- Contributed by
- Stockport Libraries
- People in story:
- Arthur Lane, Con Anderson (Federated Malay States Volunteer Force), Konimitzu, Ushigawa, Tanaka, Private T. Jackson (Manchester Regiment), A.S.H. Justice (U.S.S. Houston)
- Location of story:
- Chungkai Camp, Thanbazayat
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 June 2004
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Chris Comer of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Arthur Lane and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
Arthur Lane was in captivity in Chungkai camp. Two Korean guards at the camp, Konimitzu (known as YM) and Ushigawa realised that the prisoners were using a Ouija board. This gave the prisoners a unique opportunity to take advantage of them.
“YM who had a better grasp of the English language asked where the magic bottle was. Con Anderson who was afraid of no one, took the Ouija board from its hiding place in the attap roofing, and placed it on a rough bamboo table, then from beneath his bed he produced the Bovril bottle and set it in the middle of the board.
All the time his eyes never left those of Konimitzu. A big beaming smile came to YMs face. ‘Make it walk’ he asked. Con pointed to three of the prisoners indicating to them to join him at the table.
By now the news had flashed round the camp like a firefly. Within minutes G hut was overflowing, with men jostling for position to be able to watch and hear what was being said. Con in his most benevolent manner asked for silence, after which he closed his eyes and called out for the spirit guide to make himself known. The spirits must obviously have been waiting and watching because by the time Con had finished his request the bottle began to swing around the board, spelling out the name Boris.
Once the spirit guide had made himself known there were cries and shouts from all around, requesting answers to a multitude of questions. Con shouted out one of the questions which he heard from the crowd, and the bottle began to swing back and forth across the highly polished board, spelling out an answer which would be satisfactory to those listening, as a morale booster it was fantastic.
On the morning following a séance, or reading as the men called it, they would appear more cheerful, many seeming to lose their pessimistic attitude about life.
All the time the proceedings were in progress the two Koreans had sat amazed, not believing what they were seeing they sat in open-mouthed astonishment. Finally YM intimated to Con that he would like to take a turn at putting his finger on the upturned bottle, implying at the same time that he was more then a little sceptical about the whole show.
Con readily agreed and asked one of the men to move and allow YM to take his place where, once seated, YM asked the question to which everyone would like to know the answer 'when will the war finish'. The bottle shot from side to side and up and down the board spelling out the answer November 1943. Ushigawa was asked if he would like to participate and with his ape like grin he nodded and took his place opposite YM. Now there were two prisoners and two guards, and most prisoners expected the whole charade to collapse but no such thing happened, as question after question was answered just as quickly as they had been with four prisoners operating the bottle. Then, as a final gesture, Ushigawa asked Con to ask the spirit guide if there was any news from his family in Tokyo. The spirit guide was indeed working overtime, when back came the answer ‘There is good news on the way which will make you very happy’. The evening ended with both guards discussing the question of whether the whole episode was a hoax put on by the devious Brits or was it for real, and only time would tell.
Once the two guards had left, Con and several others sat huddled together discussing how this evening’s entertainment could be turned to their advantage, each taking it in turn to make a suggestion until finally an idea began to take shape. This idea would bring in financial reward as well as one or two days of freedom. It is a well-known fact that necessity is the mother of invention. In the far-eastern prisoner of war camps necessity was an every day need.
Most of the inventions were provided by those brilliant young men who in peace time were employed as designers of jewellery, chemists, metal workers and others. Some of these men had worked in jewellery workshops using gold, platinum, silver and other expensive materials. They now continued their craft manufacturing the same designer jewellery using brass and copper tubing with coloured glass in place of expensive stones.
Also among the craftsmen were those who could turn a four gallon petrol can into a highly polished drinking mug, carving knives, forks, napkin rings. Anything that required the positive look was finished off with gold leaf stolen from the Buddhist temples that are in abundance in Thailand. When everything was complete, a genuine hall mark was applied, and occasionally real stones were used, mostly stolen from the Kanchanaburi gem mines.
Other men manufactured quinine, sulphonamide, aspirin and other tablets using chalk and curry powder, and it was to these people that Con turned for assistance in pulling off his glorious bluff. After providing them with a list of his requirements, a meeting was called at which Con emphasised that, should any of the guards attend any future sessions, it would be the work of one man to occasionally mention the word treasure, but only enough to wet the guards appetite.
