- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Cecil Saunders
- Location of story:
- Indian Ocean and Mainland Japan
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 November 2003
This is my Grandfather's own synopsis produced in Oct 1945 of the PoW Diary which runs to 233 pages. My grandfather, Cecil Saunders, was captured by the Germans when the ship he was travelling in (SS Nankin) was attacked by a German raider in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He was transferred to a Japanese naval vessel and ended up on the Japanese mainland, and spent the next three years in a civilian Prisoner of War camp at Fukushima, near Yokahama.
as a German and Japanese Civilian prisoner of war, from 10th May, 1942, to 14th Sept., 1945
My period of captivity can be readily divided into three parts. The first part while in the hands of the Germans; the second, and by far the largest part, under the Japanese; and the third part, after the conclusion of the Armistice with Japan on the 14th Aug., 1945, until I left Yokohama on 14th Sept., 1945.
The “Nankin”, on which I was travelling as a passenger from Australia to India, was caught by a German raider on the 10th May, 1942, in about latitude 270 south, longitude 900 east.
It was a Sunday, and at about 8 o’clock in the morning, an unidentified plane was seen overhead, at a considerable altitude. It was thought by the majority of people that this unidentified plane was either a British or American plane, but during the forenoon, the Chief Officer informed me quietly that the possibility of this plane being from a raider must not be overlooked.
Shortly after lunch - about 2 p.m. - the plane came overhead again, but this time very low, in an endeavour to sweep away our aerial. We had, however, since leaving Melbourne in the “Nankin”, organised anti-submarine watchers on the upper deck, where there were also machine guns, and the people who were on the submarine watch at the time managed to keep the plane at sufficient elevation to prevent it from sweeping away our wireless aerial. It thereupon started to machine gun the ship, and very shortly afterwards the raider itself came up and started shelling. Our own gun went into action, but it was only a small gun compared with the raider’s guns, and so the raider just lay back well out of range of our gun, and then proceeded to straddle the ship from side to side and fore and aft until it got the exact range. All this time, the “Nankin” was sending out an S.O.S. giving our position, and advising that we were being attacked by a raider. Eventually, the raider got our exact range, and holed us just above the waterline, on the port bow.
Thereupon, the Captain of the “Nankin”, Capt. Stratford, decided, in view of the passengers, including woman and children, that he must abandon ship, which was loaded with a considerable amount of high explosives.
We took to the boats at about 2.30 p.m., having lost only two Lascars amongst the “Nankin” crew from the shelling by the raider.
During all this time, we were under the impression that the raider was a Japanese ship, and were therefore somewhat disturbed when, with the boats in the water, the plane continued to sweep down over us, as we expected to be machine-gunned. However, we pulled towards the raider, and were considerably relieved when the raider hoisted its flag, and we saw that it was a German ship.
Before leaving the “Nankin”, the engines had been put out of action, and the sea cocks opened in order to scuttle the ship, but the Germans rapidly put a prize crew aboard, and managed to save the ship, and. after a few days repaired the engines so that the “Nankin” could proceed under her own power.
We were all taken aboard the raider, where there was considerable surprise to find women and children amongst the passengers of the “Nankin”.
However, they managed to accommodate us all in the bottom of the hull of the raider, well below the waterline. The accommodation was naturally very cramped, and on the occasions when the forced air ventilation was not functioning, it was uncomfortably hot and stuffy. We were allowed on dock morning and afternoon for a period of one hour each, and after the first day, the food was reasonably good.
The name of the raider was not known for certain, but at the tine it was thought that the ship was originally either the “Rio Grande” or “Uginco”, but from subsequent information it appeared that the name was more probably the “Tura”.
The raider appeared to be a ship of around 6,000 tons, with a top speed of twenty to twenty-two knots, mounting three 6” guns, together with a concealed gun which may have been of even larger calibre.
We only remained on the raider five days, transferring to the “Regensburg” on the 14th May. The “Regensburg” was a supply ship to the raider and was a N.D.L. boat. This boat had been fitted out to carry prisoners in hammocks in the ‘tween decks. On board the “Regensburg” there were already the survivors of four other ships - the British ships “Wellpark”, “Willesden” and “Kirkpool” and the Norwegian ship “Aust”, which had been caught and sunk by the raider in the South Atlantic. With the complement from the “Nankin”, there were about 450 prisoners aboard.
We were allowed on dock all day during the hours of daylight, but after dark only two at a time were allowed to leave the ‘tween deck, for the purpose of going to the lavatory.
After a few days on the “Regensburg”, they commenced to transfer stores of frozen meat and other food from the “Nankin” to the “Regensburg”, and also to the raider, using inflated rubber rafts.
There is no doubt that the “Nankin” was a very lucky catch for the raider, as the food supplies obtained therefrom enabled the raider to stay at sea much longer then would otherwise have been possible.
It seemed remarkably casual to see these three German ships sitting down in the middle of the Indian Ocean transferring food supplies, without even worrying to send up an aeroplane to make sure that there were no Allied craft in the vicinity.
On the 18th May, I was allowed five minutes aboard the “Nankin” in order to collect a few items of clothing and toilet gear. This privilege was given to all civilian passengers and to the ship’s officers but was not granted to the military and naval passengers, who were aboard the “Nankin”.
On the 27th May, the raider returned to the “Regensburg”, having been out for a week or more on a sweep looking for more victims, but came back, having caught nothing.
On the 28th May, the “Regensburg” parted company with the “Nankin” and the raider. We started steaming in a south-westerly direction, and we all hoped that we were bound for Europe, as on that course, we anticipated that there was a reasonable hope that we might be intercepted by British blockading forces, but on the 31st May, we sighted the “Dresden”, which was a German blockade runner on route from Bordeaux to Yokohama.
