1945 – 2020: 75 Years Since V-J Day Diary of War: Private John Bernard Patrick Byrne (a.k.a “Barney”), HKVDC #4732, and Irish Prisoner of the Japanese in Shamshuipo and Sendai (1941-1945)

      • Background
    • Diary of War
    • Appendix 01: Family background and biography of Barney “John Bernard Patrick” Byrne
    • Appendix 02: The Fall of Hong Kong – A Personal Experience Xmas 1941 by FRANCIS CRABB, O.B.E., E.D. Ex. Pte. No. 2 (Scottish Coy) H.K.V.D.C.
    • Appendix 03: Hong Kong’s “Eve of Waterloo”
    • Appendix 04: Memories of Shamshuipo POW Camp – By Corporal Arthur Gomez, HKVDC # 3053
    • Appendix 05: “I knew your uncle” Private Byrne HKVDC – By Private Alfredo Jose M Prata, HKVDC #3604 POW #168
    • Appendix 06: “I was forced to work in a coal mine (Iwake)” – By William James McGrath, Royal Naval Yard Police, Hong Kong
    • Appendix 07: Barney Byrne and War Taxation in Hong Kong 1940-41
POW # 96 Private John Bernard Patrick Byrne - aka Barney - Irish Prisoner of the Japanese - at Yoshima POW Camp Sendai 2B - is seated bottom row - far right. The photograph was taken on 28th August 1945. (Source: www.mansell.com)
Image 1: POW # 96 Private John Bernard Patrick Byrne – aka Barney – Irish Prisoner of the Japanese – at Yoshima POW Camp Sendai 2B – is seated bottom row – far right. The photograph was taken on 28th August 1945. (Source: http://www.mansell.com)


This is a remarkable account by an extraordinary man, “Uncle” Barney Byrne, a man of tremendous courage and determination who witnessed the initial Japanese bombing of Hong Kong on the morning of Monday 8th December 1941 while reclining in a bath nursing a champagne induced hangover.  He’d just spent the previous night celebrating his 30th birthday at the China Red Cross Ball in the Peninsula Hotel several hours before the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour.
Barney Byrne arrived in Hong Kong in mid-1941 where he was involved in setting up Hong Kong’s original income taxation system, the Hong Kong Government Gazette issue of January 17th, 1941 announcing “15th January, 1941, … No. 65. – His Excellency the Officer Administering the Government has been pleased under section 3 (2) of the War Revenue Ordinance, 1940, to appoint Mr. JOHN BERNARD PATRICK BYRNE, A.S.A.A., B. Com (N.U.I.) to be Examiner, with effect from 10th January 1941“.
Hong Kong Government Gazette announcement of John Bernard Patrick Byrne's appointment as Examiner
Image 2: Hong Kong Government Gazette announcement of John Bernard Patrick Byrne’s appointment as Examiner
[At the onset of the Second World War Britain’s colonies were encouraged to support the war effort which for Hong Kong came down to a financial contribution.  Through the emergency fund-raising measure that was the War Revenue Ordinance (WRO) of 1940 the Hong Kong Government aimed to raise £1 million (US$15 million) through a flat rate income tax on business. While it was able to recruit a Commissioner and two Assistant Commissioners to oversee a new Department, the Hong Kong Civil Service and accounting community had no specialists with business or taxation system experience.  Subsequently, the Government recruited six Examiners from the UK:

“… six Chartered Accountants, aged 25-30 with experience, since qualifying, in Taxation. These posts were advertised in the UK in professional Journals, interviews were conducted by the Crown agents assisted by top men from the INLAND REVENUE and appointments made on two-year contracts, first class return passages paid for both husband (and wife if any).” http://www.claritaxbooks.com/2012/11/war-taxation-hong-kong-1940-41-2/#comment-1861

Between June and the end of 1940 via flying boat and by sea around the Cape the six appointees eventually amassed in Hong Kong – one was torpedoed en route.  However, in early 1941 one Examiner, James MacIntyre left for private practice which paved the way for John Bernard Patrick Byrne’s appointment as Examiner.

While WRO’s operation as Hong Kong’s original taxation system lasted only briefly until the Japanese Imperial Army overran Hong Kong it seems that £1 million was indeed raised for the British war effort before Hong Kong fell.  A fascinating account of ‘War Taxation in Hong Kong 1940 to 1941’ (written by Edgar Mathias – one of the six Examiners – and reproduced by Ray Chidell) and Barney Byrne’s pivotal role as one of six Examiners is posted in Appendix 07 of this missive]

As a national of Ireland, which adopted a neutral stance during the Second World War (Note: To learn more about ‘Neutral Ireland and the Axis: Fact or Fiction?’  read https://nialljoreilly.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/2507/), to obtain a ‘Third National Pass’ he could have flashed his Irish passport, avoided internment or fled to the neutral Portuguese colony of Macau and sat out the war there (Note: It didn’t matter if the Irish were from north or south Ireland, the Japanese still treated them as neutrals, or third nationals.  Irish clergy such as Cork-born Father Richard Gallagher the Jesuit headmaster of Wah Yan College used their third national status to devote their energies toward helping the sick. Refusing to work with the Japanese, other non-combatant Irish neutrals such as Dr. J. P. Fehilly, a former Senior Health Officer in Hong Kong, and his wife, also a doctor, fled Hong Kong for China via Macau. The non-combatant neutrals who chose to stay put in Hong Kong and work with the Japanese no matter how menial their job, particularly those previously employed by the colonial government in Hong Kong, such as Derry born George Stacey Kennedy-Skipton (the former Secretary for Chinese Affairs and Deputy Controller of Food http://wp.me/p15Yzr-PC), opened themselves to suspicions of collaboration which would prove almost impossible to shake off.). However, Barney had already joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) choosing, against overwhelming odds, to fight the Japanese in the Battle of Hong Kong, a lion-hearted yet vain 18-day struggle to save Hong Kong from falling into Japanese hands. He was one of the last 60 brave fighters to lay down their arms on Christmas Day 1941 at Choong Hom Kok after six days of fierce fighting, after which the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) assumed full control over Hong Kong.
Subsequently, Barney Byrne became an Allied Prisoner of War (POW) first serving two and a half years at the notorious Shamshuipo POW Camp in Kowloon before being transported aboard a “hell ship” to Japan. There he spent about 13 months incarcerated at Yoshima POW Camp (Sendai No. 2 Branch Camp (#2-B)), nine months incapacitated by amoebic dysentery (Note: he was laid up at the  Shinagawa POW Hospital in Tokyo) and five months used as a slave labourer inside the Iwake coalmine run by the Furukawa Mining Company. Following his liberation in 1945, while awaiting transportation back to Hong Kong via Okinawa and Manila, he wrote on all scraps of paper he picked up around the camp the heartrending letter below to his beloved Auntie Peg describing those forty-two traumatic and brutal months enduring the unendurable in Japanese POW camps.
There is a lot more to Barney. After the war he returned to Hong Kong determined to play an active role in rebuilding the colony’s business infrastructure. In 1949 he set up what was to become a leading accounting and auditing firm in Hong Kong: John B P Byrne & Co, certified public accountants, on Ice House Street (Note: Now known as  JBPB & Co, and operating as a subsidiary of BDO Limited in Hong Kong. JBPB was formerly known as Grant Thornton Hong Kong, while in the 1980’s it was known as Byrne & Co., and KMG [Klynveld Main Goedeler] Byrne).
He was also recommended and canvassed for the role of Honorary Consul of Ireland to Hong Kong [The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake was a lottery established in Ireland in the 1930s to finance hospitals and medical services.  Since Ireland was too small to raise sufficient funds a considerable amount of the funds were raised in the UK and USA, often among Irish emigrantsEven though it was illegal to purchase tickets outside of Ireland, through the black market millions were sold in the US, the UK, and UK territories such as Hong Kong. In the initial consultation for Honorary Consul Barney professed to possess a few unused ticket books and under the circumstances withdrew himself from further deliberations].
Barney suffered a heart attack inside the Hong Kong Club on 10th April 1956, likely exacerbated by complications relating to beriberi dietary deficiency disease, the single most prevalent and debilitating disease reported by POWs in Japan. He was just over 43 years old and is buried along side his beloved wife Phyllis Christine Read in the Roman Catholic Cemetery of Saint Michael (Grave #2965A) in Happy Valley, Hong Kong [See Appendix 01 – Family background and biography of Barney “John Bernard Patrick” Byrne].
[Niall Note: The original version of the letter below is verbatim].

Diary of War

X Camp in Japan, [Note: Yoshima / Sendai #2-B POW Camp, Iwake, Fukushima, Honshu Island] 17th August, 1945. [Note: A Friday, 11 days after the dropping of the ‘Little Boy’ Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, 8 days after ‘Fat Man‘ Atomic Bomb explosion over Nagasaki and the Soviet Red Army invasion of Manchuria,  2 days after Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender, thus ending the Second World War]

Dear Peg,

At last more or less free. Am writing this two days after we were informed of the Armistice and we ceased our work in slavery as it might have been called.

Firstly, let me introduce the poster or bearer of this letter. Chief Petty Office, Terry Ashcroft of Minane Bridge, Cork, a fellow % inmate of this Camp. Terry was captured when his ship, the Repulse , was torpedoed [Note: Following a Japanese air attack battle-cruiser HMS Repulse sank off Malaysia 10th December 1941 with the loss of 508 crew members] . His wife and family live in Cork, so he will be posting home full steam ahead – being also time-ex in the Navy – and he may be able to call at Kilcullen in person.

Right, now for me! At present I am as well and fit as ever I have been; unwounded, unmaimed and free from disease.  Extraordinarily lucky, thank God, as I’ve seen friends killed and died from every known cause, while self kept on going.

I’d best first give you a short sketch of the past forty-two months in chronological order.

Japanese troops attacking Hong Kong from Shenzhen Spirce / read more: http://www.hillmanweb.com
Image 3: Japanese troops attacking Hong Kong from Shenzhen Source / read more: http://www.hillmanweb.com

Outbreak of the war found me in bath with said hangover after a hectic birthday weekend coinciding with the preliminaries of War.  Birthday party – big Ball for the China Red Cross in Hong Kong’s biggest Hotel [Note: The Peninsula Hotel] interrupted hourly by loudspeaker announcements calling men back to action stations, ships crews to report on board immediately. Hectic scenes of parting, two Jazz bands – champagne on tick – money no object – the Eve of Waterloo [See Appendix 3 – Hong Kong’s “Eve of Waterloo” below] all over again. And I wake up next morning with a bad hangover and am suffering in the bath when the Japs start dive bombing and machine gunning the airport [Note: Kai Tak Airport. ” …. The air was thick with smoke that hung over both Hong Kong and Kowloon. The smell of cordite filled nostrils and burned the eyes. Fires burned everywhere”….Source / read more:  http://battleofhongkong.com/index-9.html] half a mile down the road. Out of bath – into uniform and I was sitting behind my machine gun within two hours.  [Note: “The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force under the command of Colonel Henry Rose was, according to some, “an old boys club, better suited to playing bridge or cricket than to fighting a war”. They were, for the most part, machine gun companies, anti-aircraft, and coastal defense artillery batteries. They aged from 19 to 60 years”  – Source / read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/14/a4642814.shtml. HKVDC deployed 5 machine gun companies each equipped with a Vickers machine gun.]

Stop Useless Resistence - Japanese Propaganda war poster to demoralise the Hong Kong defenders - Source: http://www.hillmanweb.com
Image 4: Japanese Propaganda war poster to demoralise the Hong Kong defenders – The Japanese dropped bombs and propaganda leaflets at the same time. The literature was separately aimed at Chinese, Indian and British/Canadian/HKVDC soldiers. Source: http://www.hillmanweb.com
Ticket to meet your wife and kid - Japanese Propaganda war poster to demoralise the Hong Kong defenders - Source: http://www.hillmanweb.com
Image 5: Japanese Propaganda war poster to demoralise the Hong Kong defenders – Source: http://www.hillmanweb.com

In the first twelve days our sector was cushy, just the odd shell or so, aeroplanes now and then, but cushy, then in the next six days  [Note: when on the evening of 18th December 1941 Japanese troops, having seized control of Kowloon and following the rejection of two demands for surrender, crossed over to their ultimate objective, Hong Kong Island, landing at Northpoint] your nephew ate not neither did he sleep but unlike 60% of our Company, he kept his hide intact [Note: Barney was in HKVDC No.2 Company  (2 Coy), which was in the thick of the action. Dressed in summer uniforms – khaki drill shorts and jacket; battle dress being a luxury for the HKVDC during one of Hong Kong’s coldest winters facing freezing conditions at night – they has to forage for food and water]. The general surrender [Note: Christmas Day 1941] found Barney back to the last bit of coast line [Note: Choong Hom Kok (or as it was known in 1941 – Choong Am Kokan area in south Hong Kong island, to the west of Stanley] and a few hours more of resistance would have spelt finish for me [Note: For Barney, having witnessed so many brave comrades in arms die during those six days, with dozens of captured or surrendering HKVDC having been bayoneted and beheaded before being  tossed into sea from from the cliffs around Repulse Bay, the news the Governor of Hong Kong, Mark Aitchison Young, had surrendered to the Japanese would have been absolutely calamitous. Under his breath, suppressing the guilt of having survived and then surrendering to those responsible for the horror and cruelty, he may well have soundlessly asked himself, what was the point of their sacrifice and what had their deaths achieved? ].

