|Testimonies of POWs|
Special talk by Dr D Braithwaite
- My Father Survived the "Sandakan Death March" -
18:00-20:00 on 22nd October 2014 after the main seminar, Tokyo
Organised by POW Research Network Japan
There are a lot of things I could say and talk in great detail, but I don't think that's necessarily what you want. I've read a lot, not only about the Japanese POW experience, but also holocaust literature and this general area of taking people and putting them in this very extreme sort of prison system, effectively. A prison system where a lot of people die... So I can talk about this in lots of different ways, but what I'd suggest is I give a not too long description of my father's story, and then you ask me questions. I'd find that more interesting, I always find other people's questions more interesting than just, you know, talking and talking.
My father grew up in Brisbane, and he was living down in Newcastle in New South Wales where he joined the artillery, like many Australians... Australia was very war weary after the First World War, and not everyone was all that enthusiastic about the Second World War because so many Australians had died relative to our population.
And the European war was going on and many of them had trigger points where they would say "If Italy joined the war on the axis side, I would join the army" ...and that was his one. And so he joined in July of 1940, and he eventually... his artillery unit was sent to Singapore in August 1941, so before the war started.
And the Australian 8th division was based in Southern Malaya and so they weren't involved in the initial fight in the north of Malaya. As you know the Imperial 25th army proceeded down the Malaya Peninsula, he really only fought for a month from the time the Australians first came into contact with the Japanese army, and retreated across... retreat, retreat, retreat. The Japanese army was very highly trained from the China war, it was really good. They were really good troops.
Whereas the allied army was really army in training. The British army from India was really poorly trained, they expected to train them in Malaya, and so the army had a lot wrong with it. The British hadn't sent very many aircraft, anyway it was a disaster.
So of course the big one was the Thai Burma Railway, and so they started sending groups up to Thailand and up to Burma, there were two groups of Australians and one of British who went to Borneo, and in North Borneo they wanted to build a fairly large airfield at Sandakan. And that was really a transit airfield for the Japanese Air Force moving planes between the Dutch East Indies, and Japan sort of thing. They wanted to build quite a large airfield there with two airstrips.
Initially the guards were all soldiers and the imperial army used to bring units out of New Guinea and used them to guard, so that they would have a little respite from the fighting, and it would be a way they would rotate these army units through. But that only lasted a fairly short number of months because of the massive loss of shipping to the American submarines. So they couldn't keep that going and so then you entered a phase where they recruited. In the case of Borneo there were Formosans. I think there were, well whether they were volunteers or not would be debatable, I mean, but there were people who probably weren't the nicest people, there were a lot of petty criminals and cause it was a sort of lowly post to guard prisoners.
And so these Formosans came in and they were badly treated within the army, they were at the lowest rank, I don't think they ever rose above private, the lowest rank in the army, and the officers and NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) were all Japanese and treated these men fairly badly and they of course passed that on to the prisoners.
Q. "You mean the guards, the Korean guards"
A. "No, they weren't Korean in Borneo, They were Taiwanese."
Q. "They are not even military proper?"
They were recruited into the Japanese army, and I understand they were volunteers, but they were people within the colony of Formosa. I think it was called then.
Q. "They were almost forced?"
It was a career opportunity where there weren't many career opportunities; I think would be a good way of putting it. I mean Yuki Tanaka has interviewed some of these people for a film documentary that was very good and done in the nineties.
The camp was built by local people primarily, it was eight miles to the west of Sandakan town, and they initially started building roads out to the airfield which was about 2 to 3 miles away further northwest. So the job was initially clearing vegetation and then it wasn't, Borneo is not very flat, so the idea was you had a little bit of a flat area, you needed to fill the two ends, to fill in values at each end to build a sort of an airstrip. So there was a huge amount of earth movement to be done, and this was all done by hand. There was a railway system which was brought in with little hoppers, but it was all pick and shovel work, and in a very hot difficult environment.
The commander was a Captain, initially he was Lieutenant Hoshijima Susumu. He was an engineer, a port engineer, so I think he was a very capable manager, and a manager who knew, kept his fingers on the pulse, and he was quite a tall man, about 6 foot. So initially the work proceeded, and the conditions weren't bad, and then by the time you started to get into 1943 there had been and... an underground developed.
