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Printed for the War Cabinet, November, 1944


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W.P .  (44) 646

15th November, 1944

The circulation of this paper has been strictly limited. It is issued for the personal use of
 

COPY NO. 3 6



WA R CABINET

PRISONERS OF WAR IN SIAM

MEMORANDUM BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR

 

On 31st October I announced in the House of Commons that some 150 survivors from a sunk Japanese transport carrying United Kingdom and Australian prisoners of war from Singapore to Japan had been rescued by United States naval forces in September. The Australians were sent straight home from a United States Pacific naval base and the Australian Government have been collecting and collating the information obtained from them as to their treatment while in Japanese hands. A summary of this information has been received from Australia and we have also had the text of a draft statement which has been submitted by the Service authorities and intended for release by the Prime Minister in Australia simultaneously with an announcement in the United Kingdom. A copy of this draft is at Appendix A. It had been agreed that no statement should be made by either Government without consultation with the other.

The United Kingdom survivors reached a rest camp in this country at the end of last week. During their journey home they were interrogated while at Pearl Harbour and notes of these interrogations have been received. They have also been interrogated while in camp here prior to going on leave last Monday morning. The combined results of the examinations of the United Kingdom survivors are being collated, but it is already clear that their stories confirm the Australian account of the treatment of prisoners by the Japanese in the southern area.

Being under the impression that the Australian Government were desirous of issuing their statement at a very early date in view of the length of time since the Australian survivors arrived home, the Departments concerned prepared for me a statement to be made in the House of Commons on Tuesday, 14th, and at the same time it was proposed to circulate to the House, as a statement by the Australian Government, the statement in Appendix A, with any amendments that might be received. The Australian Government were informed of our intentions, but have asked that our statement should be deferred because they are not yet ready to make their statement. The United States Government, who were also notified, have expressed concern, as they fear it may affect an exchange of nationals which they have proposed to the Japanese. It is understood from the Embassy here that they consider a previous exchange negotiation was considerably
delayed by the statements on Japanese ill-treatment of prisoners, which were made in January of this year. Copies of relevant telegrams are at Appendix B.

 

The statement I had proposed to make is at Appendix C.

The United Kingdom prisoners have now gone home and, although they have been
warned not to talk to the Press, and editors have been asked by the Ministry of Information not to publish stories, there is little doubt in my mind that news of the ill-treatment they have received will leak out quickly and I feel that it is essential to make some statement to the House of Commons before it rises on Friday. This view has been represented to the Australian and United States Governments and I understand the Australian Cabinet are considering the matter on Wednesday.

In view of the need for further exchange of views on the subject with the Australian and United States Governments, I would propose to confine the statement to the House of Commons this week to a narrative of the bare facts without any comment on the action of the Japanese authorities. A further statement will then be made when the collation of all the information, including that of the Australian Government, is complete, and at this stage it may have been possible to obtain agreement to the comments which are now excluded. The form of the revised statement is at Appendix D.

P. J. G.

THE WAR OFFICE,

14th November, 1944.

 

 

APPENDIX A

DRAFT AUSTRALIAN STATEMENT

All but one of the 92 Australians who were rescued by United States submarines from a Japanese transport which had been torpedoed on 12th September, 1944, in the Western Pacific Ocean had now arrived in Australia. As the result of the skilled attention given to them overseas after their rescue and immediately on their arrival in Australia the men generally are in good physical condition and with few exceptions are now on leave.

These men were among approximately 700 Australians who, with approximately 600 British prisoners of war, had been embarked in a Japanese ship at Singapore on 4th September for transfer to Japan.

The accommodation provided for 1,300 men consisted of a space in the ship's second hold. This space, which carried a sign reading " Accommodation for 187 steerage passengers " , had been horizontally sub-divided by a false floor. Thus the
Japanese created the two decks neither of which had a ceiling height in excess of four feet. The Japanese orders were that all prisoners of war should be confined below deck, and this meant that in the sub-divided hold each man was allotted a space of only two square feet. Men had just enough room to sit up. When they wanted to sleep they had to rest on one another. Their bedding was their own personal clothing and one blanket usually of poor cotton material. The air below was fetid and stiflingly hot, as port holes were sealed and the only ventilation was through the hatch. The Japanese commander refused to permit erection of wind sails which were found in the hold and which would have provided some slight relief for men below.

