- Contributed by
- The Fernhurst Centre
- People in story:
- Brenig Jones
- Location of story:
- Motoyama - Japan
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 July 2004
This is Brenig Jones's story: it has been added by Pauline Colcutt (on behalf of the Fernhurst Centre) with permission from the author who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the website. The story has been translated from Welsh.
The atom bomb
Recently I saw a television programme showing the United States preparing and carrying the atomic bomb which was to be dropped on one of the cities of Japan. This brought memories flooding back of my time as a prisoner of war in Japan and being forced to work as a miner in a Japanese coal mine. This was ironic as my father was a coal miner in the Rhondda Valley and he was determined that not one of his four sons should go down the mine — and there was I working as a collier.
On the morning of 6 August 1945 I was in my bed, as I had been on the night shift. Well not a bed as we think of it but a blanket on the floor. I must say that the floor as in every Japanese house consisted of straw mats about an inch and a half thick, an ideal place for bed bugs to breed.
On this particular morning a pal of mine woke me and told me to come outside to see what was happening. Our camp was on the coast and looking out over the sea we could see an enormous cloud in the distance rising to the heavens. It continued to rise as we watched — with the top of the cloud flowing outwards like a big mushroom or toadstool. I stood there in astonishment with my friends. What was happening? An explosion in an ammunition dump or chemical factory?
I went back to my bed none the wiser. When we went down the mine that night it was obvious that the Japanese who were supervising us were no better informed than we were.
Motoyama Japan — 15 August 1945
Another working day. Out of bed at 5am, breakfast — a small bowl of rice and then off to the mine. Underground we had to walk for about three quarters of an hour to the coal face. Normally half way in we would meet the night shift on their way out and we would have a brief chat with them to see what had happened on that night. But on this particular morning they had more to say.
The attitude of the Japanese on the night shift had been unusual — there had been no pressure to get the work done and they had been busy talking amongst themselves and were not prepared to say what was troubling them.
When we arrived at our place of work the Japanese were not prepared to talk to us and Roland Pilcher (a fellow prisoner), who had learnt quite a bit of Japanese, was unable to get any answers to his enquiries. What was the problem? I must say we had an easy day and didn't fill much coal.
On the way back to the pit bottom at the end of the shift we expected to meet up with the afternoon shift to find out what was happening on the surface — but the afternoon shift did not turn up. When we got to the surface the guards were unusually keen to get us back to camp. Arriving there we found our friends at the entrance obviously waiting to tell us something. No checking up by the Jap guards — simply the Japanese word for dismiss. I went towards my pals to hear that an armistice had been agreed between the Allies and the Japanese.
I went back to my room and sat on the floor with my pals - everyone very quiet and few words spoken. Perhaps everyone was thinking the same as me, that this was only an armistice and war could restart anytime. Usually the first thing I did after returning to camp was to go for a wash and to get out of my working clothes, but this day all I wanted to do was to sit quietly and think. Everything going through the mind and thinking of going home to the fore. Later in the evening the eight of us in our room began to relax - no rush to get some sleep as there was no work tomorrow and soon the conversation came round to food and what we were looking forward to - steak, chips and peas were high on the menu and rice on the bottom.
During the next few days our officers put pressure on the Japanese and the first thing we had were Red Cross parcels - one between two. Real food at last - even three or four spoons of Nestlé's Condensed Milk or half a tin of corned beef on a bowl of rice was a feast.
The next thing was to get rid of the Jap Guards and our own officers taking charge and mounting a guard on the camp entrance duly armed with pick shafts. We were back in the army. Someone then acquired a radio and it was then that we heard that some days previously the Americans had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. This is what we had witnessed when we saw the enormous cloud rising high into the sky. The Japanese had surrendered and the war was over.
We also heard on the radio that it was necessary for every prisoner of war camp to indicate their location. We did this by painting the letters POW on the cook-house roof. This sign paid dividends the following day.
At this stage I have to admit that I am glad that the atomic bomb came when it did. Life as a prisoner was getting more difficult as our food ration was getting smaller and we were getting weaker all the time. I dread to think what would have happened if Japan had continued to fight and the Americans would have been forced to invade Japan. But before invading the Americans would have bombed Japan almost into submission before taking the final step of an invasion. We had experienced American bombing at our previous camp in the mining village of Ube where they had fire bombed the village. The following morning all that was left of the village was our camp - the rest of the village had been burnt to the ground. Our camp remained because the Jap officer had allowed us out of the shelter to fight the fires in our camp. Our experience of similar German bombings in the UK stood us in good stead that night.
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