The Return Home
The end of the War came for us when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. We thought it was an earthquake but we were puzzled by the huge mushroom of smoke that was slowly spreading. We knew some days later when an American fighter dropped a message warning us to look out for the B29 Bomber that would shortly drop food.
Within hours, an American soldier and a British soldier, ex Prisoners of War now, were on guard at the camp gate with rifles taken from the Jap guards who could not get away quick enough. Because of the effects of the bomb, it was left to us to organise transport out of the camp some five weeks later.
The Americans would not come near us but they dropped far more food and medical supplies than we needed. We arranged for the Japanese to queue up every day for the surplus food but only children under fourteen were allowed to collect. They were the new generation of Japan and we hoped we might influence their future thinking.
The journey home
We finally entrained at a small station outside of Hiroshima and slowly made our way around the coast to Wakayama. Here we met up with the American naval medics who destroyed our clothes and put us through various baths and fumigation sprays. We were then examined by many doctors and cross examined about our treatment by the Japs. Those fit enough were then sent by boat to Manilla in the Phillipines. I, with others, was taken to an American base hospital on Okinawa.
After four weeks there, I was flown to Manilla to an Australian base hospital. Lady Mountbatten visited us and on hearing the complaint that we had not yet been in touch with home, raised Cain, and within half an hour we all had cablegrams on their way to our loved ones.
During all the hospital transfers, I lost most of my belongings and saddest of all, I lost that very precious cross. Maybe it is comforting someone in need.
Leaving Manilla, we made a very slow journey across the sea to San Francisco and from there we embarked onto a Canadian boat for Victoria, British Columbia. The Canadians were kindness itself, as we entered Victoria we were greeted with ships sirens and water displays as though we were a conquering army returning, and this treatment continued the whole time we were there. A large store and canteen in the camp supplied everything. We could have anything we wanted but we were not allowed to pay for it. Likewise, the Hudson Bay trading store gave us all a credit of $100 to spend on goods which they sent home for us if we so desired. They closed the store to the public and we each chose an assistant near to the size of our wives or sweethearts to help us with our shopping.
Our next journey was by boat down to Vancouver and from there by Canadian Pacific Railway across the Rockies to Montreal, taking four days and five nights stopping at Moose Jaw and Calgary. From Montreal by train to New York where we awaited the Queen Mary. During our stay there, we were entertained by the American Red Cross.
The Queen Mary
Once at sea on the Queen Mary, about three thousand of us were each given a large bundle consisting of dressing gown, pyjamas, shirts, shoes the right size, all toilet requisites, nylons for the wife and chocolate for the children, cigars and cigarettes and a bottle for father. Nothing was left out.
We arrived at Southampton in time for Christmas and when I arrived home to see my wife and three daughters waiting for me at the door, my mind went back to the time when I had dared to question God. He had kept faith with me, may I always have the strength to keep faith with him.
The first year at home was difficult. I think all Prisoners of War were a little unbalanced. On top of that I had to go back to the factory and take over the department that I left six years ago. It was natural that some would resent it and that first year was a real struggle but I can never pay enough credit to the love and patience that I received from my wife and daughters. They deserve the medals.
This has been written at the request of Mr. Charles Rouse, Secretary and historian for the Dunkirk Veterans Club, Portsmouth. I put it off for a long time but, as I have sat at the typewriter and put my thoughts and memories down, perhaps it has helped me lay a few ghosts. I would also like to pay tribute to the Portsmouth and District F.E.P.O.W. Club (Far East Prisoners of War club) and the many friends that I have there. They are indeed keeping alive that spirit that kept us going.
Albert Henry Charles Roberts. (born 11/5/1911, died 23/5/1997)