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They Were Dying Right and Left

Heroes Remember

They Were Dying Right and Left

Then they took us from there across to these old barracks we had been in before the war, Sham Shui Po, and they put us to work at Kai Tek Airport. In the meantime people were taking electric feet, as they call them, from malnutrition and beriberi. They were taking what they call electric feet. I’ve seen men, big tough men, with their toes in their mouth, crying, crying with the pain. Some of them, they’d go out and walk on the cement because the cold seemed to stop the pain. Then we took what they called Doby’s itch. It was in the private parts. Oh my God, some of them suffered. Again I missed that. I think probably because of my schooling, coming out of the school and the needles I had, because I missed that, but I kept getting thinner, and at last there I weighed ninety-five pounds. In the meantime, from five foot, I think it was six and a half or seven, I grew to six foot two. So, one of my friends from the Richmond Leo Murphy, said, "Bill, when you get back home, if you ever do, you’ll never hang a coat on yourself,” because my shoulders apparently were like that. But I was healthier than most of them. They put me on as an orderly because I was more healthy. The guys, they were getting up and they were spitting the white mucus and that, just in cans, and we had to dump that out. They were dying. They were just dying right and left. They were just... I can still see the truck backing up and... Now this was not only all Canadians, there was other troops, British and that, but it was throwing three and four and five a day into the back of the truck and taking them away. Into our camp, the one I was in, my brother was at the far end and I was at the other end, and at last him and I were sleeping together. Everybody else was gone. They had been, either died or had been taken away to this other ward where, what we called the death ward, and he never took to that either, but he took to electric feet. He suffered tremendously with that. And I worked at the airport and they would give me two cigarettes. He smoked, I did not smoke, but he smoked so I’d bring him in the cigarettes and they’d give me sometimes a little tangerine and I’d bring it in and I’d share it with him. At the airport, we had some of the Japanese who were very tough. There was one fellow especially, I don’t know his right name. They called him the Kamloops Kid and for one day... I would say probably they did not like tall people as much and here I am growing taller, but we did have a lot of tall men. But one day, for no reason at all, he made me hold a log over my head and I’d held it over my head and I couldn’t hold it and when I fell down, they had these sharpened bamboo sticks. Apparently, they hardened them in coal and they became just like iron and they’d pick you with that, and I fell down and they picked me and up, I held it up again. At last I passed out. Now this guy was from Kamloops, BC, and he spoke perfect English. I think after the war, he was tried into Hong Kong and hung, I think or something. But anyway he was bad. I seen him one time kick a fellow by the name of Murray, and Murray fell down and he just kicked him again and left him there. He was dead, you know, one of our boys. I don’t know where this Murray come from but he was a Canadian. So we worked at that airport. We moved a tremendous pile of ground. We had fellows getting killed, the earth falling in on them, and dying inside with diphtheria, dysentery, beatings, severe beatings.

Mr. MacWhirter describes life at Sham Shui Po camp. He discusses diseases and being intimidated by the Kamloops Kid.

William MacWhirter

William MacWhirter was born in Niagara Falls, New York, USA, on January 10, 1924. He was one of five brothers. During the depression, his family returned to Hopetown, Quebec, where he completed grade 8 in school. By 1939, his father, a First World War Veteran, had joined the Veterans Guard and two older brothers had enlisted; William became head of the family farm at the age of fifteen. He eventually enlisted in New Carlyle at the age of seventeen. His basic training took place in Val Cartier and St. John, and as a member of the Royal Rifles, D Company, he was deployed to Hong Kong. After a futile attempt to defend the colony, William joined many other captives in the dismal North Point and Sham Shui Po POW camps. He was eventually sent to the labour camp at Omini, Japan. He returned home safely, but he has paid a heavy price, physically and emotionally. He remains, however, an ardent patriot.

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

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