Allied Prisoner of War in Japan (1941-1945) – Chronicle by Private John Bernard Patrick “Barney” Byrne – Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) # 4732 - Burning Hong Kong - December 1941 - Painting by Bill Lake http://www.battleofhongkong.com
Image 6: Burning Hong Kong – December 1941 – from http://www.battleofhongkong.com
Daily Express December 20, 1941
Image 7: Daily Express December 20, 1941

Then the Prison Camp horror began and starvation begun. I’ve now been hungry for forty three months and truly and literally I and the others have not had a decent meal or a full belly all that time.

I and most others quickly developed beri-beri in the Hong Kong camp [See Appendix 04 – Memories of Shamshuipo POW Camp – by Alfred Gomez]. I, after three months from the unvaried diet of plain boiled rice and a spoonful of green vegetable water three times a day. We lost a lot of men in that H.K. Camp [Note: the notorious death camp – Shamshuipo POW Camp for regular British soldiers, RAF and HKVDC. The food situation at Shamshuipo was bad from the start, and with the exception of a few cases of short term improvement, remained about the same for throughout the duration of the imprisonment. At first the rations for each man included about a pound of rice and half a pound of vegetables a day, and seven ounces of sugar and less than a pound of peanut oil a month. The rice was of inferior quality and almost always infested with worms. Often it was swept up from warehouse floors and had to be soaked to make the matchsticks, paper and other rubbish float to the top of the water. The Japanese left it up to the imagination and efforts of the prisoners to cook, and, in many cases capture their own food.” (1) Source / read more: http://www.hkvca.ca/teacherszone/teacher_content/POW%20Training%20Guide.pdf], around 500 poor devils pegged out from malnutrition diseases of one type or another. I’d both beri-beri and pellagra several times but managed to shake them off – but the weaker constitutions of others couldn’t stand it. I also managed to get rid of one go of malaria – bad – knocked me back for months down to 135 lbs. [Note: 61.2 kg / 9.6 st] weight, both bacillary dysentery and amoebic dysentery, and jaundice.

I and many others owe our lives to the Red Cross, who managed to get supplied of tinned meat, Indian meal, cocoa, dried fruit and three parcels per man to Hong Kong. These few extras saved thousands of lives for by the time they arrived we had all gone terribly low and in our camp the bugle was blowing last Post seven or eight times a day. You have no idea of the improvement that took place in the men when we started getting a bit of meat per day. Three or four ounces a day did the trick. We were left very much alone in Hong Kong by the Japs who gave the internal running of the Camp to our officers who had to supply so many men for working parties per day.  But apart from a hellish burst of slavery on the clearing of a new airport for about four months [Note: This would be a reference to the extension of the Kai Tak airfield and the building of two paved crossing runways. Slave labour clearing work included: clearing out nullahs; dismantling the Royal Air Force Hanger; manhandling bombs  weighing 500 lbs and 1,000 lbs; and the blasting and complete levelling, using shovels,  of  Sacred Hill  in Ma Tau Chung above Kowloon Bay. Several POWs were killed by landslides], the two and a half years in H. K. were not unduly tough, apart from the dirt hunger and disease.

Friends and families with parcels for POWs at shamshuipo camp
Image 8: Guardian Angels – Relatives and friends with parcels for POWs in Shamshuipo, waiting to have them examined by the Japanese (Source / read more: http://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Catalog/Additional/roland_long.shtml British Red Cross Archives). Frequently, the Japanese took the best from the parcels for themselves.

I was getting ahead. I must mention what I owe to my pal Komoisky (the White Russian lad I shares a flat with in peace-time) [Note: Private Anatole ‘Komo’ Komorsky HKVDC #3632] and his noble mother Zenis [Note: Russian emigres with tsarist sympathies, White Russians, first arrived in Hong Kong from the eastern regions of Russia following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution]. He was also in the Camp with me and his mother was free and she managed (how I still don’t know) to send us a small parcel of food every week. Two, three time of meat or fish and some fruit and little cookies. Poor woman, she must have been beggared by the war also, and how she was able to keep up this supply I still don’t know.  [Note: Most “guardian angels”, as such benefactors were called, sold their possessions to purchase food for the POWs] Anyway Komo shared everything with me – and eventually, when in Oct. 1943 I, by bamboo post induced a French merchant in Hong Kong to stake me to two food parcels per month, and Yen 25, this transaction also, used, was very much facilitated by Madame Komoisky’s aid.  I owe these two Russians, mother and son, more than I could ever forget to repay.  Anyway, these extra parcels and money kept coming from Oct. ’43 to May ’44 and really tided me over a bad period of hunger and illness. [Note: “Barney and Komo remained close friends after the war even though Komo didn’t stay in HK and even met up several times in London. He was fascinating company and I was fortunate enough to have had a couple of very enjoyable dinners with him and Phyllis in Hong Kong. Komo was really shattered when he heard of Barney’s sudden death. Death” – Barbara Komorsky, wife of Anatole “Komo” Komorsky, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 2nd December 2002. Komo died in September 1999. Barbara passed away on 18th November 2011]

Drafts from Shamshuipo
Image 9: ‘Drafts from Shamshuipo” sketch by CL Rozario – Prisoners from Shamshuipo POW Camp were transported to Japan in six drafts from September 1942. Private J B P Byrne, HKVDC # 4732 was on the last hell ship which departed in April 1944.

In May ’44 I, with 200 others were drafted to Japan and luckily for us we got through without swimming and from what I subsequently learned from that time onwards the blockade of Japan by U.S. subs became deadly.  Again I seem to have escaped by a very close margin. [Note:  On the 29th April 1944, having been drafted as forced labour in Japan, 47 Canadians (Source: http://www.oocities.org/canadianhongkongveteran/NauraMaruList.html, 58 British Regulars, and 115 HKVDC, including Barney Byrne, (otherwise known as transport draft XD6, the final draft of POWs to depart from Hong Kong for Japan, which was under the command of Captain James Robinson, RAMC) boarded the rusting “hell ship” SS Naura Maru. With no symbols to indicate  it was transporting POWs, the freighter was under constant threat, an easy target for allied attack.] 

I could write a book on that voyage, nevertheless. 200 men crowded into the dirty, filthy, stinking hold of a 200 ton tramp steamer. When they herded us in at Hong Kong they would give no chance to clean the place at first and the place was thick with indescribable filth. We slept on tiers around the bulkheads head to toe, no room to turn at night – the only latrine was on deck and 25% of us, me included had dysentery within a week. They turned a hose on once a day for a short while. If you were quick enough you might get a wash. [Note: A sense of the horrendous circumstances endured en route by POWs huddled in suffocating, cramped, unsanitary conditions is borne out in the following notice that was posted in broken English on all prison ships.


Commander of F.Q.W. Escort

Navy of the Great Japanese Empire


The prisoners disobeying the following orders will be punished with immediate death:

      1. Those disobeying orders to instructions.
      2. Those showing a motion to antagonism by raising a sign of opposition
      3. Those disobeying the regulations by individualism egoism, thinking only about yourself or rushing for your own good.
      4. Those talking without permission and raising loud voices.
      5. Those walking and moving without orders.
      6. Those who carry unnecessary baggage in disembarking .
      7. Those resisting mutually.
      8. Those touching the boats material, wires, lights, tools, switches, et
      9. Those shoving action of running away from the room or boat
      10. Those climbing the ladder without permission.
      11. Those taking more meal than given him.
      12. Those using more than blankets.
    1. Since the boat is not well equipped and inside being narrow, food being scarce and poor you’ll feel uncomfortable during the escort time on the boat.  Those losing patience and disordering the regulations will be punished for the reason of not being able to escort.
    2. Be sure to finish “nature’s call”.  Evacuate the bowels and urine before embarking.
    3. Meal will be given twice a day.  One plate only to one prisoner. the prisoners called by the guard will give out meal as quick as possible and honestly.  The remaining prisoners will stay in their places quietly and wait for your plate.  Those moving from their places, reaching for your plate without order will be heavily punished.  Same orders will be applied to handling plates after meal.
    4. Toilet will be fixed in four corners of the roam, the buckets and cans will be placed, when filled up a guard will appoint a prisoner. The prisoner called will take the buckets to the center of the room. The buckets will be pulled up by the derrick to be thrown away. Toilet paper will be given.  Everyone must co-operate to make the sanitary.  Those being careless will be punished.
    5. The navy of the Great Japanese Empire will not try to punish you all with death.  Those obeying all rules and regulations and delivering the action and purpose of the Japanese Navy; co-operating with Japan in constructing the Nev Order of the Greater Asia which leads to the world peace, will be well treated. The Great Japanese Empire will rise to govern the world.


Source: ‘Britain at War’, by  Ron Taylor, http://www.britain-at-war.org.uk/WW2/Hell_Ships/html/regulations_for_prisoners.htm]  They fed us twice a day, not badly as we know bad feeding, but after 14 days in that hold, we were damn glad to see Japan. Afterwards I found out it was a pleasure cruise compared to some of the hell voyages other prisoners suffered [Note: – Many of the Japan POW camp survivors described their time aboard these “hell ships” as the most horrible experience of their incarceration:

– “..Conditions aboard the transports were appalling… Hundreds… of men wearing little more than rags, were packed, “like sardines in a can” into unlit, unventilated, cargo holds… water was dispensed by the spoonful, or the POWs went with none at all. Food… (was) particularly ill-suited for men suffering diarrheal diseases. Sanitation was almost non-existent… Dysentery spread rapidly as waste flowed throughout the spaces where men ate, lay, and slept…(1) (Source / read more: https://sites.google.com/site/powsofthejapanese/Home/hellships-information-photos/the-hellships-an-overview). “Crowded onto cramped platforms, with barely enough space to turn around, a mass of unwashed bodies struggling to survive in a sea of sweat and revolting smells in the stifling heat of the holds…(2) (Source / read more:  http://www.pows-of-japan.net/articles/26.htm )

– Allied submarines and aircraft frequently targeted the unmarked POW transports: The second ‘draft’ freighter SS Lisbon Maru, also unmarked, had carried some 800 Japanese troops clearly visible on board. Down in the squalid cargo holds were 1,834 British and Canadian POWs. “My lot was right on the bottom of the number two hold…..And being on the bottom, we were inundated by faeces falling from the people above…(1). On 1st October 1942 the Lisbon Maru was sunk by the USS Grouper (SS-214): “…. the Japanese command battened down the hatches on the three holds and then stretched tarpaulin and set up a machine-gun post to shoot any escapees. As the ship went down, 10 Japanese vessels in the area came to its aid, ferrying off the 778 Japanese soldiers. But the British prisoners were left behind, frantically trying to pump water out of their holds….” (2) Over 800 POWs died in the sinking.  Source  (1) and (2)/ read more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/9575914/The-last-survivor-of-the-Lisbon-Maru.html#]

Allied Prisoner of War in Japan (1941-1945) – Chronicle by Private John Bernard Patrick “Barney” Byrne – Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) # 4732: Map 01- Route from Moji Port / Shimonoseki (A) to Yoshima-cho, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, the location of Tokyo No.14 Dispatched Camp (B), otherwise known as Yoshima Branch (Sendai 2-B) POW Camp

Image 10 / Map 01: From hell ship to hell camp: POW Barney Byrne’s train journey route of over 1,200 kilometres from (A) Moji Port Shimonoseki, south west Japan to (B) Yoshima (Sendai 2-B) POW Camp, Yoshima-mura (village), near Iwaki-gun (city) in Fukushima-ken (prefecture), over 200 kilometres north east of Tokyo (27th May to 30th May 1944)

