My name is John
Prosser, I was a member of the 2/40 Battalion 2nd A.I.F. We were a
Tasmanian Battalion of men trained up round Darwin at a place called
Noonamah. Then we were sent to Timor. We were there for about six
weeks and the Japanese invaded the island. They landed paratroops at a
place called Usau Ridge. Each company then had to go up and try to
drive them off the ridge. There was heavy fighting , on Sunday night,
it was on a Sunday. We eventually drove them, nearly all the Japanese
Paratroopers were killed, there were a few left, not many. From then
on we went a bit further up the road and the Colonel decided to stay
there the night, because there were a lot of wounded. They sent scouts
up to have a look to see what it was like at Champalon; but I don't
think he could get through, the Japs had road blocks so he came back.
Then in the morning they decided to, the colonel had to make his mind,
up which was the best thing to do and then a convoy came up on our
rear. A Japanese convoy, land convoy, little tanks and so on and told
the Colonel to surrender, or advised him to surrender. Well he went
into Keopang and signed the surrender.
During the time he was
in Keopang a group of Japanese bombers came over and bombed us again,
after the surrender.
A lot of men were
wounded and quite a lot of Japanese were killed. They found a lot of
their flags and put them on the ground. the big red ball flag, it was
the first time I had seen that big red ball flag, and the pilots
eventually seen it and they flew away. I had been wounded a little
bit, not very bad. I was put in a Bren gun carrier and they took us to
a place, I can't think of the name at the minute, fairly close to the
border where the trouble is now at Timor, we just unloaded then and
they just let us lay there.
They burnt all their
dead there, hundreds of them. So that's about that part of the story.
I might think of something else later.
We were then taken into
a place called the Southern Jara (?) down near the sea. We had to make
our own huts and everything. After a while I got very sick, I got
Malaria and Dysentery and was put into a so-called hospital. All you
got to eat was a bit of old, crummy old weaselly rice that you
I got worse and worse
and worse and lost a lot of weight. Some of my friends came and took
me back to the main camp and they looked after me and fed me on maize
porridge and built up my strength a little. We were able to go for a
swim in the sea.
I think it was February
when they took us in, I think around about September they decided to
take us to Java, which is now called Indonesia, and we went I think
from southern Java to Dili, which is where all the fighting and
trouble is now.
While on the ship a
Royal Australian Air force plane came over and bombed the old ship but
didn't cause much damage thank goodness.
When we got to Java we
was taken from? by train to Batavia, which is now Jakarta and we was
put in a camp, it was a Dutch camp, but a lot of Australians there,
captured on Java and different places and we stayed there for quite a
while and there was one other camp, Makususa I think the name of it
was. There some of us didn't bow to the guards properly like they
likes us to do so we were taken to Glodok Gaol which wasn't a very
We had a couple of old
rice bags to sleep on, full of lice, fleas, bugs and all that, so it
wasn't a good camp at all; but there were a few people there that
didn't have very much respect for the Japanese. An old friend Noel
Close, Les Butt and David Lewis, quite a few more.
There was this string
factory there making sisal for the Japs.
We left the camp and
then we went from there up unto a camp up in the hills because it was
a little more healthy and we had to plant castor oil seed at this
camp. We had to dig a hole about, over half a metre deep and it had to
be the exact length. The Japanese honcho he came along with a rule. If
he was in a bad mood he would give you a swipe across the ears, if it
was the right length he would put two seeds in.
The castor oil was
going to be used as oil for their planes because by then the allies
had tied up a lot of their shipments from Java and Malaya and so on,
they couldn't get the oil into Japan.
So one of them called
us all in and told all the men who were in this camp, there were quite
a few, that "all men would now go to Japan".
And there we would be
treated well, good food and everything, and we would stay there until
the Japanese had won the war and then we would work for them in their
They also told us they
had sunk all, nearly all, the American Navy and nearly all the
Australian Navy, "all gone finished, boom, boom, boom, all
gone". Cause most of us didn't believe all that; because we could
get a little bit of news from an old radio a chap had made and had
hidden in a broom, in the butt of a broom.
Different people were
going into old houses on work parties, and would find an old mantle
radio quick and they would grab a valve and another one might grab a
couple of batteries, dry batteries and so forth, we got a little bit
of news that way. So that was the start of out trip to Japan.
Just before we left for
Japan I'll go back to Glodok Goal, something very funny happened
As I said we had to
make this sisal platted into a sort of a string which was made into a
rice bag and the machine was worked by hand turning a wheel and on
each side of the wheel was six spools and so on, that's how it worked.
Well, my old late old friend, Les Butt he chose to turn the wheel and
one day the Commandant came in, the Japanese Commandant, and talked a
little bit, could hardly talk, we didn't think he could talk any
English; but he kept singing out to Les "Speedo, Speedo,
Speedo", which meant he should turn the wheel faster and faster.
So being Les Butt, who had a luxurious black beard, he said " You
old Fucking so and so bastard" he said " It won't be long
before the Americans come and you'll be no more".
But this commandant,
who runs this came, he turns around, he goes back to his barracks
where he lives and he said to his lieutenant, the Japanese lieutenant,
you got to go and find that man, he turns the wheel on number so and
so machine and bring him to me and he will get the biggest thrashing
anyone's ever had in Glodok Gaol. So somehow we found out, we had a
Warrant Officer who could speak a little Japanese.
He heard them
talking and he knew that Les was getting this terrible thrashing so we
rushed him back to a man who had an old razor and a bit of old soap.
While the commodore was looking for some more
troops to go and raid this barracks we managed to shave his beard
completely off, trimmed his eye-brows with a pair of old scissors.
