The Island of Haruku

lkan Men


The long bamboo hut was quiet as the Japanese guard did his last tour of the night. He cast a fleeting glance between the hut and the barbed wire that cut off the camp from the sandy beach. Not a thing could be seen, and only the flutter of the breeze in the palm trees and the murmur of the waves could be heard. It was very dark, the moon was hiding behind cloud. Slowly, he walked through the next hut, the squeaking of his boots breaking the silence. At last, he reached the top of the hill upon which the camp was situated and went over the brow.

A short time elapsed then six prisoners from the hut nearest to the sea stealthily crawled off their bamboo shelf. No words were spoken, the two nearest to the door that the Jap had entered quietly and quickly walked out. They both stooped and picked up a long stake apiece and reaching the fence, swiftly levered the bottom strands of the barbed wire apart, forming a gap to crawl under. This was no sooner in position when the other four prisoners moved up and were through. The other two followed and let the wire fall back to its original position.

Without any hesitation, the six set off along the shore away from the camp. After about three minutes they came to a small river across which they waded. At the other side they made to some undergrowth and from various places brought out two buckets and a native fishing net. They then waded out into the sea until the water reached up to their chests. Four ropes were attached to the corners of the net and each took hold of one; the net was then dropped and dragged towards the shore. As soon as it was on the beach, the two who had been waiting, promptly ran their hands along and scooped out whatever was moving into the buckets. After five trawls the buckets were full, the net was hidden away, and back to the camp they moved. Again a strict routine was kept to, the wire was staked and everyone crawled through. Once more the fishermen had obtained something to mix with the eternal rice or potato-top soup. They had been carrying out this manoeuvre for weeks, and were now honed to perfection. This extra food was urgently required and the following morning the fish would be cleaned, cooked and issued before the morning working parade.

A rosta was kept for this little bit extra and the RAF doctor would suggest that certain personnel should be given priority. The Japs would not allow much fishing (see main story) unless it was for their consumption even though fish were plentiful. This six-man team, all RAF prisoners, consisted of: Mac from Newcastle, a well built man in his early twenties, very agile as many a football forward had found out when trying to score; Jock from Glasgow, a regular RAF fitter and one time outside right for a very good Scottish side, small but tough; Jack from Norwich, only a youngster and slight of build - another who had graced the football field with distinction; Roy, the farmer's boy from Lancashire, tall and slim, steady as a half-back should be when under pressure; Nobby, a Londoner, also tall and another soccer player but very erratic in play and temperament; last was the odd-man-out in this band of soccer players, a scrum half who had turned to soccer just for exercise, and had been steady enough to hold his place in a regular team - Chota was another Lancashire man and being older was the cautious one.

The camp knew them as the Ikan men (i.e. the fishermen) and they had their own set of rules. The main one was that if on their excursions there was a possibility of being caught, it was every man for himself and no one would "grass" on another. If it turned out that the unlucky one was liable to receive any Jap torture then and only then they would declare themselves as a body. How did this team get together? Was it that they were all sportsmen? They were all individualists on the field and off. When any discussion took place they always appeared to have opposite visions, on working parties they seemed to avoid each other. They were all in different groups for food. On working parties they each tried to obtain different items to assist their fellow prisoners. Mack used to trade in native tobacco for his group, Roy was the chilli gatherer, Jock always knew where the wild tomatoes grew and Nobby was an expert in tracing sweet potatoes. Jack and Chota had a corner on the coconut oil - they bought, they sold, they pinched from the Japs, in fact they were the adventurous ones regarding victuals. The Japs had given authority for all prisoners on working parties to gather any wild vegetable matter and the amount of other finds which were smuggled past the guards was amazing. The Japs could never understand how the prisoners could get so much coconut oil out of the coconuts which they were allowed to buy.

Eventually, after a long and successful line of business, the Ikan team met with disaster, but at least they had contributed a lot during their operations. It could have been really serious but for once the Jap commandant had to see some humour in the situation. The night it happened, the fishers were well occupied in their trawling operations when out of the blue came a force of allied aircraft to disturb the peace of the Pacific island. Flares were dropped, down whistled bombs, not on the camp, but on the adjoining airfield that the prisoners had been building. Some fell fairly close and panic reigned amongst the Japanese and the prisoners. The group decided that they had better get back into camp during the confusion. The normal plan for re-entering the camp was taken. The wire was adjusted and the first four were soon safely through and into a slip trench. Jack and Chota had the last bucket of fish and had partially completed the wire operation when they were completely bathed in light from a flare. Two guards immediately fell upon them. The guards shouted at them in Japanese, Malayan and pidgin English and then decided to take them to their senior N.C.O. They made them carry the bucket of fish along with them and by the time they reached the Jap quarters the raid was over. The Japanese N.C.O. listened to the guards' story and then asked Jack and Chota what they had been doing. Jack bent down and produced the bucket and took out a flat fish (a sort of angular fish with all the appearances of a nose) and held it by Chota's nose saying "Ikan orang sama sama ikan" meaning "fish man like a fish"! It could be admitted that the broken nose of Chota did bear much resemblance to the fish and the Japs evidently thought so too. The N.C.O. thought the joke so good that he then took the fish and Chota to the camp commander and there was much laughter. The reason for the two P.O.W.s being caught now completely forgotten, they returned to their huts along with the fish and the bucket. Needless-to-say, operations ceased after this episode.



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