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Prisoners of War

IV: Relief Work in the Far East

IV: Relief Work in the Far East

It is to be expected that in the months immediately preceding a country's defeat the supply of relief goods to the enemy captives she holds will deteriorate. In 1945 such relief transport arrangements as it had been possible to make with Japan came to an end. The danger to her external sea communications from the Allied fleets and to her internal communications from the Allied air forces would have made this inevitable, even if there had been a strong initiative on Japan's part to maintain them. Not only were no relief supplies arriving in Japan, but the inflated prices and the shortages resulting from bombardment made local purchases more difficult than ever. The Japanese made small distributions of old stocks of Red Cross parcels to some camps, but this brought little improvement to a situation which, in respect of food at least, became worse than it had ever been.

Only after the Japanese capitulation in August did relief supplies again become available, and so urgent was the need by then that large-scale parachuting operations were necessary to get them to camps where they were needed to save further loss of life. Neutral delegates were immediately able to visit all camps, even in the southern area of Japanese-occupied territory, and to send out word of their requirements. As the Allied authorities received the messages giving each camp's food and medical position, the numbers of seriously and dangerously ill, and the prevalent conditions, packages of supplies were made up to meet each situation. Besides food, clothing, and medical supplies, medical teams and specialists, including psychiatrists, were dropped where they were urgently needed. Two British hospitals were flown into Bangkok. The immediate fall in death rates, and the vast improvement in the condition of many captives in the few weeks before their evacuation, serve to indicate how much disease and death might have been avoided had only a fraction of these supplies been regularly available throughout the war.