He goes back turning
the wheel and eventually the sergeant and lieutenant came, "Where
is the man, the man with the big black beard turning the wheel who is
rude to our commandant, but no man here that's the man turning the
wheel". I think they might have known but eventually he got off,
he was a very, very lucky man, very lucky. He would have been mostly,
they would have bashed him around the shoulders and back with rifle
butts for the language he used; but that's what went on in those
Now I'll go, back to
when they decided to take us, or some of us to Japan, I think about
two hundred and we left Batavia in an old rusty freighter, nearly
falling to pieces. When we got out of Batavia towards Singapore we had
a sub scare and I and some of my mates we had been frightened before.
We had been frightened in the very heavy action we was involved in
Timor fighting the paratroopers and in prison camp in Timor at times
when our own bombers came over. Our camp was very near the airstrip,
the Japanese airstrip, which frightened us when they dropped their
bombs; but there was nothing as frightening as being in the hold of
that hell ship.
We had two or three
Japanese destroyers escorting us and they were dropping depth charges
and this old rusty thing was way down in the hold and the rust, the
vibrations through the water with the depth charges, the rust would
drop down on us. It went on and on, it seemed to go on for hours, I
think it did go on for hours.
In all submarine
warfare a submarine can occasionally get away from two destroyers if
it has got a good commander. He can go deep or he can quieten the sub
right down. I think that's what must have happened, so eventually the
Japanese gave up.
We all had a slight
type of dysentery.
Well, the arrangements
were the rails on the starboard and port side there was two little
boxes, that's all they were, attached to the rail so you had to get,
as weak as you were, you had to get sort of over the rail and there
you would do your job which went into the water. Well, if half a dozen
men went before you with dysentery, you had no footwear at that time,
you can imagine, it's not going to be nice talking about this, but
it's what happened and you can imagine treading in all, getting into
this bloody so called "Benjo" the Japanese word for when you
do your job.
It was awful down in
the hold of that ship.
There was rats running
about. It took a fair while to get to Singapore, I can't remember. I
had Malaria. We had a padre, Padre Kennedy, he was a Roman Catholic
Padre he was a wonderful man.
He was a lot older than
we were, he would be around forty, we would be twenty. He would get
water bottles and he would argue with the Japs up on deck until they
gave him some water. He might have four water battles. He'd struggle
down the ladder and he'd say, "any men sick with malaria",
and sometimes I'd say it and he would come with this water bottle. He
was like an angle, if there are angels, I don't know, he was. He was a
most marvellous man.
He would take beltings
sometimes, a small man, not very big. He'd get belted around the head.
He'd keep asking for water. The water they would say "what about
the Japanese, small men, put up hands, finished, no good, Japanese.
you not Japanese, die". And on and on and on and they'd give him
a thrashing. He's one man you could never forget.
Then eventually we got
up to Singapore. It was a river valley camp. Now a river valley camp
was an awful camp at times, during the wet season, the monsoon, that's
what it was called in those parts. Our so called hut was just mud a
native hut and you just had to lay there, and stay there three or four
days till they got a convoy together. This convoy had some earlier
Well then, people of
the 2/40th and a few 3rd Machine Gun Battalion and a few American men
got on another old ship nearly as bad as the one bringing us from
The same procedure
happened. About halfway to Formosa I think, Formosa is now called
Taiwan I think, we were shadowed by either an Australian or an
American submarine again. I think we were shadowed for nearly two
days; but at that time we had a very powerful escort of Japanese
A destroyer is a very
smart and fast ship and carries a terrific amount of depth charges and
once a submarine commander sees three or four destroyers he usually
gets out of the way pretty quick. Usually three or four destroyers can
pick him up on Asdic they can usually find that submarine; but it's
still nasty to know that he's hanging around. So I think it took like
perhaps a week to get from Singapore to Formosa, or Taiwan.
That's where we stayed
there, on this ship for awhile. They then decided to put us on a
bigger modern ship and so they transferred us on this more modern
ship, I think it was diesel. The little bit of gear we had, a few old
bits of things, we took aboard this ship, and it was loaded with sugar
and bauxite and quite a lot of Japanese women and children, who were
being evacuated to be taken back to Japan.
Well the same thing
happened to us, the POWs was put down in the hold on top of the
bauxite. A few of us decided, there was Dave Lewis, I remember Dave
Lewis, Cyril Eagling, myself, Frank Thomas and a few Americans, a few
British, we decided we wouldn't stay down in that hold, more chance up
on deck we thought. So up we goes, we got fronted, got screamed at in
Japanese, "All men go down in the hold", one of them could
talk a little English.
And an old seaman, he
came along, to us he looked very old, and he could talk quite a bit of
English and he got talking to the ones who were guarding us and then
he said "Where are you from" and I think I said Tasmania and
he said, "Me speak Hobart, good Hobart, good place" and he
talked to the guards in Japanese and then he said, " You men, you
can stay up on deck, you must never get in the way cause we are
working up on deck you must keep out of our way at all times".
So we said yes that's
o.k. So when the guards weren't around the old fella would come around
and offer a packet of cigarettes. He'd give us two or three
cigarettes. Well with two or three cigarettes you'd sit around and
have a puff each of one , share them amongst your mates that way.
Two nights out of
Formosa we struck a typhoon which was a very, very horrible thing to
be in. The seas was coming over the bow of the ship and we found a bit
of rope and Dave Lewis, who was always around ships, his father had
boats and everything, he knew all the different knots, so he roped us
to the rail with this piece of rope. If he hadn't have done that we
would all have been washed overboard. Anyhow gradually that cleared
We had two escorts the
destroyer escorts stayed at Formosa because at that time, 1944, the
American submarines just about had the south-west Pacific and further
north almost to themselves so we had two destroyer escorts and we had
six ships in the convoy. I think most of them were carrying bauxite
because they were getting desperate for aluminium you see for their
They were losing that
many planes and were trying to build them up again. So we stayed up on
deck and had some pretty rough nights and everything, until we seen
A Japanese seamen came
and he said, "That Okinawa", he said, "Okinawa
Japanese, Japanese own Okinawa, Japanese". I'd never heard of the
place Okinawa by then. Nearly two days and we seen green on the other
side of the ship. We asked him and he said "Kyushu, that is the
island, Kyushu big island". All that day we steamed alongside
this island we could see it and that night, the 23rd June 1944, and
the Japanese guards they were hooting, they was nearly home they was
getting into the Saki, putting on a big act. We were all wondering
what it would be like when we get to Japan, won't be long and so we
laid down on the deck. The old seaman had given Dave Lewis and I a few
old rice bags to put on the iron deck and it was a lot better.