Because of the physical impossibility of cramming all 1,300 men into the hold the Japanese commander was forced to agree to several hundred men sleeping and living on deck, together with sick men who had to be brought up for air and treatment by two Australian doctors who accompanied them. As many as 100 men at a time were ill and as the price they paid tor fresh air they had to remain exposed throughout the day to tropical sun and at night slept on the bare deck with only one thin blanket for covering.

The sufferings of the men were intensified by a shortage of drinking water. The rice ration, and often stew, was cooked with salt water and this made prisoners even thirstier. Despite this shortage, Japanese guards freely used fresh water to wash themselves and did so in view of the prisoners. The food ration for each man consisted of three-quarters of a pannikin of rice three times a day, with an added spoonful of sugar in the morning and a small tin of watery fish stew at night.

Whilst in an escorted convoy, the ship, with other Japanese vessels, was torpedoed
about 5.30 a.m. on 12th September, in a calm sea. The Japanese panicked, most of them hurriedly left in ship's lifeboats but others jumped overboard. None displayed the slightest interest in the fate of the prisoners of war. In the darkness Australians and British, under direction of their officers, effected an orderly evacuation of the ship. They went overboard progressively after they had thrown into sea all rafts and wooden articles that would float.

About 75 per cent, of the men had lifebelts. The Japanese had also issued to each prisoner a block of crude rubber for use as a lifebuoy. It was found that these would not float.

The men had been in the sea for only a short time when the Japanese destroyer escort dropped depth charges in a counter attack against United States submarine.
Unfortunately the explosion of depth charges affected many men in the sea, greatly reducing their chance of survival. The Japanese destroyer then put out boats to rescue the Japanese on rafts, but they refused to pick up any prisoners.

The Japanese, after rescuing their own nationals, waved, derisively at Australians. The latter, who had then been in the water for some hours, showed their magnificent spirit by singing " Rule Britannia ". The evidence given by the rescued men makes it clear beyond all doubt that Japanese intended to leave all prisoners of war to drown.

During the first day there were repeated attempts to organize rafts into groups. Men swam from one raft to another seeking friends. Groups of Australians gathered together for mutual assistance. During the first night the men were mainly in large parties. On the second, third and fourth days many men, including those affected by depth charges, were lost from rafts most of which were very slippery owing to their becoming coated with oil from a sunken Japanese tanker.

Between the afternoon of the fourth day and the evening of the sixth day the survivors were rescued by American submarines, the commanding officers and crews of which showed great skill and courage in their conduct of the rescue operations.

The Australians who had been rescued felt they could never praise too highly the treatment which they had received aboard the United States submarines after they were rescued. They were then in an emaciated and often semi-delirious condition having spent days in the sea without food, water and in many cases without clothing.

On the submarines the rescued men were washed free of black oil which covered them, wrapped in blankets, giving every medical attention and nourishment. They say that officers and crews acted as mothers and sisters to them. The submarine crews as they came off duty spent the whole of their rest period cooking food, feeding, shaving nd washing the survivors and gave them complete outfits of clothing. The pharmacist mates on all vessels worked almost without sleep for days.

At an advanced Island base at Guadalcanal and on United States ships which brought the Australians home the utmost attention and kindness was bestowed upon the survivors.

After the men had been accommodated at a Convalescent Home in Australia opportunity was taken to have them compile lists of their comrades who had been on board the sunken transport and also to obtain a first hand story of how the Japanese have treated Allied prisoners of war.

The rescued men were part of a force of Australian prisoners of war transported in
May, 1942, from Singapore and Java to various. parts of Burma under the same conditions as existed on the transport which was sunk.

