18 Apr


Escaping war in a piano

18 Apr, 2017

The incredible story of how a seafarer escaped World War One and how Sailors' Society supported seafarers held captive in a prisoner of war camp.

To a German dockyard and back, the story of a young Japanese sailor who made his escape from Germany.

There came into the Sailors’ Palace the other day a young smiling Japanese sailor. He seemed pleased with himself and when he told us his story we realised that he had really done something of which he might be proud. In some respects his adventures read like on of Clark Russell’s romances of the sea. We had, however, corroboration of authenticity by two circumstances. The British and Foreign Sailors’ Society had sent him regular parcels of food whilst he was interned in Germany, and had in due course received notification when he left the internment camp. His gratitude for these parcels which are made possible by the generosity of our readers, was all unmistakably sincere, and every supporter of the Society will feel that the gifts were not misplaced.

The name of this Japanese sailor is K. Yamashita. He was formerly on the S.S. Otaki, destroyed by the armed raider Möwe, and was taken on board and presently landed in Germany as a prisoner of war. With 300 men he was employed in the dockyard at Gustrow loading and discharging cargo and trains. The prisoners turned out at 4.15am, and worked usually to 6pm, and sometimes to 8 o’clock. The food was much limited in quantity and inferior in quality, and but for the parcels he received from the Society could not have kept body and soul together.

“It was on August 28, when I escaped after three months of captivity,” said Yamashita, in narrating his experiences. “I stayed up till 12.30, and then climbed to the small window at the top of the barracks, and dropped to the ground on the other side. For over an hour I watched the guard and then got on board a ship and into a piano case which was in the hold.

“I had previously asked a Norwegian sailors where the ship was going and he said ‘Norway.’ “How long will it take to get there?” He said ‘three days.’ I also asked what day it would sail, and he told me Wednesday evening, but it did not go until Saturday, and all this time from Wednesday to Saturday I was in the piano case.

“I had no food except a few biscuits, which I had saved, and no water, and I was very thirsty. I knocked on the side and asked for water, but nobody heard me. I heard them on deck, so next day I knocked at the side again but with the same result.

“We arrived at Stavanger, and about 8pm somebody came and opened the hatch. So I knocked on the side and the customs officer heard the noise and reported to the police station, and they communicated with the British Consulate. The British Consulate came on board wit ha policeman and opened the hatch. I was very weak and they brought whisky and water and gave it to me; I got out, but could hardly walk and then British Consulate sent a motor-car and I went in it to the police station.

“They enquired about my escape and then sent me to a hotel. The next morning I went to the British Consul and he gave me a suit, boots and hat. The British Consul was very kind. I stayed at the hotel two days. I was then put on a British cargo boat and presently reached Leith.”

Find out more about Sailors' Society's history here.

Share this article:

  • Sailors’ Society on Twitter
  • Sailors’ Society on Facebook
  • Sailors’ Society on LinkedIn

You might also be interested in

Keep in touch

Keep me up-to-date on Sailors' Society news, events and appeals.

Join us on social