Arriving in Japan at Moigi-Shemonizek  [Note: Port of Moji, which faces Shimonoseki,  is located 825 kilometres south of Tokyo]  we entrained in luxury, soft seats and three meals per day, and arrived in Tokyo thirty six hours later, changed trains at Tokyo and at the end of a further eight hours arrived at this camp, and our hearts sank as we got our first view of the top works of a coal mine. [Note: The SS Naura Maru docked and offloaded the sixth and final draft transportation of 220 POWs from Shamshuipo at the port city of Moji on 27th May 1944, having stopped over in Formosa (Taiwan), likely the Port of Takao (Kaohsiung). From there the prisoners were transported over 1,400 kilometres via Nagasaki and Hiroshima to Yoshima Branch Camp (later known as ‘Sendai 2-B’) in Fukushima-ken (prefecture) where they were contracted out by the Japanese War Ministry to  work as slave labourers in the Iwaki (Yuwaki) coal mine run by the Furukawa Mining Company  (Note: The company today operates as Furukawa Co. Ltd http://www.furukawakk.co.jp/e_index.htm Furukawa Kikai Kinzoku Kabushiki Kaisha 古河機械金属株式会社, one of Japan’s 15 largest industrial groups. A leading producer of rock drilling machinery and other industrial machinery, Furukawa also owns Fujitsu, the world-leading IT services. Furukawa would have paid a fee to the IJA for the right to exploit the POWs by forcing them to labour under horrendous conditions at its Iwaki (Yuwaki) coal mine. Brutal Furukawa employees deployed as auxiliary guards and jailers also subjected the POWs to constant inhumane abuse. Yet, 72 years later, Furukawa Group, which operated and profited from the POWs who slaved in its coal mines has yet to an apology or acknowledgement of its actions). The coal mine had been closed until the POWs arrived. The reason it had been previously closed was because it deemed unsafe for mining operations, but now was considered good enough for expendable POWs to work in (source / read more: “Long Night’s Journey Into Day: Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan” by Charles G Roland. Barney was POW #96 in a camp of 246 POWS, including 101 British,  67 Portuguese (Hong Kong Macanese Volunteer POWs) , 46 Canadian, 17 American, and 15 other nationalities, including Irish, Australian, Polish, French, Dutch,  Norwegian, Swede and Czech POWs. It is worth noting the SS Naura Maru was sunk by a B-24 bomber in late 1944. Source: http://www.britain-at-war.org.uk/WW2/Hell_Ships/html/departure_database_130.htm]

Yeah, I’ve been in the mines and what a Fred Karno mine. [Note: Fred Karno was the stage name for Frederick John Westcott (1866 – 1941) an English comedian. In the age of silent comedy Charlie Chaplin and Arthur Jefferson (Stan Laurel) worked with him as part of “Fred Karno’s Army”, which became an expression was used to describe a disorganised group or organisation.] But later I had amoebic dysentery from the boat voyage — the luckiest disease I ever got. It kept me out of that mine for nine months and it’s not a very severe type of illness, but, luckily exertion causes acute outbursts. Eventually, on 19th December I was sent to Tokyo POW so-called hospital. [Note: Most likely the notorious Shinagawa POW Hospital, where seriously ill patients from each branch POW camp were treated and where “doctors deliberately bled American prisoners to death in order to obtain blood transfusions for Japanese” Source / read more: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2644031?searchTerm=&searchLimits=l-publictag=American+Prisoners+Shinagawa+Hospital. Moreover, at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial (1946-1948) the US Army the medical officer and director of the hospital were prosecuted for conducting human experiments on POWs] I am one of the few people who got cured there before they starved to death. The Japs gave the patients short rations and the doctors — RAMC [Note: Royal Army Medical Corps] and American — and the orderlies, also of both nationalities, made this worse by allowing the most corrupt organization I have ever witnessed to function unmolested. Those doctors and staff, robbed their patients to an incredible extent, of the meagre rations allowed by the Japs. [Note: Nefarious activities, those falling outside the realm of normal medical practice, carried out by medical personnel also aroused anger at the Shamshuipo POW Camp. Although tasked with collecting the IDs and personal effects of the deceased, POWs suspected medical personnel of being more interested in tending to the dying rather than the sick in order to steal a patient’s personal valuables following his demise. The RAMC was known as “Rob All My Comrades”.  Source / read more: ” ‘Memoirs’ – Cicero Rozario’s P. O. W. Memoirs”] There must be an enquiry into the running of that joint after the war. But they did have US Red Cross supplies of medicine and a drug called Carbosil cured me, and I was discharged after three months and arrived back in this camp on March 12th this year. Incidentally, during my stay in Tokyo, the Yankee B29s were knocking blazes out of that city, making my third residence in a capital city under bombing [Note: On the night of 9/10 March 1945 U.S. General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the 21st Bomber Command in the Pacific, sent 334 B-29 Super Flying Fortresses low over Tokyo where they unleashed a massive bombing with 2,300 tonnes incendiary napalm bombs. Well over 100,000 inhabitants were killed and 15.8 square miles of Tokyo were destroyed “… probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period than at any time in the history of man. People died from extreme heat, from oxygen deficiency, from carbon monoxide asphyxiation, from being trampled beneath the feet of stampeding crowds, and from drowning. The largest number of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly…” (Source: United States Strategic Bombing Survey). Barney, newly discharged from the POW hospital and on his way back to Yoshima would surely have witnessed the carnage and destruction, while the ensuing despair of its residents, and, perhaps, the pall of death that would have hung over the burning capital, would have left him beyond doubt that the tide had turned decisively against the Japanese].

Iwaki Yoshima Coal Mine (Source: www.mansell.com)
Image 11: A slave labourer working inside the Iwake coalmine run by the Furukawa Mining Company (Photo Source: http://www.mansell.com)

From the 20th March to 16th August I have been working in this mine without a day’s illness or any injury serious enough to earn me a day’s excused duty. Nine working days per shift, one day’s rest. Day shift went to work at 6 a.m. returned at about 4 pm. Night shift went down 4.30 p.m. and usually didn’t get back until 4 a.m. rarely back at 2.30 a.m. Often since the air raids started we stayed down until 6 a.m. and changed over with the day shift going down. Some hours, and most of the work in badly ventilated shafts where you worked stark naked because of the heat. And I’m fit and hard as nails as I’ve never been before. No fat, of course, 10st. and 4 lbs. to-day. [Note 20:  According to Alfredo Prata — See Appendix 5: “I knew your uncle” Private Byrne HKVDC” — Barney “… worked with Theo Ingram in the mess/mine team  as ‘line cleaners’ keeping all rail- lines completely free of ‘falls’ which, if un-cleared, would/could (and in some cases of deliberate acts) un-rail coal-filled-wagons on their way up to the top 800+metres to the mine-head..” Later on in this letter Barney mentions having used a “pneumatic drill“, which suggests that in the coalmine his daily work roster was all-embracing.  A fellow POW Australian William James McGrath described the dangers of the mine in more detail “…The work I consider was very dangerous for inexperienced men, and conditions were very bad with no safety precautions. Coal dust was almost unbearable and ventilation non existent: The use of explosives by inexperienced men constantly endangered the lives of those working underground. We were told each day the number of trucks of coal to be got out, and were forced to remain in the mine until the stated number were produced irrespective of the hours worked. On several occasions after attention by Medical Officer when suffering from dysentery, I was ordered by the Japanese Medical Officer to go down the mine and work, and I was then forced to go…” read more in Appendix 06 “I was forced to work in (Iwake) Coal Mine” by POW William James McGrath, Royal Naval Yard Police, Hong Kong]

Red Kaoliang
Image 12: “Korin” (sic), Koryan, also known as Kaoliang, Gaoliang (Chinese) or red sorghum (millet)

The food here has been miserable for the work we did. Today’s meals typical – Breakfast, a bowl of grain rice, twenty percent, beans (soya) 20%, and a rough grain called Korin, 60%, and a bean soup for breakfast. [Note: Used as a substitute for rice, “Korin” (sic), Koryan, also known as Kaoliang, Gaoliang (Chinese) or red sorghum (millet), was almost devoid of niacin (vitamin B3) resulting in many POWs, including Barney, becoming infected with the vitamin deficiency disease Pellagra.] Midday — grain ditto and two spoonfuls of curried beans. Evening — grain ditto and seaweed soup [Note: miso-soup]. Tomorrow we have some fresh veg. cucumber and carrot thinnings — all tops and no carrot. Tops of carrots go into soup and have a bloody bad flavour. Meat once per shift, a spoonful per man, if you’re lucky. Fish we used to get about twice a week, but since the Yanks moved into the sea round here, fish disappeared from the menu.

My good condition I attribute to the Soya beans, we have been fed. Yes, this Soya bean is the answer. It seems to be a complete diet in itself as before they introduced it into our diet, our fellows here went down very badly, and since its introduction everybody has improved enormously. You know this bean perhaps as Heinz Pork and Beans in tins at home — but don’t ever sneer at ’em.

Seven of the original 200 have died here, six more or less from causes attributable to malnutrition and one killed in the mine by a collapse [Note: According to the POW Research Network 8 POWs died at Sendai 2-B camp: 3 British, 1 American, 1 Dutch, 1 Canadian and 2 others – Source / read more: http://www.powresearch.jp/en/archive/powlist/catalogue.html. Prior to boarding and enduring the appalling conditions on the Naura Maru the POWs were already physically weak, and if the war had lasted even two or three months longer more would have died. As alluded to by Barney further on in this letter the Japanese were already facing severe shortages towards the end of the war]. How more weren’t killed down there, nobody knows. Providence I guess, and also, as the mine was so obviously dangerous, crazily dangerous, everybody developed a sixth sense of awakeness to danger. The damn shafts collapsed daily — no exaggeration. The Japs have no idea of doing a job well, and only patch up where we would demand a thorough repair job. However, it’s over now, thank the Lord.

Iwaki Yoshima Mine (Source: www.mansell.com)
Image 13: The Iwake coalmine run by the Furukawa Mining Company (Photo Source: http://www.mansell.com)

We lived here in a wooden stockaded camp in two huts, 100 each hut, sleeping in two tiers of tatami [Note: straw mattresses] boarding, Jap style, of course. You sleep on the boards, roll up your blankets during the day and eat and sit around on the bed space. [Note: According to http://www.mansell.com/pow-index.html the POW “camp was reported to be the former dormitories of a coal mining company…“.  Alfredo Prada, at the end of this missive, in Appendix 05: “I knew your uncle…” refers to John B P Byrne‘s tatami “bunk mates” in Hut #2 while offering a sense of the size of each hut.We have been relatively free here from positive ill-treatment, beating ups etc. being few and far between. During the last few months, we have been under the rule of one of the few really civilized Japanese NCOs I have ever met. The first one we had here for eight months was an ignorant savage who made life a misery for us by his fantastic ideas and plans. Instance — many men had badly swollen legs and feet (beri-beri) and he insisted that the poor devils take off their shoes after parade at 4.30 am and walk so many times round the yard barefooted. He really believed this was good for beri-beri. That sort of thing damn near drove some of us mad. His mad ideas actually resulted in the deaths of a couple of men here. Some of the Jap underlings here and the foremen in the mines were also bastards of the first water, as, irrespective of what you have heard, the Jap is still what we regard as an uncivilised person. [Note: Inside the POW camp and on the march to the coalmine guarding the POWs was the responsibility of the IJA, while at the coalmine the POWs were the responsibility of Furukawa mining company guards] The officer class have a veneer of civilization, but the poorer class as a whole are still hundreds of years behind. Unfortunately our immediate contacts were with the uncivilised majority and, until we got to understand their mentality a little, we suffered accordingly.

At present we are just lounging about anxiously awaiting some Yank or British troops to walk in, bringing some real food and a few smokes. We still have Jap army guards, but now so solicitous for our safety that they won’t even allow us outside camp to the local village to draw rations for fear of trouble. Incidentally, we all have plenty of money, but it is quite useless and has been as long as we have been in this country. Nobody sells anything for money, but a woollen pullover or socks or a shirt will always produce a few fags or eggs or fruit or salt. Naturally, we haven’t much left of that nature at present, though your nephew has been trying to flog his winter pullover, overcoat, three razor blades and a bar of US Red Cross soap all day without much success as the market is flooded by the boys unloading everything at once on to the impoverished guards. Damn it all, I can’t even get three eggs, forty cigarettes and a handful of garlic for my overcoat, and I’m so annoyed with the little yellow b. who insists that he can’t get eggs, that I won’t give him the coat at his price, which substitutes four peaches for the eggs. The coat incidentally, is a really good British Naval Duffle coat, camel hair, with hood and the poor little Jap wants it like hell, but, like them all, he has nothing to give for it. They are in the same boat here, and poverty such as you at home cannot realise is the common lot. Any of these villagers could be transported to Kilcullen and keep himself and a large family well fed on what we normally throw away.

