First Internment

When Japan entered the world conflict in December 1941 we were in southern Korea, each priest each carrying out in his own area the particular work to which he had been assigned. The night war was announced – December 7th – we were placed in police prisons, - as a general rule, each priest in the prison of the town to which he belonged.

Our treatment, to a large extent, varied with the character of chief of police and the type of men holding political power in each area. In Moppo, Monsignor McPolin, Father Patrick Monaghan, Father Henry Gillen and I were placed in one cell for about two months. Our treatment, on the whole, was not too bad. The police as a body were well-enough disposed towards us and gave us as many privilages (consistent with the red tape that abounds in such Japanese institutions) as they could.

The real purpose of our temporary imprisonment was an investigation which ranged through every subject under the sun, and the object of which was to find out what kind of men we were.

After this first two months we were all interned together in a mission presbytery, and at the end of another month were set free with the exception of Fathers Dawson, Ryan and Sweeney, who were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.

On our release we were told that we were free to resume our normal work; but in most cases the priests, on their return to their respective parishes, met with so many restrictions from the local authorities that they could only suppose an order countermanding that liberty had been sent on ahead of them. The Japanese always seemed to have difficulty in harmonising international law and the attitude of their own constitution towards religion with their policy towards foreigners in the emergency of war.

We were, during the course of the war, human guinea-pigs, so to speak, in a politico-religious experiment which gave rise to many interesting and amusing situations.

Second Internment

Within nine months from our release we found ourselves again in consentration at the central residence in Moppo city. Of the ten priests gathered together, only two were permitted some measure of freedom to work among the people in the city parish. Father Gillen,who, ever since he had come to Korea, had lived in Moppo, found that there was no objection to his continuing his ministry among the parishioners and unobtrusively he did, as he had always done, Trojan work up to May 28th, 1945. I myself, during the same period, was permitted to minister to the few Japanese Catholics in the city. Father Gillen’s unaided work among the Korean Catholics was necessarily much heavier, and it was his untiring zeal during this period of two and a half years that was partially responsible for his death, for his labours, coupled with lack of nourishing food, had undermined his health, so that he was unable to withstand the disease which eventually struck him down towards the close of the war.

Life in Moppo

Life in the central residence in Moppo was not too difficult. We were free, and yet we were not free. We spent the day trying to augment our food supply by tilling the rocky hill on which our house was built. What with drought, the poorness of the soil and insect pests, our labours were not crowned with great success, but at least they afforded us grounds for hope.

The only bumper crop we had was wheat, which we were obliged to leave just at harvest time when we were spirited away to that mountain valley in Kogendo prefecture to the north. In Moppo we had the happiness of welcoming back again Fathers Ryan and Sweeney, who had completed their time in jail and regaled us with stories of life in an Oriental prison. We had news of the war. Propaganda must have little foundation in fact; and the papers which carried Homeric accounts of battles always won, were readable between the lines.

It was over Moppo too, that the first flight of B-29s from some base in northern China thundered on their way to destroy the Yamata Iron Works and woke us from our sleep one night in June, 1944. The war was coming nearer.
We heard of the invasion of the Philippines and shortly afterwards knew its outcome. The Philippine invasion had its repercussions in Korea. Up to January 1944 Japanese soldiers, with the exception of the gendarmerie, were seldom to be seen in the south, but from that time on they began pouring down to take up positions in the southern end of the peninsula. Okinawa was invaded, and soon American flying-boats and ‘planes were daily visible off the coast, where they sank at will all the shipping they could see.

Father Gillen’s Death

In these circumstances we were not surprised when we received word that we were to be transferred to a secluded mountain village in the north. Our new home happened to be in Monsignor Quinlan’s prefecture, and posessed a church and a priests’ residence where three Maynooth Missionaries -Fathers Geraghty, McGann and Maginn were already living.

It was a pleasure to meet these three priests again after a separation of four or five years. Needless to say, with the advent of ten additional priests the residence was badly over-crowded, and the food problem grew daily more acute. The little vegetable plot planted by Father Geraghty and his two companions for themselves, proved far from adequate to the strain imposed on it by the influx of so many visitors.

HarryGillenThe scenery around was beautiful and one would have imagined that such a mountain valley should have been a healthy place in which to live. Perhaps the weather, which that year was not too good, had something to do with it. However that may be, the health of the whole party gradually declined, and around the end of July Father Gillen fell ill with dysentery. Stocks of medicine in the country had run very low and it was impossible to procure in time the proper drug to treat the disease. Father Gillen grew gradually weaker, and on August 6th, after receiving the Last Sacraments , during the Litany of Our Lady which he had asked us priests who were grouped around him to recite, he quietly breathed his last. His death left a great void amongst us, and amongst the Catholics of Moppo, for whom he had laboured so ardently and so long. It was the will of God to call him to Himself, just nine days before the war ended.

Fr Francis Herlihy adds to this:

“ In the dog-days of August, a season of moist heat and swarming flies, Harry Gillen, the youngest member of the group, went down with dysentry. The town doctor came, a mournful little man, who said that the illness was very severe this year, and that there was a lot of it in the town, and to this appended the chilling information that he had no drugs. He said he had not been able to get sulphonamides for months. He rigged a saline drip, and urged Gillen to conserve his strength. He told McPolin that he would return, but the outcome was going to depend on the patient’s own resources.

On a forlorn hope McPolin went to the Chief of Police, who listened impassively to his plea for help, and told him the police could no longer get medical supplies themselves. Then he produced from his desk a small package. He said he had been given this in case of a family emergency. He scrutinised the label and laboriously, but not without pride, spelled out ‘sulpha-guana-dine’, and observed drily, that it appeared to have come from Hong Kong. There were four phials in the package; he gave McPolin two of them, and McPolin, retracting many things thought and spoken about Japanese policemen, bowed his thanks with deep respect.

The injections brought relief, but they were late and Gillen was weakening. He died around mid-morning two days later. It was August 6th, and three hundred miles away, a B-29 high above Hiroshima had just released its obscene burden and fled from the shockwaves of a blast that would take 70,000 lives.