It is important for people reading this manuscript to remember that these are the personal recollections of Mr Lynneberg. Time and lack of resources have precluded the researching of facts to draw attention to any errors. The views expressed in this oral history are those of the interviewee only and not the NZDF, RNZN, and the Navy Museum.
This is an interview with Mr Ross Lynneberg on the 4th February 2004 taking place at his residence in Paraparaumu. The interviewer is Lt Cdr P.Y. Dennerly RNZN (Rtd), Naval Historian, Navy Museum, Devonport, Auckland.
If we start at the beginning, where you were born, where you came from?
I was born in Wellington and I went through the various public schools in Wellington. I did the normal Army training in College. When I thought I was going to become a NCO, the following year, my father decided I was old enough to go to work. At that point in time I was more interested in manual type activity, but I had to go and become a clerk. I had to train as a clerk and learn all about book-keeping and associated Laws and Mercantile Laws.
Where about was that?
In Wellington still.
Commercial Union Assurance.
From there, in the process of being an office boy there, the general trend was for people to join the Territorials. It was before the War. Then amongst the members of the staff was an RNVR member. When he heard that I was contemplated joining the Territorials he persuaded me to be more interested in learning a little bit about the RNVR’s, with the result I went down with a school mate who decided, or I talked him into it, or we both decided somehow, that we would go down and apply to join.
This is when 1938 or something like that?
`37 I joined the RNVR’s.
I had a desire to be a Telegraphist.
What brought that on?
I have always been interested in signalling. I used to try and read press reports on the old steam radio we had and try and write down what the press was sending out from one source to another. I couldn’t get the whole sense of it, but I would get the general idea of what they were talking about. The RNVR’s accepted this. I realise now that their tutoring wasn’t for the types of me, it was mainly built around I feel people who had already been trained in Morse handling. In other words people who were in the P&T, or people who had been trained by an alternative source and had joined the RNVR’s, people for which this was their main interest.
Anyway I was put onto the ACHILLES for two weeks training and this was an interesting experience. We left Auckland and we went down the East Coast and boy did we get a shocker of a trip. There were three staff cars, privately owned cars, on the upper deck and they were all smashed in with the rough sea.
We have got photographs at the Museum of the beaten up cars.
I can remember the marines and the main permanent sailors: they were mainly all sick, laying around the place and here is a Rocky amongst the crew and he enjoyed it to the limit and he was not being sick.
The journey terminated in Christchurch and we were there for about 4-5 days, during which time at the end had to sit a test. Being of the standard, I had of very little Morse experience, I failed the test. I had a marvellous time while I was down in Christchurch.
On returning to Wellington in the meantime, the boy who I had joined up with, he had not been attending parades and so they decided that seeing I had failed my exam and my companion that I had joined the RNVR’s with was always absent, that we should leave the service. That wasn’t for me, I wanted to stay and so he left and I was able to transfer to being a Signalman. A ‘Bunting Tosser’. Having a lot of experience with the Scout movement, it was second nature to me: the visual signalling and I needed no training. Which they didn’t give you anyway, as I experienced as soon as I went over to signals. You more or less had to have a background prior to going into the courses. That’s when I was called up, when war started, as a Signalman.
So what happened when you got called up? Did you go to PHILOMEL?
No I didn’t, I went straight out to the Examination Vessel, the JANIE SEDDON. The JANIE SEDDON was anchored up off Seatoun in calmer weather and anchored further in harbour when it was rough. My stint there was terminated on a very rough night. We were parked inside the harbour and I spent the night watch talking to the Army up on the hill that we were in constant contact with, when vessels were approaching the entrance and we had to go out. Either the pilot went onboard to bring them in or we made certain that they were friendly ships. This particular occasion, I was engrossed in yakking to the guys up on the Army lookout post and they indicated that there was a vessel coming in. I made a mental note of it, I didn’t make a written note, I was too busy talking, with the result that another Signal Station came up and broke in our contact, to tell me that, “the vessel that had been previously reported was now halfway through the harbour entrance and what were we doing about it?” There were panic stations. The outcome of it was, due to the fact I hadn’t reported it to the pilot who was in charge of our Examination Vessel, I then was given a punishment. I was sent to Baring Head, which was a Coast Station. Baring Head was opposite Fort Dorset from memory. Baring Head was the lighthouse base that went across the entrance way and we would have to report any shipping or anything that was out in the Strait it had to be reported. It was to me, supposedly, a means of being punished for misdoings. It was very enjoyable. I took a rifle out with me in the periods when I wasn’t on duty and I used to go around the coastline shooting rabbits and endeavouring to get one or two ducks, but that didn’t really mature. While out there we used to do a week or a fortnight on and we would have a few days off, when we would come back to Wellington and have leave.