This letter is getting out of hand. When I can get hold of a pretty stenographer somewhere, I’ll hire her for a few hours to take down a letter, telling everything, and have it typed out properly. My hand is not as good with a pen nowadays, being more accustomed to a pneumatic drill.

As regards mail. I have written to you about 12-14 times altogether, twice to J.J. Jun. I have received four letters from you and one postcard the other day, apparently posted last January. As you said nearly the whole family had written the months previously, presumably Xmas, 8 months to come. To-day, to my joy, comes a cable from J.J. Senr. [Note: Barney’s “Uncle Jim”  being  James Byrne Senior, my mother’s father, my grandfather – See Appendix 01: Family background and biography of Barney “John Bernard Patrick” Byrne] giving news of Tom’s marriage [Note 23: Tom “Tomsie” Byrne, my mother’s brother, married Carmel  Murray]. That one shook me, I’ll say but attaboy Tom: and all the luck in the world lad. My regards to Mrs. Tom. God, its hard to believe: Thanks to Uncle Jim for the cable. He’ll never know what it means to get something like that in this dump.

That’s all the mail I’ve got in the time I’ve been a prisoner. Up to now, of course, I’ve always been limited to so many words or letters per line per letter so this, my first free letter, is just running away with me. At this point they turned out the lights, so I retired to the fleas.

Next Morning [Note: Saturday 18th August 1945].

Reveille 5.30 am [Note: a bugle sounded to wake up the POWs]. Daylight, an hour later than our accustomed hour of arising: Breakfast 6 am. Carrot top soup viz boiled carrot tops and a little salt flavouring. Never could go carrot tops — they’re foul, so just eat my bowl of Cereals and beans. Our main cereal called here Korin [Note: Koryan] is, we think, millet and uncooked; it looks exactly like the very small purple bird seeds which I remember on sale at home in penny packets.

Incidentally, this country has a glorious climate and this morning is a beauty: sunny, warm and still fresh. I wouldn’t object to living in Japan under good conditions and a nice income.

A few words about personnel in Camp. Total 242 – 100 English- Scots, 50 Canadians, 16 Americans, 75 Portuguese from H.K. Rest Norwegian, Danish, Czech, Romanian, Aussie.

Five Irish included. [Note: In addition to Barney, Terry Ashcroft, John Cawley, and Pelly Murphy (as noted in the following paragraph), other  Irish POWs interned at the Sendai #2-B POW Camp were: Gunner Norman Lionel Leonard, HKVDC #2628, POW #95, who lived in Hong Kong [Note: One of five Leonard family members of the HKVDC who survived – Source: “Hong Kong Volunteer & Ex-PoW Association of NSW Occasional Paper No. 12 Families in Arms, Sydney. December 2012”]; and Private Felix Fred A. Dunnett, HKVDC #2098, POW #97, who lived in Long Beach, California, USA. The only POW listed in the camp roster under the surname “Matthews” was Private C.L. Matthews, Royal Army Ordinance Corps #7641928, and POW #252, whose home address is listed as Luton, UK. Sergeant Alfred Bertram Clemo, HKVDC, DR #178, POW#14, is listed as being from Warrenpoint, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, Lance Corporal Desmond Alva Hynes, HKVDC #2585, POW#43, of London, was the son of an Irishman]

Terry Ashcroft (bearer of letter) [Note: Chief Petty OfficerW.T. Stoker Ashcroft,  HMS Repulse, Royal Navy #D/K66889, POW #223, Minane bridge, Carrigalane, Co. Cork], Paddy Matthews of Macroom, John Cauley of Sligo [Note: Private John Cawley, RAMC #7262798, POW #202, Ballymore, Co. Sligo] and my friend Pelly Murphy [Note: Sergeant John Pelly Murphy #1 Company HKVDC #260, POW #20] of Laxton, Bray. Asst. Crown Solr. H.K. Pappa Murphy and Mallin Solrs. Ely Place [Note: Likely Murphy & Mallins Solicitors]. Please get in touch with them on receipt of this. Poor old Murph. Was not one of the robust type and highly strung. Working in the mine has nearly driven him crackers and to cap all, about June 26th he and I were working together in a small gang and a collapse caught Murphy and he’s still lying in the little so called hospital with a broken leg which from want of proper attention does not seem to be getting better and now, I think its going to be a long job, getting that leg right again. He is very worried about his fate being helpless as he is. His great fear is being sent to some military hospital for months and of having his discharge from the volunteers [Note: HKVDC] withheld pending the fixing of his leg. If this gets home before he can get in touch with his people, it would be nice of someone to get in touch with his people who may be able to wield a bit of influence to get his discharge expedited and his transfer to a civilian hospital. He is a ranker same as me and we’re both a bit tired of the treatment meted out to other ranks especially in military medical circles. [Note: In 1947 the Colonial Office appointed John Pelly Murphy a member of the executive Council of the Gambia. In 1956 the Queen appointed him, in his capacity as Attorney General of Zanzibar to be a Pusine Judge of Her Majesty’s Supreme Court of Kenya]. We’re all just hanging around waiting for something to happen and keeping our eye on the front gate hoping for the first glimpse of a Yank marine or coughboy [Note: a US infantryman] with a gun on his shoulder marching in. We’ve no idea when this is going to happen but we hope very soon – to-day maybe. When we move or to where or how we have no idea, but I’ll let you have further news later.

I must finish off this letter now. Its a pretty crappy sketch of 31/2 years of a man’s life, but someone is bound to write a book about P.O.W. life under the aegis of His Imp. Japanese Majestices forces and its going to be grim reading, so get a copy early. From what I heard in the Tokyo Hospital, we Hong Kong prisoners were lucky compared to the Malayan and Philipine prisoners who were decimated by disease, starvation, and brutality. The stories told by fellows who were drafted to Thailand to build a railroad through the jungle to Burma just don’t seem credible. [Note: The construction by the Japanese using slave labour of the 415 kilometres long Thailand – Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, caused the deaths of 16,000 Allied POWS and 90,000 Asian labourers]. Incidentally, Don Kennedy, my Dublin pal, whom I was instrumental in sending to Malay was one of the unfortunates who built said railroad. I met a Singapore in Tokyo who knew Don in Thailand, and the last news he had was that Din was O.K. and safely back in base camp in Sarjon after the railroad had been completed. I guess Don stands a good chance of being all right now. His father is Surgeon Kennedy of St. Vincent’s (Butcher K.). It might also be nice to pass on this to his people.

Now for your first real letter to me. I know Jim married Monica. Tom is married to whom? Mamie married to? (I forgot his name) Red headed chap from Caragh direction – know him well. No news of any births or deaths in the family. Thank God for the latter. What does J.J. Senr. in his cablegram mean by Kilgowan unchanged? [Note: Barney was brought up in the townland of Kilgowan / Castlefish in Kilcullen parish, Co. Kildare]  Paddy Boland to Rita Hughes, Dan Boland to Kitty Fitzpatrick, Andy O’Connell to ? Jack Dardis to Julia, that’s about everything I know about home. Aunt Mary wasn’t too well? But nothing else, and God, I want to know everything. How did Byrne business boom during the war period? Everything I want to know. Do what I intend to do hire a stenographer for a few hours and start dictating to her and air mail result.

As to my intentions in the future. I’ll be going back to Hong Kong, I presume, for a while — short while, I hope, before I start making tracks for the old country. It’ll be a hard choice for me to make, as I’m more homesick now than ever I was as a small boy first term in College [Note: A reference to the Dominican Order run Newbridge College, in Co. Kildare where Barney attended school]. But there is a ground floor in that new Hong Kong and China that’s about to arise, and there must be room there for Bar. So I’m going back post haste to grab a niche or a slab while the grabbing’s good. Tell J.J. and family in general to await developments, as there’s bound to be a lot of stuff floating around which might be saleable at home, and I hope to get some of that said stuff home post haste. Regarding finance, I think I’m going to be pretty well off as previous to the outbreak of war, Hong Kong Government legislated for the payment of salaries to employees during any period of service with colours. £2,400 for Barney now may give me a fair start in a field where all starters will be maidens. But with modern air services functioning, I think I may make a trip home at a pretty early date.

Cheerio for the present, Peg dear, and my love to Norah, Nan and Dais, though the letter as usual is superscribed “Dear Peg”, I intend to know that for the last 25 years or so, all four ladies are included under the name “Peg” except that the onus of answering is thrown on the shoulders most ready and willing to answer. I cannot imagine writing to Nan, for instance, and putting same lady under burden of composing a reply.

Regards to all the family, Mary, Aunt K.A., Boss, Mrs. J.J. Jun. Mrs. Jun. Maur? Tom, Mrs. Tom — the Lawlers of Dunlavin,

P.S., PS., PS., (I’d a letter from Aunt Leo.) Waters family, Uncle Tim and family. I guess I’ll have to write to everyone sometime but wait till, as I say, I catch me a stenographer.

Regards to the Boys. Jim Brennan and Nick Bardon — Peter Franci~ ? — Tresa. Forget Nick’s wife’s name, know her well. Congrats to all three couples (God, this makes six wedding presents.) No — seven, eight.

*Attempt to end letter failed again. I want the weekly Irish paper from the December 1941 issue up to August 1945 sent to me, please. The amount of reading and catching up I’m going to have to do, appalls me. (I nearly forgot — please pass my kindest regards to Seamas and John Woods — two gentlemen whom I hope to meet again. Looking back, they treated me very nicely). Also Harry O’Gara of the same office. Please mention to the latter that in Prison Camp HK I met a former crony of his RUC or HRC days, W B Willwood, now a WOI in the REs, a charming rogue if ever I met one.

Peg, the letter must end somewhere. I could write for days.

But every little thing I remember just runs into a host of other things — look at the last paragraph and I’ve forgotten to pass greetings to people like Nick and Katie Lawler, Pat L, Willie. It would take a book. All my love, Peg. Bar. Maybe I might be able to Air Mail this.

P.S. Dear Dais, What couldn’t I do with a sweet cake just now if I didn’t get killed in the rush as I opened it. B.

19th — Two days later. [Note: Sunday 19th August 1945]

Still hanging round the camp, or more strictly speaking, very much inside the camp, as the Japs are still guarding us assiduously, actually they seem kinda loath to allow any of us out even for rations. We think the people outside are a little unsettled. However, they are really making an attempt to feed us for the first time since our capture and I’m reasonably full in the tummy at present. None of our troops have appeared yet to take over, nor have we been allowed to communicate with Tokyo and we’re all damned impatient. Doing nothing all day is beginning to pall already, and when you’ve been locked up this long every extra wasted hour of Rip Van Winkledom is grudged. I feel very much inclined to take French leave and start the journey on foot with French leave. The Church of England fellows are holding a dreary hymn service outside the window just now, and their soporific keening is getting on my nerves. Haven’t they a desolate idea of God! Incidentally, my religious feelings have appreciably strengthened since getting into this mess (it may ease you to know) though the call to the priesthood is still unheard, I intend to amend my previous rather laissez faire policy towards the question and do a spot of reforming. A couple of times during the actual fighting I was glad to have a God to appeal to, and I don’t intend to forget that.

Next Morning [Note: Monday 20th August 1945], still waiting.

Yeah, still waiting and not even a rumour of a move. I’m getting stronger on this free walk to the Capital city — pronto.

I remember back in Hong Kong all our useless planning of escapes that never materialized. We talked it over day after day, but never could find a reasonably probable or possible way out through our electrified fence and over forty miles of enemy-held territory before striking the No Man’s Land of the Chinese bandits and guerillas. But dreaming and scheming of how and when to do it kept a lot of us going. About six or eight men did get away the first year, but we never succeeded in getting any news of their fate. Here, of course, it’s different and a quick dash and a lucky hop on the rods of a train might land you in an American encampment with six hours, and the temptation is terrific and the urge to get a little bit of excitement as an extra inducement.

