Wally Mole's Story
Singapore to Japan and the sinking of the 'Kachidoki Maru'
This story is published on our web site with the kind permission of Wally's family and was sent to us by COFEPOW member Bob Richards whose brother Fred of the Royal Engineers was with Wally for most of their captivity.
This is not a story of heroism or glory but one which was common to many who were taken prisoners by the Japanese during the war.
Like thousands of others, I was sent to work on the notorious 'Railway of Death' where I spent over two years of hell and thought that nothing could be worse than this, but how wrong I was - the worst was yet to come.
The Railway being completed, the Japanese said that they wanted the fittest to be sent to Japan to work. Unfortunately I was rejected as unfit but hearing that one of the fellows did not wish to go, I said that I would take his place, trusting the Japanese would not know.
It was September 1944 that I was back in Singapore, which to me was really wonderful despite the poverty and misery that existed there. I was back in civilisation again, miles away from those disease-stricken jungle camps where so many of my pals lay buried.
For several weeks we worked in the docks, our food ration was very poor and there was no chance of stealing anything to supplement our diet.
One day a German submarine arrived and when the crew came ashore they were appalled at our physical condition and each day, whilst they were there, brought food to us, despite strong protest from the Nips.
We were told that several bags of letters had been delivered to our camp and as many of us had not heard from home for over 2½ years, this was just too good to be true. Unfortunately, a couple of our lads got caught stealing at the docks and, apart from giving them a bad beating up, the Japanese took all our bags of letters and burned them.
Eventually the big day arrived and we were told to get ready to leave to go to Japan. It took me about two minutes to pack my personal belongings. The only clothes I had were those I was wearing which were vest, shorts and rubber plimsolls and these were filthy.
It was quite a long march to the docks and when we arrived we were paraded alongside a ship of about 12,000 tons, a cargo and passenger type about 500 feet long. We had to hang around for quite a while before we embarked and many of the sick, already exhausted by the march, would have to be carried aboard.
As we went up the gang-plank the Nips, armed with pointed bamboo sticks, drove us like cattle, hurrying us on and hitting out at everyone.
My fears grew when I saw our quarters for the next few weeks, for hundreds of men were being forced into a hold of the ship where tiers of platforms, just like shelves, had been set up.
As I reached the entrance to go down the narrow steps, the stench from the perspiring human cargo was unbearable and the lads below were shouting and trying to prevent any more from entering. There were still many more to go down but the entrance was blocked. It seemed impossible for more to enter; with this the Japanese went crazy and just forced us down and many were injured.
Our officers were given the privilege of staying on deck and strongly protested about the conditions. They told the Japanese that unless fresh air was allowed in, all the men would pass out. Eventually after much arguing and face slapping the canvas sheeting was pulled back and some of the batons removed and we were able to breathe freely again. Many were suffering from dysentery and malaria and it was obvious that many would not make the journey.
The Japanese lost no time and soon we were leaving Singapore and heading for the sea.
Despite the terrible conditions that we had encountered during our POW life, we never lacked discipline and through previous experience we knew just how to get organised and did not give way to despair, whatever the odds.
On the decks the Nips had rigged up some improvised toilets for us and there was always a continuous queue leading to the steps, even if it was only to get away from the stench. There were so many who were sick and dying and with so little space it was difficult to help them. It was impossible to lie down and we had to rest on one another and as the height between each platform was only about four feet, those at the back were almost in complete darkness.
The next few days were unbearable, little food and water, and it was only after a few had died that the Japs allowed more of us on deck where we were confined to a small roped-off area on the bow of the ship.
I counted 12 ships in the convoy which included two destroyers and our ship which was the largest and was called the 'Kachidoki Maru'. There was another ship in the convoy, almost as big, which also carried POWs, mostly Australians and was named 'Rakuyo Maru'.
We had been at sea for four days when the convoy was attacked by submarines. These attacks took place as dusk fell. We were all ordered below before dark with a Nip guard at the entrance.
When they dropped depth charges it was like a clap of thunder echoing through the hold and each time it felt as though the ship had been hit. All through this terrible ordeal, trapped like rats, there was an air of calmness and, true to British tradition, nobody seemed to panic.
