The Japanese took her father prisoner during World War II. But the ordeal didn’t diminish his faith in the future.
He was a veteran of the Second World War. A Prairie boy who signed up at the ripe old age of 20, fully expecting to go to North Africa, Germany, France. He was sent to Hong Kong instead, to fight the Japanese.
Ill equipped and under trained, his group was outfitted in combat boots and heavy military garb and expected to fight in humid, jungle-like conditions; meanwhile, their enemies were wearing running shoes.
He was captured by the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941 after participating in a two week impasse at Wong Ne Chong Gap for which he was awarded the Military Cross. During the hold off, he was hit in the leg by a piece of shrapnel (many years later when I was a child, he would occasionally roll up his pant leg and show us the scar … the metal shard still visible under the skin).
When he and his men were captured they were tied together with telephone wire and made to march several miles to the camp where other prisoners were assembled. My father forced himself to march in spite of his injury because the wounded and those who couldn’t walk were being shot on the spot.
Bridge on the River Kwai and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence are movies he felt most accurately portrayed his experiences. The stories you hear about rats and insects as dining fare are fiction, he maintained. They were given rice once a day and occasionally they ate chrysanthemum leaves.
When he arrived at the prison camp he was taken to a hut and interviewed by a Japanese officer. Dad was asked why he was fighting Japan and he answered something like, “I didn’t sign up to fight you, I signed up to fight Hitler.” On that note, he was given a wry smile and promptly sent from the hut.
Dad was held captive for close to four years. Conditions were deplorable. They built an airport. They were starved and suffered from Beriberi, parasites, and countless tropical diseases. The experience was said to have added 10 years to their lives.
I am thankful that he didn’t try to escape. That he made it home safely and built a family with my mother. That after all this and more, he still had faith in the future.
Mum and Dad c. 1940; photographer unknown, courtesy of Margaret Blackwood