BRITISH CIVILIANS INTERNED BY THE JAPANESE

DURING WORLD WAR II

By

RON BRIDGE

 

         A requirement to establish a definitive list of British subjects interned as civilians by the Japanese in Concentration Camps (some euphemistically called Civil Assembly Centres by Tokyo) has shown that no comprehensive list appears to be in existence. Lists of the majority of British military Prisoners of War are available at the National Archives Kew (series WO 344, 345, 347 & 392) and the associated mortalities from Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (www.cwgc.org ) (Note though that these only contain about 60% of the civilian internee mortalities). The accepted military figures appear to be about 52,000 (British) POWs of whom 37,500 survived captivity; this does not include members of the Australian, New Zealand or Indian Armed forces. These records however to some extent complicate the issue of the civilians interned, because the 3,469 members of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force and the Straits Settlements Volunteer Forces were considered civilians when records were compiled in 1946 by the then War Office although reclassified as military in the 1950s and now accepted as such. Similarly the members of the British Merchant Navy seem to have been considered military at some time and civilian at others, without any perceivable pattern, some of them are included with the military in WO345( which is 58,000 cards one for each person recorded but mostly written in classical Japanese). The WO345 Cards do not have all the military and also contain some civilians especially some Merchant Seaman and passengers on ships that were sunk. Some five years ago a civilian figure of 20,000 was accepted but current research shows that this figure is probably high and the true figure about 10% less. A Colonial Office document at Kew (CO 980/174 31 Jan 1945) has it as low as 16,586 but does show the volunteer forces as military.

 

Historical Background

         Why were so many Britons in the Far East? Even fifty years ago, let alone of late, Whitehall talked about people being in the Far East for 'bad reasons', not apparently appreciating the British interests that had evolved over centuries. The advent of British commercial expansion in Malaya and Singapore was described in the Genealogical Society London’s magazine, whilst the establishment of a trading factory in Canton (Kuangchow), China, had occurred when the British East India Company first began regular sailings in 1699. Greater expansion along the China Coast did not really occur until after the acquisition of Hong Kong in 1841 confirmed in the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, when four further ports (Shanghai, Amoy, Foochow & Ningpo) were added. (2) Development progressed steadily, interrupted by wars and specifically the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the culmination of an attempted “carve-up” of China into spheres of influence and hence trading capacity. Each conflict increased the number of Treaty ports (3), in which British subjects enjoyed extra-territoriality. Britons went out to serve British commercial interests and British religious groups instituted missions for Christianity, particularly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. British administrators went out to organise the infrastructure. The entire proceedings were protected by the ships of the Royal Navy's China Station, together with resident British battalions based on a Brigade HQ situated in Shanghai. The extra-territorial privileges meant that British subjects were not subject to Chinese law and had their own Courts with a British Supreme Court in Shanghai. The British presence in China was so strong that there was a separate arm of the Foreign Office ― the China Consular Service ― which was quite distinct from those that served the rest of the world. This merged with the regular consular and diplomatic service after WWII. Shanghai itself had rapidly established itself as the centre of British interest in the Far East with a secure harbour and water communication with the interior of China on the Yang-tze River.

 

         Whilst the invasion of China by Japan had occurred in 1931, followed by the Marco Polo incident in 1937, British trade had been able to continue albeit with petty restrictions. Japan had started flexing its economic muscles after the outbreak of World War II in Europe but the trade of the Far East was of such importance to the British economy and war effort that Lord Halifax the Foreign Secretary implored the staff of businesses in 1940 to stay and stated "the time has not yet come to scupper our Far East interests" (5) Plans were put in train in 1941 to evacuate non-essential British civilians but this policy received a setback in October 1941 when the Australian Government ruled that Australia would not accept anyone as some of the Britons were of mixed blood they violated the then 'White Australia' policy. There had already been an argument as to who would pay for the passages to Australia and also the question of who would finance the women and children if war should occur with the consequence that husbands might be unable to remit money from the Japanese-held territory.(6) It was important that costs should not fall on the Public Purse. All this being discussed whilst there was a major war in Europe and the Middle East. While this was being sorted out the war was extended to the Pacific and the Far East. A number of families had already left and a number of men of military age had also left to join the British forces. Businesses were already being run by the older men. The result was that when internment did occur the demographic distribution of camps had a preponderance of old and young with markedly fewer men of military age. The proportion of men of any age was higher in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya with colonial civil administration, police and fire service personnel.

