There were only five men from the 2/4th MG Battalion who managed to see the sights of Korea. Ted Roots, Jack Taylor, Jim Clancy, Bill Gray and Hubert ‘Dutchy’ Holland. They boarded the 3,829-ton passenger-cargo ship ‘Fukkai Maru’ 16 August 1942. The Australian contingent of 115 men was part of a 1,000 strong work party. The remainder of this party was made up of 885 British prisoners which was designated Japan ‘B’ Party.
These 1000 men were ‘the icing on the cake’ as the real prize was the 47 man Senior Officer’s Party. There was not an officer in this Group under the rank of full Colonel. Included were Lt-Gen A.E. Percival, the former G.O.C. Malaya, Singapore’s former Governor Sir Shenton Thomas and Brigadier Arthur Blackburn ex-Java.
This Officer Party designated simply as the ‘Special Party’ was made up to a compliment of 400 men by the inclusion of engineers and technicians. At first it was the Japanese intention that all 1400 men would be loaded aboard the ‘Fukkai Maru’ but because Lt-Gen Percival had protested against the cramped accommodation the working party remained and officers, engineers and technicians embarked aboard another transport the 17,526 ton ‘Kamakura Maru’.
The ‘Fukkai Maru’ was fitted with wooden platforms constructed around the bulkheads of its four holds. Nevertheless this was the best accommodation available under the circumstances. The 2 ships sailed in convoy under armed escort via Cape St. Jacques (Vung Tau) then anchored in the estuary of the Riviere de Saigon in French Indo-China.
This wide estuary was a regular assembly point for Japanese ships to form up before continuing their onward voyages. That was until U.S. Navy submarines transformed this estuary into a virtual elephant’s graveyard of Japanese shipping. The ‘Fukkai Maru’ and ‘Kamakura Maru’ fortunately for the prisoners, managed to depart unscathed and arrived at Takao in Formosa (Taiwan) on 29th August 1942.
Above: Jim Clancy
Takao is located on the southwest coast of Formosa (Taiwan) island. The senior officers, engineers and technicians disembarked from their transport whilst the 1,000 prisoners onboard the ‘Fukkai Maru’ were put to work over the next 2 weeks unloading bauxite from the holds of ‘Fukkai Maru’ for the nearby aluminum plant.
Bill Gray, who was suffering from oedema of the ankles, was ferried ashore for medical treatment and was later returned to ‘Fukkai Maru’. Leaving Formosa behind them ‘Fukkai Maru’ sailed in convoy towards Korea arriving at the port of Fusan (Pusan) on the south coast on 22nd September 1942.
On the morning of 24th September 1942 the 1,000 strong work party disembarked and were marched through Fusan. This was the Imperial Japanese Army’s way of showing off their white slaves before the people of this fair city before they entrained for their first camp, Keijo.
The prisoners were than split into 2 groups, with 4 of the 5 machine gunners remaining at Keijo whilst Jim Clancy travelled another 20 miles to (Inch’on) or Jinsen with the second group. Jim would later move to the Hoten Camp Manchuria.
The new Divisional Camp at the port town of Jinsen in Keikido Prefecture was located in the southwest part of the city on the road leading to Keijo. Since the (Sino) Chinese-Japanese War Keijo and Jinsen and 8 towns along the 24-mile railroad connection had mushroomed industrially with most of this development serving Japan’s military needs.
The POW camp and Jinsen had originally been an Imperial Japanese Army Barracks. It consisted of 3 black barracks buildings and 5 huts making up an area of about 16,000 square metres, surrounded by a wooden fence.
Returning now to Keijo and the four other machine gunners, this camp was surrounded by local mud brick homes with thatched or iron roofs. The main building in which the prisoners were quartered was a four-storeyed brick structure with wooden floors and staircases. This building, prior to being converted into a POW camp, was a spinning mill. The only barrier between the camp and local residents was a high barbed wire topped fence that encircled the camp.
Work at Keijo was a mix of chores from stoking furnaces, working on a shrine, loading and unloading railroad trucks stacked with rice, iron, flour and timber.
On 13th September 1943 Jack Taylor, Ted Roots and Bill Gray were transferred to their next camp at Konan, located on the northeast coast of Korea approx. 200 miles from Keijo. POWs were also brought into Konan from Jinsen in September 1943. Altogether there were about 330 men from Jinsen and Keijo at Konan of which 51 were Australians, including the 3 machine gunners. These 3 men were to now remain at Konan until the end of the war pending their release by the Russian Army on 21st September 1945.
