Prisoner Under The Rising Sun

Surabaya to Seram - Via Ambon



These few days of comparative rest were soon to change: one evening we were taken down to the docks and herded on board a Japanese cargo ship, we were ordered down into the hold, and there had to stow ourselves onto wooden cargo palettes. Sleep was very difficult with the rough slats cutting into us through our flimsy garments. The following morning, prior to leaving the harbour, we were allowed on deck to drink some watery soup made from the bones and heads of fish. The tasty and nutritious parts of the fish had already been consumed by the guards. We saw several other ships at anchor. Everything was peaceful and I thought of the words of the hymn "From Greenland's Icy Mountains", especially the ending "...and only man is vile". Suddenly the peace was shattered by the sirens of a couple of fire-fighting tugs speeding to one of the cargo ships which was belching smoke from more places than the funnel. The fire boats appeared to be very efficient and I, for one, was watching with interest, but no anxiety until the smoke turned to flames. All the other boats including ours began steaming out of the harbour, but not quite in time. The burning ship became the focal point of a fireworks display There were a number of small explosions followed by one terrific explosion which sent all kinds of debris flying through the air, including several large sheets of metal that splashed heavily into the water, just missing our ship. It was just as well for our peace of mind that we had no idea what our ship was carrying. We watched with interest as our vessel steamed into the open seas. To prevent attacks from the air, the captain had us stay on deck and got us to sit in a formation that formed the letters P.O.W. Very clever! We then sailed past the islands of the Flores group and finally came to rest in the outer bay of Ambon. We could make out the sea-plane base in the inner bay after a flying-boat, similar to a Catalina flew over. Our stay here was brief and the ship then took us to the island of Seram. It was only when the ship was unloaded that we found out what had been below us in the hold: there were hundreds of barrels of oil and petrol. Knowing that we had narrowly escaped death by fire, we almost willingly rolled the barrels up a small hill to a flat piece of land that was used as a landing field for fighter aircraft. We were glad to be rid of the leaky containers. As usual, we did our best to sabotage their war effort by "accidentally" dropping the barrels onto jagged rocks to cause extra leaks.


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The Island of Haruku



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