Word was getting around then, that one or two of the other Coast Stations similar to ours and one I think might have been at Musick Point, there were reports that the signalmen going to their outlook post were being fired on by silly people and of course that made us a little bit unsettled. One night while I was on watch about 2 o’clock there was a knock on the door of the watch-house and I can recall picking up the very light pistol and putting it in my pocket, after making sure it was cocked and opening the door for the personnel that were knocking, only to find, just at the point of releasing the trigger, it was one of the lighthouse attendants who had been on leave and had returned to the station and had called in for a cup of tea. He didn’t know how close he was to copping the pistol.
The period at Baring Head was terminated when I reported a ship travelling through the Straits, travelling in the wrong direction. It sounds funny. So the ship was reported travelling in the wrong direction. The next thing I was called up for a medical examination and the medical examination brought out the fact that I was colour blind. Then they said, “I was useless being in the Signals. What was I going to do?” I then said, “I will go back to being a Telegraphist.” At that point I went up to PHILOMEL and did a fairly extensive course at PHILOMEL that was a true radio training course.
From there, when I was trained or passed, I went to the MONOWAI when it was commissioned.
That is about mid 1940?
I can’t remember.
When I was in the MONOWAI, I was in the commissioning crew. We had a marvellous time on it.
Were you onboard when Princess Te Puea came up with some gifts and things?
No. I left the MONOWAI in October `41.
My reports of the MONOWAI – we had a settling in cruise and we had gunfire at targets. On the initial target practice they very nearly took the towing plane, the plane that was towing the targets, very nearly collected that, as opposed to the target. When they would fire their broadsides at their sea target, they sucked the doors off the officer’s wardroom. So that’s all right, they call out the chippy chap. I can’t recall now whether it was to remove the hinges. The hinges apparently must have still been in the doorway. I don’t know whether it was to remove those, it must have been to do something. So he stands up in the opening on a chair or a stool and they fire the next salvo and he very nearly went overboard. He was lucky the railings prevented him from going over the side. I don’t think that incident will have been reported.
Were you there when they had the other gun accident?
No, but the boy that lost his leg was the lad I used to ashore with, Doug Sherwood. The W/T Office I used to man was, apparently, back from there in the Petty Officers recreation room.
I do recall that we had a mock battle where we were attacked and the ack-ack gun crew were knocked out, so they were told to look after the injured. When they finally got things sorted out, the ack-ack crew were doped up with morphine. They had literally done exactly as told, attended to the injured and filled themselves up with morphine.
On our trips down south we used to convoy ships as they left New Zealand. I can remember going down south and the seas down there were such, that even though you were only a short distance away, you only periodically saw the cross trees of the vessel that you were escorting. The rollers were that huge. It was amazing.
During a very rough period, a lot of the boys used to be sick. There was a step out of the cookhouse into the mess deck. There was a watertight bulkhead on the ship and you had to step out over that and down. Quite often the mess boy of the day would trip and he would spill his tray and it would be all over the deck and he would be slipping and sliding. The outcome of it was that very few people or very few of the boys, were up to the standard of enjoying their meals. There was a surplus of food about. For me anyway, I thought it was good.
The rum tot used to come up regularly at half past 11 and I was fortunate enough that, I used to buy another boy’s issue and so I had double the issue. When we were in our passages around the Islands, you had the opportunity to go ashore in the morning, the tot would be stopped and you would get it as ‘neaters’ when you came back onboard ship. I had that happen on one occasion. I was a pretty old salt by then, I thought, and I was on duty when the Petty Officer brought my ‘neaters’ around for me to have. He had the ‘neaters’ and a jug of water and a bucket with the ‘neaters’. After he had given out my tot, he asked me if, “I wanted water with it?” Being an old salt: “No Sir, I will have it straight.” So I tipped the mug up and the next thing, it is running out of my eyes and nose and what was left in my mouth went back into the mug. I handed it over to him and asked him, “to just put some water in it.” It is strong and you would finish up with, I suppose, a nine ounce glass and that would be with water.
When you were on MONOWAI were you onboard when they did the cruise up around the Equator with that special signal team onboard?
We spent quite a bit of time, with the Australian Navy. We were guarding Nauru and Ocean Islands after the Raiders went in and blew up the cantilevers and all that were there. For several months we used to go back and do that.
