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Reports of visits to Japan of POWs

Exchange Meeting for Better Understanding

Five Australian ex-POWs and their family members (a total of ten people) visited Japan from March 1st to 9th, 2011 on the invitation of the Japanese government as part of the project "The Japanese/POW Friendship Programme". >>Jump

Mr. Harold Ramsey

We left the Middle East and we came back to Australia because the Japanese weren't in the war when we went to the Middle East, my brother as well, who got killed. And we were coming home and we got to Java and an English general wanted some troops in Java, and he surrendered the island of Java, which we happened to be on. The general wasn't, though. I don't know of any general who ever got shot.

We went to Singapore for a few weeks. Then we went in a little ship up to Burma to build the Burma railroad. Everyone was in reasonable health when we got to Burma. But there was nothing, no medication, nothing at all. Then the men started to die. Many men died. One camp lost 300 men with cholera. That was the worst thing. If you drink out of the creek in the morning, then you started dying at night.

When we finished the Burma railroad, so many had died, and those who were fit were sent to Japan. And to be considered fit, all you had to do was be able to stand up. We boarded these ships in Singapore and the convoy set sail for Japan, and American submarines were very strong at that time so they destroyed the convoy, and our two prison ships were on it. About two thousand prisoners died because nobody would pick them up. There was only a very few.

Richards and I were two survivors. I think there might only be perhaps about four survivors left out of those who were picked up. We got to Japan and went to Kawasaki. We had guards, civilian guards, not soldiers and they were very cruel  no pity in their make-up. They would bash you for doing absolutely nothing. There were air raids every day, every night by the B-Niju-ku (B-29s) and they were getting heavier all the time. They were sending 23 prisoners from my camp up to Niigata and two of them were too sick to go so I was put in the place of one, and another, one of my friends in the second place and that night the bombers came over and they dropped a bomb right where we used to sleep and blew 38 of the prisoners to bits. The guards in this camp were quite brutal, very brutal. I couldn't walk for a week, once. We left the camp, we went to Niigata, and that was much better...the camp Commandant - a lot depended on the camp Commandant - and the bashings weren't brutal, like they were at Kawasaki. We had a one-ton sea mine land in the camp. It didn't explode  it would have blown the camp away. They were dropping them in the bay, and they planed-up the water in. The sea mines had compartments which would fill up with salt water, and then that would be primed, and it would go off. So we were just lucky it wasn't in salt water. We received one food parcel for the war - that was my five years in the war (as a prisoner, three and a half), and Sgt. Kawasaki, Sgt. Ino - he stole one of them and, well, you've seen the Kraft cheese in the packets, then when he was having a bath he reckoned the Australian soap was "demi-demi" because he couldn't get a lather. He was having a wash with a packet of Kraft cheese. When the war finished, I think it finished on the 15th or 16th - they dropped the first bomb - we didn't know about it. We knew the Japanese people were very frightened and they dropped the second one, and then the surrender happened, and we were going to be executed on the 20th of August, 1945. So we just made it. That's the end of my story. There's a lot I left out of the middle, but we want to get this over before it's dark.

Mr. Norman Anderton

First of all, may I congratulate the POW RN on the excellent work they have done over the years and for that very excellent slide presentation which will make it easier for everyone to understand what conditions were like. This book by Tamayama-san will give you the details of how that railway was constructed. Several days before the war finished in Singapore, I was wounded and was taken to a British military hospital. Japanese troops came through the hospital, threw hand grenades into the operating theatres, killed most of the doctors and some of the male medical orderlies. They then rounded up or collected some 200 wounded men who could walk, took them outside and bayoneted them all to death. Later on we were all taken into Singapore to clean up the city after the war. The first thing we saw was six heads from Chinese that had been beheaded on big poles as a warning to the civilian population to obey the Japanese Army commands.

