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Michael Cunningham's Diary

Wakayama POW Camp, Japan

Michael & Marie Cunningham

Hilary Cunningham, COFEPOW member, writes :- the following is a diary that was written by my father , Michael Cunningham, RAF, No. 1221037, born 19.7.1920, whilst held captive by the Japanese.

He entered service with the RAF, aged 20, on 25 November 1940. His occupation was a Grinder and he was sent to Singapore on 1 June 1941 - 153 Maintenance Unit.

He was reported missing until recovered 21 September 1943.

He wrote these notes on the back of the paper that made up cigarette packets.


No 291M CUNNINGHAMRoom 3Barrack 5British Prisoner of War CampIkuno, Osaka, JapanMay 1945

Sunday 27 May 1945 1:45PM

It may seem rather peculiar to some people that, I should be so specific about the present moment. The reason for being so precise is that in a few years time, the life I am leading at PRESENT will most probably appear fantastic. I want to gather my impressions of today that I might have proof for myself that such a life did exist. There are so may items that I want to mention and I am at a loss to think of the best way to start. One subject which takes up most of the time is food. As I am writing I am eating my mid-day meal. The general issue was a bowl of steamed rice and about three quarters of a pint of soup. The rice bowl in size stands about three and a half inches tall and is about four inches across the rim. The soup contains some dark green vegetable like potato tops and leaves plus some rice which sticks to the boiler when it is cooked and which gets burned. The flavouring is created by adding some soya bean paste. The issue was the same this morning and will be the same this evening. The system used at present is to give everyone in the barrack an even issue of rice and soup and the little that is left over is given out by roster in smaller quantities. The extra rice is served out in a bowl which originally contained a solid block of shaving soap such as sold by Yardley's Rolls Razors Ltd and other firms. The soup which is left over is served on a separate roster and is measured in a half pint mug. Today, midday, I received both large and small bowls of rice and the large and small measure of soup. The extra rice I received because it was my turn on the roster, the extra soup I received is payment for collecting the food from the cookhouse, serving it out and returning the empty containers. I forgot to mention that with each meal we receive an issue of one pint of tea which looks as strong as a weak brew of China tea and tastes terrible. The tea itself is mostly stalks like twigs varying in length from quarter of an inch to three inches and in thickness from a pencil lead to a lead pencil. I have come to a halt now and would require to think of the next thing to write about but I don't want to think this narrative out. I want it to be a series of spontaneous jottings of my true feelings.

Sunday 3 June 1945

Today is Sunday again. Once again it is a "Yasume" day and once again half of the camp is moving and at this moment it seems as if it were trying to move into this room. I shall have to put this down to get organised on my own moving.

Well! I've moved - and so has practically half the camp as I said. I've just come back from a sing-song, the second in this camp, and I enjoyed it. Vic Davies [1] is a real good comedian. The highlight of last week was Ivor David [2] who sang "Shine through my Dreams". Tomorrow I must go to work and my legs are so weak that I had to help myself up a twelve inch step by gripping the door jambs. It is a great consolation to be able to go to Mass. I think I shall have the opportunity of serving before I leave this camp. Its "Tenko" time now so I have to stop. Who knows we might get half a parcel in a few days time.

Sunday 10th June 1945

I must make a couple of notes if for no other reason than the fact that it is Sunday. We have just had a talk by Major Houghton [3] our ex C.O. on Hong Kong and Chinese customs. We expected half parcels today but all we had was two hours garden work. Still its been a fairly decent "yasume" day. I would have liked to have served Mass this morning but I don't feel quite confident yet. Still maybe some day soon.

Tuesday 12th June 1945

Today is Packy's birthday and I hope and know he is having a much better time than I am. Its pouring rain at the moment and I've got to march to work in it so rough cheek I'm going to get wet. The worst part of it is climbing those steps just before we get to the mine head. One hundred and thirty odd slices of torture. Never mind, it can't last for ever (but neither can I).

