Tokyo #1 Kawasaki
Bob Denmark Story

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Crewman on the SS Kirkpool sunk by German raider THOR.

Nephew of author, Phillip Collier. Permission granted for use on this web site only.
This is an attempt to formulate something for family history relating to the life and experiences of myself, Robert Arthur Denmark, formally a F.E.P.O.W in Japan. I have been pursued constantly by my sister Vera, and now by her son Philip, to attempt this effort. Without Philip's help and knowledge of information technology I would have been helpless.

I was born on 2 April 1922, the second son of Walter George Denmark and Florence Maud Denmark, one of five children - the late Edward Flt Sgt RAF, Vera Kathleen, Walter and Gertrude Lillian. We were well cared for children, of devoted parents, a difficult time for them in the hard times of 1920's and '30s. We enjoyed the usual childhood pursuits, encompassing happy times and disappointments, but we all survived until reaching adulthood.

I became very sport oriented, mainly soccer and cricket. After playing for several years I was cajoled into becoming the Founder Honorary Secretary of Norman Old Boys F .C. by the late Charles Thome and Alfred Lewthwaite, teachers in the Senior Boys' School in which I entered through the phases of infant and primary sections. Our club had considerable success in this modest form of amateur soccer in the Norwich & District League and Premier Sections of the same league. Unfortunately, war was declared on 3 September 1939, which curtailed the football programme somewhat.

My brother, Edward (Ted), now deceased, was the first of our family to answer the call of the nation and joined the RAF in 1940, later to make the supreme sacrifice for his country as Flight Sgt E.W.G. Denmark Wop AG. More about this later.

I was the next to enter the armed forces, joining the Royal Navy in September 1941. I was enrolled for training to become a D.E.M.S. rating, a branch of the Royal Navy which was for the sole purpose of the defence only of defensively equipped merchant ships of the British Mercantile Marine. I was to report to HMS Glendower in Pwelheli, North Wales, a shore establishment built to be, but unused as, a Butlins Holiday Camp. Training consisted of several weeks of seamanship, field training and musketry and boat pulling in a 32-foot cutter in Cardigan Bay. Ceremonial guards took us to Llandudno, Conway, Rhyll and Colwyn Bay. Then the relief of a return home on a long weekend pass!

On return to Glendower, we started on an intense course of all aspects of becoming proficient gunnery ratings and to become Able Seamen with QR3 rating. Myself and most of the others in our class attained this distinction by early 1942 with a princely increase of 3d per day extra, 3 shillings and 3 pence per day to be precise. Next I was despatched to the Royal Hotel, Glasgow, to await a placement on any ship awaiting a gunnery rating.

After a short stay I was transferred to the Bay of Oban on the West Coast of Scotland. This was an assembly base to establish a number of ships to leave the UK in the form of convoys. A period of weeks was spent on servicing various ships in the Bay with supplies and armaments etc.

Then came my placement as a D.E.M.S. rating and I joined the SS Kirkpool, a 4842 gross tons ship owned by the Poole Shipping Company (Managers Sir Robert Ropner Ltd). I joined forces with three other naval ratings: J Dixon GL, T Owen QR3, J Armstrong QR3, and two army gunners: C Bryden and W Hampton.

The ship's defensive armament consisted of one 4" BL gun on poop deck and three depth charges with smaller arms on port and starboard sides amidships. The gunners' quarters were under the poop deck, leading into the after welldeck and we were isolated from the ship's officers and seamen who were non combatant and carrying out their peace time occupations. The accommodation was comfortable but, being my first deep-sea voyage, I could not make comparisons. My service shipmates were very friendly and soon Tubby Dixon, our gunlayer, took advantage of my sewing expertise and I was soon carrying out uniform repairs and sewing on his many non-substantive badges, including one for good conduct. Dixon was a plasterer in civilian life; J Armstrong, C Bryden and W Hampston were Scots to my greatest recollection. Tom Owen became my closest friend and we exchanged food on certain days, to suit his religious beliefs (e.g. eggs for bacon).

