Excerpt from “Prisoners’ Bluff” by Rolf Magener ~~ Japanese ~~

picture-PrisonersBluff-MagenerFor a moment we stood rooted to the ground. The others too did not move a muscle, and for a heartbeat we faced one another – we with raised hands and they with finger on the trigger.
Then one of the three signed to the others not to shoot and beckoned us forward; but the rifles were still levelled. We slowly paced the last few and final yards of our long journey. My first suspicion was that they were Gurkhas, but now as we advanced I observed that, although they were short and stocky, they wore unfamiliar uniform and caps. Could they be Japanese? Or not? Japanese could not have Soviet stars on their caps as they fellows had. So after all they must be Chinese auxiliaries of the Allied Powers, and so ––– But the stars were yellow, and so they might be Japanese after all. Now we should surely find out, now that we had got right up to them.
“Watakuschi tatschi wa doitsu jin desu (We are Germans),” Have said, in the only Japanese words he knew. He had learnt them by heart in camp.
The corporal, as we afterwards knew his rank to be, let out a long-drawn incredulous “Doitsu?!” To be addressed in his own language by two representatives of his country’s distant European ally in these remote forests, where he would least have expected to see them, seemed to have winded him. His small slit-eyes gleamed at us distrustfully. But as a precaution he searched us for weapons, while we continued to hold our hands up, and then he turned out the contents of our haversacks. They contained nothing but shirts and medicines. When I looked at those yellow-skinned, under-sized soldiers at closer quarters, saw the tears and patches in their grey-green uniforms, failed at first to recognize their badges of rank, and noticed how rusty their rifle-barrels were, fresh doubts assailed me.
“You Nippon soldiers?” I said, hoping to reassure myself. “Nippon, Nippon,” they growled in harsh, angry undertones.
So they must be Japanese troops. But were they regulars? Distrust grew and we could feel it on their side too. To diminish it as far as we could, I tried to convey in pantomime, while Have was being searched, that we had been prisoners of the English in India, and had escaped to join our allies. But I was not sure they understood. Have, who counted on speedier explanations before a higher court, insisted on being taken to the nearest officer in command. When the corporal could be made to understand, he ordered his two men to take us between them and lead on. To our astonishment, we went back, if not on our tracks, at least in the same direction as that we had come from.
“English over there,” we warned urgently.
“No, no. All Nippon,” the corporal assured us with a wide sweep of his arm. And then light dawned; we had in fact come upon these Japanese some considerable distance behind their forward posts. If the first encounter had taken place in the front line – which by some miracle we had got through unobserved – we should inevitably have been shot at sight.
No more doubts were now possible: we had reached our goal. Japanese soldiers surrounded us as soon as we got to company H.Q. hidden in the jungle; others kept on stepping noiselessly out of the undergrowth to stare at us inquisitively, but with instinctive reserve. Many were naked except for loin-cloths, but fully armed, and their yellow skin made a strange contrast with the black-gun metal. They wore rubber shoes with divided big toes, which gave their feet an amphibious look. They discussed us in guttural voices that struck on our ears in short, hard pellets of sound. We could not attempt to guess what they thought or what they said. We waited for an officer to appear, counting on a fine scene of acknowledgement and recognition.
There was a smell of fish and rice-leavings.
We had walked to the support-line H.Q. in a state of utter bewilderment; our emotion was so strong that we hardly took in our surroundings. We had been saved by a miracle when we were within an inch of death. We should have had every reason to raise a whoop of joy at our first sight of Japanese soldiers – but it was impossible. There had to be an interval before our overtaxed nerves and lowered vitality could rise to the literal fact of our success. By the time we reached the post, it came upon us with an overwhelming rush of joy.
We had done it, we had got through! The air we breathed was free. We had surpassed even the most daring calculations and seen a sheer impossibility come true. We thanked Providence for many escapes and were glad too that we had played an active part in the unfolding of our destiny.
In spite of the strange-eyed creatures who formed a circle round us, we rushed at each other laughing, jabbering, clapping each other on the back. Then as we had privately resolved on, we tore the labels with our English names out of the inside of our haversacks, and threw them into the undergrowth.
“John Edward Harding and Harry F. Lloyd are dead!” Have cried out.
“And 55826 and 1775 are struck off the roster!”
We were quit of them at last.
“Oi you!” a Japanese sergeant said peremptorily, holding out the two labels, which he had had retrieved. What was the meaning of that, he demanded in a harsh, third-degree tone of voice. Then he asked for further details about us – no hint in all this of a reception with flags flying. He repeated our answers down the entrance of a dugout, out of which a voice made hollow replies. So that was the officer down there; but though we kept our eyes skinned we did not get a glimpse of him. As the exchanges between the two went on for some time, we sat down on the ground.
“What’s the date today?” Have asked.
“The first of June.”
“On the first day of June, 1944, at two o’clock in the afternoon on the thirty-fourth day of our escape, after a journey of over 1500 miles, we made contact with the Japanese, being the first to succeed in getting out of India.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Prisoners’ Bluff” by Rolf Magener ~~ Japanese ~~

  1. Rolf Magener was born in Odessa, Ukraine on 3 August 1910, and died on 5 May 2000, aged 89 years. He was the first German prisoner to escape successfully from India during World War II.
    He had been working in Bombay for the German multi-national company IG Farben, and at the start of World War II, was interned in September 1939 by the British. In 1944, he was with 1500 other foreign nationals imprisoned in Dehradun near the border of Nepal at the foot of the Himalayas.
    Magener and his friend, Heins von Have, resolved to escape and on the afternoon of 29 April 1944, they made their escape — both fluent in English— disguised as British officers.

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