After employment in Burma, mainly on aerodrome construction, the Australians were transferred to a camp at Thanbyuazat at the Northern end of the projected Burma-Thailand railway. B3/ October, 1942, thousands of Australians and other Allied prisoners of war were at work in the jungle. At intervals of several months they were transferred to camps deeper into the jungle as the railway progressed.


The men in the jungle camps lived in bamboo huts thatched with palm leaves. Many slept on bamboo tier floors but in some camps where there were no floors the men improvized beds out of bags and bamboo poles to keep away from lice and bugs. Each man had only one flimsy blanket. From April to October in 1943, tropical rains penetrated the roofs and turned the camps and hut floors into a sea of mud. Clothing deteriorated, no issues were made by the Japanese, many of the men wore only a loin cloth sometimes with one other garment. Boots were worn out and not replaced. Many lived and worked without boots for months. Food consisted of a pannikin of rice and about half a pint of watery stew three times a day. Endeavours were made to supplement the ration with native foods and edible roots. The issue of soap was one small piece about every six months.

Each day there was usually a sick parade held by an Australian Medical Officer but if it resulted in an insufficient number of men for the work a Japanese doctor would make a casual inspection of the sick and order to work all men who had no visible disease. Often men with very high temperatures would be forced to work. Australian doctors did their utmost for the sick men but owing to absence of drugs and facilities sickness and deaths were inevitable. Main causes of death were malnutrition, dysentry, malaria and exhaustion and in some places cholera.

Hospital cases had to be accommodated at each camp until after lengthy delays they were evacuated to a base camp at Thanbyuazat. The hospital was similar to the work camps but more strongly constructed. Rations were somewhat better because native supplies were obtained. Allied surgeons used mainly improvized instruments. Only local anaesthetics were available even for the removal of limbs. Large numbers of the patients had tropical ulcers often from the knee to the foot. Many such cases had a leg removed and a large percentage died.

Actual work on the railway consisted of cutting through virgin forest, levelling a track, making embankments and cuttings, building bridges, and finally laying and
ballasting the track. Prisoners of war were also employed in the ballast quarries.

All work was done with crude tools and involved a maximum of physical effort. As camp strengths diminished owing to deaths and illness the remaining men had to work longer hours. Shifts thus increased from 12 to 18 hours a day, sometimes exceeding "24 hours of continuous work. Work through the night was done by the light of lamps and torches. Meals were brought out by semi-fit men. Work continued in all weather.

Each camp had a Japanese officer or serjeant in charge with about 30 guards who supervized the work. The guards maltreated the prisoners of war at the slightest pretext, bashings usually were heavy blows on the head, sufficient to knock the prisoner of war over. Another punishment was to make a prisoner of war stand holding a heavy piece of wood above his head for two to five hours. Sometimes prisoners of war were made to stand to attention for several days. The guards who were Koreans almost invariably behaved with utmost brutality having learnt their lesson from the way the Japanese had treated them.

When the line was completed in October, 1943, the prisoners of war who had constructed it were withdrawn through its Southern terminus and were accommodated in Thailand. Some were transferred to Indo-China. It was from one party of these that a selection was made of the fittest for transfer to Japan. The men recently rescued belonged to this group.

There is much more that could be said of the Japanese treatment of prisoners of war in many other prison camps occupied at one time or another by Australians but it mostly follows the same pattern of underfeeding, maltreatment and neglect of our men. Conditions in camps in populated areas are not as bad as those in the jungle.

By their dauntless courage and amazing endurance the survivors from the Japanese transport have performed a great service. They have given eye-witness account of the manner in which Japanese treat their prisoners of war, they have managed to compile an almost complete list of their comrades who were shipped with them and they have furnished long -lists of names of Australians who have died in the jungle and elsewhere and of whose deaths the Japanese Government has not notified the Commonwealth.

The careful collation and checking of all this vast amount of information will take
a considerable time but priority has been given to the preparation of lists of men who were not rescued from the sunken transport in order that their next-of-kin may be informed. As to the fate of the 600 men not known to be rescued from the Japanese transport it would appear that the chances of survival of any of them would depend upon their being able to reach land. The chance was a very slender one, but it is just possible that some may be alive Only time can provide the answer.