This underground, and this is what put the thing on the path to something quite different. The underground, there was initially an Australian doctor by the name of James Taylor who was left, not to run free, but he was permitted to continue his practice with local people, but was restricted to his office at home. And he started to smuggle food and drugs (medicine) into the prisoners. And there was two lots of prisoners, initially there was the internees, the British, the colonial British, were all put in the camp on Barhara Island, and then the prisoners of war out of the 8 mark. You know, many Australians were part of the British colonial apparatus. He was not a POW but a civilian.
He didn't have access to the POWs. But he worked through intermediaries. He knew, he was very well liked within the local communities, and when the Japanese army came into these places, would adopt the existing administration of local people to a fair degree, and some of these people were very loyal to the Japanese and others were more loyal to the British for all sorts of reasons.
The police force were particularly loyal to the British, and the former commander of the police, a man called Rice Oxley, he was interned there on Berhala island just off of Sandakan, and some part of the guarding system at that stage were these local policemen. And he told the local policemen that they were to take instructions from the head of the underground that developed in the camp, a man called Lionel Matthews, and so he more or less put his former employees under the control of the Australian officer. Now this opens up something.
Taylor was Australian, but he was working for the British Colonial Service. There were lots of Australians that would take jobs for the British Empire. It was a very adventurous life for a young man. So initially this was about smuggling food, and smuggling medicine, but expanded to trading. So a prisoner could say "I want to sell my old army coat, which is no good to me." And there would be intermediaries who would sort of sell stuff into the community for money which could be used for food. So a trading system developed as part of this underground. Now Lionel Matthews was a very much brave soldier. He was decorated in the fighting in Malaya, he was not a man who was going to stay a prisoner. People like Lionel Matthews generally escaped or were killed early in the war, they just couldn't stay still in the camp. But he chose to kind of make the camp a revolt.
Now, initially, getting food, getting drugs - that happened everywhere to a degree in camps, and that was very important. The other thing was smuggling parts to build a radio, you had quite good technical people who could improvise out of all sorts of unusual things, they made valves out of test tubes and things like that. So they built a radio, and again this was a very valuable thing in that this gave them some news, they were able to tune in to the British news in India, and this told them mostly about the war in Europe, very little about the Pacific for a long time, but that was quite good for morale of the prisoners.
These radios were of course hidden - that of course was all very usual. Then you got to a whole new phase, where they started to accumulate arms, they eventually accumulated about 100 rifles, 3 machine guns, they had a lot of ammunition. They had it all secretly hidden outside the camp, but they were ready for an insurrection. And they also built a transmitting radio, so when they were ready to have their insurrection they could call for help. They could call for the allied army to provide, to drop supplies or whatever. Now this was crazy stuff, but that was what was happening.
Two things were sort of different here. The radio information was smuggled out using various people, people who worked near the camp, on the camp, the police people were smuggled out across to the civilian internee camp and in to the general community. So the whole community probably knew more about what was going on in the war than the Japanese administration did while this was operating. And the Japanese, because this information was going everywhere, of course learned of its existence, but they didn't know where the radio was, and initially they thought it was outside the camp and the news was going into the camp. So they were sniffing around for a long time, not sure what was going on and just going very cautiously trying to figure out what was happening. But it came to a bit of a head for the imperial army when the locals who were part of this growing underground started to help people escape.
So you had a big escape of eight people. Now up until then there had been escapes, but local people would generally betray the escapees for money. And that worked well. And all the prisoners, they might be out sometimes for a few months, but they would be recaptured. And initially they were punished, but as things went on the punishment became more severe. But the underground helped people successfully escape, and this eight were taking across to the Philippines by boat, and they joined the guerillas in the Philippines, and so the Japanese army was encountering these Australians soldiers operating as guerillas in the Philippines, so this was starting to get pretty serious.
So eventually in July of 43, the Kenpeitai struck and arrested lots of people both inside and outside the camp. And about 200 odd were involved. Now many people like my father were not involved in any way. And he vaguely knew there was a radio, he knew there was this organization, but he wasn't part of it. He was the sort of person who really wanted to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, and most of them were like that. And thought the best way of surviving was to behave.
