08 March 2006

Repatriating Japanese Handbones, 1942

The commander decided to stay put for the night. It would give them time to bury the dead (after first severing their wrists to return hands to their homes). But digging in proved difficult, and after only 30 centimeters water appeared. So they did the opposite, they heaped earth to create a burial mound where they placed the corpses.

With two others, Tsuchikane was then ordered to ossify the wrists and hands by burning them to the bone. In an adjoining house, after sealing it and making sure no smoke escaped outside, they washed the pan from which they had just eaten their hot meal and put it on the stove. First they took commander Miyamoto's hand from the mess tin and began to grill it. "Shuu, shuu," it sizzled in the pan, with lots of grease escaping from the hand. Strong smoke with a hideous stench soon filled the room. It got unbearably hot and the three stripped to their loincloths as sweat cascaded down their bodies. One wrist took ages. Their chopsticks got shorter, catching fire many times owing to their efforts of turning the flesh and then burning away the muscle from the bones. The bones picked from the charcoal were transferred to a British tobacco can and passed on to the men waiting outside. They, in turn, put the bones in a white cloth and stored the packages with great care in their service bags.

The soldiers had promised each other to enter Singapore together, even if it were only their remains. They had fought together until today, they had eaten the same rice, they had ducked under the same bullets, and they felt bonds no different from those between brothers. Perhaps the bonds were even stronger through their knowledge of man's fleeting existence they had experienced each day over the past months.
SOURCE: Guns of February: Ordinary Japanese Soldiers' Views of the Malayan Campaign & the Fall of Singapore 1941-42, by Henry Frei (Singapore U. Press, 2004), pp. 135-136

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