Veteran Stories:
Geoffrey A Knowles

Navy

  • Troops disembarking in Burma for the Battle of Kangaw, January 1945.

    Geoffrey A Knowles
  • Admiral Lord Mountbatten with the troops in Clearwater Bay, Hong Kong, January 1946.

    Geoffrey A Knowles
  • Geoffrey A Knowles pictured here in Hong Kong at age 20, October 1945.

    Geoffrey A Knowles
  • Prisoner being decapitated by a Japanese soldier. Photograph taken with a camera belonging to a Japanese soldier who was later captured by the Allies.

    Geoffrey A Knowles
  • Copy of Osaka Maru boat orders and regulations for prisoners taken by the Japanese Navy, 1944.

    Geoffrey A Knowles
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"Many of them were treated, put in prison. Others were executed, depending on what they had done and how the affidavits turned out."

Transcript

When they decided after I went through the commission series and got my second lieutenancy, then they decided they were going to send me to a place called Achnacarry in Scotland to do the commando course. And that was tough, they used live ammunition and everything on you, over your head, of course, but it was realistic as you could get to coming in on a landing craft assault from the lakes and landing on the beach, and they had explosives set in the sand so they blew up as if you were being bombarded by the enemy, to simulate action. That’s one of my biggest memories when I went through that course, which took us eight weeks.

Now it is 32 weeks to do the same thing. But we were rushed through it because the war was on and people were dying, so they needed replacements. And replacements, you went to a holding camp and then they drew you from there to go wherever, Dieppe and any of the other actions and myself, they decided that they were going to send me over to India and go into action in Burma [now known as Myanmar].

In January, we continued through the Suez Canal, over to Bombay [India] and then Bombay, we went to a camp and that’s where started our combat training for the jungle. The jungle is not the same as fighting in Europe. It’s a completely different way, and you had to learn because the Japanese knew how to fight in the jungle.

You have to know how to use your knife because there was a lot of, later on as I’ll tell you, there was a lot of hand-to-hand fighting. So you learned to do that and how to handle your knife and how to do it, and that’s a training in itself. And then you have to know how to cut your way through a jungle because sometimes there’s no pass in the jungle. You go through thick bush and that’s it. And you hack your way through to get through. But the biggest one, of course, of action was called Kangaw [Burma]. And that was in January 1945.

We landed at a place called Myebon, that’s MYEBON, Myebon. And worked our way up towards the Kangaw Peninsula. And on the way, there was a hill called Hill 170. The Japanese had charge of that and we had to get them off of there. And where we were was in the lowland, which is where they grow rice and things, swampy. You were in water all the time. So you can’t dig in or anything like that, no foxholes. Anyway, we managed to get them off after a couple of days and then we moved on towards the town of Kangaw.

Some of the villages that they were, we’ll call them villages or small towns, were pro-Japanese or anti-Japanese. You didn’t know which was which until you got to meet the head man of the village, then you would find out very quickly if they were for the Allies or against the Allies. Because many of the tribes people over there wanted a free land because Burma was British. And they wanted it to be a free country. So they were all, like I’ll call it, separatists really, that’s what they were. But fortunately, the Kangaw people were allies, so they joined up with us until we had to leave and go further down the coast.

After, when we got into a certain area further south of Kangaw, we dug in, we used to dig foxholes, two men for a foxhole. One looks after the other, you're buddies and you don’t do anything without watching for your friend. He watches for you and you watch for him. But the Japanese had a very strange way of, they could come in at night and they’d crawl in. They’d work to go 100 yards towards your foxholes from where they were. They would take hours to get in in the dark, because they had the patience to go a few feet and wait and a few feet more and wait, which we didn’t have. And they would come into the foxhole and kill you. And especially if there was only one because maybe one of you had gone back for more ammunition. So naturally, you had to get back as soon as you could and sometimes some people would get back and find their buddy dead, stabbed by and killed by a Japanese. That was the kind of thing. Silent warfare. And that’s when we had the hand-to-hand fighting. That’s why we carried a stiletto knife, to fight with it.

The officers and the sergeants and the men, there’s more of a camaraderie than there is of rank. That’s which the army has, very seriously, they go for rank. We don’t. I’ll call the guy by his first name. Instead of calling him private or marine, we don’t use the word private, we use the word marine. And they won’t call me by my first name, of course, but they’ll say, okay captain, thank you or whatever I was, lieutenant at that time. They would call me, okay lieutenant. And they’d answer me that way. So we had a very close relationship. And all the food that we got was shared equally. Officers didn’t get more than the men, the men didn’t get more than the officers. Unless they knew a certain sergeant in charge of supply, which often enough they did. But that was about it, we were pretty equal.

Well, the first thing is, of course, I mean, many of the places have a radio stashed away that have been made up. So you had some news that there was the atomic bomb had been dropped. We knew that. And then we didn’t know much more about it until the second one was dropped. And then we figured, well, the war is going to be over and we’ll be released. But we had to wait days and days after that, even though according to the rules of everything, the Japanese had surrendered by the emperor. But we didn’t know that, and maybe our camp commandant. The Japanese didn’t know it also, so, we just had to wait until somebody found us or they knew where we were because we had been moved to Changi Prison Camp in Singapore by a ship from Rangoon [Burma, now known as Yangon]. And we were on our way originally to go as slaves to Japan. But when the war finished, at that time they had to dump us because just before the war finished, the U.S. marines had taken Okinawa so there was no way that from Singapore could a Japanese ship get back to their homeland.

The camp commandant of that prison camp had been transferred before the war ended to Hong Kong. So, many of the prisoners that had been in there had been in prison since 1941. And they had been treated badly, of course the atrocities, etc. So it was my job to take some of the affidavits from prisoners when the war finished, to take affidavits from these people that had been in many, many years, to make sure that the guy in Hong Kong would relieve the other commandant of Hong Kong where the Canadians were, that he was going to be caught for what he did in Singapore.

So I gave me and a few men to go to fly to Hong Kong and take affidavits with us signed by the, like a prosecution attorney, and to present to the court cases of the Japanese that the Japanese commandant that had just gone to Hong Kong before the war finished, was going to be put on trial for what he did in Singapore. And he was. Many of them were treated, put in prison. Others were executed, depending on what they had done and how the affidavits turned out. And that was it.

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