When conscription came in, we escorted the RANGITIRA with the first group to Suva and following disembarkment, we were to escort her back again. However, about the first day out there was a Raider alarm and the RANGITIRA took off, and although it had been a five day trip to Suva, she made it home in three.
The CMT period there brings up the time we did take a gun up to Fanning Island and a group of soldiers up there to man it. From there we did a little bit of prospecting, possibly further towards the Equator. We had an action station while we were up there. An aeroplane came over the horizon and it was for a period that we were at action stations, but the aeroplane disappeared. Shortly afterwards and I don’t know whether it was for half a day, we came across a vessel that was supposedly a Dutch freighter. Looking back on it, to me, it must have been a supply ship for one of the raiders.
The Submarine action was a bit after that wasn’t it?
Yes. I never had anything to do with it.
What happened after MONOWAI?
From MONOWAI they asked for volunteers to go to England. I volunteered to go to England.
Possibly before that, you have to mention that the MONOWAI ran into the wharf on the Auckland side. For reasons and I don’t know the reason why, we were over in PHILOMEL in Devonport Base. They decided that the MONOWAI was going over to the Auckland side and the skipper at the time decided that he would take her over himself, which apparently was not quite the thing he should have done. We went over to the Auckland side and it happened to be an outgoing tide unfortunately and he had been allocated a side of the wharf he was to berth against and everything was going very good, I think. He was allowing for the tide to carry him in alongside of the wharf. But as it turned out, we finished going on to the end of the wharf and 15 feet into it, with the result that we all had shore leave for about a week while they rebuilt the bow of the MONOWAI.
You volunteered to go to England. Did they ask for Branches?
I understand it must have been mainly Communications, they were calling for and possibly radio operators.
We in Wellington were assembled to go down and have a couple of days leave and then we were on our way. We reported at the Railway Station the first day we were supposed to leave and the transport was cancelled.
How many people were there?
I can’t tell you. I have seen a report that said 86, but that is ridiculous. I would imagine it would have been something in the vicinity of about twenty or so people.
This is October `41?
We were assembled in Auckland and sent onboard the CANBERRA, an Aussie Cruiser. At the time the CANBERRA crew were going into revolt because down the West Coast and I can’t remember the boys name, a lad down there had shot up a couple of policemen and the police were out hunting him. Graham is it? At that time I think we were about ready to leave. They had shot him in the stomach. The Aussie crew were very upset about this. It was a bit like the Ned Kelly outfit and they were virtually not going to go to sea, they were going to express their objections to the way the police had handled it. We finally sailed and went to Sydney. We went to Warwick Farm. We spent time there and then we were put aboard the KPM Liner BOISEVEIN. We did a leisurely cruise through the Barrier and onto the Celebes [Bali] Surabaya and onto Jakarta.
So when did you find out you were going to Singapore and not to England?
We weren’t going to England at all. The others were going to Ceylon and we didn’t know that we were going to Hong Kong. All we knew was that we got to Singapore. Singapore didn’t want to have us and BOISEVEIN didn’t want us onboard. So there was a period when everything was in limbo. Finally we were taken ashore to Singapore. Five of us went from Singapore to Hong Kong, the remainder of them were supposed to go onto Ceylon.
You have got five who went to Hong Kong?
Do you remember who they were?
I can remember that there was a Harry Franklin, a Murdo Stewart, Jack Rix. There was a Leading Hand, he was an English boy, but I can’t recall his name. I don’t know whether he as taken prisoner or not. As I learnt later he possibly escaped from Hong Kong. He went through China and possibly got back to England.
So you really had no idea where you were going?
No! I believe it was England they asked us to volunteer for, in other words it was overseas. It was a period where they couldn’t send you. You had to be a volunteer. In other words they just couldn’t turn around and say, “Right you are on draft to England.” You had to volunteer for the draft
In the practical terms you didn’t actually know where you were going?
We knew that we were going to England.
It might be of interest, when we were finally to leave Singapore for Hong Kong they put us on an old Chinese Freighter. We were passengers, we weren’t crew or anything, we had barely left Singapore and they had one sparky there who was our Radio Operator. They had an antique radio, an old Marconi, they had sparks jumping across causing the signals. There was apparently a report of a Japanese convoy coming down the China Sea and they wanted us to run a constant radio listening watch, in other words to relieve the Chinese operator there. So us boys then had to start work straight away and work out a watch system and do a radio watch for the duration of our period. The convoy then was apparently 70 strong and quite a large naval escort. Our course was re-routed. We had to avoid the convoy. We had to apparently take a different course to what the normal route would have been and it finished up that we just about ran out of coal by the time we reached Hong Kong. We were virtually down to our last shovel of coal.
