Rangoon Central Jail
Layout, Description & Conditions
These pages are compiled from KEW File AIR 40/1855
(1) Rangoon Central Jail
The Rangoon Jail layout shows how the PoWs were guarded.
Contents of Blocks
- Chinese (Air Raid shelter was underneath this block and reinforced). Also in 1945, 50-60 Japanese soldiers well equipped, recently arrived from Japan.
- Solitary Confinement
- British, Dominion and Americans
- RAF and USAAF Personnel after release from Solitary Confinement Sentries
‘O’ = Sentries
---- = Beats
‘X’ = Standard Lamps
PoWs did not always agree on the number of sentries or beats.
1 on Tower
2 in Compound
1 in Gateway
1 on Tower
1 in Compound
1 in Gateway
There as no hospital but a separate room was set aside for the sick. The sentries were changed every hour, at the hour, and comprised :- Guard Commander, Charge Master, Duty NCO and 6 others. There were no searchlights, but until November 1943 the ordinary standard lamps were used. There was no wire nor were there any dogs to assist in guarding. A light M.G. was on top of the guardroom for a short time and then removed; later it reappeared in the last month.
(B) Numbers of PoWs
In January 1943 there were approximately 350 white PoWs including 40 civilians from the Andamans. Of these 40, approximately 12 comprised the Commissioner of the Andamans and his staff. The 40 civilians left the jail in April 1943 for, it is believed, Tavoy. There were also 50 Chinese and about 500 Indians in the Jail. In April 1945 there were approximately 500 white PoWs:- British, New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans, Rhodesians and Australians.
(C) Activities of PoWs
The activities of the officers were divided between organising and being in charge of the working parties on the one hand, and on the other, administering as far as practicable the camp and PoWs within the limits set by the Japanese.
(i) Working Parties
The working parties varied in numbers, each one usually with an officer PoW in charge. Every man who was able to stand up was made to work. The tasks included docking, bomb disposal, trench digging, making A.A. and S/L positions and building bomb shelters. There was one instance of a shelter 18 ft deep with 30 ft of earth on top including 4 to 5 layers of timber. The hours of work were from 0900 hours to 1330 hours, and from 1430 hours until at the whim of the Japanese guard, he considered they had done enough, which might be 1900 or 2030 hours. Night work was carried out at the docks unloading petrol, rice and bombs.
Block adjutants were responsible for detailing the required numbers of men and maintaining a duty roster for officers. Normally officers only supervised the work but occasionally were themselves made to work. Their main job was to peace and they were held responsible for misbehaviour. The party detailed by the Adjutant were paraded in the compound and the numbers checked by the Japanese. The party halted at the guardroom and the numbers were checked. Further checks were made at frequent intervals and always on arrival at place of work and before returning to camp.
The guards usually consisted of 3 Japanese ORs latterly increased to 5. On the march usually one guard was in front with the British officer, one on the side and one in the rear. Latterly large parties, i.e., one hundred or more were split into two. On arrival at the place of work five minutes break was allowed. The guards
tended to be strict to start with but always seemed to lose interest towards the end of the day. It depended to a large extent on the guards as to whether the men were made to work hard or not. The parties working in the docks, i.e., unloading ships carried out sabotage whenever possible, and the work was often done at night which provided greater opportunities for this.
One of the methods used when unloading barges was to unload them unevenly causing the above waterline seams to submerge with the result that water leaked into the barge and damaged the rice. In unloading petrol drums these were often split open by dropping them too heavily on the dockside, careless handling or rolling theme into the water. While unloading aircraft parts, PoWs were able to remove and throw away sparking plugs. They were also able to dispose of fuses and ack-ack shells. Anything likely to suffer from being dropped was dropped the damage reported to the Japanese as bad packing.
A technical working party was required to assist an M.T. unit at Insein. The party was located at Insein from 21st July to 27th September 1944, and after that the party was taken out daily from Rangoon. The work on which the PoWs were employed included:-
Making batteries in the battery shop. They were able to carry out considerable sabotage by pouring water into the moulds and no more than 50 good plates were produced in a day.
Work in machine shops where 2 PoWs and 2 Japanese would work at each bench. The PoWs were given the dirtiest jobs, grinding valves etc. Here again sabotage was easy - losing and throwing away parts when an engine was stripped and it is estimated that when vehicles had been repaired they left the workshop in almost as bad a condition as they came in.
Work the Tiring shop where the task was "re-treading" old tyres. At first they produced 2 per day and later 12. The gum used was bad and the rubber almost raw. In addition the PoWs did not do the work properly and all tyres were useless after about 2 weeks.
The Japanese labour was quite unskilled. There was a lack of tools and equipment and most of the work was done with hammer and chisel. The food of the PoWs was poor, in general comprising rice and onions for dinner - stew for tea, but occasionally they had isolated good meals. While in Insein they lived in the Baptist Mission Hall where the Japanese were also billeted. The PoWs slept on the floor with no blankets. They were paid at the rate of 25 cents per day for Privates and L/CpI, and 30 cents a day for NCOs.
Bomb disposal operations, were carried out by a completely untrained party in Marchant St. but no cases of explosions were reported.
In August 1943 a PoW officer was selected for Bomb Disposal work at Insein and ordered with 6 B.O.R. PoWs to dig out a 500 Lb. bomb (American A.P.). The PoW had to supervise the digging and the bomb was eventually removed and taken to a Japanese dump 4 miles south of Insein. A Japanese major complemented the PoWs on the work. The tools with which they were provided were picks, shovels and a screwdriver for removing the fuse. The Japanese themselves appeared to have no idea of how to deal with the task.
In the jail itself a cookhouse was organised and an Officers Mess and Officers and men were placed in charge of various aspects of Welfare and Administration. For an example, an Officer was detailed to undertake the Mess accounts and responsibility for arranging outside purchases to provide extra comforts in the form of cigarettes, writing paper, sweets etc. as permitted by the Japanese authorities. etc.,
It was also possible sometimes to get extras for the sick and for those who were deliberately kept short of rations, a ego, R.A.F. personnel. Each block had a PoW C.O. who was responsible for its good order and discipline; M.O.s did what
they could within severe limitations to organise sick quarters and treat. Officers held language classes French, German, Japanese and Urdu. A library was instituted with the books available comprising some 200 volumes. On the weekly holiday, usually Thursday, PoWs were able to avail themselves of P.T., net ball, and hand ball. Officers also undertook the duty of carrying out burial services in the cemetery when a PoW died.
A major factor maintaining PoW morale was that they were enabled to keep active. Added to this those who were employed on working parties carried out satisfactory sabotage, at considerable risk to themselves, that unquestionably they felt, and reminded others, that they were not entirely debarred from playing a part in the war effort simply because they had become PoWs.
It appeared, therefore, that sabotage was a practicable proposition within certain limits and that the knowledge throughout the camp that it was so general was a valuable stimulant to morale.