It has been quite some time since I’ve posted to this blog, but I thought that the 70th anniversary of the end of the war against Japan - VJ Day - deserved some attention. In Beyond the Call I describe what happened at the various camps in Hong Kong and Japan where members of the RCCS were being held prisoner. Here are excerpts from some of those descriptions:
Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong
Official word of the surrender was communicated on August 16 to the senior British officer, who then took over administration of the camp. Ray Squires:
The flag [Union Jack] was officially raised this morning. It was the most impressive ceremony I have ever seen. Nearly all the officers and men had tears in their eyes. The ceremony was peculiar because there was not a Jap in sight they have all quietly left, and there was no presenting of arms because we didn’t have any.
Niigata Camp 5B, Japan
[On August 15] the Emperor’s message of surrender was broadcast in the camp. When one of the POWs who spoke Japanese told the rest of the men what was being said, there were hugs all around. Rations for the evening meal were doubled and the prisoners at Niigata 5B gathered around in small groups digesting their dinner and the incredible news that the war was finally over. Howie Naylor recalled,
The guard told us the war was over. Then when some Corsairs came over and buzzed the camp, we knew it was true. Every prisoner in the camp had tears in his eyes when he saw those planes.
Ohasi Camp, Japan
On August 15 the prisoners were at work when it was confirmed that Japan had surrendered. Gerry Gerrard remembered it this way:
It was about noon…I got the word, pass the news around. In the workplace there were these loudspeakers and the Japs had to go to these speakers and listen to these speeches – they were letting them down easy. So by the time we got back into camp, everybody knew that the war was over. But there was no sign that the Japs knew. Next morning we had to get up – of course ready to go to work – and we go to parade and there’s no Japs around. They just disappeared overnight.
Blacky Verreault wrote in his diary that there was still a lot of uncertainty – was it really true? But by the end of the day on the 16th the reality of peace was finally being accepted and embraced.
Sumidagawa Camp, Japan
Through July and into August the heavy bombing raids on the Tokyo area were witnessed by the POWs at Sumidagawa. There were no air raid shelters around the camp so the men watched “the nightly festivities” from the windows in their hut. Then, in mid-morning of August 15, the workers were sent from the loading platforms back to the camp. This was unprecedented and suggested something had changed. As the men returned, rumours started to spread that the war was over. Few would let themselves believe it, so around mid-afternoon, the senior POW officer was prompted to request an interview with the camp commandant. He returned about half an hour later. Will Allister wrote about that moment:
“With regard to a certain rumour!” and the taut, hollow face opened like a broken dyke letting through a rushing wave of joy for the first time, transforming it into a strange, scarred, radiant smile. “IT…IS…SO!”
The hut exploded in a wild exultant Yankee-Limey-Scottish-Dutch-Indonesian-Canadian thunder of victory, of pent-up souls erupting, smashing the shackles of seeming limitless defeat in a great triumphant jungle roar! Men charged down the aisle, whooping and bellowing, leaping and cheering.
Sendai No. 1 Camp, Japan
By mid-August there were numerous sightings of U.S. fighter planes around the camp and B-29s flying overhead. On the 15th the men were at the mine, but no work was done. Rumors fuelled by civilian workers spread: the war was over. There was still no official word on the 16th but finally the next day the camp commandant told the men officially that the war had ended. Capt. Reid described the reaction:
The thing had been going on for so long, when the war was over you refused to let yourself think it was possible. It came so gradually, the civilians telling us, and then the official word and then the war really being over, and there was no moment of great celebration but everybody was happy.
Sendai No. 2 Camp, Japan
In August, the men at Sendai No. 2 were seeing the same flights of B-29s as were noticed at the nearby camp. Then one day, work was halted and the men were gathered on the parade ground. The camp commandant, who had never spoken a word of English to the prisoners before,
…came out, stood on a box and said, in perfect English he said, “My dear boys! You’re allowed…You’re free to go home to your mothers, wives, sweethearts,” and that was it.
Don Beaton remembered their reaction: “…it was like running into a brick wall. We just stood there stunned and then everybody went a little crazy.”
Even though the war was over, it would take anywhere from six to eleven weeks before all the men would complete their journeys back to their homes in Canada.