A Delightful Surprise

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At about 8 o'clock during the evening of Friday 17th November 2000, I was reading in my favourite armchair, when my wife took a phone call. I did not even bother to look up, as hardly anyone rings me. So I was rather surprised when, with 'It's for you love,' my wife handed me the phone.

I was more than surprised, however, when the delightful Scottish voice announced
'My name's McNab, and I'm ringing from a little village on a coastal point about 20 miles north of Aberdeen. Are you the Mr Baynes who wrote "Kept-The Other Side of Tenko?"' I acknowledged that I was.
'Oh, I'm just ringing to thank you for saving my dad when you were all working on the railway. I happened to get your book from our local library and read all about it on page 102. Dad got home safely from the war, but he died a couple of years back. Although he mentioned the event in his memoirs, he didn't remember your name. I got your address from the photo of the card the Japs let you send home, that took a couple of years to arrive. It's on page 52...'


I mentioned the fact that I had been a Japanese prisoner of war earlier, in Providence. During our early years in captivity, the Japanese did not make our officers work and they also made them a cash allowance, on the understanding that it would be repaid after the conflict ended. So they were allowed to buy extra rations and consequently had a fairly easy time. By 1943, however, when the Japanese did not have the easy victory they had anticipated, the atmosphere changed. The officers were formed into their own working party and they also had to work. One officer, though, was allocated to each of the other ranks working parties. Ours was a very pleasant young man, a Lt Gates, who had unfortunately no experience at all of dealing with the Japanese.

By then, as a sergeant I had already been in charge of working parties for many months and had not only gained a skeletal knowledge of Nippon-go, but had learned the best way of dealing with our captors. Namely, if one cringed, as some did, they took pleasure in dealing out a beating. If, however, one accepted the first blows unflinchingly, looking them in the eye, they would probably show respect, and listen to the point being made.

On the 5th February 1943 (I would be 24 years old the following day), our gang was working on an extra long stretch of the railway embankment. This was because it was low here and our task was to dig and place 1 cubic metre of earth per man per day, whatever the height. I always worked with the men as well as supervising them to make sure they did not get into trouble. I was working at one end, Mr Gates was nominally supervising at the other and our two guards were there keeping an eye on him.

Suddenly I heard the Korean guards yelling 'Coorah!' and other epithets, as well as cries from our men. I snatched up my spade and ran to the scene of the trouble as fast as I could. It was Private McNab as well as Mr Gates who were in trouble and being beaten. McNab was an older man, not very tall, and debilitated by the tropical diseases from which we all suffered. He should not have been working at all, but he had no choice as we had to supply a full gang every day. His crime had been that he could not work hard enough. When the Koreans started laying into him with their heavy rods, brave Mr Gates went to their aid and then they had turned on him.

Our Koreans acted much worse than the Japs, who treated them as inferior beings and allowed them no promotion. So they were all classed as inferior even to Japanese 3rd class privates and were not trusted with any ammunition for their rifles. They took it out on us. When I arrived on the scene I got the two victims behind me and told the guards I would tell the 'Nippon Numbar One, and dammi dammi, McNab bioki solja', shouting them down whatever they said.

For several minutes they swung their rifle butts as near to my head as they dared without actually connecting, finally desisting.

Yoshio Suzuki was the engineer in charge of this section of the railway and he was one of the best Japanese I ever encountered. When he came round to check our work that evening, I reported the Koreans and showed him the bruises on poor McNab's skeletal frame. He made those guards stand to attention while he tore a strip off them in front of all our gang. We were to have no more trouble from them.

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Len (Snowie) Baynes

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