I then went to work like Harold and the others on the Burma-Thailand railway. There were 60,000 British, Australian and Dutch prisoners constructing that railway as well as 270,000 native laborers. Two-thirds of the British, Australian and Dutch died, and nobody will ever know how many of the Asian laborers died, but it could have been as high as 75%. The real heroes of that Burma-Thailand railway were the doctors. There were 43 doctors working on the railway, and some of them suffered severe bashings trying to prevent sick men being sent out to work on the railway. The doctor in the camp where I was - a camp controlled by a very brutal man who was an ex-military policeman, Captain Maruyama (Murayama?) - this doctor was so brutally bashed and so often that he died an early death after we came home. You saw photos of those terrible tropical ulcers? The only cure in the finish was to amputate the limb. One doctor in one of the camps performed 44 amputations. The only way he could cut through the bone was to use an ordinary wood saw that was used to cut timber for the fires. Another doctor on the Burma side of the railway performed 120 operations. There was another group that is sometimes forgotten. These were the nurses. Some of them were evacuated and returned home, but another group (the ship on which they were travelling was sunk) - the bulk of them found when they got to land, were taken to a prison camp. But another group of nurses including some soldiers landed on a small island. They were forced back into the water and machine-gunned. There were only two survivors, one soldier and one nurse, who were eventually taken to the prison camp. After the railway, we were working in Singapore. We built an aerodrome for the Japanese Air Force. The last job we had was to dig tunnels into the hills. We were told that these were to be storage facilities. But actually they were to be our graves. The Japanese High Command had issued instructions to all camp commanders that in the event of an Allied landing, all the prisoners were to be killed and all traces of them having been there removed. The Japanese Military Police, or kempeitai, were, if possible, more brutal than the German Gestapo. Just to list three methods of torture they used: they would hammer chopsticks through peoples' ears; another one was to make people kneel on very rough stones or pieces of wood holding a heavy weight over their heads, a kempeitai stood on either side of them and beat them with bamboo poles until they became unconscious. But their most favourite method was to poke raw rice down people's throats - dry rice - then pour water down their throats, until the stomach became swollen, and when the rice began to swell, the pain would've been excruciating. They would then lay that person on the ground and jump on their stomach. Some methods of torture inflicted on poor women in Singapore were too terrible that I could not, and would not talk about them in front of ladies, except to say that one method was to push steel needles through women's nipples.

There's a book written by one of your colleagues, Yuki Tanaka, called Hidden Horrors, in which he explains in detail some of those methods. Finally, we were also very aware that the ordinary Japanese soldier was very brutally treated by his own superiors. When the Japanese troops were retreating through Burma and the jungles of Papua New Guinea, they suffered terribly from diseases and hunger. Some of them even resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Thank you.

Mr. Jack Simmonds

Kyo, watashi wa hanashi senso nai. (I'm not going to talk about the war, today.)

I was in Singapore only three weeks before Singapore fell. I worked in Singapore for a short while, and then shipped to, as we thought, to the Burma-railway job, but we were diverted to Japan. We were three weeks on the water and we arrived in Shimonoseki, Moji, and then we were trans-shipped, or went by train to, God knows where. We ended up in Osaka, in a very new camp which was built for 500 men. We 200 men occupied one building, very comfortable, and then we didn't know what we were going to do. But during the day, around the camp, we had to pick up anything metal for the war effort. Before we were got to work, we had to fill in a form, what we did back in Australia. Some men put down "lion tamer", some put down "dairy farmer".

We went to work on 1st of June, 1943. We marched to work quite a while, quite a way, across two canals, and got to work. We didn't know what we were going to do. We got to work and we were addressed by the No. 1, and there we were sorted out. I ended up on a jackhammer, some men were on oxy (oxyacetylene) torches, one man on the dry dock. At the time there was a big German ship in. Some of our men had to go over and help rivet it, and other men were on different jobs. The food we had, we used to take to work with us in a little basket, about 1 cup-full of rice, for lunch. My hancho, we called him Charlie Chaplin. All the men, some men, one on the dry dock, some working on the railway, some somewhere else, we had no soap, but someone saw a barge, several barges coming up the canal. They pulled up at the jetty, at the factory, and by communication (Jack's pointing and washing gestures) one man said there was a boatload of shabon, soft soap, the coolies all unloading it into the big store. I went along - we could walk around, not too often, just with a tool in your hand. So I fell in line with the coolies, walked in, got a big tin of soap on my shoulder, went back to my job. Some of the men had powder, molding powder...soft soap (Jack's mixing gestures) and put it out in the sun to dry. That was our soap, shabon.