It’s going to be very hard to ever settle down after living these last few years as a private soldier amongst the types of men who populated H.K. P.O.W. camp and this one. Men of every nationality and colour and half-tone, and invariably, the foot-loose type pre-dominated. Nobody in this crowd except a very very few, ever held a steady job of any sort, and very many laugh loud and long at the idea of working for anybody else except under dire stress of hunger. To hear the China coast old hands talking in this strain was no surprise to me, as I had begun to catch on to their outlook in pre-war days in HK. For the first few months in that Colony I had lived in the pure atmospheric circles of the Senior Govt. Servant but, approaching the outbreak of war, I had been gradually sinking down to the level of the humbler ranks of the Colony’s Europeans who made more money, spent more money, and were alive even above the neck. Also gradually began to realize that the Senior Govt. Officer, the Old School tie type was still 90% honest and nearly incorruptible, secure in his highly salaried position; whereas the lower ranks recruited from every possible source just looked upon their salaries as something to save up for a rainy day while they lived well (and at a far higher standard sometimes than their superiors) by their spare time racketeering, squeezing and speculating. They nearly all had at some time or another (the older ones) had made and lost fortunes on the Coast and the yarns they spun just held me spellbound many an hour. It surprised me, however, to find the same spirit of individualism in the Canadian and Australian, both of whom seem to have the same ideas. Only work for someone else and for just so long as you have to and as soon as possible start working for yourself. It has struck me forcibly on many an occasion that a lot of stick-in-the-mud conservatism in the British Isles must be due to pensions, superannuation schemes etc. which bind the young people to small jobs at an age when they should be urged to break out and do something off their own initiative. Incidentally, in many conversations with the Americans, Canadians, Aussies etc. I have been led to conclude that our (homeside) impressions of the great Depression of the thirties were to a large extent false. These boys all have the same story, regular employment was at times hard to get, but the great proportion of the unemployed were unemployable, and mostly just wouldn’t work, and the “guy” who couldn’t make enough to keep himself going comfortably (meaning plus auto) was no damn good anyway.

Later I come back to this letter at all sorts of odd times with odd ideas and naturally everything is disjointed. I guess its no longer a letter with an ending, so I give up trying to end it. It strikes me the family may like to hear something of my impressions of the country — what little I’ve seen of it.

The people I’ve mentioned before as uncivilized according to our standards. They are a cruel race, primarily. They are cruel to animals and to man. I’ve seen them here torture the unfortunate dogs and cats day after day, until our fellows couldn’t stand the sight any longer and just took the poor beasts round the corner afterwards and killed them to prevent more torturings next day. The Japs think this great sport and just laugh at us for our aversion to cruelty. They are even cruel towards their own people and the boss Jap kicks and beats his underlings at will without fear of a comeback. The methods of their police we can guess at from the unholy terror they inspire into the people by a mere gesture.

During the war, of course, the Jap only took prisoners when forced to do so by circumstances, and many of our fellows who surrendered in outposts were dispatched forthwith usually by the slowest and most messy method. Many others (more fortunately) escaped with a terrific hammering for no reason except the sportive instinct of the capture. I myself saw the Jap soldiers in Hong Kong being incredibly brutal to the Chinese on little or no provocation, and they just used their rifles with as little compunction as we at home would use a shotgun on rabbits. They just seem to take a different view of the value of human life to us.

Personally, the Jap is perhaps more clean than his Irish counterpart in that you never see one dirty as regards his person. He always looked well cleaned and washed. Yet his habits and sanitary customs shock us. WCs  [Note: The traditional Japanese toilet known as a Benjo was essentially a hole under the toilet facility, or a pot – the human waste contents being used as a traditional fertiliser] are rare round here anyway, and their instincts do not include that of privacy in certain matters, and where the call comes, that’s the spot. Human manure is invariably used on the farms and gardens and the garden is one yard from the front door. Still, in order to be hygienically perfect the Jap goes round a hospital area with a little piece of gauze or cotton strapped over his nose and mouth. A ridiculous and useless precaution against infection, but he thinks he’s being up to date and modern in his anti-disease precautions.

They all have a terrific inferiority complex and we suffered in his efforts to bolster his ego. He has a mania for saluting and parading and bowing and we saluted, paraded and bowed at all possible occasions.  [Note: All POWs were required to bow to Japanese soldiers regardless of rank. Not bowing low enough or fast enough, or even the slightest breach of the camp’s many trivial rules, could result in a severe beating by the camp’s cruel prison guards]. The only method we had of getting anything out of them was to soft-soap some little runt and after a while he’s eating out of your hand.

He has no sense of doing things in a quietly rational manner and when anything unplanned occurs he just goes haywire, and is useless. It has been said that one Jap by himself can do nothing, but ten together can move a mountain. True, the 10 Japs would move that mountain by sheer dogged persistence and bull-headedness, in about the same time as two white men would do same. They drive their cars like mad and their mechanics all use the hammer and chisel and never dream of repairing anything until it breaks down completely. As long as it goes it needs no repairs.

They are crazy about their children and treat their women folk as household utensils. The women we have come in contact with, incidentally, are invariably nice, courteous and very kind. We’ve had very little to do with them, unfortunately, as they are kept very much in the background.

The countryside, as much as I’ve seen so far on train journeys and around the camp, is really lovely. Small rolling hills, always with mountains seemingly in the background. Unlike home, the whole country is well wooded and, barring in winter, luxuriant as to colour and foliage. It probably looked particularly good to one more accustomed to the barrenness of Wicklow or the desolation of the western part of old Ireland. On the slopes of the hills round here all the farmers on their small holdings seem to have an acre or two of cherry, peach or pear or apple orchards, and round April and May when all these seem to be in bloom, the place looks like a stylized picture postcard of peace and plenty.

The farms are in the lower slopes of the hills and in all the valleys, and every inch of land is used — every inch. All the little patches of rice paddy laid out in mathematical exactness with just a one foot wide path between holdings. And every hundred yards or so there seems to be a Jap farmer’s home.

Apparently they take two crops per annum off their land, year after year — they haul in their barley harvest first, flood immediately and the new rice plants are transplanted to the ex-barley field within a matter of days. (We’ve lived here for months on end, on a diet of cereals, 50% ordinary barley, dynamite to the tummy). Their vegetables are everything we have at home grown to a larger size plus the sweet potato (good) taro root (punk) Squash (O.K. as soup base) tomatoes in the open and many others essentially Japanese, for which I know no English name. They seem to get an amazing return from their land, due, I suppose, to the constant use of relatively large quantities of human manure used, together with the natural richness of their soil. But I’ve often thought what a lesson they could give our people in intensive cultivation. To mention in passing, there’s hardly any livestock, and I’ve yet to see a field of grazing land quite true so far, and l’ve sat in a train for 36 hours going all the time — no grazing. They use horses and oxen in their ploughs, but what they feed ’em on I don’t know. l’ve eaten both since coming here (horse-meat’s not bad, if you get it — we usually get the entrails and eat ’em on those rare occasions thankfully). Mention — have also eaten whale meat, shark meat, octopus or squid, bones, intestines, blood, dog, seaweed — most common fish they gave us was the mackerel dried, fresh, salted, smoked, preserved in soya sauce and often delicious — when I used to think of the hundreds thrown away each year at home as not fit to eat – smoked and preserved in soya and then grilled they make as tasty eating as any fish live ever tried.

Back to farming — I’ve never seen or eaten the sheep here, where the pigs are kept I don’t know, but at present, anyway, meat in this country is just a dim and delicious memory to both native and prisoner. For the last few months, no fish (either due to US air and naval activities). l’d always heard that Japan produced a lot of tea, but very small quantities, on rare occasions.  You get very tired of drinking hot water with your meals. You used to do it quite a lot, Peg — why, for God’s sake?

The Japanese city, village, or town is just what you might expect from book descriptions. Hundreds of small wooden houses, paper windows, and all jammed tightly together in little narrow streets and just swarming with people. Uncle Sam’s incendiary bombs must have worked havoc there. I saw the results of such weapons while in the Tokyo Hospital substitute, and I’d seen Silvertown on fire from the distance of Leicester Square and that was small compared to one memorable night when they lit up Yokohama across the bay from the site of one Hospital in Tokyo. No HE [Note: High Explosive] was used, yet they admitted a known death-roll of 30,000 in that one fire. These wooden city blocks must have been death traps when once a fire got going. I’ve, of course, seen the few Jap cities and towns at a period when all or 90% of the shops were closed down and boarded up — nothing to sell — so what they really look like in normal times I can only guess; but lately, they have looked like ghost towns and everywhere needed a coat of paint badly. So far, of course, I’ve mostly seen only railway stations in Tokyo — vast solid buildings mainly remarkable for the incredible number of people who were crammed, jammed and queued at every barrier and platform. I’ve been in Tokyo railway stations six times, and each time they looked more like a foot-ball stadium at home on the day of a big match.

Tokyo after an incendiary bombing in 1945
Image 14: Tokyo after an incendiary bombing in 1945

Next Morning, 21st. [Note: Tuesday 21st August 1945]

Still another morning without any news. Just finished my morning fatigue [Note: Manual chores related to maintaining the camp], cleaning up the area — that was the cat’s lick it got this morning. But sure sign that the war is over — we’ve just been issued with ten apples per man — I danged five straight and by a big effort of will power, put the others aside.

This starts me on the food question, the great all-important topic of food — for the whole period of imprisonment, 50% of all conversations have been about food, natural enough to men who’ve been hungry all day, every day for years. We’ve lived on grain of course all the time, rice, barley, Korin or millet, Indian atta meal [Note: On Sundays the POWs were given a large bun made from brown Indian Atta flour. Source: From Jamaica to Japan Dairy of a Hong Kong Prisoner of War, by Thomas S. Forsyth] and beans plus vegetables in fair quantities, and occasional little spoonfuls of meat and fish.

Polished white rice formed the main grain issue in Hong Kong. For two months there in the beginning, we lived, incredible to say, on rice alone, the vegetable issue being almost negligible. This period was the killer, of course, as white polished rice contains almost no nourishment and malnutrition moved in with its attendant diseases. Beri-beri and Pellagra principally. Beri-beri is really kidney failure and starts by constant urination forty, fifty times per day — then the water-works break down and fail to eliminate the water from the system. Your legs first swell up with the water and gradually but in a very short period failing treatment, two-three days — the water level and swelling spreads upwards until it reaches the heart and lungs — curtains. The treatment is a drug known as Thiamine, injected usually, which stops the rot maybe. Pellagra is the more dangerous, but less acute. It starts with red patches appearing on your legs and face, later ulcers. Much later the victim starts chronic diahorrhea, very difficult to arrest at this stage, your eyes begin to fail, your mouth and tongue become red and raw and so sore and tender that you cannot eat or even smoke. Next step craziness, and shortly after that the funeral. The course of this disease runs over a period of months and the worst of it is that when you get it the victim quickly becomes so weakened that at any time during the course of his illness, he is easy meat for any other disease germ floating about, dysentery, pneumonia, diphtheria, malaria and catching these when you’ve already got pellagra is finis usually. I don’t think medicine can do much for pellagra — nicotinic acid helped a hell of a lot, but a strong constitution and plenty of fighting spirit saved most men. The real cure for both of these diseases would be plenty of eggs, milk and meat. We might as well have asked for crushed pearls!

These two diseases are the direct result of trying to live on boiled rice and veg with maybe two ounces of meat or fish per week, perhaps vegetable oil goes a little way in preventing the onset of such maladies, but even it — peanut oil or coconut oil at the bad period in Hong Kong were not issued (peanut oil is such a good cooking oil especially for deep frying that it has often struck me why we won’t make more use of it at home.)

At the end of 1942 when most of the harm had been done, the Red Cross succeeded in getting supplies to us. Bully beef, tins of meat and veg. stew, dried fruit, sugar, cocoa, Indian atta meal and three food parcels per man. The bulk stuff, Bully etc. we spun out until I left on draft for Japan, to give you some idea of the quantity. They started by issuing a tin of Bully per day for four men, and a little cocoa, sugar, meal and fruit. When I left, only the bully remained and was issued at one tin to twenty men per day! 12/20th of an ounce per day! But these supplies had given us the little extra vitamins we needed, and within three months of their receipt you wouldn’t recognise the men they improved so amazingly. When these supplies arrived, our unpredictable hosts also decided to increase rations and gave us fair quantities of oil and flour and better vegetables and a regular (more or less) issue of fish, about twice a week. I forgot to mention the receipt from the Red Cross of what most people considered the most valuable food of all — Indian Ghee — goat grease [Note: Comparable to dripping] in tins. Quite palatable as a frying oil and useable as a bread spread in lieu of butter. We got quite a large quantity of this stuff and many consider that this stuff was mainly responsible for our rapid return to health. The Japs, of course, stole vast quantities of these supplies and what came into camp were further depleted by fiddling and thieving by the people running the ration stores. I might mention here, that the British Officer of the Regular Army has lost the last bit of respect which he had retained for his conduct during and after the war out East. The idol had feet of clay and completely disgusted his more robust other ranks by knuckling under weakly to the Japs — peace at any price — but please do not continue to treat us equally with the common soldiers! And what the Japs didn’t give them they stole from us! Our kitchens also were rotten with thieving and selling of stores to the moneyed members of the community. But in spite of all we managed to live (or most of us did). But the weird meals I’ve eaten there. Once in a very bad period I’ve had my share of a dog stew — a big pot, one small dog, some cabbage, onions and sweet potatoes and a little salt. It was OK and I could have eaten more; but there wasn’t much for nine men interested. Whalemeat is OK, colour dark red, texture like beef, not very fishy to taste. Octopus or squid is lousy, fishy and rubbery. Try boiling up some potato tops or carrot tops to get the all-time low in a vegetable. Another point — never boil your (white) cabbage, fry, it in a little oil or fat, no comparison. Porridge boiled in Cocoa. I’ve gone completely native in my liking for sugary, oily curries. Garlic I’m just addicted to — love it in vast quantities. I want stacks of sugar in the meat stew! If you don’t believe me, try it.