After three days of these attacks, several ships had been sunk and our ship had been rammed by a tanker which was out of control and pushed it to an angle of 45 degrees. This caused havoc with us below but the ship soon righted itself but I heard that it had caused quite a bit of damage. The next day we could only see five ships and assumed that the 'Rakuyo Maru' carrying the Aussies had been sunk - which was later confirmed as correct.
We knew that our turn was to come and dreaded the night coming and when the depth charges started to be thrown again, everyone's minds must have been on that narrow stairway - our only means of escape. During all this action our lads were still permitted to use the latrines and there was always a queue on the stairway and, as on previous nights, we got a running commentary on the action above. When we heard that another ship was ablaze it was not now taken as good news and in the darkness of the hold there was an uncanny silence. Suddenly it all stopped. It was like a reprieve from a death sentence; the nightmare was over and we had survived another night at least.
I tried to sleep to soothe my shattered nerves but sleep would not come so I decided to make for the stairway and get a few minutes on deck. Despite the darkness I found my way to those steps like a blind man and to my surprise there was no waiting, no queue - this was unbelievable. I felt my way step-by-step so as not to step on anybody and when I got halfway up the stairway I bumped into a chap who was so weak he could hardly make the top. I asked him if he knew why there was no queue but he could not care less; all he was concerned with was getting upstairs so I put my arm around his skinny waist and helped him along.
There was no guard on duty but there was a lot of shouting going on at the Jap's end of the ship. It was pitch dark and I could not make out what was happening although I had heard a loud bang a little while earlier but had paid no attention to it.
There were not many of our men on deck but one of our officers was directing our men to untie some rafts that were stacked nearby. He turned to me and told me to help them and then went a little way down the stairway and calmly called out to the men below to come up. I soon realised the terrible position - there were hundreds of our men down below including the sick and dying that had to be got out without panic.
The ship had quite a list on her now and several Japs were making their way towards our end of the ship. Many were wounded Japs from the sick bay wearing white dressing gowns. I just could not believe my eyes when I saw a Jap with a revolver shooting at them and one man just sat down whilst waiting to be killed. I found out afterwards that these men were too ill to get off the ship and these were mercy killings.
Having thrown a few rafts over the side and seeing this guy with the revolver, I decided it was time to leave. I rushed to the side of the ship where we had thrown the rafts and one of our lads pointed to a rope tied to a rail and hanging over the side. It was so dark that we could not see the water below but we knew it was a hell of a drop to reach it. I did not ask this chap whether he could swim but he began to lose his nerve and although I was scared stiff myself, I knew that time was running out so I climbed over the rail and told him to follow me. Unfortunately, the rope was only a few feet long and as I hung there in mid air I could feel the other chap climbing over, so I let go.
The next few seconds seemed an eternity and when I hit the water it was like phosphorescence and as I went deeper into the sea, dozens of little lights appeared to come on. When I came to the surface I swam like mad to get away in case the suction from the sinking ship too me down with her.
I swam into a lot of debris and clung on to a piece of timber and then I was lucky enough to run into one of the rafts that had been thrown overboard. I laid the timber on the raft so that I could paddle away from the ship but unfortunately I had drifted towards the aft of the ship where the Japs had taken to the lifeboats. Suddenly there was a young Jap swimming alongside me and he put out his hand for me to help him. I must have gone mad because I kept hitting him with the piece of timber until he disappeared. Soon more Japs appeared and I just went berserk and lashed out at them and toppled off the raft. I kept swimming like mad, where I got the strength from I shall never know. I felt exhausted but was now content to keep afloat and hope.
My prayers were answered for I heard English voices nearby and in the gloom I saw three fellows clinging to a raft. They gave me a helping hand and with one on each side of this four feet square raft we hung on to the roped loops which ran along the edges. Not many minutes passed when there was an explosion on the ship and she was a mass of flames. She seemed to stand on her end, towering towards the sky, then she slowly slid into the depths of the ocean, still burning and with steam hissing from her. Although hundreds of men were trapped in the hold and went down with the ship, many were forced out by the sudden impact of water and were forced to the surface and there were some remarkable stories told afterwards.
The sea all around was covered with thick oil and when the ship took its plunge, it left behind a sea of fire. Not a very pleasant thought but it looked as though, instead of being drowned, we were going to be roasted alive. The fire seemed to be getting closer to us but after a few minutes, that seemed like hours, the fire gradually got weaker and finally petered out. Actually, the oil in the sea was a blessing in disguise for it not only calmed the sea, but kept the cold from our bodies and gave us such buoyancy that it was almost impossible to sink.