About half past eleven
at night I seen a great big flash on the other side of the ship, just
an explosion and Dave had very good eye sight and he said.
he called me Jacky cause there were two Johns in out platoon so I was
called Jacky, "Gee one of the destroyers has blown up".
We had just laid down
and nearly dozed off and then we heard this shocking explosion it was
a terrific explosion, it buggered the eardrums awful for awhile.
It sort of stunned us
and the next thing I could see were the hatch covers, the hatch covers
were big planks, they had some canvas covers put on that to stop the
cargo getting wet in heavy seas, and I seen these flying in the air.
Dave had disappeared and I couldn't see any of the others and each,
man was that shocked, it was shock, and I just stood there shocked and
the next thing I seen the water was nearly up to the rail on this big
ship. I gotta get out of here so I stood on the rail and jumped out as
far as I could cause I heard that if a ship sinks the suction can take
you down and I was a reasonable good swimmer but I was slow, but I
could sort of keep up for a fair while. Thank god it was June which is
the middle of summer in that part of the world. I had a part plate, a
teeth part plate and I had enough sense when I swallowed some water I
was going to be sick.
I held it in one of my
hands and I still had one old shirt, the sleeves had been torn out of
We had torn the shirt
days before down in the hold of the ship and filled the sleeve, tied
at one end, with sugar, I don't know what would have happened if the
ship hadn't had sunk it would have killed us I reckon.
But I did have a
pocket, so I shoved, I had my pay book still in that pocket, so I
shoved my part plate in there. I was getting very, very exhausted and
thinking towards the end "not much hope now". It was pitch
black dark, the next thing I heard a voice, and I'd been with
Americans a long time and I knew their accent straight away, and the
voice said "Anyone around swim this way, swim this way and I'll
keep calling so you can get a line on where I'm calling from." He
didn't seem very far away and he kept calling, "Swim this way,
swim this way". So I kept swimming and I found a raft, he'd got a
raft called? float. They are not very big. I reckon six men could get
on the raft. There was looped ropes right around where there was four
men each side, four sides to hang on to,
rope", he said to me.
"No" I said,
"Right grab that
rope we'll work something out", he said.
He said there were two
or three fellas and the raft, or was it six or seven, he said,
"They are knocked
about a bit so just hang on if you're not knocked about"
I said no I had got hit
on the leg. He said we would wait till day light and see what happens.
Just on daylight some
Japs came along and grabbed and tried to knock some of our chaps in
off the raft. They grabbed hold of it and were screaming and
hollering, they tipped, they nearly tipped the raft over and they did
So this American
he told me he was a commander and he'd been sunk twice. He'd been on a
destroyer. He said any floating bits of wood around, and he said
you're not too bad and we'll pick up a length of wood and if those
bastards, Americans say
"bastards" we say " bastards", grab hold of this
raft and try to tip it over again smack them on the fingers he said,
We're still at war Aussie, still at war he said, it's got to be done.
They tried it again.
Him and I and one of the chaps, who was wounded, knocked about, but
his arms were alright, he got a bit of wood. We gave the Japs a few
taps around the fingers, eventually they let go.
Whether they got on
something else I don't know, there might have been some more stuff
floating about, there was stuff floating about. It didn't matter
whether they drowned or not at that time. It might be callous to say
that now, but we were, getting towards the end of a terrible war these
things happen. We arranged with Ben then that three of the other ones
not so bad they would get over the side of the raft and grab the rope
on the side of the raft and he let me get on top on the raft. So we
stayed there and then daylight came and I could see these things,
pretty awful, the sights you see, we couldn't help anyone else because
it was absolutely full there was no more ropes to hang on to and we
would sink, people drifting away. Eventually daylight came.
That is about the
story of the sinking of that ship and on the raft. I'll
talk a bit further about the ship, how we got picked up by the
Japanese Whaler and taken into Nagasaki. I'll get back to the boat
again. We were on the raft about fourteen hours.
Then fairly late in the
next day the Japanese whale boat came and one of the sailors threw out
a line, a leaded line, and I grabbed it and with one hand holding onto
the rope of the raft and the other hand holding onto the line they
pulled us into the side of the whale boat.
Then they somehow
managed to get us up on deck. They put us down near the funnel, which
was a little bit warm. Some they picked up out of the water, others
they just steamed past them, pretty, callous but that was their way.
Then they took us in to Nagasaki, Port Nagasaki, there they put us on
a truck, or trucks and then a cold rain came in, very mountainous
Nagasaki, off the mountains and we sat in that for about two hours
soaked in this freezing cold. Well that was summer, something like
here in Tasmania, where cold spells come in. Then about half past four
a lot of (?) down near the port and ammunition factories and that sort
of thing. Young girls were working in them and at about half past four
they finished work and they come out. Several walked past the trucks
and they spat towards the trucks, so that's as I said before is a part
of war, they hated us and maybe some of their boyfriends or husbands
was on that ship that had been torpedoed. Looking back at it now we
had no time for them whatsoever.
So eventually they took
us up to a camp and they had us go in and there was tapis on the
floor, just the tapis mats, that's what the Japanese sleep on and
sometime after they bought us a few little wooden buckets of potatoes
in the skin, I still remember, it was wonderful.