The food on board was very good; rationing in the UK seemed non existent and deservedly so, as the Merchant Navy were bringing food into the country at such very great risk. While still at anchor, shore leave was allowed between watchkeeping.

Eventually, we were ready to leave port and the formation of a convoy was established. Convoy was the method of several merchant ships in a fairly compact formation with faster and better-armoured Royal Navy vessels defending the perimeters from U Boats and German surface raiders. Destroyers and Corvettes were the type of vessels used, assisted also by Fleet Air Arm, Sunderlands and Catalinas, while we were still close to the British mainland.

Watchkeeping was intensified into two watches of four hours on and four hours watch below. I found this very tiring coupled to the fact that I had become violently seasick. This lasted almost a week, during which time I lost my appetite but, on recovery, I found a donkey's! We steamed on for days on end without incident; the Navy escorts were doing their job to deter any danger. Finally, it was time for the escorts to leave their defensive duties and let the cargo ships proceed to their various destinations on their own. This breaking from convoy took place about 3 degrees north of the Equator (0 degrees). The customary initiation ceremonies were performed on those who were crossing the line for the first time. Bosun Larssen acted as King Neptune and all of us in turn were subjected to various forfeits and some totally humiliating tasks.

The Kirkpool's destination was Lorenco Marques in Mozambique to collect a cargo of iron ore and return it to the UK. Our route, now we were travelling alone, was down the west coast of Africa to Cape Town, then around the Cape into the Mozambique Straits and Lorenco Marques. Some days before reaching Cape Town we had the excitement of the forward seaman spotting a U boat's periscope, then surfacing, to then crash dive again. As the Kirkpool carried three depth charges, it was hoped that we could make a kill, but the echo sounding device showed nothing so no action was taken. We eventually arrived in Cape Town without further incident.

Then we witnessed the glorious delight of seeing Table Mountain in all its splendour and free from its top cover of cloud. After the long cold journey from Oban, the North Atlantic and recollections of my own local knowledge of the North Sea, the delights of the South African climate and sunshine were Heaven sent. Our stay in Cape Town was very brief with no shore leave, ship's orders having been altered from the original destination.

Our new orders were to proceed to Durban further along the coast of South Africa, then to take on board a cargo of 'black diamonds', mercantile slang for coal. Our new destination was Montevideo in Uruguay. The loading of the new cargo was undertaken on the Bluff in Durban and, consequently, the gunners had plenty of shore leave, as loading was mechanical and supervised by the Merchant Navy. A lot of the heavy labouring jobs were performed by convicts from a nearby penal colony on the Bluff. In their striped jersey suits and chain manacles they were a sorry sight and extremely hungry .The compassionate nature of the British welled within us and we threw vast amounts of food to them. This was to prove very ironic as will become clear later. Cargo loading and ship's supplies completed, we were now ready to move and we left Durban on 31 March 1942 bound for Montevideo.

The next few days spent steaming, with intense watchkeeping, in a very vulnerable part of the South Atlantic, became quite monotonous. Staring at nothing but vast amounts of sea seemed to be a waste of time, apart from the importance of our task to get food to our beleaguered island. I spent 2 April, my birthday, in much quieter conditions than I would have expected to celebrate 20 years, nevertheless thankful to still be safe and sound on such a dangerous mission. 10 April dawned with overcast weather and quite a heavy sea running; watches in the forenoon and afternoon were quite unpleasant and I was thankful to become watch below with no incidents to report during the day.