On the way, the last few days of our journey we were buzzed by Zero fighters and they would come in and practice dive bombs and straffe attack us just above the sea level. They would come in at us, mock machine-gunning us and zoom off out. You were subject to that for quite a number of mornings. We also passed a convoy of ships leaving Hong Kong before the eventual start of the war. We were conscious from the time we left Singapore that war was imminent and our fear was that we wouldn’t get to Hong Kong in time before it started.
We arrived in Hong Kong the day before the war started. There was no shore leave. The morning we got up we were into the war, the bombers had come over and given us a wake up call.
Just going back to Singapore – where did you stay in Singapore?
There had been new barracks built in Singapore for accommodation as I understand, for ships that were being repaired or being serviced. The crews of the naval ships. That is the Naval Barracks we were at. The place that the crews of the naval ships were being billeted in.
This is next to the Naval Base?
I don’t know, I never got out of it, except when I was taken out to catch the Chinese boat. All I understand is that it was a new barracks that had been built to accommodate crews when their vessels were being serviced in Singapore.
I think it was what became HMS TERROR later on.
SULTAN is the name the draft might have mentioned.
So you got to Hong Kong. Again where did you stay in Hong Kong?
Initially I was supposed to go to Stonecutters Island. I went there the first day and that was to start dismantling the gear. Then they made provision to dismantle the mast by sending a barge over with dynamite over on it. The barge got blown up. Our boys blew the barge up because they thought the Japanese were coming over to land.
We were first boarded on the TAMAR.
This is the ship itself?
Yes the TAMAR is an old sailing ship that was parked up in the Dockyard. It was removed from the Dockyard because they didn’t want to have it bombed and set on fire, so they took it out and tried to sink it, unsuccessfully. From that point we were then moved up to Victoria Barracks, which was an Army Barracks, which would be above the area where battle headquarters was. The Radio Station at the Dockyard was closed down and we were moved into battle headquarters.
You worked out of there for the next couple of weeks or so?
I can’t remember how long I was at Battle Headquarters, it was towards the end of the period. We were then sent over to the sea side of the Island to Aberdeen, with a view that we were to go up in the hills the next day with a portable radio set and keep communications going with the fighting forces that were up in the hills there. Well that never materialised because they capitulated.
What actually happened from your point of view? You were over in Aberdeen or you were going to go to Aberdeen?
We did go to Aberdeen. We had one or two scares in battle headquarters and this might be of interest. One: us ratings were sent up to above battle headquarters. There was a playing field, I think that had been developed above battle headquarters and we were to man a line up there. That was the area where all the exhaust fans and air purifiers and everything had their exit. I have tried to think it over, but from memory I had a .303 rifle then and I think I only had a five shot magazine. I didn’t have any spare rounds and here I am along with a lot of other ratings out of Battle Headquarters manning a line of defence. We were aware at the time there were one or two infiltrations and during the night, if you were outside at supposedly signal watch, it was being reported to us that, you would get, “Is that you there Jack?” Jack said, “No, it’s Bill here,” and you would get a grenade lobbed at you. So we were more or less advised not to identify any positions that we were occupying.
We were shifted over to Aberdeen. We got there the day before capitulation. I discarded my rifle and I drew a Webley revolver, because I couldn’t see myself carrying a .303 up the hill as well as the radio set. Anyway, the Webley revolver was just about as heavy, you needed two hands to lift it up. There again, I only had sufficient rounds to have the chamber full. There were no spare rounds.
At 11 o’clock the next day we had to have our arms piled and all the fire arms were supposedly stock piled in the play yard of the school where we were. I went and buried mine in a bank. I thought I might come back and need it, not realising how long it would before… The next hour and a half we were subjected to tremendous bombardment from the Japanese up on the hills above us. Apparently they must have been using up the ammunition so they didn’t have to carry it down out of the hills. The stocks of alcohol were at the school. We emptied them down a drain or smashed the bottles up against, I think it was a brick and the aroma of the rum going down the drain, it was like coming back onboard ship after leave.
From there we were picked up, I think about a day later in trucks and escorted to the Dockyard where we were held for a couple of days.
How many people are we talking about here, over at Aberdeen?
I wouldn’t know how many there were. I don’t know that there were any other radio Navy boys.
(End of Tape 1)
(Beginning of Tape 2)
You went across and you were put into the Dockyard. Were you still with the Army at that stage?
No. When we went to the Dockyard we became Navy again.
Then what happened?