All the civilian passengers from the “Nankin” and the wounded and sick seamen from the other ships were then transferred from the “Regensburg” to the “Dresden,” making a total of one hundred put aboard the “Dresden”.
The “Dresden” had no proper accommodation for prisoners, so makeshift arrangements had been made to house us in the f’estle, where thirty-two of us slept in accommodation that measured 17’3” x 13’. This not only entailed the hammocks touching each other, but also the floor of the accommodation had to be used for straw mattresses for those who could not be accommodated in hammocks. The women and children were accommodated in cabins amidships.
However, despite very cramped accommodation, we wore reasonably happy, because we had been told by German Officers that we should probably be dumped in some neutral port, whence we could return to our own countries.
We steamed east in the “Dresden” until the 5th June, and then turned north, passing up the west coast of Australia, through the Sunda Straits, and finally reached Yokohama on the 23rd June.
When we reached Yokohama, there was apparently considerable discussion between the German and Japanese authorities as to what should be done with us.
At first the Japanese authorities refused to receive us ashore, and on the 3rd July, we were transferred to another German ship, the “Ramses”, a Hamburg-America boat,
On the “Ramses,” we found the crew of the Greek ship “Pagasittikos,” who had been caught by the sane raider as the “Nankin” on 23/3/42 in the South Atlantic and had reached Yokohama in a German supply ship about three weeks previously.
The “Ramses” had been fitted out to take a considerable number of prisoners, and guns were being mounted on the bridge, and it was thought we might be returned to Germany in this ship, as there was still no arrangement for our being received by the Japanese authorities.
However, an agreement between the Germans and the Japanese was reached subsequently, and on the 10th July we went ashore, having been handed over to the Japanese.
Our general treatment, while in German hands, was quite good. A definite part of the ship was allotted to us, and we were not interfered with in our section of the ship, in any way by the German guards. It was, however, as much as our life was worth to step over these bounds, and they wore particularly emphatic that any attempt to approach the side of the ship would be met with a machine gun bullet, as they were determined that, under no circumstances, should we be allowed to drop any message over the side of the ship that might give any inkling of our position.
On board the various ships, oven on the raider, there did net seem to be any violent Nazi fanaticism or hatred towards us. In fact, the general attitude of the Germans was “It is your turn to-day; to-morrow it may be our turn”.
The Captain of the “Regensburg” had been a prisoner during the last war in the Isle of Wight, and the Captain of the “Dresden” had been a prisoner in Australia, and it may be because of this that our treatment was sympathetic. The food was, in general, adequate, as we received more or loss the same rations as the German crew.
The Captain of the “Ramses,” who had been in Japanese waters since the outbreak of the war with Germany, was very outspoken about German-Japanese relations and was really quite bitter when arrangements had finally been settled to hand us over to the Japanese. He stated that, if the authorities in Berlin know as much about the Japanese as the Germans did in Yokohama, there would be no question of handing over British prisoners to the Japanese for safe custody.
Apparently even at that time, when the war situation was generally favourable to both Japan and Germany, there was the most intense suspicion between the Japanese and the Germans, and all movements of Germans in Japan were very closely scrutinised, and they were, in general, subjected to the closest police supervision.
It is a matter of interest that the “Nankin” was subsequently responsible for the blowing up of the raider. Apparently in October or November, 1942, the raider went to Yokohama and tied up alongside the “Nankin”. While the raider was being refuelled from a tanker, a small fire broke out which spread to the “Nankin,” which, with its cargo of explosives aboard, immediately blew up, and in so doing destroyed not only the raider and the tanker, but also a substantial part of the Yokohama docks. Rumours of this reached us at the time, but the details wore not obtained until after the war, when we got them from the Swiss delegate.
Before leaving the “Ramses”, we were addressed by a Japanese official, who informed us that we were being taken to a monastery at Fukushima, about two hundred miles north of Tokyo, whore we would be cared for by the Japanese in pleasant surroundings. We travelled throughout the night of the 10th -11th July, arriving at Fukushima at 7.40 a.m. The building to which we were taken was a French-Canadian convent that had been vacated by the nuns only a few days previously. The building itself was a modern, airy building, with hardwood floors, proper lavatory and bathroom accommodation, with plenty of running water.
The convent stood in its own grounds of about three acres, and there was no reason why our stay there should not have been relatively comfortable had the Japanese authorities been at all reasonable.
The majority of the male internees were accommodated in rooms 12’ x 8’ into which three men were put.
Each man had a Japanese straw mat, 6’ x 3’, called a tatami, together with a mattress and a quilt; these two latter being rolled up at the head of the tatami during the day.
On arrival at the convent, we were addressed, through an interpreter, by the Chief of Police, and it was quickly evident from what he said that our conditions in Fukushima were going to be extremely irksome, and very different from the reasonable treatment that we had hitherto been receiving from the Germans.
There were 140 of us internees transferred to Fukushima, of whom 98 wore men and 42 women and children.
We were a very mixed company indeed, with not only British and Australians, but also —
5 South Africans,
2 West Africans,
1 Armenian, and
Despite this very mixed polyglot community, we had very little internal dissension.
The internal organisation, as set up by the Japanese, was that Capt. Stratford, who was the Captain of the “Nankin”, should be the official “go-between” between ourselves and the Camp Authorities. Capt, Stratford was a particularly suitable choice for this very onerous and thankless job, as having been trading up into Japanese waters for many years, he knew the characteristics of the Japanese people fair1y well, and any small amelioration of conditions was largely due to his untiring efforts on our behalf.
The rest of the camp was divided up into groups, and each group elected its own group leader, who was responsible for the discipline of that group and the allocation of members from it for various cleaning duties.
The women had a similar internal organisation, with Mrs. Thoms as the official “go-between”.
