The following article appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal, Sunday Magazine, page E-1, Sunday, August 12, 1962.

 

 

After Capture by Japanese

Death Became His Daily Companion

By James Callaghan

How do you remember it?

The wailing of sirens, the snake dances down Main St., pretty girls kissing servicemen, the open bottles passing through the throng?

Or was it on some Pacific island with soldiers, marines, sailors firing weapons of every description into the air, yelling with joy because death had been pushed a long way into the future?

Or maybe it was just a moment of silent prayer.

That was VJ Day, 1945. We celebrated Aug.14 but the end had been in sight since the atom bomb turned Hiroshima to ashes on Aug. 6.

But for Cuyahoga Falls barber I.J. Barwick, the end of his six years’ war started on Aug. 11. Since the fall of Singapore in 1942, Barwick, then a British soldier, had been a prisoner of the Japanese. Now exhausted from slave-like labor and ill from the effects of half a dozen tropical diseases and a starvation diet, he was trying to sleep in a work camp outside the wall of Changi Jail in Singapore. It was 3 a.m. when he heard the sound – like a huge swarm of bees – coming from the jam-packed six-story prison. Then he realized it was the murmuring of many men. Suddenly all was silent. Barwick walked outside and then went back to bed but he was trembling with excitement and couldn’t sleep.

The day before, two P-38 fighter planes had buzzed the jail and the appearance of short-range aircraft for the first time meant the Allied forces were drawing near. The men knew the end could not be far off. The sound from the jail could only mean that some momentous news had been received over the secret radio. In the morning, Barwick heard the Japanese had offered to surrender.

But still the terror persisted. Officers warned the men to say nothing about the news or take any action that would provoke their guards, who probably didn’t know anything about the offer. For five more days the work parties went out to the spine-cracking labor of digging defense positions in the steaming swamps around the city.

Then came the break. On Aug. 16 the Japanese declared a holiday. Extra rations were issued. There was soap aplenty for the first time in three and a half years. Cruelty was replaced with kindness. "I have never seen men so elated," Barwick recalls. "They would try to keep calm but were unable to sleep or even lie still. "It is really difficult to describe their feelings. There was overwhelming joy but mixed with it was a kind of emptiness. Every day had been a struggle to simply stay alive. Now that was gone and the memories of all the men that had died in the jungles and makeshift hospitals flooded in. There was suddenly nothing to do but wait to go home."

Most of the prisoners were in such bad shape that an issue of sugar along with the beefed-up rations made many so ill they couldn’t eat the first good food they had had in years. Another curious thing happened, Barwick recalls. Although the men, ill-treated and underfed for years, had many times vowed vengeance on their Japanese captors, not a hand was raised when it was all over. "I guess when the chance finally came, it was just against the prisoners’ nature to kick a man when he is down."

And Barwick and his fellow prisoners had plenty of reason to kick. Barwick was one of the Allied prisoners sent north into Thailand to build the infamous "railway of death" for the Japanese Army. Some 16,000 of them died of disease, mistreatment and exhaustion before the railroad was completed.

Barwick’s life as a soldier began September 1, 1939, when as an army reservist he was called to duty as a truck driver with an ammunition supply company. In less than a month he was shipped to France. He was still with the British army when it was pushed onto the beaches at Dunkirk and was taken off on the last day of the evacuation, May 31, 1940. He sailed again on October 3, 1941. This time for Singapore and this time as a medical aid man with a supply outfit. News of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came while he was at sea. On January 13, 1942, Barwick’s group landed in Singapore. A month later the British army was forced to surrender.

At first the British troops were herded onto a huge field, then taken to a camp outside of Singapore. Here began the beatings, the diet of maggoty rice and the diseases that were to end in death for so many. Within a few weeks Barwick had to pull his belt in eight inches. Once the Japanese ordered the men to sign a "no escape" pledge. When the prisoners refused, 17,000 of them were shoved into a barracks area that normally housed 1,000 men.

After four days with water dwindling, food gone and disease growing, the officers ordered the men to sign the pledge but not to honor it. But all this was to seem like paradise in comparison to what was coming. In April of 1943 the Japanese called for a party of 7,000 men to go north where the "climate would be more healthful and conditions better." Barwick was picked to go with this group called "F-Force." Out of the 7,000 only 4,000 were to return from the "health resort."

In the first stage of the journey, men were packed into small steel freight cars where there was barely room for them to sit down. Then in the broiling tropic sun they rode for five days through Malaya to Thailand. "Men fainted from the heat, dysentery cases had no place to go but in the cars and we lived on a pint of rice a day," Barwick says. "It is hard to believe that men could endure such suffering."

Now the real ordeal began. From Bampong station in Thailand the men were ordered to march. For 17 days they dragged themselves through the jungle 220 miles, leaving their dead along the trail. Their destination: work camps on the "railway of death."

