Memoir of a Civilian POW
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December 7, 1999
Below is a transcript of the third part of our interview with Mr. James Allen. Questions are in italics. Links to the sound files are in QuickTime format (see the righthand column for more information). Our sound files are provided in two versions, "Good" or "Better." The former is a faster download, but of lower quality than the latter.

Describe the events that occurred during the course of your internment from December of 1941. Talk to us about what happened sequentially over that period of time.

Well, on Christmas Day [1941] they were kind enough to give us a very small paper cup full of -- it was tomato juice. Now, we hadn't had anything to eat since the 22nd, and then they give us a swallow of water that they'd had in 55-gallon gasoline drums, so the water tasted like gasoline. That's all the water we had. And then on Christmas Day, they marched us back up to the Camp 2. But they had moved out all the mattresses, put barbed wire around a bunch of the barracks. The men -- we had to sleep on the floor or on the bunk with no mattress. We were there until … went out on work details every day and did things around on the island. We could get into a lot of detail on that, but one time I was on a barge with a stiff-leg crane, and they had four-engine flying boats, and one of them hit a coral head, punched a hole in his pontoon, or his boat, and it sunk. And they wanted that brought up so they could repair it. So we had quite a time with that crew that day getting it up where they could get to it.

What was your daily routine like while you were imprisoned?

Well, the 12th of January we went on a boat, ended up in China -- in Tokyo Bay on the 17th of January 1942, then we's there two days, then we went over to Shanghai. Woosung, we ended up at. And this camp was an old, I guess, Chinese camp, I don't know, army camp. We got four wet blankets that night, and there was snow on the south side of the buildings. They brought us some rice and -- and curry stew, they called it. And I didn’t like curry and I wasn't that hungry, and I managed to get a little gruel on the boat, not much, but some. There was a little fish they give us, and I give that to my buddy -- I didn't like it, it was smoked or dried or whatever. But each day I got hungrier, so I'd eat a little bit off the table. By the time we got to Shanghai, all he [my buddy] was getting was the bones and the head. [Laughs.] It wasn't much further, or I'd probably been eating it all. [Laughs.]

So it was cold that night, snow on the south side of the buildings. So we all -- the Japanese barracks was designed very similar to the barracks in the Old Spanish Fort -- I guess it's Spanish -- at St. Augustine, Florida. I'd seen that, and I'd seen the bunks for the soldiers there -- very similar to one we had. Just a flat platform raised up about 18 inches off the floor, and there was 36 in what we called a section. Nine on each side facing one other. So between nine men, you had 36 blankets, so we spread them all out on that platform then we all got on there. [Laughs.] That's how we spent the first night.

Of course, they give us chopsticks, but I never did understand how to use those things. But I had a little wooden spoon that comes in a Dixie -- in those days, a Dixie ice cream cup -- a little-bitty wooden spoon. I managed to have that with me, so that's what I used to eat my rice. I still got that spoon. [Laughs.]

How did the prisoners behave towards one another? How did you work together?

Well, that was rather difficult for quite a while. But they eventually -- it's kind of like rough water in a pan: sloshed around a lot, but it finally smoothed out. They reasonably after a while got settled down. Of course, naturally, the big arguments was over food -- and even a lowly cup of green tea was one of the bloodiest fights, over a cup of that. But most of the arguments was about the food -- but that was eventually ironed out, to where it all settled down.

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