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Osaka Maru

Taken from an old copy of the FEPOW Forum

I was one of those thousands who slave-laboured on the railroad in Thailand. About the middle of June 1944 we travelled back to Singapore by train; many vegetable growing patches now being apparent whereas, on our 'cattle truck' outward journey two years previously, there had been rubber plantations.

On 18th June we were transferred to the Docks having first tasted the 'delights' of the small shark that was issued to us as meat. As we embarked we each carried a 'packet' of raw rubber which, along with Bauxite, was to be the cargo other than the living (just) cargo. The boat was the 4,600 ton OSAKA MARU which I gathered at that time was built in 1894 by John Brown's on Clydebank, sold to the Japs in 1934 and refitted with engines in 1940. Her only armament was an old field gun roped to the boat's superstructure.

My statistics show that 150 POWs were 'housed' on the forward open deck, 150 on the boat deck and 450 in the hold and top main hatch. How well I remember that hold and the general conditions so reminiscent of 'Two Years Before the Mast'; the box toilet strapped to the outside of the boat rail and so on.

Our eventual sailing on 4th July (American Independence Day) was certainly a relief because we could be assured of some movement of air to combat the stifling conditions whether or not one had been fortune in obtaining 'first class' accommodation!

The last Malaysian landmark was Tanjong Penyosch and it was not long before we saw lifeboats and survivors from a ship which presumably had been torpedoed ahead of us. We reached North Borneo and hugged the coastline of Palawan and then 'hove to' one night at sunset, no doubt because of the threatened danger at sea. After 2 nights we left on 11th July.

Passing Corrigiedor where the 'Yanks' made their last stand in 1942, we reached Manila Harbour on the 16th, our arrival being 'greeted' by the terrific lights of a blazing tanker (sabotage?)

.I remember that our journey was then delayed by 15 days of continuous rainy conditions, eventually sailing again on 8th August. We were more fortunate than the 'IFUKU MARU' which had followed us from Singapore and had been sunk near Manila. I believe that of the 199 known survivors, only 50 of these survived a second incident at sea.

Even so, we did not sail into friendly waters - far from it! Again we had to 'shelter', this time in Lingayen Bay and then at about midday on 13th August, about 100 miles from Luzon, a gale really hit us. The rubber was thrown overboard and all loose fittings and hatches secured. There was pandemonium amongst the crew members as fittings and a 40-gallon iron boiler were torn away and together with huge wood/zinc ice-boxes were moving around the deck with each roll or dip of the ship. We had been caught by a typhoon and at about midnight on 14th August after 36 hours of real hell, during which time bloated corpses had been seen in the sea and another boat in the convoy had gone down in flames, we ran aground about 170 yards from shore, on an island of the Bashee (or Bashi) group.

Our rescue was effected on the 16th by a Japanese naval vessel and we were taken to Keelung after a transfer operation by small boats which took from 10am to 7pm. At this northern Formosan port we boarded the 12,000 ton 'HAKASAN MARU' which promised comparative luxury, but it was not to be. The air conditioning system was not working for a start!

Eight days later and a thousand miles further on we reached Moji, docking on 27th August and disembarking the following day, but not before we had seen a whaler sunk when not far from the Japanese port. This sinking was sure evidence that the Allies were around (if not seen) but at what a cost to many of our friends from whom we were forcibly parted in Thailand or Singapore. During the 56 day voyage, no less than 20 died and 29 terribly sick were taken off, along with one of the dead, at Manila.

The remainder of my imprisonment is another story with time spent at Simoneseki, Osaka, Amagasaki (forced labour in Itani's factory) and stevedore work on the docks at Ohirota before finally being liberated.