Maynard Skinner - FEPOW
Vic Ients Interview with Maynard Skinner
Rather too late in many ways, I decided to try to contact some people who knew my Father, Albert Victor Ient, during the Second World War. I started by searching through my parents address book and papers and there I came across the name of Maynard Skinner. Indeed, I found that after my Fathers death in 1988 Maynard continued correspondence with Mum until she died in 1999. Intrigued, I wrote to Maynard and asked him if I could go and see him. He was delighted and we arranged for me to visit him and his second wife, Dulcie, at their house near Poole in Dorset.
On a lovely sunny day in late August 2005 Maynard and I sat in his lounge and he talked to me about his life as a soldier; he recalled the excitement of travelling to Hong Kong, being called up on a charge in front of my Father and what happened to him when the British forces capitulated to Japan on Christmas Day 1941. Although his memory may have been clouded in some respects and events reordered by the intervening years, I found the interview interesting, intriguing and absorbing. This note is a summary of the discussions that took place on that summer afternoon.
Maynards story begins when he joined the British Army in July 1940, on the 4th July in fact, and he joked with me that he lost his independence that day! Like most people who joined my Fathers regiment, the Royal Signals, he was sent to Catterick, in Yorkshire, for training and from there he started a three month journey out to Hong Kong. Maynard vividly described the holiday-like atmosphere of his journey aboard The Duchess of York, part of a convoy leaving Liverpool in March 1941. Their first port of call was Freetown, but the next was Cape Town, and Maynard spoken passionately about how he fell in love with this place, it was glorious, because after the blackout it was just full of life and blazing colour, plenty of everything, plenty of beer, plenty of food and whatever, and I was lucky enough to get ashore for four days I had a very nice time there, I loved it. The next leg of the journey took in Bombay, where Maynard celebrated his 21st birthday, and then Singapore. The Royal Signals were based in Singapore in the now infamous Changi prison, but at the time of Maynards arrival this was a British training camp and the place Maynard most remembers for the games of football he played with his friend, Harold Bates and the Royal Signals soccer team. Click here to see the
In May 1941, Maynard arrived in Hong Kong and found the pre-war atmosphere almost dream-like. In retrospect, Maynard viewed his perception of freedom and ease as youthful naivety and felt that had he been trained as a professional soldier, in the same way as my Father and not a green National Serviceman, he would have had more idea about what was going on and what to expect. As it was, he did run foul of Army discipline on one occasion when he was put on charge for going out of camp to a social event wearing his uniform dress trousers. This abuse of regulations landed Maynard on the carpet in front of my Father who, despite the seriousness of the charge, let him off with no punishment. Maynard recalled Sergeant Albert Ient as a smart soldier in his tropical uniform, a very fair man, different from other sergeants in that he did not shout at his men. He was older than me he was old school; I mean your Father was a very nice man, I liked him very much because he was ever so straightforward, not a complicated man at all, and so everything he did was always straight up, he was what he was.
Questioned about when he became aware of the reality of war in the Far East, Maynard explained that this did not happen until the Japanese started to bomb Hong Kong immediately after they had hit Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. At first it was token, sporadic bombing, they didnt declare war, they just started. The Japanese bombing soon increased in severity and, when the Japanese came down through China into the New Territories, members of the British Army began to be captured. Maynard was not among the first to be detained, and he described the uncertainty of the period and the long retreats from Tai Tam to Stonehill Exchange to Stanley, they were coming on all the time.
Hong Kong capitulated to Japan on Christmas Day 1941, but because of lack of communication and the fact that he was on another part of the island, remote from the town, Maynard was not immediately aware of the surrender. In some ways, the beginning of his period of imprisonment was, he felt, an anticlimax:
All I remember is a truck coming through, on it was this white flag, and in the vehicle was some of our people, you know, officers, and that was it. The Japanese then didnt do anything at all, I witnessed no atrocities or anything like that, they left us for a few days, and then they came back and they marshalled us all together and then we had to march from there back down into town, into Northpoint Camp, in a place called Causeway Bay.
From Northpoint, where Maynard suffered a bout of dysentery, he and his fellow captives were taken to Shamshuipo (Kowloon mainland). When Maynard first arrived at this camp he was hospitalised and, from this point onwards, lost all contact with my Father; but he believes that his experiences as a Japanese POW in both Hong Kong and Japan were probably similar to those of Alberts. In Shamshuipo a Japanese Army officer named Genchi Nemori, as Maynard spelt it, (Other record show this name as Niimori Genichiro), of whom Maynard could only say, he was a terrible, terrible man, Genchil Nemori, yes he was a horrible man, ran the camp. The 10,000 or so prisoners were put to work refilling the holes left by the constant bombings, building a new road for the Japanese Army, cleaning the camp, clearing and burying dead bodies. The work was both physically exhausting and an enormous psychological stain, as the prisoners never had sufficient food and constantly had to adhere to public displays of submission, which were designed to inflate the captors status whilst degrading their captives. Maynard recalled, We just had rice with nothing else for literally about three months just on a couple of occasions we might have some sort of dark vegetable stew, it was just vegetable flowers, probably chrysanthemums or something like that and thats what caused us to get so much illness. Disease was rife, with over-worked and under-fed soldiers plagued by dysentery, beriberi, and diphtheria. Maynard was without doubt lucky to have survived.