Then from July, all this interrogations were going on, and of course once people are tortured all sorts of information comes up and more and more people are involved, and Russ for example was very fortunate as you heard. He wasn't betrayed. Lionel Matthews, I know many people say they didn't break under torture, but he was probably the only one who didn't. He was a very tough man, and the Japanese Colonel Suga Tatsuji said "that's the bravest man I've ever met". They just couldn't break him. So as part of this retribution, all the officers except about half a dozen were sent to Kuching. So about 150 officers were transferred out of the camp leaving behind the other ranks, and the privates and sergeants and corporals.
So the officers went, and the whole camp became a much more brutal place. Now, this was not the same, the British were kept separately, and the British were much better behaved than the Australians, and they were much better treated. So they were not nearly as badly treated because they weren't as troublesome. But the Australians were treated very harshly, their food was diminished. Hoshijima wanted to keep them capable of working, but not strong enough to rise up against him.
So conditions were very harsh, but people were sort of surviving. Not many people died at all. People had become very tough. But things changed again when the American's invaded the southern Philippines and set up air bases in the Philippines and started to attack Borneo by air, both with fighter planes and bombers. They attacked Sandakan from October 44, and they just bombed the airfield out of existence, and the prisoners were sent out to repair it. Lots of prisoners were killed in the air attacks. Then they stopped feeding the prisoners in January, but the prisoners had some accumulated rice stores that they had been allowed to accumulate in case of emergency, but people started dying at a very very rapid rate.
The first death march occurred at the end of January, where the fittest about 450 men were taken across to Ranau. I'm sort of cutting a lot of detail out of this, but this first group, they were accompanied by a military unit, a battalion of the Imperial army, so it was almost one prisoner for one guard. And so they were very well guarded, but there was basically a genuine attempt to move people from one part of Borneo to the other. A strategic command had come from the command of the southern army, Field Marshall Terauchi in Saigon I think he was then, he moved around a little bit, issued an order that most of the troops in Borneo were to move from the east side of Borneo to the west. So as Yuki Tanaka has talked about and as that book before talks about, there were a large number of Japanese soldiers, and there were about 9500 Japanese died on these death marches across, just moving from one side to the other. And about 500 Japanese civilians, and I found a diary of a Japanese secretary who started in her sandals walking across.
Yes. In the north. From Sandakan across to more or less to the west. It wasn't a huge distance, but it was a very very rough country. So that first trip did involve people being shot, who couldn't go on. And there was a little bit of dignity to that. You know, people would just remain behind and they would just be shot rather than being beaten to death or whatever. I can't remember the numbers out of my head but 2/3rds of them got to Ranau. And they were then used for carrying rice to supply Japanese garrisons in the interior. Things continued to decline in the Sandakan camp, and then they had a second death march which my father was on starting at the beginning of May. And that one, and this is, not everyone will necessarily agree on this, but I think there was a definite plan to kill everybody on this. In that, it's very hard to kill a large number of people, you know, you really have to work very hard at it.
The process was to move people along very quickly, and of course the quicker you move people who are sick and incapable, don't have much to eat, the quicker people die. So the sort of process there. The prisoners were given food to carry, which they were told was their food that would have to last so many days, but most of the food was confiscated as they went along so the plan appeared to be one where the imperial army fed its soldiers on the rice so that they didn't die, and relatively few did die, probably 16 guards died on the trip, which was far, far fewer than had died on the first one. So that was a plan to actually keep the Japanese army people alive at the expense of the prisoners of war. Now they knew, the people in charge of it knew that most of them would die no matter what they did, and they saw that there was probably an advantage in making sure they killed them all off, and so people who couldn't keep up were shot or bayonetted. So each morning some people would stay out of them would just sit down and say I can't go on, and their friends would shake them by the hand, and then as they went up the track they would hear shots.
Man, who was used to being able to help others and so on, but this process became a really dehumanizing process.
And my father, this was the worst part of it, he saw men that he admired, become dehumanized, and there were people fighting over food, and there were people going mad. I mean, that was the memory that stayed with my father for the rest of his life. He was tormented by that memory.