We hadn't eaten, I
don't think we had eaten for at least twenty hours before. My right
leg was still very badly bruised. They left us for perhaps three days
and gave us just a little bit of rice or millet or something. Then the
interpreter came marched in with his big shiny boots and so on and he
said, " All men now in Japan, island off Kyushu, all men must
work for Nippon. Tomorrow you go to foundry, factory foundry, all men
will have to work hard and everything". So the next morning we
went down to this factory and the men were divided up into fourteen in
Unfortunately I was
picked for the factory furnace gang. That was very, very hard work,
very hard work on that factory furnace. I think if my memory serves me
rightly about seven tones of material had to be put in, that's a lot
I was on scrap iron
which mostly came from Australia before the war, so there was five men
who had this big steel cart, like a great big barrow, so much bigger
than a barrow, we had to pull it out with this heat and load it. As
weak as you were you'd pull it out to the furnace, the furnace was out
of cause at that time, very hot still of cause.
You had to shovel it
in, a man each side took turns, one each side of the furnace door to
shovel all this scrap.
And also the scrap, the
pieces from the castings down from the casting shop, they was brought
up and they was put on a big tray then picked up by a crane, you had
to pick them up somehow they were so heavy and they was fed into this
furnace. About July I think we started on that furnace, worked, and
the months went by and about November the cold weather started to come
in from the mountains and it was cold. This wind would blow, quite
severe, so the Japs who could talk a bit of English would reckon. You
only had a, they would give you an old pair, well they was new cotton
trousers, sort of a coat blouse and you had a pair of split toed shoes
and a cap, with your Japanese number on it. You had to wear it at all
times. it was part of your dress and that was about it. That was
talking about November, December the weather came in even worse, snow
everywhere and get to the foundry through the snow, I'm talking about
ten hours I suppose then you walked back through the freezing cold.
So quite a few of the
men got pneumonia. The day before Christmas eve 1944 the commandant
called us all together one night, the Jap Commandant, and he had his
interpreter there as well, and through his interpreter he told us,
" All men must sign they will not try to escape".
Well that sounded
a bit silly to all escape Japan, big Australians, Americans and
Englishmen. You would be seen straight
away; but in the Japanese mind we had to sign this. So our camp
commandant, who was a British Squadron Leader in the air force, he
said no we would not sign it.
Anyhow our countries
expect all as possible when they can to escape. Well that's O.K. and
the interpreter went and the Jap Commandant. Next morning about half
past six, I think it might have been Christmas, I'm not sure, round
about Christmas eve or something, snow was getting worse.
It was the worse winter
in Japan for seventy years. We all had to go outside, they lined us
all up in the snow, some had their footwear on, boots and that, others
were bare footed, he said you will stand there until you sign it, I
don't care how long it takes. Well the British Commandant he thought
the men can't stand here much longer they'll be all collapsing, there
will be hardly none left. So he called the interpreter and said we
want to talk to you, through you to the Japanese Commandant. He said,
he must be a pretty brave man, he said, " you must know the war
is getting close to your country and everything".
He said, "When the
Americans and the allies come and you do this terrible thing it will
go bad against you".
The Jap Commandant
wasn't a fool and he thought by gees maybe it will. So and to make it
look right, the Japanese have to save face all the time.
So the British
Commandant, he said, he told us all, the men will sign this under
protest. Well, some of the men standing out there even had slight
pneumonia and that just brought it on completely. And I know it was
Christmas Eve 1944, Max Williams, he joined up when I did, he was
round about 21 at the time, he died that night. Dave Lewis, my friend,
was very, very ill for quite some time and in the finish I think he
would have died. I think the Japanese medical orderly, he must have
went to the Japanese Medical Officer and mentioned it to him, and I
think there must have been a slight little bit of panic.
About this time every
second night, we wasn't very far from the main quarters of Nagasaki,
every few nights you would hear the planes came and I kept saying to
Dave they don't sound like Japanese planes, they have a different
sound, and you could hear the bombing "Boom, Boom," we'd say
keep fighting keep fighting, keep going cause they're bombing the port
They're very close, and
the Japanese got to sort of understand this, they took Dave to the
Japanese doctor and he gave him, I think it was sulphur tablets at
He gradually picked up
a little bit. If they'd kept us another winter in Japan most of us
would have died, the ones that was ill. In 1945 they decided to take
the ones who couldn't do enough work for them in the foundry.
It still left a few, to
a place called Omine which was a coal mining district further away
from Nagasaki, on the coast.
So that's where we went
by train, I think it took a day, and we could tell then, we could
tell, they tried to stop us looking out the window or pulled the
shutters down in the old train carriages. Someone would sneak a look
and he would say "Gees the building over there's been
bombed", or "There's about five incendiary bombs
there". The further we went towards Omine the more you felt it
can't be much longer and it must happen soon, and that gave us a bit
I'll now go back to
Java, I'll put that in. I think the second camp we were sent to on
Java was (?) it being a Dutch army barracks. That's where we were
sent. The Japanese Commandant was Captain Sony, he was a vicious nasty
He had immaculate
uniforms, he had long polished black boots. He had a Samurai sword. He
was a short arsed little bugger and the scabbard on the end nearly
dragged on the ground, and he'd strut through the camp. and if he seen
something which he didn't think right he'd go and tell his guards and
they'd put on a, they'd come out and if you intentionally, or not
intentionally did not bow to one of his guards you got a real hiding.
He run that camp very cruelly. Sometimes, even at night, certain
barrack rooms he'd set his guards on, they'd come rushing in.
If they thought you
might have something or have a bit of wireless hidden or anything and
they'd just turn everything out and you would stand there.
You didn't have a bed
and everything was tipped out onto the cement floor. He was a cruel
man, nobody liked him and in fact we hated him. The hatred got you
fired up a bit and it kept you going, it kept you going in a way that
deep down I suppose, well I thought, most of as thought, one day that
we, the allies, Australia, America, England we'll beat these little
And if you did not
think that, and some us didn't, in (?) camp, there was in all camps,
there was Australians, English and quite a lot of Dutch they might get
Malaria, which was going through that camp like wildfire about every
six weeks you would tackle Malaria.
