Prisoners of War
II: Early Prisoner-of-war Camps in the Far East
II: Early Prisoner-of-war Camps in the Far East
After a few days of makeshift accommodation and good treatment in Yokohama, the New Zealand coastwatchers and radio operators captured in the Gilbert Islands were taken south to the island of Shikoku, in the north of which lay the newly formed Zentsuji prisoner-of-war camp. This was the first to be established in Japan, and conditions there were originally fairly satisfactory. Prisoners were housed in what were formerly Japanese military barracks, equipped with ablution and sanitary facilities of a kind. There was no heating, however, and though the party arrived at the camp in the middle of a cold Japanese January, the allowance of blankets was small. Later there were small stoves for officers' quarters and braziers for those of the other ranks. Soup, rice, and bread were the usual items in the daily diet, all in insufficient quantities, but supplemented occasionally with fish and very occasionally with meat. Such a spartan regime was considered normal for the Japanese troops, who tended to pride themselves on living ‘uncomfortably’ as it made them ‘strong’. There is evidence that at this stage the Japanese commandant was reasonable and doing the best he could for the prisoners.
A few hours after the arrival of the New Zealanders several hundred Americans from Guam Island were brought in, and from then on the numbers continued increasing, so that the camp was never anything else than overcrowded. It was several weeks before the civilians from Guam were sent to an internment camp at Kobe and it became possible for the remainder to be organised into groups under the internal administration of American officers and NCOs. Accommodation worked out for other ranks at 32 to a small room (about 700 square feet in area), eight men sleeping on about 21 feet of bedboard. Some American medical officers, in spite of the lack of equipment and drugs, were able to organise a sick-bay, where patients received better and more food, including a special quality of white rice and a small amount of milk; and their representations to the Japanese had some effect in improving the general camp rations. The Japanese issued a certain amount of used army clothing, ranging from winter overcoats to underclothing. There was also an issue of some thirty Japanese cigarettes a week during the first months of the camp's existence. A canteen page 168 contained nothing edible but sold pens, pencils, drawing books, slide-rules, and a few toilet articles. Other ranks received ten sen a day which could be spent in this way.
It was not long before lectures and classes began to be held, including classes in Japanese organised by the camp authorities and classes in radio organised by the prisoners. Sunday evening entertainments were held in an empty barrack: the first was a showing of Japanese films illustrating their successes in the Pacific, but later ones were concerts arranged by the prisoners. Some books sent from the former American Embassy in Tokyo formed the nucleus of a library. For the rest, recreation took the form of cards and other indoor games, and drawing and handicrafts with improvised materials. A Japanese interpreter was present as censor at all entertainments as well as religious services.
The first working party went out about the middle of February and began clearing a piece of mountainside of scrub and boulders and making it ready for agriculture. From that time on parties were regularly supplied by the camp for this purpose, the daily wages being up to 70 sen. Though the tools were mainly primitive hoe-like grubbers, the work does not seem to have been too arduous (in the earlier stages), and men enjoyed the excursion through the pretty surrounding countryside and up the nearby mountain.
In the first months there were no arrangements about sending mail, but Japanese radio technicians came to the camp in March 1942 and made recordings of one and a half minute messages from prisoners to their next-of-kin, and these were later transmitted from Radio Tokyo. They were received clearly in New Zealand the same month and were the first and for some time the only news to reach relatives there. News for prisoners had to be gleaned from Japanese English-language newspapers and from new arrivals, the latter unfortunately only too often confirming the successes reported in the Japanese press. Prisoners' thoughts were for the most part concentrated on their own rather miserable surroundings, and it became a popular hobby to plan one's ideal home in order to escape from the drabness of one's present accommodation. The meagre diet gave rise to endless discussions on food, together with the compilation of collections of ideal recipes. The whole of this was probably some kind of psychological release of the individual from the repression and regimentation of a prisoner-of-war camp, and has already been noted in Italy and Germany.