 

Hostilities Commence

         Japan attacked Pearl Harbour on 8 December 1941. Britons in Japan and China were immediately confined to their houses by the Japanese Army or police, those in Thailand were detained by the local authorities. In Hong Kong 'freedom' lasted until the surrender on 25 December 1941; in Malaya there was a progressive advance by the Japanese Army which landed on the north coast at the outbreak of hostilities. Whilst some civilians were captured where they lived, many fled before the invasion forces to Singapore which surrendered on 14 February 1942. This was followed by the Netherlands East Indies two months later. During the summer of 1942 a number of diplomatic and other persons were exchanged for Japanese citizens by being taken to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) by the Kakamura Maru, Asama Maru and the Conte Verde (an Italian liner that was in Shanghai when hostilities commenced).

 

Internment

         Internment in Hong Kong, Singapore and the NEI was immediate, whereas in the places where no fighting had occurred, it did not take place until late 1942 or the spring of 1943. Archives for the various camps vary enormously and are discussed in detail below, but no records have been found for the various small transit camps which existed for one or two months whilst the concentration process was being established. Any lists of names of people to be interned compiled by the Swiss Consuls as representing the protecting power are no longer held in Swiss Government archives (7). There was an easing of accommodation pressure in some camps as well as consolidation in September 1943 when a large number of Americans and Canadians were repatriated on exchange and sailed on the Meia Maru to Goa where they boarded the Swedish ship Gripsholm which then sailed to New York.

 

Nationality

         During the course of World War II the British Nationality and Aliens Registration Act of 1914 was in force together with the Foreign Marriages Act of 1892. This latter gave automatic British nationality to alien women on marriage to a Briton. Britons born in the colonies had their births recorded locally as British, although many of these records were destroyed by enemy action. Those born of British parents in China, Japan and the Netherlands East Indies were given British Consular birth certificates and the registers sent to Somerset House, London (they are now available at the Family Record Centre). The British Government were at such pains to maintain this standard during the period of internment that they authorised Swiss Consuls to maintain British Birth Registers (8). Canadians were always listed as such but in some camps other British Commonwealth inmates were listed as 'British' with the Commonwealth country in brackets or even omitted. There was also widespread use of 'Eurasian' indicating someone of mixed blood or 'Jew' under nationality sometimes preceded with the word 'British' or 'Dutch'.

 

Notes on Individual Camps

 

Japan

         Reportedly 600 men, women and children were held at Sumirejogken, Denechofu and Sekiguchi in the Tokyo area. 140 were held at Fukushima but these were mainly the crews and passengers of ships torpedoed by German Raiders in the South Atlantic and exchanged onto to Japanese supply vessels. It is not generally known that from the end of 1941 German raiders and submarines in the South Atlantic were supplied by Japanese Merchant ships and relieved of the survivors of those ships that had been sunk. Thus some of the British interned in Japan had originally been passengers en-route from the Caribbean to the UK!

 

Manchuria

         Mainly men (about 160) considered key by the Japanese who had been moved from other areas. No list but anecdotal evidence by deduction from all other sources.

 

China

         The main concentration of British civilians was in the Shanghai area where nearly 7,000 were held. Censuses were instituted in 1944, taken between February and October on different dates at different camps. The Swiss protecting authorities had to give three months notice of a visit to a camp and to avoid reports of overcrowding the Japanese moved people from one camp to another, thus the existing lists, the majority of which have been found in the hands of former inmates, although the Japanese National Archives (8) do have duplicated names and there are known omissions. There is also a list of 'heads of families interned'. (9) In the Shanghai area individuals were assigned a number when interned and kept it. The Japanese were also forced to close some camps and in the summer of 1945 deliberately moved internees to enable Japanese military to be housed in buildings which the Allies had been advised were internment camps. The census lists take a standard form with name, marital status, age, profession; the lists are augmented for some camps by accommodation lists giving camp number, name and block or bed space. They have been found for Lungwha, Yangchow, Colombia Country Club, Lincoln Avenue and Chapei camps and part of Pootung but lists for Yangshipoo Camp are still proving elusive. Of interest is Haiphong Road where the police officers and those the Japanese thought might commit sabotage were held. A list of names and ages, was augmented by a shirt exhibited in the Imperial War Museum which was signed by the inmates, exists and it has been possible to deduce the names of all those held. This camp also housed the US Army Air Corps personnel who had been involved in the Doolittle Raids of 1942 and after capture had not been beheaded. Some were allowed to join their wives in other camps whilst others were shipped to Fengtai near Beijing in July 1945.

