Tag Archives: Japanese

The place where I grew up, Woodville, in World War 2

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England. Cue “The Orange Arrow” :

The village used to be called Wooden Box because of the large wooden box occupied by the man who operated the toll gate on the toll road between Ashby de la Zouch and Burton-upon-Trent.  The name Woodville first appeared in 1845. Nowadays, there is a roundabout where his box used to be, although the location itself is still called “Tollgate”. Here’s an old postcard of the “Tollgate” :

My Dad, Fred, told me that the majority of the people in Woodville were pretty much unaware of the existence of World War Two. It had comparatively little impact in this mostly country area, where rationing was offset by the inhabitants’ ability to grow food for themselves, and even to raise their own pigs and chickens. Food, therefore, was relatively freely available, if not abundant, and the war seemed to be very distant. Woodville seemed to be an unchanging pastoral paradise:

The twenty year old Fred despised the comfortable lives of the older people in Woodville. They would live out their humdrum lives without any risk whatsoever, while he was laying his life on the line pretty much every single day in Bomber Command:

The contempt he had for the inhabitants of the village, though, was perhaps a measure of his own fear at being asked to fly over burning Bremen or Cologne, or some other heavily defended Bomber Command target :

Young men, of course, went away from Woodville and from time to time their parents were duly informed that they would never return:

It was only too easy, though, for others to view that profoundly sad process as similar to that of the young men who might have moved away from the village for reasons of employment, or even in order to emigrate to another country.

Occasionally, enemy aircraft would fly over Woodville, identifiable by their particular and peculiar engine noise. On one dark night, on November 14th 1940, many local people, Fred included, walked up to the Greyhound Inn near Boundary :

Everybody stood on the opposite side of the road from the public house and looked south. The view from that spot stretches thirty or forty miles or more into the southern Midlands

As they stood and looked, they were able to see the bright glow in the sky as Coventry burned, a city whose centre was almost completely destroyed by the Germans. There was, though, very little direct effect of German bombing on the local area around Woodville.

On one occasion, a Heinkel III night bomber, panicking about where he was, possibly pursued by a night fighter and perhaps worried that he might not make it back to the Fatherland, jettisoned all his bombs over the nearby village of Church Gresley. Look for “der fliegende orangefarbene Pfeil” :

The bombs all landed near Hastings Road, not far from the school where Fred would teach immediately after the war. They demolished an entire row of houses which backed onto Gresley Common, and all the inhabitants, almost thirty unfortunate people, were accidentally killed.

Years later, in the 1990s, Fred was able to explain these events to a man digging in the garden of his new townhouse, built recently on the site of the Second World War disaster. The man could not understand why the soil was so full of broken bricks, bath tiles and so many smithereens of old fashioned blue and white patterned crockery:

The only other direct connection with World War 2 was the unfortunate soldier and ex-prisoner-of-war who finally returned to Woodville in late 1945 or early 1946, having spent years as the unwilling guest of Emperor Hirohito, and the Japanese Imperial Army.

The poor man was unbelievably gaunt, and he had lost so much weight that his clothes flapped on his body like sails on a mast:

He did not receive as much sympathy as he might have done from the citizens of Woodville, though, when they found out that he had actually eaten snakes in his efforts not to starve to death. “Really ! Snakes ! ! ” Here’s snake soup, a delicacy in China but not as highly prized as bat and pangolin, apparently:

Fred, of course, had a view of such events very different from that of the average native of Woodville. Almost sixty years later, when I cleared out his house after his death, there was not a single Japanese electrical device to be found. Everything came from the factories of Philips in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.



Filed under History, Personal, the Japanese, war crimes

Sergeant Sakura’s War

Why are the roadworks for our new road island between Nottingham’s ring road and the main road to Hucknall taking so long? They began in August 2014 and at first everything was going so well. Through September and October the works continued “apace” as they say. As you might expect, the old roundabout had to be completely demolished as unfit for purpose, and this is what has replaced it so far:


Presumably, the roundabout will not remain for too long as a very large pile of soil, and one day somebody will surely find the money to plant something on it. Previously, the island looked like this:

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It always seemed to me to have a very Japanese feel to it, with stunted willow trees that could almost have come out of the world of bonsai. And this is the clue as to why the work has taken so long. Rumours began in late November of what the roadbuilders had discovered, or rather, who the roadbuilders had found:


He was 91 years of age when he was first spotted by the construction workers. His name was Sergeant Sakura and it was probably the oriental flavour about the island which had led to his mistaking it for the Island of Takeshima and the ideal place to make the very last stand of World War II, opposing the Allies on the last island that they would need to capture to ensure that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”:


After his initially rather conspicuous arrival in late 1945 in a Maeda assault glider flown from a mini-submarine in the Irish Sea, (a mere 94 miles as the Maeda flies), Sergeant Sakura was seen only very rarely because the road island, constantly surrounded as it is by huge volumes of high speed traffic is not the easiest of places for visitors, friend or foe, to reach:

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It did not take Sergeant Sakura long to realise his mistake but, as soon as he had claimed the island for the Japanese Empire, he began digging foxholes, tunnels and bunkers of an amazing intricacy. Shortly after his eventual surrender, the City Council found that he had constructed almost 27 miles of tunnels, allowing him unobtrusive access to everything he needed to prolong his war into a new millennium:

One tunnel, for example, joined the drainage system from the City Hospital. This allowed Sergeant Sakura access to simple medicines. The hospital staff who saw him just presumed he was some kind of ghost, or perhaps a lost tourist, destined to wander the hospital corridors for ever. Another set of tunnels took Sergeant Sakura to the school sports field, where, in the depths of the night, he could practice his bayonet drill, and, as dawn broke, improve his marksmanship with the seagulls still asleep on the rugby pitches. His most important tunnel linked him with the Co-op supermarket, where he could easily find enough food to feed himself, without anybody really noticing. Boil-in-the-bag rice dishes, Ready Meals with fish and chicken, and even Spicy Pot Noodles:


The City Council of course, it eventually emerged, had known for a number of years that Sergeant Sakura was there, but as long as he limited himself to the occasional rifle shot at passing buses, or a three monthly light mortar attack on the Skateboard Park, they didn’t really bother him too much. The problem, of course, was that there was no particularly easy way to get Sergeant Sakura out of his tunnel system. The Geneva Convention had, rather foolishly perhaps, now banned the flamethrower, and the Royal Navy absolutely refused to send either of the two warships remaining after the government cuts to recapture just one senior citizen.  The use of gas was tried, but had comparatively little effect:

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Sergeant Sakura’s superior officer, of course, was traced and contacted. He was the sole person who could have ordered Sergeant Sakura to surrender, but he was unwilling to travel back from Japan to make a loudhailer appeal down a hole in a road island. He said it would compromise his responsible position in the higher management echelons of a major Japanese car manufacturing company:

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The end came eventually for Sergeant Sakura in a much more mundane way. After seventy years of crawling through countless miles of damp tunnels and homemade bunkers, many of which were regularly flooded by the murky waters of a local stream, the Daybrook, his proud military uniform finally began to rot away completely and his katana began to rust.
The only alternative Sergeant Sakura could find was to crawl into the Co-op Supermarket, and see what garments they had. Alas, it was not a particularly big shop and they did not stock anything suitable for a Sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army. No hunting clothes, no fishing clothes. Shortly after this, therefore, Sergeant Sakura was finally forced to surrender, when he realised that it would be impossible to uphold the honour of the Japanese Empire as an old man dressed in the uniform of a checkout girl, the only clothing which he could find in the Co-op Supermarket:

25th anniversary of Asda at Bedminster.

Sergeant Sakura subsequently sought, and was duly given, forgiveness by his Emperor.
The Formal Surrender took place on a Number 17 bus, ironically one of the very vehicles Sergeant Sakura had himself fired on in a surprise attack just a few months previously:

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The bus (serial number 984) had to be taken out of service to be repaired, but duly returned in time for Sergeant Sakura’s surrender:

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Cars full of curious tourists queued for hours to see the ceremony:

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The Number 17 bus was duly parked in front of the Co-op Supermarket and, at 17 minutes past 1700 hours, Sergeant Sakura became a civilian again:

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The owners of the local Chinese restaurant and takeaway, the “Golden Phoenix” (“brilliantly cooked and gorgeous food. Can’t be recommended high enough. 5 star.”),  are fearful that Mr Sakura may cash in on his fame and open a Japanese sushi bar.  As yet, though, it seems as if their fears may be unfounded.

Unfortunately, there is still little sign either, of the roundabout being completed.


Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham