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POW Work in Coal Mine. End of War

Heroes Remember

POW Work in Coal Mine. End of War

This was a mined out coal mine. Well it was partially mined out. It was an abandoned coal mine. The reason why it was abandoned, it was, because it was way out under the Pacific Ocean and as you know Japan is a volcanic country and the mine was so deep that the water was hot and because of the because of the volcanic structure of the geological structure it lent itself to the accumulation of, of gasses which would ignite and cause explosions and kill the people. So now they have prisoners that can do this. So they reactivated the mine. So... how they're doing this first was go into the first, the first few levels at the 2000 foot level and was clear out the sumps, the sumps reactivate the pumps, clean out the tunnels, reactivate the fresh air tunnels, reactivate the sump fowl air tunnels and then reactivate the coal face. And then I worked underground for a while and then they gave me a new job because I could speak Japanese and I've got to tell you an amusing, amusing, amusing anecdote here, another one. When I was working underground, before I got this nori mashi job. I was working in the coal face and we used pieces of lumber which we called... I forget It will come to me after. Anyway we used these pieces of kabocus We called them kabocu. Well, we used these kabocus as uprights, alright, you would mine here and you put this up here so it would hold the walls alright so and would line up your drift. These were pieces of lumber about yeh thick and they were, they were about 4 ½ feet long. And we worked on there bare feet... these wooden sandals and one of those fell on my foot. While this was happening, there was a guy standing there Japanese, who was the tai tai cho. The tai tai cho in English would translate as to top superintendent. And we'd recognized these people by the number of bars they would have on their, on their lamp this guy had 3 wide bars. So this guy is standing watching me and there are 3 things I do today in French today okay. Always did. I count in French, say my prayers in French and I curse in French, in that order, alright. I do it today, alright. So, this thing fell on my foot and I let out a few cusses, some real wooly ones in French. The guys says to me in French, in perfect French "You will never get to heaven that way". This is 4000 feet underground okay. So anyway, I start talking to this fellow in French. He spoke a hell of a lot better French than I did okay. Better in the sense, more grammatical, and he spoke with a Parisian accent. So I said, I asked him "Where did you pick up French?" Well he says "I tell you something my parents were embassy workers and we were stationed in Paris for 12 years." and he says "I did all of my highschool in French in Paris." He says "As a matter of fact, my parents sent me to Japan to learn Japanese and I stayed. That's where I am." And well, he and I used to come in he'd see me everyday and he's the guy that got me the job on the nori mashi He put me on the nori mashi So I was always, I was, from there on in I was not longer underground a long time, use to be up and down like several times a shift. Like they'd load maybe, maybe 10 - 12 twelve cars, hitch them on the... tow wire and I'd go up several inclines, do all the switching and then eventually get them up to the surface and then dump the coal on the coal dump and then take the empties back down. And in between that, if some message had to be carried well then the Japanese would give me the message, the Japanese foreman, and then I'd translate this down to (inaudible) and that's the way it went. Interviewer: Generally at the coal mine Mr. Cyr, how would you characterize the treatment that you received from the civilian guards? It was uh, it was uh harsh treatment. The civilian foremen down there, they were real S.O.B.'s. They were by far the worst that, except for one, they were by far the worst that, that, I had run into and I can tell you that the life expectancy of 90% of us there was in the order of 3 months when the war ended. It's uh, no matter how much you wanted to live there's absolutely no way that you could live under those circumstances. Especially the guys that were working on the coal face. These people were, it was absolutely inhuman the way they were treated. Interviewer: So there's no doubt in your mind that if the war had of continued for another few months that you men would have perished? Well, as I say, I'm a guy that would have pulled through because I have that conviction, but looking at the, the group in general- 3 months. That was the life expectancy of the group. Interviewer: Mr. Cyr earlier you mentioned that while you were at the shipyard that you weighed 89 pounds. What would you say your weight was when you were in this coal mine? I weighed 89 pounds the time I worked both in the coal mines and in the shipyards and that's what I weighed when I came home. Interviewer: What was your normal weight? Oh I weighed about 155 you know, 50 - 55 in there. Anywhere from 145 to 155. Interviewer: The work continued at the coal mine until the end of the war. How did you find out that the war was over? The tai tai cho came to me one morning at 10 o'clock while I was at the surface and he says "When you go back down below tell all your people to come up to the surface." When they call for someone to come to the surface, it meant that something bad had happened. Someone had tried something and they were going to meet out severe punishment. They want everybody to be a witness. I went down below and told our supervisors come on up to the surface. By the time we got back to the surface it was about 12. All the Japanese foreman, the Japanese workers were sitting in a semi-circle and they had driven a pole into the ground and on the pole they had affixed loud speakers. So I said, I asked my foreman, I said "What's going on." he said "A very important person is going to speak." So anyway, this voice came on and spoke a Japanese that I did not understand. So I said to foreman I said "Who is that?" He said, "That's Emperor Hirohito." That was the first time he ever spoke to the Japanese people. And... all I could understand, I understand bombing - big bomb and I understood Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So foreman what is he saying. Well he said "Saying that the Americans bombed Hiroshima Nagasaki with atomic bombs and then he's saying that Japan was never invaded in wartime and he goes on to tell his Japanese people he's preparing them for the surrender in couple of days away. So as it happened that was the last time I worked for the Japanese. They brought us back to camp from there instead of putting us back underground and we laid in camp for a couple of days and then there were all kinds of rumours going on. And then this afternoon were all outside, nice sunny afternoon and this small American plane flew just at roof top level over the camp and when it got in the center of the compound an object dropped from the plane so we ran and as a matter of fact I have that, I have that document with me. We ran picked it up. It was a carton of Camel cigarettes tied around the carton with an elastic band was a paper and the paper says my name is Lieutenant J.G. so and so and I'm in plane so and so and I'm based on carrier so and so out in Tokyo Bay and a peace treaty will be signed tomorrow afternoon at 1400 hours aboard the USS Missouri. That's how it, that's how it happened. So I went back to camp and, oh gheez, it was a wild night I tell ya.

The platoon is moved to the northeast tip of the island of Honshu and are put to work in a coal mine. Mr. Cyr also recalls the day they were informed the war was over.

Roger Cyr

Roger Cyr was born on March 6, 1922 at New Richmond in the Gaspé region of Québec. He was the oldest of nine children. His siblings were four brothers and four sisters. His father was a lineman for an electrical company in the United States. He eventually returned to Canada and worked as a chef with Canadian National Railways. Roger enlisted in late 1941 with the Royal Rifles of Canada. In late October 1941, he and hundreds of other members of the Canadian Army left Vancouver, arriving in the British colony of Hong Kong on November 14, 1941.

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

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