The camp was run according to the strict Japanese Army discipline. Precise instructions covered all aspects of camp routine including roll-call in Japanese, filling all ash trays with water, correct folding and alignment of all kit, and seeing that all sleeping page 169 men were covered with their blankets. Offences were usually punished on the spot by the culprit having his face slapped (a normal punishment in the Japanese Army) for a length of time depending on the seriousness of the offence. Many British prisoners were to experience this treatment before the end of the war, and though there was occasional injury to eardrums, the punishment lay rather in the humiliation. As one man put it, ‘The injury was greater to our dignity than to our persons’. Before long the Japanese insisted on all prisoners in the camp signing a promise not to escape, and those who refused were given a period in the camp cells. It was decided by the senior officer, after a great deal of argument among the prisoners, that such a document would be signed under duress and as such would not be binding; and most of the camp signed. Those who had been put in the cells for not signing were out again in something under a fortnight, none the worse for their experience. But in this respect, as in many others, it is clear that Zentsuji was better off and more humanely administered than the vast majority of other Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.
A New Zealand naval officer,1 wounded and captured during the taking of Shanghai by the Japanese, was, after treatment at the hospital, placed in a camp near Woosung village at the mouth of the Whangpoo River. The camp had formerly been an army barracks, and though very dirty on their arrival was soon made habitable by the British prisoners, of whom there were a few dozen, and the American civilian internees, of whom there were over a thousand. The British Residents' Association, the Swiss Consul, and the International Red Cross delegate were able to help the camp with food parcels, clothing, medicines, and even stoves and fuel in the winter. There was a recreation ground and two vegetable gardens, and conditions could be said on the whole to be fairly tolerable.
At Shamshuipo a large flat area reclaimed from the harbour at Kowloon and laid out as a British military camp, with brick barracks and other amenities, provided the Japanese with a ready-made prisoner-of-war camp to accommodate several thousand men. But the barracks had been badly damaged by bombing and later were completely looted and stripped of all wooden fittings. For the first few months there was neither lighting nor heating, though the Japanese did supply firewood for cooking. Food provided by the Japanese consisted mainly of rice, with low-grade Chinese green vegetables, a little fish, and occasionally a very small portion of meat. But after a time the latter items ceased, and for a good part of 1942 the prisoners had to exist on a diet consisting of little more than rice and water, with resultant malnutrition and the diseases that go with it.
1 Naval prisoners were transferred to North Point from Shamshuipo in January 1942, but were moved again in April, the officers to Argyll Street and the other ranks back to Shamshuipo.
At Japanese camps successful break-outs were followed by reprisals on the rest of the inmates; and Shamshuipo was no exception. Besides punishment of the leader and possibly the other members of the group to which the escaper belonged, there were increased restrictions of movement and reduction in both the quantity and quality of rations for the whole camp. At Shamshuipo the guards were tightened up and eventually part of the perimeter wire was electrified. The Japanese were so suspicious of any gathering of prisoners that they forbade the holding of educational classes, which had thenceforward to be carried on surreptitiously.
On the island there was established, besides the North Point prisoner-of-war camp and the Bowen Road hospital for sick and wounded prisoners, the Stanley Internment Camp for civilians. Reference has already been made to this last camp and to the confusion that resulted there from suddenly throwing together in a war-damaged area, regardless of sex or age, practically the whole white civilian population of Hong Kong, the British portion of which alone amounted to some 2500 people.1 The area was nevertheless the best available, and is described by one New Zealand ex-internee as ‘ideal for the purpose’. It comprised 50 acres of the grounds of the former civil prison on a promontory cooled in the summer by sea breezes, though cold in winter during the period of internment owing to the complete lack of heating. The area enclosed by barbed wire contained European and Indian prison warders' quarters, a Chinese boys' residential college and several bungalows, as well as three recreation grounds, a bowling green, and a good deal of hilly, unoccupied land.
Even after the accommodation had been properly allocated, the buildings were overcrowded by European standards and contained only about half enough beds. This shortage was made good by improvising with boards and old wooden doors, but washing and lavatory accommodation remained inadequate. Fortunately for the internees there was a hospital within the grounds, though it was handicapped by shortage of equipment and drugs; two dentists among the camp personnel were hampered by similar shortages. There were clinics in each group of buildings for the treatment of minor ailments. The administration of the whole camp was carried out by the Colonial Secretary and a small staff, assisted by a camp council and block committees.
