- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Tony Addinsell
- Location of story:
- Home and abroad
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 February 2004
In May, after two months at Kaitak, we moved to Iwakuni, which was the headquarters of BCAIR, the British Commonwealth Airforce and part of the allied occupation force in Japan.
We flew up from Hong Kong along the East coast of China to Shanghai, landing for a night's stopover at Lungwha airfield. It was our only visit to China. We had for a time, been expecting to fly from Hong Kong into the interior of China on communication flights but this never materialised.
From Shanghai we flew on over Nagasaki to our destination on the island of Honshu situated on the edge of the Inland Sea about 30 miles South of Hiroshima. Iwakuni airfield had been a major Japanese airforce base both for landplanes and sea based aircraft. The condition of the buildings was good, mostly of wooden construction, but the aircraft hangars had lost their roofs in a recent typhoon. We were allocated separate rooms in large dormitory blocks and provided with bat-women, known as room-girls who looked after the cleaning, laundry and general requirements. These girls were daughters of Japanese Officers or equivalent status and were obviously well educated. They were also very apprehensive of how they would be treated as "enemy nationals". They were obviously taken aback by little acts of kindness, such as gifts of chocolate, soap, etc. After a short while they started to reciprocate, arriving in the mornings with gifts of mikans (mandarin oranges), bonsai trees and other small gifts.
Fraternisation was not officially permitted but did occur in a discreet way, although intimate relationships were rare. It was fascinating to see the girls wearing their colourful Kimonos on many occasions, although their everyday working clothes were drab. At first they spoke no English but soon started to pick up enough to carry on a limited conversation and likewise we began to learn a few words of Japanese. A Japanese professor took language classes for us once a week but attendance was a bit spasmodic. The girl who worked for me, Shizuko Morita, was the daughter of a family repatriated from Chosen, the Japanese name for Korea and another girl, Narie Sawai, came from Taiwan. Both of their families had been expelled from their homes when the war finished. Narie was fond of classical European music and her boyfriend had been an officer in the airforce and killed a year or so before.
Life was easy, with the occasional flight to airfields on the adjacent Japanese islands. As a Communication Flight our duties consisted of carrying freight or personnel from one allied base to another, sometimes using Dakota aircraft and at other times 4 seater Austers. I quickly learned to fly these small planes which could take off and land on small airfields or even disused roads. They were ideal for transporting individuals from one camp to another and as these camps were dispersed around the various islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku I was frequently crossing the Seito Nai Kai or Inland Sea. The only difficulty encountered was the problem of having to refuel and restart the plane for the return flight after delivering or picking up someone at a remote destination. It was often a case of filling up from a drum of petrol and then having carefully chocked the wheels, swinging the propeller oneself. The Lycoming engine was renowned as a difficult starter when warm and often a cause of embarrassment if a VIP was in the passenger seat awaiting takeoff.
The little islands dotted about the Inland Sea were most attractive. Their rocky surfaces topped with various types of pine and maple trees were my concept of what Japan should really look like. When Autumn arrived, the forests became a blaze of colour with the maples and although I had not seen the Spring cherry blossom, this was a sight to remember. The climate was for the most part pleasant but humid. We were warned to expect the possibility of typhoons, tidal waves and earthquakes and plans were drawn up to react to disasters such as these
I did experience a minor earthquake and the circumstances were humorous. I had just emerged from a very hot bath one evening, when I was conscious of myself shaking. I put it down to the effect of the abnormally hot water and it was only when I met friends who had also felt the "shake", that we decided a tremor had occurred. In fact a fairly severe 'quake did occur the day after I left Japan, resulting in some damage to the camp.
When we had spare time, we would take a jeep into the countryside and enjoy a picnic. Sometimes we would call at a farm for eggs and would be invited inside and would be shown photograph albums and made welcome. At no time did we feel ill at ease with the local population who seemed to have accepted their defeat and the atom bomb as they would have done any major natural disaster. It was also a fact that the police kept a very close eye on the population and as a result crime was minimal and one felt able to wander around dark streets at night without danger of molestation. Shopping for souvenirs was very different from Hongkong where prices were never fixed and haggling was the order of the day. In Japan prices were marked and expected to be honoured.