Sunday 24th June 1945 1100 Hrs

I have just returned from Mass. I can still remember how my father always insisted on our first action, on returning from H.C. He insisted we take a drink of water before eating anything. I have just returned from H.C. and had my drink of water. The usual procedure after that was to consume a satisfying meal. At this precise moment I have craving for one of those meals but do not stand the slightest chance of having one. I am hungry or better still to be more accurate I AM HUNGRY. I could underline that statement but why bother, because no amount of emphasis could possible convey the extent of that feeling. I would love to have a 2lb tin of Lyles Golden Syrup and a very large spoon. Also a dish of that same syrup (about half a pint) boiling hot, which I should drink with the greatest relish!

Tuesday 26 June 1945

I have just learned something new so I decided to enter it in this narrative. The man who has been tried for murder more times than any other man is a person called Pierpoint who is the public executioner and is tried every time he carries out an execution. Rather morbid thought but there it is.

Wednesday 11 July 1945

Today is a red letter day in my life. I served my first Mass this morning. This week we are on afternoon shift. There was no air raid last night so we managed to get the food served out alright. We had one of the best soups we have had since coming to this camp with onions, potatoes, stock, flour and vermicelli. I ate my soup but left my rice till this morning. Rose a 0500, went to Mass and had my rice for breakfast, then went to sleep till "Hot water up" at 10.00. There is a rumour of the officers leaving camp which I hope does not come true, since that will mean the loss of Fr Wilson, my "first Fridays" and my chances of serving Mass.

Thursday 19th July 1945 1300 Hours

Today is my birthday. It is already one o'clock in the afternoon and as yet no one has mentioned it. I have managed to save three whole cigarettes for today; one after each meal. At the present moment I am paying my first visit to my room (which I share with eleven other men) after spending a week in hospital. I went to work at 2.30 on the afternoon of the twelfth of July (Billy's day) and at approximately 9 o'clock in the evening I became involved in an accident. It was rather unfortunate in as much as I was filling the last of our ten trucks (the day's quota) when it happened. My injuries consisted of an open wound on the left back skull (4 stitches), an open wound on the right forehead, abrasions on the right cheek, right eye and upper lip, both shoulder blades, left forearm, back of left hand and two places on left leg (shin). Right leg, ribs and shoulder severely sprained. After the accident I hobbled (with assistance) for ¼ of a mile to the cage, was taken to the top, then transported a further half mile on a small trolley car to the entrance of the mine. Here I was transferred to a stretcher contraption mounted on two wheels and covered over like an old fashioned pram. On this I was conveyed over two miles of exceptionally bumpy road to camp. The journey which would have been uncomfortable in any circumstances was made doubly so by the fact that it was dark and the stretcher bearers ( Bryant [4] and Henley (sic) [5] ) were unable to pick their way round the bumps but went over them. Added to this it was pouring with rain and the covering was a very poor fit, consequently I arrived drenched. Since my head (now a gory mess) was facing the way we were going and receiving the brunt of the storm I had quite an unpleasant journey. Arrived at camp I was taken immediately to hospital where I received the very prompt attention of two doctors and four medical orderlies. I was washed and dressed, stitched and had an injection of morphine (for which I was very thankful) in record time and installed in bed. So closes another incident in my life of vast and varied experience. Strange to say I have failed to record the most important event of today. Immediately after "Tenko" this morning (05.15 Hrs) Father Wilson brought me the B.S. [Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion] into the hospital which was actually the best present I could wish for on my birthday.

Tuesday 24th July 1945

I wonder how Bob is getting on. I should love to be standing on the platform of a 628 trolley-bus going down Scrubbs Lane watching for that Booth's Dry Gin bill poster on the left hand side just before you go under the last railway bridge before reaching Dalgarno gardens and "some prison-like buildings".

