Captain James Gibson
The senior British Officer on board: an onerous task indeed.
IN THE MATTER OF:-
The ill-treatment of British prisoners of war on board the S.S. HOFUKU MARU during July, August and September, 1944.
A F F I D A V I T
1, Captain James Gibson with permanent address at 12 Nab Wood Crescent, Shipley, Yorkshire, formerly of 122 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, make oath and say as follows:-
1. I was captured by the Japanese at Singapore on 15 February, 1942, and after being in various prisoner of war camps in Siam I was taken to River Valley Road Camp, Singapore with a party of 2,000 British prisoners of war on June 7th 1944. From this Camp we were embarked on the HOFUKU MARU which sailed from Singapore on July 4th, 1944.
2. I was Officer Commanding the 1300 British troops who were to sail in this vessel. Before embarking I protested strongly to Lieutenant ENO, Serjeant JOTANI and Serjeant NORO about conditions on board ship. I refused to embark
the men and Lieut. ENO told me that if we did not go on board, there would be serious repercussions.
3. I had to give way and Lieut. ENO made each prisoner take on board a block of rubber, weighing about 14 lbs. This was their way of loading a cargo of rubber. This ship also carried a cargo of tin ingots and bauxite.
4. Lieut. ENO was the Japanese officer in charge of administration of our ship and of another ship in the same convoy on which prisoners were embarked. Captain HALL, Royal Artillery of 118 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, who came from Edinburgh, was in charge of the British prisoners on this other ship, the name of which I forget. Lieut. ENO was about 5 feet 5 inches in height, and would weigh about 10 stones. His teeth were not particularly prominent. He was a typical Japanese and difficult to describe.
5. Sjt. JOTANI was in charge of administration on the HOFUKU MARU. He was about 5 feet 6 inches in height and was very strongly and heavily built and would weigh about 12 stones. He had a bullet head and had a few gold teeth. His expression was stupid and ape-like.
6. JOTANI was assisted on our ship by Sjt. NORO who was about 5 feet 5 inches in height. He was small but very well proportioned and would weigh about 10 1/2 stones. He had a Grecian nose and apart from high cheek bones, his looks were most un-Japanese. He was a fine looking man.
7. There were two interpreters on board, a Korean called ARAI, who, I think, never interpreted honestly and who though he never struck any British troops, was often guilty of violence towards some of the 200 Dutch who were also on board. The other interpreter who was really in charge of the rations, was I think, a Korean called MATSUMOTO. He was guilty of withholding rations from us and giving them to the Korean guards. He would rather sell us our rations than give us them.
8. On board the HOFUKU MARU the British prisoners were divided into Sections, each section commanded by a British officer, numbered about 150.
9. The HOFUKU MARU was a very old tramp steamer of about 4,000 tons and in extremely bad condition. It was built at Clydeside in 1902. It was very filthy in every way and was in my opinion unsuitable for transporting 1500 personnel.
10. We were accommodated in two holds, one forward and one aft, 650 prisoners being accommodated in each hold. Although the holds had bunks like shelves erected the accommodation was far from adequate.
11. On 4 July, 1944, our ship sailed in a convoy of 10 or 12 ships. The hatches of the hold were open night and day. At first only our officers and our cooks were allowed on deck but after a few days I think that 100 from each hold were allowed to come up and sleep on the deck.
12. While we were confined to two holds, the 30 Korean guards were allowed a hold to themselves. These two holds were not big enough for all the occupants to lie down at the same time and it was only with the utmost difficulty that the men could be got into the holds at all. They were herded together like cattle, and took it in turns to lie down.
13. Most of the prisoners had khaki drill tunics and shorts and rubber Japanese boots issued in Siam before setting off to the port of embarkation, but by the time we were embarked, these articles of clothing, being of inferior quality, had mostly worn out. Owing to the heat in the holds, most of the prisoners just wore 'G' Strings.
14. There was no provision made for washing, apart from the fact that we were allowed at certain times to haul up buckets of sea water, which we splashed over ourselves.
15. There were no latrines, apart from six box-like arrangements slung over the side of the ship. Many of the prisoners became too weak to climb over the side of the ship and the result was that many had to excrete in the holds. After a time, we were given two wooden latrine buckets per hold, but we were only allowed to empty these twice daily. Eventually we had to resort to using mess tins as bed pans.
16. I should think that at one time during the voyage almost 99 per cent of the prisoners were suffering from Beri-Beri, dysentery and malaria. The conditions of 650 men eating, living and sleeping in such a stifling hold had to be seen to be believed.