At approximately 2000 hours a violent lurch of the ship awakened me; a torpedo from a German surface raider had scored a direct hit! All hell was let loose as salvo after salvo of very heavy gunfire rained on us, smashing parts of the superstructure to pieces and causing fires to start everywhere. The gunfire continued for a long time without respite and at very short range. It seemed that the raider was intent on sinking us by surface fire as the torpedoing was taking longer than expected to achieve its aim. Under such intense bombardment and heavily underarmed in comparison to our enemy, it was impossible to retaliate and survival became essential. Most escape rafts were either released or smashed in the action. The starboard lifeboat was blown from the davits with several Indian firemen attempting to escape by lowering it. The whole episode seemed a shambles but mercifully the firing stopped.

After the first few weeks training in gunnery at HMS Glendower, this was proved to be a totally unequal contest against better trained and superior armed opponents. Several of us gathered in the after well deck searching for something to evacuate safely on. Captain Kennington then arrived and advised us to abandon ship as she was sinking fast. Seeing we had no escape material, he suggested a cargo net with buoyant material attached on the forecastle head was possible escape material. Several hands went with him to release it and the remainder of us waited patiently with hope of its arrival. Heaven sent the net duly came floating down the port side and we all jumped in unison.

Myself a very moderate swimmer, I was very relieved to grasp the net which proved to be a life saver to several of the crew. We drifted slowly away from the Kirkpool, now well alight and providing a firework display, as small arms bullets began exploding. The illuminations kept us abreast of the happenings with the Kirkpool still afloat. Now drifting well away from the Kirkpool the chill of the South Atlantic began to take effect after the adrenaline of the action subsided. Most of us were scantily clad, myself only in a singlet and kapok lifejacket. Gathering thoughts of possible sharks in the area was not comforting. Possibly in the water for over an hour time did not seem to register while clinging on to life. The weather conditions became darker and our thoughts of survival likewise.

Suddenly in the gloom we saw the raider, a dark grey silhouette making way directly towards our raft, then veering away from us into darkness again. Our last hopes of rescue, we thought. The last manoeuvre of the raider was, however, a mercy mission as quite soon a motor launch with a high powered searchlight located us and pulled us from the cruel sea. A very young engineers mess room boy was last into the launch, severely wounded and attempting to hold the remnants of his buttocks together.

The raider captain at last seemed to be showing some compassion for the terrible battering he had inflicted on us. To wait in such a vulnerable area to pick up survivors for such along time, while exposing his ship to possible extinction by any Royal Navy craft, was a credit to him. The wounded were attended straight away and the rest of us were made comfortable; the German officers and men plied us liberally with cognac and rye bread sausage sandwiches. I remember going to bed quite tipsy. A moderate interrogation took place mainly to get records for kith and kin notification. It took me quite some time to convince my interrogators that Denmark was my surname and not my country!

Now warm again and nourished, we settled into our temporary accommodation for the remainder of the night. Next day we were aroused early and taken to our more permanent prison quarters. These were in the central position in the bowels of the ship below the waterline. Access and egress were by a companionway with a heavy steel sheet lockable lid. Exercise on deck was allowed on hour forenoon and one hour afternoon daily.

We were quite surprised to find the survivors of three other freighters already incarcerated, namely the Wellpark, Willesdon and the Norwegian ship Aust. The accommodation was well established with air conditioning and pumped toilet waste. The next hours were abuzz, with crews exchanging questions and answers about their various experiences.

The first exercise on deck seemed so short but gloriously welcome. We were now more able to assess the considerable armament of the raider, so heavily camouflaged as cargo crates. Also partially concealed was a small seaplane cheekily marked in bold letter US Navy. Later post-war data named the raider as the Thor with armament of six 5.9 inch guns, smaller 37mm down to 20mm and 4-22 inch torpedo tubes. The range of 1700 yards sinking the Kirkpool was virtually point blank. Internet and e-mail by the Deutsche Kriegsmarine supplied this information.