After an hour or so, luck favoured me again, for our raft drifted into another one that was much larger and crowded with POWs. There were about two dozen seated on it and as it was already overloaded and half submerged, two of the chaps on our raft clambered on (after a strong protest). With this, the remaining men and myself were able to ease ourselves on to our raft and someone tied it to the bigger raft to prevent us drifting away.
The time must have been around midnight; we had been in the water for about four hours and I felt so tired and exhausted that I must have passed out. The next thing I remembered, dawn was breaking, it was terribly cold and the sea was quite choppy and I felt very seasick. I was completely covered with oil and grease, my eyes were smarting and with each wave I was half drowned. Many things went through my mind. I almost re-lived my life again. Everything seemed so clear and vivid as though it had just happened. I kept imagining I was back home with my wife and daughter.
Another hour passed, the sun began to appear and for miles around we could see survivors clinging to rafts and suchlike, also lifeboats laden with Japanese. On our raft, which was made of bamboo and about 12 ft square, there, seated at the centre, was a young Japanese woman clutching a baby. Why that young woman was not put into a lifeboat was a question that only the Japs could answer. Maybe it was one of their stupid customs.
Not far from us was an upturned lifeboat and seated astride it were many Jap officers, still clutching their briefcases and with their swords dangling from their sides. What a pretty sight to see and our lads did not hesitate in expressing their feelings; they made rude gestures to them and called them all the dirtiest names under the sun. Our boys were in good spirits now and someone suggested we cheer the bastards with a song, which we did by singing 'Rule Britannia'and 'Sons of the Sea' and despite our condition we had put them to shame.
After a couple more hours we spotted a plane and we really thought it could be one of ours from an aircraft carrier but our hopes were dashed when we saw that horrible red circle on the wings. It circled around and then made off.
Around an hour later we saw a ship coming towards us and as it got nearer we saw that it was a tanker, then suddenly there was a terrific explosion and the tanker was a sheet of flame. When the smoke cleared it had completely vanished.
Later in the afternoon we saw smoke again in the distance and this turned out to be a couple of Japanese frigates. They lost no time in picking up the Japs in the lifeboats. Whilst this was going on, two Jap seamen, who were on a raft similar to ours, were trying to paddle their raft nearer to us and each had a knife in their hand, their intention being to get to the girl on our raft but we had other ideas. Each time they got close, we would push them away with our feet and this infuriated them so much that when they did eventually get aboard they started to strike out at everyone.
I do not know how many got knifed because, being on the edge, I slid off the raft and swam towards an empty lifeboat vacated by the Japs. Three other fellows followed me and others swam towards the frigate which was only about 50 yards away. Those that reached the frigate climbed up a rope ladder, only to be pushed back into the sea. Meanwhile, a heated argument was going on aboard the frigate between the skipper and the officer who was in charge of the POWs, and it ended by the Japs beckoning us to come aboard.
I wanted to stay in the lifeboat but when I saw that they were actually helping our chaps aboard, I agreed to go along with them, especially as some of the boys needed medical attention and we badly needed a drink of water. There must have been about 50 of us aboard when an alarm was given and the Nips rushed to action stations and the frigate made off at high speed.
Hundreds of our men were left scattered for miles around in a shark-infested sea with their chances of survival pretty hopeless. The Nips put us all close together at the bow of the ship and just before dusk they gave us all a drink of water and a bowl of rice. It was terribly cold during the night and I dropped off to sleep, wondering what was in store for us next.
The next morning we arrived at a port in Hainan, we disembarked and hung around for hours on the dockside. It appeared as though nobody wanted anything to do with us and you could not blame them owing to the state we were in. Most of us were naked but we were given no clothes, food or medical attention. Sitting in the scorching sun and still covered in oil, huge blisters appeared on our skin and many of us began to lose our sight. Eventually the Nips drove us like cattle to another dock, hitting us with their rifles and kicking those who kept falling down. We ended up on a huge whaling ship 'Kibitsu Maru'. Here we met some of the Aussies off the other ship that got torpedoed before us. These chaps were in much better condition than us and did their best to help us. My body was a mess of sores and broken blisters and I thought that I would end up being blind. I was really prepared to die.
