December, 1942, had come and thoughts of Christmas were on everybody's mind with hopes that their loved ones would fare well. For themselves, they could put up with whatever may come for someday, they too, would be able to enjoy Christmas as it should be.
The prisoner of war in charge of the camp galley, was a quarter master in the Royal Artillery HRM Army, and he had been requesting the enemy to give him a quantity of food so all the men could have a special Christmas dinner. The enemy was very reluctant to give any extra food but they did finally submit after repeatedly being asked for it.
About the 15th of December, one bag of potatoes was taken from the issue and put away for Christmas. Then more greens were requested from the enemy to cover this withdrawal. By the end of the 23rd of December, enough extra rice, sugar and potatoes were on hand to insure a fairly large meal on Christmas day.
A vague promise had been made by the Japanese supply officers that an International Red Cross food parcel might be issued for Christmas and everybody was anxiously awaiting results from this promise. All was a bustle in the galley two days and nights before Christmas, getting things ready for the big event.
Friday, December 25, 1942, was Christmas day, and at 06:30 a.m. revielle was sounded, for this was to be our first Christmas in Japan, and a very strange one too. The Japanese supply officer issued one Canadian Red Cross box to every three men and one International Red Cross parcel to every two men. The enemy always fixed it up for the prisoners to split nearly everything issued in order to take out most of the enjoyment of the issue for they were very cunning and cruel.
Christmas day was cold but braziers were going full blast and many concoctions were being turned out from rice and Red Cross food. An issue of jam was also received by the prisoners and was divided, two pounds for every sixty-six men, which amounted to approximately two teaspoons per man. Among the other articles we received that day was one pack of Camel cigarettes and one bar of Japanese face soap called Cow Brand. A picture of a milk cow was stamped on the bar but it was fairly good soap. We were given the understanding that by not working Friday, Christmas day, we would have to work the following Sunday in order to make it up.
Christmas was enjoyed by all, but of course many men were thinking of their loved ones at home and inwardly yearning to be with them. The first Christmas wasn't so bad as the Japanese had everything they wanted. No doubt the next one would be to the contrary. Would that date bring us nearer to being liberated, or would we be just as far off as we are now?
We pondered the situation. Everybody reasoned that as soon as the Americans got production difficulties ironed out, the enemy would start to go on the defense. Many of the prisoners were betting the war would be over by December, 1943, but some of the wiser ones figured 1944 or 1945. One of them even had guessed July, 1945, and he was a near-winner although he was ridiculed as a crepe-hanger and crazy. Some men were sure, in their minds, when the war was going to end. However, when the time came and passed they were very disappointed and thought it would never end.
Morale was very high in the camp and the enemy tried every trick they knew to break the prisoners down. Questionnaires were given to all the prisoners and it was compulsory to answer them. Most of the questions were about former occupations, schooling, likes and dislikes and others were of what our opinion was on who would win the present war and how. All the answers given by the prisoners were to the effect that America would win the war and there would by mass production and supremacy in planes.
The enemy told the prisoners that America would lose the war and the Japanese fleet would sail into New York harbor for review. We all figured that the Japanese fleet would have as much chance of entering New York as a snow-ball in hell.
Every day the enemy issued propaganda and was unconsciously building themselves up to be the worlds greatest and biggest liars. Every chance the enemy got they ridiculed the late President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the Nippon Times, which was the official Japanese Army organ, they had a picture of Mr. Roosevelt and billed him as the "World's Greatest Liar."
The Japanese suffer the most from inferior complex and continually ridiculed and belittled people superior to themselves.
The enemy was always trying to convince us that we were lower than they since we had raised our hands and surrendered, which was something the enemy had never done in all their 2,600 years of existence. They would always die before disgrace! We told them that was fine, as a good Japanese is a dead Japanese. They never could understand what this meant.
All prisoners were forced to salute even the lowest private under penalty of punishment.
The first year in Japan wasn't as bad as the years to follow. Whenever a prisoner was taken ill or injured, he was taken to a hospital, which was formerly a baseball stadium. The prisoners knew the place to be a torture-house, or death-house, as medicine was one thing that never entered that place. The treatment for all diseases was slow starvation and beatings.