1 Approximately 1000 men, 1200 women and 300 children, some twenty of whom were New Zealanders.
Recreational facilities abounded in Stanley Camp. Although two playing fields were converted into gardens, which themselves provided a healthful and useful occupation, there still remained another for football and softball, as well as the bowling green. In the daylight hours the internees had the freedom of the whole camp to walk in or otherwise occupy themselves, including the use of a sea beach at certain hours in summer. Hong Kong University professors and other teachers organised lectures and classes on a wide variety of subjects and also a school for the children in the camp. Books brought in by various internees made possible the formation of small, moderately well-stocked libraries. Four pianos were brought in, there were concerts and plays, and in general fair scope for musical and artistic talent. The Japanese allowed normal religious services. Apart from such recreational activities many people found an occupation in various camp duties—administrative work, cookhouse fatigues (which carried an extra half ration as a reward), cutting up firewood, mending clothing, and keeping the camp clean. A number were employed on the prevention of mosquito breeding and so of malaria, a task only partly accomplished as the internees were not allowed to extend their work outside the perimeter wire.
Two parties attempted to get away from the camp in the first month, one succeeding and the members of the other being imprisoned. Owing to the Japanese policy of reprisals on those remaining and the fact that these would involve the old people, women and children, it was generally considered ‘unethical’ to attempt to escape. In spite of a number of face-slappings for breaches of their regulations, somewhat rougher treatment of black marketeers, and attempts to enforce bowing (in lieu of a salute), the Japanese do not seem to have interfered much with life inside the compound. A Japanese-sponsored newspaper in English, the Hong Kong News, enabled readers to gain some idea of the war situation by reading between the lines. There were the usual series of rumours which beset prisoner-of-war and internment camps at most stages of their history. These the camp administrative authorities attempted to combat because of their ultimately bad effect on morale when they proved false.
1 New Zealanders numbered only about fifty.
For the first weeks the Japanese, having placed a barrier of guards across the peninsula, seem to have interfered little with the internal running of this large prisoner-of-war area. One New Zealander comments, ‘We never saw a Jap those days, except during searches and parades for visiting Japanese officers’. Later, however, when Changi had been divided into wired sub-areas and prisoners sorted and redistributed, the Japanese posted Sikh guards to patrol these boundaries, and they were a source of considerable trouble and friction. The organisation of the camp personnel into brigade messes, all under the control of an ‘Administrative Group’, provided more efficient means of co-ordinating dealings with the Japanese, of maintaining order and health, and of passing the time, than would have been possible with smaller, scattered units. A medical organisation was able through insistence on proper sanitation and other precautionary measures to prevent much disease, though lack of disinfectants, drugs, and equipment made it impossible to prevent malaria and dysentery or to provide adequately for the sick. The hospital was at first located in bombed buildings, without lights or running water or adequate sanitation and only such bedding, drugs, and dressings as had been smuggled in with the original patients, who had numbered between two and three thousand. After six months or so running water was obtainable in some of the camp buildings, and electric lighting a month or two later; and gradually the worst of the deficiencies in medical and nursing equipment were remedied, for the most part by improvisation.page 175
For the first two or three weeks men lived on tinned army rations and biscuits, which they had brought in to Changi amongst their kit, or on other stores obtained by foraging parties. At this period these parties were allowed to push a cart or an abandoned lorry into the town and bring back supplies. This practice was soon stopped, as it led to undesirable contact with the civilian population of Singapore; and in any case stocks of such things as chilled meat from a cold storage company's premises soon gave out. The Japanese began to deliver rations regularly: a pound or so of rice a man, some green vegetables, and very small quantities of salt, sugar, tea, cooking fats, jams, and occasionally dried fish. One man described the rations at the beginning as ‘ample’ though short of fish and meat; but others found a diet composed mainly of rice hard to get used to. To make matters worse, the quantity of rice soon considerably decreased, and the lack of protein and certain vitamins in the diet, combined with its overall insufficiency, led to general loss of weight among the prisoners and later to deficiency diseases. One New Zealand officer's weight fell from 10st. 8lb. to 9 stone in the first three months, and remained at the latter figure until he left the camp. Coconuts, occasional tinned fish, toffee, and gula malacca (sugar substitute) from the canteen, once it had been established, provided some small supplement. Apart from this, green vegetables such as spinach and even tapioca were grown inside the camp area. But attempts to supply additional protein by keeping pigs had to be abandoned owing to ‘lack of fattening material’; and a similar project for keeping poultry was able to provide only sufficient birds for the hospital.
