Osaka POW Camp #8-B

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SHIGA-ken, NOSU-gun, HYOZU-machi (NODA)
8 Km west of Omihachiman Station, Shiga Pref.

18 May 1945:
Established as 23-B NODA
Aug 1945: Renamed Osaka 8-B
Sept 1945: Rescue effected; POWs rename to "Camp How"

Satellite view
Area map - shows location on shoreline of Lake Biwa and relationship to the locations of other Osaka Camps.
196 Dutch (included one officer)
No deaths recorded.
OSA-08 Roster (WO 361-1963) - All Dutch

Two photographs

Interior and exterior barracks views

Report on Harima and Noda Camps by Sergeant D.A. Visker
(courtesy of Leo Rampen, son of POW Wilhelmus Rampen)

Draft of an Account of my Father's POW Experience
(for my children and grandchildren)
by Leo Rampen
My father was a Dutch POW from 1942 till September 1945 in Japan. He was imprisoned in camps at Harima and Noda. During my earlier research, the American War Archives has kindly assisted me with photographs and other documentation. It has been a great help and I continue to be very grateful for it.

There is a lengthy report (about a hundred pages) in the Netherlands War Archives in Amsterdam written by the Dutch commander of those two camps and I am currently translating it into English for my own family [above link]. I believe it is a rather rare document since it describes life in the camps and surrounding events in a quite personal manner. It also includes elements from other camps when these men (among which many Americans) came to share the same camp after their old locations had been bombed out.

Papa POW

My father told me very little about his experiences as a prisoner of war, just a few colourful or even horrific anecdotes. It was evident that he felt humiliated by the experience and that he hated the Japanese with a passion. After all he was almost 50 years old and in the middle of a successful career looking forward towards a comfortable retirement from his work at the department store in Surabaya. He and Mama had already started building the villa he had designed for them in the cool mountains near Malang at the resort town of Batoe (Batu).

My sources

The main story about the prisoner of war experience generally, was given to me by the former Dutch commander of the camps where my father stayed. This was a sergeant D. J. Visker who recorded and published much detail about the events they lived through and who made these records available to the NIOD (Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogs Documentatie), the Dutch War Archives in Amsterdam. It is situated in a house on the Heerengracht fronted by a noble 19th century fašade.

It so happened that I also came to know sergeant Visker personally and he told me a number of things himself. Sergeant Visker was born in the Netherlands and in his twenties at the time, at the beginning of his career as a professional soldier in the Dutch colonial air force. He had natural curiosity, a passion for keeping records and wrote well and clearly. The records note that he also gave good leadership during very difficult circumstances to the men under his care.

The War approaches

By the later months of 1941 the threat of a Japanese thrust towards the Indies became serious, Papa was a civilian but had served in the Netherlands during the period of the First World War and was still in the reserve. He was called up again, put through some hurried additional training and was stationed at a small fort called Piring near the coastal town of Bankalan on the island of Madura, across the narrow straight from Surabaya. He was there when the Dutch commander of all Allied armed forces in the Indies was forced to capitulate to the overwhelming Japanese military offensive.

Japanese forces landed on neighboring islands and established air fields. The first Japanese bombs fell on Surabaya on February 3d, 1942. After that and until the capitulation of the Dutch military, the city was attacked daily, sometimes several times. Targets were the Navy harbour, the airfields and other military establishments, but bombs also landed on the heart of the city.

Sunday March 1, Japanese forces landed on several locations at the north coast of Java. On March 7 Japanese advance troops reached Surabaya.

On March 8 the military commander for the Dutch East Indies capitulated.

Prisoners of War

Papa told me once that the garrison was called to attention on the parade ground and that the order was given by the Japanese for all officers and non commissioned officers to step forward. I imagine it was a tense moment. The cruelty of the Japanese military was known. Horrifying stories and pictures of Japanese soldiers bayoneting civilians and prisoners of war had been seen in the press. It was known that the crews at oil installations of Tarakan and Balikpapan whose job it had been to destroy anything that might help the conquering Japanese had been brutally decapitated. Although he never said so, surely Papa must have asked himself: “What next?” When he told me about this event it was evident that it had been a moment when he steeled himself for the worst. It turned out to be the first step in separating commanding personnel from the ordinary troops.

The men were now on their way to an uncertain future. They were taken first back to Surabaya and kept in temporary lodgings at a school of Christian Brothers. Here wives and friends could furtively wave at them from the street, hoping that the Japanese guards would not interfere or slap them. When she learned about this, Mama who still taught in the town of Malang, a two hour train ride away, instantly made an effort to see him if at all possible. She hired a cab and in the dark of the early evening took that two hour ride to Surabaya to briefly see Papa there. She told me that she did not know if she would ever see him again.