After people were dying, and of course people also became reckless. They realized that escaping might offer some chance of survival, but probably not. So what happened, and what happened to my father, is he was going up a steep greasy bit of the track, very muddy, and he couldn't get traction, he couldn't get up there, and he was grabbing on to bits of branch and trying to pull, and he was not making progress, and a guard hit him in the back with a rifle, he fell down, and then the guard attacked him with the rifle and with his boots, and my father just managed to turn, to avoid having his face caved in. The guy was trying to kill him off. Now he managed to survive this, and he managed to get up just in time where a friend came by and said "come on Dick, you can make it." He said "oh, I'll be there Bob" and he got up. He wasn't finished off by the people who came at the end. But he realized.
Q. (So in the story...Who killed who? In your story you said some people hit some people... Who killed who?)
A guard hit my father in the back with his rifle, by holding the barrel, and whack on the back, and knocked him down, and tried to kill him off with the rifle and kicking.
This gave my father a big fright, it was wakeup call, that if he continued, he would die. He would die in the next few hours, because he couldn't keep up. He was no longer fit enough to keep going, and so he decided that he would rather die in the jungle than be killed. And so he looked for an opportunity to escape. And this opportunity came when the track went down into a gully, there was a big tree across it, and he climbed over the tree, and of course everybody slows up when you approach and obstacle like that, and speeds up on the other side. So he momentarily found himself out of view of guards, and so he ran off into the jungle, but very quickly hit a big trunk of a tree, so he had to lie down and play dead so he wouldn't be seen.
So he remained there, and at one stage he had a malarial cough. He had malaria, had dysentery, had everything as most of them did. And he couldn't suppress his cough any longer. And the cough jerked him into an upright, seated position, just as a guard was passing and heard and saw this. The guard raised his rifle, aimed it, but didn't shoot put his rifle down, and walked on. Who knows why that happened, but it was certainly a moment of. very nearly died, as there were many such events.
When the last of the column had passed, some hours later, he got up and he went to seek two friends who had been left behind that morning who he presumed were dead, but he wanted to find them if he could. He encountered a lone Japanese soldier coming along the trail, and he wanted to kill the Japanese soldier. That's the only way you could describe it. Later on, he said "oh it was him or me," but he lie in wait, in his early version of this story, and he beat the man to death in a fit of rage and anger, he just beat him and beat him with a branch and with his fists, and, this was vengeance. My father was ashamed of doing that. He didn't need to kill that man, but he was crazy at the time.
The man was unarmed, he had no rifle, he had no food, he was probably pretty sick himself, my father said he was in no better condition than us. He was sorry he did that. He sort of wandered around in circles for two to three days. He was near death. I was a fit, athletic sort of man, and he was below 50% of his fit body weight. That is very, very thin. He was running on empty, he was no longer hungry, he was in the early stages of death. All his body hair had fallen out, but his senses were very vividly acute. His body was in that final phase of existence by someone who is really fighting to stay alive, and he was starting to hallucinate.
It must have been a terrifying place to be, when you're in this condition, and one night he started to be attacked by what they call fire ants, and they started, it was in the pitch dark, and they were biting his legs, and he spent all night trying to escape these ants, which were swarming over him, and it's very difficult to know what a terrible thing... and the next morning he was exhausted, they are very nocturnal, they disappear in the day under the ground. And he just wandered around I think, he doesn't quite describe it that way, but that was what was happening I think. And he sat down to die. And when the brain starts shutting down through lack of nutrients and so on, the mountain climbers describe this, you start to hallucinate. You start to hear voices. There is one voice that tells you to sit down and rest, you've done all you can, give up. And there is another voice that says "keep going" and bullies you. And you actually hear the voices in your head, and he was hearing the voices. After half an hour he wasn't dead, and the voice was saying "get up, get going, you're not going to die in a place like this." So he got up, and charged out.
There was this large river running to the north which was a main communication network for the imperial army, was an old traditional one used, and boats were going up and down. Anyway, there was a native prow? A local person he could see across the river fishing. And my father called out to him "Marasinni" Malaysian for "come here" and this man looked at my father, sat on the other side of the river for a long, long time. Remember what these guys looked like, everyone looked like madmen, Japanese soldiers, local people, prisoners of war, they all had long hair and wispy beards and were filthy and rags, everyone was like this and this guy is trying to work out, this fellow here, is he Japanese or, who is he? He was very suspicious, and eventually came across and motioned to my father to get in, and said there were a lot of Japanese about. Anyway, took him back to his Kanpong (village).