The canteen supplied tobacco: some locally made cigarettes and cheroots and some tobacco from Java were available to those who had the money to buy them. Sometimes men had to eke out their supplies with dried paw-paw leaves; but it seems that some kind of a smoke was nearly always available. Apart from tobacco the canteen sold notebooks and playing cards, toothbrushes and razorblades. For clothing most men had to manage for the whole period of their captivity with what they originally brought into their first prisoner-of-war camp. A minority received an issue of one garment or another from the Japanese, but for the rest it was a matter of patching or improvising new garments from any kind of material which came to hand. Fortunately the weather in South-East Asia obviated the necessity of wearing anything but the minimum of clothing considered necessary for decency.
There was no lack of opportunity for recreation at Changi. Individuals had brought in what amounted collectively to a fair-sized library of books, and these, together with others that were page 176 found in deserted houses and barracks in the Changi area, were exchanged at book depots. Permission was given by the Japanese, too, to bring in a number of textbooks from the city in order to establish a ‘University’. Among such large numbers there was a considerable variety of knowledge and talent, and excellent classes covering a wide curriculum were started—a feast of educational activity which those who were later transferred from Changi to other camps never again tasted. Entertainments included plays, vaudeville shows, and serious music. For the athletic there were cricket, football and boxing, though poor food and a consequent decline in physical condition soon dissuaded many from taking part. Some found an almost full-time occupation in ‘pottering’, doing useful odd jobs and gardening. Religious worship was not restricted and services were held regularly.
From the first the Japanese had daily fatigue groups of prisoners clearing up the damaged areas of Singapore city, and in a very short time they began to draft men out on permanent working parties. Some of our men went to Bukom Island, where they were set to work clearing debris and were relentlessly kept at it by Japanese guards, who did not hesitate to administer a beating-up at any sign of slackening or insubordination. Others went to dig pits for the storage of drums of petrol among the rubber plantations at Woodlands. Others still went to Blakang Mati Island to load and unload bombs and to dig underground tunnels for their storage. At these working camps the men were quartered in cement barracks or attap huts, tightly packed or comparatively well off for space according to whatever was available. They were allowed to carry out their own internal administration, but only under close supervision by the Japanese. They worked for eight or more hours daily for thirteen and a half days out of fourteen, and in some camps were allowed no educational classes and no recreation except gardening. Their diet, consisting mainly of rice and vegetables, was insufficient to maintain their health under such hard conditions, and there were many cases of malaria and sporadic outbreaks of beriberi.
One of the first reactions of prisoners of war in their early captivity is to think out some way of escaping. But for those at Changi their distance from the nearest Allied-held territory, their white skins which easily picked them out in a coloured population, the execution of recaptured escapers and severe reprisals on any other prisoners who might be implicated, combined to make such attempts too costly except in special circumstances. Men's thoughts turned instead to their future liberation, about which a surprising number held the optimistic view that it would probably take only some six months to a year. The only newspapers available were page 177 Japanese-sponsored publications in English, such as the Syonan Shimbun (Singapore Times) which gave full accounts of Japanese victories and the progress of the Axis forces in general. But neither this propaganda nor the brutal Japanese punishments for minor offences broke men's morale. The result of beatings with sheathed swords or rifle butts or pick-handles, of kickings, of standing to attention in the hot sun for hours on end, was to make the prisoners despise their guards as uncivilised rather than to be intimidated by them. Almost from the beginning a concealed radio gave them the headlines of the news from the British point of view and so discredited exaggerated Japanese claims. When food became desperately short, thoughts were concentrated on diet and on means of improving it. But the vast majority of men seem to have remained cheerful, and what one informant calls ‘the fellowship of good friends’ prevented temporary depression from becoming chronic.
Civilians at Singapore, who had been made to walk seven miles with their baggage in the heat of the day to the Karikal camp, had another similar forced march two weeks or so later, when they and those from the other three temporary camps were all transferred to Changi Jail. At Karikal, the home and outbuildings of an Indian merchant, together with the adjacent houses and convent, proved inadequate to house all the internees sent there, and sanitary, cooking, and water services were equally deficient. Changi Jail, a former penitentiary for Asiatic criminals, besides being better equipped, no doubt provided far fewer security problems to the Japanese than the miscellaneous collection of buildings at Karikal.
It was built to hold only 600 Asiatic civil prisoners in single cells, but into this accommodation, together with the workshops and some other quarters, went some 2800 civilians including 400-odd women and children. Three or four men occupied each cell, allowing a lying space roughly 27 inches wide for each man; they slept either on the concrete slab originally intended for the prisoner or on either side of it. Others slept on the grating outside the cells. The lighting of the building functioned more or less normally, though expended electric lamps were hardly ever replaced. The prison building being only five years old, washing and sanitary facilities were satisfactory though also very overcrowded; and shortage of water made it necessary to use boreholes instead of the proper prison latrines.