We had hanchos in the factory. They were very good. They were elderly men, all family men. They were short of food, like we were. One hancho, we called "Old Bill". When I was there I was taught to splice wire rope, "ropu" (Jack's splicing gestures) 'sling'. One day we were out working, not too hard, but Old Bill came out and sat between us, and he said to my friend, "Sumisu, doko? Goshu ka?" ("Where from, Australia?") So my mate said, "Oh, how come?" (The hancho said, "Where you come from in Australia?") So I said, "Draw a map of Australia on the ground, cut up the states - Queensland." And he did that, and he said, "Brisbane". And Old Bill said, "Ah, so ka, so ka, so ka." And then he turned to me. "Jaku, doko?" So I knew he knew where Brisbane was. So I go up from Brisbane...Mackay...Townsville... "Cairns, watashi wa". "Ah so ka, so ka, so ka". He said...he named the streets in Cairns. I asked him how. And he was a small boy, 16 or 18 in the first war when Japan ferried Australian troops to Egypt, first war.

Another time we had one big raid, a lot of men, bosses, they were killed. We had to work. Nothing to do. So we went around, busted open lockers, boxes, tins, and see what was in them. "And"... (Jack putting on cap) "Hyaku roku-ju go ban (165), watashi wa". Another time, I saw this kettle in the cupboard, and I said to the man, my friend, "What you do?" He said, "Don't know, don't know." I said, "Alright, I will take it back to the camp." So I waited till winter time, "samui", big overcoat, put the overcoat on, (attached it) here (Jack demonstrates) by the belt, back to the camp. For two years, I hid this under the floorboards. Then after Osaka had a few air raids, we were shifted to Takefu. There we worked in the carbide factory. Conditions, quite good, not enough food. We used to work in shift work. Then the day came when war finished. We were going back to work at 1 o'clock. And the hancho came out and said, "Yasume. yasume". Well, we shook our heads. "War finished?" "No!" So the excuse was, no material, no coke, no limestone. So...plenty there! So at 1 o'clock, we didn't go back to work. That's where it finished. In September '45, we left to come home on the American ship. We were in Manila for three weeks and then we sailed home. OK? Finish.

Dr. Rowley Richards

Mr. Fujita, I want to thank you very much for your welcome. I want to thank you very much for your participation in this. You mentioned, "A memorable visit." It's been a historic visit, because it never happened before. Hopefully, there will be many more in the future. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

I do hope he can, with the new change in government...I hope he will be able to keep up the good work. Because I see this event of inviting the five veterans as a practical apology. It is the same sort of practical apology that the Research Group have been doing for many years. I congratulate them on their work in the past and bringing to fruition this last week, because I'm sure they had a big influence on the government. My colleagues have already spoken about some of the dreadful things that happened to our men and I do not propose to talk about that. I will propose to talk about the job of a medical officer who tried to keep people alive with inadequate food, very little medication and being forced to work when they were sick. The medical officers on the Burma railway...there were 43 Australian medical officers on the Burma railway...we received a great deal of praise for our work but I would emphasise that the praise should go to our medical orderlies. They were volunteers and mainly untrained. During the last few years, I've been thinking about what happened at the time. I have realised that my most difficult problem was playing the role of God. I had the responsibility of life or death for my men. I had the responsibility of deciding after just a few moments as they come to see me, making a decision whether they would go to...had to go to work or whether we could keep them in camp. Occasionally we would have a few eggs that would come to the camp and I would have to make the decision whether I give the egg(s) to this man who was going to die, or should I give it to this man who has a chance of living. That was a very difficult decision. The main medical problems we had were malaria, and in the group I looked after, they had an attack on an average of one a fortnight, one attack of malaria a fortnight. Malaria would make them sick, they couldn't eat, and dysentery would flare up, because everybody had dysentery, then following on would be an attack of beriberi, when they got swollen limbs, abdomen, and then they would be sent out to do heavy physical work and that was what killed most of them. It has often been commented on how remarkable it was that so many men died. From my experience, the remarkable thing is how very few died, compared to what could have happened. On the railway (we were there for about 18 months, into Burma and Thailand) in my group, we lost about 13% of men. Then, after the railway was finished we were formed into the party that was mentioned earlier to come to Japan as a working party. On the way, on the ship, the Rakuyo-maru, we were torpedoed and about 11% were picked up by very brave Japanese sailors. They were very brave because there were many submarines in the area. Some of the men used to say you could walk from Japan to America on the periscopes of the American submarines. Since the war I have tried to locate the family of the captain of the ship who picked us up, and the Network have been wonderful in helping me trying to find somebody. Kan Sugahara...I was hoping to meet him today. I was hoping to see him because has done a great deal of work in trying to find out who he was and where the family are. If anybody knows who was the captain of the ship or where the family are, please let me know, or let Kan know, and they can let me know, because I want to acknowledge the bravery of their captain.