These fellows all had a mixture, by this stage their language was a mixture of Malay, Japanese, and English, plus a few words they made up themselves. So when they first really encountered the western allied soldiers, they couldn't understand each other, what language are they speaking? Anyway, this man took him back to the kanpong, they helped him up, he was at the point of passing out, and they hid him. They had a false wall in the hut he was taken into. This is where they hid their rice from the Japanese army. They had a partition where they put the rice, and they hid him in there. And he had this malarial coughing. Were pretty worried that any passing Japanese patrol would very quickly work out what was going on. So they were quite frightened and very keen to get rid of him, to get him out there. And he was saying "Look just give me some food and I'll be right off." They sort of felt his ribs and said "You'll die." Now, part of the story I've just put together this year, there was a man, a Philippine man, called Lareto Padua who had got into trouble with the Japanese army, and he had fled from Sandakan, and he had obtained the help of one of these river diaks, you know local people who were Muslim, and this man who he knew from pre-war said that all right, I'll hide you from the Japanese army, but you've got totally adopt our way of life. You've got become Muslim, you've got learn our language, and do all that. And he did that very successfully, and so this guy was waiting there, and he was able to help my father with his next phase of the escape. He went by the name of Abdul Rasheed, his adopted Muslim name.
I mean I've really become quite interested to how the Muslim people dealt with the occupation. There was a Javanese Romusha camp working on the airfield, and when you talk to the people who were there, and there are old men around who are still in Borneo, they say they ceased to pray and they totally lost their religion, and that was one of the common things that happened in this dehumanizing process. Whatever you believed in religion, these people lost faith in religion, whether they were Muslim or Christian or something else - that was part of the dehumanizing process in a way.
This guy is the only one who spoke English and was the common link. He organized for village people to take my father down river, a 20 hour journey, to the mouth of the river, where there was an island where the American navy was frequently coming by. This island of Libaran was their destination. And they went there, and the very next day two American PT boats, torpedo boats came past.
I tracked down the PT boat captain, an American, who only died last year, he gave me all these photographs, not of my father, but of the boats. Anyway, the Americans came close when they were hailed down, and they thought the locals were handing over a Japanese prisoner. They took quite a lot of Japanese prisoners back for questioning. I've got pictures of really miserable people being taken back.. The Americans were leaning over and said, "Good God, it's an Aussie!" "What do you want, Aussie?" And he said, "I want a pint of beer!"
Q. "How did those Americans recognize him as an Aussie?"
With difficulty. My father spoke, they worked it out – he identified himself.
Q."Not just by appearance, or..."
No. They had long hair and beard. When I was a young man and had long hair, I didn't understand why he didn't like it. He associated with that terrible time.
The Americans were going down to shoot up a Japanese fort, then they picked him up and took him back to their base which was in Tawi Tawi in the Philippines. My father was the first person to come out of the collapsing empire, since the Americans liberated people in January and February. And things had just got a lot, lot worse. And they sort of organized a press conference for him. I'm not sure how effective my father was at articulating what was going on, but there were a lot of officers from all different nations all assembled. We're now in mid-June. He was actually rescued on his birthday, the 15th of June, by the Americans. He was very fond of the American's for the rest of his life.
The press conference was on an American ship, in the harbor there at a place called "Banggi Banggi." It's a reasonably big island on the chain of islands across It was a big anchorage the Imperial Navy used in the battles for the Philippines, and the Americans did as well, as it was a good sheltered area. He was in hospital there with the Americans, and they had a competition to guess his weight – he was 68 pounds. And then he was transferred by plane across to the forward Australian base at Morotai which is to the south of the Philippines, the Halmahira group just northwest of New Guinea, was used as a base.
Q. "It was invaded by the Japanese army?"
Yes, in 1942, and it then was invaded by the Americans in 1944.
Q. "So at that time, the Americans..."
Yes, it was invaded by the American's by then. So he was flown to Morotai in a DC3.. No one really knew what was going on in Borneo.
