Remembering Jack Rose
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement
By Tatsuo Kage
Although he passed away in 2006, Mr. Jack Rose is an unforgettable person for me. The impression I had of him was of a gentle Canadian, and it was hard to imagine from his reserved and quiet personality that he actually experienced severe maltreatment during his captivity as a prisoner of war under the Japanese military. Although he faced a strong backlash from his former fellow prisoners-of-war, he was an earnest supporter of the Redress movement, when Japanese Canadians sought to rectify wartime injustices inflicted on them by the Canadian government.
He was born in 1920 to Jewish Canadian parents in Vancouver, BC, and graduated from Kitsilano high school with honours. When he could not find a job after graduation—it was during the great depression—he started working as a telegraph delivery man for CPR, where his father had been working for many years as a telegraph operator. While working as a telegraph delivery man, he studied to be a qualified telegraph operator and had just obtained his license when World War II broke out.
Prisoner of war of the Japanese military in Hong Kong
Considering it his patriotic duty as a Canadian, he joined the army in 1940. He became a member of the Signal Corps, and was sent overseas in October, 1941. On the military ship he was not informed of specific destination, but told only it would be a dangerous mission. He landed on Hong Kong in November, 1941. On December 25th—less than a month after the Asia Pacific War broke out—more than 1,600 Canadian soldiers, including Jack Rose, were captured and kept as prisoners of war by the Japanese military. With that, the harsh 1,065 days as prisoners of war began.
In a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, he proposed to the Japanese in charge of the camp that he learn the Japanese language because he wanted to keep his brain active. In response, the Japanese offered him study materials. Kanji was too difficult to learn, but he mastered katakana and later on, became capable to carry on daily conversation in Japanese. But being proficient in Japanese led to new difficulties: When Canadian prisoners could not understand what a Japanese soldier was commanding them to do they were abused and they asked him to help sort it out, but before he knew it, he would be “involved in the bad end of a mêlée” with the Japanese soldier.
In 1943, he was transferred from the camp in Hong Kong to Japan where he was subjected to backbreaking labour work, something that constituted a breach of the Geneva Convention. He worked as a welder at a shipyard in Tsurumi near Yokohama, Japan. The daily earning was only ten sen. One month’s pay was enough to buy one package of cigarettes. The food situation was extremely poor. Brown rice was their main diet, which was actually better for them because it saved some from beri-beri as the husks on rice contain Vitamin B1. Occasionally they got a little bit of unrecognizable meat which appeared in a soup. In 1945, Japan lost the war. On the ship bound for home, the 800 former prisoners-of-war on board, after four years of starvation, continued shoving food into their mouths. The cooks, overwhelmed with puzzlement, had to work 24 hours a day for nearly three weeks to feed the passengers.
After Jack’s return to Canada he married in 1946. Although he had returned to work in the telegraph department of CPR, with his family’s encouragement and persuasion he looked for a career in different fields. He eventually found the insurance business interesting and worked in insurance for many years. On a record of an interview written in the mid-1980’s, he noted, “I had nightmares for over thirty years. I used to dream, not necessarily that I was a prisoner-of-war with the Japanese, but that people were chasing me and that I’d be cornered in a cul de sac and I couldn’t get away and they would be coming after me. And I’d wake up in a cold sweat. I used to speak Japanese in my sleep at night, and I would dream that I was incarcerated somewhere.” This is a clear example of Post Traumatic Syndrome Depression (PTSD).
Support Redress for Japanese Canadians
For us Japanese Canadians, Mr. Rose was an unforgettable person. He was a man with vision and courage that made him to support Redress for Japanese Canadians. Even though he had been supportive of redress for former prisoners of war of the Japanese, he did not like to get involved with the association of Hong Kong Veterans (formerly the Japanese Prisoners-of-War Camp Survivors) who insisted on redress for themselves as he found the group only looked back at their past. In 1985, he happened to know that there was a Redress movement for Japanese Canadians. As a Jewish Canadian, he saw a connection between the deprivation of human rights experienced by Japanese Canadians and the anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust. Although he had been maltreated by the Japanese soldiers during his captivity, he also encountered some kind–hearted Japanese civilians. With these experiences, he may have had a sense of affinity towards Japanese and Japanese Canadians.
The Hong Kong veterans were then insisting that redress for the former prisoners of war should be prioritized and they disapproved of Redress for the Japanese Canadians. Mr. Rose contacted the Vancouver JCCA (Japanese Canadian Citizens Association) expressing his support toward Redress for Japanese Canadians. He often attended Redress meetings. One time, he addressed the meeting saying, “They (the group of former prisoners of wars camp survivors) felt they should be taken care of first. They couldn’t see that it was two completely different issues.” He believed that the wartime deprivation of human rights of the Japanese Canadians initiated by the Canadian government was in total contradiction with Canada’s war aims of defending democracy and the very reasons why he enlisted and served. His beliefs caused him to be ostracized by the veterans, his former comrades.
Up to now, I have kept in touch with his daughter, Valerie, who used to attend Redress meetings with him. His family has still maintained valuable war-time records and mementos, including yellowed post-cards sent to his parents from the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. As the 20th anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement is approaching, I recall Mr. Rose with fond memories.
– A Japanese version of this article appeared in the July, 2008 issue of the JCCA Bulletin, p.62.
– An excellent article on Jack Rose, A Soldier’s Story, written by Nancy Suzuki appeared in the December, 1991 issue of the JCCA Bulletin, pp.20-22.