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OF THE PRISONERS OF WAR AND
CIVILIAN INTERNEES IN EAST ASIA
DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR
KOREA, MANCHURIA AND
by David Tett
book, as the previous volumes, is superb! Philatelists and postal
historians should have this volume as well as the first five in
their libraries. The wealth of research and information is incomparable.
Volume 6, as well as the others, is wonderful reading as well
as being the definitive information on the subject."
Tom Slemons - London Philatelist
May 2011 Vol 120 p166
whole series is to be praised as it tells the story of the POWs
in the Far East, both in broad terms but also with individual
histories... I am sure these volumes will survive the test of
time as definitive works of reference."
Graham Mark - CCSG Bulletin
April 2011 Vol 38 p57
The sixth and final volume
in the series encompasses the history of the mails to and from
prisoners in Japan, Korea, Manchuria and Borneo. It is subtitled
“Hellships to Slavery” as few prisoners were captured in these
countries but POWs were transported there from Hong Kong, Singapore,
the DEI, the Philippines, as well as other points of capture.
More than a hundred camps existed in Japan divided into groups
and the book includes examples of the mail to and from the various
groups of camps – Fukuoka, Hakodate, Osaka, Tokyo and Zentsuji.
In Korea the principal camps were in Keijo and Jinsen and mail
of these camps is profusely illustrated. Senior officers and other
POWs were also held in a number of camps in Manchuria, the largest
being at Hoten, Mukden. Mail to and from these POWs is covered
in this volume. The POWs in Borneo, British, Australian and Indian
were held in a number of camps but mail is only known from and
to Kuching and Sandakan. Examples are illustrated.
book, published by BFA Publishing, contains more than 500 illustrations,
mostly in colour, on 427 pages.
This is the last of
six volumes of a labour of love and a work of historical scholarship.
It is as much a privilege to introduce the sixth volume as it
was to introduce the first. I am thus a sort of book end – or,
more literally, a book beginning. It is a good time to reflect
on the whole series, and the pity of war that it expresses in
its quiet, well-documented way. We clearly need reminding from
time to time that war is not a policy option.
This postal history
speaks to us obliquely but eloquently of its costs and casualties.
My personal interest
in the matter is military. The Suffolk Regiment, in which I was
among the last to serve, lost two battalions at Singapore, and
the Royal Norfolk Regiment lost three – part of the ill-fated
18th East Anglian Division, which arrived in this imperial fortress
just a few days before it fell. It had no landward defences –
and at that stage no air defences either – so that all that the
Japanese had to do was to kick in the back door. It was the most
ignominious defeat in British military history.
the author and editor of this great project, has organised it
geographically, according to the countries in which the POWs were
held. Volume Six covers Japan, Korea, Manchuria and Borneo. The
foreword to Volume Five, about the Philippines and Taiwan, was
written by Edgar Whitcomb, who after many adventures became Governor
of Indiana between 1969 and 1973. He was a man of extraordinary
courage and endurance, who once swam for eight hours in a vain
attempt to escape Japanese captivity. Under an assumed name he
took advantage of a prisoner exchange in 1943 and by the end of
the war was flying combat missions against his
former captors. He wrote: “No one reading this book will finish
it without an appreciation of what these men and women went through
in the service of their nation”.
That holds true
of the entire project. It is a censored history of course and in
some ways a history of censorship. The occasional letters and cards
exchanged between the POWs and their families in Britain, Holland,
Canada, Australia and
closely scrutinised by the camp authorities. The captives invariably
report that they are in good health and being well treated. Indeed
some of the same unlikely phrases are often repeated:
is lacking in this camp and we are satisfied with our life here”
and “My camp is a natural flower garden and how happy I would
be if only you were here”. These blatant falsehoods were included
in the hope that they would help the prisoners’ messages to get
through. The point was to show that they were still alive and
– if possible – where they were being held. This would improve
their chances of survival.
of course was quite different. The idyllic sketches of camp buildings
that some of them also sent home draw their strength, as history,
from their touching authenticity and from our underlying knowledge
of the barbarity of the POWs’ treatment and of how many died in
the camps and on the notorious death marches as the Allied forces
closed in. From conversations with the old soldiers of the Japanese
Labour Camps Survivors’ Association, of which I was President,
I can say without hesitation that their least favourite movie
of all time was The Bridge on the River Kwai, a work of romanticised
fiction from start to finish. Alec Guinness had a special gift
for playing battalion commanders: that made the film attractive
but far from truthful. It was shot in Sri Lanka and the prisoners
looked far too well fed.
52,500 British and Australians who surrendered at Singapore were
men of all sorts and conditions. They included Arthur Titherington,
a former despatch rider who devoted his later years to campaigning
for restitution and a real apology by the Japanese government;
Bill Edrich the England cricketer; Donald Wise a legendary foreign
correspondent and – perhaps most extraordinary of all – Captain
John Jesson of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
devotes an entire chapter of this volume to Jesson – a bold decision,
since his story is so untypical as to be almost misleading. Alone
among the POWs he seems to have enjoyed the experience. He later
described his period of captivity as the best time of his life.
As an officer he was spared the ordeal of forced labour. He spent
most of the war at a “show camp” in Korea regularly inspected
by the International Red Cross. And he was anyway a
and unusual character who underwent a sort of spiritual renewal
behind the wire. He wrote home of “A change in outlook that may
have far-reaching results... I am as far from the picture of a
dejected and languishing war prisoner, which uninformed imagination
might well conjure”.
of the POWs’ treatment is better reflected in a terse paragraph
about the island of Labuan off the north coast of Borneo, which
was home for a while to 150 British and 200 Australian prisoners:
“Little is known of this camp because there were no survivors”.
And of the 3,250 prisoners at Sandakan on the mainland of Borneo,
only six, who were all Australians, survived the everyday brutality
and two death marches.
It is touching
to read that some of the survivors were concerned, on their homecoming,
that they would be blamed for not having put up more of a fight
against the Japanese in 1942, especially in Singapore where a
larger force surrendered to a smaller one. Instead those who returned
through Canada were greeted as heroes. The more common fate was
to be demobilised and forgotten. They had no place in the golden
narrative of the eventual Allied victory. It was not until 2000
that the British government, to its credit, offered a gratuity
of £10,000 to the few thousand remaining survivors and their widows.
It was not the money that mattered but the recognition.
the project is complete, the message of all six of these volumes
is the same as it was for the first: lest we forget. They offer
a unique perspective on the human costs of war. And they remind
us that there is heroism not only in victory but also in defeat.
from the Prisoners in Japan
to the Prisoners in Japan
of the Prisoners of War in Korea
Story of Captain Jesson in Korea
of the Prisoners of War in Manchuria
from the Prisoners in Borneo
to the Prisoners in Borneo
Story of Captain H D A Yates, POW in Borneo
Marks and Censor Seals used in Korea, Manchuria and Borneo
Marks and Censor Seals used in Japan
to Volumes 1, 2 ,3, 4 and 5
Covers and Letters Sent by Prisoners in Japan
Covers and Letters Addressed or Forwarded to Prisoners in
Covers and Letters Sent by Prisoners in Korea
Covers and Letters Addressed or Forwarded to POWs in Korea
Covers and Letters Addressed or Forwarded to POWs in Manchuria
Sent by Prisoners in Borneo
Covers and Letters Addressed or Forwarded to Prisoners in