Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Former POW revisits the past

TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE John Emmett, who spent three years in Taiwan as a POW in World War II, tells of the hardships he and thousands of others endured in the camps

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

John Emmett pays tribute to fellow POWs in front of the memorial in Chinguashi yesterday.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Eighty-seven-year-old John Emmett is quite happy about his second visit to Taiwan.

"People are friendly and welcoming," he said.

It is indeed in sharp contrast to his first "visit," which started in 1942 and lasted until 1945, when he was a prisoner of war (POW) in the notorious Japanese labor camps.

Emmett is the only World War II POW who came to Taiwan this year to participate in the POW memorial service held at Chinguashi, Taipei County, yesterday. Chinguashi is where the Kinkaseki POW camp was located.

The Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society pointed out that since most prisoners of war are in their 80s now and their health does not allow them to travel long distances, only Emmett made it this year. The society has been holding the memorial service since 1997, when they first set up a memorial at the site of the camp.

Emmett, a former lance corporal, brought his Gordon Highlanders hat that he wore in the war with him to the service. The Gordon Highlanders, which formed the British regular army in Singapore and Malaysia, no longer exists but the memories of the war will never fade away.

"I tried to escape it for a long time, but it didn't help. Coming back here has to help to get it behind me and settle my feelings about that time," Emmett said.

"It helps me to get closure," he said.

Emmett said that he had been diagnosed with cancer and started treatment last year, and his illness also pushed him to make the visit.

"It was quite rough," Emmett said of his experiences as a POW.

The prisoners only received a bit of rice for every meal, and sometimes when they took rice with them down into the mine, cockroaches would steal it. Emmett weighed only 32kg when he was freed from the camp, due to malnutrition.

Emmett said that they had to work in the mine from 7am until late in the evening and they seldom saw daylight. Sometimes they even needed to carry those too tired and weak to walk back to the camp.

In the mine the prisoners were suffering from heat exhaustion and were exposed to acid water, and some of them later needed to be treated for skin cancer, according to the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society.

"We had to build our own accommodation from scratch. We called the last camp [in Hsintien] the Jungle Camp. A Japanese officer who spoke some English would tell us, `no work, no food,' `you don't build your house, you don't have a shelter,' and `you don't work, you don't eat,'" Emmett said.

Emmett, a Scot who migrated to Canada after the war, joined the British army at the age of 19. He was stationed in Singapore in 1937 and was captured by the Japanese in February 1942.

At first Emmett and his fellow soldiers were kept in Singapore. They were transferred to Taiwan in August 1942 and Emmett was kept in Taiwan until the end of the war. He was first kept in Pingtung and was then moved to Kinkaseki, and was later moved to another camp in the Hsintien area.

Emmett said that he migrated to Canada in 1948 because of discrimination against prisoners of war in Britain.

"Those who fought in Normandy were the heroes, but those who fought in the Far East were either forgotten or considered a disgrace," said Michael Hurst, director of the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society.

"But they really deserve the same respect for fighting in the war. They suffered for the freedom and the good life we now enjoy," Hurst said. Hurst had two uncles who fought in the Far East and became POWs.

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