On arriving in Japan we got slightly better food and more of it (for doing ten times as much work as in HK). But again, our main food has been grain, but a mixture of rice, barley, millet and beans in varying proportions. O.K. except when barley happens to predominate in the brew. All of us suffer from recurring bouts of diahorrhea, but when barley is uppermost in the grain mixture our natural functions tend to start working without any control being exercised. In small quantities apparently, it is a good food, containing a big Vitamin B load, and thus combating the tendency to Beri-Beri. Beans (Soya) same as Mr Heinz’s Pork & Bean cans, have been our mainstay. I’ve mentioned them before. Our fellows have, I think, been able to slave day after day in that mine only on the food value of their soya bean ration. We get three times a day, as much as you can pack in a pint mug, of grain (beans included) about as much veg per day as the ordinary person eats at home, boiled with soya bean sauce extract and maybe a little flour (barley or potato flour) as thickening. We were lucky to see a ration of about 2 oz of meat per week or an issue of fish per week and only twice in 14 months have they issued cooking oil.

In Japan, though we heard that vast quantities of Red Cross supplies had been sent to prisoners, I, for instance, received three Red Cross parcels, one hair comb, one tin of polish, one safety razor, three blades and a pencil. Most fellows, and I have met a lot in Tokyo Hospital from all over, have had a similar story, so we presume that many a Jap has lived well on Red Cross supplies. Enough of food for now, but at present we’re waiting impatiently as ever for our midday mugful of grain and two spoonfuls of boiled cucumber in bean sauce! Another few days and maybe we eat some white man’s food. Won’t some Yankee quartermaster get an education when he starts in to try feeding his first consignment of ex-prisoners.

One amazing effect of our food during the last few years I might mention. At the start of our POW existence a great many of the regular soldiers (60% estimated) were suffering from Venereal Disease – mostly gonorrhea – and within two months on plain rice diet all signs of the disease had cleared up, despite the fact there was no medical treatment for them. An amazingly simple answer to a question which had troubled the Medical authorities greatly at the time.

Another interesting fact in the same strain more or less. Forty two months without women. Dreadful fate? Not a bit of it. The married men worried about their wives and children, of course, but our poor diet has apparently eliminated all sexual desire from us and strange to relate, you never hear these boys spinning lewd stories or speaking of their amorous past or futures. The question of women non est. Some of the younger married men are quietly worried stiff over this question and our doctors have been many times asked to reassure anxious husbands that the status quo ante [Note: Latin for “the way things were before”] will reoccur with sufficient eggs, beefsteaks and beer.

Another aspect of food and hunger — I’m disgusted with myself that I haven’t learnt a few languages, Chinese and Russian (I know bits of both) especially. Many times I’ve tried to have many others, but constant hunger is a complete deterrent to mental concentration on any subject except how to scrounge something extra to eat. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do something in the way of increasing my education and perhaps my market value also, but I saw a lot of poor studious souls sit down to study and many of them just eat themselves into the grave. Maybe of course the scholarly type of man wasn’t exactly suited to the life? The Japs incidentally, right from the beginning, forbade any kind of study class or meeting religious services being the only exception. They had escapes on the brain and this rule was supposed to prevent men meeting for the purpose of planning such escapes. Naturally, the meetings the rule aimed as suppressing went on unsuspected, but all other quite innocent gatherings were immediately dispersed.

In Hong Kong, of course, we had plenty of spare time, and during the good spells played football and hockey and cricket, bowls and a little tennis. Shall I say that about 20% of us, me included, were occasionally fit enough to play such games, viz when our draft left for Japan we left 850 men only behind in Hong Kong — 400 of these were in the hospital area of the camp! But the greatest recreation and vice was Bridge acc. to Culbertson & Co. I’ve forgotten quite a lot in the last year but at one time in the H.K. camp I was at the stage of quoting extracts ad lib from Clubertson‘s Golden Book, the Bible of Bridge, and I’d really become, I suppose, a first class player. Naturally, I guess, as Komorsky and I partnering each other invariably played for highish stakes, and losing frequently meant no next meal — you get good very quickly when you’re eating often depends on your bidding! The Canadians were the worst gamblers and played craps — dice — for everything they could lay their hands on. A whole hut full sat down on the night we all got a remittance of 1/24 apiece from the Red Cross, and next morning two brothers walked into the canteen with 1/1400 in their hands!

Two days later. 24th August. [Note: Thursday 24th August 1945]

I started this letter on the 17th, a whole week has now elapsed since we got our first news of the Armistice and we’re still here waiting. Today we have decorated our roof with large letters “P.W.” on instructions from some HQ or other and we are told that an aeroplane will come across today or tomorrow and drop some stuff for us.  [Note: The Japanese were required by the terms of their surrender to give General MacArthur an inclusive list, known as the “Yellow List” of the names, locations, and populations of all POW camps in existence under Japanese control, and that all such camps be clearly marked “P.W”.] Naturally we are all deeply interested in what this stuff is going to be. 95% are praying for a few cigarettes and some chocolate. I’m inclined to bet on our Yankee friends doing things properly and just loading their plane with everything from soup to nuts and dropping the lot conveniently to camp. However, you can imagine 242 well-trained pairs of ears listening for the first purr of an aero engine. Someone is going to get killed in the rush! The cigarette position is chronic at present and we’re still living on our grain and very small issues of vegetables. I’ve been playing poker and sleeping alternatively all day for the last two days. Sleep most of the day — poker all night — no strain to a veteran of the mine night shift. Also the millions of fleas and lice here prefer to operate at night and retire during the day, thus making it more convenient for the human population to sleep during the day. I’ve acquired pocket fulls of Japanese money, incidentally, at poker and of course can do nothing with it. I’ve known many cases of men using the paper money as lavatory paper. I’ve just been outside on a fatigue party for rations and brought home our first fish issue for about three weeks, one bale of dried mackerel and two boxes of oysters. Oyster soup tonight, also two boxes of Jap army biscuit ration (first time we’ve see it). One Jap army comfort parcel – poor C’s — one sheaf of lav paper — one pair of cotton socks, one packet toothpowder, one packet postcards, and that’s a Jap soldier’s comfort parcel.

Next Day. 25th. [Note: Friday 25th August 1945]

Friday 25th August 1945
Image 15: Friday 25th August 1945 “Wild delight” greeted spontaneous aerobatics display over Sendai 2-B POW Camp by 12 US Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters from the aircraft carrier USS Lexington. “Now we know the War is really over”

Yep, the Yanks have found us. We saw them first this morning flying around, but horrible disappointment, they failed to locate us, but at 12 pm they came back, twelve Grumman fighters, and located us and treated us to a display of aerobatics right over the camp, coming down one after another right over the roof to the wild delight of the boys here. Now we know the war is over, we’re now all listening for the hum of a transport plane bringing the supplies we hope for. If you took a census of what is hoped for I think cigarettes and chocolate would represent the majority demand — just chocs and fags for 240 of the 242 old soldiers.

In passing, I’ve just heard that our Doctor OC (Yank, Sioux City, name Cmaley, pronounced Smayley — more regular fellow than medico) has negotiated for the services of a photographer, so I hope to get a few snaps to include with this letter. Some photographs of the camp and surroundings would illustrate far better than I can describe. [Note: 

Next Day. 26th. [Note: Saturday 26th August 1945

Yes, the Yanks found us yesterday, but they have forgotten to return with the much needed supplies, particularly fags. We’re all nearly out of smokes, many of us (me included) haven’t a butt to our name and this we regard as a great punishment and completely unfitting for the soldiers of a victorious nation, but all we can do about it is smoke leaves. Your humble serv. and his present associates are good and thoroughly well fed up with this indefinite waiting about, tempers getting pretty short all round!

27th Great day. [Note: Sunday 27th August 1945]

Apologies for above paragraph. The Yanks came today en-masse by plane once, twice, three times, and to the wild excitement of the boys here, boxes, bales, cartons, parachuted down from plane after plane diving down to 50 feet above the camp. Too low, actually, as they (to our delight) damn near wrecked the wooden camp buildings as the parachutes failed mostly to open sufficiently and parcels and boxes just crashed at 100 mph through the roofs and walls, and it paid to keep on your toes and when you saw the bomb bays opening as the planes zoomed in on their release run. But what they dropped — Manna from Heaven to rice, korin and bean-sated wretches here. In typical Yank fashion, when they did drop stuff they damn near dropped a whole department store. Hundreds of US Army field ration boxes, breakfast, dinner and supper packets. Typical breakfast packet — 1 can ham and eggs, 1 compressed cereal, pkt. biscuits, nestle 1 pkt. patent coffee – fruit bar – chewing gum, five cigs. Lunch and dinner rations in similar packets, real treasure to us. Also rations of cigarettes, Camel, Luckies etc. A sack of ground coffee, boxes of choc. bars, scented soap [Note: Cashmere Bouquet soap] , shaving cream, razors, magazines (Time, Collier’s), papers and letters from the individual pilots asking for answers, they’ll get a fan mail. Razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, personal packages from boys of the crew of the USS Lexington, everything in fact. The camp is in an uproar at present, seven pm, just after evening meal — for the first time since the Japanese episode you couldn’t even give your rice ration away — most of us too excited and happy to eat. At present this hut is bedlam, two or three concerts in full swing, a poker school (Yen) wild, a pontoon school at least 25 – 30 players, these men helping to ruin the bank. Others brewing up coffee, soup powders, lemonade.

TIME Magazine - US Edition - August 20, 1945
Image 16: TIME Magazine – US Edition – August 20, 1945
Colliers Magazine - 11 August, 1945
Image 17: Colliers Magazine – 11 August, 1945

Next morning. 28th. [Note: Monday 28th August 1945]

Couldn’t sleep last night. Went to bed at 2am, up 4am and out over the fence with a pack of clothing, old boots etc on the back and set out for the mountain farm as dawn was breaking. Caught my farmer as he was crawling out of his hut and swapped my old clothes etc. for a pack full (64) large freshly picked pears and about 20 lbs of potatoes. Some load, but got it down the mountain road and back over the camp fence before roll call, undetected. Rich man now bringing up the coffee, chocs. and cigarettes of the unenterprising citizens. Rather disappointed that stupid farmer couldn’t produce eggs. He’ll have ‘em tomorrow morning, blast ‘im as his good wife nearly cried when I put the three bars of soap and a woolen sweater back in my pack. I’ll eat a six or ten egg omelette for breakfast tomorrow morning, and maybe a roast chicken for lunch.


Yanks here again, yes, two planes have just been over and dropped a letter ordering signs to be painted on the parade ground indicating our requirements. T = Food; D = Cigarettes; X = Medical supplies; M = Clothing. Ts and Ds will appear fronts. To hell with Ms and Xs, waste of valuable aeroplane cargo space.

Iwaki Coal Mine / Yoshima / Sendai B POW Camp 28th August 1945 -
Image 18: Iwake Coal Mine / Yoshima / Sendai B POW Camp 28th August 1945 (Photo Source: http://www.mansell.com)

To resume letter, diary or story or whatever you might now call this script — our Doctor OC left at 3 am for our area HQ city, called Sendai, a 100 or so miles North of here, bearing telegrams from everyone, official lists etc. and a decorated chunk of parachute embellished by our local artists with the Corps badges of all the different units in this camp and autographed by everyone as an offering to the Lexington’s crew. (PS, hush-hush, my pal has just reported that lunch, potatoes, popcorn, pear pie, coffee and biscuits is in course of preparation. He works in the repair shop and clothing store and provides the purchasing capital by sleight of hand and takes over the cargo and serves meals in the privacy of his store — an old army custom.

Finish using this paper, latest parachute from Yanks even contains notepaper and envelopes — slightly crushed.