Wed 16th Aug 1945

At work. Old boy in the stores very excited. Told Ginger Wood he would be in England in one month. Ginger had smashed pinion wheel on lathe was repairing it by strilling [drilling?], rapping [?], and filling in studs. I had two nuts to rebore and screw cut to fit on the spindle of a flour crushing machine which we were making for the use of the camp. One of the Nips walked past Ginger and handed him half a cigarette so he jokingly remarked "The bloomin' war must be over". Then we went back to the stores to change the drill and taps which Ginger was using. The old boy in the stores was still excited and seemed to be very anxious as to which way we would go home to England. 4 o'clock arrived and all parties returned to mess room. Discovered when we were going on parade that gardeners had returned to factory bringing the tools with them. That means no gardening tonight. Good show! Nip comm : at factory his order gardening cancelled something peculiar about the atmosphere.

Just before we arrived back in camp we saw the women of the village outside the camp standing around excitedly. "Something big has happened" that was the statement on everybody's lips. But what was the something. After tea a whisper came around the barracks "It is believed that Hobkido has been invaded". It was as yet an unconfirmed rumour but was supposed to come from a very reliable source. We went to bed that night with the rumour still unconfirmed. Our source of news was the local newspaper which was stolen daily by a fellow called Benson [6] who was in detention in the guard-room for stealing a carton of 4 Red Cross parcels. Everyone was relying on him now to supply the necessary confirmation. Next morning [Thursday 16th Aug 1945] we had Reveille at 5 o'clock as usual. We had the usual rush to collect and serve out the rice, soup, and tea. Mr Frow [7] (our Wakayama C.O. now Adjutant …… [?] to the arrival of officers of senior rank) 5 minutes later the voice of one of the Nip Office staff was heard calling "Frow, Frow". A couple of minutes later the word spread like wildfire. "Back to billets boy". No work. This was the information we have been waiting for months. Not only waiting but anxiously hoping and praying for it to come to pass. I went back to the billet and sat on my bed because being pessimistic as usual I couldn't visualise us having the good fortune to have a day off work. About 10 o'clock it was announced that sick parade would be held at 3.30. That convinced even I that we were having a day off work. Then we had the report "Hostilities ended! War finished! Cewso Owan!" Could this golden dream of 400 men have come true at last "Well" said the optimists, it has to come some time why not now.

Personally I had the feeling that the rumour of the invasion of Hobkido had become a snowball and grown to the extent of Hostilities ended. The next interesting item was the report that we would receive soup at midday (we had already drawn our midday rice ration in boxes). Then we learned that the Nip QM had issued to the cook house one sack of flour one sack of potatoes and one sack of onions for the midday soup. That clinched it. The war must be over. The soup came up at midday and boy what a soup. I had to borrow a heavy paddle from the cookhouse to stir it. In the afternoon the CO Major Houghton [3] visited our barrack so we tackled him about the news. He would not however commit himself and put us off by saying "If the news is what I think it is, it is the best possible". He covered himself by saying "It is very easy to misinterpret this language". In the evening at 7 o'clock we had Rosary and Benediction in thanksgiving. Even if the war was not over, it looked as though work had finished and that in itself was a great blessing.