The internal administration of the camp was in the hands of elected block committees, which in turn elected representatives to a central camp committee. The women and children, who occupied a special block, had their own committee and their own representative for liaison with the Japanese camp commandant. Although described page 178 by an interned lawyer as a ‘very complex democratic organisation’, it seems by and large to have given satisfaction to the camp as a whole. In each block there was a clinic run by one of the interned doctors, and a central camp hospital was organised for more serious cases. Both doctors and dentists are generally reported as having given exceptionally good service to the internees in spite of lack of equipment and necessary drugs.
For the first few months the Japanese supplied only some 13 to 15 ounces of rice daily, together with small quantities of other food. The internees supplemented this with tinned stuff, a quantity of which had been laid in by each of the four original camps and brought to Changi when all their occupants were transferred there. Those with funds were able to purchase from the camp ‘shop’ small amounts of food brought in by the fatigue party which went out of camp to collect the rations. In this way, eggs, coconuts, palm-oil, gula malacca, and sweets became available to help break the monotony of rice meals. Local cigarettes, cheroots, and tobacco were obtained in the same way, the occasional Japanese issues being quite inadequate for most smokers. Food was cooked in the prison kitchen and distributed to sections of the camp in large tubs. Even with the extras mentioned above, the diet had such serious deficiencies, notably in proteins, fats, and vitamin B complex, that it was insufficient to maintain health. By the middle of 1942 most of the internees had lost weight, there were signs of weakness and swellings typical of nutritional oedema, and ten cases of beriberi were recorded. Fortunately for all the internees there were among them a large number of medical practitioners, who formed a ‘Medical Reference Committee’ to keep a close watch on the camp diet and hygiene. Over the period of internment this committee was able to do a great deal to prevent the incidence of disease.
Every internee had to take his share in the running of the camp, either in an administrative capacity or by doing a turn of cookhouse or sanitary fatigues, collecting the camp rations, or gathering firewood for the camp kitchen. Spare-time recreation provided little difficulty: the internees were able to obtain a considerable number of books and sufficient musical instruments to set up an orchestra. All manner of educational classes were established, there were regular concerts and plays, and individuals were able to pursue their own favourite handicraft or other artistic occupation, although often with improvised materials. Some of the more energetic played cricket, football, and other sports in the early days, but as in the Changi prisoner-of-war area the later lack of a sufficient diet made it inadvisable for people to undertake anything too strenuous. Religious services were allowed, but only with guards in page 179 attendance. In the early period the internees were allowed to go under guard on one afternoon a month to bathe in the sea, and for a while they were allowed to walk outside the prison within a wire perimeter on two evenings every week.
The Japanese guards were outside the prison quarters except for searches, inspections, and roll-calls, but they kept a close control over everything that went on within. As in most Japanese camps, there were very severe restrictions on smoking and strict instructions concerning bowing by the internees to all Japanese guards. Failure to observe these regulations brought an immediate ‘indiscriminate bashing’ (in the words of one of the victims)—beating and kicking similar to that administered to prisoners of war for the same offences. For anything more serious there was solitary confinement as well. But this sort of treatment does not seem to have undermined most people's morale or their (at the time) somewhat irrational belief that their captors would be finally defeated. Against this optimistic background the internees met their captivity with various degrees of impatience or equanimity, perhaps epitomised by the man who described his state of mind as one of ‘resigned exasperation’.
The main internment camp in the Philippines, and that to which nearly all the New Zealand internees1 went, was the Santo Tomas University, the buildings of which lie in spacious grounds just outside Manila. For a few days the internees were without beds, bedding or mosquito nets, until the Japanese authorities allowed these to be brought out to the camp. In spite of the size of the buildings the 3300 men, women, and children who in January 1942 found themselves obliged to live there experienced bad overcrowding in the sleeping quarters, and still worse in eating, washing and sanitary facilities, with which the buildings were not of course equipped on anything like the necessary scale. A camp committee of seven American and three British internees became responsible for organisation and negotiation with the Japanese. Medical internees soon realised that immediate measures should be taken to minimise disease, and a hospital was set up to deal with the sickness which it would be impossible to prevent entirely.