The men never knew what would happen next to them. On October 25 1942 they were loaded into a train and traveled between Surabaya and Batavia (now Jakarta). There were long stops, where Indonesian teenagers and street folk amused themselves with the worst insults they could muster, mocking their recent colonial masters. That ride that normally took a day, now took twice as long.

In Batavia at the harbour of Tandjong Priok the men, several hundred of them, were hustled and pressed into the dark dank hot hold of the dirty old coaler, the Oyo Maru. Yelling Japanese guards shoved and prodded them with their rifle butts until there was standing room only. It was the 28th of October 1942

The ship made a zigzag course northwards up along the coast of Borneo trying to avoid any Allied submarine that might seek an easy prey.

For food the men clambered up to the deck and queued up for a handful of rice and they could relieve themselves hanging for dear life at the railings over the sea.

They arrived at Singapore on November 1st, and were transported by truck to Changi camp. On the way they passed the old jail and saw hands waving from the windows. These were the Singapore women who had been imprisoned there. Changi had been a British military establishment with some elderly brick barracks and now a vast tent camp had grown around it. There were about 10.000 men gathered there and with open latrines that gathered clouds of flies, hygiene was rather primitive. Still, there was relative freedom within the camp itself where the men could walk about. Morale was still quite high because many still believed that the Allied forces, especially the Americans and Australians would soon roll back the Japanese conqueror. It might only take a few weeks, some dared to think.

Again, with little warning, on November 30 they had to pack up and were transported by a former liner the “Kamakura Maru” northwards. The ship had been a regular on the Yokohama - San Francisco route and was still in fairly decent state. The men, 1000 Dutch and 300 Australians, were kept on the decks, while Japanese officers inhabited the huts. There was still concern for submarine activity, Kamakura Maru took evasive action but two accompanying ships were torpedoed.

They arrived at Nagasaki harbour early December and standing on the quay, to be counted once again, they shivered still in their tropical uniforms. Huddling and snoozing in a train they then traveled through the newly opened tunnel under the straight of Shimonoseki to the town of Himeji and the Harima wharf where they arrived on December 9th. A group of 400 men, Papa among them, were put to work there at what they thought was a rather primitive establishment. A couple of small war ships were being built or repaired. They were divided in several working crews; the most comfortable were those who were able to work inside a shed. Papa once told us that he was fortunate enough to be among those and so kept relatively warm.

By early 1945 American bombers had increasingly hit Japan. Large cities, Tokyo among those, still mainly consisting of wooden houses closely packed together, were razed in giant infernos. On the 20th of May 1945 the prisoners were moved from Harima and about 400 men, under command of sergeant Visker, were transported to Noda, a little village on Lake Biwa. Papa was among them. They were put to work creating rice paddies at the edge of the lake. It was a more comfortable country life and the labour was not as hard as at the wharf.

The end is near

There was little real war news that could filter into the camp, though scraps of Japanese newspaper were translated and there were whispered rumors. In this way it was known that the Americans were battling closer and closer towards the Japanese islands and the bombardments they heard about offered a sense of hope that the end of war would not be long. There were concerns that the Japanese military would have them all killed if the Marines landed on the islands. What could they do?

They did not know about Hiroshima and the bomb!

One day the prisoners noted a strangely nervous behaviour on the part of the Japanese guards. That evening, after all had gone to sleep in their barracks, sergeant Visker was told to come to see the Japanese commander. He was, to his great surprise, offered a cigarette and a chair. Such a thing had never happened before. The commander told him through the interpreter that it had pleased his Emperor to end the war and that they were now all his honoured guests. Sergeant Visker knew then that this meant the capitulation of the Japanese armed forces. They had lost the war! He kept a straight face and requested that the news be given to the men. The commander urged that it all be done as calmly as possible.

Sergeant Visker returned to the barracks to tell the men.

The men woke with a start and almost right away they gathered and, standing proudly at attention in underwear and rags, accompanied by an accordion they sang the “Wilhelmus” the ancient Dutch national anthem. Then they shouted in unison “Long live the Queen!”

Sergeant Visker told me about this extraordinary moment while we sat in his little apartment at the retirement home near Leiden. Goosebumps crept up my arms. They still do whenever I think about the moment. I can imagine the scene that night of August 15, 1945, of those men standing there in the barracks. Thin and worn, filled with joy and concern. No one could sleep that night. It was too exciting and everyone had his own particular hopes and worries. They had not heard from their families for almost three long years.

Papa had no idea of course what the war had done to his immediate family. He must have asked himself how Mama in Java would have survived the Japanese occupation and how his children in the Netherlands had coped with the Germans. All he knew was that he last had left Mama in Malang or maybe Surabaya. He knew also that my sister and I were in the Netherlands under German occupation. In Zwolle with his own sister, my aunt Jo. Were we all still alive and well? Then there was his job and the company where he had worked for two decades. Would that still exist? Would he have to start all over again? Could he?

All that and more must have gone through his mind.