Rangoon Central Jail
PoW Contacts and Codes
These pages are compiled from KEW File AIR 40/1855
It was practically an impossibility to establish and maintain contact direct from outside the jail with PoWs inside because of the layout and the high thick wall around it and because of the vigilance of the guards.
(i) Ground Contacts
Contact by working parties outside the jail however, was comparatively easy. Indian civilians, in particular, were very daring and took many opportunities to pass the PoWs news, encouragement and even small comforts, e.g., cheroots. Occasionally Burmans, or Anglo-Burmans did the same but in the main they were hostile. Sometimes contacts were observed by the guards and prisoners beaten as a result. On one occasion when a PoW was given cheroots they were taken away from him and he was given solitary confinement for 3/5 days. Later some of the cheroots, presumably after inspection, were handed back. This was in February 1915 and all were warned that if a similar incident occurred consequences would be serious.
In the earlier days in the jail under a previous Commandant the guards could even be bribed to bring in goods from the bazaar which they hid in their ammunition pouches which frequently had no ammunition in them, but this ceased when the Commandant was changed, his successor maintaining stricter discipline.
The contacts which working parties were able to make provided a fairly good news service.
The Anglo-Indian wife of a BOR (KOYLI), name unknown, was able to smuggle newspapers and food to working parties near her house. The newspaper was nearly always “Greater Asia" which was thought to be printed in the Rangoon Gazette Offices and contained propaganda in English.
Another contact was Anglo--Burman and his wife living near work being carried out on an air raid shelter. His name is believed to be Watson and he was thought to be sub-manager of some newspaper organisation. His house was No. 5 Kokine Road, near a W.T. installation.
Some of the articles collected on working parties could nearly always be smuggled into the jail, either inside bamboo poles, or in the bottom of rice baskets covered over with mess tins. Newspapers were smuggled in boots or pockets and on one occasion a mincing machine was carried in quite openly. There was always a risk In attempting to smuggle goods in but it was a risk that most PoWs were willing to take. Often the more obvious the article the less difficulty there was taking it into the jail. Working parties themselves were nearly always searched but the, Officers seldom were.
On the technical work party at Insein there were also some Indian PoWs believed to have come from Singapore. They were given preferential treatment by the Japanese because they were Indians. These Indians passed news and newspapers to PoWs and in particular Subadar Barkodelhi (phonetic spelling) acted as interpreter between the Japanese and PoWs and while doing so always passed any news and even offered PoWs money if they wanted it and gave them cigarettes. While on this task another Indian who worked on the water cart, asked the Officer in charge what his name and home address was and intimated that, he would see it was passed on through the proper channels.
One PoW of a party engaged on the construction of blast walls for some stables, lasting from January 1944 to July 1941b4, contacted a man calling himself Fred Smith who passed on the news that he was able to get from the All India Radio Service. Fred Smith’s address was No. 6 Kokine Road, Royal Lakes, Rangoon. He worked in a printing press which was run by a pro-Japanese Burman ‘ On one occasion he gave a PoW a shirt and K.D. shorts and at other times cigars and cigarette papers. (Whether Fred Smith is the same as Watson referred to above is not clear.)
(ii) Air Contacts
None was effected but many PoWs express views that air contact, would be practicable. Some expressed the opinion that they would result in PoWs being beaten
up but most of them considered that the risk was worth it.
Air contacts suggested were the dropping of news leaflets, and the dropping of' medical aids and supplies in packets clearly marked to indicate their contents and that they were intended for the PoWs. Some PoWs felt convinced that in these circumstances they would be permitted by the Japanese to use the supplies, particularly in the case of medical aids.
It was pointed out by the PoWs in this connection that even if the Japanese tried to prevent them obtaining the news leaflets and supplies, some, at any rate, would inevitably be picked up and hidden because the Japanese always took shelter on the approach of aircraft and the PoWs would have a chance during that time.
Another method suggested was that a system of ground signals might be possible because the Japanese ordered that all bedding and clothes should be put out for airing by 10 o' clock. This included blankets, mosquito nets which would provide a group of colours - green nets, brown, white and blue blankets. Until recently all bedding was ordered in on the approach of aircraft but this rule had been relaxed.
On the same day as the main party were moved out of the jail some Burmans climbed trees and looked over the wall of the compound. They threw in a message asking how many Japanese were there and if any help was required to beat them up. As this happened after warning of the move had been given, no action was taken.
No organised system of contact by ground or air was in fact in existence.
Ground contact, it would appear, could have been arranged through friendly Indians or Anglo-Burmans.
It is recommended that contact by air be considered, and in particular the dropping of news leaflets and medical supplies by the official Red Cross Services, since existing channels do not seem to have been very successful.