28 Sep 1942, John Charter's wartime journal

Submitted by HK Bill on Sun, 04/18/2021 - 10:17

((John continues describing the show held on 19th September.)) The entertainment itself (or the various numbers) was quite amusing, but the really funny stuff came from outside. After one or two items had been completed, I noticed several people in the audience looking up to a balcony of the Warder’s Club. Following their gaze I saw a Japanese photographer setting up a fairly large camera on a tripod and directing it at the stage. Presently there was a vivid flash as the photo was taken, producing several squeaks and squeals from the various startled members of the audience. The photographer shifted his camera and took another flashlight photo and then he and his assistants descended to the bowling green to take photos of the audience and entertainers from a lower level - and then the fun began. He took one snap of a performer from the front row and then he turned round and focused his camera on the audience. Suddenly I heard a tittering from one side of the audience and beheld several up-stretched arms with the fists clenched except for the index and middle fingers which were widely forked in a ‘V’ for victory sign! Just at that moment there was a vivid flash followed by a shout of laughter! Then the photographer moved to the sides and back of the green, taking 3 or 4 more flashlights of the audience with the stage in the background. By now of course, the idea had caught on and wherever you looked there was an absolute forest of arms with forked fingers, or arms joined at the elbows and forking out to make bigger ‘Vs’, and a perpetual tittering and babble of sound, while every flash from the photographer was accompanied by an absolute roar of laughter!! I had the best laugh since I came to camp!

It really was too funny to think of this photographer taking pictures for newspaper publication of the kindness with which the British Civilian Internees were being treated by the all victorious Japanese, and all he collected was a forest of V’s from these wretched ungrateful people! No one paid any attention to the unfortunate artistes (except Tim who seemed to think the audience was behaving very badly - which no doubt they were!) and one or two of them, who perhaps could not see what was afoot beyond the footlights, certainly looked rather peeved; however they carried on with grim and truly British determination - and I have no doubt fully appreciated the joke afterwards! And what was the sequel to all this?  Why, the tender pride and dignity of the Japanese was deeply offended and in consequence the concert for this following Saturday (in which Y and I were taking parts!) was cancelled!  Can one imagine anything more puerile?

The C.S. had a long talk about the matter with a gendarmerie officer in which he put forward the really truthful point of view that no insult or offence was intended to the Japanese but that the whole incident was merely the expression of prisoners of war who naturally hoped their own side would ultimately be victorious; and he said, furthermore that if the tables were reversed he was certain the Japanese would make similar gestures of optimism and faith and they would not be resented. I, for one, cannot imagine British authorities behaving in this manner which seems to lack all sense of humour. I think the Japanese would have gained considerable ‘face’ in the eyes of the British here if they had just laughed the whole thing off. As it is, they have lost considerable face by our standards by admitting their exasperation and annoyance.

It appears that the unfortunate Yamashita and Nakazawa (No. 1 and No. 2 Japanese Camp Superintendents) were found (when the photos were developed with wide grins on their faces in one of the pictures. Apparently they were summoned before the authorities and severely dressed down, and (rumour has it) had their faces slapped. Elma told me that with the party of photographers was a fairly high Japanese official (rumour says a gentleman from Tokyo) who had been told that the internees of Stanley were docile and well behaved; so it was unfortunate he should choose that particular night to visit the camp, for he was evidently much annoyed at what occurred. Tim said that later, Gimson was summoned and it was explained that for the British to give the V for victory sign was to suggest the possibility that one day the Japanese army might be defeated, and this was a gross insult to the Emperor as the Japanese army had never been defeated. Well, I suppose an army can go on making tactical withdrawals to the bitter end. But I think these Japanese gentlemen take themselves rather too seriously.

A day or two ago, Yamashita and Nakazawa came down and tore a whole number of our notices from the board. These notices all, apparently, contained some reference to the war, and that, evidently is now strictly forbidden. In future all notices have first to be signed by the Chinese block supervisor before being posted.

Finally, and it would appear, to close this episode, the whole of the B.C.C. was summoned before Mr Yamashita who evidently spoke to them with admirable restraint. He informed them that they must remember we are prisoners here, that there are camp rules that must be observed; that it is incumbent upon us not to upset or offend the gendarmes as he, Yamashita takes his orders from them and cannot do much to intercede on our behalf. In fact he really does seem to do his best for our well being here. In our position it is foolish to attempt to be defiant, but I am glad we showed we have not been quite cowed!  