About three days later the afternoon exercise was stopped, the steel cover over our access steps was shut, with a further steel strap added, the air conditioning was turned off, leaving us to wonder why. Then the extra throbbing of the ship's engines showed we were increasing speed to pursue or being pursued by a possible victim or an encounter by the Royal Navy. The loss of air and the fear of being sunk again by further action whilst being securely imprisoned below the waterline, was becoming insufferable. After two to three hours the engines quietened, air was restored and the prison officer came down and stated that the prey they were pursuing was too fast for them. The days that followed were very repetitive, being roused early and the daily visit by the prison officers to enquire if we had any complaints which were dealt with whenever possible.

Towards the end of our 24 days on the Thor we were moving into very cold and unpleasant conditions which seemed to indicate we were getting well into the Southern Antarctic Ocean. A change of course northerly convinced the navigators we were heading for the southern half of the Indian Ocean. The assumption proved to be correct and a rendezvous with the German M/S Regensburg was made. The object of the exercise was to transfer all the prisoners from the Thor to the Regensburg; this was duly accomplished and we joined some 200-300 prisoners already aboard.

Accommodation was in the tween decks in hammocks, four to each stanchion into welded floor sockets. Hammocks and stanchions removed daily to allow more room. The whole of the forecastle was for the prisoners including self-contained heads and showers.

The lower bridge was heavily armed with machine guns manned by officers not ratings, special security to prevent a possible revolt by the prisoners. White lines painted several metres before the bridge gate to the galley was explained to us, so infringement was only accepted whilst food was collected at delegated times by certain orderlies.

The Thor left to seek further prey and we remained fairly stationary for days and making very uncomplimentary comments about who 'ruled the waves'. The Thor had further success catching the SS Nankin, a passenger cargo vessel taking bank employees back to India and with a prize crew on board met up with the Regensburg to transfer further prisoners with us. The Regensburg and the Nankin now lay side by side at sensible distances and a motor launch and large rubber inflatable rafts proceeded to remove all valuable cargo from the Nankin. Large stocks of frozen lamb and a deck cargo of wool were brought to the Regensburg; this went on for days on end. Soon afterwards, the Nankin with prize crew aboard left us.

A sudden spell of fast steaming found us meeting up with the German ship the Dresden and all wounded personnel and women and children from the Nankin and some merchant seamen were transferred to the Dresden. This achieved, she left in an easterly direction which pointed to an obvious destination, Japan. On the Regensburg we continued to idle in the Indian Ocean, possibly to still act in the capacity of supplying the Thor if necessary.

The next few days were spent in idyllic conditions, just lounging on deck in glorious weather, with plenty of food and sleep and no work. Certainly a life of Riley, but we were always aware that we could be attacked by our own forces. By now, with no idea of day or date, we also started to move in an easterly direction, ominous to a possible visit to Japan and with some trepidation at the thought of going to a nation with completely different cultures. Our worst fears were confirmed when we made calls at Borneo, Java and Sumatra and we eventually arrived in Yokohama.

To our surprise we were then shepherded on to another German vessel moored in the bay, namely the MS Ramses, to now be kept under German safeguard. To be kept by the same friendly individuals as we had encountered on both the Thor and the Regensburg was quite pleasing. But all good things come to an end and, on the disastrous day of 25 August 1942, we were officially handed over to the Japanese.

Transported by open lorries, about 170 of us were taken to No. 1 Camp Kawasaki, Tokyo, Nippon. This included Captain Kennington, First Engineer Burley and several Indian firemen from the Kirkpool. The language barrier was soon to become an obstacle as few Japanese guards spoke English. The first friction occurred when trying to convince the Japanese officers we could not survive without a European diet; we were just ridiculed and mountains of rice and gnats' water soup were dumped but, when hunger beckoned, we had to eat to survive. This initiation to supposed Japanese culture was very disturbing. We soon learned that even failing to salute the lowest ranks upwards of the military incited a frenzied beating. This method of punishment was also metered out to even their own citizens; it was called Binta.