The Japanese Camp Authorities consisted of the Camp Commandant, (a Commissioned Police Officer), two police sergeants, end at first a total of fourteen to sixteen police guards. Those guards wore later reduced to a total of only five, and with the gradual reduction in guards, we found that the trials of our existence tended to diminish, as the few guards that were left had enough other duties to keep them away from pestering the internees.
Our first complaint after arrival at Fukushima was on the subject of food, and on this we were obliged to make continual complaints throughout our stay in Fukushima. We were, however, told that the food we were getting was mere than our brothers end sisters were receiving in England or Australia, and that we were extremely lucky to be allotted such generous rations.
The situation as regards the food rations that w received can be divided roughly into three phases - the first phase lasted for approximately six months, from the time of our arrival. During this period, there is no doubt that we were deliberately half starved, and that at a time when there was absolutely no excuse for it whatever, because, at that time, all food supplies in Japan wore more than adequate.
Continual complaints from us about the inadequacy of the rations had no effect, and we were told it was useless our going down to the Camp Authorities, as they had no intention of making any alterations. However, about the end of 1942, the bread ration was increased by 50%, and the other food also substantially increased. Why this increase was suddenly introduced, I cannot say. It may have been that the continued lose of weight and debility shown by all the internees had been noted by the examining doctor, who had recommended the very necessary increase in food rations; or it nay have been that the Japanese authorities decided that, w it the onset of winter, an increase of rations was essential to keep us in any reasonable state of health.
The second phase of the food rations lasted from the end of 1942 until the early part of 1944, during which period the food was just sufficient to prevent any further deterioration in our physical condition, but during the third phase from 1944 onwards, when the food situation in Japan became increasingly difficult, our rations became more and more attenuated, until for the last nine months of our stay at Fukushima, we were living exclusively on bread, with possibly once every three or four weeks a plateful of so-called vegetable stew, which was simply turnip tops, and nothing else.
There is little doubt that, without the Red Cross food parcels, of which the first was delivered in March, 1944, many of us would have been in a very sorry condition by the time we were released.
It is strange that we were given bread and not rice as in most Japanese prison camps. In fact, rice could only be obtained with the greatest difficulty for invalids who found they could not digest the bread. It is probably due to the fact that we were on a bread and not a rice diet that we had no beriberi in our camp, whereas most other camps were full of it. The soya bean flour and bone meal which was added to the bread also probably helped in suppressing beriberi and maintaining our physical condition.
The bread ration, latterly, consisted of about 22oz of broad daily, with a cup of very weak, unsweetened tea without milk, at each meal.
However, during this whole period, when the adults were receiving such extremely low rations, the children were relatively well fed, for the Japanese authorities always managed to produce for them two meals a day of rice, soup and some vegetable.
While, undoubtedly, the food situation in Japan was acute, it is equally certain that there was no necessity for us to be subjected to the very low, monotonous diet that was accorded us during the latter part of our stay at Fukushima, for as soon as peace was declared, the authorities were able to produce a certain amount of meat and vegetables, with a little butter and sugar in small quantities, and it is rather surprising that this could be produced a day after peace was declared, whereas for many months previously we had been told repeatedly by the Camp Authorities that they were doing their best for us as regards food, and that we were treated bettor than the Japanese people outside. This, however, was readily disproved as soon as we were able to get outside the camp on the signing of the Armistice, for we were able to purchase readily from the local inhabitants apples, vegetables, eggs and other foodstuffs that we had been told were unobtainable.
The main feature of the treatment which we received from the Japanese during the whole of our period of internment was the humiliation to which we were continually subjected. Their one idea seemed to be, not to treat us as human beings who had committed no offence, but to look upon us as dangerous criminals, who must in no way be allowed any rights or privileges. We were regimented from the time we got up in the morning - 6 a.m. — until the time we went to bed at night at 8 p.m. in the winter - 8.30 in the summer.
The regulations to which we were subjected were innumerable and petty. At one period, there was a total of 173 petty regulations, the breaking of any of which entailed punishment of some sort. It can be well imagined that with this number of regulations in existence, it was almost impossible to do anything without breaking some of them, and as a result, there was always one or more of the internees undergoing some form of punishment.
Although there were no actual atrocities committed on internees in the Fukushima camp, quite a number of man were badly beaten up by the guards for very minor breaches of the regulations, and in some cases for no breach at all.
One of the favourite methods of punishment, apart from being beaten up by the guards, was being made to kneel for lengthy periods, either inside the camp commandant’s office, or just outside in the main hallway. Frequently, meals were stopped as a form of punishment, and on the existing low rations, this was very severe punishment indeed. Standing at attention for lengthy periods was also a favourite form of punishment, with guards continually passing by to make sure that there was no relaxation in the attention position. I, on one occasion, had to stand for six days, because I sat on my blanket during the forbidden hours. However, despite their threats, I simply refused to kneel to them, and for some unknown reason, although my refusal infuriated them, I was not beaten up, but only had to stand for two hours with a pail of water tied to my wrist.
Their most irritating and persistent form of humiliation was to make us bow to the guards whenever we met them. If we were sitting in our rooms, a guard would suddenly burst in the door, and we would have to stand up and bow. This would happen at frequent intervals throughout the day. Although it was nothing, it was just a method by which they showed us that they no longer considered us members of a dominant race.
SEGREGATION OF WOMEN
From the day we arrived at Fukushima, the women were complete1y segregated from the men, and no communications of any sort were allowed with them. It was a very serious breach of the regulations to wave, smile, signal, talk or in any way communicate with any of the women internees. Needless to say, of course, regular communications between husbands and wives took place, as there was only a steel door separating the women’s part of the building from the men. The Japanese authorities suspected, of course, that this communication was going on, but were powerless to stop it, as we always employed scouts whenever any communications were going on between men and women through the steel door, to advise if any Japanese guards were in the offing. On several occasions, they asked for a list of people who had been communicating with the women, and as everybody put their names down as being guilty of such a breach of the regulations, they were rather at a loss to know what to do, as they could hardly punish everybody when they knew quite well that only a proportion of the men and women had been communicating with each other.
