Slave Labourer in Nagasaki – Part Four
As the rumours increased about an American landing on the other side of the island, three of my roommates escaped. The following morning at counting time it was discovered that they were missing. The whole camp was called together; the camp commander was furious. Immediately ten hostages were taken from the corner where the escapees normally slept. The Japanese commander let it be known that they would be killed if the escapees were not returned within three days, and that he would continue taking hostages till the men were back. This measure was meant as a deterrent for other would-be escapees. One of the hostages, my friend Plasse, was asked what he would like as his last meal. He asked for egg shells. When the guard did not understand and asked Plasse why he wanted egg shells he answered, “I need all the calcium for my bones when I am dead.”
After three days the escapees were back in camp. The natives had told the Japanese search party where to find them. The three men, still in their green army uniforms and their puttees around their legs, were severely beaten. The Japanese camp commander pronounced the death sentence. To show that he was not entirely without feelings, he released the ten hostages. They were quite shaken by their ordeal, which would scar their minds forever. We were issued a warning that if there ever would be another escape, these ten men would be executed. On the day the three escapees were executed, they were taken to an open field outside the camp. They had to dig their own graves, kneel in front of them, and then were beheaded.
I was stationed to work in a brothel. It was housed in a school in which the classrooms had been converted into smaller rooms. I saw many trucks with native girls between fourteen and seventeen years old, and some even younger. They were transported to the hospital for a check-up prior to sexual contact and rape by the Japanese officers and soldiers. We were not allowed to talk to the girls. The most beautiful of them were kept in a different part of the school for the officers. At the entrance of the yard was a soldier who would punch holes in ID cards which entitled the soldiers to have intercourse with the girls.
As soon as five or six soldiers had passed, my friend and I were called in to remove the towel stretched across the room and install a new one. Some of the girls accepted it and were just like zombies. Others would scream Tulung! Tulung! (help). I felt very uncomfortable and sorry for them.
One time we played a big joke on the Japanese cook. Every morning a small bag full of bananas was delivered to the camp and put under a tree near the guard house, to be picked up by the cook for the Japanese soldiers’ lunch. There was a bench under this tree where we could sit. One day we took turns sitting on the bench and while we sat there we each took out a few bananas and replaced them with twigs and small pieces of wood so that the bag remained the same size. After the bag was emptied of bananas, we watched to see what would happen. When the cook came to pick up the bag, he almost flipped over because he had expected the bag to be heavy with bananas. The Kurrah’s were heard a mile away! But luckily he gave up and walked away, and we realized what a dangerous game we had played!
Life in Japan
On October 14, 1942, along with other POWs, I sailed out of the harbour of Macassar for Japan on the Asamah Maruh. We were below deck with some cows. It was terribly hot and dark and the smell of urine and sickness permeated the hold. The portholes remained closed throughout the voyage. Many became seasick and had other ailments, and there was no opportunity to go anywhere to relieve ourselves. We did it where we were since we were allowed to go on deck only once a day. After ten days I was ready to give up.
When we arrived in the harbour of Manila we saw the carnage the Japanese had inflicted on the American fleet. The warships were lying on the bottom of the harbour with their smokestacks sticking out. I said a prayer for those who had drowned in their ships.
But this was not our destination. Some food and water were brought on board. We refueled and then in the dead of night we headed north. Due to the cold temperature and lack of warm clothing, many caught pneumonia. Late in the afternoon of October 23rd we arrived in Nagasaki. The harbour looked beautiful with the hills in the background against a blue sky.
After we landed we were counted again and again, and then had to march to the infamous Fukuoka Two, a wooden camp with a guardhouse and a barbed wire fence around it. The compound was adjacent to the giant shipbuilding wharf. The barracks were in a U-form with eighteen rooms on each side with the washrooms and the kitchen in the connecting part. Each room housed fifty-two POWs. There was a row of thirteen bunk beds on each side. We kept our belongings under the bunk beds, behind sliding doors. Narrow tables and benches stretched through the center of the room to a large window in the end wall. Room 14 was my room for the next few years and my number 620 was printed on all my clothing.
Many died of pneumonia and dysentery shortly after we arrived in this camp. On November 19, 1942, we had to report for work. There was much yelling and speeches were held warning us to work hard, or risk punishment if caught loafing or committing other infractions.
Excerpt by John Franken. Published earlier in Four Years till Tomorrow
To be continued.
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Until next time,