The monsoon rains had by now commenced which was the cause for men to
have to work longer hours and this left very little time to even consider any further sessions. At the end of March, the Japanese camp commandant issued orders that every man from now on would be required to work for ten whole days, in return he would be paid ten cents and a full days rest period. One hundred cents would probably be equivalent to ten pence today.
The idea of an official rest day was like manna from heaven to Con and his friends. Just before our first rest day, I received a visit from YM, who asked if there were to be any more sessions with the magic board, as he and his friend wanted to attend. Apparently Ushigawa had some important news. After contacting Con I was able to inform him there would be a session the next Yasme (rest) day at six o'clock in the evening.
Having passed on the information I watched as the lads from G battalion set about learning their set pieces, until the evening of Yasme day arrived. I would imagine that the whole population of camp, who had by now learned of the Koreans interest, were all in or around G battalion hut. As soon as the two Koreans walked into the hut, one of the men brought out the Ouija board and set it down on the bamboo table. Con invited the two guards to sit at the table.
Just as Con was about to open the proceedings Ushigawa produced a carton of Red Bull cigarettes from inside his shirt and presented them to Con telling him that the spirit guide had been right. His sister in Japan had sent a letter saying that she had just been delivered of a baby boy. In Ushigawas eyes there was gleaming pride. This was proof positive that they had contacted the spirits. The ceremony over, the session commenced, except that there was a new spirit guide in the form of one Promoti Cachanil, a Siamese who during his earthly life had been a police man, and later a jeweller and money lender in Kanchanaburi province.
His demise had apparently been rather sudden, so much so that he had not had time to inform his family about his fortune and where he had hidden it. As the story painstakingly unfolded there were looks of surprise among not only the Koreans but also some of the watching prisoners who were not aware of any scam. All eyes were on Con as he interpreted each message coming from the spirit world and as the session continued with no further reference to the so called treasure the crowd began to get a little restless. Finally around eight o'clock the two guards made a move to leave and as they did so Ushigawa indicated to Con that he wanted to speak to him alone. The Koreans it seemed had taken the bait, but so as not to appear too eager the Ouija sessions were suspended for a few days, allowing enough time for the Koreans to accept the bait or leave it alone, and time to prepare the treasure.
At the next session, there was no mention of buried treasure. Ushigawa was the first to mention it, when he visited me in the cook-house one night and asked me my opinion about the validity of the spirit guide. I could not tell him that my mother was one of the leading mediums in the spiritualist church before she had died and that she had never made any attempt to contact me. Nor had any of the deceased members of the same spiritualist church of which I was at one time a member. How could I tell him that I had no Kami (God) and that I did not believe in spiritualism in any form? Maybe he wanted to be sure that there was actually treasure buried somewhere around and he wanted my confirmation.
Without trying to be patronising I suggested that he should look toward his own Kami for guidance and not to a heathen like me and he left the cookhouse none the wiser. During a further number of sessions, members of the audience brought along proof that the spirits had not lied.
Two or three days later Con and three associates found themselves working under Ushigawa, collecting wood for the cook-houses including the Japanese. Although we were living in a jungle, wood was at a premium, the only wood that we were allowed to use as fuel was bamboo. All other trees, including hard wood, were the property of the Japanese railway regiments and no one was allowed to attempt to cut them down to collect fuel. Therefore it was necessary to have to travel some distance into the jungle to find our fuel.
While the majority of the party collected fuel, Con along with two Korean guards would spend their time searching for the areas described by the spirit guide. Each day the party would leave camp as soon as the railway workers had left and they would not come back until after the railway workers had returned late in the evening.
During the time the fuel party were out, they experienced greater freedom than anyone had ever anticipated, being allowed to purchase food from the local shops including cigarettes and Thai whisky, plus other valuable commodities. Eventually however the guards began to get restless, they wanted more than just a picnic in the jungle, so it was decided that the time was ripe for some of the treasure to be found. One of the guards who had not been familiar about the reason for these trips out for fuel was chosen to be the lucky one to find the treasure, and was being steered into position. Suddenly Konimitzu (YM) gave a loud yell. He had stumbled onto the treasure quite accidentally. Thailand is noted for its many temples, so it had not been so difficult for one of the prisoners to be able to hide a small canvas satchel containing several items of jewellery, gold rings, brooches, medallions and coins. among the ruins of an old temple.
