George Cooper had become a prisoner of the Japanese when HMS Exeter had been sunk in March 1942. Like most prison camps run by the Japanese conditions were not particularly good in his camp in Macassar, with very basic accommodation and an inadequate diet. It was around this time however that a particular individual joined the camp and circumstances became a great deal worse for the Royal Navy, U.S. Navy and Dutch civilian prisoners.
Cooper believed that Yoshida Tomano had been given the lead role in running the camp because of his capacity to run ‘a campaign of terror’. He was only a low ranking seaman but ‘Yosh’ became notorious amongst all the men who encountered him. By these means the Japanese were able to keep order in a camp of over 3,000 men with only seventeen guards:
I used to call him “The Magnesium Flame” – he had only to be touched off to flare up into a white hot fury. But when it had burned itself out he would become quiet, subdued and on occasions even penitent and ashamed. He knew he lost “face” by these scenes, yet appeared unable to help himself.
When he was on the warpath he was very frightening. I have seen five or six hundred British sailors including myself standing stiff at attention, not daring to move an eyelid. A flood of Japanese would pour forth from his tongue; and the sound of this shouting was always the prelude to a scene. At night it was quite eerie and not unlike a mad dog. I doubt that anyone who lived in that camp could ever forget it.
Then would come the beat-up. First the punching in the face, usually with the inside of the clenched fist, to save his knuckles, then always the flogging on the backside with the victim leaning at an angle of forty-five degrees against a wall or tree.
Sometimes the victim would be strung up by his wrists tied behind his back with his feet just touching the ground. Yosh was a remarkably good shot and rarely hit off the target area except when he put a special low one across the thighs for spite.
Most of the guards gave a hand in the terrible beatings that prisoners had to endure, but it was Yosh who dealt out the majority. In the early months he used the baseball bat already mentioned – a wicked weapon; but later he devised one that was far worse a club of the same shape, but slightly lighter and about a yard long.
If this was not readily available, he soon found a suitable substitute. During a beating it was unwise to utter any sound, as this only inspired the Nip who was administering the flogging to even greater efforts; on the other hand to stick it quietly earned the victim the guards’ respect – they would give him the thumbs up sign and say “Good” in Malay.
The great danger was in falling down. For some reason this made Yosh and any guards in the vicinity go quite wild, and they would rush round the victim kicking and stamping on his face and body with their hobnailed boots; they would in fact kick him back into the standing position. Serious injury was liable to be inflicted to the head, spine and limbs. Burst ear-drums were by no means uncommon.
George T. Cooper was to survive the war but his experiences at the hands of the Japanese are reflected in the title of his memoir: George T. Cooper: Never Forget, Nor Forgive. He was awarded the OBE for services to other PoWs and later became a Captain in the Royal Navy.