History of PoW Kuching Area
Between August 1942 and April 1943 Lintang Barracks was used as a staging area for nearly 4000 PoWs of all nationalities. These included 1500 Australian PoWs and 2250 British, the latter from Java (these were Java Parties 1, 2 & 5A), and about 300 Dutch and Indonesian PoWs from Pontianak in Dutch Borneo.
By April 1943 the Australian PoWs had been moved to Sandakan and 838 British had been taken to Jesselton. A Japanese document captured prior to the surrender gives the total of PoWs in the Kuching area in April 1943 as 1745. Of these it can be estimated that approximately 1500 were British, 200 Dutch and Indonesians, and 75 Indians. Document also reveals that 250 British PoWs were situated at Poak (or Duran), approximately 20 miles South of Kuching. This subsidiary camp had been opened on 21st December 1942.
In January 1943 a total of 94 mail and 266 female )of whom 179 were nuns/0 had been interned at Kuching. 79 of the males were from British North Borneo, mainly Government Officials.
The PoW Compound was subdivided into a number of small camps:-
- Australian Officers (Comd Lt Col A.W. Walsh)
- British Officers (Comd Lt Col T.C. Whimster)
- Dutch White Officers (Comd Lt Col A Mars)
- British ORs (i/c RSM S T G Sutherland)
- Indian ORs
- Indonesian ORs
- Male Internees (i/c W C Adams Esq)
- Female Internees (i/c Mrs W C Adams)
- Dutch male Internees - priests
They were responsible to a PoW Camp Staff, under certain Australian and British Officers, to whom the Japanese issued all instructions.
On 10th April 1944 the small compound at Poak was closed and the 250 British ORs rejoined the other PoWs at Lintang Barracks.
Between April 1943 and November 1944 the overall figure of PoWs and Internees at Kuching increased to approximately 2600, the increase being due to further Allied civilians in British Borneo being taken into custody, and the arrival of 187 Australian PoWs from Sandakan.
During this time only one movement of british PoWs out of Kuching took place. 200 British PoWs were moved by sea to Labuan in Aug 1944.
A number of Indonesian PoWs were taken by the Japanese into the Heiho organisation and were drafts up the Miri area for training, The dates of these moves and the number of PoWs involved is not known.
On 11th September 1945 the Relief Force reached Kuching a total of 2024 PoWs and Internees were recovered, of whom there were:-
Australian Officers and ORs
British Officers and ORs
Dutch Officers and ORS
Indian Officers and ORs
Besides a number of miscellaneous PoWs of different nationalities.
Treatment by the Japanese
Discipline in the Compound was severe and face slapping, beatings and kickings occurred almost daily.
The Japanese guards were continually subjecting the PoWs to physical punishment and took every opportunity to assert their superiority over the white race.
The PoW ORs were worked for the most part on the Kuching airfield, approximately 7 miles South of the town, but on occasion also worked in the timber yards on the Sarawak River where the Japanese were building wooden ships. Officers worked in the gardens, chopped wood and did other tasks of a similar nature around the camp.
Internees of both sexes did the same type of work as the officers.
In the early days of 1942-1943 the food situation was reasonable adequate. the PoWs had several acres of land on which to grow vegetables and they were also permitted to keep some chickens and a few pigs.
By mid 1944, however, with the Japanese army in Borneo faced with the prospect of being cut off from supplies by the end of the year, these amenities were withdrawn from the PoWs. They were reduced to living off their vegetable gardens and supplementing this with a small daily ration of rice and a weekly ration of salt and sugar from the Japanese. From January onwards the ration deteriorated in both quality and quantity. Judging by the quantity of food available in Kuching when the Relief Force arrived and by the adequate supplies which were then in stock in the Japanese storehouses, it is considered that the PoW food ration easily could have been maintained at a level which would have kept the PoWs alive and reasonably healthy. However, a policy of slow starvation was carried out instead.
The 500 odd PoWs who died between January 1945 - 15th August 1945 bear grim testimony to its effectiveness.
The medical attention given by the Japanese to the PoWs was particularly bad. A Japanese, Mo Yamamoto, was noted for his cruelty, bad temper and sadistic habits. Although American Red Cross stores were in the Compound - they were found there after the surrender - none were delivered to the PoWs and the Japanese only supplied very limited quantities of their own drugs and bandages at irregular intervals. The camp hospital was shockingly inadequate, the PoWs lying on concret floors shoulder to shoulder, and having the sole form of ablutions one tap of running water approximately 20ft outside the hospital.
the ordinary PoW huts were overcrowded and rank with lack of any adequate hygiene precautions. repeated complaints by the camp leaders to Lt Col Suga concerning all these matters did not bring about any improvements.
Atrocities at Kuching
Information was Collected regarding:-
- The torture and execution of Capt Mathews MC of 8 Div Sigs at Kuching.
- Torture of Indian troops in an endeavour to recruit them as Japanese auxiliary troops.
- The execution of three NEI troops at Pontianac.
No further atrocities at Kuching have been mentioned.
PoW Cemeteries At Kuching
There were three PoW Cemeteries st Kuching:-
- Cemetery of approximately 550 graves 300 yards SE of Lintang Barracks.
- Church of England Cemetery approximately .5 mile South of Kuching on East side of Rock Road.
- Roman Catholic Cemetery approximately 1 mile South of Kuching by St. Josephs Church
The latter two cemeteries were used between August 1942 - November 1944, after which date the death rate began to mount and a third cemetery was established by the Compound. All graves at Kuching were marked and identified, and detailed charts of each cemetery have been sent by 23 Auatralian War Graves Unit to HQ AWG Gp, Central Pacific on Morotai. It is understood that the graves of Internees are a BBCAU responsibility. A list of all such graves has, however, been obtained by OC 23 Australian War Graves unit.
Projected Moves of PoWs Ex Kuching In September 1945
As a result of a deteriorating war situation in Borneo, the Japanese were preparing to move all PoWs and Internees out of the Lintang Barracks on approximately 15th September 1945 and march them 18 mile South to a new Compound at Dahan. This Compound was under construction when the surrender took place and 51 Indonesians were still out at Daran - where they were sent to assist in building - when the Relief Force arrived at Kuching.
It is certain that the early surrender of Japan saved the lived of the PoWs and Internees at Kuching for very few of them would have survived the march to Daran.
The recovery and identification of 2024 Allied PoWs and Internees at Kuching, and the identifying of all deceased PoWs, made investigations at Kuching more complete then in any other area.
Report by Capt T L Mort giving details of matters at Kuching:-