The time I can’t answer. Whether it was two or three days or how long, but in a very short time we were then assembled and ultimately transferred over to the Army Barracks on the China side: at Shamshuipo and occupied the Army Barracks there, where practically all the prisoners that were taken were assembled.
Were all the officers with you, or did they split them up?
One or two officers were there. You had the record of the New Zealander Herb Dixon, he was there and causing a bit of a problem, in that we were periodically mustered while the Japanese searched the surrounding camp to try and find Herb’s radio that he had constructed, without success. Until one time apparently one of our own boys must have pimped on him and the Japs wheeled him away.
What about the other Kiwis?
At that time I had come into contact with Jack Rix and Murdo Stewart. I think that would be about all of the New Zealand ones that I can recall.
You didn’t come across Goodwin?
No. I have read about him. He was an officer anyway. Dixon was an officer too, but he was still in the camp at the time.
Had you come across him before?
No. He was an amateur operator and I am an amateur operator. It turns out after the War, he ran a business in Wellington and on Christmas morning we used to have a little get together on the air.
Did you stay at Shamshuipo all the time or did you move?
We were at Shamshuipo for I think about three months and then the Navy section was moved out to North Point on Hong Kong Island. After about another three months we were moved to Shamshuipo and ultimately, we were then transferred to Japan.
Were all the Navy people kept together?
It seems as though we must have been to a degree.
Of interest – when we went to North Point, we arrived there to find there was a chap named Horlsey running the camp. He was supposedly a naval officer. As it turned out he had elevated himself to the position of Captain or whatever it was. We apparently, in our group had the China Seas’ Commander: we had him as our leader or controller of our group. The Officer in Charge of our group. He very quickly had this fictitious Captain’s rings of his arm and relegated to the ranks. It just shows you how some people are quick to take advantage of an opportunity. I believe this Horlsey did ultimately die in Japan and possibly saving the expense of a court martial.
You lived in the barracks. Was there any organisational work?
I think from memory we might have had one or two educational type periods, to try and fill the day in. I can recall that we used to spend a lot of time swatting flies. The area was just black with flies. The reason being as we marched from where the ferry let us off to this North Point, we had to travel around the shoreline. This is three months after the War [started] and there were black carcasses of the Japanese soldiers that were washed up on the high tide and there weren’t just one or two, there was a whole heap of them all the way along the shoreline. Of course they were covered in flies and the stench from them was revolting. You just felt like being sick. These are the people that they had kept sending home in white boxes to their relatives so you could see how good the contents of the white boxes were.
You went between there and North Point and then back again?
Yes. For us to get to the accommodation at North Point, apparently there were a group of Canadian soldiers moved from North Point to Shamshuipo. There were still Canadian soldiers at North Point when we got there.
So they did break up the Navy and Army?
I don’t know what they had in mind. At that point they did break up the ratings and the officers. The ratings lost their officer’s control.
Did they send them to Argyll Street?
I think most of the officers were in Argyll Street right from the very beginning.
Harry Franklin became a batman for one of the officers in Argyll.
I have heard the name before.
How he became a batman I don’t know. In our particular case we weren’t involved in that.
I am not sure what Jack Rix and Murdo Stewart were doing during the War, it is only when we became prisoners that we came together again.
Apart from the Headquarters you have got Stonecutters and you were there.
I was supposed to go to Stonecutters.
They are dismantling the place and so Jack & Murdo they are obviously not there and they are obviously in the Headquarters because you are in the Headquarters.
Yes I was at the Headquarters, but I can’t recall Jack or Murdo being there. There was THRACIAN and I understood that THRACIAN made an effort to leave Hong Kong at the start of the War. But according to what I have since read, they say it ran aground while moving the gate open, but I think it must have run aground while trying to leave Hong Kong.
There was a New Zealand boy in the earlier part of the attack on Hong Kong. He was down town and there was an artillery bombardment on and he, among others, must have got behind a sandbag protective wall and there had been an explosion close by and he poked his head around to see what was happening and the base of a shell severed his head. Since then I have recorded that it was a New Zealand Stoker, but since then, I have had questions from Hong Kong asking, “Did I know something about a chap named Burton?” That makes me feel that this Stoker may have been Burton. So I questioned the person in Hong Kong and he indicated that it was more than likely a person with a Maori name, Terahake or something, would possibly be the person that had his head cut off. He was a Stoker apparently.
There was a chap named Tony Banham who has written a book and he is now writing a book apparently on the LISBON MARU. He has got a web site.