And he was interrogated for about five and a half weeks by intelligence people, who weren't so interested in what was happening as they wanted to know who was in the camp and who had died, because they had all these relatives back in Australia saying, "What has happened to my son." They were most interested in that. And they very nearly killed him through this interrogation process. They had to stop it because he got pneumonia and looked like he was going to die. He was so close to death.
So he was kept there, he was there from the third week of June until the end of July, and then he was taken back to Australia by a hospital ship, and he arrived back in Sydney two days after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
I think it was the 8th actually, the day before Nagasaki. And of course I've tried to understand. He was a difficult father, a difficult man, because he had been so traumatized. The doctors said, as they typically did to people who had extreme war service, look you'll probably only live another couple of years. So what do you do with your life if you are told as a 28 year old that you've only got 2 years to live? Well he wrote a lot of letters to people he knew, the family of people he knew in the camp. He saw that as his first duty, and his second duty he saw as helping the people in Borneo and he lobbied the Australian government to send reward money for helping him and clothing and food. Borneo was totally destroyed, devastated by the war.
That latter bit happened because Lareto Padua wrote to my father and said "help us" and my father felt an enormous debt. And it's a debt that I've tried to repay in Borneo as well.
His close friend in the camp who died on the second death march was married to my mother. So he went and visited people who were close, that he knew about, and he turned out to visit my mother, and he said "You don't know who I am but I knew your husband very well and this is what happened to him." My mother was ready to nurse her husband when he came back, she knew he would be very sick she had read up how to do it, what to do. Anyway, so, he proposed to her, and she said to him, "But you haven't even kissed me" and he said "Well that wouldn't be right, you're my mate's wife."
She hadn't had any kids, no. And so they were married in the middle of '46, and I came along in July '47. He had been so traumatized, that he had the most horrendous nightmares, and he used to try to strangle my mother in his nightmares. He was trying to strangle Japanese that was his recurring dream. She got very good at rolling out of the way and turning on the light. The other thing, he became obsessed with bugs in the bed, that there were bugs biting him in the bed, and of course there weren't any bugs there, and he would insist that they strip the bed and put new sheets on. And he would say to my mother, "I know that you think I'm imagining this, but look at my body." And it would be covered with psychosomatic bites.
Q. "Would he really get the spots? Psychosomatic?"
He would sort of chain smoke and sweat, and he had great difficulty getting his head around the enormity of what had happened. All the people he knew, all his friends had died of starvation and were gone, and here he was with a great dose of survivor guilt. And with his chain smoking, he would eventually pass out, and then he would come around again, he would be a bit more relaxed. And that was when my mother talked to him, she would talk about what happened. You know, this wasn't the advice that was given at all, but she wanted to know, and the talking was good for both of them. He couldn't say "I don't want to talk about it," because she was his mate's wife. She would say, "What happened to Joe Brown" or whoever. And he would say, "Aww you wouldn't want to know." And she would say, "Yes I would, I was very good friends with his sister." And he would tell her, and tell the horrible stories, and, yeah.
So I was born into a much traumatized household. And I don't remember this, but I grew up a very nervous kid with learning disorders. And my mother's mother would say to her, "You should not have any children, you are both too full of the horrors of the war. Do not have children. It's not fair on the children." And so I grew up in this environment, and my father's dream was to have a newspaper shop, a news agency. They bought the shop, and they both threw themselves into working extremely long hours, so that they just couldn't think about the war. They just worked their way out of it for ten years, but then my father couldn't keep it up, and he started to fall apart again.
Yeah he had a shop, and that included delivering newspapers. But that included magazines, and... , newspapers, comics, yeah. And a few other things, toys.
Q. "Do you have any other siblings?"
Yeah, a younger sister, two years younger, and a brother another two years younger.
Q."Your siblings, were also raised in a similar situation?"
No, according to my mother, by the time they came along, that really bad period was over, and so they didn't get quite the same experience.
When they were in the newspaper shop, they would sell toys and various things - my father would have no Japanese goods for sale in the shop, and we were allowed to have no Japanese goods in the house. And that was the age, it was like China is today, there were a lot of cheap Japanese goods that came into Australia in that immediate post-war period.