It took over four days to get to Formosa - stayed there for one day and then set off to Japan in a small convoy but the first day out we were attacked and returned to Formosa. The next day the convoy tried again to beat the blockade but once again had to return. Two days later a third attempt was made and all seemed to be going well for a couple of days when the submarines attacked again, sinking a few small ships. We were continually being attacked and a destroyer and another escort were sunk. Our ship was also hit but managed to get to a port called MOJI. Here we were paraded through the streets, most of us without clothes and the local people looked at us as though they could not believe their eyes at seeing such wretched looking humans, some so thin and ill that they could barely walk without aid. I did not know whether they looked at us with sympathy or disgust but most of us could not care less.
They took us down to some stables recently occupied by horses where fresh straw had been put down for us to sleep on. That evening they took us to a big hall where we were given a small but tasty meal. Two men died that evening.
The next day we were taken to the public baths which was an unexpected luxury and after bathing, we were given a blanket each. Covered by our blankets we were marched to the quayside and we boarded the ferry boat to a place called SIMONOSEKI. Here we were put on a train and, to our astonishment, we were put into passenger compartments instead of the usual goods wagons.
We arrived at Tokyo the next morning and were marched through the streets to a school about a mile away from the station. Still wrapped in our blankets, the public could not see our skinny bodies and evidently took us for recently captured prisoners and shouted abuse and threw missiles at us. At the school, the old caretaker and his wife were most charming to us. It was the first time I had seen the other side of the Japanese. Maybe they had human feelings after all! They made us some tea (no sugar or milk) and gave some of us a kind of homemade biscuit. They showed much sympathy for our plight.
Here we were fitted out with a shirt, Jap trousers, white socks and a British Army greatcoat which afterwards proved its weight in gold. We were then given some plimsolls which were far too small for most of us, so the only way to get them on was to cut off the toecaps. Finally, we were given a Jap peaked hat (regardless of size), rice, stew and tea but it looked as though things were turning out better at last. Despite our physical condition there was always somebody to crack a joke and our appearance in our uniforms did not make this too difficult.
After being 'kitted out' we were taken back to Tokyo railway station and travelled all night to a place called SAKATA in northern Japan. It seemed much colder to us now, having been in the tropics for so long. We were put into a very nice school. It was the cleanest place I had been in as a POW and we were given a straw mat to sleep on and three nice warm blankets each. The food given to us was in little boxes and very tasty indeed but not enough to feed a young child let alone starving men. The sick (which meant nearly all of us) were given medical treatment although, according to Japanese tradition, it meant reduced rations.
After a few days the party was over and we went to a big rice storage warehouse that had been prepared for us and where we eventually remained until the end of the war. It was a cold and draughty old place and the civilian guards who were in charge of us were all disabled servicemen and what a right lot of bastards they all turned out to be! We were soon put to work, mainly in a very large chemical works, loading and unloading railway trucks and carting the goods to various parts of the factory, or sometimes working with the Jap employees.
Others were sent to the quayside to unload coal from barges and then load it onto waiting railway trucks. I was in the latter party and although this was very hard work, it was mostly done by women! I could not believe my eyes when I saw them. They had wooden boxes strapped to their backs and these were filled with coal and they had to walk up long scaffolding planks leading to the trucks. The boxes were emptied by pulling a piece of rope which released the hinges on the bottom of the box. It all seemed to primitive and stupid. The boxes weighed more than the contents! A conveyor belt would have done the job in no time.
At first we had quite a bit of fun with the girls and they giggled at some of our antics. I got a job shovelling the coal into their boxes and, thinking I was doing them a favour, I only half filled them but the dear ladies insisted that they were filled up. Our lads could just about manage the flipping box let alone with any coal in it! The Jap guard, however, soon rumbled that our lads were hardly carrying any coal and he 'did his nut' giving us the usual Japanese punishment of making us stand to attention whilst he slapped and punched us in the face.
