Niihama, Hiroshima #2-B- Japan
Back row: L-R Thomas Gibson, Bert Norton, Fred “Cowboy” Matthews, Ralph Hadfield
Front row: L-R George Chatfield, Norm Thompson, Claude Dow, Andrew “Mick” Lambie
Niihama, Hiroshima #2-B- Japan
On 18th May 1945 the prisoners were moved from Yamane where they were working at the Besshi copper mine to the wharves, smelters and refineries of Niihama. The reason for this move was simply because the men’s health had flagged so much that they were of no further use to the Japanese at the mine site.
This was a Sumitomo Company business.
28 Aug 1945: First food drops
10 Sep 1945: Rescue Effected
Men sent by train through Zentsuji (picked up Yanks therein) then to port of Takamatsu thence ferry to Uno. Next train took men through Osaka to Wakayama.
The camp at Niihama, although different to Yamane, was of much the same construction. The barracks walls were constructed from pine wood and interlaced with a bamboo and an earth mixture plastered about 3 inches thick. The roof was also made of pine with natural fibre matting or bark laid over it. The latrines and pigsty were located at the end of the barracks. Unlike the barracks at Yamane, which was one long building, this was divided into two sections with the entrance in the centre instead of at each end as it was at Yamane. One half of the barracks was the sleeping quarters and the other for messing. The floor of the sleeping quarters was covered around the walls and down the centre with grass tatami mats. It was noted to be a good, clean camp and perhaps owned by industry not Government.
Following their arrival at Niihama the prisoners were allocated to the jobs that would keep them employed for the final months until Japan’s surrender. Fred ‘Cowboy’ Matthews who was placed on light duties due to a tropical ulcer on his leg, worked in the cookhouse at Yamani and Niihama. Bert Norton was employed in the Iron Foundry cutting up steel hawsers with hammer and cold chisel into 3 inch lengths to make nails
Work was allocated to the prisoners at the copper refinery, No. 4 Party on the wharf, warehouses, iron foundry or stoking blast furnaces. At the engineering machinery foundry included amongst the Australian prisoners was Andrew ‘Mick’ Lambie who would clean up the castings as they were released from their moulds.
Several 2/4th who were employed on the wharves like the Kobe group, had the opportunity to scrounge extra food in the form of sweet potato and maize flour. Some of this crew were Bob Whitfield, Ken Tucker, Wilfred ‘Bill’ Nottle, Ray Muller, Lou Daily, Tom Conway and George Moir. At war’s end Bob Whitfield took his Japanese overseer and showed him the places where they used to hide the contraband. No doubt the Japanese overseer was impressed with the Australians’ ingenuity. In August, ‘Bill’ Nottle was knocked off the wharf by a crane and fractured his left ankle. This accident put him in the camp hospital for four weeks. Frank McGlinn whose diary was called upon to remind us of some facts about Niihama was one member from the 2/4th on the refining of copper.
On 15th August the word around Niihama was that the war was at last over. The prisoners had been stood down from their various jobs whereupon they returned to camp. It would be another five days before Capt Marukami would inform them that the war might be over as fighting had been suspended.