And my father was a very intelligent man, he wasn't a very well-educated man, but he was a smart man. He thought he had put it all behind him, and then he went back to Borneo in 1981, and as part of that trip, this was organized by an ex-serviceman's organization, and they went initially to the Philippines, and they were having a ceremony at the cemetery in Manila, and they were all standing there doing the ceremony, and as it happened a tourist bus stopped and a busload of Japanese people got out and walked through the middle of this ceremony, and my father was just seized with rage, all the hatred came flooding back. Now he was so angry, that he couldn't do anything, he was shaking and quivering with rage, and that frightened him. He thought the hatred had gone, and he agonized over that for a couple of years, and then he invented his own ceremony.
Q. "Does he hate Japanese?"
Yes. Now he realized that hatred is a really destructive thing, and he didn't buy any Japanese goods, had no Japanese goods, and then he went out and bought a Japanese car, the most conspicuous of possessions. He went to the car sales place, and as it happened, a young Japanese man served him as the salesmen. And my father started talking in Japanese, cause they all knew a smattering of Japanese, and it can't have been too bad because the man said "Ah, I see you've spent some time in Japan." And my father said "No. I spent three and a half years in one of your country clubs."
Q. "Country club...... So he had never been to Japan?"
No, no. That cast out the hatred, it really did. I mean, it was a simple thing, but I know of other examples, of people inventing their own little ceremony. The one for Weary Dunlop is when he was in Thailand at the end of the war, and all these very sick and wounded Japanese soldiers were coming back from Burma after the surrender, there was a man who was being neglected by the other Japanese soldiers, and Weary Dunlop describes going over and you know, he hated, and he said, without thinking he went up and picked up this sick, diseased, filthy member of the hated enemy, and he said, "All the hatred drained out of me." That was quick, and it took my father quite a bit longer, but they are ceremonies for getting rid of hatred, self-invented, and often accident.
A little bit more to my father's story. The rest of the interaction with the Japanese salesman must have had the salesman thinking. "What's this guy going on about." And my father played with him. He was playing him for a fool. And for him this was showing that the Japanese no longer "yanked his chain", he was over it. He doesn't like Japanese people, but he was over it. And that was as far as he got, he died of cancer a couple years later. But he was a more relaxed person and certainly a lot easier to get along with once he got to that point.
Q. "Did he like the Japanese car?"
I don't think it was a very good one, it was a Bluebird, I mean it wasn't a very good choice.
Q. "He bought it, right?"
Oh yeah, the salesman went off in mild discomfort, and sent someone else out. My father bought the car, but he told that story with great pleasure. He was having one up on the Japanese, and he was over it all, he could buy a Japanese car, it didn't bother him. It was that point. It was a breakthrough point. He was a very fair man, and I'm glad he didn't teach us children to hate Japanese or anything like that. As I said he was a smart man and very ethical. I'm probably running out of steam there.
In some ways that put the story of Ueno Itsuyoshi which is mainly his own story, he wrote it, and I've added the bits that the family told me to make it a sort of companion piece of what happened to my father. It wasn't all that dissimilar, obviously it was different, but there are some very similar bits to it. And his description, Ueno's description of the death marches is valuable, and there's a terrible description of the Japanese hospital at Boto where are all these people are going mad with cerebral malaria, and there's people just saying all day "Moshi moshi, moshi moshi" trying to make a phone call, and people screwing their heads around on the ground, just this crazy terrible place. If you ever want to see how awful war can get, some of his descriptions are really terrific. My father could never do that, he had a couple gos at writing his story, but he couldn't do it. A lot of my information was from my mother, who was his only real confidant.
My father was supposed to go to the war crime trials here in Tokyo, as the sort of number one Sandakan witness, and he said to my mother, and I haven't got the complete story, but he said to my mother "I don't want to go and I won't go." Now he didn't ever explain why, but being the sort of person he was, I think he didn't want the army telling him what to do. He wanted freedom, he got out of the army as quickly as he could. He didn't want to have anything to do with people sort of saying "You've got say this, you've got say that." The war trials weren't totally honest – an element of victor's justice.
Q. "So he didn't go."
Q. "So who went instead?"
Two people were sent. There were six who escaped, and two of the others went.