The two-storey wooden structure we were housed in proved to be an unsanitary and bug- infested dwelling with cold water only external washing facilities and external primitive toilets The toilets were narrow wooden huts with earthenware pots sunk into the ground, with a 12" x 5" hole cut in the floor. Within days of use the pots became a seething mass of maggots. Consequently, the inevitable happened -vast amounts of sickness and dysentery .I soon succumbed to the latter and survival without medication was totally reliant on one's previous constitution. This form of disease left me with an amoebic condition which was to remain with me for the next three and a half years.

Work schedules were prepared and, in Japan, to not work meant you would not eat despite how unwell you might be, a barbarous ill treatment. My first job was in the manufacture of Soya sauce at a firm called Aji-No-Moto, which translates as Essence of Taste. We had to walk one to two miles to work and our task was to set up the presses with clean press cloths and all the necessary steam cleaning of the used ones. This was a huge factory which was also being reconstructed to become able to extract from bauxite clay material to become aluminium for the war effort.

I continued to work at Aji-No-Moto until, I believe, towards Christmas 1942. We were then allowed to send home our first card to let our families know we were still alive. My mother told me on repatriation that my card did not arrive until June 1943. After such a long period of 14 months I had been considered dead and, in consequence, death benefit had been paid.

Patterns of work often changed and prisoners were often sent to different places of employment and, 60 years on, it is not easy to recollect the exact sequence of changes, so apologies for any errors of timing. Post Christmas 1942 I was moved to Kawasaki rail station to unload freight from trucks onto lorries or discharge it directly onto the platform. This became very exacting as a consequence of the meagre diet and the sickness which had seen our bodies become very frail. With a variety of cargoes, some light, some very heavy, the mixture helped us to cope; to do otherwise would have incurred severe punishment. To supplement our diet one had to steal and the railway was an ideal place. We soon noted delivery cards on trucks meant perishable goods usually edible if they had two red lines. The railway yard covered a large area and it was quite possible to hide from the guards and break the lead seal and help ourselves to whatever we could. Eggs were cracked and swallowed whole and raw, small oranges were wolfed down with skins on and I even ate the heart out of a raw cabbage. To secrete something on your person was too risky, hence the reason for eating at once.

To resort to stealing to keep alive was understandable if I describe a typical Japanese diet for prisoners of war. Breakfast consisted of a small bowl of rice and some hot liquid called soup, containing very little solid food and some added misau, a curd material to cloud the absence of vegetables. This menu was repeated at midday on site and on our return to camp in the evening with no variation for the whole of our stay in Japan. Later, the rice became short and was substituted by Korean rice which was reddish in colour and coarse rolled barley. The midday meal carried from camp to camp in wooden rice buckets often turned sour especially in the summer months but this had to be eaten or we would have starved. Some meals often arrived with rat droppings cooked in it. Prisoners would extract the faeces and as little as possible of the discoloured area. Such a revolting situation was necessary by such hungry men performing such manual tasks. To be expected to live without bread, butter, meat, cheese and all other forms of the European diet was a total contravention of the Geneva Convention for prisoners of war, but our captors were a sadistic bunch of animals.

The lack of such necessities was causing all forms of malnutrition and I soon developed a large, extremely painful, abscess in the groin. Unable to work or walk, I was taken by open lorry to Shinagawa Hospital, a very primitive establishment, for assessment. There I met Commander Cleve, Royal Naval Surgeon, a man doing sterling work to help prisoners of war to survive. He decided to lance and drain the abscess but anaesthetic was at a premium and I had to be satisfied with a small amount of facial chloroform. I could actually feel the incision before passing out. The diet in Shinagawa was the same as before but, sometimes, meat bones were added to the soup. These bones used to be gnawed on by us in the hope of gaining some nutrition; cards were cut for the privilege. The deaths of several prisoners occurred frequently during my stay. Able to walk again, but extremely weak, I was returned to Kawasaki without a hint of convalescence.

