From From the Tundra to the Trenches. Published by University of Manitoba Press in 2017. Eddy Weetaltuk was born in James Bay in 1932. He enlisted in the Canadian Army and served in Korea, Japan and Germany. From the Tundra to the Trenches is the story of one of the first Canadian Inuit who decided to go to war. Weetaltuk died in 2005.
We landed in Kure late in the evening and were loaded into trucks. When we arrived, we were told that we could stay at the camp for free unless we preferred to rent a room in one of the hotels downtown. Of course, staying at the camp was not an option for most of us, at least as long as we still had enough money to party. We all picked up our passes; we had fourteen days’ permission leave. It sounded like forever. I could hardly imagine I was ever going back to the front. Racette and I took a taxi to Kure. We had much fun going from bars to bordellos but I am not going to waste your time with more stories of that kind. However, I remember quite a funny episode from that leave. One day when we were too drunk to look for a hotel by ourselves, we were going to take a cab and ask the driver to find one for us, like we used to do in such circumstances. But that night Racette decided to take a rickshaw instead. I was not sure but he insisted:
—Come on, Eddy. Let’s try it, at least once. You cannot go back to Canada without experiencing such a ride.
I let him convince me and each of us took a rickshaw. We told our drivers to take us to the nearest hotel. When I sat in the rickshaw, the man pulling it gave me a whip and told me to use it on him if he didn’t go fast enough. I laughed and found it ridiculous. But as I was in quite a good mood, I shouted at him in Inuktitut as if I were mushing a dog team. After a while, I really
felt like I was on a sled, mushing my dogs, and I began whipping on his handrail yelling:
—Oweet! Oweet! Arra! Arra!
I was laughing and having fun like when I was a kid travelling with my dad on the ice floe. It was a unique moment. Of course, the rickshaw driver could not understand that the ride was bringing back feelings from my childhood. Now that I recall the events I am sure he must have been quite scared. After all, I was a soldier, I was drunk, and I was using the whip like a pro. Since he could not understand my language, he ran faster and faster, trying to satisfy his furious customer. The faster he ran, the more fun I had and the more I was using my whip. Behind us, Racette was laughing his head off, wondering what I was saying and why we were moving so fast. His rickshaw driver was doing his best to keep up behind us but could hardly follow our pace. Finally, we stopped in front of a small hotel called Senesin. The drivers were exhausted. I was impressed by the strength and the endurance of my driver. The more I got to know the Japanese people, the more my respect for them grew, though I was not sure about the idea of asking to be whipped by a customer. I was thinking to myself that these people were a bit like my people, ready to work hard to survive. And, somehow, running and pulling a rickshaw was very similar to running behind a dogsled with someone on it. I gave five dollars to my driver to ease my conscience for having treated him the way I did.
Unfortunately, my conscience did not stay awake long enough and that same night I was going to mistreat another member of those proud and highly friendly people. Now that I recall that time I am pretty ashamed, but I can only explain my situation by the fact that everyone in the army was acting with little respect for the people they were supposed to protect. When we got into the hotel, we asked for a girl to spend the night with, as we were used to doing. Racette got lucky and he had a very nice-looking girl; mine was pretty well-built but her face was not interesting. It looked like someone had kicked her face. At first I thought about refusing to take her, but I changed my mind thinking that I was not going to make love to a face but to a body.
After all, I could still ask her to hide her face, like we used to say in the army: “Just pull down the hood and all the girls are alike.”
During the night the girl did everything to please me. I was bastard enough to ask her if she was that good because she wanted to be forgiven for her ugliness. Now I realize that we were actually treating Japanese women as if they were meat in a meat market and not human beings with feelings. The war was turning us into predators, trained to kill men and to chase women, always looking for the youngest and the prettiest. That’s what war was turning me into.
When I woke up the next morning, it was nearly eleven o’clock. I was completely naked. I looked all over for my clothes and I could not find them. I immediately accused the girl of stealing my clothes:
—You cypsy, cypsy my clothes.
“Cypsy” meant stealing. In Japan, accusing someone of stealing is a very serious accusation. I knew it, but still I was yelling at her. She put on her kimono and rushed out and came back immediately with all my clothes and my wallet. My boots had been nicely polished, my uniform pressed and my money was still all there. I was feeling so cheap. I didn’t know which way to turn. I finally chose to kiss her. A real kiss.
At that point Racette came into my room. He, too, was naked like a worm. He had heard my screaming and was coming to rescue me. When he saw me kissing the girl, he was a bit surprised:
—What are you doing, Eddy? I came in a hurry; I thought somebody was beating you up. You screamed like a pig being killed. What happened?
—Sorry, Racette, if I scared you, but don’t worry, I am fine. It was a misunderstanding. I thought I had been robbed but in fact it was the contrary. Now I laugh because I am so happy. These girls are so nice to us.
At that moment, his cute girl came in bringing his clothes. He too was amazed by the treatment.
To show my gratitude I decided to stay a few more days. When the time came to go back to the camp, my girl told me it was too risky to walk in plain view because the hotel was located outside of the bounds and that day there were lots of military police patrolling the sector. She offered to help me get back to the camp and gave me a kimono and a pair of sandals to hide my identity. I accepted her offer without resisting. Since I started misleading people about my identity, I no longer really had any misgivings about passing for someone else.
While I was getting dressed, I heard some kind of radio static and looked out. There was a military jeep right in front of the hotel. I was able to hear them radioing to their base, reporting that they were at an out-ofbounds hotel. They were coming in to check if any soldiers were inside. The girl had anticipated their move, so she put a towel over my head to hide my army haircut and we left the house as if we were ordinary customers. While passing by the jeep, she kept talking to me in Japanese and I replied to her in Inuktitut. I remember telling her: —Emaha! Emaha!
Emaha means, “hoping so far.” Apparently, my disguise was very good and my Inuktitut sounded Japanese enough, since we made it out without being stopped.