One of them didn't appear. He came to Tokyo, but he obviously wasn't capable of testifying. The other one was a very interesting man, who was seen by many Australians as a collaborator. He worked well with the Japanese administration in the camp. He was a smart operator, and he got a lot of extra food, and he ran the camp engineering works, which made buckets for the latrines, and various work involving skilled tradesmen, he ran that. Anyway, he was a very convincing, bombastic sort of man, and he was the one who ended up being the witness.
Q. "Do you know the name?"
His name was Hector Sticpewich, or Bill Sticpewich."
Q. "Sticpewich. But he died by the car accident."
Yes, in '76, and there is all sorts of conspiracy theories about that. S-t-i-c-p-e-w-i-c-h, it's quite counterintuitive.
Q. "What was the name of another one?"
The other one was Keith Botterill. .
My father had a very good memory, he remembered great detail, and throughout his life he would have flashbacks, where you know something would occur on television, and his eyes would glaze over and he would be back in Borneo. My mother hated it. He was back there and he was sort of viewing it as a movie. It didn't seem to be pleasurable or painful, he never explained. Most people remember traumatic events very poorly, but he had a very vivid memory of it. And most people who have that vivid memory like in the Holocaust, are people who committed suicide, they just couldn't live with it. So he was a tough character who survived with great difficulty, you know he died at 69.
Q."When did he die?"
When... uh, 1986.
Q. "Did your father communicate with other 5 survivors?"
He had different relationships with them. He didn't like A, and he didn't like B and C much, because he saw them as what he called "professional POWs" always talking about it, and he didn't think that was a good thing. So that leaves two, D and E and E became very brutal. I know his son very well, we are very good friends. He was very brutal to his wife, he would get drunk, and he would assume the persona of a Japanese soldier, and start abusing her, visiting what was visited on him, and eventually committed suicide. Terrible dysfunctional family. Yeah, in 1961. My father liked C, but he was a bloke who never came back from the war. And his daughter said "He had ceased to be a civilized man and he couldn't get back." And I think after talking with his son a lot about it I think that probably he didn't ever see the point in recovering. It just all seemed pointless, because he was going to die soon. Whereas B was pretty crazy, he used to get drunk and he would get his family to hide under the bed cause there was an air raid about to happen and his wife would say to the kids "Just humor your father, he's drunk, just do it." And other times he would get the kids into the car and he would say "Quick, the Japanese are coming." And he would drive all over Sydney all night and come back at dawn to the house and the kids would go off to school, but they really loved him very much. In spite of being quite crazy, he was well loved by his children.
(...When he was reminded of some terrible incidents?)
You're talking about A. Yeah, I think they probably all did. See, they had witness the most terrible deaths for people they were very very fond of. And as I was saying for my father, it was that loss of humanity, that going insane, of people he was really fond of and respected as fine men. Losing that was worse than being visited by brutality.
And C said to me when I talked to him, or firstly, terrible things included Australians were murdering other Australians, which really never appeared in the books and so on. But C said "Your father came out of it the best." And I think that was probably true. And I said "Well why do you think that was C?" And he said "Your mother." My mother talked him out of it. She was his personal social worker. A really gutsy, strong woman, who was able to deal with this.
Q. "So your father never treated like the patient of PTSD..."
In those days they used to treat Post Traumatic Stress with shock treatment. Like with electric shock.
Q. "I think the way of thinking of PTSD doesn't exist before the Vietnam War."
Well it had different names, Shell shock was one. He would never have shock treatment, he said I will not have it. And all the other people in the psychiatric ward did, as he frequently went back into the Military Hospital throughout my childhood. I remember visiting him there, and he would be the only one in the ward not getting shock treatment because he was strong enough to say no.
Q. "Is it shock treatment?"
It's electrical! (Mimics being shocked) Yeah, on the head. I don't think they really knew what else to do, and the thinking was that it just shakes the system out of whatever this terrible experience in some way, you know it's just stupid.
Q. "It's a kind of treatment?"
Oh they still use it, but not as much now. And also insulin shock treatment as well. And another... A man I know, a friend of Russ's, has told me, he said "Aww look, they gave me insulin shock treatment." And he said "I knew that this was just rubbish, so I worked out what symptoms I had to develop to get out of there and did it."
Thank you for your obvious interest. I mean, if you had all been falling asleep, we would have all been out of here a long time ago. I appreciate your interest very much.
Let's go out for dinner.