spoiled meat. What little of the original stores remained were used for the so-called hospitals. That’s how Scotty obtained his tin of milk. He fed me this essential by adding water and letting it trickle down my throat. That tin lasted a few days and about this time I regained the use of my hands.
There were three white doctors in the camp, two civilians and Captain Banfield. They occupied a little partitioned room at the end of the hut but as they had little or nothing to work with they were unable to do their best. They worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering. Under Scotty’s administration I gradually recovered. The swelling of my head and throat subsided and the wounds began to heal. I was able to swallow a little rice and some vegetable soup, which the camp cook provided, but I had no other attention. My head wound healed under the same dressing, which I had put on in the field, stiff with blood and dirt. My arm must have set itself, one bone only in the lower arm being broken. My leg wound bothered me the most. The bullet had nicked the bone and bone injuries take a long time to heal.
Many others in the hut were not so fortunate. They died like flies, I should estimate about fifty percent. Every day, morning and night, someone died and there was another still shape on the cement floor that ceased to toss and groan. Every afternoon we heard the guard turn out and stand to attention as detail after detail of prisoners filed past their post carrying the bodies of those who had died. This they considered an honor to our dead. No bands played. No flags draped them. Sometimes an old blanket was used, only to be retrieved by the burying party as few of the prisoners had blankets. Wooden crosses were made and erected by the graves on the side of the hill. The next day when another party arrived the crosses were gone, stolen by the natives for firewood.
Then came the sad Christmas of 1941. Hong Kong’s remaining garrison surrendered. The Jap was jubilant, and well he might be. The two huge Howitzers beside our hut were silent, how they used to shake the building, another example of the Jap using prisoner camps and hospitals to protect his own guns.
The Indian troops in this camp were housed in different huts than the whites. The Japanese made a particular effort to win them over, using bribes and threats and Indian traitors to speak to them in their own language, urging them to throw off their allegiance to the British Crown. Only a few responded. In regiments like the Rajputs and Punjabi, with their long military history and record of service to the Crown, loyalty is assured in defeat as in victory. They make very good soldiers. In line with this policy of placating the Indians they were given extra rations of rice and cooking fat. On Christmas day, as a tribute to our wounded and in commemoration of the white man’s Christmas, the Indian soldiers ground up their rice ration into flour and made a type of pancake called ‘char patties’, fried them in hot fat and donated them to the wounded. This was our Christmas dinner and was eaten with relish. The day before Christmas some of the survivors of D Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, who had made such a heroic stand at Wong Nei Chong Gap, arrived. The survivors of this Company surrendered only after their ammunition was exhausted. They had held up the Japanese advance in their section for five days. Among the survivors who I knew were Sergeant Bob Manchester of D Company and Sergeant Pugsley of A Company. They both visited me as I lay beside Scotty. I remember particularly the entry of Bob Manchester into our hut. He entered with his head held high, his arm in a sling, looking for me. How welcome old friends are under such circumstances. I am sure I had tears in my eyes. Sergeant Pugsley later told me that when he first saw me in this hut he thought I was a goner, but on another visit he saw I was going to live because I showed him an empty milk can and explained how I had made a wire handle for it so it could be hung on my belt and used as a drinking cup. He thought that the bullet must have missed the old brain because I seemed logical enough to be inventing things.
A few days after the surrender we were given a packet of cigarettes from our own stores in Hong Kong and a Japanese band played the Jap national anthem and ‘God Save the King’ on the square. The guard and all prisoners able to walk were turned out and stood to attention.
Conditions were rapidly getting worse in the hospital hut. Most of the wounded and sick lay on the floor. Many were without covers. We were pestered by millions of flies during the day. I saw a lieutenant; I will not name him for the sake of his family, with half his back blown off, lie withering, moaning and dying, and his back black with flies. He died in torment. The place reeked with foul odors. One bedpan was available for over fifty patients. The sickly smell of gangrene was always present. Amputations were performed without anesthetic, just where the patient lay. More and more died.
Then at last came a Japanese doctor. He sniffed as he stood by the door and I believe he would have retired only that one of our doctors was performing an operation, the amputation of a mans leg without drugs. The Jap waddled across the hut and with legs apart stood watching. The doctor, who happened to be Portuguese, raised his head and looked at him. The Jap remarked, smirking superciliously, “Primitive. Primitive.”
Then he turned and walked from the hut. The Portuguese doctor’s face went first red then white. If a look could have killed the Jap would have dropped dead.
This hut was a pest house. It was freezing cold at night and this, while it brought fresh discomfort to the wounded, may have helped to hold down the epidemics of dysentery and diphtheria which later swept through the camp. Many had no blankets and awaited the death of a neighbor to have first claim on his possessions, some extra clothing, or if lucky a blanket. We saw no Red Cross supplies.
As soon as I could hobble around on a stick I decided to get out of this charnel house and move to another along with Bob Manchester and some other Canadians mostly Royal Rifles. C. S. N. Todd was in charge, he was killed in Japan several years later while working in a Yokohama shipyard. I was sorry to leave Scotty and thanked him, and his friend the orderly, for all they had done for me. How true it is that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Those noble souls who from their own innate decency and goodness of heart ministered to others like brothers, even though they were strangers. They redeem one’s faith in human nature and set an example that all should follow in order to make this world a better place to live in.