Despite the fact that the only regular communication was through the steel door, four engagements between unattached men and women were arranged during this period of segregation.
During the early part of our internment, the general treatment of the women by the Japanese authorities was really bad - in many ways worse than that of the men. One woman was knocked down on to the floor, kicked severely about the head, and might easily have been killed had the guard not been dragged off her by the interpreter.
Another woman, merely because she shook the blanket out of the window was so severely beaten round the head, that she had continuous ear troubles with a painful discharge from it, for over six months. These are only two instances of many cases of maltreatment of the women, but I believe even worse than the maltreatment of the women was the complete disregard for their natural modesty. They were not allowed to lock the bathroom door, and one of the favourite sights for Japanese visitors to the camp was to be taken in to see the women bathe.
One woman, who gave birth to a child a few weeks after our arrival in Fukushima, asked for cow’s milk for the child, as her own milk was no longer available. She was made to go down to the office, bare and squeeze her breasts in front of the guards in order to show that she no longer had any milk to feed the infant.
The Japanese Camp Authorities also exhibited a prurient end embarrassing curiosity about the effect of absence of sexual relations between husbands and wives, and months before any regular general meeting between men and women was allowed, they made a room, with bed, available, for the meeting of husbands and wives for periods of twenty to thirty minutes each, asking afterwards whether contraceptives had been used.
The first public meeting of husbands and wives did not take place until Oct., 1943, and this was only granted very reluctantly, because the women objected to the furtive meetings of individual couples in the above mentioned room.
Regular meetings between husbands and wives did not take place until after the visit of the representative from the International Red Cross in March, 1944.
I think the most surprising thing, to most of us, about the climate of Fukushima was the severity of the winter. The first snowfall occurs during the latter part of November, and from early December to March, snow lies on the ground continuously. The temperature at night usually falls to 140 or 150F, and water inside the rooms freezes. Under normal living conditions, with adequate food, clothing and heating, it would be quite a healthy climate, but we naturally found the winter very exacting. The convent at Fukushima was centrally heated, but owing to the shortage of coal, the radiators were only put on infrequently, except during the first winter, when the building was heated continuously for two months.
During the summer months, from mid June to mid September, the climate is very hot and humid, with hoards of mosquitoes which bred prolifically in the flooded rice fields surrounding the building. Fortunately, they were not the malaria carrying mosquito. In fact, malaria is unknown in Japan, but a fair amount of dengue fever was experienced.
The climate of the spring and autumn months was delightful, though the much famed Cherry Blossom was a great disappointment.
We were given a regular cigarette ration, which commenced at one per day and was gradually increased to five per day, until the tobacco shortage entailed a reduction to a daily issue of three only, at the end of our stay in Fukushima.
For a long time, cigarettes were the general currency in the camp, and almost any article could be bought or sold for cigarettes.
One of the most acute shortages in the camp was soap of any sort, which seemed to be almost unobtainable in Japan, even by the Red Cross or Swiss Delegate when they were able to visit us. After many urgent representations to the camp authorities, we were eventually given two cakes of soap on each Sunday, bath day, for the use of the whole camp. On this basis, one got the use of soap about once a month for personal use, though there was none for washing clothes.
Despite our many requests to the Japanese authorities, we were kept completely “incommunicado” until 1st March, 1944.
On innumerable occasions, we asked if we might be allowed to write to the Red Cross or to the neutral embassy looking after British interests in Japan or to the German Embassy, but all our requests were turned down.
Of course, it is possible that one of the reasons why we were kept so strictly isolated was the fact that we were German prisoners in Japanese hands. When we asked the Japanese authorities if they could state whether information regarding our safety had been communicated to our own Government and to our relatives, they replied that that was the responsibility of the Germans, as we were German prisoners, but although they admitted that we were German prisoners, they still would not allow us to get in touch with the German authorities to assure ourselves that the necessary information had been transmitted to the British Government for on-forwarding to our relatives.
We were first allowed to write home letters in March, 1944, and thereafter we were allowed to write one letter a month, typewritten, and not to exceed one hundred words. This monthly letter was sent off regularly from that date until the cessation of hostilities, with the exception of a few months, when there was no paper in the camp to enable the letters to be typed.
I was also latterly permitted to send off three cables.
In November, 1942, a very wicked, cruel hoax was played on the internees at Fukushima. A certain selected few, about twelve in number, were chosen to write letters home, and those selected few were told they could write anything they liked, and need not limit themselves to any set number of words. In fact, several people had their letters returned to them, with the suggestion that they were probably not long enough. There is little doubt that those so-called home letters never left the building, and that the whole thing was just a cruel hoax played on us by the camp authorities, just to see what we would say about things in general if we were allowed to write.
We knew later that our presence in Fukushima was not known to the outside world until March, 1944, and that any so-called home letters that were written in November, 1942, obviously could not have been intended for onward transmission.
Lack of news from the outside world was the thing that we missed most during the first few months of our stay in Fukushima, but fortunately, amongst the internees we had the late Vice-Consul from Shanghai, who was a Chinese scholar. As the characters in Chinese and Japanese writing are very similar, and in many cases identical, he found that he was able to make out the headlines in the vernacular paper, and thereafter, we started taking the local vernacular paper from the office whenever it was possible to do so.