Friday 17th

Moira's Birthday. Town and Camp sirens blew at 02.00 Hrs. Hopes of pessimists soared and creases on brows of optimists. The sirens woke me up but I turned over and went to sleep again. Reveille at 05.00. Rice and beans with tiddler (minnow) soup for breakfast. Served Mass and received H.C. for Moira. Parade at 10.30 for Capt Martin [8]. Inauguration of British administration, change of barrack transferred from Sgt Russell [9] to Flt Sgt McEndoe [10]. Capt Martin[8] told us we could definitely expect parcels that day. Nipponese C.O. returned from Osaka but still no official admission of end of hostilities. The rest of the morning was spent in burning and otherwise disposing of kit which had been "indispensible" for the previous 3½ years. Rice ration at midday 100grams but good soup to compensate. Issue of salt (1 tablespoon) and 20 Shikari (Sun) cigarettes also photographs taken at Wakayama on 24 Jan 1944. Barrack N.C.O's went to collect parcels in the afternoon but the Nip QM had gone out for vegetables and had the keys of the stores with him. General feeling of despondency among the men all afternoon. Nip QM returned to camp at 4.20. By 4.50 issue and distribution of parcels completed. ¾ of a parcel per man. Split one parcel between Cpl Leslie [11], Jack Leggett [12], Sgt McCormick [13] and I. For tea had 6ozs tinned pork (PREM) 90gram bean with potatoes and onions from soup. Rice issue 160grams. Mixed up thick sweet chocolate cream and mixed with rice ¼ tin Jam (1½ozs) on top. Had to leave off after dinner to go to Rosary. Stood sponsor at baptism of Dick Gentle [14]. Had chocolate cream sweet after rosary. Beautiful. Lights out (officially) at 21.00. Who wants to go to bed. Realisation of freedom gradually permeating the atmosphere. General feeling of geniality among the boys. Groups all round the camp talking and smoking. Finished off my ¼ of parcel eating chocolate raisins and cheese at 02.00 (Sat). Went to bed at 02.30. Slept for an hour, then had another smoke and a chat. Slept from 3 o'clock till 5.

Sat 18th

Rose at 05.15. Should have been Mass after 05.30. Roll call postponed till 10.00. Later cancelled because Nips banned all gatherings. Rice, beans and soup for breakfast. Good thick soup. Split parcel with Mac but can't remember anything about it. Benson [6] (our Red Cross Parcel robber) officially released from Nipponese detention today. Rice, cucumber salad and flavoured soup for dinner. Issue of Y.M.C.A socks. First hot bath for a couple of months. Been deprived of them because of wood shortage. Nips observed to be carrying reversed arms. General feeling of comradeship in Camp. Rice, bean and pumpkin salad, and bean soup for tea. Rumour floating round that we move soon. Rumour of no Mass tomorrow.

Sunday 19th AugRita's birthday. Beans and Pap for breakfast. Pap made with sugar, fruit etc from extra Red Cross Parcels, also Pork Pastie with Pumpkin and bean hash onion sauce made with tins of pork from parcels. Most beautiful thing we have had since prisoners. Added attraction bread bun with raisins. Sgt McEndoo [10] left camp. Squeaker I/C. Food main topic of day! Nip C.O. (Capt Narona) offered £8,500 to our C.O. Col Fliniau (USA) [15] (i)as back pay for 25 Yanks who joined us at Wakayama from Tangawa. Col refused it. Nip C.O. now adopting a crawling attitude. He'll crawl lower still before he's finished. Thick soup and rice for tiffen. Spent the afternoon making a birthday cake. Finished up as an issue of rice with various layers of cream, jam and even breadcrumbs. Issue of Red Cross amenities in afternoon, including suits, shirts, shoes, raincoats, vests etc. Valuables (rings, watches, pens etc) handed into Nip officers at Wakayama and transferred to charge of Mr Frow[7]reissued today. We were allowed to swim in the river for the first time today. For tea we have tomato salad, potato salad, 150grams rice and 90grams beans. Had y issue with some extra beans then ½ of sweet. Had the other half after "Tenko".

Monday 20th

Breakfast. Pap and beans for breakfast.

Wednesday 29th Aug 1945

Reveille at 05.00 Hrs this morning. Rice and soup for breakfast also cocoa. Soup made from tinned rations. Small in quantity (½ per man) but of splendid quality. Learned from Bill (Sgt Miller) [16] at 05.10 that Mass was being celebrated immediately after roll call. With his permission hurried up to our little chapel (which has come to mean so much to us) and arrived in time for the Introit. Bob Gray [17] was answering the responses but relinquished his position in my favour. Breakfast after Mass was very enjoyable. After breakfast I was detailed for a cleaning up party which occupied my time till 09.00. After that I helped chop wood for the kitchen until midday. Midday meal same as breakfast except tea instead of cocoa. Spent couple of hours chopping wood in aft. Wrote up part of diary with help of Cyril Bean [18]. Head down for an hour until tea ready. Rice, small issue good soup and ¼ tin of salmon for tea. After tea spent restful evening. Cocoa at 19.00 Hrs. Issues today of add. cigarettes, chewing gum and toilet requisites. Lights out at 22.30. Went to bed about 23.30.