Barwick arrived with 1680 men at No. 2 Camp at Sonkurai, which was to become known as the "Hell Camp of Thailand." At the end, only 250 men were alive and most of the survivors were desperately ill. "The Japanese put us to work from 10 to 15 hours a day, cutting timbers for bridges, and hauling gravel and earth for railway embankments," Barwick says. "Men who did not work fast enough were beaten with bamboo poles, pick handles, anything that came into the guards’ hands. It was the rainy season and at first we lived in open-topped huts, soaked to the skin all the time. Jungle ulcers, dysentery, beri-beri, every manner of tropical ailment seemed to hit the men. Many looked like walking skeletons as they went about their work. Many just rotted away from infections. We had no medicines. Try as we might, there was so little we could do."

Then the cholera hit. Men died at the rate of 20, 30 and 40 a night. Barwick was stricken. He treated himself with a salt solution and lay near death for 14 days in a hospital shack. Barwick was one of three men in the camp who survived out of hundreds stricken by the disease.

In this camp of horrors Barwick was to see the best and the worst of men. "Some seemed to turn into animals, letting their hair grow long, refusing to clean themselves, stealing even from the dying and dead," he said. "But others risked beatings and death to help a fellow prisoner in trouble. The strongest half carried the weakest on those terrible jungle marches. Even half-starved men would share their food with the ill."

Before he had recovered fully, malaria struck and because of his weakened condition, Barwick was kept on to work in the hospital. Here the men lay side by side, head to foot, in double rows on bamboo racks in a long shack. There was no way to isolate the contagious cases. The patients were on half rations, approximately a pint and a half of rice a day. And always there was death.

Barwick worked from dawn to dark there, trying to make the rounds of all of his patients. "I lived in an atmosphere of sickness and death," Barwick said "but despite the fact that I suffered from malaria and dysentery, I found it better to fight the awful languid feeling and keep on my feet. Men that didn’t, never got up." There were attempts at escape, but it was 600 miles through the jungle to the nearest Allied troops. "Some men would simply wander off into the jungle, preferring to die in freedom rather than endure any more torment," Barwick said. "Others were recaptured or turned in by the natives. No one ever made a successful escape."

But despite the starvation, fatigue and disease, the men held fast to hope and even did their feeble best to sabotage the railroad they were building. Japanese guards were pushed to their death from the high bridges, termite nests were placed against the base of the beams of the bridges. And there was hope spurred by a tiny radio hidden in the bottom of a water bottle. They knew the Japanese were being defeated – the problem was to survive until the next day.

In September the Japanese decided to move the ill to a hospital camp in Burma. At this time, 1,000 men were still alive, 800 of them too sick to work. There was another agonizing march and train ride to the new hospital camp. Here Barwick found 2,000 desperately ill men gathered from camps along the railway. Here again there were no medical supplies. Barwick tried to cure jungle ulcers by scraping them with a spoon, surgeons performed operations with pen knives and hacksaws and homemade remedies such as charcoal were used to try to cure men so ill they would have had trouble under the best of conditions. In two and a half months, 712 men died.

But again there was hope. Here they heard for the first time Allied bombers passing over to attack nearby towns. Then in November, the Japanese decided that F Force was no longer fit to work and started the survivors back to Singapore. Barwick stayed for a while at another hospital along the line and then was shipped back to Singapore in April, 1944, exactly one year after he left for the horrors of the "railway of death." In Singapore the food was better and the treatment not quite so harsh and there were the rumors of victory to keep hope alive until the war ended.

 

  Photo: Even after five weeks of good food I.J. Barwick only weighed 95 pounds when this picture was taken in Singapore shortly after his release from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
     

After the war, Barwick went home to England where he found he could not go back to his old job as a bus driver because his health was so poor. He worked for a while as a clerk with a Home Guards company, and when it was disbanded, studied to be a barber. He came to the United States in 1958 to join his son-in-law, Frank Spicer of Stow, in the barbering business. That year his wife died. He remarried last year. He and his wife, Barbara, live at 1245 Anderson Rd., in the Falls. Barwick now works at the Four Shears Barber Shop on Portage Trail.

While in England he was active as an officer in the Far East British Prisoner of War Association. Barwick also wrote a book about his experiences, which he still hopes to have published. He would be interested in starting an ex-prisoner of war association here for both Britons and Americans. For the things he endured in his three and a half years are never very far from his mind. And on this day, he can recall as clearly as if it were last night that buzz of voices from Changi Jail that signaled the end to his long ordeal.

     
Photo: These shorts, patched together 20 times, were among the few possessions I.J. Barwick owned after three and a half years behind barbed wire. The beard was grown for the Cuyahoga Falls Sesquicentennial celebration.   Dad8-1962.jpg (34277 bytes)