This, however, was not always possible, owing to the number of guards that were always around the office, so the newspaper wrapping that was used for meat or fish was frequently pressed into service for obtaining news. On one occasion, we had to resort to a piece of newspaper that a guard had used for blowing his nose to obtain much needed news.
On other occasions, newspapers were lifted out of the pocket of a guard’s overcoat that might be left hanging unattended for a few minutes. Headlines were quickly extracted from the newspaper, which was unobtrusively returned to the guard’s overcoat pocket before he had the opportunity of missing it.
Various other subterfuges were adopted in order to get news, and as a result of this fairly regular news service the Japanese were never able to break our morale.
They realised we must be getting the news in some way, and on several occasions instituted a search of the rooms when we were outside, in the hope that they might be able to trace the leakage of news.
They, however, rather suspected some of the Chinese, of whom we bad several interned with us.
Had it not been for the news that we thus got surreptitiously, the fantastic tales told us by the Japanese would, undoubtedly, have depressed us very considerably. We were told that Australia and New Zealand had been captured; that the whole of India had thrown in its allegiance with Japan; that the west coast of America was being attacked by Japanese forces. While we should have discounted such tales to a very considerable extent, they would have had a depressing effect on our morale had we not been able to obtain official news regularly.
When the tide of the war began to turn very markedly in favour of the Allies, which presumably must have affected our bearing, we were told on many occasions by the Japanese authorities that we must remember that we were internees and must not be so happy.
OCCUPATIONS and AMUSEMENTS
Apart from the few books and playing cards that we were able to take with us, we had little or nothing to occupy our time, as the Japanese authorities supplied nothing, although there was an ample supply of English and French books in the convent that could have been made available to us.
At first we were all mustered, morning and afternoon, for compulsory weeding in the garden, and although this does not sound a very tremendous hardship, in our semi—starved condition, it proved to be quite strenuous, particularly with a Japanese guard standing by who would strike one across the shoulders with his sword if one ventured to take a rest period. However, this compulsory weeding did not last very long, as it was found that they could obtain far better results by small squads of volunteers, who were offered as an incentive, additional cigarettes and food for work in the garden. There was no other compulsory work in the camp, apart from that necessary for keeping the place clean, but early in 1943, we were offered the voluntary work of breaking down old textbooks and making them up into bags for packing fruit. For this work we were paid a small sum in yen. The principal virtue of this task of breaking down the textbooks was the fact that we could obtain there from very necessary supplies of scribbling paper, and we also were able to recover sufficient of the bookbinding thread to enable us to keep our clothes in a reasonable state of repair.
Of course, there were various other forms of amusements that we organised for ourselves, such as debates and lectures, and for many months chess was a very favoured game, with chessmen manufactured from pieces of wood obtained from the garden, and chess boards adapted from the backs of religious pictures.
I personally managed to fill in a lot of time by trying to teach a youth the rudiments of chemistry, geology and geography. As there were no textbooks available, this was almost a whole-time job. The lad concerned was a passenger in the “Gloucester Castle”, and had been caught subsequent to the “Nankin” by another German raider and came to the Fukushima camp at the end of 1942.
In April, 1944, after the first visit of the International Red Cross Delegate, we obtained supplies of books and games from the International YMCA, and from that period onwards, our lot was a very much happier one.
The first visit of the International Red Cross Delegate was paid to our camp at the end of March, 1944. He informed us that the existence of our camp was not known to the Red Cross until the 1st March, l944; upon receipt of this information, he had visited us as soon as he could possibly make the necessary arrangements. He had also, prior to his visit, arranged for the despatch of much needed food parcels. Subsequent to this first Red Cross food parcel in March, 1944, we received further parcels in Sept, and Nov., 1944, and March and. April, 1945. A total of ten individual food parcels was received by us altogether. The Delegate paid a second visit to us in April, 1945.
In addition to food parcels, the International Red Cross also sent small quantities of very urgently needed clothing supplies and drugs and dressings.
The Delegate from the Swiss Legation, which was the protector power looking after British interests in Japan, paid his first visit to us in April, 1944. Needless to say, he was presented by us with a very lengthy list of grievances, few of which he was able to adjust, but as regards the majority of our grievances, he said that they were past history, and that such incidents would not be repeated. There is no doubt that, after we once got in touch with the Red Cross and the Protector Power, the various incidents of harsh treatment to men and women were largely stopped by the Japanese Authorities. Several incidents occurred subsequently, but they mostly took place without the knowledge of the Camp Commandant.
The Swiss Delegate arranged for us to receive a monthly allowance of fifty yen, though when he gave us the money, he said that he was afraid it would not be of much use to us, as he doubted if we should be able to buy anything with the exception of a few cigarettes. He was absolutely correct in this supposition, and we were only able to buy very little, and. what little we wore able to buy was mostly rubbish. Further visits from the Swiss Delegate were made in August, 1944, and June, 1945.
A member of the Swedish Legation was the Chairman of the International Y.M.C.A., and as a result of his good offices, we were well supplied with books after we once got in touch with the outside world. In addition, the Y.M.C.A. was able also to supply us with such small articles as they were able to purchase locally in Tokyo.
As I mentioned when being transferred from the “Regensburg” to the “Dresden”, we were all convinced that we should be released at an early date. This hope of release or exchange was kept alive by repeated statements from the Japanese authorities that we were definitely for exchange, and that ships were being fitted up to take British internees away in exchange for Japanese internees ex Australia and India. Whether there was any truth in those statements from the Japanese authorities, I am, of course, unable to say. It may have been that the whole thing was a hoax, and that they were just telling us this in order to keep us quiet and prevent us from asking for too many things in the way of clothing or communications with the outside world.
However, we knew definitely, from the vernacular paper, that in 1942, British, Australian and American exchanges were arranged, and a further American exchange was also carried out in 1943.
