A Short History of Tokyo Branch Camp #12 Motoyama (Hitachi)

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By Martin S. Christie, Capt, USMC, [Retired]

TOKYO Branch Camp NO. 8; formerly Tokyo 12D, MOTOYAMA (HITACHI ) POW CAMP

This labor camp was opened on April 12,1944 by a 300 man detail that had left Cabanatuan on March 6, 1944. The draft was held in Bilibid Prison until boarding the Taikoku Maru (*) on March 24, 1944. The ship arrived in Osaka via Takao, Formosa and Nagasaki, Japan on April 10, 1944. Moving by Electric train the following day and onward arriving at the mines in Moto Yama on April 12, 1944. Our camp was on the southwest side of a bowl like valley. Almost directly across from us was another mine being worked by Korean Labor forces.

In August 1944 this group of Americans was broken up leaving approximately 100 in camp. Other nationalities were transferred in with the final camp made up of about 300 American, British and Javanese Dutch troops in roughly equal proportions.

I remember no incidents of brutality. Occasionally someone got slapped around but nothing of a serious nature. The Japanese Camp Commander was a graduate of Northeastern University and the interpreter was a mixture of Japanese-Caucasian ancestry. Working conditions in the mines were rough, but the civilian workers were in the most part kind to us.

The prisoners of war in this camp were evacuated to the town of Onahoma on September 2, 1945 with information they would be picked up by Naval vessel and transported to Yokohama. On arrival at Onahoma no ships appeared and it was necessary to call on the people of the town for billeting and help in food preparation. Colonel Earl R. Short, USA (deceased), then a captain and senior American, sent Captain Underwood by train to Tokyo on September 7th to find out why we had not been picked up. Captain Underwood returned in two days. He had been promoted to Major and had instructions regarding movement to the Tokyo area. All personnel, including the Dutch East Indies and British Troops were to travel to Tokyo by train.

Major Underwood asked for two volunteers to proceed to two other camps that had been stranded and direct their evacuation. I was one of the two volunteers. The other was a British Trooper, Singh. Singh was the smallest Sikh in stature I had ever seen (about 5'2"). He was fluent in Chinese as well as Japanese and had been our main source for translating the newspapers we were able to obtain during our captivity. While I had learned some Japanese, Singh was most valuable when it came to dealing with the Japanese during the next two days while we assisting Major Underwood in evacuating the other camps, Sendai 1 and 2.

The Japanese people in Onahoma were very hospitable, providing housing and sharing food with us. From the food drops made while we were still in camp, we had given a good share of the food to the locals and the Korean Camp as we were leaving. However, the habit of hoarding had not left us and we continued to share what we carried with us with them. To insure against harm to our hosts in Onahoma, Quartermaster Clerk Joseph J. Reardon, USMC, established a guard unit with roving patrols. We had no problems while in Onahama.

Martin S. Christie
Captain, USMC (Retired)

(*) Taikoku Maru was sunk, 17 May 1944 by US Submarine Sand Lance, SS381 at 14'58"N-144'49"E.