Yes, the Yanks are still coming, bless them — they’ll kill us with kindness, literally. We cannot sleep because of the hordes of mosquitoes and fleas at night and every time you try to get your head down for forty winks by day, Uncle Sam Santa Claus sends over another squadron to bombard the camp with 50 lb cases of rations, and wise men stay in the open where you can dodge (one Canadian, too lazy to get up and out today, missed death by a matter of inches). Anyway, with our present state of excitement, plenty of tobacco and strong coffee in addition to previously mentioned factors, I’ve had 71/2 hours sleep in the last 72 hours!

US Army Air Corps (USAAC) B-29 Super Flying Fortress
Image 19: US Army Air Corps (USAAC) B-29 Super Flying Fortress

Today the US Army Air Corps took their turn in the sky. And what an act they put on. Two four engined Flying Fortresses made their entrance with a fighter escort. And when those FFs started to provision us, the fun really started. Giant parachutes floated down with 4 ft. high steel oil drums filled with enough foodstuffs for a battalion and a 100 complete kits of clothing, caps to boots. Unfortunately, someone miscalculated the weights and stresses and the food drums broke free from their parachutes and rocketed earthwards to bury themselves in the rice paddies about a mile from camp. But we salvaged what we could of the resulting mixture of milk, cocoa, chocolate, cigarettes, tinned meats, fruits and vegetables, sugar, shaving soap, face cream, toothpaste, tinned soups etc. etc. but the village children got about 60% of the food in smashed tins with mud sauce from the paddy. The starving little children ate it there and then with obvious relish. Some of them didn’t like the taste of toothpaste and shaving soap particularly, but they tried hard to get it down. A couple of parachutes caught in the local HT cables and then we had a nice display of fireworks! Two hours work for everyone in the mud and slush but we don’t know what to do with all the food we have. Tonight we fed half the village kids with what we couldn’t eat (they’re starved in the village and as there seems to be about five kids per adult out there when we go out now, the kids just mob us for presents of eatables). 

29th [Note: Tuesday 29th August 1945]

The US Navy successfully bombed camp with 250 breakfasts, 250 lunches and 250 dinners in packages, and a 100 cigarettes per man — 25000 cigarettes, two more breaches in the roof and it has started to rain (hellish sticky now, too — hot!). I’m stuffed full of chocolate fruit, biscuits, tinned meat etc. and it never rains but it pours. Someone has thrown a scare into the Japs here and they are giving four loaves of bread per man per day and 1/2 a ton of fish just rolled in through the gates. We can’t possibly use this! and we’ll have to get it taken out of the camp!

Although following America's entry into World War II Deanna Durbin's sparkle became increasingly eclipsed by the rise of Judy Garland for many POWs Durbin was still the Best Pin Up of WWII
Image 20: Although following America’s entry into World War II Deanna Durbin’s sparkle became increasingly eclipsed by the rise of Judy Garland for many POWs Durbin was still the Best Pin Up of WWII

The Flying Fortresses — just one — appeared overhead again, and a groan went up to Heaven; but the Lord heard our prayer and the bomber didn’t release anything. Letter dropped yesterday by FF said that every three days would see deliveries of rations. Even that’s too much! The magazines dropped by the Navy planes are a joy. Chaps keep coming up to you all day with news flashes gleaned from different mags. Bing Crosby is film star No. 1 — what, that punk? Deanna Durbin is NOT dead (we’d heard she was). And who are all these new film stars? And Churchill is an American idea of a HERO! How Mussolini was killed, that great adventure of the landing on France described, the story of the Philippines POW horror camps. It is mostly true too. I’ve heard that story from many a Yank in Tokyo Hospital, and believe me they in PI [Note: An abbreviation for the Philippines] camps had a holiday compared to what [happened to] the Singapore fellows who were sent to work on the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway [Note: Thailand – Burma / Death Railway]. That’s going to make one of the most horrible stories ever written, for written it must be. The Magazines again — trial of the French traitors, meaty reading, by golly – it gives us Hong Kong men some ideas about a similar purge when we get back there. And we won’t have any shortage of candidate for the rope provided the local loyal Chinese haven’t forestalled us! Wavell [Note: Archibald Percival Wavell, the Viceroy of India] in Indian Dominion status or independence? Russia is still coming into Manchukuo [Note:  The Empire of Manchukuo / Manchuria was the Japanese created puppet state  in modern northeast China and province of Inner Mongolia where Puyi, the last Qing emperor, was the nominal regent and emperor. On 9th August 1945 the Soviet Union commenced the  Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation in which over 1,000,000 Red Army troops were sent into Manchuria. Their defeat of the largest and most celebrated command in the IJA – The Kwantung  Army – was a major factor in the Japanese decision to surrender] and Korea. Why the hell don’t I know more Russian? The Kuomintang [Note: The Chinese Nationalist Party, or KMT, led by Chiang Kai Shek, which fled to Taiwan in 1949] and the Communists in China still as far apart as ever. It looks as though the European freebooter will still be able to make an honest penny along the China coast. China gets Formosa [Note: Taiwan] returned and Formosa with half a chance is a land of milk and honey, both of which commodities are saleable for honest dough. The mountain dwellers still collect human heads as ornaments in Formosa, and I’ve heard that if you haven’t got your nut well screwed on in Formosa, you’re apt to have it screwed off.

Tanks from the Soviet Red Army roll along a street in the Chinese port city of Dalian
Image 21: August 1945 – Tanks from the Soviet Red Army roll along a street in the Chinese port city of Dalian in north eastern China

But no mention of Eire [Note: Eire is the Irish name for Ireland] in any of the mags, and I’m starved for news of the old country. Have we or have we not lost out by our stand on neutrality? Personally I was disappointed when we didn’t come in when the US became embroiled. We could have done so then in perfect safety and without any loss of face or life maybe; but I guess I’ll read all about it some day. First thing I’m going to do is order 31/2 of past Time and Life mags.

Our Doctor OC has still not returned from HQ, but rumour has it we leave in a few days bound for the Philippines. Looks like ole Barney puts the pack on shoulder again — hurrah for that. You know, Peg, I’ve gathered no moss I guess, but I don’t want moss, and gosh I love rollin’. I must admit to an awful itch to have a good look at Tokyo and Yokohama before leaving Japan. I’d also dearly love to kick a few Japs’ arses — but none of them around here are worth kicking. The capital might produce a few of the old Samurai class within range of my boot, and I’d erase a couple of years’ bitterness and ill-treatment from my mind very quickly. 

Photographs taken today – personnel only copy included.

30th [Note: Wednesday 30th August 1945]

Navy planes over again this morning. Had us all out of bed post-haste at 5.30 am. Dropped message — “No supplies today, landing ops. in progress. Hospital ships in Tokyo Bay waiting to evacuate POWs. Have you out within a few days.” Good.

Have just read small snippet in US magazine about De Valera — “Once again thumbs nose at Allies by calling on German Minister to sympathise with him on death of Hitler”. [Note: In response to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera’s 2nd May 1945 visit to the home of  of Eduard Hempel, German Minister (Ambassador) to Ireland to express his condolences, which caused international consternation, in a radio address marking the end of the war in Europe British Prime Minister Winston Churchill praised his government’s restraint in not re-occupying Ireland “…His Majesty’s Government never laid a violent hand upon them, though at times it would have been quite easy and quite natural, and we left the de Valera Government to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives to their heart’s content to which de Valera responded “..if his (Churchill’s) contention be admitted in our regard, a like justification can be framed for similar acts of aggression elsewhere and no small nation adjoining a great Power could ever hope to be permitted to go its own way in peace”. Source /read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emergency_(Ireland)#The_Emergency_after_the_end_of_World_War_II ]. I can’t believe this, or has the man gone completely mad? I saw no objection to our neutrality during the war, but cannot see any necessity for a Catholic, Irish Premier to express public sympathy for the death of Hitler. I’ve already had a horribly bitter argument with my friend Murphy [Note:  Pelly Murphy] over this report (he is a fanatical West Briton), my only defence being that there must be some mistake. If there’s not, I’ll just have to take full advantage of my active service pay-book on which II may claim a British passport or become a naturalised Chinese subject! 

Have just weighed myself, 69 kilograms, a 1551/2 lbs,  11 st. stripped — very good for a POW.

6th [Note: Thursday 6th September 1945]

Got tired of writing lately and skipped last six days, but we’re still in camp. On the 1st of this month the US Army sent their B17s over and bombed us with supplies in staggering quantities. It took the whole camp about 3-4 hours to carry the stuff into safety and even then we only rescued about 60% of it from the rice paddies and the village children. Tinned supplies of all sorts, toilet accessories and at least 1500 cigs. per man.

It was dearly paid for by our chaps. Many of the huge parachutes failed to hold their loads, which hurtled downwards all over the country, unchecked. Two of our men were standing on the roof trying to signal the planes with a lamp. A huge packing case crashed down on them — one a Yank, Sy Siretta [Note: Staff Sergeant Joseph F.Sarata, US Army Signal Corps #6134856, POW #211] by name, was killed outright. The other, Zino Gozano [Note: Private Jose Maria “Zinho” Gosano, HKVDC #3710, POW #159], a Portuguese volunteer from Hong Kong, got the edge of the case only, but had his legs broken. We sent both him and Murphy [Note: Pelly Murphy] to Tokyo that day, and I believe they may be flown to the States right away. Poor old Sy we hauled out to the crematorium and his ashes were returned the next day. Two village children were also killed in the same manner, but I guess life is cheap here — no one gives more than a passing murmur of regret and then lines up for his share of the grub and cigarettes.

Discipline here has just disappeared and we wander the country at will now — we own the joint, in fact. The last three nights I’ve been eaten chicken dinners at different farmhouses. We pay in kind — old boots, clothes, blankets, overcoats, winter uniforms, cigarettes, chocolate and buy anything they’ve got eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, milk, vegetables. There’s also a geisha joint running full blast in the village, where booze may be obtained for various presents. My pal from the repair shop and I succeeded in transporting the camp sewing machine there last night and flogged it for three quarts of awful liquor. That’s why I’m in camp tonight, alas, still feeling very sorry for myself. That stuff must have had a very high poison content.

We’ve been standing to move off every morning since the 2nd, but we just don’t seem to move. We were positively sure of moving yesterday morning and this morning, but we’re still here. We’re now running short of food again and the fellows rely more on their own foraging abilities for their chew, but even that should fold up soon. We’ve traded off nearly everything we possess — most guys have no blankets left to sleep on tonight, having swapped same for food in the village. But what the hell, nobody cares about small things like that!

The Japs have moved out of camp, leaving us rifles and bayonets, and we’re now standing our own guards. Main duty of the guards is to regularly throw buckets of water over the village kids who block the exits, scrounging chocolate etc.

And now, the real reason for writing tonight. If we don’t move tomorrow morning, two of us are going to look for the Yanks — we’re pushing off to Tokyo under our own steam. Going by train if possible, we don’t quite know how actually, but we’re completely browned off by this waiting, and any damn thing for a change of air. So maybe this letter ends here, as if we make Tokyo I’ll air mail this straight away.



Continued on train bound for Tokyo (We hope)

We, self and pal (Desmond Hynes, papa Irish) [Note: Lance Corporal Desmond Alva Hynes, HKVDC #2585, POW#43, of London] left camp this morning [Note: Friday 7th September 1945] and by brute ignorance boarded the train at local station. Money we have none, but plenty of cigs, chocolates, soap, two blankets, 5 pairs of boots and a whole parachute of blue nylon. We reckon this is enough wealth to see us through until we reach some US outpost somewhere. We hope this train is going to Tokyo — it’s still going southwards so we must come close to the Capital if it keeps going long enough. You should have seen the ticket collector’s face as we just passed through the barrier — tickets nil.

Sept 8th. [Note: Saturday 8th September 1945]

Atsugi Air Field, [Note: Located 36 kilometres of Tokyo, Atsugi Airfield was home to the Japanese 302 Naval Aviation Corps, which shot down over 300 USAF bombers during the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo. Following the completion of the Atsugi control tower a day earlier, the first aircraft carrying Allied occupation troops landed in the heavily damaged Atsugi airfield on 30th August 1945, as did  the same General MacArthur to accept Japan’s surrender. ” On 30 Aug, Atsugi was the busiest airport in the world ….340+ takeoffs and landings at the rate of 1 every 2 minutes..” (Source / read more: Jack McKillop Combat Chronology of World War II http://www.usaaf.net/chron/index.htm. Nine days later ex POW #96 Barney Byrne arrived at Atsugi.]

30th August 1945 - General Douglas MacArthur arrives at Atsugi Air Base near Yokohama to take his post as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Occupation of Japan.
Image 22: 30th August 1945 – General Douglas MacArthur arrives at Atsugi Air Base near Yokohama to take his post as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Occupation of Japan.