This camp was constructed on reclaimed land adjacent to a swamp. The men w4ere accommodated 40 to a room in which they slept, lived and ate. These huts were about 50 feet long by 25 feet wide and arranged in such a way that they formed the letter H. Work at Konan consisted of either working in warehouses, shifting limestone or stoking furnaces at the carbide factory. It was here that a 3-man team would stoke one of the four electric furnaces operated at a temperature of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. In each 8-hour shift, each POW would stoke the furnace 8 times bringing his total time at the heat face to 2 hours and 20 minutes. The shifts on the limestone kilns were also on 3 X 8 hour shifts.
Whereas a man on the Burma-Thailand Railway had to endure tropical heat and monsoonal rains, these men in Korea and for that matter Japan had to endure extremes of cold. In an effort to keep worm, men huddled around stoves in theirs huts or barracks where temperatures were frequently just a few degrees above freezing point. As many as 6 blankets were issued to help men stay warm during winter. On 1st June 1945 Ted Roots developed pneumonia and did not return to Konan camp until end of July 1945.
FUKUOKA SUB-CAMP NO. 13 SAGANOSEKI
When the 3 men had departed for Konan ‘Dutchy’ Holland remained at Keijo suffering from dysentery, unable to travel. On 10th October 1944 ‘Dutchy’ departed Korea for Japan where he met up with Clarrie Henderson at Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 13 Saganoseki. Clarrie had been included in ‘Rashin (Byoki) Maru’ Party which had been split up at Moji.
A number of 2/4th were sent to Fukuoka No. 13 Camp, but when the camp closed down, Clarrie and ‘Dutchy’ remained together and moved to Omine No. 6 Camp. The 2 remaining 2/4th members, Joe Beattie and Fred Ward were moved to Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17 Omuta. Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 13 Saganoeski was on northeast coast of Kyushu Island. Living conditions were quite reasonable but the food although regular, was quite inadequate. The prisoners worked at a copper refinery in 3 shifts, either tending furnaces or loading trucks with copper ore. Between September 1944 and May 1945 these 4 men worked at a copper smelter before moving on to Omine Divisional Camp No. 6 or Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17 Omuta.
OMINE DIVISIONAL CAMP NO. 6
Omine was a coal mining town located on the west side of Honshu Island. The Ormine coal mine had been closed down before the war because it had proven unproductive, hence uneconomic. The mine was brought back to production to help meet wartime demands for coal using POW labour which was both cheap and expendable. Its full designation was Detachment 6, Yamaguchi, Konoda-Shi. Motoyama Coal Mine (Motoyama Tanako).
The camp itself was situated near a railroad in the vicinity of Higashi in the Prefecture of Mamaguchi. The prisoner’s accommodation was a 2-storeyed barracks that had been constructed using a bamboo framework covered with mud to form the external walls.
From May 1945 until his release 19th September 1945 ‘Dutchy’ worked as a powder monkey in this mine. When it was time to return home he moved by train to Nagasaki on 22nd September 1945. At Nagasaki he boarded a U.S.N. aircraft carrier to Hong Kong then proceeded to Manila. On 12th October he was reunited with Bill, Ted and Jack joining them for the remainder of the journey home to Australia.
KONAN CAMP – KOREA
On 12th July 1945 code breakers intercepted a message from the Japanese Foreign Minister to the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow, ordering him to pass onto the Russians an urgent request from the Japanese Emperor Hirohito to plead for peace. This was just 2 days before Marshal Joseph Stalin was to met President Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference.
On 6th August 1945 the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb was exploded over the port city of Nagasaki. This was same day Russia began its advance against the Japanese in Manchuria.
On 10th August 1945 following the explosion of the 2nd atomic bomb over Japan, President Truman ordered a cease fire of military action to allow Emperor Hirohito time to either accept or refuse his terms for ‘unconditional surrender’. At 1200 hours on 15th August 1945 the Japanese listened to a pre-recorded radio announcement by Emperor Hirohito that Japan had accepted the terms of an ‘unconditional surrender’ and so ended war in the Pacific. However, it would transpire that Japan would not be a signatory to the instrument of surrender until 2nd September 1945. The US and Russia, the only powers who were in a position to supply troops, agreed to divide Korea between them for the purpose of disarming Japan. The dividing line as agreed by these two great military powers was to be taken as being the 38th parallel. However the Russians had entered North Korea before the Japanese surrender on 15th August. They defeated the Japanese in the north, removed the Japanese Military Administration and replaced it was an organised Korean Communist Administration.
Following their recovery, the 3 machine gunners left Konan by train for Jinsen. Here they were taken aboard American hospital ship USS Mercy (II) for a long overdue medical check up and sample some western food before being sent on their way to Manila aboard aircraft carrier HMS Colossus. At Manila they were reunited with Jim Clancy whom they had left behind at Keijo. All 4 men boarded RAAF Catalina flying boat No. A24-377 on 12th October 1945. Flying via Morotai and Darwin they finally landed at Crawley Bay on the Swan River, Perth on 17th October 1945.