The task of examining and checking survivors' lists of casualties in Burma and Thailand and Malaya will be proceeded with immediately and next of kin will be notified at the earliest practicable date.

Whilst all this work is receiving attention, relatives of Australian prisoners of war are especially asked to refrain from making any effort to contact or question rescued men who have returned to their homes. These men have been through harrowing experiences, have splendidly co-operated with service authorities during a lengthy interrogation, and now richly deserve a peaceful and uninterrupted reunion with their families.

It is deeply regretted that at this stage it cannot be stated how many Australians have died. : An early estimate places the death roll in Burma and Thailand at about 2,000 out of approximately 10,000 Australians. It is hoped that this estimate will prove too high, but unfortunately it may ultimately prove to be an understatement.

It is felt that this information should be given publicity, even though the Government is profoundly aware of the anguish it will cause to families of all Australians captured by the Japanese. It was considered that the next-of-kin should receive an authoritative statement based on facts, rather than hear distorted versions based on rumours.

When they made plans involving the sacrifice of thousands of Allied prisoners of war on the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway the Japanese imagined that they would win the war; they therefore thought that they would never be brought to account. They will pay for that miscalculation.

All who have been rescued speak of the high courage shown by their prisoner comrades everywhere and in all circumstances the Australians have maintained matchless morale. They have shown themselves undaunted in face of death. The many who have survived privations and disease in the jungle have developed a spiritual power to triumph over adversity and over their captors.

The people of Australia share sorrow and pride of their kith and kin who are grieved by these sad events.

 

APPENDIX B

TELEGRAMS FROM DEPARTMENT OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, CANBERRA, TO HIGH COMMISSIONER IN LONDON

SECRET

11204

We have received through War Office telegram your message embodying oral statement and reference to written statement to be given U.K. Parliament next week on date to be notified through you. You will note view expressed in my telegram 10883 that general policy to be followed in regard to nature of announcement might require discussion on Government levels.

In view of the importance of the proposed statements ensure that no release be made by U.K. Government until further advice received from us. This will be forwarded as soon as possible.

 

SECRET

11205

My immediately preceding telegram.

Message received from War Office 92600 oral statement being made S. of S. for War Tuesday noon, 14 Nov., has been received part only. Such portion corrupt and unintelligible. Transmit entire message via External Canberra, immediately.

You will understand from my immediately preceding telegram it is desired no release be made U.K. Government until further advice received from us. We will not be in a position to send information until we have been able to examine U.K. statement in above message.
It is noted, War Office telegram 92599, U.K. Government propose to issue text of draft embodied in my telegram 10884 simulaneously with oral statement Tuesday. .Form of announcement to be made here is being considered on a Government level and draft in my telegram 10884 is being revised. In view of this ensure no statement issued as emanating from Australia until our approved revised proposal received by you.

 

TELEGRAM FROM HIS MAJESTY'S AMBASSADOR, WASHINGTON, TO THE FOREIGN OFFICE

No. 6093. 11 Nov., 44.

Your telegram 9709.

State Dept. view,proposed statement at this time with some concern as they fear it may adversely affect hoped for exchange of nationals. They are telegraphing tonight to the U.S. representatives in London and Canberra to represent their view to the U.K. and Australian Governments.

 

APPENDIX C

DRAFT STATEMENT

As the House was told on 31st October, some 150 survivors from a sunk Japanese transport carrying U.K. and Australian prisoners of war from Singapore to Japan were rescued by United States submarines in September. The Australian survivors were sent straight home from a United States Pacific Naval Base, and the Australian Government has therefore had time to collect and collate their stories. A summary of the information obtained from them has just been issued by the Australian Government and copies of it are available for Members in the Vote Office. The survivors from the United Kingdom have only reached this country within the last few days, and it has not been possible yet to collate the whole of the
information which they have given us. This is being done as rapidly as possible, and I hope to make a further statement at an early date.

