‘Selarang Square Incident’ – Calendar Illustration – September 1946

Calendar Illustration - September 1946Selarang Square Incident (7th Sept 1942)

As 1942 moved on, death from dysentery and vitamin deficiencies became more common for POW’s of the Japanese.

The mood of the Japanese changed for the worst when a POW tried to escape. The attempt was a failure and the Japanese demanded that everyone in the camp sign a document declaring that they would not attempt to escape. This was refused. As a result, 20,000 POW’s were herded crammed into a barrack square which had been designed for a maximum of 850, and told that they would remain there until the order was given to sign the document. When this did not get the desired result, a group of POW’s was marched to the local beach and shot. Despite this, no-one signed the document. Only when the men were threatened by an epidemic, and Col Fukeu threatened to bring in the men from the hospitals was the order given that the document should be signed. They had held out for four days with machine guns trained on them day and night. However, the commanding officer made it clear that the document was non-binding as it had been signed under duress. He also knew that his men desperately needed the medicine that the Japanese would have withheld if the document had not been signed. But this episode marked a point of no-return for the POW’s at Changi.

The Japanese Commanders responsible for the Selarang Incident were sentenced to death by the War Crimes Commission in 1946.

The Japanese used the POW’s at Changi for forced labour. The formula was very simple if you worked, you would get food. If you did not work, you would get no food. Men were made to work in the docks where they loaded munitions onto ships. They were also used to clear sewers damaged in the attack on Singapore. The men who were too ill to work relied on those who could work for their food. Sharing what were already meager supplies became a way of life.

Source: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/changi_pow_camp.htm; ‘To Japan to Lay a Ghost’ (Rhodes PS) pg 104 -105

Thank you: State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library Special Collections where this painting is archived.