Martyrs of the East
Lance Corporal James Gow
Dazed, bewildered and battered,
Throughout Asia we’ve been scattered.
Oh what trials and struggles we went through.
Oh well-remembered Hellship, Lisbon Maru.
For to Nippon we tried to sail.
But this unlucky ship was doomed to fail,
Disasters came from the waters green,
Ironical Fate, A Yankee Submarine.
It was amidships we were struck.
This occasion would need all our pluck.
Panic reigned but soon died down.
Like rats in trap, were we to drown.
In every thought was the trend.
Was this the beginning of the end?
For they closed the hatches and battened us down.
Many a face glum on many a frown.
For twenty long hours spent in suspense,
No food, no water, all grim & tense.
A trying time to our patience.
In the next hold, dying of suffocation.
It will be over by twelve, the Japs had said,
But the cowardly deed was rightly read.
For by noon, it would have been too late.
And Neptune’s locker destined our fate.
For Col Stuart gave out a shout.
“The hatches” he cried “Knock them out”
The Japs fired but us they couldn’t stop.
They didn’t last long when the boys reached the top.
The ship gave a sudden lurch we were caught unawares,
Instantly a mad rush was made for the stairs.
A horrible sight, making the blood run cold.
Those bodies hurtling down, smashing to the bottom hold.
Panic stricken, some had lost their head.
Lost freedom, found death instead.
Then the ship righted again.
Would we get out this time, out of this rotten den?
They sorted out in more orderly fashion,
Slow & steady, no pushing, no dashing.
This time no one slipped, no one fell.
Back to that hold, that hold of hell.
Words can’t describe that hold below.
Where the hours were days, they dragged that slow.
‘Twas a nightmare never to be forgotten
Tho’ a lucky fate saved us from the bottom.
What a sight met us on deck.
Flotsam & jetsam all around the wreck.
Some were overboard & started swimming.
From the bridge “8 bells, alls well” came ringing.
She was partly submerged with decks awash,
Everything floatable, went into the sea with a splash.
Tugs were chugging not far from the scene,
Further on, some isles were spotted with a hopeful gleam.
Everywhere, everyone was searching & scouting.
At times it was like an old coy outing.
For a while, the boys were completely enraptured.
They hadn’t smoked so much since being captured.
The sick were sitting about, tired & worn,
Wood strapped to their backs, in hope forlorn?
But Doc Jackson was there, doing his best,
He wasn’t running around in circles, like the rest.
Then the Lisbon shuddered & we dived our various ways
Some lost forever, some for years some only for days.
We struck out from the wreck with much threshing & blowing.
Then she finally settled, her 3 masts still showing.
A few made for the tugs, but were chased away.
The Japs like their torture, to torment to play.
Their brave hitis, the yellow swine,
Shot at the boys struggling in the brine.
Quite a few, singing, made for the isles.
For the moment, freedom, away from Japanese wiles.
But the rocks there, claimed their ghastly price.
The rest, the Chinese welcomed them nice.
To pick us up they eventually condescended,
To save us all was never intended.
Were we meant to go down with that ship?
Well Fate stepped in, the Japs’ll pay for that slip.
The Jap sailors were different, a bit decent.
But that couldn’t wipe out that nightmare so recent.
Eighteen hundred men before that debacle
But now half were lost to the sea’s hungry grapple.
Their Navy bugles played their last post.
Was it for the boys or the hellship’s ghost.
Then to Shanghai, in pretty mild weather.
Lisbon Maru, Hellship, goodbye, “Sianera”.
We arrived there safe but not so sound.
Naked, shivering for the dreary hours to drag round.
Then clad in suits soon rotten with lice.
Another ship another throw with Fate’s dice.
So again we tried for Nippon’s shore.
Hoping this time, no surprise from Davey Jones’ store.
But this trip was quieter though it was rough
Moji didn’t half come quick enough.
So at Moji arrived these men so ill starred.
For a train journey that was freezing hard.
And dysentry, its ugly head was rearing.
No wonder the future everyone was fearing.
Now whither bound in this heathen land,
They told us in the usuall Jap manner off hand.
At Kobe and Osaka, split again.
Always do things by half, these yellow men.
Kobe, our destination that Sunday morn.
Even glad to arrive, that tired & worn.
A small number about 500 strong.
Waifs from the Battle of right & wrong.
Paraded the streets, sick & barefooted.
Remnants of an army, an army routed.
Did Kobe wonder, is this the great British race,
They’d only done their best, twas no disgrace.
Housed then in a godown, not far from the docks
Found their mistake later, when firms checked their stocks.
For we roamed the wharves & theived around the stores
Learned every trick of the trade of Horio-cum-Stevadore.
Of the future’s veil to pierce or to rend.
Is there a finish, is there an end?
But as many were in a pitiful state.
It would have done us no good to know our fate.
Then a disastrous winter took its toll,
More by the wayside to linger then fall,
Tormented by cold the bugs & lice.
Living by looting, cos the staple diet rice.
But soon we were smiling as though nothing were wrong.
Thru’ the docks was heard a whistle, a song.
Down but not out, the blues couldn’t ching
Our feet were in by the time it was spring.
Though the work was hard you just had to stick.
No place in Nippon for a man who was sick.
A nation utterly devoid of human feeling
Scars driven deep are a long time in healing.
By various ways we picked up the news.
Never foregtting the past, now knowing the future, away the blues.
Keeping our faith in the Allies star.
Hoping the end is now not so far.
But there’ll be a day when we’ll be set free.
And in that land we love, across the sea.
Is there, a corner, a pint, a smoke at least.
For these Orphans of the Storm, the Martyrs of the East.