Case 9: Australian Prisoners of War and Occupation

Forces Abroad

While the total number of Australian prisoners of war taken in Europe during World War II was 8,712 of whom 264 died in captivity, a much larger number fell into the hands of the Japanese in the Pacific and the 'Far' East. In all, there were 22,376, over 15,000 of them as the result of the fall of Singapore during the Malaya Campaign on 15 February 1942. Over 8,000 Australians died in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

  • The background map was produced by the Australian branch of the Red Cross Society in 1943 to show the location of prisoner of war and internee camps in the 'Far' East [it is apparent enough now that events had already occurred that would irreversibly erode the Anglocentric Australian world-view epitomized in the term 'Far East', and bring about a new mindset based on changing alliances and on new perceptions of population-mix in the postwar period]; the exact location of many of these camps could not be ascertained or shown on this map.

Frances Derham Collection

  • Thus, some of Able Seaman Dave Manning's lettercards to his family in Melbourne were from 'a camp near Moulmein, Burma', probably somewhere along the Salween River, others from 'No. 3 Branch Thai War Prisoners Camp' (which was actually located at Khanchanaburi). Manning also obtained photographs of a variety of subjects including work on the Thai end of the Thai-Burma Railway

Manning Collection

Many others, of course, never came back. Scott Heywood, some of whose letters written prior to his capture are shown in another case, was taken a prisoner of war, after the 'fall' of Singapore, spending time in various camps in Burma and Thailand. These included Thanbyusayat, where inmates were required to read Camp Commandant Lt. Col. Nagatamo's Fighting Speech, explaining the origin of the War and other matters, and to sign an undertaking not to attempt escape. Nagatamo's view of the cause of the War centred blame firmly on British and American interference in politics and the economy of the Asia-Pacific region. Japan had come to the Rescue! Later Heywood was to survive a torpedo attack en route by sea to a Japanese camp, but was not so lucky during one of the massive air raids on Tokyo in July 1945, just before War's end. Heywood was a casualty of the 'greatest air offensive in history' to that time, in which U.S. land- and carrier-based aircraft immobilized the remnants of the Japanese navy, and proceeded to shatter Japanese industry and communications. U.S. battleships shelled densely populated cities, and the Twentieth Air Force dropped 40,000 tons of bombs on Japanese industrial centres in one month. This was followed in early August by the coups-de grĂ¢ce of the powerful Soviet entry into the war against Japan in Manchuria, and the dropping of Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Scott Heywood wrote many letters to his wife after joining up, and many diaries or journals, also written in the form of letters to her. The final entry in his last surviving diary is dated 5 March, 1944; the previous page, written the day before, had asked of her 'Did I hear you say many happy returns sweetheart? Thank you. I don't feel very much older, but I'm sneaking on, 33 is getting ancient, & I've lost three good years over here.' The final entry talks of a 'whisper' that they are about to be moved, so he intends having his diary and letters sewn into his pack that afternoon. Subsequently, we know, he was moved to Tokyo, and killed there on 13 July 1945, when an allied bomb exploded close to his prison camp hut window, barely a month before the Japanese surrender.

  • The diary of his mate Keith Burrell (a part of the same Collection in the Archives) records the last days at Tengah camp in Malaya, tells of his missing the last R.A.F. boat out, of being captured by the Japanese on 15 February 1942 and taken to Changi. In May he was moved, along with Scott Heywood, and after time in various camps in Thailand and Burma, they were transferred to Tokyo towards the end of 1944. Burrell was in hospital near the Tokyo camp when he learnt of the heavy bombing there on 13 July 1945, and heard later that 'W. Scott Heywood (been together all the time)' was one of those who died. [Diary entry for 20 July 1945 written alongside the 30 June space in a blank 1941 diary.]

Heywood Collection

  • Not long after Heywood's death, young L.A.C. Jack Kelly entered Japan as a member of the Allied Occupation Force. Beechworth-born, he had joined the R.A.A.F as a storeman, and was to spend some 16 months in Japan, where he obtained photographs including a series showing the effects of the massive bombings of Tokyo, and of the results of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which he visited soon after the devastation. Today Jack Kelly receives a government pension for skin cancer assessed as caused by radiation at Hiroshima.

J. Kelly Collection