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That’s What you Call Being Worked to Death

Heroes Remember

That’s What you Call Being Worked to Death

At Kai Tek I moved boulders mostly but earth moving. They were tearing down this hill to give them a few extra yards of runway. But they were using the airport at the time but this was really getting rid of that house across the street so we could see through it, you know. The planes would come in more freely, larger planes I suppose. But it was just bull labour work. They had little railroad tracks there, not railroad, but little mini tracks with earth movers on them. Fill that up with shovels, but it was hot. Holy jeez, it was hot. This was the summer of 1942. It was hot. And there was a lot of diphtheria. We lost about 400 people there that summer in camp from diphtheria. They had nothing to give anybody - drink lots of water. I remember that we used to come home from work generally after dark. This portion was when we used the boats to get around and we’d asked who was it today and they’d call off four or five names of friends that had died from diphtheria. One guy, I’m pretty sure, I know his name, he flaked out on the grounds there and they picked him up and brought him back to barracks. By the time we got back that night, he was dead. That’s what you call being worked to death, you know. Saw that in Japan, too.

Mr. Jessop describes working at Kai Tek airport and gives an example of the effects of diphtheria on the work force.

James Robert Jessop

James Robert Jessop was born in Edmunston, New Brunswick, in 1921. He and his twin brother were the eldest sons among nine children. His father worked full-time as a mechanic at the local pulp mill. Mr. Jessop recalls having had good teachers in school, where he also played hockey and rugby. He eventually worked at Fraser’s Mill for twenty-four cents an hour, but enlisted in 1940 for the prospect of better wages. He applied for and was accepted into the Royal Canadian Air Force, but switched to the Royal Rifles to be with his brother. Before leaving for Hong Kong, Mr. Jessop trained and served in several places in Newfoundland. Mr. Jessop’s experiences in the Hong Kong campaign were typical; forced to surrender and work as slave labor in both Sham Shui Po and Omine, malnourished, ravaged by disease and subjected to abuse at the hands of his captors. He also witnessed first hand the devastation of Nagasaki. Mr. Jessop’s service ends with a touching family reunion and a heartfelt sense of loss for his fallen friends.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
James Robert Jessop
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Royal Rifles of Canada

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

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