The women wore heavy clothing and a padded veil over their faces and all we could see was their eyes. It was difficult to tell their ages but it was a novelty for us to work with them. The embarrassing part, however, was when we wanted to go to the toilet. The guard thought this was a huge joke and all the women stood and giggled as the guard gave a gesture that the only toilet was the heaps of coal. This work proved to be very hard and we worked long hours and the weather now was turning to winter. There was no respite (despite the weather conditions) and the trucks had to be filled even if it was pouring with rain or blowing a blizzard. Japan was having one of its worst winters for many years. We got filthy dirty and there were no facilities for washing in the rice barn. The water taps were frozen solid. Life was really unbearable; our feet were always wet and cold but, thank God, we had our good old army greatcoats to keep our bodies warm. When we had our usual evening meal of rice and cabbage stew, most of us got underneath our blankets, the one good thing that the Japs provided, apart from the overcoat.
As many men went down with pneumonia and more were dying, we were taken off the coal job and sent to the chemical works. Here I managed to get some old sacks and cement bags to wrap round my legs and feet because the snow was getting deeper every day. When our plimsolls were worn out we got an issue of used Japanese army boots but God knows how those chaps with big feet got on! I took a size 8 but had to manage with a size 7. Having no socks, my feet got terribly blistered.
We had four officers at the camp including our M.O., a Capt Roulston, who was one of the doctors on the whale factory ship but these men did not have to go out to work so did not have to endure the hardships which we were subjected to. The guards seemed to get more brutal as time went on, especially one guy who had lost an arm in the war. I believe they were ordered to get tough with us. Some of our men had torn pieces off their blankets to put round their bodies and when one of the guards noticed this, an inspection was ordered and those guilty were punished by having to stand outside the guardroom for 24 hours in the snow.
The Camp Commandant was a drunken nut case. After the evening roll call he insisted that we all sing a couple of songs before being dismissed. We used to sing songs like 'When the Lights of London Shine Again' and 'Rule Britannia' and as we did not know the words we would whistle'Colonel Bogey'. It made him happy and it also boosted our morale a little.
One morning when we arrived at the chemical works, one of our chaps (a case-hardened Scottish regular soldier), had an attack of malaria and the one-armed guard jeered at him and humiliated him because he was shivering. He made him stand to attention, took his hat off and piled snow on top of his head. The Jap civilian workers thought this very funny and some of them threw snowballs at him. Poor Jock died soon afterwards.
Our food rations seemed to be getting less each week because the sick were on half rations although we always shared alike. On our way to work, which was about a mile and a half walk, we would rifle the dustbins outside the houses as we marched through the narrow streets looking for anything edible. Occasionally we would pick up dead birds and when we got to the factory we would roast them over the fire during our lunch break. Also, we would take rock salt to crush to give the rice a bit of flavour. The work on the 'Railway of Death' was bad enough but this was sheer torture. It was so cold and we were only given enough food to keep us alive and as most of us had not washed for months, we were as lousy as coots.
Each morning before we started work we all had to face a certain direction - I think it was the Emperor's Palace - and, along with the Japs, we had to chant with them. We did not know the words so we chanted "We are fed up with this rice stuff" and we would end by saying "and B…..s to the Emperor". This was an everyday ritual and it pleased the Japs to think we were paying homage to their tin god.
During our work at the factory we tried to do small acts of sabotage, especially when loading the trucks. We would make holes in the bags of cement, or other bags of powder, so that it would all spill out when being unloaded. Also I saw bottles of acid cracked so as to spill out during the journey. We did a lot of these petty little strokes as it was a continuous source of aggravation to them.
As Christmas drew near we were told by the guards that we would be given meat for our Christmas dinner. Our meals at that time consisted mainly of rice and cabbage stew or soup made from offal. The promise of meat was a big event for us (not having tasted any for years) and each evening when we returned from work the question to the cooks was "had the meat arrived yet?" Then it happened. Two heaped up barrow loads of dead dogs were pulled into the camp by a few Jap civvies. There were all breeds, some large, some small and most of them looked as though they were strays that had been picked up judging by their mangy condition. The cooks skinned them and prepared them ready for our Christmas banquet. The Nips gave us all a couple of days off from work and although the thought of it now seems repulsive, the dogs tasted delicious! It is surprising to know what you will eat when you are starving. Unfortunately nearly everybody eventually suffered from diarrhoea!