The weather in Japan in the early months of 1943 was quite similar to the UK with colder weather in the north, as was shown by freight arriving snow and ice-bound at Kawasaki. The quality of the issued clothing was totally inadequate for the climate -paper-thin tie-up trousers with shirts and jackets of the same material. Boots were made of pigskin, as issued to the Japanese military, and quite good.

No underwear was issued and necessity became the mother of invention. One of my roommates, a huge Australian, had pattern and cutting skills and, coupled with my sewing skills, we manufactured underpants from Soya Press cloths of linen that I had acquired earlier from Aji-No-Moto. All the Japanese civilians wore army style putties as some form of respect for their military so we were forced to conform. Failing to wear them invited another beating. We found the putties quite helpful at times. If we had any contraband, it was convenient to drop it down our trouser legs where it would be retained and mostly missed by a body search.

These first six months in captivity, working in an outside environment probably kept us saner than if we had been locked up. We worked in groups with one or two Japanese coolie labour instructing us on our duties. We found working with these low class Japanese quite a friendly liaison though, while they were quite sympathetic to our ill-treatment and hungriness, to visibly help us would have incurred extreme penalties. The military ruled the roost in Japan and to carry out any misdemeanours by civilians would have meant a severe physical beating.

We were by now picking up quite a smattering of the Japanese language and this became very useful for scrounging items, mostly cigarettes for those that smoked. Food was also very short for the Japanese so there was no hope of begging any from them. We found Japanese green tea very unpalatable and considered it to resemble horses' urine. The coolies managed to secretly supply us with some black tea, which we drank with no sugar or milk.

The Japanese, in the main very small people, looked quite strange to us, dressed in a short kimono type jackets, tie-up dungaree trousers and canvas top, rubber soled footwear, cloven with a separation for the large toes only. In wet weather, we had to wear rice straw skirts with two wing type shoulder pads which afforded no protection from the elements. We looked even stranger than the Japanese.

We worked at least eight hours a day, seven days a week but at some point during 1943, we were granted one day's rest per month. This 'rest' usually entailed unloading any camp deliveries or ladling the toilet waste into buckets to be taken away by a civilian to spread on his land for vegetable growing -a revolting task.

This repetitive lifestyle continued for most of the year with the occasional loss of life with most of getting hungrier and in poorer physical shape. When someone died, the Japanese performed some form of Buddhist ceremony where a mournful dirge was chanted, broken only by the striking of a triangle and the burning of incense. The orange box type coffin was usually adorned with fruit, rice and vegetables, a ritual not understood by us but one which would have been better used to feed our bellies! The corpse was then taken away by a cyclist on a three wheel "deercart" to an unknown ending.

Christmas came and went and it was incomprehensible to us how we were still surviving Spirit and the determination not to give in was all that was keeping us going.

Early in the year of 1944, I was returned to work at Aji-No-Moto but at a different job in the newly reconstructed workplace. The new style factory was being formed to be more productive to the war effort. I had to suffer an horrific job on the west side working on pressers where grey coloured sludge was pumped through to form some manufacturing process towards eventually becoming aluminium. I was forced to stand for hours on end in the residue which was discharged onto the floor. The smell of chlorine was at times overpowering and I dreaded each day. By this time, I was becoming very unwell but by some miracle, a shortage of one man saw me become a member of a construction gang. This company which subcontracted work to the main company was called Nippon Kogan Kaisha, or Japanese Steel Company. The main factory was now known as Dai Nippon Kagaku Kogyo, Kabushiki Kaisha, Kawasaki Kogyo, and Tokyo.

We were a gang of four prisoners known as "Tekko" along with a very friendly Japanese crane driver and his assistant, Yushida San and Sato San. The latter bore a striking resemblance to Stan Laurel and so we soon nicknamed him Stan. I began to enjoy work more in the friendly open air and consequently, my health and outlook became brighter.