Thursday 30th

Wakened at 05.10 by Alf Atkinson [20]. Washed and shaved. Mass (served) at 05.45. Rice (300gm). Beans 90gms and dehydrated bean soup (1pt) for breakfast. Slept in Jack Leggett's [12] hammock till 10.30 when tea came up. Had some tea. Read "Newsweek" (periodical dropped by aircraft) until time to collect tiffin. Rice 300g) tomato soup with bouillon (oxo) cubes and eggfruit for tiffin. Wrote up some of diary after tiffin. Rice 260g Beans 90g tomato salad and soup for tea. Soup made with tinned rations of pea soup dehydrated beans and bouillon cubes. Suffering from loss of appetite. Managed ½ of my soup. Left rest for later on. Rosary at 7 o'clock. Ate half of my dinner ration and 1/3pt Cocoa. Couldn't go anymore. In fact I had stupidly forced down half of dinner ration. Violent stomach pain at 9 o'clock. Violently sick at 9.30. In bed at 10 o'clock. Pain eased considerably after being sick.

Friday 31st

Rose at 5.20. Mass (served) at 5.35. Chocolate pap. ½ issue soup and 90g beans for breakfast. Also issue of 1 tin of dry rations between 2 men. C.O.'s (Maj Houghton) parade at 07.00 hrs. Gave us all the information on the conference held yesterday at Hameja. Issue of 2 parachute per barrack. Helped carve it up into individual portions. Rice 280 and 1 pt pea and bean soup for tiffin.

1. DAVIES. George Victor RAF, LAC 543769, 4587

2. DAVID Ivor RAF, AC 964885, 4599

3. HOUGHTON Alfred Cecil Army, Major 3820

4. BRYANT Roy RAF, LAC 545526, 4242

5. HENLY Reginald Percy Army, Gnr 1766389, 5257

6. BENSON Thomas Army, Tpr 7902266, 4066

7. FROW Kenneth George Army, Lieut 2812

8. MARTIN William Edwin Army, Capt 3829

9. RUSSELL David RAF, Sgt 947592,6503

10. McENDOO Henry RAF, Flt Sgt 519945, 5854

11. LESLIE Ernest Alexander RAF, Cpl 643448, 5648

12. LEGGETT John Victor Army, Gnr 18707610, 5636

13. McCORMICK Cyril RAF, Sgt 517891, 5839

14. GENTLE Reginald RAF, AC 1109921, 4963

15. FLINAU Franklin Morris Lt Col O&306220,USA (INF),61st Div(PA)38

. sent to Hirohata after surrender

16. MILLER William RAF, Sgt 914114, 5963

17. GRAY Richard Wyndham RAF, AC 1284310, 5059

18. BEAN Cyril RAF, LAC 994122, 4033

20. ATKINSON Alfred Cornwell RAF, AC1 1010690, 3933

Name, Rank and Serial numbers obtained from:

Short History:

All the men came to this camp from Wakayama and Tanagawa 29 Mar 1945: Wakayama Camp closed and POWs transferred to Osaka 19-B28 Mar 1945: New Camp established as Osaka 19-B (Ikuno)Aug 1945: Renamed Osaka 4-B (Ikuno)Sep 1945: Rescue effected

Ikuno Branch Camp (Osaka 4-B)Established as Osaka No.19 Branch Camp at Kuchikanaya, Ikuno-cho, Asago-gun (current Asago City), Hyogo Prefecture on March 28, 1945.Renamed as Osaka No.4 Branch Camp in August, 1945.The POWs were used by Mitsubishi Mining Company, and they worked at Ikuno Copper Mine.440 POWs (383 British, 44 American and 13 other nationality) were imprisoned at the end of the war.No POW died while imprisonment.