Christmas night we were allowed to have a concert and the talent amongst the hundred odd men was remarkable. Even the Japs appreciated our efforts and applauded. In fact it was the first time I had ever seen some of them laugh. After the show, when everybody was bedded down, the guards did their usual patrol and as they passed along our gangway some wise joker started barking like a dog. It soon caught on and then the barn sounded like Battersea Dogs Home. The guards, having no sense of humour, started shouting to quell the noise. Suddenly it went quiet, then somebody let out a howl and then as the guards made off in that direction, barking and howling would come from somewhere else.
After Christmas things were very much the same - hard work and starvation rations until Spring came along. The snow began to melt and we saw some sunshine. Quite a number of chaps had died during the winter and these were replaced by Americans to make up the strength of the working parties. I managed to get myself the job of camp tailor. The Australian chap who had been doing the job had died and I applied for it although I hadn't the faintest idea of how to use a sewing machine. I did, however, know how to thread a needle! Working in the camp was a thousand times better than going out with the working parties. Although I only weighed about 6-stone at this time, I was never excused from work because I was considered fit compared to some.
Also, amongst my many chores, I was required to help clean the Jap sleeping quarters. This was where I got a few perks because I got all the cigarette ends from the ashtrays and any uneaten food. Also, some of them would leave their packets of cigarettes about so, naturally, I nicked a few. I worked in a small shed with another two of our blokes doing boot repairs and also my job was to patch up holes or tears in the prisoners' uniforms and the only material which they gave to me was coloured cloth pieces from a nearby dress factory. It was quite usual to see a bloke walking about with red or yellow patches in the arse of his trousers!
One day whilst we were working away the electric lamp, which hung down on a piece of flex, started to sway. We all looked at one another wondering what had caused it and came to the conclusion it could have been an earthquake. It did not worry us much because after all we had been through, what's an earthquake! At this time the Japs had seemed to be getting more aggressive with us and found any excuse to give us a beating. This must have been round about the time the atom bombs were dropped and some of the men were made to dig several trenches around the camp about 5 feet deep and nobody knew why at the time. Soon afterwards we saw aircraft for the first time and the guards said that all POWs would be executed. Whether these trenches were to be our graves we never ever knew. They were never used - Thank God!
For some time, a part of my duties was to go with another chap to take our dead to the Crematorium, accompanied by a teenage guard. It was about a 2 mile journey and we used to take the corpse on a kind of costermonger's barrow. It was a tiring journey but for me it was nice to get out of the camp for a change. When we arrived at the Crematorium the young Jap lad would help to put the corpses in the oven; they were never very heavy because the poor chaps were usually like skeletons before they died. The Jap would then leave us so we could deliver a prayer for the deceased. Whilst he was away we would go around the ovens and on the ledges would be rice balls, biscuits, other titbits and flowers. This was, presumably, the last meal for the deceased before they met up with their ancestors but the poor souls never got it. We ate it and then nicked the little bowls that the food was in!
One day the Jap noticed that the offerings on the oven next to the one which we were using were missing and he really went mad. He could speak a little English and with my little bit of Japanese I tried to express sorrow at not understanding their custom. I also did a few Christian and other religious signs in front of the oven and this seemed to satisfy the Jap. Luckily I got on very well with this young Jap (whose name was Jonji Maruyama) and he often came into the hut where I did the tailoring (that's a joke) and I used to tell him all about London and our wonderful England. Mostly all lies, of course, but he used to listen intently. He told me that the planes that were coming over and doing the bombing were American and if the Yanks landed on Japanese shores, we would all be executed. With this terrible thought in mind I just hoped for some miracle to happen.
Air raids were now getting more frequent and when they raided the harbour and chemical works, one of our men was killed and a couple injured. One day our camp was hit with incendiary bombs and the Jap quarters caught fire. Pandemonium broke out with the Nips and our chaps in camp were ordered to help put out the fire and carry valuable stuff outside. The place was not all burnt down but there was quite a bit of damage and the Japs lost quite a lot of stuff. We had a feeling that the war was nearing its end because the working parties would report various things which the civilian workers had told them. It was easy to 'con' a Jap into giving information because they seemed so naïve. Some said they had been told that the war was over and when the working parties stopped going out we knew that this could be true.
One evening, when we paraded for our usual evening roll call, the Camp Commandant (who had recently replaced the other drunken bastard) told us that our countries were now at peace and we would all soon return to our loved ones and it was his duty to protect us from any Japanese organisations who were still active and would harm us. Our officers went into the Commandant's office where the talks were held and the next day we took over all their arms and occupied their offices. Our officers ordered us to stay in camp, gave rifles to the men and posted our own guards in case hostile civvies raided the camp. The Japs brought some food into us and that was the last we saw of some of them. The Commandant and interpreter remained.
