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Hong Kong POW

Heroes Remember

We were transported in very questionable ships that had been refitted. The one that I was on, with my brother and others, you were down in the hull of the ship and it was half filled with coal. You didn't have enough area to lay down. You could only squat and your food was lowered in buckets and same thing with your toilet idea and I'm not sure which buckets they used because the food was so awful. And I think we were about 18 days. We went into Formosa and they used us as trailers and of course, as you may know, some of the ships were sunk by American submarines. But we, we made it to, to Tokyo. And we were, that's where we disembarked and we were held there and then taken by train down to Osaka and then over to Oyama which was my camp. Interviewer: When you arrived at, in Tokyo, and came out of that hold and you saw your fellow prisoners, what was your reaction when you saw those men. I think that in most cases, you're at a point in your life when, through hunger, disease and other things, I don't know that you recorded really, what you saw. I think you just accepted it and that's the way it was. Interviewer: Was the condition of the men from your memory pretty bad. Oh yes, yes. Interviewer: Ultimately, you were taken by train to Oyama? Yes, we... Interviewer: What was the purpose of the prison camp at Oyama? We were mining, surface mining. We were transported by a cattle car each day, morning, up to the mine and uhmm, it was uhmm surface mines.long picks, you had long handled picks and you had to deface this mountainside and then load the ore cars and get it down to the hopper. Interviewer: What kind of ore was it that you were mining? I think it was nickel, but it was very poor quality. Interviewer: You'd be there from dawn til dusk? Yes Interviewer: Would the diet change any? No, at the point we were really in serious difficulty. Uhmm, in the cattle cars and because of your diet and physical condition, it was almost impossible to, if you had to go to the washroom, your hands couldn't use them. The edema was reaching a point to where it was almost impossible to bend your legs because of the swelling. It was a nightmare. Interviewer: At the work site, the men would be driven hard to meet quotas? Oh, yes. You had to meet a quota and uhmm it , it was quite a difficult assignment. But I can tell you one thing that I thought was very admirable. Even then, I was, on the work force I was the orderly. And so, these men, believe it or not, had learned to read Japanese papers. And they knew in the guardhouse that the Japanese newspaper was there. And they would accidently, they would force an accident. So I would have to take the patient down to have him considered for transport back to the camp. And these, some of these people, I just admired them. You took your hat off and you went in and the Japanese guard would jump up because there'd been an accident. They'd put the paper in their hat and put it back on. And they would go back with me and they'd slip it under the injured person on the stretcher and going into the camp he wasn't searched. Everybody else was. And they'd have the papers and they'd read them but they wouldn't share the information, they knew it was too dangerous. But I give a great deal of credit to some of these people that had the capacity to do those things. I didn't but they did.

Eventually, the captured troops were moved from the colony of Hong Kong to Japan. Mr. Purse describes that move and the train ride to their new location where they were put to work in nickel mines.

Ross Purse

Ross Purse was born in Roland, Manitoba on September 10, 1918. He has one brother and five sisters in what he describes as a close-knit family. Their father died when Ross was just 10 years old. He enlisted with the Winnipeg Grenadiers within hours of Canada declaring war on Germany in September, 1939. Following training in Winnipeg, he was sent to Jamaica in defence of the island and for duty at prisoner of war camps for captured Germans. He returned to Winnipeg and was put aboard a train travelling west, eventually arriving in Vancouver from where he and his comrades sailed for the British colony of Hong Kong.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Ross Purse
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Winnipeg Grenadiers

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