The report that went to Navy Office is literally one sentence and it is from a Chief Petty Officer who was in hospital with someone who said, “Burton was killed in an ambush after THRACIAN went aground”. That is the total information there is on him. He was the only one killed in Hong Kong that is recorded. To the best of my knowledge Terahake was not in our Navy.
During the fighting in Hong Kong they had Army posts on the street corners, machine gun posts. This despatch rider comes down on his motorcycle and halfway between two corners, his machine backfires. A war went on between the two machine gun posts and the poor motorcyclist finished up with five shots in one of his legs. He survived and he was in the prison camp for a period. That gives you a picture on how trigger happy, and how on edge everybody at the time was.
Was there any logic on how you ended up in Japan?
Apparently they must have required labour in Japan because all the men were overseas and the prisoners were the logical things to send there. They shipped one shipload of prisoners out and I can’t remember how long before they congregated us naval boys and a heap of Army and despatched us for Japan.
This is the LISBON MARU is it?
You got sunk?
What happened after that? Did you get picked up? Or did you get ashore? What happened there?
After the ship went down. I made my way to some of the vessels that were standing off and the first couple that I came to, I found weren’t very acceptable. They were allowing groups of survivors to accumulate alongside of them. Then they would put the vessel into reverse and suck them under the vessel. In my particular case I hadn’t joined the group, I was standing off and having seen it done twice, I decided that I would give it one more try. There was another vessel there that I would have a try and see if I could get up onto, or otherwise I was going to go for the islands. The vessel I went over to had ropes, but you had to wait for the surge of the wave to take you up the side of the ship before you could reach the ropes and then you would drag yourself up on deck. So I finished up on a patrol boat that was out on patrol for a couple of days, I can’t remember now.
Was it just you or were there a few others onboard?
There were other survivors onboard, but no Navy that I know of. They might have been Navy, but I wouldn’t know.
I have been through life as a person who has been quite a bit on my own. In other words I don’t have to have somebody to hold my hand or help me. I have been able to look after myself and not have to rely on companionship to get through things.
So what did they do with you after that? You are onboard this boat for a couple of days?
They took us into Shanghai where we were then back with the group of other survivors. We were waiting for a vessel there that was loading for Japan and we were billeted on her until the ship left and went to Japan.
That is SHIN SHU MARU is it?
That sounds familiar.
Where did you go in Japan?
I think initially I may have gone to Osaka Camp and then I was transferred to a hospital that was built under a stadium. I survived the hospital and returned to Osaka Camp and I was there right up until the time of the Americans bombing and burning the place out. I was then transferred to Notogawa.
What did you do there?
I did all sorts of things. I worked in a cement works to start with. I decided that was no good for my health. Then I worked in a steel factory and I somehow managed to find another job. I then worked in a timber yard and ultimately I got onto the cream of the jobs and that was working the wharf. There were plenty of perks there.
Then again, I can’t remember, and I have had many people asking me if I knew their father or brother. Now the shocking thought comes through my mind and I can’t even remember the boys I worked with and I worked with them for several years. I can’t even remember the name of the guy who used to sleep next door to me for several years. There was one person. In the prison camp, you recall the German versions of the prison camp and the King Rat, surprisingly enough we had something similar in our episode – a down and outer. In Civvy Street, he would have been sleeping on park benches and it turns out he was the guy making all the money in the camp. I looked at him and I thought, if he can do that, I should be able to do it. I gave up smoking and the few cigarettes I was able to accumulate, I would lend them out and I would be a moneylender. I would lend the cigarettes out on a percentage that when the cigarettes came back in as an issue, I would multiply my stock. As it turned out the first customer when it was time to pay up, he came back with about 4 other guys. The outcome was I decided it wasn’t the type of business to be in and being on my own I didn’t have the background of a lot of thugs to be able to protect myself and so I didn’t run the camp trading.
The outcome from that is, I have had a request from that boy’s son, wanting to know if I knew anything about his father. That is one name I can remember.
Did you get paid at all?
Yes something that was equivalent, when it was translated, to about a farthing a day. We understood it was so we wouldn’t be classed as slave labour. It took the accumulation of a lot of it, to be able to purchase anything and all you could purchase was from the camp store and cigarettes would just about wipe out a month’s pay. You could buy soya sauce type stuff, well watered down of course. It was just a farce really. There was quite a talk on pay to try and generate a better effort from the prisoners while they were working for the Japanese. They decided they would give their best workers an increase. They called them “Joto Worker”. So when the scheme comes in, lo and behold, I am the first one to get the “Joto” pay increase for the month. The rest of the boys on the job went crook, because I was the one most reluctant to work for the Japanese and here I get selected as a “Joto Worker”. It really upset the rest of the guys: “He doesn’t work as hard as I do and he gets the good money.” I think the staff realised that I was doing my best to slow work down and so, we will give him the privilege of the “Joto money”. The rest of them didn’t like it. The Englishmen didn’t like it. He is working hard and here is a Kiwi boy not doing too much.