In my new quarters the atmosphere was a little better. Food was scarce but most of the unwounded were in fair physical shape when captured and had not yet begun to lose weight. The Japs left us much alone and in charge of the white camp officers, the senior being a Major of the Hong Kong Volunteers. They had the arranging of fatigues, burial parties, distribution of rations, etc. There was little discipline as we were a mixed lot.
The Indians kept much to themselves, having their own huts, and were somewhat resentful of carrying out any orders other then those of their own officer. There was some disagreement between the Camp Commandant and the Indians over the distribution of food and the occasional cigarette. On rare occasions a little tobacco came into the camp. The Indians did not smoke. They felt somehow they should be compensated for the loss of this part of their rations. One Indian, who seemed to be somewhat of a fanatic, pestered the Commandant continuously by hanging around the Officers quarters and forcing himself inside at every opportunity. He became such a nuisance that the Commandant reported him to the Japs. The Japanese guards came and took the man out of his hut and lead him to the front of the Officers Quarters. They tied his hands and feet together behind his back, placed him, placed another wire around his neck, drew the wires tightly and left him in a helpless position lying on the ground. Here he lay for three or four days and would have died of exhaustion, thirst and hunger if the officers themselves had not attended to him. On the Commandant’s supplication to the Japs this man was released and he never reported another.
Besides the one dim electric light burning in each hut there were no other supplies in the camp. No soap, no towels, no brooms or stoves, however there was a certain amount of optimism that we would be liberated soon. We had not yet heard of Pearl Harbor or the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. Signs appeared on the walls of the huts written in chalk saying,
“Are we downhearted?”
“ In the fall Churchill says Hong Kong will fall.”
“ The Yanks are coming. Hold everything.”
As the wounded recovered sufficiently to be moved they were taken to other camps. The Japs were assembling the prisoners at these camps preparatory to shipping them as slave labor to different parts of their stolen empire and to Japan itself.
I had an example shown me of the queer mentality of the Jap and his almost childish desire to appear as someone of importance. An otherwise inoffensive soft spoken Japanese civilian will, if inducted into the army as a private, no class (they had three classes, no class being the lowest) or given a uniform in some lowly official capacity such as a watchman at a dock yard, immediately turn into an arrogant little devil, eager and willing to kick his erstwhile civilian companions in the pants. They must all bow to him. He has the right to slap them if they do not, and he usually does. He struts in his ill fitting and shoddy uniform before his inferiors and meekly stands to attention while his immediate superior, a No. 2 private, smacks him. A Sergeant can smack almost anyone. We prisoners got the full benefit of this system as being considered the lowest of low. All could smack us. When I say smack this was a blow administered to the side of the head with an open hand, a cuff, but sometimes sticks, fists, boots and weapons were used.
While I was in the so called hospital hut there was one little man on our guard that looked more like a yellow monkey then the rest. He must have been around forty and a little too old for front line work. We will call him Koto. Koto thought himself a very important person, though actually he was no class private. When off duty he sometimes came into the hospital hut, where he had no right to be, and gravely inspected the patients, moving from one form to another. If the patient was sufficiently alive to notice him, Koto would bow and place a cigarette by the prisoner’s side, then he would gravely continue his inspection. He evidently wanted to talk to someone. I found out later he spoke English fairly well when he stopped and squatted beside my bunk and gave us, that is Scotty and I, a cigarette apiece. He paid several visits and seemed to take quite a fancy to me, showing me photographs of his family in Yokohama and explained how he had come to learn English in a missionary school. He asked many questions about my family but no military ones. He was very pleased to be able to make use of his accomplishment, the ability to speak English.
He assured me that he was quite a personage in the Japanese Army and his present duties were much beneath him and that he was both mentally alert and physically fit. As he said this he arose, took off his belt, bayonet and hat, and choosing a bare place on the floor, he stood on his head. Even the very sick were interested in this strange performance. Were they seeing right? Or did the Japs walk upside down? Koto had almost completed his performance when in walked the Corporal of the Guard. He took in the situation at once, went over to my friend who still remained shakily balanced on his head, and gave him a terrific kick in the pants. Koto was catapulted to his feet, looked with dismay at the Corporal and picking up his hat, belt and bayonet, hurried out of the hut, closely followed by the Corporal still kicking. Koto lost a lot of face that day.
Sergeant Manchester and myself had been three months at Argyle Camp when we were moved to Sham Shui Po, our old barracks on the mainland and a little later from there to North Point Camp on the Island of Hong Kong. This was also an old Chinese interment camp and before leaving they had stripped the property of everything movable, even removing the doors and windows. Here were assembled around one thousand Canadians, Winnipeg Grenadiers, Royal Rifles of Canada, and Headquarters staff. This camp was cleaner then the one that we had just left, although in a terribly dilapidated condition by our standards. Rags and sacks covered the doors and windows and we slept on sacking and old boards tied or lay on the framework of the previous bunks.
