POW Camps in Taiwan
British WWII POWs remember life as prisoners in Taiwan
By Rachel Chan, CNA
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Three elderly British war veterans have revisited Taiwan over the past week, where they have experienced a totally different set of circumstances from their last trip to the island more than 60 years ago when they were incarcerated here as prisoners of war (POWs) of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
William Roy, Stan Wood and Stan Vickerstaff were part of a group of six former POWs who flew to Taiwan to participate in the Nov. 12-16 series of POW commemoration activities, and while here they revisited the POW camps in which they were held in Taipei City's Dazhi District and Xindian and Jinguashi in Taipei County.
The annual event is organized by Michael Hurst, MBE and director of the Taiwan Prisoner of War Camps Memorial Society, which was founded in 1997 to unearth the stories of World War II POWs in Taiwan.
“I don't think I will come again because it's a long and tiring journey, but I'm glad that I've come,” said 91-year-old Wood, who was held at the Kinkaseki POW camp in Jinguashi.
“I never wanted to come back. I wanted to have nothing to do with it. I drew a curtain down so as to not have any memory about it,” Wood said while recalling the hardships the POWs suffered and the atrocities they were subjected to by their captors.
From 1942-1945, Taiwan, then a colony of Japan, had 14 POW camps around the island housing Allied soldiers captured in the Pacific war. The Kinkaseki Camp, located nearby the copper and gold mine at Jinguashi, was the most notorious, with prisoners continually being brought from other camps to work as slave labor in the mine.
According to the Taipei POW Camps Memorial Society in Taiwan, 10 percent of some 4,300 POWs held in Taiwan were killed or died in captivity, compared with just 1-2 percent of those captured by the Germans and Italians, the other Axis powers.
The POWs suffered constant threat of death, disease, starvation and other ill treatment.
Vickerstaff recalled that in November 1942, when they were brought to Taiwan from Singapore, the Japanese had civilians with children standing along the road holding their noses as a sign of disrespect to witness the deplorable condition of the British POWs, who had arrived after a three-week journey on a prison ship.
“The idea was that the Japanese were trying to humiliate us. They had schoolchildren watching us. It was all a big propaganda exercise for the Japanese,” said Vickerstaff, who was attending the remembrance ceremony for the fourth time.
Every day, they had to climb 800 steps to work in the mine and were given only a small amount of rice and watery soup with a few vegetables, according to Vickerstaff, who added that most of the men ended up weighing less than 45 kg.
Asked whether they hated Japan for their suffering, the three former POWs expressed different feelings.
Roy, 88, who was held at Camp No. 6 where he was engaged in farming and worked in a railway repair shop, said he hated the Japanese at the beginning, but as the years have gone by, he now lets bygones be bygones.
Wood expressed similar feelings, saying that whenever he thinks of the image of a little Taiwanese girl he met after being released from the camp, he lost all his hatred toward Japan. The image of the girl, who was terrified of him because the prisoners were smeared by the Japanese as ruthless killers, haunted him for years, he added.
Vickerstaff said his feelings for the Japanese have never amounted to hate, but that he would never forgive them for what they did because a lot of it was “totally unnecessary.”
“I feel sorry for them because they were so inhumane and I think a lot of it has to do with the way the Japanese army was trained. They turned decent, ordinary people into savages and we had to suffer for that,” said Vickerstaff.
“It was sheer determination that kept us going. We always knew that in the end we were going to win the war, so it was always a question of 'can we last out until that time?'” he added.
Saying that they will never forget what the Japanese did, the three POWs said they would love to see the Japanese government acknowledge and apologize properly for their atrocities, but added that they have nothing against the younger generation of Japan because they are not the ones to be blamed.
“The whole purpose of the war was to make them see that their way was wrong and our way was better,” Wood said.
Turning to their impressions of Taiwan, Roy, who brought his son along on the trip, said he was surprised by the experience and would like to come back with his daughter in the future so that they could see with their own eyes some of the images in his stories about Taiwan and could learn more about this page of history.
Wood said that while Taiwan was a complete and utter mystery to him during his imprisonment and even today, “the kindness of the people and the hospitality is out of this world.”
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