 

         A further 1,000 people were held in Weihsien (Shandong). This camp had originally held some 440 Roman Catholic missionaries (largely non-British) as well but these were moved to mission compounds in Beijing in August 1943 and replaced with the 400 schoolchildren mainly British from the China Inland Mission School in Chefoo. This camp had the inmates renumbered three times which does not help.

 

Hong Kong

         The main civilian camp was situated on the Stanley Peninsular on the opposite (south) side of Hong Kong Island from the town of Victoria. There is evidence that a few mainly personnel and their families of Government staff were held with the military in 'Argyle Street'. Meticulous work by internees belonging to an established British civil service produced a list of inmates of Stanley ― the 'Stanley Register' held in the Imperial War Museum. This document had been drawn up by August 1944 by the internees themselves. It is typed with pencilled annotations and has columns for the following:

 

        name & forenames

        camp number

        nationality

        sex

        date of birth

        room number

        occupation

        date of death

 

The lists are in typescript.

 

         After August 1944 deaths are usually recorded in Japanese characters using the year of the Emperor. Each inmate was allocated a number, which was kept and the register has over 3,000 names. Further sources include a Nominal Roll dated March 1942 published by the Hong Kong Finance Liaison Officer, Canberra, on 16 July 1942 [name, initials, marital status, and occupation]. There is a more complete list published by the same source consolidating telegraphic despatches between 18 August and 16 December 1942 (Hong Kong Gazette). This latter list also gives the age but both lists must be treated with caution as a number of names contained in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists are not included, and on a number of occasions, successive entries whilst with different surnames have the same initials, age and occupation. The first of these lists in particular contains many names spelt incorrectly and married women are often described using their husband's initials. There has also been a duplication of names and the odd name which is included in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps' list of prisoners of war in the later compilation. This source also published a list of HKVDC personnel captured, wounded and killed in the battle for Hong Kong between 8 and 25 December 1941. Some documents held in the UK National Archives (11) also list names.

 

         Even the Memorial List of those that died, published by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, requires interpretation. For instance nine inmates of Stanley were executed in October 1943 for having a radio; one name is under civilian war dead whilst the others are listed as military serving with the British Army Aid Group (a clandestine force set up in Kwangtung province to support local guerrilla forces.) The BAAG was viewed with deep suspicion by the Chinese Nationalist Government who had concluded that the true reason was the recapture of Hong Kong as a British Colony. The US Government supported the Chinese in this view and the BAAG did not enjoy assistance from either of these Governments or their forces

 

         There is a list of members of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps' ― Voluntary Aid Detachment and the Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ― Voluntary Aid Detachment who were mobilised on 8 December 1941. Some of them were murdered on 25 December 1941 along with the members of the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps interned in Stanley.

 

         The inmates of Stanley Camp reflect the administration of a British Crown Colony with some families. There were a large number of civil servants, police officers and prison warders.

 

         The camp is also unusual in having a considerable number of marriages, a divorce and a number of births, the ratio of these events being the highest in any camp with mainly British inmates. It also suffered US Navy bombing in January 1945 when 14 inmates were killed.

 

         Some confusion has arisen over Rosary Hill, Hong Kong. This was not an internment camp with Japanese guards but a Red Cross sponsored home in a Dominican Monastery, primarily started to house the family of members of the HKVDC who were being held as POWs. Whilst the inmates of Rosary Hill probably all had or were entitled to British passports being of mixed race they were not considered British by the Japanese.

 

Philippines

         The main camp was at Santo Tomas, Manilla. A list gives name, age, profession and nationality. It was compiled in 1944 and is held in the US National Archives. There are supplementary lists from books published immediately after the war. There were smaller camps at Los Banos and Bagio but full lists do not appear to have survived but again the situation is confused by inmates being moved. The majority of the 1,375 British internees had not been residents before the war but were passengers on ships that had put into Manilla in November 1941 whilst the discussion on whether entry to Australia would be possible was going on between Whitehall and Canberra.