And often you'd get
Malaria and Dysentery and the same time and some of them sort of give
up, they'd give up and in a couple of weeks they'd be dead. Quite a
lot of sickness in Cycle camp.
There was Malaria,
continual Malaria and for a while, my friends and myself got an egg a
day, and that picked me up and after a few weeks I was back every day
going out on a working party. Working parties were, I don't know what
they were at Cycle camp I can't remember. I know one job was in a big
factory carting all the steel engine blocks and everything, was sent
back to Japan, we was loading those. It was pretty heavy work when you
wasn't fit, and that was Cycle camp.
A very nasty place.
Now back to Japan,
Omine, when we came up from Nagasaki. Omine was a coal mining area,
coal mining there, and they kept us there for a few days and then they
put us unto different shifts.
There was morning
shift, afternoon shift and night shift. You worked in the mine and I
worked underground in the coal mine for some time. Then they wanted so
many, it wasn't many of us , I think about twenty, to drive a tunnel
underground where they was going to put all their generators equipment
in case of bombing. Generators were used to charge lights, mining
lights. Each man had a sort of wet battery, which went on your belt on
your hip, and a cable ran from that to a light on top of your helmet.
That was a lot better than working on the coal face, a lot better.
This would be about May 1944. The Americans was coming over by Fukouka
a big rail head, by night, you could hear the bombs dropping and then
sometimes later on when the weather got better they came over in day
time and they'd put us in this underground air raid shelter.
It was awful right down
in this air raid shelter, you didn't know if you'd get a direct hit or
not; but fortunately they was after the railways and the railhead. But
they'd bomb close, very close to the camp at Omine. Also when we got
to Omine there was quite a few chaps from the 2/40th.
They'd been up working
on the Burma Railway Line. I think they must have come back to
Then they took them to
Japan to work in the coal-mines and the foundries and all that and I
seen some fellas I hadn't seen for some time and they told me the
awful time they had working on the railways. Terrible long hours they
had to work, the wet season, the mud, the slushing mud. We stayed in
Omine until about July. Round about July rumours started flying, you'd
hear bits of news, rumours started.
Someone might have had
an old wireless and we would get a bit of news that the Americans had
invaded Okinawa. Okinawa was, I can't remember now, perhaps 300 miles
from Kyushu, the Island we were on was Kyushu, and we thought this is
close. And of course it went through your mind what would happen when
the marines landed on Kyushu. We had some of us a bit of a feeling,
and some of the Englishmen who worked in the mines in Wales, I had a
friend who was a Welshman, he helped me a lot, and his idea was that
when the marines landed they was going to march us all down
underground, the ones on the coal face, down into the generator tunnel
and blow it up. At that point it would have been quite possible
because they would not have us in the way. You could tell how
desperate they were, there was a school nearby at Omine. Sometimes you
could see the children, about ten or twelve years old, boys and girls.
They trained with long
bits of bamboo, perhaps eight feet long hardened at one end, even the
kids were going to fight when the marines landed so that's it they
just wasn't going to give up, you could tell that. They wouldn't have
given up at all.
Early in August 1945
you could tell that the war was just about over. Dozens and dozens of
flying fortresses would fly over every day and you would rarely see a
Japanese fighter plane, you'd hardly see and at all. Then the end of
came and we did not have to go down into the mine and we thought that
was very unusual, and walking down to the toilet we would walk past a
guard and never bow, they never said anything and looked real sad.
I think about three
days after that an American fighter plane flew over and dropped a
message and we managed to retrieve a message and the message told us
that the war was over, it was from General Macarthur's Headquarters.
The war was over and
that we were to stay there where we were and eventually they would
come and try to retrieve us. We were told we were not to harm the
Japanese but we had to take over the Japanese guard house etc. The
Commandant of that camp was Tasmanian, Ron Williams, Lieutenant Ron
Williams, he was a friend and a good man.
In August it got rather
foggy and you'd hear the fortress flying over trying to look for us to
drop foodstuff and medical goods and all.
I think hardly a week
went by and the steam plant that cooked the rice had got damaged and
we were worst off than before. But eventually one fine day an
American, he found an old mirror, a big old mirror in a house and he
climbed up one of the barrack buildings and he kept flashing it, he
was a signaller in the United States Navy. Two of three B29's came
over and they dropped, by parachute they dropped a lot of food stuffs,
footwear, clothing, cigarettes, chewing gum, "K" Rations, so
on and so forth, Spam, and that was a very great day. That was about
nearly two weeks after the surrender. Soon after the surrender we had
to stay at Ominei for a week or two and then the Americans arrived, I
think they was American Marines, and a wonderful sight to see them
come, march into the camp, and told us "We'll look after the
buggers now". So we stayed three or four more days and then we
was told we was going down to Nagasaki. So we left on train fairly
early in the morning and it took a long, long while to get down to
Nagasaki. They'd repaired the line fairly well and that. And when we
came into Nagasaki, they used to be suburbs of Nagasaki, there was
just nothing, it was just flattened.
Even the pine trees on
the hills surrounding the city were scorched. Anyhow the train took us
right in to the port area which fortunately, whether it was planned
that way when they dropped the bomb off I would not know, but that
wasn't so badly damaged it still had a few port facilities there.
And there was a band
there and the band played the American National Anthem and then it
played Waltzing Matilda. An American Army girl with donuts and hot
coffee, so we had that when we got off the train which was good. We
were told not to walk into the city.
They didn't tell us
anything about the bomb, they just said it was dangerous, we just
thought the dangerous old buildings might collapse. We had a bit of a
poke around, a bit of a walk round, you could see the, where the (?)
the American Navy had them all surrounded by their subs, couldn't get
any oil tankers or anything in; but they used horses and old floats,
old horse floats, old drays and anything. There were the skeletons
still in the shafts, the horses and different things. They had removed
most of the bodies of the people by then. It was a real big nasty
sight to see really.
So then they took us to
a place nearby, we had showers and got rid of our old clothes.