Some of the servicemen captured in Java had to remain in temporary camps for weeks before being moved to a more permanent camp. At Serang in North Java, for example, 800 men, including wounded and survivors from sunken vessels, were crowded into a native cinema, where they slept on the stone floor, lived on a daily ration of a handful of rice and some bread, together with water from a disused well, and had only the most primitive improvised sanitary and washing facilities. In the south numbers of prisoners were held at a school in Garoet or in temporary quarters on one of the aerodromes. Parties of prisoners were set to work on most of the latter making them serviceable for the Japanese and later unloading stores and ammunition; they remained there until the job was finished or their labour was more urgently required elsewhere.
The prisoner-of-war camp at Bandoeng was located in the barracks formerly used by Dutch infantry units. As it soon contained several thousand prisoners of different nationalities, each national group was organised by one of its senior officers, and in the early stages the administrative control of the whole camp was entrusted to the senior medical officer.1 This officer and the officer in command of the British group succeeded at the outset in exacting from the Japanese certain standards of treatment, which remained in force almost throughout the camp's history and made conditions there better, in the opinion of most prisoners, than they were in most other Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. The medical and dental care of the prisoners at Bandoeng was assured by a large number of medical and dental officers, though there was the usual difficulty in getting drugs and equipment as most of it had been confiscated by the Japanese. A hospital was set up in the camp, but serious cases were evacuated to the Tjimahi hospital nine miles away.page 181
The ration of food at Bandoeng consisted mainly of rice and dried potatoes, with some green vegetables and a small quantity of meat.1 Though better than that at many other camps, especially in later periods, this ration had the deficiency in protein, fats, and vitamins (especially the B complex) already noted in the diet supplied in other Japanese camps, and after a few months proved a similar source of malnutrition and deficiency diseases. Fortunately the Japanese began to pay both officers and men, and it became possible to establish a camp fund through which purchases of eggs, yeast, and a type of bean rich in vitamin B complex were made. Besides being used for patients in the camp hospital, these extra supplies were sufficient to make a full camp distribution. For a while each man received an egg a day, and it became possible for various sections of the camp to open ‘cafés’ where those with extra money could buy odd meals, ranging from coffee and a biscuit to eggs and bacon or steak, eggs and chips. Once the camp fund had been established the canteen was excellently supplied: ‘one could order anything from a choice steak and the onions to go with it, to a pot of gilt paint and crayons for the Art School, and get them’, was the summing up of one of the inmates at this period.2
The senior officers in Bandoeng camp appear to have set from the beginning a high standard of camp discipline and morale. Besides insistence on tidiness and cleanliness and general obedience to camp orders, this usually involved the provision of mental recreation to take the place of the work and leisure activity that would have been the normal routine of those on active service before their capture. At Bandoeng the educational classes, the library, and the theatre productions appear to have all been very good. Religious services for all denominations were held in the camp theatre. A daily newspaper entitled Mark Time was typed and displayed on the camp notice-boards: besides items of news and commentaries it contained results of raffles, advertisements of concerts, local gossip, and illustrations. A more elaborate monthly edition contained original articles, stories, and verse.
1 Estimated at 2000 calories daily by Lt-Col Dunlop, ‘Medical Experiences in Japanese Captivity’, in British Medical Journal, 5 October 1946.
The working parties from Bandoeng consisted mainly of daily labour gangs for unloading railway trucks, moving ammunition and bombs, and clearing up debris. The Japanese discipline was strict, often illogical and sometimes brutal. Clipping of the hair to a length of one centimetre, numbering and giving all military orders in Japanese, saluting all Japanese ranks: failure to observe such regulations brought a beating which varied from a few cursory blows on the head with a closed first to a full-dress affair lasting an hour or two, at the end of which the gashes, lacerations, bruises, and possibly internal injuries sustained by the victim often necessitated his admission to hospital. One or two who attempted to break camp were publicly executed.
Most prisoners in the Dutch East Indies seem to have experienced a large number of different prisoner-of-war camps, being almost continually transferred from one to another both on Java and on other Dutch islands. Some New Zealanders went to the Boei Glodok native jail at Batavia, where they were packed in with half or less than half the allocation of space formerly allowed by the Dutch for native civil prisoners. When the first parties arrived there in March 1942 there was barely room to lie down, and the ‘cells were infested with vicious, smelly bugs, flies in the daytime and mosquitos at night.’ Prisoners from this jail were at that time clearing away debris and repairing damage to the civil airport a few miles away. Gradually conditions were improved: prisoners were allowed to sleep on improvised beds in the jail yard; the food, which had consisted mainly of maggoty rice, became somewhat better, though not good enough to prevent the onset of deficiency diseases; concerts were allowed once a week and other forms of recreation began to be organised.
