Saturday, August 29, 2015

Remembering Barney Byrne

Seventy years ago this month, my dad's cousin Barney Byrne began a letter to his aunts Peg and Nora Byrne in Kilcullen, writes Brian Byrne.

He started it in a POW camp in Japan, on the day they heard that the war against Japan was over. It took him almost a month to finish it, as first he and his fellow prisoners waited to be liberated, and later he and a pal decided to walk to freedom and get to Tokyo themselves.

That letter turned out to be an extraordinary reflection on 42 months as a POW in Hong Kong and Japan. In this month of remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it's worth a re-visit to recall what conditions were like not just for the POWS, but for the ordinary Japanese themselves.

It's not all tough, there are some hilarious moments too in the letter, which began as below.

Outbreak of war found me in bath with sad hangover after a hectic birthday weekend coinciding with the preliminaries of War. Birthday party — big Ball for the China Red Cross in Hong Kong's biggest Hotel, interrupted hourly by loudspeaker announcements calling men back to action stations, ships crews to report on board immediately. Hectic scenes of parting, two Jazz bands champagne on tick — money no object — the Eve of Waterloo all over again. And I woke up next morning with a bad hangover and am suffering in the bath when the Japs start dive bombing and machine gunning the airport half a mile down the road. Out of bath — into uniform and I was sitting behind my machine gun within two hours.