 

Thailand

         A partial list exists for the civilian camp at Bangkok (estimated at 500 inmates). There is some evidence of the names from the reminiscences of former inmates, and by deduction from composite lists (12).

 

Burma

         There were camps at Rangoon, Tavoy and Maymyo. There are no known definitive lists although some names of inmates can be deduced from documents outlining camp discipline procedures held at Kew and of financial affairs held in the India Office Collection at the British Library. The official estimate of 99 British is low, and the total is probably nearer 900.

 

British North Borneo and Sarawak

         The main camps were at Lintang and Kuching separating the sexes but mixing military and civilian men. There is a list in the Imperial War Museum but it is badly holed barely legible and generally in very poor condition. Further names appear in CO 980/10 at Kew and even more in the archives of the Royal Commonwealth Society at Cambridge University Library.

 

Malaya and the Straits Settlements

         Civilian internees were concentrated on Singapore Island. There were a number of camps at Changi, the military were initially detained in the old Royal Artillery Barracks at Changi Point (Royal Air Force Changi 1945-1973 and now Changi International Airport). The civilians were detained in the prison constructed in 1936 ― a forbidding grey concrete building which was demolished in 2004. Contemporary evidence supported by the 'Changi Quilt' suggests that there was no contact between the Women's Camp and the Men's. Given the allocation of 'Camp number' in the register it is hard to see how this was so after 29 April 1942, when the compilation of the list and the cross references must have meant some intercommunication even if very restricted. The 'civilian' inmates were moved out of Changi Gaol in May 1944 to a camp at Sime Road, supplanting military prisoners and because Changi Goal was required for military prisoners who had survived the Burma Railway. As Sime Road was larger more people were interned, these included the British Jewish community of Singapore. Furthermore, some of those described as 'Eurasian' were released in the summer of 1942 by Japanese authorities who were intent on building their 'Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere' and did not wish to upset the indigenous population, saying rather that they were freeing them from the 'British Imperialist Yoke'. On Sime Road opening they were re-interned but given a 'second' camp number, otherwise inmates kept their number for the duration of the war.

 

         The 'Changi Register' held in the Imperial War Museum was considered a definitive list of inmates. This document (246pp) was drawn up on or immediately after 29 April 1942 by the inmates themselves. The first 2,361 names are written in alphabetical order by nationalities and list adult males who had come into camp up to the date of compilation. Note that it does not list them in order of the date of entry; this date was entered in red ink using the Japanese date i.e. 14 Feb 1942 is 14 Feb 2602. (Other documents incidentally use the year of the Emperor Hirohito ie 1942 is Year 16)

 

         Evidence now suggests that there was a latter part of the Register (numbers higher than 3,049) which has been lost. Names with numbers up to 4,172 are contained in the Association of Malaysia Historical Collection. However a surviving Roll Call summary (13) of 20 August 1945 show that there were 4,508 inmates at the cessation of hostilities of whom 3,856 were British, British (Jewish) or British (Eurasian). The use of consecutive ‘numbers' has meant that the names of all internees other than between 3678 and 3687 have found. (These may never have existed as no 3678 was allocated in Changi and 3687 in Sime Road.

 

         The Changi register is typed with columns for the following:

 

        name

        forenames

        age

        sex

        occupation

        spouse/parents

        other next of kin not interned

 

         There are both pencilled and red ink annotations; the latter give the date of internment although after June 1942 this information is given in the remarks column. Deaths and discharges are annotated in Japanese characters. Page 178 is missing but can be deduced to contain one American woman. One of the sad things is that a number of men list their wives with an address c/o a Bank in Australia believing them to have reached Australia when in fact they had been strafed, bombed and sunk in the “escape ship(s)” ( such as the mv Vyner Brooke, ss Tanjong Penang, or ss Kuala) in the Malacca Straits and in many cases were dead before their husbands were even interned. The British Association of Malaysia Historical Collection lists of names are lodged in Cambridge University Library. Whilst these usually only contain name, forename, age and nationality, they sometimes have camp room, pre-war profession and pre-war location, and confirm the names shown in the Changi Register. They use the same Camp Number sequence and list numbers after 3,380 which probably indicate internment after December 1942. The main list was typed before September 1943 as those who died or were released after that date are shown in handwriting. Numbers commencing 3,687 probably went directly into Sime Road although there is anecdotal evidence that some numbers after 3380 were processed for a few days at Changi first.