We understood from the Swiss and Swedish Delegates, who were able to talk freely to us after the signing of the peace, that the British and American Governments had tried their best to get us out during the latter stages of the war when they realised our unfortunate position, but although they had offered two Japanese in exchange for one British or American, the Japanese Authorities were not prepared to arrange for an exchange.
Those Delegates also told us that, in order to relieve the food situation, the Americans had offered to send food ships to Japan for the prisoners and would leave the ships for the use of the Japanese. When this was again refused, they offered to fly over food supplies for us and present the aeroplanes to the Japanese, but all those offers to alleviate our lot were refused.
At that time, of course, the Japanese were very incensed because of the sinking of the “Awa Maru”. This ship had been down to Singapore with Red Cross Relief Supplies and was sunk by an American submarine off Formosa when on the way back. Actually, on the way back, the “Awa Maru” was off her course, steaming without lights, and was also full of civilian and military passengers, so it is not surprising that it was sunk by an American submarine.
MEDICAL and DENTAL
Medical treatment and supplies from the Japanese authorities were of the scantiest. We were supposed to have a medical examination by a Government Lady Doctor every three months, but after the first few examinations, this lapsed. It was a very cursory examination in any case, and presumably was only intended to find out if there were any infectious or contagious diseases in the camp.
As I mentioned previously, however, it may have been these examinations during the early part of our stay that induced the authorities to increase the starvation rations that we had for the first five months in Fukushima.
Apart from this routine medical inspection, we were told that a doctor would always be obtainable in cases of necessity, but the policy that was acted on by the Japanese Authorities was that a doctor was not really necessary, because the patient would either recover without medical aid, or die!
The only medicines that were obtainable were small quantities of aspirin and laxatives, and apart from personal supplies that had been brought by the various internees, little or no other medicines were available until the arrival of the Red Cross First Aid Kits in April, 1944.
We had three deaths from natural causes, during our stay at Fukushima, two men and one woman.
The first man to die was an engineer off the “We1lpark”. His life could undoubtedly have been saved had he been placed on a special diet. He had a duodenal ulcer, and the raw vegetables, which was all we had in Fukushima, were not suitable for anybody suffering from such a complaint. Continual requests, however, for a suitable diet met with no response, and as a result, this engineer died suddenly in August, 1942.
The second person to die was in Sept., 1942, when the Chief Steward from the “Nankin” died of a stroke. He, in any case, was an elderly and rather feeble man of 64, but it is fairly certain that being brow-beaten by the guards into weeding for five or six hours a day in the hot sun of a Japanese summer must have hastened his end.
The third person to die was the stewardess from the “Nankin”, who succumbed to a strangulated hernia, and it is improbable that any medical attention could have saved her, though had prompt attention been given, the amount of pain she suffered could have been eased vary considerably.
As regards dental attention, the dentist came at irregular intervals, but either he could not obtain, or else he would not use, suitable materials, with the result that many people’s tooth, as a consequence of their stay at Fukushima, are far worse than they should have been.
Actually, a very much better dentist was available in Fukushima, as we found out after the conclusion of hostilities. He, however, having been an American trained dentist, was not allowed. to visit our camp, because he could speak English, and the authorities were desperately afraid of any English speaking person coming into the camp for fear that we might either receive news or get messages away.
AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS
It was not until the end of 1944 that air raids were taken at all seriously in Japan. In April, 1942, American carrier borne planes made a demonstration raid over Tokyo, but only dropped leaflets advising that they would be back again in due course.
The first serious raid was in July, 1944, on the Yawata Steel Works in the northern part of Kyushu. This raid and most of those immediately following, was carried out by China based B29’s. It was not until the end of 1944, when the Saipan-Guam based B29’s started raiding the southern part of Japan with increasing frequency and intensity that the authorities in Fukushima took any serious interest in air raid precautions.
At first our only shelters were a few shallow trenches dug in the garden, close to the building. Owing to the nature of the soil, however, these trenches rapidly filled with water, and were quite useless for the purpose for which they were built.
It was then decided that we should utilise the cellars and the boiler room. These rooms made excellent air raid shelters, as they were built below ground level of reinforced concrete.
At first the alarms Fukushima were not very frequent, but as soon as carrier based planes began attacking Japan, the frequency of the alarms became much greater, and for the last two months in Fukushima, we were under a state of continuous alarm, day and night.
The carrier based planes came over between daylight and dark, and during the hours of darkness, the B29’s were over at various times.
Fortunately for us, however, only one bomb was dropped in the Fukushima district, and that was half a mile from our camp. It seemed that the Valley in which Fukushima was placed lay right on the east/west and north/south routes for raiding aeroplanes.
Whether Fukushima would eventually have been raided, I, of course, do not know, but by the time we left, it looked as though the whole of the Fukushima Valley had been completely isolated by the intense incendiary and high explosive raids that had been carried out on various railway centres, industrial towns and ports surrounding it.
The day after the atomic bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, we were called together by the Japanese Sergeant, who said he knew that we were rather sceptical about the necessity of going down to the shelters whenever an alarm sounded, but informed us that the Americans had just started using a new kind of bomb that was so destructive that one bomb would destroy the whole of London or New York. He said it was only the size of a match box and came down by parachute. At the time that he was talking to us, full details of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb were not available, but enough was known about it to scare the populace thoroughly about the effect that it would have on Japan if used extensively.
15/845 — 14/9/45
On the 15th Aug., 1945, we were told that we must have our lunch - one bun - at 11.30 instead of the usual time of 12 noon. We noticed that at 12 noon, all the guards and the Japanese kitchen staff, gathered in the office. Shortly afterwards, the Japanese National Anthem was played, and the Emperor, for the first tine in history, broadcast to the Japanese people. We, of course, did not know what was being said, but as the guards, on leaving the office, looked very glum, and the kitchen girls were weeping, we realised that something important was in the air; but whether it was a “backs to the wall” speech from the Emperor, or acceptance of peace terms that we knew had been offered as a result of the Potsdam conference, we were, at that stage, unable to determine.
