"...I dream of food every night... "
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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January was a severe month. The days seemed endless to Joe as he toiled in the deep snow and ice, buffeted by cruel winds and temperatures well below zero.

He was always hungry and the vegetable stews and eternal rice made poor resistance against the long hours and harsh weather.

chapter 8

"January to June 1944 "
 Chapter 1:
 Chapter 2:
 Chapter 3:
 Chapter 4:
 Chapter 5:
 Chapter 6:
 Chapter 7:
 Chapter 8:
 Chapter 9:
 Chapter 10:

A ray of sunshine, in the form of Red Cross parcels, came at the end of the month. This time eight were shared between nine men – there was great “feasting” for about 10 days as the tins of food were broken into with enthusiasm. Other items in the parcels included Chesterfield cigarettes and much needed soap.

As February rolled on Joe consoled himself with the thought that the winter must soon end, but the weather continued as before. The billets had been improved and were a little warmer but the chill seemed to stay deep in Joe’s bones no matter how hard he worked or how many blankets he wrapped himself in at night.

A new Camp Commandant took over in March – Lt. Colonel Emoto. The men were impressed by his flawless English and his genuine interest in the welfare of the prisoners. He came across as a man of education, travel and experience, inspiring confidence and hopes of better times ahead.

His first move was to remove the control of the Camp from the Cement Works, placing it under the administration of the Army instead. A slight increase in the size of rations was the first sign of change, though the amount did little to assuage the constant hunger that tormented the prisoners. Joe’s mind was constantly filled with visions of dishes overflowing with grilled kidneys, sausages, hot scones and pancakes swimming in butter, or heavy fruitcakes and a decent smoke.

April was generally a good month for Joe. More Red Cross parcels were distributed – one between two men, and there were plenty of sunny days, though it snowed heavily on his birthday.

May was ushered in with more Red Cross supplies – this batch included two gramophones complete with records! The Commandant asked the prisoners to write a list of requests and many were filled immediately – there were new socks, towels, overalls, and tea cups for the men, a raise in pay of 1 Sen a day and every Sunday was to be a Rest Day. Each man in the Camp was brought before Lt. Col Emoto to have their individual concerns reviewed - my grandfather got a new pair of glasses (his old pair had been destroyed by one of the guards who, in a fit of rage, had jumped up & down on them, leaving him as good as blind).

Joe also asked to be allowed write a letter instead of a post card of only 50 words. This was met half way with permission granted to write two cards of 100 words each. Joe sent one to Eilish and one to the Firm, letting them know that he was still in the land of the living.

Guards and Work Supervisors were forbidden from striking prisoners – having suffered many a “woofing” at the hands of the guards Joe was delighted with this change in policy. This did not mean, however, that all form of punishment was eliminated – the most usual one had the transgressor standing to attention outside the guardroom for as long as ten hours at a stretch.

News of mail at Hakodate filtered across the bay and Joe’s hopes were high. To date he had only received one communication from the outside world. He was sure this time he would have luck. At last the letters were delivered. There were 2000 in all and poor Joe had to watch yet again as his fellow prisoners joyously received anywhere from 3 to 60 letters a piece, and not one for him!

As the days grew longer and the June sunshine warmed the chill from my grandfather’s bones he found his thoughts turning to plans of building. He could see in his mind’s eye the home that he would create for his family after the war. He filled it with beautiful furnishings, making a list of items they would need, right down to pots and pans. Joe also mentally revisited his much lamented home in Singapore, going through it room by room, making an inventory all the lost articles that represented more than a decade of his life.

He mulled over schemes for the future – improvements in the business, the education of the children, the holidays the family would have, the countries they would live in – all these plans swirled through my grandfather’s mind, keeping him focused on his goal to survive his present ordeal and return to his loved ones a better person than he had been in the past.

At the beginning of June a new recreation was introduced – on Sundays the men were allowed, under supervision, to go for an hour and a half walk through the countryside. The strollers would pass small cosy looking farms with bright patches of flowers in front of the houses. Tulips, buttercups, primroses, forget-me-nots and other summer blooms brought Joe back to happy days in Dublin. The utter stillness of the surrounds was occasionally broken by the discreet chirpings of the birds. These walks were a peaceful contrast to the noise filled work days, and Joe enjoyed the riot of colour that was so lacking in the grey world of the cement factory.

The Camp garden was doing well. Nothing had been harvested yet but the sight of tender young shoots was enough to set the mouth watering. Two pigs had been purchased with a view to being fattened up for Christmas and four rabbits, two of the does in litter, were being lovingly nurtured in anticipation of the time when they would be grown enough to qualify for the cooking pot.

Joe had a serious accident at work in the third week of June. Before he knew what was happening his foot had slipped through a floor grating and was caught up in the running machinery below. Using all his strength he managed to drag clear but not before his boot was in ribbons. His foot suffered several deep gashes that were hurriedly stitched up at the factory hospital. In a state of shock he was carried back to Camp on a stretcher. The Medical Officer unpicked the sloppy work, properly cleaned the wounds and re stitched them. Joe was lucky not to have lost his leg and months later felt renewed relief at his lucky escape when news reached him of a Japanese worker experiencing the same accident - only this time the foot was wrenched of at the ankle!

It was quiet in the Sick Bay with only two other patients in residence. After a few days of high fever Joe began to feel brighter but he was in for a long recovery. The doctor told him he would be on garden duty once he was on the mend - this delighted Joe indeed. Being a keen gardener in his old life he looked forward to spending time doing something he loved, and if it meant getting out the cement factory, well, the accident had been a blessing in disguise!

But Joe’s hopes of joining the gardening squad in the near future were dashed by a visit from a Japanese Army doctor – he was to be sent to the hospital at Hakodate Main Camp for treatment and care of his injuries.

For the umpteenth time Joe’s ever decreasing worldly goods were bundled into the kit bag. He was looking forward to seeing old friends at Hakodate, particularly Father O’Mahoney, who also hailed from Dublin. He was sent across the bay at the beginning of July, in good spirits at the thought of a change of scenery and harboring the wild hope that the food might be better “over there”.



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