5/10/2008

Taiwan World War II



Images of Taipei during World War II

I received an informative letter today, from L.C. (I think he lives in Japan) via eyedoc, who runs an interesting blog on World War II http://shinseimaru.blogspot.com/

"Hi there,

It seems that at least there are three gentlemen out there want to know about the arrival of POWs in Hualien, aka Karenkou in Japanese. Among the three, Hong-Ming is from my native town, Tamsui and I know him pretty well, I guess. Pat is an American husband of a Taiwanese lady living in Taipei though I still can not figure out what he does for living after reading through his site. Michael is a complete stranger to me; I can only guess he has something to do with Society of POW in Taiwan. As far as arrival of POWs is concern, I am not the only one who has eye witnessed the event but I may be the only one who is still young in mind that dare to be on the internet today.

The war started when I was a third grader and Singapore was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army less than three months later, February 15, 1942 to be exact. I still remember well the scene that General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya demanding the surrender from the British and forces Percival to say Yes or No in the spot without giving him a moment of consideration. The British POWs arrived in Karenkou when I was fourth grader, so it must be after April; as you know the school semester always started on the first day of April. We were lined up along the main street, which stretched from train station to the army barracks to watch the tall and skinny British soldiers walking through. One of the bystanders pointed to the first guy leading the troop and said “he is the commander”; it was the first time I heard of PA-SHI BARL (パーシバル), General Arthur Percival, however, I was not sure he was the right one since there was no name tag on him. The real Percival I saw for the first time was through the news picture of signing the Peace Treaty on U.S.S. Missouri together with Douglas McArthur on September 2, 1945.

The army barracks where these POWs were kept located just beyond the Guntai River from our Meiji elementary school. The levee at the riverbank from the school to Jinja, Japanese Sinto shrine was nice walking path but it was closed to traffic since the arrival of POWs. We, the adventurous kids always stretched our heads over the levee and peeked on the POWs who were planting vegetables on the other side of riverbank. The guarding Japanese solders would shout “Bakayaro!”, and throw stones to us at once upon finding our peeking.

When I published my story in my monthly newsletter, which is written in Japanese, some of the elder schoolmates challenged my writing by saying that they met the POWs at the harbor instead of the train station. The fact is that, I discovered later, there were more than one arrivals of POWs in Karenkou; some arrived by the ships and the others by the trains from south.

P.S.

4. Hualien / Karenko Camp was never attacked or bombed by the allies. It was closed in June 1943 - long before the allies started bombing Taiwan. By the time the allies got around to bombing Hualien and Taitung it was the spring of 1945.

I still remembered vividly that the first Karenkou bombing was executed on the morning of October 12, 1944 around 9:00AM. It continued for three days, all by Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters from aircraft carriers. Our family runs to the country side the very first night by train; it was so over crowded that we have to stand on our feet all night long. As the result of the bombing, the Monopoly Bureau caught fire and that same fire eventually burned my brother’s lumber yard down to the ground."

*****

It's true that I'm married to a Taiwanese lady and that I live in Taipei. I work for a publishing company and also study at National Chengchi University in the evenings. Both my wife and I are interested in World War II, and in learning more about the events that unfolded here on Taiwan, for personal reasons that go further than "proper history told for its own sake". My wife's great-aunt died in a bombing raid in Dong Yuan (東遠) Market in the spring of 1945 at the age of 19. And my grandpa, James A. Cowsill, flew missions all over Asia on B24 Liberators as part of the 90th Jolly Rogers Bombardment Unit. On July 9, 1945, they flew over Taiwan on a mission to hit Taichung. After radioing back that the clouds made impossible to see the ground, they were redirected to Japanese airstrips at Kungshan (崑山), just outside of Kaohsiung: http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2006/12/wwii-bombing-raid-on-koahsiung.html
and there is also http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2006/12/ww-ii-draws-to-close.html

Actually, my grandpa hated the war; he rarely talked about it. I once asked him, when he showed me a sweatshirt with a B24 that he'd picked up at K-Mart for ten bucks, why he didn't go to vet meetings, as he'd probably be able to get something a bit more authentic. He asked me: "Why would I want to go see those guys and remember that stuff?" He did, however, leave a pretty vivid story behind. During his time in the air force, he wrote 900 letters home to my grandma and uncle, who was very little at the time. My grandma kept all of them (I've posted a few - see above links) and crunched them into a narrative, which starts:

"I was married in August of 1939, and in September, with the German invasion of Poland, the European War was on. Of course, it was common talk that it wouldn't be long before Americans would be fighting another war, but I didn't see how I could be much affected. Nevertheless, in 1940, Congress passed the draft law. Even the draft act didn't seem too serious, because it meant if I did get caught in that foolish thing, it would be only for a year. The draft act before it was revised stated that men would be subjected to military training for one year only, and that didn't seem too bad. It might be a good deal, I thought, a little vacation, out roughing it with the boys, away from the office. I had been to scout camp when a boy and had had a whale of a good time."

It didn't take Grandpa long to realize that this wasn't scout camp. A few days after getting sucked in, he wrote:

"I decided that army life was lousy. I hated it already. We had reached Salt Lake at 1:00 a.m., about five hours late. Then we waited around until the truck came to pick us up. When we arrived at the field, we got some bedding and went to a barracks. There were no lights in the barracks. The bunks seemed already to be occupied. I had one heck of a time. I started to get into bed with some other fellow and he didn't take it too well. Finally I got settled in an upper bunk. It was then 3:00 a.m. I was so tired and sleepy but everybody kept talking. I knew we had to get up at 5:30. Later I found out that talking at bed time was quite common, and it wasn't supposed to keep one awake. A seasoned soldier could sleep through anything."

Many pages and years later, he concludes:

"October 15, 1988 - Bakersfield, California

Today, I opened an old trunk in the garage and took out my air force uniform which my wife had carefully stored in a plastic bag over all these 43 years. The insignia, the buttons, and the wings were all bright. The ribbons over the left pocket were like new and still in place.

However, upon careful inspection, I noticed for the first time that the patch over the right pocket of a flying American Eagle had been put on upside down, and NO ONE had ever noticed the mistake.

What irony, I thought! But perhaps this is a fitting way to end my story. My army life was a complete upside down experience."

9 comments:

SQJTaipei said...

Thanks for posting that letter Patrick... and for the comments about your grandpa. My grandpa served in the Pacific, too... although he said even less than yours about the war. I actually have no clue what he did in the Navy or where he saw action although I assume he did see action because of his silence on the matter.

Patrick Cowsill said...

No problem. By an "upside down" experience, I think he meant one that was "*&^%ed up".

Anonymous said...

What kind of plane is that in the picture. It doesn't look like a B-24.

Patrick Cowsill said...

It looks like a Grumann F4F, with a shadow on the wings.

Patrick Cowsill said...

BTW, I'm told the plane is not a F4F but rather a Japanese bi-plane trainer. They frequented the skies over Taipei during WWII, until the US gained air superiority late in 1944.

RickyChong said...

Nice to meet you. I wor\uld like to use your website to inquire whether Taiwanese were involved during WW2 while Japs invade Malaya? Much Malaysians said they are Chinese and not Japs, as they can speak Chinese and write in Chinese.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Yes, the Taiwanese were there. I interviewed an old Taiwanese man who served there. I have a picture of him with his Japanese unit. I will look for it and post it.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Here's a picture of a Taiwanese soldier in Malaysia in 1942: http://nccur.lib.nccu.edu.tw/bitstream/140.119/37192/6/021106.pdf

Patrick Cowsill said...

Er, the picture is on page 73.