A local attraction was the pretty island of Myajima otherwise known as Itsukushima famous for its shrines and Toriis. The Toriis are great wooden archways, some set out in the water and forming an attractive approach to the shrines on the island behind them. In the town of Iwakuni itself there was a famous wooden bridge known as the Kintaibashi, made up a number of graceful arches across the Kintai river. We sometimes took walks up into the surrounding hills, passing through thickets of bamboo and paddy fields with the ever present wooden farmhouse complete with thatched roof and paper walls. There were citrus trees and persimmon and an overall aroma of human manure, carefully conserved to make the most of the small amount of land that could be cultivated amongst the steep hills that surrounded the area.
A few days were spent in Tokyo where we stayed at a leave centre and were conducted around the various showpieces of the city. The Imperial Palace where the Pioneer Corps happened to be on official guard duty with their mascot goat. The Emperor's tea garden and the Yasakuni shrine where Japanese servicemen would leave some evidence of their pilgrimage before departure to the war. We also visited the Diet building, the seat of government and spent some time at the War Crimes Trials where we saw Tojo and others and listened to the proceedings.
A lot of the time there was no flying required, so I was quite pleased to be given the chance to serve as defending officer at the local Provost Court. This entailed attending trials of Japanese individuals accused of offences such as black-marketeering etc.,. I would go down to the local police station and interview the accused, using a Nisei interpreter. These Nisei were American-born Japanese, often girls who were fluent linguists. We would be supplied with frequent cups of the straw coloured Japanese tea and it was an interesting diversion.
It was a good example of British Justice and I thought it would be a good idea if I suggested that Shizuko and her friend Narie should come to the court to see how justice was dispensed. Unfortunately, the day that they attended it happened that the cases were mostly concerned with prostitution and they were more than a little embarrassed.
The time passed quickly and eventually we were told that we were to be sent home for demobilisation. There had been some talk of aircrew being offered conversion courses onto multi- engined aircraft, possibly with a view to civil airline employment, but there did not appear to be any volunteers. Most of the men were more interested in returning home and returning to civilian life. There had been an increase in the level of discipline and regulations were becoming more irksome.
We bought items at the camp shop for bringing home to our families. Silk, pearls, paintings on silk, hanging pictures (kakemonos) and lacquer-ware being the most popular. I wanted to give Shizuko and Narie little presents and it was difficult to decide what was suitable. At first I thought of embroidered handkerchiefs but was told that it was not acceptable in their culture. I ended up buying Plant holders made from bamboo. The girls were very sad to see us go and in fact I received letters from them for several years. These had been translated for them by a friend and the English was somewhat quaint.
We left the port Kure, Japan, December 18th, 1946 on HMT Arundel Castle and by some miracle I found myself allocated the same bunk in which I had sailed on the same ship from Liverpool to Sydney in May 1945. We called at Shanghai and managed to get ashore to do some shopping on the Bund. I bought a colourful silk brocade lady's dressing-gown which still survives today.
After Hongkong we called at Singapore on New Year's day and then it was non-stop to Aden. Somewhere in the Indian Ocean between Ceylon and Aden we came across a Blue Funnel Line steamer which had broken down. After making a few circles around her, it was decided that as the weather was good and it seemed likely she could make the necessary repairs, it was all right for us to proceed on our way. We took on doubtful drinking water at Aden and were troubled with upset stomachs as we sailed into the Mediterranean to find winter gales raging. A few hours halt at Gibraltar and then round Cap Vincente the S.W. corner of Portugal and back home to Southampton arriving there on the 21st of January 1947.
I had experienced a world trip at His Majesty’s expense. I had seen very little of the grim side of war and virtually all my memories were happy ones, wasn’t I fortunate?
I see pictures and hear stories of the horrors of war and realize that I had a very “cushy” time indeed.
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