The others in the fuel party quickly gathered round, but they were quickly ushered back to camp. Ushigawa and Konimitzu followed Con into G battalion hut, with the guards screaming for all those inside the hut to leave immediately. Finally, when the hut was clear, the bag was emptied onto the table. Ushigawa now took over as leader and suggested that he take the jewellery to one of the traders he knew in Kanchanaburi. From the proceeds he received he would take seventy five per cent as his and Konimitsu’s share and the remaining twenty five per cent would be Con’s share.
The contents of the canvas bag did actually look like the real thing. Rings complete with the British Hallmark. Ronson lighters complete with the Ronson signature. Swan pens with gold nib and clasp brooches complete with ruby and emerald stones. It took just a few days for Ishigawa to strike a bargain with one of the black marketeers in Kanchanaburi. A couple of days later Con received his share which was 500 Baht (roughly about £20) - a considerable sum to a group of starving prisoners.
Over the next few days several of those involved began to get the jitters. ‘What if they find out?’ asked one or two. The reply from Con was that no Thai national would go to the police and make charges against a Japanese or Korean national and there was certainly no way that the Koreans were going to go and hand back the money to some Thai racketeer. For the Korean to hand back the money would be a total loss of face and in any case, the Koreans themselves would be for the high jump if the camp commandant found out that they had been fraternising with the enemy.
All their anxieties were later pushed to one side when it was suddenly announced that G battalion had received orders to move up country. The Japanese speedo was well under way and every available man, sick or otherwise was required for work. G battalion would be going to San Krai. I remember vividly wishing Con and the lads good luck and a safe journey. Con replied that he had received a message from his spirit guide telling him that he and his friends were about to start on a journey at the end of which they would find their true destiny.
I looked down again at the Ouija board, seeing once more the faces of the men I had known, who had helped pull off the grand jewellery scam. Each had been smiling as he departed into the jungle, each in his mind hoping that the nearer they got to Burma the closer they got to freedom.
I jotted down one or two notes on my toilet paper list, making a promise to myself that I would visit the relatives of each man if I should be fortunate in making it back home. Then with assistance from the others I started to clean up the area in order that I could mend and replace the wooden stave that held the names. As we were digging and removing the weeds and small shrubs from the grave one of the men pulled out a small canvas bag. I knew instantly by the tassels that I had seen this bag before and as the lad opened it up, one or two bits of jewellery fell out. I knew that this was the same bag that the Koreans had taken to Kanchanaburi.
I could not vouch for the contents it held, but I am almost certain that they were part of those which Con had hidden. I suggested that we make a small hole in the centre of the grave, then using a piece of my precious paper, I wrote down the names of the men I knew that were buried there. Then I placed the list inside the bag, which was then put back in the hole and covered with a piece of rock.
Afterwards we cleaned up the headboard and replaced it at the head of the grave. None of us knew any prayers and I thought to myself ‘What good are prayers, they are all dead now and no amount of praying was going to bring them back’.
On my return to England after the war, I passed my list of names to the War graves commission. Later I made enquiries concerning the six men who I had once known as comrades and found that all six had been executed some time in November 1943 for attempting to escape. I also learned that Ushigawa and YM had also been executed for assisting prisoners of war to escape.
At the time of the executions, cholera was at its height and men were dying at the rate of fifty a day. Yet according to the official records for the 1st November only six men were buried, they were the six who were executed. I remembered three of the names, the other three having been obliterated by woodworm. I have returned to Thailand on numerous occasions in an effort to try to come to terms with what had really happened to six very brave men.
I have talked to certain Thai nationals I have come to know in Kanchanaburi, and they have assured me that a wealthy business man did die suddenly leaving no will and no indication of where he had left his wealth. They told me that he had died on the first day that the prisoners had arrived to commence work on the bridge on the river Kwai, which was the first November 1942 and that local people talk of seeing his ghost roaming the jungle.
Today the cemetery in Thanbazayat is laid out in neat rows and against all odds the graves of these six men are side by side Plot B6, Row S, graves 12 to 17. Each time I return I ask myself, even though I had been there, ‘Was it all a sad dream?’
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