 

         The British Red Cross Society hold a copy of a list produced in Bangalore India by the Malayan Association in 1942/3. This lists surname, sex, initials (some forenames), age and occupation. The BRC also have a `Changi Quilt' of squares, one of three embroidered by the 'women inmates', the story of which is that it was done as a gift to the Men's Camp to inform them of who were interned. The evidence is that some contact was in being within two months of initial interment. A document held at Kew (MT9/4253) lists the crew members of the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Asia which was sunk off Singapore on 5 February 1942 taking members of 18 (East Anglican) Division. A group of 133 cabin staff were used as orderlies at the General Hospital, Singapore, prior to capture and internment being treated as civilians whilst the deck hands and ships engineers were treated as Military. They were under the command of the only surviving ships officer, 2nd Officer C W Crofts.

 

         The Memorial List published by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission can be supplemented by a document at Kew CO 908-119 listing the names of some of those who died.

 

Netherlands East Indies

         Some 1,231 prisoners were held either in Java, Sumatra or on the smaller islands. The majority had not been residents there before the war but were attempting to flee Malaya when their ships were torpedoed. Similar lists to those compiled for Shanghai are held in the Netherlands National Archives. The variation is that every internee had to “sign” against their name, which has meant that even infants have very complex “signatures”

 

General

         Further documents in the British Association of Malaya Historical Collection quote names that were known to be held by the Japanese. These were originally published by the Malay Government Offices in Pitt Street Sydney, Australia, in 1944.

 

         The name and/or initials in lists published in India and Australia in 1943/4 sometimes differ slightly. The lists were perforce transmitted at some point by radio from Japanese sources and the differences can be explained by either the operators being non-English speakers, (e.g. C G and J are often mixed) and were errors in reading English (M instead of W) or by errors in reading the Morse code [i.e. the addition of a 'dot' gives the same letter [e.g. M (--) instead of G (--•) or W ( •-- )] [The Japanese Morse Code also differed from the International standard (14)].

         The process of compiling a composite list continues. To date some 29,000 names of internees in camps holding Britons have been found and the author would be pleased to hear of any lists that may exist particularly for camps in Burma, Japan and the Netherlands East Indies. Those lists that have been found to date in private hands have been copied and at present are held in the Imperial War Museum.  Whilst this paper tends to concentrate on the British civilians held the conditions described were experienced by all allied nationalities. The largest group of civilians being the Dutch who populated the Netherlands East Indies

 

1 . Alex Glendinning, Records of the British in Malaya and Singapore. Genealogists' Magazine December, 1997 Vol 25, No 12, pp 509-5 13.

2. Mayers, Dennys & King, The Treaty Ports of China and Japan. Trubner & Co Paternoster Row, 1867.

3. The China Year Book, 1921-22

4. Patrick D Coates, The China Consuls.

5. UK National Archives F0369/2675

6. UK National Archives F0369/2676 and F0369/2677

7. Département Federal des Affaires Etrangères K.092.0-4 18 March 2002

8. Telegram 2000/2620/42 dated 22 December 1942 from British Legation, Berne to Swiss DFAE

9. Camp Chit Chat, Voice Publishing Company, Foochow Road, Shanghai 1946

10. US National Archives

11. UK National Archives /CO 980/119

12. British Association of Malaysia Historical Collection - Cambridge University Library

13. Ibid

14. UK National Archives/HW 3/1,3,16

 

R W Bridge, AFC FRAeS FRIN, a child internee of the Japanese in Weihsien, spent a career in aviation first in the Royal Air Force and then civil. He is now Chairman of The Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region. He is a member of the Society of Genealogists and may be contacted at Chillies Oast, Chillies Lane, Crowborough, East Sussex TN6 3TB. Email: rwbridge@freeuk.com.

 

An earlier versions of this paper was published in the December 2002 edition of the Journal of the Society of Genealogists