The result of the preliminary examinations of these men on the way home, together with the account sent to us by the Australian Government, gives us at least a first-hand account of the way our men have been treated in the Southern Areas of the Far East; and there is now no longer any doubt about the policy pursued by the Japanese Authorities towards prisoners of war in these areas, which include Burma, Siam, Malaya and the East Indies. I should make it clear at once that this information does not relate to Hong Kong, Formosa, Occupied China, Korea or Japan, where we believe present conditions to be relatively tolerable.

All available prisoners in Singapore and Java appear to have been moved early in 1942 to Burma or Siam. The Australians were sent by sea to Burma, crowded into ships' holds which had been horizontally sub-divided so that ceilings were no more than 4 feet high. The prisoners from the United Kingdom were sent by rail to Siam, so crowded into trucks that they could not even lie down during the journey. They were then marched some 80 miles. This and subsequent movement in Burma or Siam appears to have been on foot, regardless of distance, weather, or the prisoners' state of health. They were then set to work on the construction of a railway through primitive, disease-infested jungle passing over the mountain range between Siarn and Burma to meet the Burmese end of the railway, on the construction of which Australians were engaged. The conditions under which all these men lived and worked were terrible, even for natives of the country who were also forcibly employed on the same work.

Such accommodation as was provided gave little or no protection against tropical rains or blazing sun ; worn out clothing was not replaced ; soon many lacked clothing, boots and head covering; the only food provided was a pannikin of rice and about half a pint or less of watery stew three times a day. But the work had to go on without respite whatever the cost in human suffering or life. The inevitable result was a dreadful death-rate ; one point was known to the British prisoners as 600 Bridge, because 600 white men died and were buried there. The lowest estimate of deaths is 20 per cent, out of perhaps 60,000 British Commonwealth prisoners, and the truth is likely to be worse than this. When the railway was finished about October, 1943, those not needed for maintenance work were moved to camps in Siam where conditions were somewhat alleviated; from there the fittest were then sent temporarily to French Indo-China, and later to Singapore en route to Japan.

The rescued men were on a ship, which left Singapore early in September, 1944. There were probably 1,300 U.K. and Australian prisoners on board. After she was sunk, the Japanese deliberately picked up all Japanese survivors but left the prisoners to their fate, and I fear that the great majority of them were drowned. I am sure I speak for the whole House and for all the British people in expressing admiration for the way in which the United States submarine crews risked their own safety to rescue men from the sea, and our very deep gratitude to those crews and to the United States authorities for the care and attention given to them at every stage. Thanks to them nearly all the rescued men are now recovering from their terrible experiences.

We shall, of course, ask the Protecting Power to make the strongest possible protest.

There is one redeeming feature in the whole story. All the rescued men tell of the amazing way in which the morale of the prisoners has remained high, despite the worst the Japanese could do. In particular, tribute is paid to the medical officers who were captured with them and who have achieved little short of miracles in looking after the sick and the injured despite lack of essential medicines, instruments, and hospital equipment. All that we have learnt from these men reveals that our prisoners have been true to the highest traditions of our race.

To the relatives and friends of all the prisoners concerned our deepest sympathy goes out. It is a matter of profound regret to me that these disclosures have to be made ; but v/e are convinced that it is necessary that the Japanese should know that we know how they are behaving and that we intend to hold them responsible. Here I would add that we are collecting from the survivors every scrap of information they can give about other men, and this information will be passed on to the next-of-kin concerned as quickly as possible.

The story these men have told gives the lie direct to the Japanese denial of the statement my right honourable Friend, the Foreign Secretary, made to the House on the 28th January last, regarding the conditions under which prisoners were being accommodated and worked in Burma and Siam. It also proves that we were right in suspecting that the reason the Japanese have never permitted camps in these areas to be inspected by representatives of the Protecting Power or the I.R.C.C. was that they dared not let the truth about them be known. By the conduct of their military authorities in these areas towards defenceless men who, by every standard of civilized conduct, were entitled to be treated honourably and decently, they have revealed themselves as being no better than primitive barbarians. The whole world now knows what to expect from Japanese militarism when it believes its actions to be hidden from sight. I need hardly say that we shall hold responsible
all those who have behaved so infamously.

This fresh, direct and unimpeachable evidence of the outrageous treatment of defenceless prisoners of war is, if it is required, an added reason why, when the German war is ended, there must be no relaxation in our efforts until, in concert with our Allies, we have completely destroyed this vile military tyranny which is the present day Japan.

 

APPENDIX D

DRAFT STATEMENT

As the House was told on 31st October, some 150 survivors from a sunk Japanese transport carrying ILK. and Australian prisoners of war from Singapore to Japan were rescued, by United States naval forces in September. The survivors from the United Kingdom have now reached this country.

The result of preliminary examinations of the men gives at last a first-hand account of the way our men were treated in the Southern Areas of the Far East; and there is now no longer any doubt about the policy which was pursued by the Japanese military authorities towards prisoners of war in these areas, which include Burma, Siam, Malaya and the East Indies. I should make it clear at once that this information does not relate to Hong Kong, Formosa, Occupied China, Korea or Japan, where we believe present conditions to be relatively tolerable. Nor does it refer to civilian internees.

The great majority of prisoners in Singapore and Java appear to have been moved early in 1942 to Burma or Siam. The Australians were sent by sea to Burma, crowded into ships' holds which had been horizontally sub-divided so that ceilings were no more than 4 feet high. The prisoners from the United Kingdom were sent by rail to Siam so crowded into trucks that "they could not even lie down during the journey. They were then marched some 80 miles. This and subsequent movement in Burma or Siam appears to have been on foot, regardless of distance, weather, or the prisoners' state of health. The U.K. prisoners were then set to work on the construction of a railway through primitive, disease-infested jungle passing over the mountain range between Siani and Burma to meet the Burmese end of the
railway, on the construction of which Australians were engaged in similar country. The conditions under which all these men lived and worked were terrible, even for natives of the country who were also forcibly employed on the same work.

Such accommodation as was provided gave little or no protection against tropical rains or blazing sun ; worn out clothing was not replaced ; soon many lacked clothing, boots and head covering; the only food provided was a pannikin of rice and about half a pint or less of watery stew-three times a day. But the work had to go on without respite whatever the cost in human suffering or life. The inevitable result was an appalling death-rate, the lowest estimate of deaths being one in five. When the railway was finished about October, 1943, those not needed for maintenance work were moved to camps in Siam out of the jungle and here conditions are less intolerable. From these camps the fittest were later sent to
Singapore en route to Japan.

The rescued men were on a ship, which left Singapore early in September, 1944. There were probably 1,300 U.K. and Australian prisoners of war on board. After she was sunk, the Japanese deliberately picked up all Japanese survivors but left the prisoners to their fate, and I fear the great majority of them were drowned.

We have asked the Protecting Power to make the strongest possible protest.

I am sure I speak for the whole House and for all the British people in expressing admiration for the way in which the United States submarine crews risked their own safety to rescue men from the sea, and our very deep gratitude to those crews and to the United States authorities for the care and attention given to them at every stage. Thanks to them nearly all the rescued men are recovering from their terrible experiences.

There is one redeeming feature in the whole story. All the rescued men tell of the amazing way in which the morale of the prisoners has remained high, despite the worst the Japanese could do. fn particular, tribute is paid to the medical officers who were captured with them and who have achieved little short of miracles in looking after the sick and injured despite lack of essential medicines, instruments, and hospital equipment, All that we have learnt from these men reveals that our prisoners have been true to the highest traditions of our race.

To the relatives and friends of all the prisoners concerned our deepest sympathy goes out. ft is a matter of profound regret to me that these disclosures have to be made ; but we are convinced that it is necessary that the Japanese should know that we know how they are behaving and that we intend to hold them responsible. Here I would add that we are collecting from the survivors every scrap of information they can give about other men, and this information will be passed on to the next-of-kin concerned as quickly as possible.

We are proceeding with the task of collating all the detailed information which has
been obtained. This may take some time. A further statement will be issued.

(B44/188) no 11/44 W.O.P. 19944

 

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