By Terrie Todd
On October 19, 1920, Isaac ‘Ike’ Friesen was born on a farm in the Russian Ukraine. While Ike was still an infant, his father died, leaving his mother to run the farm in the middle of the Bolshevik Revolution. Mrs. Friesen sold the family farm and emigrated to Manitoba, Canada. Ike attended a four-room school where he completed grade eight before becoming a farm laborer to help support his mother. He eventually tried working on a sugar beet farm, but quickly decided joining the armed forces was a better option.
He took basic training as a member of the Eighteenth Manitoba Reconnaissance Regiment at Shilo and was later recruited by the Winnipeg Grenadiers.
When Prime Minister Churchill requested Canadian troops be sent to defend the British colony of Hong Kong, Ike and other members of 'C' Force from the east travelled across Canada by CPR troop train, arriving in Vancouver on October 27, 1941. From there he sailed on the New Zealand Liner, the AWATEA. After brief stops in Honolulu and Manila, they arrived in Hong Kong on November 16. On arrival, all troops were quartered at Nanking Barracks, Sham Shui Po Camp, in Kowloon.
Many of the soldiers reported that the first three weeks felt like a holiday, except for practice drills in readiness for a Japanese attack. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Battle of Hong Kong commenced. Ike and the others were thrust into a battle they were ill prepared for. On Christmas Day, the Allies surrendered, and the surviving soldiers were taken prisoner—back to the now decimated Sham Shui Po camp and later to Japan.
|Aerial view of Sham Shui Po camp|
In an interview with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) years later, Ike described some of his experiences.
“If you didn’t want to do what they wanted you to do, they’d make you stand to attention and beat you up and give you a rifle butt in the side of the face or right in the middle of your face at the front. I got my teeth knocked out here with a rifle butt.
|POWs at Sham Shui Po prison camp|
“I picked up the language quite well. I could communicate with them by this time. One day they picked on me for some reason and I kind of resented that and let them know. The guy marched me in front of a big boulder … and he bat me in the face with his fist. And then every time I would jar back or get off balance and step back, two other guards would push me toward the rock again. And if I didn’t push it I’d feel the bayonet in my back. So I got beat up pretty bad that day. The guys had to help me back into camp.”
Ike also tells the story of buying a can of milk from the Chinese who had looted the camp in the midst of battle. When he opened the can, it was full of water. The locals had cleverly punched a pin hole in the can, drained out the milk, filled it with water, and soldered the hole shut. “They made a real good job in camouflaging it so you couldn’t see it. So, we got took that way,” Ike said.
Isaac Friesen was one of the fortunate ones who survived the war and made it safely back to Canada. He passed away at the age of 80 in 2001.
Bitter war might be raging overseas, but Rose Onishi is on track to fulfill her lifelong goal of becoming a dazzling concert pianist. When forced by her own government to leave her beloved home to work on a sugar beet farm, Rose’s dream fades to match the black soil working its way into her calloused hands.
When Rusty Thorne joins the Canadian Army, he never imagines becoming a Japanese prisoner of war. Only his rare letters from home sustain him—especially the brilliant notes from his mother’s charming helper, which the girl signs simply as “Rose.”
Terrie Todd’s characters are subjected to the horrors of a Japanese POW camp
between the pages of her upcoming novel, Rose Among Thornes, now available for pre-ordering. She’s also the award-winning author of The Silver Suitcase, Maggie’s War and Bleak Landing. Terrie is represented by Mary DeMuth of Books & Such Literary Agency. She lives with her husband, Jon, in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada where they raised their three children and where her novels are set. They are grandparents to five boys.
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