As Batavia was the port of departure for many of the working groups leaving for other parts of Japanese-occupied territory, this jail and the former barracks of a Dutch cycle battalion, which had become known as the ‘Cycle Camp’, were frequently being packed to overflowing by such drafts of men, and knew some respite only after each draft had embarked. A good many New Zealanders passed through the Cycle Camp, where accommodation and food were better than in the jail. The Japanese staff of the camp, however, achieved a reputation for harshness and brutality, and beatings of the type described elsewhere became commonplace.
Apart from the Navy and Air Force officers transported almost immediately to Singapore, the majority of the other prisoners taken in Sumatra remained in the camp at Padang until May 1942. They were housed in army barracks and had high wooden benches to page 183 sleep on. Here, too, the diet consisted mainly of rice, with a little vegetable and dried fish. A New Zealand able seaman (speaking in retrospect) states that he could not complain of his treatment there and that the guards ‘seemed to be in a jovial mood’ because the war was going so well for them. No doubt Padang was a pleasant contrast to the labour camps in other parts of Sumatra or in Burma to which many of the inmates later went.
Civilians captured by the Japanese at sea while attempting to escape from Singapore, and others who reached Banka Island by lifeboat from their sunken ships, were roughly handled by their Japanese captors. Men, women, and children were herded into coolie quarters in a native kampong, where they slept on sloping concrete platforms so tightly packed that their bodies touched. They were fed on dirty, badly-cooked rice and hot water, and their guards were, in the words of a New Zealand nurse, ‘rough, ruthless, and bombastic’. They were shipped across to Sumatra and accommodated, together with some hundreds of Dutch women and children, in two small streets of houses in Palembang. Thirty internees had to live in each small house, originally built for a married couple and one child. The septic tanks were not able to cope with these numbers, and there was a constant struggle to avoid insanitary conditions harmful to health. The water supply functioned only for an hour or so at 2 a.m., and cooking arrangements had to be improvised. For the first six months, however, a bullockcart was allowed to bring extras into the camp, and although so badly overcrowded, these people were better off in this makeshift ‘camp’ than under the appalling conditions they had later to endure.
Most of the New Zealand naval personnel captured in the Java or Timor Seas following action with the Japanese fleet spent the first few months of their captivity in former Dutch barracks at Macassar, in Celebes. The buildings were solid and clean, but many of the men, whose only clothing after their rescue from the sea was a pair of shorts, had to make the best of sleeping thus clad on bare concrete floors. There was no shortage of water, but the latrines were open ditches with no precautions to prevent the spread of fly-carried disease. The food consisted almost entirely of rice and a little dried fish, nearly always inadequate in quantity. The Japanese supplied the prisoners with the bare minimum of clothing and no footwear, in spite of their almost complete lack of both on arrival. One New Zealand able seaman received two cotton singlets and two pairs of cotton shorts during the whole three and a half years of his captivity. But the more enterprising of the prisoners found illicit means of obtaining clothing and other things, such as tobacco, while on working parties in the town.page 184
The prisoners had a library of books obtained from the town, and at first they were allowed sports and occasional concerts; but as time went on more and more restrictions were placed on gatherings and the playing of musical instruments. Most of the prisoners were in any case forced to do hard manual labour during the hours of daylight for seven days a week, with perhaps half a dozen holidays a year. Discipline was very severe and enforced by the type of beating with clubs, wet ropes, and even iron bars already mentioned, but probably more frequent and more brutal in Macassar than elsewhere. As in other Japanese camps, the punishment for recaptured escapers was torture and beheading. After the first such incident the camp's occupants were divided into groups of ten, the remainder of whom were to die if one of their number tried to escape. The lengthy record of Japanese savagery towards their captives from December 1941 until the end of the war in the Far East is so well-spread geographically that it is not always easy to pick out the worse from the better camps. But the records of the prisoners tend to show that living conditions, the ruthless use of human beings as slave labour, licence for sadistically minded guards to beat and torture their captives, both individually and in mass, were in Macassar almost continually at their worst.