The internees have been allowed to bathe since the beginning of July. We bathe at Tweed Bay beach, the nicest little beach on the island. It used to be the Governor’s private beach, though the senior prison officers were allowed to use it. The Hackett’s and James Norman had often invited Y and me to tennis or dinner at their houses on the hill here, and we had frequently bathed at the beach. ((After the war we continued as a family to use this beach, which is just below Stanley Prison and for which my father had an official pass, until 1967. Each visit must have brought back poignant memories for my parents.))

I was in the original gang of about 6 workmen that the Japanese allowed to go down and clear the way. To start with, we had to remove one of the steel French windows from Billy’s shattered house on the hill. We dug the frame from the brick jambs and concrete lintel without unhinging the door. Then we lugged this down to the barbed wire fence which cut off the approach to the beach along the western wall of the prison. This was at the beginning of June. We propped the door there (the glass of course had been shattered) and there it remained for a month pending final sanction from the Japanese authorities to carry on. When this permission came at last, they provided us with some rough timber for framing and Fraser, Purves and Murphy, all of the PWD, whom I had selected, and I went along with Neilson (still Chairman of the B.B.C.) and MacLeod (head of the camp Sanitary squad), cut the barbed wire fence and with the timber framing erected the door, nailing up the barbed wire to the door post again. Next, we went down to the beach and cut a way through the triple barbed wire fence, erected months ago by our troops as part of the Colony’s defences. We had chosen a couple of very hot days for this job, but it was delightful to get on to the beach; how we longed for a swim.

There was quite a pleasant little Japanese gendarmerie officer from the prison who had been having a swim and he talked to us for some time. A Sikh guard, who had been hovering about at the top of the high bank above the beach, shouted to us to come up; but the Japanese officer (whom he had not seen) shouted at him to come down instead! So the mountain had to come to “Mahommet”. We wandered up and down the beach picking up odds and ends. Purves found a fairly big leather holster (probably for a ‘very light’ pistol) which later he let me have for shoe repair purposes. I found a new looking shoe (Chinese woman) and a small tin of nugget shoe polish. I also found a recent human skull, the lower jaw bone being there, though detached. I examined it and found the teeth quite good (probably the skull of a young man or woman) and the few that were stopped had been stopped by a good dentist. The bridge of the nose seemed very low so I concluded it was the skull of a Chinese, probably washed up from the sea. I removed the skull and pitched it into the shrubbery, to clear up the beach.

Some days later Purves told me that the body of a European soldier had been observed on the beach for many weeks when we first came here. It was along time before we managed to obtain permission from the Japanese to remove and bury the remains of two Canadian soldiers which were on the rocks below the hospital. But I found no bones other than the skull and am still inclined to think this skull or head had been washed up - possibly from a junk.

Lately there has been a great deal of air activity about. On several days flights of 3, 6 or 9 planes have passed overhead. Last Tuesday there was a buzzing of many planes at about mid-day and I rushed out onto the balcony and watched them (9 of them) until they disappeared past the corner of our block. Then I saw several people pointing excitedly so I rushed down and looked up again at the planes. By then they were about a couple of miles away and below them, floating slowly down, were two enormously long and narrow white streamers, one descending or fluttering about in the definite shape of a large V and the other something like a  W. Crowds of people came out of their rooms (this during the sacred rest hour) and there was much speculation as to what they were. Some people thought they were friendly planes that had dropped these V for victory streamers; others said they were pamphlets. But I know this second guess was wrong because I had seen Japanese planes dropping leaflets during the war and the leaflets always blew out into great clouds and did not keep in a narrow line. Well, there was a great deal of excited speculation about these white lines, but nothing was definitely established about it.

The evening before yesterday we watched a convoy of two cruisers and three merchant ships slipping out between the islands as the light faded from the sky. Later that night under a brilliant moon, we had heard a ship’s hooter out at sea giving continuous single blasts. Harold said it was a distress signal and we all jumped out of bed and ran onto the balcony. Then the sound died away and we retired again to bed. Soon after we heard the much deeper siren of another ship and again dashed out onto the balcony straining our ears for gunfire or explosions. But nothing else happened. It was certainly a grand night for submarines. Numerous tramps come in and out every day. I wish we knew what it all means.

There is a feeling of optimism in the camp just now. By its silence on the subject of the Libyan and South Russian Fronts, the HK News virtually admits that the British and Russians are doing well in these vital sectors. The news that somehow filters into camp about the war out here and local conditions is all very heartening. Oh! When will we be out of this wretched camp? September is nearly finished so I am hoping my second prophecy will prove correct and we shall soon have an indication of what will happen to us.

Date(s) of events described