Prisoner of the Samurai

Prisoner of the Samurai

James Gee
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
James Gee was a marine on board USS Houston when she was sunk by the Japanese in the Battle of Sunda Strait on 28th February 1942. Unknown to his family he survived as a PoW and on liberation his story was recorded by his psychiatric nurse, Rosalie Smith. Her daughter Allyson Smith has now brought Gee's account to light.

Gee's vicissitudes as a PoW included slave labour on the Burma Railway and in lethal coal mines on Kyushu. A litany of deliberate Japanese brutality runs like a rogue's yarn through the entire story and is related in considerable detail. We also see how individual PoWs regarded what was going on, and how they coped (or, sadly and all too often, didn't); and at one point, disgracefully, how US officer PoWs used the men's money to give themselves a more comfortable time (names, says the preface, have been changed - a pity). The generous, often selfless mutual support of Gee's cohort was in contrast to, for instance, the unedifying way they were exploited by British PoWs and their officers in one camp, guarded by turncoat Sikhs, in Singapore. Gee in particular survived because of the support he received from his Texan shipmates, in particular his great friend Gordon Strong - but it was a close-run thing. There are (very) occasional glimpses of Japanese who did have a moral compass and - necessarily furtively - gave assistance.

Finally came the massive rumble of the Nagasaki bomb which in a few days brought Gee's nightmare to an end. To his credit he and his companions rose above hate and retribution.

It is right that the modern generation should have this harrowing reminder of the loathsome, cowardly, barbarous, sadistic behaviour of the Japanese towards their weak, sick, starving, defenceless prisoners, for which there has been no acknowledgement, let alone atonement. Thousands died, entirely avoidably. James Gee survived to tell his tale. It is our 21st century duty to read it.

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