However, the next morning, we stole our usual vernacular paper from the office, and there it was announced that Japan had accepted the peace terms.
Captain Stratford immediately went down to the office, and informed the Camp Commandant that we know that peace had been declared, and that if the Camp Authorities heard any sounds of hilarity from the internees upstairs, they must realise it as just natural relief, and not resentment against the Japanese themselves.
The Police Commissioner from the Prefecture addressed us at 11.30 a.m. that day, and said we were now free, as the Emperor had arranged for all belligerent nations to cease hostilities! He advised us, however, that it would be inadvisable to leave the camp gates as, for the time being, the attitude of the populace might be hostile. However, so far from being hostile, we found, when we started leaving the camp in the course of a few days, that they were really very friendlily disposed towards us. They looked upon our camp rather as a mascot, and thought it was because of our presence in Fukushima that the town had not been bombed and laid waste as so many other towns in Japan had been. According to one® rumour prevalent in Fukushima, General MacArthur’s brother was supposed to be interned at our camp, which was the reason why there had been no bombing of the Fukushima District.
For the first few days after the cessation of hostilities, the Police Commissioner arranged for a heavy cordon of police around the internment camp in case of any hostile incident. Ho also informed us that he had been told to take his instructions from Capt. Stratford - a complete reversal of the previous relationship. There was an immediate improvement in food, although we had been told on so many occasions that food of any sort was impossible to obtain in Japan.
In addition to food that was obtained from outside the camp, we were now allowed to eat the potatoes that we had grown ourselves in the camp garden. Hitherto, the potatoes and other garden produce from the camp garden had either been sent outside or consumed by the guards, apart from small amount that were served to the children.
On the 24th August, we had instructions to mark the camp with a large “P.W.” that could be readily picked up by allied aeroplanes, as it was expected that a British or American plane would be coming over that evening. The first planes that came over appeared on the morning of the 25th at around 9 a.m. These planes were from the 94th Torpedo Squadron of U.S.S. “Lexington”. They dropped a few cigarettes and a letter of good cheer signed by all the members of the Squadron, and then came back again in the afternoon with further supplies of cigarettes, chocolate, dry rations periodicals, etc.
On the 27th, further planes cane over, this time from the 47th Squadron; thereafter until we left, planes were over almost every day.
On the 28th, a courier arrived from the Swedish Legation, advising us that we should be leaving any time after the 5th Sept,, and he thought somewhere about the 10th.
On this day there was a very tragic accident, when Mrs, Dimitrocopoulas, the Dutch wife of a Greek Radio Operator, was killed by a parcel of food dropped from one of the aeroplanes.
Large planes, probably B29’s, started coming over on the 30th, with bulk supplies of food dropped by parachute. So much food was dropped that we had to send a message begging them to send no more supplies. As it was, when we eventually left Fukushima, a large amount of food was left behind. Some of this was placed in the Church for the use of the nuns when they returned to the convent, but bulk supplies were sealed up in the police store at the railway station, and a receipt from the police authorities handed over to the Red Cross Representative.
After several false alarms, we eventually left Fukushima with only two and a half hours notice, at 1 p.m. on the 11th Sept., by special train. The notice to leave was so short that one married couple, who had gone off into the hills for a day’s picnic, could not be found, though guards were sent off in all directions to search for them. So they had to be left behind, and their feelings, on returning to the camp to find it deserted, can well be imagined. However, the American Authorities at Shiogama promised to send a special car for then the next day, so it is to be hoped that their departure from Japan was not long delayed as a result of this unfortunate incident. I myself was out walking when the final notice to leave was received, but fortunately a guard found me at no great distance from the camp and passed on the glad news, giving me ample time to pack up and catch the train. Instead of going south to Yokohama, we went north to Shiogama, the port of Sendai. We passed through Sendai station about 4 p.m., where we saw our first U.S. and Australian troops. Those troops had only been ashore for about two hours and were purely on a sight-seeing tour, when they heard that a P0W train would shortly be pulling into the Station, so they came along to welcome us.
The devastation wrought by the American air raids could be well understood from the appearance of Sendai, which was completely demolished as far as one could see on either side of the railway. There were just the foundations of houses, skeletons of chimneys and the shells of factories left as far as the eye could see. At Shiogama, which was a few miles away from Sendai itself, we boarded the American hospital ship “Rescue”. There we were medically examined to see whether we were fit for travel, or whether we must receive hospital treatment.
On the 12th, at 6 a.m., those of us who were able to travel, boarded the R.A.N. Destroyer, the “Warramunga”, and. proceeded to Yokohama, reaching there at 5 o’clock in the evening. That night we spent aboard a U.S. Depot Ship that had been specially fitted up for receiving released prisoners and internees. After further medical examination, we boarded H.H.S, “Ruler”, an escort aircraft carrier, on the 13th, and finally left Yokohama aboard this ship direct for Sydney, calling only at Manus in the Admiralty Islands for food and water.
On looking back over my period of captivity, one of’ the first things that always comes to mind, is the difference between the German and the Japanese treatment of us. It was not that we suffered any definite atrocities from the Japanese themselves, but the general mentality of the Germans and Japanese prison authorities was entirely different. The Germans treated us as just unfortunate individuals, who had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and thereby were taken prisoner; whereas the Japanese looked upon us and treated us as the worst of criminals, although they had to admit, when taxed with this, that we were really just unfortunate.
Our stay at Fukushima need not have been as unpleasant as it was, because the building and the facilities were really very good, but the Japanese deliberately went out of their way in order to make things as uncomfortable as they could.