We were fumigated to
get rid of the lice and fleas and bugs and so on and so forth. We were
sprayed, they didn't tell us, this man had a, a soldier, I think it
was a marine, and he had a spray gun and he sprayed you with (?) and
he was giving us a new set of American clothes, under clothes, the
lot. Then we was taken aboard the United States Destroyer Green, which
had seen action it Okinawa.
It had had three
funnels one of those old class destroyers, it had two one had got
knocked off by a Kamikaze plane, and patch repaired. That was the
beauty of the Americans, they could repair anything so quickly. The
crew, the American crew, they gave us up their bed bunks, they slept
on deck in hammocks, it was very good of them. So that's what, well
that's what you'd call or I would call the first part of getting into
real freedom. Quite a bit of it I think I wrote in that diary but some
was repetitious and some was thoughts that came into my mind. It was
so long ago some of the things that happened you just forget, maybe
it's for the best.
When we got to Okinawa
we could see where the marines, where they fought that big battle.
There was ships lying as far as I could see, they hadn't taken them
away from Okinawa, they was still there.
If they hadn't dropped
the atom bomb they would have been on their way to (?) the Island we
had just left. In that way we was fortunate the bomb was dropped. It
saved our lives and it saved all those Americans, and maybe
Australians would have gone in there too. At any rate we stayed on the
destroyer for I think about a day and the next day we was transferred
to a British Aircraft Carrier.
The name of the carrier
was "The Speaker". The same thing we would gets lots of
amounts of good food. By the time I got off the ship I over indulged
in good food.
We had ice cream and
things like that. At any rate after that, the ship, the lend-lease was
finished or something, from the Americans so we had to go into Hong
Kong, I think to restore the ship, so we went to Hong Kong in a day or
so and we got permission to leave the ship and we went into Hong Kong
City and had a look around and met a few Aussie Sailors, there was our
destroyers in Hong Kong Harbour. We had a few beers there and come
back to the ship.
I think the next day
the captain said we was going to Manila in the Philippines. It was
quite good on the ship we had to get up on the flight deck and have a
bit of a walk round there, a bit of exercise, and the sun and
everything and it was quite good, and we could feel the food starting
to help us.
So we arrived at Manila
and was taken to a, if I remember rightly it took a while to get off
"The Speaker", pretty rough weather set in, but we got off
the ship eventually and was taken to a camp outside of Manilla, an
American camp it was. There we had very good treatment. The doctors
examined us and had a good stool test and mine showed positive for
Hookworm. The next morning a big American Negro came and had a great,
big long pill, had to take that. After awhile he gave me a medicine
glass full of castor oil, he said, "You won't get much rest today
Aussie", so that worked on you and you had to have another stool
test and directly when it showed clear by then "The speaker"
was gone of course.
I think some of the
Australians went home on it, it went to Sydney at any rate. Then they
told us, those of us who was in my group, had to stay on Manila a
little longer we would fly home, there wasn't any more ships, we would
fly home. So we was taken out on the harbour in one of those R.A.A.F.
boats to a Catalina Flying Boat.
Now this was the first
time I had ever been on a plane, never been on a plane before, it was
a bit scary but a bit (?) and I think the plane we was on, the water
was a bit rough, had a couple of attempts to take off, I remember
that, Anyway it got up. It was a very slow seaplane. They had terrific
range in those days they could fly thousands of miles.
We took off and you
could see the islands and everything. I think we landed out of Morati.
Morati is an island just off Borneo the Australians had taken it not
many weeks before really. They went in and took it and the Australian
soldiers were doing a lot of this island hopping at that time, called
island hopping because the Australians had to go in and take it again.
We was met again,
pretty well looked after, stayed the night, good accommodation, the
food was good. In the morning, early, we was told, yes it's come back
to me now, we was told the next place we landed would be Darwin, and
that would be Australian soil.
Well we landed in
harbour actually, Darwin Harbour, because it was a flying boat.
We was met by R.A.A.F.
boats again and taken into Darwin and the bus met us and we were taken
to Darwin army camp. That's where I first met Australian Army girls.
These were lovely girls you know, and they was very good to us because
they knew we had had a tough time but they didn't ask us many
questions. They was quite good, they did a bit of sewing by needle,
sewing patches on and things like that, they'd do that.
I think we had three or
four days at Wynelli ? and we was building up more, they didn't want
us to arrive home looking too bad. So we had quite a good stay in
Wynelli ?, so that's what happened there.
Then after those few
days of rest we was taken to Darwin, Darwin Airport, or it might have
been the R.A.A.F. base I suppose and we were told we would be flying
direct to Melbourne, that was a long trip in those days, in a
Liberator Bomber. Just prior to this, the night before we left we was
allowed each man was allowed a phone call home. I didn't know any one
who had a phone, I knew ??? Father In Law, Mr. Cooper, he would have
had a phone because he was a businessman in Launceston at that time.
Anyhow the army girl she found a Tasmanian phone book, and she was
wonderful. Wait, wait, wait and at last I got through to Mr. Cooper
and my sister and brother in law then were living at Mr. Coopers
residence, Fred had just got out of the Air force.
And I talked to Gwen
and there was a lot of surprises, she told me she was married and this
all happened while I was away, Margaret was married and Bessy was
married with a little boy, and that was pretty good news. The next
morning we got on this big Liberator Bomber and we flew direct to
We was met there, and
because we just come from the tropics and this was very early October,
now everyone knows October has south westerly winds in Melbourne and
it was pretty cold.
So we were met by cars
by a group of Red Cross ladies with blankets, if we got cold, to put
round us, it was wonderful. We got ourselves into a convoy, a few
people waved to us too, and we got to the Repatriation Hospital at
Heidelberg in the suburbs, I can't remember where it was.
Anyway we were taken to
this Repatriation Hospital and we were looked after there.
I know the name of it
now, Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital a very big hospital. I think we
was gone over again there, checked again, given a few more under
clothes and different things and I think that's where we got our
Service Uniforms again, I'm not sure.