Coming back to the diseases which we had, I would emphasise that all of the diseases we had were either preventable, they could have been prevented, or they were treatable, if we had the medicine. The tragic irony of my experience is that with adequate food, accommodation, medication, and rest when they were sick and tired, the men could have done much more work and there would have been much less sickness, and that would make my work and the work of my medical orderlies very much easier. When we were brought to Japan, we went...I was in a group that went to Sakata and the other day...a few days ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting the families of two civilians in the camp who were very kind to us - the butcher and the medical orderly.

The butcher, Takahashi-san was responsible for providing meat to the retail market, and was required when an animal was killed to produce four quarters. And when a horse fell on the ice, broke its leg, it had to be destroyed and he would take it to the abattoir to be slaughtered, and Takahashi-san used to use Australian bushmen to help him. When he sectioned the horse, he would cut it through the ribs, and again two ribs down, cut it again and then cut it and put those strips of two ribs...I was going to say...under the counter, but would hide them, and then he would cut this way, and he would finish up with four bits, and would give that to the retail butchers, who would go away happy. He would give the two ribs for the soldiers to take back to camp to give to the sick men. I was reminded of another incident. On the railway we had a number of vehicles, trucks which were driven by prisoners of war. We also had a steam roller, rolling on the road to make it flat, which was a wood-burner. Every morning, the truck drivers would take their cans to have them filled with petrol. The steam roller driver who had a steam roller he had to put the wood in, he would have two cans. He would go with the people and pick up petrol, which he would then sell to the local Burmese.

Thank you very much indeed. I particularly congratulate and thank the Network people for their participation, and the images which you have produced - I would rather forget. So finally, I do not forget what has happened, I do not forgive what has happened, I do not condone what has happened, but I try to understand and a week like we've just had, helps me enormously to understand why men from a country with lovely, charming, friendly people who are polite, highly civilised, why they would behave that way. This sort of occasion, a practical apology does help me. And I thank you very much indeed.

Mr. Fred Brett

I just would like to say I was not captured in Singapore. I was captured in Timor, that then belonged to the Dutch East Indies. What can I say? The other chaps have told you all about things, but I was just going to say that when we moved onto the ship, there was no toilet. You had a box about this wide and this long over the side, attached to the side of the ship. You used to climb over the side and squat there. (Comment from Rowley: 'Nobody fell in!') I think there was no toilet paper. I think the idea for the Bidet must have come from that. Do you know the Bidet? (Comment from Jack: 'The idea of no toilet paper must have come from the local {Australian railway} station'.) The Bidet. When the weather was rough, you got washed. The only other thing I would like to say was that when I was in Omine, they had a system there where they had a board up on the wall with your block, and the room you were in, they had those blocks with your number. If you went down the mine or were in the toilet, or wherever, you had to shift this block. If you went away and you never shifted the block, the guards would come around and they would take it, and you'd have to go to the guardhouse and pick it up, and you got (bashed). I was going to say where I was, there and there (holding up the photos in the documents). That's Omine. After the war they (the Yanks) dropped the parachutes, all coloured, and food.

That's about all I've got to say, but I'd like to thank the Group very, very much for what they have been doing, and what they have done. Thank you.