On 25th September 1942, after nine months of imprisonment in Hong Kong, Maynard and 1,816 British prisoners of war boarded ships bound for Japan. My Father fortunately was not on the same ship as Maynard, he went directly to Japan without incident. However, for Maynard and his fellows aboard the Lisbon Maru their journey turned into a nightmare, of not only disease and deprivation, but also sheer horror. On 1st October 1942 an American submarine, the Grouper, fired torpedoes at the Lisbon Maru, believing it to be a Japanese troop ship. (See note 1 below) They severely damaged the ship in the stern and brought her to a standstill. A Japanese patrol boat took off the 700 Japanese soldiers, but left the prisoners in the ships hold, below battened down hatches. Fortunately, the ship did not sink immediately, due to its positioning in shallow water on a sand bank. Maynard described how they went through that night and all the next day before somebody forced a means of escape through the hatch in No.2 hold through which they could break out:
Wed have probably gone down with the ship, but we fortunately [got out] I went straight down into the sea, I thought well, Im going to die anyway, but I dont want to die down there in the hold...There were masses of people about after that and then gradually they started dropping off, drowning and whatever, because no attempt was made [to save us], then they [a Japanese gun board] started shooting at us in the water.
Through what must have been sheer determination and a great deal of luck, Maynard, with fellow Signals comrade Reg Biggs, survived the sinking of the Lisbon Maru and the shooting. He did not know how many did die, but records show that only 748 returned to Britain after the war. This was not, however, the end of Maynards trial, he was picked up by the Japanese and taken to Osaka.
Note 1: The American submarine attacked on 1 Oct 1942, between Formosa and Shanghai. Survivors were taken aboard a Japanese destroyer escort and taken to Shanghai where they were left standing on the wharf side almost naked for long periods. A number caught pneumonia and died. Survivors taken to Osaka camp in Japan (source Tony Banham, FEPOW Community)
Japan - Osaka Prisoner of War Camp
Maynard arrived in Japan in October and like many prisoners of war, indeed the same as my Father, was taken to a shipyard. From 1942 through until the end of hostilities in 1945, Maynard remained in the Osaka Prisoner of War Camp. He was set to work in Osakas dockyards with other POWs and Japanese civilians. The work mainly consisted of loading and unloading ships; the prisoners were woken at 5.15 a.m. and worked through until five or six in the evening, month after month and year after year. Initially they were granted a Yasumi day (a day off), but towards the end of their captivity they tended to work seven days a week. Maynard was never in good health and at one point badly injured his back, but was still required to work. Again; they only had a meagre, restricted diet, consisting primarily of rice and occasionally some vegetable soup. Sometimes, in an effort to enforce nationalistic sovereignty, their Japanese captors fed them a red salt plum on a bed of white rice. Maynard recounted that although the Red Cross visited the prisoners, they only received two parcels during his entire stay. Maynard recalled how, even when the war was nearing its end, his prison guards maintained their cold authority, It was all this business where you could not go past them without bowing otherwise youd get beaten up, that kind of thing, of course that was almost routine. The guards dominance and order was preserved until the very end, but then, all of a sudden it seemed to me that we were left. As quickly as Maynard had been forced to make the transition from soldier to prisoner of war, he was now suddenly free once more.
Clearly, the realisation that the war was over was hard for Maynard to comprehend. In a dreamlike interlude, he boarded a train to Kobe to visit two Royal Signal friends, Red Harrington and Badgie Price. He travelled with Japanese civilians, and perhaps his sheer brazenness prevented his capture. He was, after all, still in a hostile country, and had not been released from captivity; his freedom was simply inferred from the lack of an authoritative presence. What happened in the next few weeks is a little unclear to Maynard; he went to a hotel in Osaka with this mate Reg Biggs, wearing American kit, which had been amongst the many items dropped by parachute; visiting the coast and swimming. He concluded, its like a dream; you cant get every detail of it.
During the journey home from Yokohama by air to Okinawa and onwards to Manila, in the Philippines, the ex-captives were asked to identify their captors as war criminals and were debriefed about the events that had occurred in Europe. This process was bewildering for Maynard; he had been very politically aware prior to his period of service, but was shocked to learn how Jewish persecution had developed into the Holocaust. He was also given the news that a plane carrying ex-prisoners of war had crashed. Among those killed were his friends Red Harrington and Badgie Price. (see note 2 below)
From Manila they went on American transport, a naval transporter called The Admiral Hughes, to Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. Then on the Trans Canadian Railway to Halifax where the celebrations were jubilant - there were many Canadians held prisoner by the Japanese who were also returning home. Maynard described the euphoric atmosphere and the tactics involved to ensure all were involved: At Medicine Hat Station theyd take all the trousers and things like that from where we were sleeping, and wed find we didnt have any trousers, so well, if you promise to come out and join the party, well give you your trousers back!. It was chaotic; it was of course a lovely time.
A liner called The Il da France brought the POWs back to Southampton. Maynard Skinner completed his journey home to Taunton, England on 4 November 1945.
Note 2: On 10.9.45 POWs were flown from Okinawa (where they had rested for 3 days after flying from Yokohama) to Manila. During the ferrying one plane, a B24, crashed into the sea, all passengers and crew were lost (source Tony Banham FEPOW Community).