Anyhow a few nights
there and a friend and I, another chap and I, we got leave one night
to go into Melbourne and we got on the train and it was so strange
people reading this can't imagine how strange it would be. We was
young men gone away when we were nineteen or twenty and come back some
of us in our twenty fifth or sixth year.
We had never been in a
city until this time. Getting on electric trains and seeing cars, it
was very, very, very strange. We got a day leave and night leave. You
had to be back at eleven o'clock at night, I think the leave pass
said, so we thought we would have a good time so we were walking
through, we were going to have a look at the War memorial, we had
never seen that because we went straight through Melbourne when we
went up north. So we went out and had a look at the War Memorial and
coming back, a plane, I'll never forget it, a plane went over, of
course there wasn't any passenger planes in those days, it might have
been Ansett, and we both dived behind a tree, animal instinct, but it
was still in you you see. It frightened us this aeroplane. We caught a
tram then, an old tram, and now we were handling things a bit better,
caught the old tram and went into the city.
We met a few army girls
and they had leave that night, two of them and we asked if they'd like
to come out that night and they said yes they would. They were
Tasmanian girls from Hobart, they said it would cost a fortune at the
Hotel Australia, we said it didn't matter, it would, we had a bit of
money then got to go somewhere good so that's where we went, had a
good night. That was the first taste of a big city after all those
years in the army and prison camps. The next move we was told we would
be going home from Heidelberg Hospital to Tasmania.
So about two days later
we was transported by car to Port Melbourne and there a group of us we
got on the old steamer Nirana and overnight, the next morning we
arrived off Tamar Heads, the first sight of Tasmania after altogether
over five years, the time I spent in the territory and so on.
Then we steamed up into
the Tamar and it was October, if I remember, October, coming up the
river on both sides there was a terrific amount of apple orchards then
in 1945, they're all gone now, all the apples were in bloom and it was
a wonderful sight. We were just on deck, having a smoke and just
talking and looking at it and we said to each other well we went
through a lot we stopped the Japanese on Timor, all the paratroopers,
it was a great credit I think to our battalion and being three and a
half years prisoner of war for all we put up with it was worth it,
Tassie was still a free state and hadn't been taken, which was
terribly close to having been taken, us people who were prisoners of
war knew how close the Japanese got. We eventually arrived in
Launceston, tied up and got off the ship. There was my mum and my
three sisters. Bessy had Robert, he was about eighteen months old. I
seen him and then several other friends I met who was there, and my
old friend Bobby Perkins, who I had worked with, he had a taxi then,
an old Chev it was, and he drove us up to where we was living in
Mulgrave St. They had a banner across Mulgrave St. It had on it
"Welcome home John our loved one", and then I knew we was
home to freedom.
That was about arriving
home to Tasmania. We had about two or three weeks leave and then we
were taken to Campbell Town Hospital, Campbell Town Hospital had a big
military hospital, which was out of town.
We saw quite a lot of
doctors there and they tried to give us all this crap, psychology and
all that business to see whether we were troppo or not. A few of us
was still a bit weak, hadn't put on very much weight. They had this
convalescent home at Evandale, so we came on an old bus from Brighton,
an old charcoal burner.
It took over five hours
to come from Brighton Camp to Evandale in this old bus. So we were
there and we got onto this good solid food and everything, and we was
allowed to go back to our homes. So with everyone feeling better in
themselves and getting to know your family again which was hard, you
know awkward. Going into the city of Launceston and getting used to
things again it was all heavy going. Still we got through that all
right with the help of our family and loved ones.
I think the next thing
to happen was to go down to Brighton and get our discharge.
We were asked a lot
more questions then and quickly got a discharge, went to Hobart, Teddy
and myself and Dave Lewis, stayed at the Y.M.C.A., a few shillings a
night, we had a good time. Met a couple of girls, two or three nurses,
one was a cook, worked at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
We spent quite a
considerable amount of money, cause we decided we had five years taken
out of our lives from nineteen until when we came back, we had a bit
of time to make up. And we made it up too.
I came back to
Launceston and I moved into Mulgrave St again with my mother, all in
the one house in those times, my grandfather, Bessy and Monty, had a
little room, a kitchenette and Robert. First of all I had nearly two
months of leave coming to me so I spent a couple of weeks knocking
around and drinking, I got sick of that. I got a job with Monty at
H.W. Cox the builders. Got a job off siding on the truck and builders
labourer. The job was out at the old Western Junction Airport, there
was dozens of billets for the R.A.A.F., they trained out there during
the war. Well they had to be pulled down to make way for civil
aviation and that was the job. It was in the real summer time.
It was October and it
was real hot. The younger fellas and some of the old chaps who worked
there hadn't gone to war, was too old or the young fellas, "Oh
the heat, the heat, the heat don't worry you". I said well I've
been used to it, four or five years up in the tropics.
So I stayed there until
that job was finished. Then the manpower said didn't want to go back
to Richardson's Motor Body Works; but the manpower at the time said
you had to go back, finish your apprenticeship. So I went back there
and he was an old bugger to work for.
He didn't believe in
paying, some of us had to wait around for your pay and different
things. Anyhow I put up with that until I finished my apprenticeship
then I went to, I don't know where I went to then I think it might
have been auto repairs out Invermay Road, spray painting and that sort
of thing. The years went on, 1947 or 48, I met a nurse at the
Launceston General Hospital, Julie, and we got married. Bessy and
Monty moved out of Mulgrave St. I helped Monty make hundreds and
hundreds of bricks, concrete bricks we made. Then we carted them by
trailer, we made the trailer, for the old A Ford and we carted them up
to Merivale St.
Everyone helped, all
the ex-service men around Launceston most of them, didn't matter what
service they was in at that time they helped one another. If someone
wanted a car touched up well I would do that, if someone wanted a bit
of carpentry well Monty would do that and vice versa we all worked in
that way. Anyhow we got that done and then we decided we would like to
go to Rosebery and we got to get a job and Mick Fitzmaurice, Julie's
father he worked at Rosebery and there might be a job down there. So,
we didn't even write or anything, we packed an old, Prefect 10 it was.
