Excerpt from “Prisoner’s Base and Home Again” by James Benson ~~Captured~~


Then, through a break in the bush, I saw men moving about in the sunlight: the Japanese army. I took my ragged old cassock out of the bag and put it on; I wanted them to know me as the priest of Gona; and even if they didn’t understand the significance of the cassock, it should at least be proof that I was no soldier, So, commending myself to God’s care, I walked up the remaining stretch of sand and into the middle of some three or four hundred Japanese soldiers.
I walked among them for several minutes repeating:
“Is there anybody here who speaks English?”
Each group of men waved me away with a grunt, and went on eating their rice.
Puzzled, I stood and looked carefully around. I saw some half-dozen small mountain guns, and beside them what appeared to be a group of officers, eating their rice at a low table; and next to them, in the middle of the camp, and set apart from the rest, sat a man who looked as if he might be the officer commanding. I walked over to him and said:
“Do you speak English, please? I am the priest from Gona.”
He pointed a finger at me and said:
Then he waved me away.
“If I am a spy,” I said, “why do you wave me away?”
Again he said “Spy!” as though he were spitting at me, and waved me off; evidently that was the only English he had.
I turned away and began to walk back along the road, but I had only gone a few paces when an ugly, bullet-headed little fellow detached himself from a group and walked across to me, hastily swallowing a mouthful of rice and fish. He put his hands on his hips and leered at me unpleasantly; then, standing back, he began to punch me about the face, knocking off my spectacles. Then he grabbed my blue canvas bag, pulled out the mosquito net and groundsheet and tossed them in different directions into the bush. He kicked me hard on the left shin; then he tried to kick me in the stomach. I stepped back and, using the old schoolboy trick, caught his foot; he was unbalanced, and nearly fell, but almost at once I let the foot drop. Some nearby soldiers laughed at his loss of face, and he turned sheepishly away. So I continued down the road.
I hadn’t gone far when I was called back. Two soldiers came down the road with rifles and bayonets; and having heard something of Japanese practice I began to prepare for the end of this life. But the soldiers did not come near me; they simply called and made waving signs for me to return. So I walked back and together we returned to the clearing – by this time the troops were preparing to move off. The two soldiers took me back to the O.C. troops – he who had said “Spy!” – a man of about forty-five, rather older than most of the other officers. He made signs that I should carry his rucksack. I tried to make him understand that I needed food and drink; but he was obdurate; he grunted angrily and motioned me to shoulder his pack without delay. So I heaved it on to my back and staggered along beside him as the party moved off. The load was pretty heavy: more than I could have carried easily even if I had been fit. We hadn’t gone very far before I slumped to the ground. There was a pool of mud close to where I fell, and before getting to my feet I managed to suck some of it up. But I only kept going for another hundred or so yards when I was down again. This, I thought, must be the end; so still on my knees I wriggled my arms out of the shoulder straps and, looking up at the officer standing by, I pointed to his sword and made signs to him to cut off my head. Kneeling there in the mud, with my head bowed, I made the sign of the Cross, commending my soul to God, and began to say the Nunc Dimittis.
I said the first few sentences, then, as nothing happened, I looked up and saw the officer gazing at me closely; he seemed puzzled. Again I pointed to his sword and made signs for him to cut off my head. Then he did a strange thing. He knelt beside me and, taking my head in his hands, turned my face to his; then for several minutes he looked most intently into my eyes. At last he took me gently by the shoulder, raised me to my feet, led me to the side of the road, and made signs for me to sit down. Then, walking back to his pack, he picked it up and put it on his own shoulders; returning, he stood before me, bowed twice, saluted, and walked off to join his men.


1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Prisoner’s Base and Home Again” by James Benson ~~Captured~~

  1. James Benson was born in Armley, Yorkshire, England on 30 November 1887, and died in September 1956, aged 68 years. He was 54 years old when captured by the Japanese in 1942, and endured captivity for the remainder of the war.

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