The Heritage Corner, Springhill Record

May 11th, 2011

Jack Russell Prisoner of War

The Springhill Record – Nov. 6, 1945. 

Pte. Jack Russell Tells Of Experiences in Hong Kong (By C.J. Allbon)

     There would be little or no formality in the trial of Japanese war lords if fellows like Pte. Jack Russell had anything to say about it.  Jack made this plain in an interview with the Record Saturday as he reviewed the events leading up to his arrival in the Far East and his final capture by the Japs after the fall of Hong Kong.  The four years he remained a prisoner of the Japs is one horrible nightmare to Jack and some hundreds of other Allied soldiers who were forced to lay down their arms when Sir Mark Young, Governor of Hong Kong, surrendered to the Japanese on December 25, 1941, after battling the Japs for seven days against terrible odds, lack of food and equipment and medical supplies.  Even in the face of their difficulties said Jack, Brigadier Maltby, the British officer in charge of the troops, intended to fight to the last man.

No Reinforcements

It was a losing battle all the way, continued Pte. Russell, for not a ship had made port after December 18 – and none was expected.  The Japs had made their first attack on the Island December 15th, but were driven back with heavy losses by the small garrison numbering some 7000 who had to guard all sides of the Island which is about eight miles by four miles in size.  With practically no one behind their front line the defenders fought desperately and successfully.  Three days later the Japs set fire to a huge oil tank across on the mainland and under cover of dense clouds of smoke were successful in making a landing in force – but no on the front held by the Canadians who found themselves flanked when the smoke cleared away.  There was nothing to do but retire, but the Allies fought for every inch of the ground.

Canadians Use the Bayonet

     Even as they retired the Canadians showed a flash of that spirit that has made the Canadian Army one of the outstanding fighting forces in the world.   Although their casualties ran up to 50% of their strength, the Canadians attacked with their bayonet and forced the enemy to give up Red Hill.  The Japs don’t like the bayonet, commented Jack, and in that they are to be compared with the Germans.

     However as day after day wore on the Allies were beaten back by the weight of numbers and with their backs almost to the sea the Governor hoisted the flag of surrender.

Bombing Inaccurate

Commenting on the Japanese bombing, Jack said the Japs attacked the Island of Hong Kong the same day they attacked Pearl Harbour.  Their planes were after the docks, the oil dumps and the big guns, but their marksmanship was only fair and the damage was not as great as they had hoped for.  When it came to bombing, he added, the British were far superior.  The Japs Zero fighters, however, were much faster than those of the Allies.  Following the attack by planes the Japs shelled the Island from the mainland which was only three-quarters of a mile away.

Starved by Japs

     For three months after they had surrendered the Allied soldiers were held prisoners on the island of Hong Kong and were forced to work on an airport at Kowloon from seven o’clock in the morning until five o’clock at night with an hour off for lunch.  For breakfast they were given one small bowl of dry rice which was cooked but contained no salt.  There was no milk, sugar, tea or bread.  Two small buns were given to them for their noon day meal and they were given water to drink.  For supper there was more dry rice.

Red Cross Boat Arrives

In July or August of 1942 the first Red Cross boat arrived bringing to the prisoners such things as bully beef and vegetables in tins, dried fruit, sugar and cocoa.  When the prisoners were moved to China they received a Red Cross box every three or four months.  Later to the prisoner’s diet was added the tops of sweet potatoes – the Japs ate the potatoes themselves.  Once in a long while they would be given a little fish.  Occasionally there were potatoes on the menu but Jack said the boys felt that potatoes were not as good a bet as rice for irrespective of the kind of food they received they were allowed only 600 to 700 grams each day.  At times, continued Jack we ate such things as grasshoppers, snails, squid, dogs and horses.

Worked in Steel Mill

     Jack and his friend were forced to work at the airport until August 1943 when they were taken to Japan proper.  They landed in Osaka and went to Nigatti by rail.  With 250 others he worked in the steel mill from 7:45 a.m. until 5 p.m. with 40 minutes for lunch. 

     The food here consisted of barley gruel, green soup or soy beans; seldom did they get any bread.  For lunch they had a bowl of rice with some stew, and only occasionally was there any meat in the stew and that of the very poorest quality.  At times they could buy tea from the Commissionaire.  For supper they had another bowl of rice and more stew.

     We will have the conclusion of Jack Russell’s story next week.