It was in pretty bad shape, the valves nearly burnt out, Dave Lewis'
father did a bit of work on it, and we got in that, with the little
baby on the back seat.
It was a rough trip
compared to how we travel today, you travel in comfort today, no doubt
about it, air condition, power steering and what have you.
None of those things
and little skinny narrow tyres. From Deloraine to way past Bronte Park
we had three punctures, it wasn't too good. Anyway it took eight hours
to get to Queenstown. We went round to Rosebery by train. We went
around to the company, the Electric Zinc Company, we had a job in I
think about ten days. We had to all come back over the mountain again
and they got a job and I went back down again, a different way then.
We went down the pass,
I can't think of the name of it, you go through Burnie and you go down
this long, long pass, it those days as far as Gilbert Junction. You
connected with the line there that went from Burnie to Rosebery. You
had to put your car on the train, and that's how you went, another
four or five hours trip. You unloaded at Rosebery and you could drive
a little bit, there were roads. And we drove round there and up the
house we stayed there in the house with Julie's mum and dad and Tas
for a little while. Tas went back to Hobart (?) college he went back
there. He and I, we used to go and do a bit of shooting, we had .22
rifles, around Rosebery, didn't do much good. Tried to catch a few
fish. I stayed there and rather enjoyed it.
Finished up with a good
lead? Bonus, I was doing most (?) and we came back and then another
chap who worked at Richardson's and I decided to have a go on our own
and we got this little place in Wellington St.
We was doing a lot of
work for Mr. Batton who made children's high chairs and cots, had to
be sprayed and little stencil patterns put on them and this and that.
Then I started getting, first, most of us then got this problem it was
you know you had lost interest in things, that wasn't the best.
So they decided they'd
send us down to Millbrookrise which was a hospital on the Derwent. And
in their great wisdom this old Doctor Williams, a lady doctor, and in
her great wisdom she decided we got all these ex-prisoners, they
suffer from all these problems, mental problems. The radiation,
perhaps the ones in Nagasaki affected their brains and all this crap
trap, and we never, we never volunteered or anything and they gave us,
myself, Noel Cloves, Margaret's husband Bob, an old friend of mine,
Frank Hopwood, who's still going, this bloody electric shock
treatment, that's what they gave us. That made us worse, it's no
wonder a mans got problems now. Anyhow got back over that and I went
back I think to auto repairs and trade spray painting and that's about
everything of my life from during the war until that time.
Talking about Rosebery
I'd better cut in here while I was at Rosebery Judy was born at Zeehan
and that was a water bag journey to get her down, you know young women
today are driven by their husbands straight to maternity ward.
At Rosebery in 1950 the
ambulance driver had to be woken up first, so the ambulance driver
said "Right come with me we've got to wake up the rail motor
driver and we went down to where the old motor was on the rails, in a
shed but on the rails, and they had problems starting that, an old
International, they were the days. The battery was half flat and we
had to swing on the starting handle at last we got it going, got into
Rosebery and into Zeehan.
And then, that's as far
as I could go in those days you couldn't go in the ward with your wife
or anything, so I came back then on the old railroad, and I went to
work. And I think on the next day a phone call came, telling me at
work, at lunch time, that's how I found out that Judy had been born.
So it was two or three
days, the rail motor only ran two or three days a week, I went in to
see Judy and Julie. They were different times and different things so
of course it's a lot better now and so it should be. We put a deposit
on a house at Kingsmeadows, I saved this money.
At Rosebery you could
either save your money or drink your money, well I saved it. I would
still go to the R.S.L. Club and have two or three beers but that's all
I did, I saved it. I did moonlighting at the weekends.
I painted out the
butchers shop, I did two or three other little jobs down there, and
you know good money down there people paid you for doing these things,
it was quite good, so that was the deposit on the house at
Kingsmeadows. I always say, I mean I think I was a good tradesman,
well I must have been. I was offered a job, things weren't the best at
those times too, it was a couple of weeks at Kingsmeadows. Then I went
down to Hollis Motors they opened a new great big place where
Stevensons cars are now, at Kingsmeadows and I got a job there spray
They assembled, all the
trucks at those times came from England, Great Briton and they was
assembled there from little pick-ups up to great big seven or eight
ton trucks. My job was when the cab was put on, it had just been
undercoated from England, had to rub all that down, if dents were
found had to knock all those out, had to rub all those down. and you
primed them, then you undercoated them. And they were getting that
popular cause no other trucks were coming in.
And some days I would
spray paint two in a day, a green one perhaps in the morning and a red
one in the afternoon. I still remember. My lungs weren't too good if
it wasn't the fuel oil I swallowed on that ship that was torpedoed (?)
especially the red truck.
You'd have a mask, it
weren't so bad in those times, there was a little fan in the spray
booth, but it didn't matter you'd cough up, you were spitting up this
And the paint in those
days wasn't as good as what it is now it would have a lot of stuff in
it and we're hearing about it now.
They didn't tell us
then, perhaps they didn't know. It wasn't the best. And some of the
enamel thinners, as far as I know, had the same thinners that some of
the leading oil companies have been mixing in with petrol to make you
I can't think of the
name of it but that's what it was and it didn't do your health the
world of good I assure you. So I stuck it out, the money was good.
Then I went down to open another business, not many people know this,
at Latrobe, Robbie Turner and I, we got a cottage down there, and that
business was going.
And then this illness,
it crept up on me again, anxiety, depression and maybe the worry the
business started, we wasn't going too bad, two families could make a
living out of it. We talked it over and talked it over and decided to
come back to Launceston. We got a place at Waverley. I was still down
and that and they sent me down to Repat had me on tablets and
different things. It wasn't the best at times.
John Tasman PROSSER
View St Launceston.