Stroud, John (Interview)
THEY'VE BEEN called Canada's forgotten vets. In December 1941, nearly 2,000 members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Quebec arrived in Hong Kong to help defend the British colony against a massing Japanese army. Part of a garrison that was 14,000 strong, they had no air support and in less than three weeks of furious fighting were overrun by a Japanese force of nearly 30,000. For nearly four years, from Dec. 25, 1941, until VJ Day, Aug. 15, 1945, these captured Canadians were prisoners of war. Among the approximately 160 still alive is 84-year-old John Stroud of Toronto, president of the Ontario branch of the Hong Kong Veterans Association. He went blind in one POW camp because of malnutrition. When his eyesight returned, he was sent to a work camp in Japan. He spoke to Maclean's Senior Editor Robert Sheppard.
Your war was spent mostly in a work camp, correct?
Work? It was a slave camp. I was transferred to Japan in '43, to camp 5b in Niigata. We had the most deaths of any POW camp in Japan. My job was unloading coal from boxcars from China 12 hours a day. You got a bamboo pole with 75 lb. of coal in each basket. You went up and down a ladder. Some fellas would collapse and they'd get beat up because they weren't doing their load.
What did you survive on?
All we got to eat was a bowl of rice each day with fleas and bugs in it. Eventually we got a luxury - pickled grasshoppers from China. The doctors said there were vitamins in them. I thought they'd make a great drink so I went and got a cup of hot water, and their eyes opened and they moved. That was the end of me eating grasshoppers.
Was there nothing else?
The only extras we got was when the Americans came in at the end of the war. As far as I'm concerned we went over second class and the Americans brought us back first class. They dropped food, clothing, medicine, even chocolate bars and cigarettes on Niigata. Folks condemned the United States for the atomic bomb. I can tell you I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the atomic bomb. If you read the transcripts of the war crimes trial after you will see every commandant had secret orders: in event of an Allied invasion of Japan all POWs were to be executed.
How did you know the war was over?
On Aug. 15 we were rounded up and sent back to camp. They had speakers set up, and the Emperor said Japan capitulated unconditionally. And boy did we celebrate. The good guards hung around to protect us. But the bad guys took off quick. Then the American bombers came over with coloured parachutes to drop the food. We ate day and night. Fires were burning all over. Everybody had their favourite recipes, and we sang God Bless America.
I was six feet and 182 lb. when I was taken. I came out at 62 lb.
How do you feel about Japan today?
I read about Japanese cars and how well their economy is doing. And we're building Hondas right here in Ontario. I would not even buy a Japanese pencil.
See also WORLD WAR II
Maclean's August 22, 2005