The type of work we were now on gave us a greater movement of freedom from the one or two guards, although they were now assisted by a Japanese civilian known as a "fu" man who carried the same authority .The massive acreage of the plant made it impossible for these three persons to supervise all the separate gangs working in different areas. The ingenuity of very hungry men now manifested itself fully. Much of the plant had become derelict but it was always possible to find live electricity; a well-known source for cooking. A convenient flour warehouse used for various products by Aji-No-Moto and a store of salt became a regular source of illegal provisions for us. Most prisoners always carried a linen sack for stealing purposes. Kerosene cans had tops cut off to form boiling cans and heating elements of a crude nature by people with a knowledge of electrics were made.

Body searches were less prevalent now, so more risks were taken. Flour was taken back to camp one day, dough of just flour, salt and water made up and carried out again next day to be cooked. This very 'heavy' duff became quite a supplement to our meagre rations.

There were so many gangs cooking now that various individuals could be seen darting in and out of derelict places all day long. I should think that the extra load must have shown on the Japanese National Grid!

Sometimes, late cooking meant that the duff had to be removed from heat rather late and was consequently rather hot to carry home to camp. Many prisoners had sore bellies as the only place to secret the food was with the tie-up trousers. The camaraderie of the P 0 Ws was brilliant and everyone who contributed to the manufacture had a cut of the spoils.

I became very careless and complacent and soon paid the penalty of a severe physical beating when I was caught stealing. I had made a regular habit of taking back a small bottle of Soya sauce for my Australian friend Bill Viney. On this particular day I had hidden two kilos of flour in a linen sack in my midriff held in place by the tie-ups of my trousers with the loose fitting jacket camouflaging the rest. I kept Bill's bottle of sauce in a back pocket carelessly not dropping it down my trouser leg. Unfortunately a body search was called for our site and the bottle was discovered. Three others were found with contraband and we were all sent to front of ranks where we received a father and mother of a beating by the guard. Each time the butt of the rifle hit different parts of my anatomy, the sack of flour moved, making me look pregnant! Colleagues in the front row kept advising me by signs to make adjustments while he was punishing the others. God's mercy, he never spotted the other sack.

Searches on site usually meant a report to the camp Sergeant but luckily we were dismissed on the count back being correct. Such relief, and Bill's remark of "Did you bring the Soya back?" was a trifle ironic!

The Japanese climate was very similar to the UK with very comfortable warm weather right up until Christmas. This made working conditions much more favourable. Despite almost every P.O.W showing rib cage bones and projecting hip bones, our frames seemed to be hardening to the treatment and I am sure our stomachs must have shrunk, as the meagre rations easily seemed to satisfy us.

We were constantly being used as guinea pigs for some serum or other and regular checks were made for Cholera as the Japanese had a desperate fear of this disease.

The weeks and months continued to pass and these seemed little hope the war was nearing an end and the Japanese prognosis for us should they lose the war was decapitation, not a very optimistic outlook. With some of the P.O.Ws being Chinese and a great similarity of the printed characters with Japanese writing, we gleaned some information of US successes from the odd newspapers. Without remembering the timescale of these events we knew the islands of Saipan and Okinowa had been recovered from the Japanese, it could have been between late 1944 and the early months of 1945. This began to put a brighter spring in our step.

The next ordeal we had to suffer was constant night bombing by waves of US B.29 aircraft with incendiary devices. Thankfully so because if the bombs had been of high explosive we would not have survived due to their accuracy. Kawasaki was literally raised to the ground with virtually all of the lower class dwellings destroyed. These places were so primitive and made mainly of wood, paper and corrugated iron. One must remember that 1945 was not like the modem day Japan. With almost two hundred prisoners we were able to defeat the fire hazard by beating out the flying charcoal embers falling on the roof and without a direct hit, Kawasaki No.1 camp survived, standing out like an oasis in the desert. For nights afterwards the Japanese civilians huddled around the outside perimeter of the camp, thinking perhaps that the Americans knew our whereabouts. With little left to flatten, the raids ceased and work was continued most days. We now had expectations of things going our way and dared to hope perhaps of release from our horror.