After a few days we were told that we could go out of the camp but only in large groups in case of trouble. Strangely, the locals were not hostile towards us but, on the contrary, appeared to be quite friendly. In fact, after a week or two we were invited to the local theatre and asked if we would like to put on a show. I could not believe it. Here we are, all bloody friendly again! During these weeks of waiting, our officers had been listening to the radio 24 hours a day because the Yanks had been giving out messages to all the POW camps scattered around Japan.
We were all getting impatient when at last the Allies heard about our camp and broadcast orders to us. We got some red and white blankets and made a big red cross on the roof of the barn. Then one morning a plane circled over our camp, spotted our red cross and came in as low as it could. The boys on board opened their doors and waved to us and signalled messages. Then a small parachute was dropped. A small canister on the parachute bore a message saying - 'be back later with your breakfast, boys'. Later, two planes came back; they signalled their instructions to us and parachuted huge canisters filled with food, tobacco, medical supplies and everything we needed. These canisters were deliberately dropped to land outside the camp and when we went outside to collect them, we saw that they had done quite a lot of damage to the surrounding houses. This could have endangered our lives because our small camp was surrounded by many angry Japs. Through the Jap guards we offered them a lot of the canisters' contents.
Nearly four weeks had passed since the war had ended when we got our orders to leave the camp. We had to leave around midnight and catch a train at the local station that would take us to a place called SENDAI. Here we met up with the Americans who were appalled by our condition. The Yank who drove the ambulance that I was on was so mad with the Japs that he deliberately tried to run over everyone of them who got in his way! He gave us a really rough ride and when we passed a market place he knocked over as many stalls as he possibly could. He must have hated the Japs as much as we did.
Some went home by 'plane but those unfit were put on an old Dutch Red Cross ship and sent to New Zealand. I was one of those because I was in worse nick than I thought. When we finally met up with the Americans in SENDAI they were so appalled by our condition that some of them attacked the Japs that had escorted us to meet them.
The Americans kept us at SENDAI for a couple of days and gave us VIP treatment before taking us by ship to Tokyo where we were given medical attention and were allowed to send telegrams home to our families to let them know we were alive. My Wife was given a widow's pension in 1944 on the assumption that I was missing and presumed drowned.
A lot of men from other camps had already been sent home by 'plane but in our case most of us were so thin and ill that we were put on a hospital ship for immediate treatment. At that time I weighed a mere 6 stones, my normal weight being 10 stone 7 lbs. We were told that we would be taken to New Zealand in the hospital ship where the climate would be better for us and that we could be built up before meeting our families.
Tokyo Harbour was full of ships, from battleships to submarines, some of them being the largest ships in the world from the United States and British fleets, including HMS 'KING GEORGE V'and US NAVY 'MISSOURI' - giant battleships and when we sailed in this Red Cross boat to leave Tokyo I experienced the most emotional scene of my life. The crews of each ship manned their decks and across the water came the echo of 'Three Cheers' from a British battleship with the sailors all holding their hats aloft. Sirens continually hooted and many ships had their bands playing 'Anchors Away' or 'Rule Britannia'.
To me, It was like a scene from an American film and it was very difficult for us not to shed a few tears. In fact, some cried unashamedly. One of our lads said - "What the bloody hell are they cheering us for - it is us who should be cheering them" and as each crew waved as we passed, we gave them a cheer. To me this was the end of a nightmare. Of the 2,200 men that had set out for Japan on the two ships, only a few hundred lived to return home.
I stayed in New Zealand for several weeks to convalesce and then went to Australia for a while and eventually came home on the old ship 'AQUITANIA' making her last voyage and arriving at Southampton on 6th January 1946.
There were quite a lot of people there when we docked and as I scanned the faces, I spotted my wife and asked for permission to go ashore but was refused - I went anyway. We had not seen one another for nearly 5 years and as I walked towards her I just stopped and stared at her and she ran to me. She trembled as I held her in my arms, the tears fell and a lump in my throat stopped me from talking but words were not necessary. I had come back home and that was all that mattered.