A Colonel of the Royal Rifles, who was acting Brigadier, was in charge. Under him was Major, later Lieutenant Colonel, G. Trist. The Medical Officers in charge of the hospital huts were Major J. Crawford, now Lieut. Col., Capt. J. Reid, and Capt. Banfield.
The Japs left us mostly alone outside of a few work parties they requested to enlarge a nearby airfield. There were fatigue parties to look after the sanitary and other arrangements of the camp.
The food was terrible. A handful of rice twice daily was our main ration. Dysentery and beriberi were now common. This was followed by an outbreak of diphtheria. The hospital huts were full of patients and deaths from disease and malnutrition were every day occurrences. Our cooks did the best they could but had little with which to work. The rice was evidently sweepings from the warehouse floors and contained mouse and rat dirt. Few of us could say we liked rice but as we got hungrier we ate snakes, grass and seaweed. Rice became a delicacy, eagerly sought; it tasted like cake to us. On my return to Canada, while visiting friends, my hostess remarked, “I had better not give you rice. I guess you are sick of it.”
I replied, “Lady, we didn’t get enough rice.”
I remember some of the men of the Royal Scots at Sham Shui Po Camp had a mascot, an Airedale I believe, as I never saw the dog around, but I was invited to a special feast one night and we ate the dog. It tasted very good. At North Point I received, without soap, my first haircut and shave since my capture. I presented a little less wild appearance.
Major Crawford, the Grenadier Medical Officer, stated that one hundred and fifty Canadians died in the camps in Hong Kong. So many died that at last the Japs took notice and a Jap official appeared and had Major Crawford and his aides before him. He asked the cause of so many deaths. On receiving the reply, malnutrition and starvation, he slapped the Major across the face. Major Crawford and his aides did splendid work prolonging many lives and saving others. Without medicines and little equipment they labored at their job of mercy. Often sick themselves they continued to minister to others.
The Officers received a little better treatment then the men. They did not have to work and got first choice of the meager rations. They were paid about 100 sen a day, with which they could sometimes buy, at the camp canteen a few extras such as cigarettes. The men, when they worked, were paid 10 sen a day, but as it cost three yen, which was about 300 sen, for a packet of Japanese cigarettes, the money they received was deemed almost worthless. The canteen, which opened occasionally, contained a few cigarettes, a few bottles of soy sauce, some salt and once a couple of tins of Australian jam. Who got the jam I don’t know but it certainly was not the men. The Officers shared what little extras they could with the men of their platoon or Company. Some almost lived with their men in their eagerness to ease their lot. A few, a very few, kept their extras to themselves and on occasions when they bathed they were ashamed to be seen by the men as they had flesh on their buttocks while the men were mostly bones.
Such is humanity, conforming to the first law of nature, Survival. Can one blame a hungry cook if he dips his fingers into the cauldron of rice, or picks a piece of meat out of the small quantity in the soup? We were fast learning the primitive law, “Man, mind thyself.”
Use what strength, what wit, what cunning you may have for your own survival. Hang on to what is yours, your tattered clothes, your ragged blanket, and your meager ration of food. Never give away anything. Always trade and bargain. If you do not smoke trade your ration of cigarettes for rice. He, who prefers smoking to eating, let him eat less and starve the quicker. Lay awake at night scheming to conserve your strength by avoiding labor.
It became so bad when we were in Japan that men actually studied to learn how much energy would be required to pick up a paintbrush or to walk a few steps. As they sat painting, or at some other task, they would make the least possible movement, just the slow motion of the brush or tool. They knew that every extra effort would hasten exhaustion.
Use your intelligence to avoid drinking contaminated water, or coming in touch with infected persons or articles. Use only your own feeding utensils. Those who were stupid or careless died, as diphtheria and other contagious diseases were rampant. Men survived by natural immunity, stamina, ingenuity, and dissembling towards the Jap, and by a certain amount of just plain luck.
A job as a cook or as an Orderly relieved one from arduous labor. They also had their little advantages, a little extra food, and the first selection of the belongings of the dead.
The Japs used hunger to discipline and to get the maximum amount out of us. What little rations of food there was went first to the strongest. If a man was sick and unable to work his ration was cut and he lay in the so-called hospital and starved to death, a long and painful death aggravated by beriberi and other diseases. Men lost their sight and hearing. Some, who were rescued just in time to escape death, may never recover the full use of their eyes. In dry beriberi the body shrinks to a skeleton, nerves become paralyzed, all functions of the body become impeded, some lost. It starts at the extremities, hands and feet. They feel as if on fire. Men plunged their feet into icy cold water to ease the pain so that they could get some sleep. Gradually it spread to the hips, stomach, and finally to the heart, ending in a protracted period of intense torture. Men with this, or some other form of beriberi, dysentery and other diseases, would be marked for work and would be seen trying to carry a load on the point of collapse, often with one foot dragging behind them.
At every prison camp I was at there was always a black market. This was strictly ‘hush-hush.’ There was always someone in touch with the outside, either by bribing the guards or by contact with the Chinese civilians that might visit the camps on some duty. Through these sources a few individuals received money and some supplies but this was so strictly secret few benefited.