"...there is no leisure time at all... "
 
   
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
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Hakodate Main Camp was situated high above the town overlooking the sea.

That first morning came round far too early for the new arrivals. They were roused from sleep at 5:30am for roll call. After breakfast the camp rules were read out, then it was time to go to work. Joe found himself working as an assistant to a man making molds in a foundry. This only lasted a few days as the prisoners were sorted and shuffled into more permanent jobs. Within 10 days of arrival in Japan Joe was assigned to the Asano Cement Factory across the bay


chapter 7


"June to December 1943"
   
 
   
 
 Chapter 1:
 
 
 Chapter 2:
 
 
 Chapter 3:
 
 
 Chapter 4:
 
 
 Chapter 5:
 
 
 Chapter 6:
 
 
 Chapter 7:
 
 
 Chapter 8:
 
 
 Chapter 9:
 
 
 Chapter 10:
 

Joe settled in to the new routine quickly. The days began with reveille at 5:00am followed a few minutes later by roll call, then PT and breakfast. The men paraded for work at 6:45 then headed out the camp gates, marching through the town to the ferry. The crossing took an hour and the wind bit mercilessly through the thin layers of clothing that were designed to keep one cool in the heat of the Tropics.

In the beginning the days were spent loading 50 kilo bags of cement on to lighters, grueling work which lasted eight hours a day, seven days a week. The prisoners returned to Camp in time for the evening meal and roll call, flopping in to bed immediately afterwards. As the weeks went by the men were put to work in all areas of the factory, developing an ashen pallor as the fine cement dust settled in their lungs.

Every third Sunday was a Rest Day, but there was little rest for any one as they used the time to catch up on washing and sewing and general repairs to their kit. Somehow in the middle of all this lessons were given in Nippon-go, teaching the prisoners how to count in Japanese.

The 36 Volunteers who had sailed together from Singapore were scattered between various camps – only six were detailed to the Cement Works. They remained a tight knit group for the duration of the war, united by the common bond of being ‘old Singapore hands’.

An issue of an Army overcoat, soap, toothbrush & powder, and a shirt was most welcome. The Canteen in the camp, Joe thought, was hopeless. At least in Changi one could get the odd egg or piece of fruit. The pay of 10 cents a day did not go very far when it came to purchasing little extras – a dried herring cost 20 cents and ten cigarettes cost 15 cents, that was nearly 4 days work right there!

Joe’s eyes were as bad as ever, he could only hope that in time they would improve. A test confirmed what he already knew – he was nearly blind.

Eilish and the children were constantly in Joe’s thoughts. Their faces filled his waking hours and they visited him nightly in his dreams, the children often appearing a little bit older than his last vision of them - an echo of his daytime imaginings. As their birthdays approached once more Joe planned for future celebrations which would be spent together, determined to compensate his little ones for missing their special days.

He played out various reunion scenes in his mind and pictured the first meal they would enjoy together as a family. He saw clean linen and cutlery, and simple wholesome food neatly presented with all the accoutrements he had taken so much for granted in his old life. It was a far cry from his present mealtimes which were snatched out of a mess tin held on his knees.

On August 31st the prisoners were allowed to write a postcard to their relatives. For the third time in a year and a half of captivity Joe mulled over the messages he might convey in the 50 words allowed to him. At least his loved ones would now know he was no longer in Singapore.

As the weeks progressed the temperature steadily dropped, and the paper thin work overalls worn at the cement factory offered no warmth or protection against the ever increasing chill. September rolled slowly by in a repetitive cycle of sameness – occasional variations in the meals being the only highlight in an otherwise predictable routine.

On October 2nd about 100 prisoners were moved to a new camp erected within 200 yards of Asano. The Camp was far from finished when they moved in and the men worried about the fast approaching winter. Their fears were justified – 3 men died within those first few weeks at Kamiiso Camp.

The wooden huts offered little protection from the elements. Snow fell through cracks on to the sleeping areas of the prisoners and the water in the fire bucket froze at night. There was no escape from the cold.

On the bright side, the food ration was slightly bigger than it had been at Hakodate but that changed six weeks later with the arrival of 50 more prisoners. The daily ration was not increased correspondingly, dashing hopes all round. The number of stoves was increased however – three to a hut of 75 men as opposed to one. There seemed to be little difference in the atmosphere and water still froze if the bucket was placed more than a few feet from the fire.

Somehow my grandfather got through those endless snow filled days with ever a thought of sunny Singapore in his mind. The new winter schedule meant a later start by one hour, and a slightly heavier pair of overalls and two pairs of socks were issued to combat the icy conditions.

Another Christmas loomed around the corner. There was talk of Red Cross parcels arriving but the days dragged on with no sign of anything happening on that front. Then on Christmas Eve they were suddenly produced, one parcel to be shared between five men. The contents were divvied up and my grandfather’s portion was 3 biscuits, a tin of tomatoes, one fifth of a tin of jam, and of condensed milk, a few pieces of chocolate and a little bit of sugar and tea. He was also richer by a few articles of much needed clothing, and one handkerchief.

Christmas Day dawned crisp and cold. Breakfast was the usual fare but a special Christmas dinner of a slice of roast beef, 2 carrots, 2 roast potatoes, plenty of sauce and a loaf of bread, supplemented with some of his Red Cross goodies, made this one of the best meals Joe had eaten in two years.
As the snow fell steadily outside the prisoners made the most of the occasion with sing songs round the stoves, and regaled each other with tales of happier days. Normal work resumed the following day and another Christmas had come and gone.

The year drew to a close, and inevitably Joe reflected on the changes over the last twelve months. Here he was, spending another New Years Eve in captivity, further than ever from all he held dear in the world. He looked forward to 1944 - surely things could only get better!

 


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