When the number of guards diminished, our existence became more comfortable because the few guards left had sufficient duties to keep them away from us.
The whole idea of the Japanese treatment of us was to humiliate us as much as possible, and to pin-prick and irritate us continually, but without going far enough to provoke any riotous reaction on our part.
However, after talking to prisoners from various other camps, I have no doubt that we probably were as lucky as any camp in Japan. Possibly one of the reasons why there were no definite atrocities in our camp was because we were German prisoners; and the Japanese might possibly not like to be called to account by the Germans should they treat any of the German prisoners in a way that the German authorities would disapprove. Also, the fact that we had women in the camp may have toned down the natural Japanese cruelty, though as I have said previously, if anything, the women had rather a worse time than we did.
One thing that has always mystified us was why we were kept “incommunicado” at Fukushima for so long, seeing that the rest of the “Nankin” passengers and crew, who were in a camp near Tokyo, were in touch with the Red Cross and their relatives from early 1943, whereas we were not in touch until twelve months later.
However, the fact that we were not officially handed over to the Japanese as their prisoners until the 1st March, 1944, may have been the reason why our presence was not notified to the Red Cross before that date. Until then, we were really nobody’s baby, and it may be that when the Germans finally handed us over to the Japanese on 1st March they, at the sane time, notified the Red Cross and the Swiss Legation of our presence in Japan.
As I said previously, the general attitude of the Japanese to us after the cessation of hostilities was very friendly; in fact, the change of face really was most remarkable. Previously, they had been very bullying and domineering, but afterwards they become obsequious and servile.
In discussion with the Police Commissioner, there would seem to be little doubt that it was not the atomic bomb or the Russian declaration of war that defeated Japan. She had already, according to this official, been beaten to her knees. He told us that we had absolutely no conception at all of the condition of Japan, particularly in the industrial areas of the south. He said all communications and industries were, to all intents and purposes, at a standstill. This information was confirmed by a Swiss priest who, after peace was declared, was allowed to come and visit us whenever he wished, whereas during the war, he was never allowed to come into our camp, although we had, on many occasions, asked for the services of a Roman Catholic priest.
When we were able to get out end explore the countryside around Fukushima, we found that it was a town of about eighty to one hundred thousand inhabitants, situated in an extremely fertile valley, on the main road and railway running from south to the north of Japan. It had not many heavy industries, but it would appear that arrangements were being made to develop some underground factories in the outskirts of Fukushima for the manufacture of aircraft.
I believe this valley, in which Fukushima was situated, and which extends away north up to Sendai, was one of the most important granaries of Japan, and as completely untouched by the war, though, of course, all the surrounding places had been completely devastated. Large quantities of rice, millet and fruit of all kinds were grown in the district, and from the quantities of fruit that we were able to obtain as soon as we were allowed to go outside the gates of the camp, there is no doubt that we could have received much more varied food rations than the bread, had the camp authorities allowed supplies to come in. We were, at all times, prepared to purchase supplies of items like fruit, and we understood from the interpreter that fruit around Fukushima was not only un-rationed, but really plentiful.
During our stay in Fukushima, we had a total of four camp Commandants. Of those, the third one was really an intelligent and considerate officer, but as regards the other three commandants, I am afraid one can say very little in their favour. We had also latterly one Japanese Sergeant, who was really quite sympathetically inclined towards us, and particularly towards the women. On several occasions, he managed to obtain small supplies of medicines when the camp commandant said it was absolutely impossible. Also, he would frequently reverse the camp commandant’s decisions if he thought that they were unnecessarily harsh.
Of the interpreters at the Camp, the first was the official police interpreter from Yokohama, who only stayed with us a fortnight. He was then replaced by a Mr. Midori Kawa, who had been thirty years in San Francisco. He was really the most venomous and spiteful brute that I have ever met, and he seemed to take a delight in mis-translating for us and presenting our requests in the worst possible light to the Japanese Authorities. Eventually, the Japanese Authorities themselves got wind of this, and he was replaced by two girls, who carried out their duties of interpreting much more kindly and efficiently.
There were two police commissioners of the Fukushima prefecture during our stay. The first one was totally unsympathetic, and we rather think he made quite a bit of graft out of supplies to the camp. On innumerable occasions food that came into the camp, intended presumably for us, was taken out again, either for his own consumption or for disposal in the black market.
In fact, the Japanese Camp Caretaker, who had worked for several years previously with the nuns, told us that the Commissioner, and the first Camp Commandant, would finish up after the war as very wealthy men owing to the amount of graft they had been able to make out of our camp.
The second police commissioner, while he was more sympathetically disposed to us, was undoubtedly an extremely busy man, and we feel that he was unaware of a number of incidents that took place in the camp. He was certainly very anxious that no adverse report of his administration should be handed to the Allied Occupying Forces.
As regards the work of the Red Cross, and the Swiss and the Swedish Legations on our behalf, I am satisfied that they did whatever was in their power, but from comments that they made to us after the war was over, it is obvious that they had to be extremely cautious when visiting us, as if they expressed any opinions adverse to the Japanese, any further visits or communications with them would be interrupted.
Their comments on the general Japanese treatment of prisoners was very bitter, particularly as even up to the time we left, they were still discovering camps all over Japan of whose existence they had only just received any information.
However, despite the uncomfortable, monotonous, humiliating and somewhat grim experiences I endured during my three and a half years of internment, I am-a physically not much the worse, and any effects of the prolonged malnutrition are rapidly being rectified. In any case, as a guard told us on one occasion, the Japanese police treat their own people the same as we were treated, and he, therefore, couldn’t see that we had any possible grievance.
Submitted by Tim Fogarty, 11/11/2003.
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