‘Jap Guard’, Changi (May 1942)

Portrait:  Jap guard

The passage of 50 years has reduced the mass of incidents and memories as P.O.W.’s to general feelings, impressions and attitudes. Between February 15th 1942 and September 1945, the completely alien existence we led has become blurred. What is left is a lasting profound distrust and dislike of the Japanese and Koreans.

Some things remain clear however – the never ending struggle for means to bolster woefully insufficient rations; the treatment of working parties by third class Japanese and Korean privates, some of whom had never seen a European before; the road side display of severed heads; the lashings and tortures of Chinese and Indian labourers as well as P.O.W.’s; and complete disregard of the sick and injured by the Japanese. But there was also the ingenious use of material and primitive resourcefulness shown in building accommodation, chapels, theatres and essentials. The concerts, shows and plays were quite excellent as were talks and lectures by experts. Many miracles of surgery occurred under very trying conditions.

Source: Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Battle for Singapore, Des Bettany, 1991.

Some years ago, Des met a young 22 year old Japanese man. Des commented to him ‘I was your age when I went to that summer camp in Singapore’ and then later ‘you are nothing like the Japanese men that used to tuck me into bed at night’. Des had recognized a change in attitude and great respect shown to him by this young Japanese man, but with no understanding of WW2 at all.

Des also told his family that the Japanese guards generally were angels compared to the Korean guards. ‘If they (Korean guards) didn’t beat us hard enough, then the Japanese guards would beat the Korean guards, so they made sure they did a good and thorough job on us’.

‘I often wondered what qualifications led to these positions of Japanese POW camp commanders. We had experienced them with ranks varying from Captain to Corporal. Whether they were rejects from more active units, whether they had blotted their copy books or whether they were chosen for their cruelty, we never could decide. However, they all seemed to excel at the latter and should have been multi-stared Generals, but there was no sign of promotion over the three and half years we watched them’

Source: Samurais & Circumcisions, published by Leslie Poidevin, August 1985, pg 123.

‘Much has been written about the conditions for all POW’s kept in Japanese POW camps. Japan had signed the Geneva Convention but its government had never ratified it, so technically Japan did not have to adhere to what was contained in the Convention.

The training for Japanese troops was brutal and effectively brutalised them even before they went into combat. The notion of not surrendering became implicit in this training as it dishonoured your family, your country and the emperor. This philosophy was beaten into each recruit and therefore the whole idea of surrender became abhorrent to a Japanese soldier. Therefore men who did surrender in combat were viewed on by the Japanese with disdain and contempt. Accordingly, these men deserved no better treatment than they got. To the Japanese, the POW’s they captured were to be used as they wished and many were worked to death. Disease and malnutrition were rampant in Japanese POW camps and many POW’s had reason to fear the brutality of their captors. At Changi POW camp, north of Singapore, medical treatment was organised by a Major McLeod. He was forbidden to use anesthetics by the Japanese and had to carry out operations – including amputations – without the use of them. The most necessary of medicine was withheld by the Japanese – seemingly deliberately. To get around this at Changi POW camp, the POW’s there made tablets that they convinced the guards would cure VD. These were sold to the guards and, in turn, the money was used to buy medicine from the men who had refused to give it out in the first place!’

Source: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/red_cross_and_world_war_two.htm