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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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1945 opened with a cut in the number of Rest Days. Instead of every Sunday the prisoners were to have a break on the 5th, 15th, and 25th of the month. The Red Cross parcels, so eagerly looked forward to, proved to be a let down – 10 men per parcel, which meant very little pickings.

The portions at mealtimes were also cut and what little there was seemed even more unappetizing than usual. An earthquake split the beams and floors of the camp buildings, allowing even more frost and snow inside. So much for things improving in the New Year!

chapter 10

"January to August 1945"
 Chapter 1:
 Chapter 2:
 Chapter 3:
 Chapter 4:
 Chapter 5:
 Chapter 6:
 Chapter 7:
 Chapter 8:
 Chapter 9:
 Chapter 10:

The cold continued mercilessly with average temperatures of 16C below Zero. A cup of tea left by Joe’s bedside froze solid overnight and the bath house, a concrete room with a “tub’ 10 foot square, was most unappealing with the floor coated in ice.

But cheering rumours continued to filter into the Camp of Allied Victories throughout Europe and the Pacific. If only they could be verified!

February 15th marked the third anniversary of Joe’s life as a prisoner of the Japanese. The hardest thing about it, he reflected, was the lack of contact with the outside world.

Great plans were afoot for the production of ‘Cinderella’. Joe’s kimono, carefully hoarded for three years and never worn, was put to good use by the organizers. The pantomime was a resounding success and the applause was long and loud.

A few days later another severe earth tremor rocked the Camp. The men dashed out of the rickety huts, convinced they would topple about their ears. A howling blizzard soon chased them back indoors!

As February gave way to March the food situation deteriorated even further. On the 7th rumours concerning a move to a new camp spread quickly amongst the men. Two days later the entire population of Kamiiso moved across the bay to a huge wooden building close to the shore at Goryokaku. They scrubbed and cleaned all next day, and on the third morning waited to see what their new work would be. The announcement that they were to return to their old Camp was met with a cheer and belongings were hastily repacked. Kamiiso was “home” in a way and none relished the idea of starting again in this very basic set up.

They returned by barge over a choppy sea. Joe stumbled a few times on the march in the snow, numbed to the marrow by the blasts of icy wind. The Camp was as they had left it and the following morning the workers returned to Asano Cement Factory, much to the surprise of the Japanese employees. Life resumed its former routine, the only difference being that Joe was poorer by a handkerchief and some clothing “lost” while his kit bag was open for inspection.

Four prisoners received cablegrams at the end of the month. Joe was astonished and overjoyed to find that he was one of the recipients. His spirits soared and life was bright again.

By April black-out precautions were being strictly enforced. Word got round of the daily bombings by U.S. planes in Southern Japan. The North was expected to ‘get theirs’ any day now. A new policy of smaller rations on Rest Days and for all those on ‘camp work’ was implemented. Rest Days became known as “Starvation Days”. Joe was bedridden with a raging fever for about a week but was up and doing for his fourth birthday spent in captivity.

Air raid drills became part of life at Kamiiso and the ten “Cemento’ guards who had been there since the beginning were replaced by military guards who would patrol the buildings armed with fixed bayonets. It was assumed they were there to control the prisoners in the chaos that would follow an air raid. The first real air raid warning was ignored by all in Camp!

News began to come in fast and furious – Berlin had fallen! Hitler was dead! The war in Europe was finished! Joe had imagined himself feeling elation at the news but much to his surprise he felt curiously calm. Until Japan was beaten his life would remain unchanged.

But change came sooner than Joe anticipated. Lt. Colonel Emoto dropped the bombshell at the end of May –– the prisoners were to pack everything; food stores, kit, furniture, even the nails from the walls, in preparation for a big move inland. Nobody knew what to make of it. On the morning of June 1st the camp was split into two groups. The first group, numbering 85 in all, said their goodbyes to their friends in the evening and marched, under a chilly winter-like downpour, out the camp gates to Kamiiso train station. For two days the train climbed high into the mountains ending at a small isolated village. A further six hour march completed the journey and my grandfather and his group arrived at their new home, Nisi-Asibetu. The scenery reminded him of the Cameron Highlands but any similarity to the holiday spot ended there.

The wooden huts were without floors and there was no drainage whatsoever. They were ankle deep in mud, even indoors. Over the course of the next few days more prisoners arrived bringing the numbers up to just over 500. The camp work was coal mining but much to Joe’s delight he was detailed to join the gardening squad. The hours were long and the work was heavy, but the air was fresh and free of cement dust.

The weeks went by in a flurry of activity as the prisoners worked hard to make conditions in the camp more comfortable. Food rations were at an all time low and the newly planted greens would not be ready for at least two months. In desperation the cooks added mulberry leaves and dandelion to make up the morning and evening “stews” Lunch was a bowl of rice sprinkled with fish flakes.

Air raid alerts indicated that the Allies were near and it looked, according to the news filtering through the camp, that an invasion of Japan was imminent. There were air strikes at Hakodate at the beginning of July and further ones a few weeks later on several other towns. Joe hoped that Eilish would not be too worried if she heard the news. Communication via the postcards had ceased in April so Joe had no way of letting her know that he was far away from the action.

The camp was well organized by the time August rolled around. Everyone had their work, a few carrot tops had been harvested and mail was being sorted and censored in readiness for delivery. The weather continued to surprise the men with its dramatic changes – there were days that seemed to have all four seasons in one.

The prisoners were informed of the escape and recapture of two POWS in another Camp, and were warned of the dire consequences that would be meted out to any who attempted it. Not long ago the punishment would have been immediate execution, but the two escapees were spared, giving rise to much speculation at the nearness of the Allies.

Frequent searches of the billets punctuated the routine. In the Dutch Camp items ranging from boot laces to a roast chicken were discovered on August 4th and the “owners” were duly sent to the guardhouse. The following day some rice was found hidden in one of the lavatories in the British Camp. Nobody would own up to hiding it so the whole lot had to stand on the Square from 7:30 to midnight, and the following evening from 7:30 to 10:00 as punishment.

On August 15th the guards were observed weeping after a radio broadcast. Something big was afoot! Word went round the Camp like wildfire- it could only mean one thing! After three years and eight months the nightmare was over! It was time to go home.


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