Was it a significant amount?
No, I can’t remember what it was. I don’t know whether it stayed on. The scheme was to try and boost production. I think the Staff at the camp’s idea was, they would rotate the benefit so that everyone got a lick of the cherry, but whether that happened or not I don’t know.
What was the last place you mentioned that you went to?
Notogawa, that was virtually a few months before the end of the war.
Where was that?
Notogawa as I understand it is in the Lake area of Japan. Kyoto Tourist Resort, I think that was close by to Nagoya.
We were required to build dams to hold back, I presume, lake water so that paddy fields could be generated.
Then what happened at the end of the war?
At the end of the war the camp staff, those that didn’t work, but considered themselves camp staff went on strike, because we weren’t working. We workers had to go out seven days a week in the fields, we were working. The camp staff, I don’t know what they did, but it wouldn’t be anything like us workers out in the fields. The camp staff went on strike. One of the jobs they had was looking after the stores. So I decided I would be one of those who would get into the store and help my fellow prisoners out and also help myself. I then worked in the storeroom. The work had ceased, but we weren’t aware that the War was over.
An Aussie came over the fence one night and in the meantime the bombs had gone off and we had been questioned about radiation. I actually saw the results of the one that went off in Hiroshima, I saw the smoke go up. We had been questioned about, did we know anything about radiation poisoning and I had never heard of the word. We couldn’t supply the Japanese with any information at all. This particular night an Aussie comes over the fence and he has got silver revolvers, one strapped on either side and he is as drunk as a cook and he comes over and he says, “Come on you guys the war is over, out you get.” We thought, “No we are not going to fall for that one.” So ultimately we got the Aussie boy and pushed him back over the fence and told him to get on his way. Very shortly after that, the camp staff disappeared. Prior to that we had been on a meal of green wheat and the stomach doesn’t agree with green wheat and it wasn’t doing us any good. When the Japanese had suddenly flitted by night, we then realised that the War had come to an end, but we had no food.
We had an assortment in the camp of all types and in amongst them were Americans. And boy, those Americans, some of them have been right down in the gutters of America I think. They were criminals from a long way back.
One of the jobs I used to do during the day, in the camp, was take a cart around and pick up provisions, but the Yanks picked up this cart and they went down to the town. They went to the warehouse down there and opened the warehouse up, no trouble. They loaded up this cart with beer, not food, but beer. They bring me the cart back. It was a two-wheeled cart with shafts on it. They bring the beer back and then they turn around and go down town and open up the warehouse and they load up with food. So we then have got food and of course beer. The Japanese are all outside the warehouse watching the Yanks and ask the Yanks to leave the warehouse open for them, so they can get in and rifle it. The old Yank, no fear, he locks it up again.
Then we had POW painted on the roof of the huts about the time that the Japanese took off and the planes started coming in and dropping parachute loads of food, clothing, cigarettes, chocolate, you name it, everything. Of course being in the store everything was just bang on. There were cigarettes there. Anything you wanted.
It was getting to the stage where everybody is more or less happy and contented and everything is going right and so we agreed, another lad and I in the storeroom, that we go down and have a look at Osaka. So we went out and caught a train down to Osaka. We no sooner had landed in Osaka, when the Osaka people told us if we didn’t get out we would be court martialled. So we had to then return to Notogawa. We caught a train and I fell asleep on the train unfortunately and when I came too I suddenly saw the railway sign, most of the English names had been obliterated, but this railway sign came up at a station and it suddenly dawned on me that we had gone past Notogawa. A certain distance past it. So this other lad told them that we had to get off, we had over shot our stop. He might have been asleep too. We finally vacated the train while it was moving and then tried to work out how to get back to Notogawa our camp. In the throes of going to pick up produce and stuff, on the foraging details, I must have had an idea that there were other camps in the area and fortunately ran into one of the camps I knew was there and spent the night with them. Then took off from there and just got back to Notogawa camp to learn in two hours time we were to have a train come in and we were to leave Notogawa to go to Tokyo.
So you jumped on the train and went to Tokyo?
