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Long Night’s Journey into Day

Interview with Charles Roland

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Why did you write Long Night’s Journey Into Day?

Through interviews with former prisoners of the Japanese I became aware that there was an untold story. The common element in Far Eastern POW camps was the constant impact of starvation and disease on these unfortunate men, only about three-quarters of whom lived to come home.

Why does your book centre on Hong Kong?

Originally, my interest was Canadian POWs, and Hong Kong was where the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada were captured. But because many British and Indian troops also became POWs, this allowed a more rounded picture of POW life. Because so many of the Hong Kong POWs were sent to work camps in Japan, completeness demanded that these be described also.

Was anything like “ordinary life” possible in these camps?

Within the constraints of hunger and disease, yes. Camp life evolved in predictable ways. Sports were organized until hunger so weakened the men that these occasions ended. Entertainments were popular—concerts, plays (with the men playing both male and female parts), and debates occurred often. A small library was created.

Aside from disease, what were the main problems faced?

Keeping up morale was difficult. Mail was received seldom and only after long delays. Japanese brutality was common. Constant hunger drove the men to eat snakes, rats, insects, and other bizarre “foods.”