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Mon, Nov 19, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Veterans recall labor-camp hell

BITTER MEMORIES Jim Craig and four of his fellow survivors yesterday revisited the Kinkaseki POW camp in Taipei where they were interned during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Australians George Reynolds, left, and Harry Leslie, center, who were prisoners of war during World War II, leave a memorial at the site of the former Japanese POW camp of Kinkaseki in Taipei County yesterday after laying wreaths for their dead comrades.


It was Jim Craig's second visit to Taiwan and he said that the place he visited yesterday is as dreadful as it was 56 years ago.

"The last time I was here, only once in a month did I see the light of day, because we had to go down to the copper mine in the morning when it was dark. I never came back up again until nighttime," said the 80-year-old Scot.

The place he is talking about is the site where the Japanese army's notorious Kinkaseki POW labor camp was situated during World War II.

Conditions in the camp's mine were very harsh, according to Craig. "It was so deep that the temperature down in the bottom was about 130 degrees Fahrenheit," he said. "We would work for about three minutes and then we had to come outside to where there was running cold water to cool us down. We'd go back in again and we did that all day."

Craig was one of the 1,100 British Commonwealth and Allied POWs interned at the Kinkaseki camp during World War II.

Yesterday morning he and four other POW survivors, who were interned in Kinkaseki and other camps in Taiwan -- as well as 15 family members of POWs -- came back to the site in remembrance of their time of torment.

"Although we were given three meals a day, it was a small bowl of rice and some sweet potatoes on top," he said. "When I left Taiwan, I was five and a half stone [about 35kg] in weight."

The 168cm-tall Craig now weighs 64kg.

Craig spent three years in Kinkaseki between 1943 and 1945. He was transported to another camp in Kukutsu, Taipei County, a few months before World War II ended.

Craig said that he is still haunted by the horrific experience 56 years later.

"It's very difficult to come to terms with it, but coming back here helps," he said.

It was Sid Dodds' third and possibly last attendance at the memorial service.

"Three times definitely are enough," said the 81-year-old Australian, chuckling. "I still get upset when I talk or somebody gets me to talk about it."

Dodds was interned in Kinkaseki between November 1943 and November 1944. He was later moved to Shirakawa camp in southern Taiwan to recover from pneumonia and pleurisy.

He was in the original group of POWs who came from Singapore to the Taichu camp in Taichung County in November 1942.

Reading his own poetry at the memorial service yesterday, British-born Australian Harry Leslie said that he was lucky to have had a special angel looking over him, which also helped him to survive difficult times at the camps.

Leslie was a tailor when he went to war and he spent three years in various detention camps in Taiwan where he said that Japanese soldiers tried to work him to death. He survived on rice and "pickings," such as snails and tree bark juice.

When Leslie was released in 1945, he was a 43.5kg walking skeleton, about half of what he weighed when he was taken prisoner in February 1942 in Singapore.

Janet Derham of Australia was at the ceremony to represent three members of her family who were all interned at the Karenko camp in Hualien County and Shirakawa camp in Chiayi County for 18 months -- her husband, her father and her father-in-law.

Derham said that, although her family knew that her father had been released, they did not hear from him until a package arrived.

"It was a closely written script on rice paper, which was carefully wound on the inside of a powder tin," said Derham, 77, adding that the script details her father's day-by-day life in the camp, what he had to do and what he ate.

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