Not quite. We got back just before 10 o’clock. Those in control, down in Osaka, had told us that if we weren’t back in camp by 10 o’clock there would be a court martial for us. We just made it. As we made it back to camp so did an airdrop. We had to then recover the airdrop and get it out, so the Japanese weren’t going to get into it. The Army had supplied trucks for us and the airdrop just went straight onto the trucks and I don’t know where that went. I presume it was to get it away, so that the Japanese civilians didn’t get it. By 12 o’clock we had just collected the last can and were able to make our way to the railway station. On the way to the railway station I called at the Kempei Office, that is the secret police, because I wasn’t going to come out of Japan without a firearm. The Kempei police weren’t going to open their doors up and so I carried onto the railway station without my firearm. At the station a civilian train pulled in and one of the guards got off and it was one of the guards that one of the Americans had been given a rough time with and they just got around this guy. I don’t know what happened in the end, but I don’t think he fared too well, they must have really dished out the message to him. The train came in and we boarded the train and headed off up to Tokyo or Yokohama, wherever it was. We were run through a process of being sterilised. Everything was taken off and thrown away and we were processed and examined. We were virtually then thrown onto the next plane out, which we were all frightened of, because the planes weren’t making it. We were getting the news through, that the planes were past their maintenance period and they were having troubles getting to their destination. Then came a typhoon warning, which meant that our plane trips out weren’t going to happen and so they then threw us onto Liberty ships I think they were called, and they took us back down to Manila.
From Manila there were a group who were to go to England. There were two other New Zealanders I found in Manila at the time and they wanted to go home. I said, “No you don’t want to go home. You will never get another opportunity like this. Don’t be silly, take the ship and go to England.” I believe they did. They decided to go to England. We had an Aircraft Carrier that had the planes taken off. Where the planes used to be stored, below decks, had been turned into very large accommodation. I think about three thousand were accommodated in camp stretchers set up.
When we get to Hawaii these New Zealanders went ashore and complained that they were being hijacked, they were being sent to England and they didn’t want to go to England, they wanted to go home to New Zealand. So the next thing is the New Zealand Navy Office gets in contact and wants to know why the New Zealand Ratings are being taken to England. So they got their way. They have got things organised. They are going to be sent home. Then the Commander asked for all New Zealand Ratings to report and so I foolishly reported too. He says, “You have got to go back to New Zealand.” I said, “That was not the arrangement.” He said, “Navy Office in Wellington says that all New Zealand Ratings have to be returned to New Zealand. They then decided we would have to work our passage back. The other boys were Stokers and I was a W/T Rating and so it finished up that I am the only one who has to work his way back. I am doing watch duties on the way back to Manila and down to Australia and here are these guys who caused all the trouble and got us sent back to New Zealand, they are travelling like tourists on holiday.
From Manila we went to Vancouver and from Vancouver we turned around and came back down. On the way down we visited Hawaii, Hong Kong and Manila. I think we went to Borneo and picked up people at Borneo. At that time Indonesia was in strife. They were having problems in Indonesia and they called for volunteers if necessary, to go ashore. In Indonesia there was a necessity for a riot crew. I don’t know what they call them. So I put my name in, but that wasn’t necessary we carried on and finally finished up in Sydney.
There was actually some fighting and they even rearmed some of the Japanese at one stage to open up the POW Camps. They were right in the middle of Sumatra. There were Kiwis up there and one was Laurie Hurndell, he was in DRAGONFLY when she got sunk. He was one of the ones up there. They wouldn’t release them.
They didn’t explain to us what the reason was, they just asked for volunteers to go into Indonesia.
So you got back to New Zealand?
Did they keep you with the Navy for a while?
No I was kicked out straight away.
What did you do after that?
Before the War I worked for an Insurance Company as I mentioned and the Head Office for the Insurance Company was in the same building. The General Manager calls everybody together and he says, “Those that were called up to go overseas, the firm would make up their wages.” Jolly decent of him. Those that remained as workers in the office, they expected them to work whatever overtime was necessary without pay. I think there were only two of us who were in the Volunteers there and I was the first one to get the sack. So they didn’t have to worry about making up my pay. So having got the sack, the family had an interest in a soap factory and I went out and worked at the soap factory until I was mobilised. When I came back after the War. Virtually the day after I arrived back in New Zealand I was back down the soap factory working again.
So they didn’t keep you in PHILOMEL for long?
No. We came into Wellington. I got a Destroyer from Sydney over to Wellington and we arrived. Everywhere you went you had your picture taken by the X-Ray machine. I went through a various lot of examinations and then I was chauffeured home by a girl. Apparently they must have had chauffeurs in Navy Office then.
Thank you very much.
(End of Interview)