17. Each man received a pint of rice twice per day, together with a minute portion of dried vegetable. Occasionally we were given one bucket of fresh fish which had to be divided between 1300 men. At the beginning of the voyage drinking water was issued on the scale of three-quarters of a pint per man per day, and as the condensers on the ship were not working properly, the water was invariably salty and caused much suffering and occasional rioting amongst the men.
After numerous complaints made by me to Sjt. JOTANI, the standard of the water was improved, but we never had enough.
18. On 23 July, 1944 we anchored in Manila Bay about half a mile off-shore. By that time the condition of the men had steadily deteriorated and we had our first death a few days after entering Manila Bay. Conditions on the ship owing to sickness and the lack of latrine accommodation were also bad. The death rate rose, and though we had been allowed to take the first man who died ashore for burial, we had to give other prisoners who died a sea burial. Though we were allowed to give our men Christian burials, we were often interrupted by JOTANI and NORO. Their conduct throughout the voyage had consisted mainly of extreme brutality. It was their practice to go round beating prisoners for no apparent reason with iron bars and sticks. I made complaints during the voyage concerning medical supplies, conditions and food but nothing was done and all I received for my pains was blows from JOTANI and NORO who often punched me with their fists, even though during this voyage I weighed only 8 1/2 stones and at one stage lost the use of my legs.
19. We stayed in Manila Bay almost two months during which time no one was allowed on shore. As a result of my repeated complaints 50 of the most serious cases were taken on shore to Manila Hospital. To give some idea of the conditions
of the worst cases, I can say that while we were putting these 50 into barges to be taken ashore, our doctors decided that two of the men would be dead before their arrival at hospital and we therefore kept these in the ship and sent two other men to hospital instead. During the evacuation of these 50 hospital cases the behaviour of JOTANI, NORO and the other Japanese was brutal and callous in the extreme. They were always hurrying us on and helping us with blows.
20. During the time we were in Manila Bay, over 100 of the British prisoners died. We received from one of the American camps in Manila, supplies of vitamin 'B' and 'C' injections and muti-vitamin tablets to counteract Beri-Beri. The bulk of these medical supplies were however kept by JOTANI for the use of the Japanese guards. A very small quantity was given to our doctors who were compelled by JOTANI to inject the Japanese guards and members of the ship's crew with these vitamin injections.
21. By the end of our stay in Manila Bay it was the monsoon period and with the holds being open they were running in water and the conditions in the hold had by this time become indescribably filthy. By the middle of September, I should say that 90 per cent of the men were unable to walk without assistance.
22. On September, 20th, 1944 the ship left Manila Bay but on the following day it was sunk by aerial attack from American planes. Our ship had no distinguishing marks to indicate it was any other than an ordinary cargo boat. Besides being torpedoed, one bomb fell into each hold of the prisoners holds. Apart from this, the majority of the prisoners were, in view of their physical condition, quite unable to make any attempt to save themselves. I should think at least a thousand prisoners went down with the ship which sank in less than five minutes. JOTANI, NORO and the majority of the Japanese crew were picked up by lifeboats from escorting Japanese destroyers. There were no lifeboats available as these had been riddled by Machine-gun fire from the American fighters. In any event, there were only two lifeboats on the ship.
23. As JOTANI had previously warned me that if there was any attack on the ship, he would shoot any prisoner who attempted to leave the holds, I went up on deck to try and stop any panic. I was therefore lucky enough to get overboard and swim three miles to the shore, where I joined some Filipino guerillas. After spending five months with the latter, I was picked up by an American torpedo boat which was patrolling offshore.
24. As regards the indescribable conditions on board, the HOFUKU MARU, I would say that JOTANI and NORO were entirely responsible, even though at the time they always blamed their superiors. Lieut. ENO could not be blamed for what happened to us in Manila Bay as he had already left in a ship for Japan.
25. All I have described regarding the conditions on this ship for which I hold JOTANI and NORO responsible, could be corroborated by the following Section Officers on the HOFUKU MARU if they are still alive:-
Captain Nigel Evans of the Manchester Regiment, whose address I do not
Captain Lewis. R.A.M.C., a Welshman.
Captain McNiel, C.F., a Northern Irishman, a regular officer.
Captain Robson, R.A.M.C., whose address I do not know. I think he came
Captain Peter Dean, Cambridgeshire Regiment, whose address I do not know.
Lieut. "Stalky" Cox, Suffolk Regiment, whose address I do not know.
Captain Lawrence, Gordon Highlanders.
SWORN by the said James Gibson ) at Bradford in the County of York ) James Gibson this 16th day of February, 1946. )