Experiments were carried on by self-styled Japanese doctors, who were probably ex-butchers. Most of the Japanese doctors seemed to be on the border line of insanity as some of their actions verified this. Prisoners were questioned as to why they had diseases and were told that they should have watched their health more carefully. As sickness, to them, was a form of shirking work, the prisoners would only get half-rations.
Food from the Osaka main camp was sent up to the stadium every two days by the cooks. As much as could be spared was sent up and they frequently exceeded the ration figures set by the enemy. Sugar was sent up once a month but the enemy would always appropriate some for themselves. Also they would help themselves to fish and vegetables and nothing could be done about it.
After six months, some of the men were nothing but skin and bones. Doctor Jackson, surgeon of the Royal Navy, was the prisoners' doctor in charge, and he worked day and night saving as many men as he could. He did some wonderful work, considering the scant amount of medicine and equipment he had access to. Many times he was ordered by the Japanese officers to do certain things that would hurt the men, and he deliberately disobeyed orders and was severely beaten and kicked as a result.
One day, a Japanese doctor decided to operate on a U. S. Navy man for what the prisoners called "electric feet", which is caused by lack of circulation in the feet making it very painful to walk, and eventually, your feet rot off. The Japanese doctor prepared for surgery, cut the stomach muscles, letting the stomach down and partially disabled the man for life. This operation did not help the condition of his feet in any way. Of the fifteen or twenty men operated on by the Japanese docotors only the man I have mentioned survived.
From the period commencing November 11, 1942 and ending June 1, 1945 forty-eight known deaths occurred in the former stadium. Everything possible was done to help the men by Doctor Jackson, but he had no medical equipment. A small amount of Japanese drugs were issued, but were of no effect as most of them were patent medicines. At the time of their death, some of the prisoners weighed less than 100 pounds and many died of slow starvation and malnutrition.
Cigarettes were not issued to any of the sick men but some of them would trade most of their scanty rations for cigarettes smuggled in. The rations issued were not enough to meet the body demands and any trading of food would result in ultimate death. Many prisoners made the stateament that they would rather die than be denied tobacco.
The enemy tried every way possible to make conditions so hard for the sick men that they would have little chance of recovering. Three tiny buns amounting to 125 grams would be issued for lunch each day and were eaten in a few seconds. With fierce hunger and in desperation some of the sick men took some dried fish powder and rubbed the buns together to make crumbs. They then rolled them up into tiny balls, the size of green peas and these would be eaten very slowly. It seemed to appease the hunger a little.
Complete hospital equipment was to have been sent up by the International Red Cross, but nothing was ever issued and it was believed most of the supplies were diverted to Japanese hospitals. All sick men were compelled to either stand or sit up for roll call and would suffer beatings and kickings if they failed to comply with these demands.
The Japanese colonel in command of Osaka Camp was in complete knowledge of conditions of prisoners but made no attempt to remedy them.
About once a week collections would be made form all rooms in the camp, of spices, tea, salt and anything else smuggled into camp for the sick men in the stadium. Most of the men going there had a little or no chance of recovering, and frequently, some of the men died the very same day they were admitted to the stadium. All prisoners of war who died in Japan were cremated, which is the Japanese custom. The ashes were supposed to be held at the local temples until they were sent back to the countries from where the men had come from.
The International Red Cross was never notified of the stadium's existence, and when an inspector of camps came around, all sick men were bundled off to the hideout, (the stadium). The Red Cross representative, therefore, never saw any sick men at most of the camps. Although conditions were very bad, with food rations consisting of rice, soup and meat about once a month and bad sanitary conditions, prisoners were not allowed to talk to any of the International Red Cross representatives and were under threat of punishment if they did.
The officer leader did manage to tell about conditions but the official report from International Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland, stated that prisoners of war were being treated well and had plenty of recreation and good food. This report appeared in the Osaka Nichi Nichi for the year 1943. The wool had certainly been pulled over their eyes. We all assumed that any reports sent to Red Cross officers from Japan would be worded to the satisfaction of the Japanese government.