On August 6th, after a usual day's work on site, we were met by our coolie supervisors all wearing horror struck and solemn expressions on their faces. The 'Atom Bomb' had been dropped on Hiroshima which was on the same island of Honshu as Kawasaki albeit some 300 miles away. The description by our supervisors of the magnitude of devastation and loss of life was a severe shock to all Japanese we came into contact with. This was a great boost to our morale and we began to look forward to each day and the new developments it brought with it. At last, we knew things were definitely going in favour of the Allies!

We went to work every day between 6th and 15th August, the actual date of the Japanese surrender. On one day during this time, we ceased work at midday for lunch but the restart afterwards was delayed for one to two hours, making us wonder if hostilities had ceased. We wandered about outside the mess room trying to get some confirmation of the happenings for the delay. This finally came from a passing Japanese who raised his hands in the air in the surrender position and said, "Nippon".

With still no official confirmation we were reformed in ranks and marched back to camp
where we were ordered to stay. Still being under armed guard, discretion was the better part of valour. To do anything foolish would have been ridiculous after surviving three and a half years of such horror. History has since proved that this particular day I have described, must have been August 15th 1945.

The American officer in charge of our camp, Commander Newman, kept us aware of instructions and how we were to conform. We were to join blankets together to make a large drape and mark with a large cross to hang over the camp roof to be visible from the air.

The bombing started again, but this time the dropping of parachute supplies was favourable to us very hungry men. The generosity of the Americans knew no bounds – they were such generous people. We were now able to indulge ourselves, perhaps a little too much for comfort at times. As starving men, we were inclined to ignore the advice not to overeat or over medicate.

Collecting some of the parachuted supplies meant leaving the confines of the camp to retrieve them and we considered this now to be our privilege. One of the Japanese guards took exception to this and despite still being unarmed, he chose to confront a Scottish POW ‘Mince’ McKay who immediately flattened him, breaking his own wrist in the process but gaining immense satisfaction. Months earlier, aggression like this would have meant a life threatening beating with an added bonus of being tied to a post naked all night. The Japanese officer Lt Takahuchi had since left in a hurry and for the few guards that remained, it was now time for them to be prudent.

This magnificent new lifestyle continued for some days until on an unknown date, we were instructed to assemble and make our way by foot to the harbour of Tokyo bay. It has to be remembered at this time there were no American land forces ashore, hence the footslogging.

The walk took some time through dilapidated-bombed areas but proceeded with little incident. The Japanese were showing a cowardly absence despite their bravado of what would happen to us should they loose the war. None of us were decapitated, nor did I see any Japanese that committed hara-kiri, the method of disembowelling on the sword for shame of defeat in battle.

On arrival at the harbour we were taken by DUKW landing barges to the US Hospital Ship Benevolence anchored in Tokyo Bay. We were thoroughly, medically examined and treated where necessary and once again showered by the supreme hospitality of our American allies. No POW was expected to lift a finger, just to rest, eat and recuperate.

After several days of this luxury and again on an unknown date, we left Tokyo Bay and headed to Manila, capital of the Philippine Island of Luzon. This time we were housed tents which the Americans called bivouac, again expected to do nothing but convalesce. Despite this wonderful treatment and gaining in strength, weight and fitness, the pangs of returning home were closest to our minds.

We were given the choice of a quicker flight home or a longer sea voyage. I chose the latter; influenced by the fact I had lost my brother Ted in the RAF six weeks before the end of the hostilities. I promised earlier in these memoirs to elaborate more on Ted’s misadventure this is now fully described in another file. I was allocated a place on the SS Empress of Australia for the voyage to UK via Colombo – Ceylon, Suez Canal, Alexandria, Gibraltar and Liverpool arriving late October 1945.