"...what a tragedy that so much happiness is lost to us... "
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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July was hot. As Joe lay in his hospital bed he looked with longing at the glorious sunshine beaming down outside, but he was pleased to be on “holiday” from “Cemento” even though his foot did ache and throb terribly.

chapter 9

"July to December 1944 "
 Chapter 1:
 Chapter 2:
 Chapter 3:
 Chapter 4:
 Chapter 5:
 Chapter 6:
 Chapter 7:
 Chapter 8:
 Chapter 9:
 Chapter 10:

He read book after book, straining his poor eyes, unable to resist the temptation. The stories carried him far away from his present plight, and blocked the ever swirling thoughts and plans that milled about in his mind. There was no blocking his dreams though, and the images of his loved ones haunted his sleeping hours.

The food at Hakodate was a crushing let down – even less than at the cement Camp and of poorer quality as far as Joe was concerned. Hospital patients received no pay which meant no little extras could be purchased at the Canteen to supplement the meals. He worried that his weight, already very low at 56 kilos, would drop further on this scanty diet.

An old Singapore friend, Vivian Bath, made regular visits to the hospital to chat and reminisce about old times. He had received mail from his wife in Australia and hope surged once more through Joe’s heart – perhaps a letter would find its way to him soon. But once more the mail bags were emptied and Joe swallowed his disappointment.

But he had to laugh at his official photo portrait which was handed to him one day – between the serious expression, the buzz cut and factory work suit he looked like a convict!

Six weeks after the accident Joe was free of bandages. The foot was still very swollen and tender and the wounds were not quite healed yet, so his hospital stay was extended. Vivian Bath was now a fellow patient, laid up with a bad fever and hernia, quite a common complaint amongst the older POWs, the result overstraining and hard physical labour. Joe observed the change in his friend since the Singapore days – his hair and beard had gone quite grey in captivity.

At long last the prayed for moment arrived – there was a letter from Eilish! Only 25 words were allowed, but each word was loaded with meaning. A photo of the children showed Unie, now nearly 11, looking tall and thin, and little Dermot, going on 6, was fine and sturdy. Joe’s eyes drank in the images of his progeny and his heart ached with love and longing. The ivy covered cottage in the background seemed so cosy and inviting, Joe wished he could be transported there.

A few days later Joe’s happiness knew no bounds. Two more letters from Eilish were delivered. He devoured the news and gazed endlessly at the new photos of the children. He felt renewed strength and courage to face the days ahead and was more determined than ever to stay fit and well for his family.

Rumours of how the war was progressing flew around the Camp, providing much opportunity for speculation. It was impossible though to know what was real and what might be wishful thinking but it looked as if things were going well for the Allies. Certainly everyone prayed it was so.

On the last day of August Joe was discharged from the hospital. He had been there two months. Laden down with his kit and six blankets he returned to Kamiiso, making the 12 mile trip in stages of motor-tricycle, train and on foot. The Camp Guard at the receiving end transported Joe’s blankets on his bicycle, but Joe still found the short walk from the station heavy going as he staggered along under the weight of his haversack.

The obsession with food was never ending. Joe returned to stories of harvests from the little vegetable patch and he regretted missing out on the treats!

He also returned to big changes. A new wing had been built, and modifications had been made to the huts meaning less crowding in general. The men had been sleeping top to toe in rows of three, but the addition of another level alleviated the crush at night. A separate little hospital, a library and cobblers workshop, and new latrines were amongst the improvements. And there were tables in the centre of the huts where meals were taken – Joe was sick and tired of sitting or perching on the ground or a log at mealtimes and was very happy with this new addition.

Joe was detailed to camp work in view of his injury. He was delighted not to be returning to the factory and in a cheerful frame of mind settled back “home’ with the feeling that this was the better of the two camps after all.

The heat and flies of summer gave way to cooler September air. Having survived a winter in appalling conditions the approaching season did not seem as daunting as the year before. Joe’s spirits were good as he went about his new tasks in Camp. His lungs were free of cement dust and he looked better than he had for years. He was pleased to note an increase in his weight bringing him to 60 kilos.

Time marched on with occasional highlights to break the routine. The visit of a Red Cross representative was cause for great excitement, some teeth extractions, while not a highlight for Joe, at least brought relief from toothache. The pigs were fattening up nicely and all eyes looked on them with anticipation of a succulent Christmas lunch.

Winter arrived overnight. The prisoners awoke one early November morning to find the compound blanketed in snow. Coal was severely rationed so the stoves could only be lit for an hour or two in the evenings. Joe made himself two pairs of “socks” out of a scrap of blanket which he bought for 12 cigarettes. His innovation proved a satisfactory deterrent against chilly feet. For the first time in three months he was able to wear his boots which was a great relief now that winter had begun in earnest.

On November 6th a letter came from Eilish with another beaming photo of Unie and Dermot. With pride and delight he produced it over and again to all who asked to see it. Joe was not to know that this would be the last letter he would receive from Eilish while he was a Prisoner of War.

A series of Red Cross deliveries were greeted with delight over the following weeks. The American parcels included chewing gum, but the real boon came as each prisoner also received an American Army greatcoat. These were much appreciated, providing good warmth in the glacial atmosphere.

The Christmas festivities began with the Cemento workers being released for the day at noon on Christmas Eve. There was a distribution of Red Cross parcels in the afternoon and the sale of tobacco and cigarettes. At 7:00pm the entire Camp, including two Japanese officers, settled in to watch the concert. Comic sketches and musical items entertained the enthusiastic audience, and later the guards turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the rousing singsong that lasted well after Lights Out.

Joe was up well before reveille to attend a special Service of morning prayers ending with Christmas hymns. He padded out breakfast with some of his Red Cross items, finishing it off with a good strong cup of coffee. There would be no watery tea for him today!

The Christmas meal was served at 1:00pm. There was pork (thanks to the late pigs) and roast potatoes and all the trimmings including a slice of cake to finish off with. A blizzard raged outside but it made little impact on the celebration.

This was Joe’s fourth Christmas spent apart from his family. He pictured them in their little house in Mossvale, waking to presents under a sparkling tree and hoped they were having a happy day. He felt sure that ‘this time next year’ they would be together. It couldn’t go on much longer, it just couldn’t.


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