Wed, Nov 24, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Former POW is now `scared of nothing'

It remains a relatively unknown fact that Taiwan was the site of around 15 Japanese prisoner of war (POW) camps for Allied soldiers from 1942 to 1945. The Taiwan POW Camps Society has helped some of the Allied POWs who were interned here to come back to Taiwan in a bid to gain closure. One such former POW, Stan Vickerstaff, took the time to talk to `Taipei Times' staff reporter Caroline Hong about his experiences at the Kinkaseki POW camp in Chinkuashih, Taipei County

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Stan Vickerstaff lays a wreath at a remembrance ceremony in Chinkuashih, Taipei County, on Nov. 14.

PHOTO: TAIWAN POW CAMPS SOCIETY

Taipei Times: This is your fourth visit back to Taiwan since your internment here. What keeps bringing you back?

Stan Vickerstaff: I'm always happy to come back to Taiwan. While I'm getting more used to Taiwan and like the atmosphere here, I come back partly as a duty to my former comrades. Being here makes me think back to the days we struggled to keep alive in the mine [at the Kinkaseki camp.]

TT: Kinkaseki is known as one of the worst Japanese POW camps in Asia because of the grueling work the POWs were subjected to in the copper mine there. Can you describe some of your experiences?

Vickerstaff: I was at the Kinkaseki camp for six months. Memories of the mine can be very disturbing. We lost over 100 men here, some from malnutrition and disease, and some from mine activities.

The mine was extremely dangerous because the Japanese paid no attention to safety, and it was also a rather run-down mine. The mine wasn't up to date, and a lot of the machinery was broken down. We used to have to drill the rock with very poor drills, and the Japanese would get into a frenzy because we hadn't drilled enough, even though it was the fault of the drill, and not the man. We also had to mine a certain amount of ore every day. If we didn't, at the end of the day when the reckoning came, if someone hadn't produced the amount that the mine supervisor had ordained at the beginning of the day, you were beaten with your own mine hammer.

All supervisors in the mine had a hammer with a handle about that long [holding hands apart to indicate about 30cm], with a metal head. It was used for tapping the rock to find weaknesses in the rock, but it was never used for that. They used it on us. At the end of the day, they would get hold of the end of the hammer, the metal part, while you held on to an air pipe above you in the mine, they hit you in the back with the hammer.

After that, we had to leave the mine and climb up 150 steps to get to the main exit tunnel, and from there climb another 800 steps to a ridge of rock, and 200 steps into the camp. So we had all those steps to climb, after a hard day's work, and after getting beaten with a mine hammer, if you were unlucky. Some men, of course, were not strong enough for this. So, men who were stronger had to help them climb back up the steps into the camp.

Now, in the mornings, we were searched to make sure that we weren't carrying anything that the Japanese didn't approve of. At the entrance of the mine, there was a little shrine, and the supervisor in charge used to say a prayer at the shrine. We never knew if that prayer was for us or for him, but we certainly needed it.

TT: What was life like outside of the mine?

Vickerstaff: At the end of the day, we [would be] literally exhausted. We took turns to fetch rice for the evening meal, and the village we were in had wooden huts. They were very gloomy inside, and we worked virtually in loincloths. We hardly ever saw sunshine; if it was sunny, we were in the mine. When we got back, [the sun] was either gone or it was raining. The whole atmosphere was one of misery, really.

After getting back from the mine, we would get our bowl of rice and a bit of vegetable soup. If we had a special treat, it was when they put a kind of soy paste into it [the food]. It was almost a delicacy, because it gave [the food] an almost different texture. There was never any meat or fish, anything solid, no sugar or salt. And then we had a little bowl of wheat tea, and that was the evening meal. The cooks always saved a little bit more rice for the evening meal than for the breakfast.

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