Outside Tokyo.

Things have happened at express speed, but I think I left off saying that we hoped we were on a Tokyo train. We were, all right. Arrived in Tokyo at 8 p.m. last night after several hours in the train. Got into the main station, but couldn’t find any Yank Army — and no one seemed to know where the Yankee Army occupied. This shook us somewhat but we finally convinced a small boy porter that we had to go to a hotel anyway US Army there or not. The small boy rather surprised us by taking an oil lamp in his hand and setting off at a smart trot. We went out into an almost pitch dark central Tokyo where just an odd light shone here and there between ruined buildings. We walked behind our small guide for ages trying different one-time hotels but all closed and in darkness. Finally small guide had an earnest confab with a Jap policeman and we set off again with renewed energy. I was getting rather nervy by this time. Not a sign of a Yank anywhere, and everywhere in darkness. I was beginning to weigh up my chances of ditching my kit and making a fast getaway if any incident should occur. Needless worry, for we finally after about half an hour’s walking, came to a lighted hostelry, and heavily rewarding small guide with Lucky Strikes and Camels, we marched in. “Does anyone speak English here? Are there any Americans here?”

“Oh, yes, sir! Do you wish to stay here tonight?” Bango. That shook us for a start from a Jap, but we recovered quickly enough to inform him that wild horses wouldn’t get us out into the streets again. Anyway, he led us to the reception desk, where lo and behold six bepistolled Yanks are loudly demanding accommodation. Greetings, etc, all round and then we find out where we are. Tokyo’s Number 1 Imperial Hotel, and the Yanks are MacArthur’s GHQ advance party just arrived to take over the hotel as Headquarters as from tomorrow; Majors, Colonels, and what have you, but all modern Yankee soldiers are very Socialist and approachable, and “Shure, boys, don’t worry, you’ll get somewhere here to sleep tonight.” They were very interested in the two dirty Rip Van Winkles and started the question and answer game. But after a short while they got back to their own business of arranging for the takeover, and we were adopted by the War Correspondents, particularly ‘Life’ and ‘Cosmopolitan’.

My pal and ‘Life’ retired to bed in the latter’s room quite early, but Harry Bambridge (Note: Harry T. Brundidge), Assistant Editor of the ‘Cosmopolitan’, was made of sterner stuff and he and I started swapping yarns. He and I repaired to the room of ‘Time’, who produced (magician) a bottle of Johnny Walker ‘Black Label’, an almost incredible thing to do. And the three of us walked into that bottle courageously. When it was finished, Harry (by now ‘old horse’) of Cosmopolitan, who, it must be admitted, had had a pretty good start over us two, sallied forth and brought six bottles of Jap beer home alive. By 3 am, I heard more unpublished and unpublishable news about this war than I’d hoped to learn in the next month. Harry was bitterly lamenting the fact that US Intelligence had found out too quickly that he had hidden away ‘Tokyo Rose’, the Japp ‘Lord Haw Haw’, and made him produce her before he could persuade her to write a full exclusive story for Cosmopolitan. (Note: “…  At war’s end, in the summer of 1945, the first American journalists ashore sought Tokyo Rose‘s story. When two Hearst reporters, Harry Brundidge of Cosmopolitan and Clark Lee of International News Service, were told that her voice was that of many girls, they insisted on meeting one of them. Iva [Note: US citizen Iva Toguri d’Aquino] knew of “Tokyo Rose” from foreign news dispatches and an item in Time magazine … she was aware that in claiming it she would open herself to a charge of treason. At the same time, she felt that she had done nothing wrong, and when she was offered $2,000 for an exclusive interview, she accepted.

On Sept. 3. the day after the formal surrender in Tokyo Bay, Iva went to Lee and Brundidge’s room at the Imperial Hotel and, while Lee typed, she explained how the name “Tokyo Rose” was thrust upon her. She told of her life in Tokyo during the war years and of how she and the POW’s had had to function under constant Japanese pressure. To illustrate the Japanese surveillance, though not necessarily to illustrate any attempt to subvert the propaganda effort, she described how, after the Battle of Formosa. a Japanese major had directed her to say, “You fellows are all without ships. What are you going to do about getting home now?” and how she had said, “Or. phans of the Pacific, you really are orphans now.” The quoted words would play an important part in her trial.

Iva did not receive S2.000. Instead she was rewarded by visits from U.S. military police, and eventually taken to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo where General Tojo and other Japanese prisoners accused of war crimes were awiting trial. Here Iva remained for II months, unaware of the charges against her, denied legal counsel, bail and speedy trial”. Source: Tokyo Rose : Traitor,  By John Leggett, Dec. 5 1976, New York Times)He and his two other correspondents are able to keep up with the war by operating a private B17.

Retired about 3 a.m. to a spring bed, sheets and white blankets, bathroom attached and I was called by the chambermaid bringing my tea at 7 a.m. And that’s how lucky you really can be just short of miracles.

Had breakfast in the Grill Room with Des and ‘Life’. Milk porridge, fried fish and fried bread and coffee was all they could provide, but it was the white tablecloth, silver and the service that really counted. To actually sit down and be served with a meal at a table.

Then out with two Signal Corps Tech Sergeants to see the Victory Parade of General MacArthur’s officially taking over of Tokyo and the hoisting of the US flag. Very disappointing show: troops were anything but Guardsmen, and were very few — there was a band but we couldn’t find it and we never bothered to walk as far as the US Embassy to see the flag hauled up.

Back to the hotel to rescue our kits before GHQ condemned them as antiques and we found a Lieutenant commanding a ‘Duck’ (monster amphibian vehicle who was going to Yokohama [Note a distance of 17 miles or 27 kilometres]where POW repatriation HQ was). Luckily the Loot and his boys wanted to see the town and we all piled in and went for a grand tour of Tokyo and finally to Yokohama. 50% of both cities are completely in ruins and what damage I’d seen done to London up to November 1940 was mere child’s play compared to the devastation in these two cities — miles and miles of nothing but rubble and scrap iron. Lovely sight.

Finally arrived at the quayside in Yokohama to find POW HQ located in a huge dock warehouse with three hospital ships lying alongside. We were fed, washed, deloused, refitted, medically examined, questioned, sent cables, gave sworn statements re ‘atrocities’ (they’re real hot on this question), and met our first white girls for three and a half years. Blonde, painted, scented, betrousered US WAACs or something and didn’t I ever enjoy talking to those gals.

But everything happened so fast. Within three hours I found myself in a lorry with about fifteen other POWs bound for Atsugi Air Port where I am at present. We’re flying tomorrow by Okinawa and then on to Manila. Actually I tried to stay here in Tokyo for a few days but they railroaded me so damn quickly that I hadn’t a chance to make any arrangements and I’m now about to bed down for the night in the hangar here and don’t know what time we take off in the morning. I’m now intending to airmail this from Manila.

On board AC 56 Transport [Note: Barney may well be referring to “a (Lockheed) C-56 (Lodestar) transport”. However, the Lodestar was a light twin-engine aircraft which carried no more than 18 passengers, and two paragraphs below Barney describes flying from Atsugi to Okinawa in a four-engine aircraft with a capacity of at least 60 passengers.  It’s therefore more probable he was flying in a Lockheed C-69 Constellation, a large troop transport aircraft utilised for flying occupation forces into Tokyo and bringing the former POWs to Okinawa, for transit on their way home]

9th September. [Note: Sunday 9th September 1945]

Up this morning at 6 a.m. and lazed around airfield waiting for the plane to take us off. About 200 planes of all types on this field and the runway was sending them off and taking more in every minute.

Finally climbed aboard this huge four-engines plane and took off on our five-hour trip to Manila. This is sure a luxurious method of travel. There’s hardly any pitching or rolling — I’m writing this on my knee and smoking cigarettes. About forty of us are aboard and there’s still room for another 20 or so. We’re about three hours out at present and there’s nothing to see except clouds and the odd tiny ship.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation
Image 23: Sunday 9th September 1945: From hell to heaven – Aboard a Lockheed C-69 Constellation, liberated Irish Prisoner of the Japanese Barney Byrne flies out of Atsugi Airfield in Tokyo bound for Kadena Airfield in Okinawa

Next day. 10th [Note: Monday 10th September 1945

Okinawa [Note: Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, the largest island in the Ryukyu Islands chain]. 

Arrived here last night after a six-hour trip from Tokyo. I guess you’ve seen plenty of pictures of this place – wild virgin island. You wouldn’t recognise it now. The US forces have moved in with everything possible in equipment. We landed on a gigantic airfield for a start, an airfield of really staggering proportions reminding you of something from H G Wells ‘Shape of Things to Come’. No exaggeration, but our plane must have taken at least 5-7  minutes to taxi to its parking place, and there seems to be about five different runways on the field and, no kidding, there must be a thousand airplanes parked around the field. And the famed Yankee automobile road builders jungle razers, excavators etc, all in full working order, just smashing out roads in every direction.

We explained and registered and were once more forcibly fed by the Red Cross girls. I had a cup of coffee and six doughnuts pushed into my hand before I’d time to say ‘boo’, but was asked to leave some room for dinner which would be served as soon as we got to the camp for POWs.

Camp is canvas tents -wooden mess-halls, wash-houses, latrines, thousands of POWs here. Radios going on all over the joint. Bulldozers digging new roads, levelling sites – planes roaring overhead all the time, motor traffic like rush hour at home, (no Yank above the rank of Corporal ever walks, he rides his jeep), and above all the radio public address loudspeakers keep bellowing out the names of people to leave on the outgoing planes. At present 10 p.m. it quietens down a little, and the movies are going full blast with the latest Hollywood Super-Technicolour colossal being shown in the open air with the riding lights of a few hundred ships in the bay as a background. Only drawback is that incoming planes drown proceedings every couple of minutes. But what the heck, its our first movie and it’s free, so why beef?

We’ve met up with a lot of fellows who were originally with us in Hong Kong POW camp and have been busily comparing notes all day. But the story is the same all over. I’m sick of hearing it, and only I wrote it down early on in this letter, Peg, I don’t think you’d ever have heard such a complete or nearly complete recital as this. Every newspaper we get here is full of atrocity stories and welcomes for the returning heroes and I’m already pretty sick of the rigmarole.

Best feature of the day is a successful swindle pulled by yours truly in getting a seat on a Manila plane tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll have more to add on arrival there.


Sept 13th. [Note: Thursday 13th September 1945

Waited all day on the 11th [Note: Tuesday 11th September 1945] in Okinawa, but bad weather prevented flying. 3 a.m.on the 12th [Note: Wednesday 12th September 1945]  was hauled out of bed — no electric lights in tents, no candles, no matter — got packed and we got to the aerodrome. A 6 a.m. we boarded a B24 [Note: Following Japan’s surrender USAAF Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers also flew in occupation forces and brought out POWs from Okinawaand took off. Two hours out things really started to happen. One of our four engines began to spit oil and smoke and the child who was the rear gunner told us in a rather overdone tone of complete assurance that there was no immediate danger, but we were going back to Okinawa – However we should put our Mae Wests [Note: Allied aircrew called their yellow inflatable life jackets “Mae Wests” because “it gave the appearance of the user being as physically endowed as a popular film actress of the time” Source: http://wiki.answers.com] on, in case. Your old nephew grinned cheerfully and put on his life jacket, but indulged in an amount of private profanity at the prospect, at this late stage in the game, to swim for it. We made it back to the airport at 10.30 a.m. and in the best movie style were chased down along the runway by about six fire engines and ambulances. The fire engines proved very necessary, as when the engine was stopped it went up in flames and the firemen went to work instantly. Across the airport by lorry and straight into another plane, a C.46 twin engined transport, and took off again at eleven thirty am. These transport planes are OK by me, B24 bombers are uncomfortable and hellish cold. I damn near froze in the B24 until the return part of the trip, when maybe it was the Mae West that kept me warm, or maybe I was too scared to feel the cold

Anyway, at the second attempt we made Nichols Field, Manila, [Note: Located about six miles south of the heart of Manila in Pasay City and Parañaque City, Metro Manila, near the shore of Manila Bay, Nichols Field was home to the US Army Air Force’s 20th Air Base Group. Occupied by the Japanese from December 1942 to January 1945, the airfield is now the location for Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport] without incident at 5.30 p.m., making ten flying hours for yours truly yesterday, and if I don’t fly again for a long, long time, it’ll be too soon.

A lorry pulled up alongside the plane and we loaded up. It was to transport the poor POWs at most two hundred yards across the airport to the Red Cross reception centre where we unloaded again, and were welcomed by the Yankee WAAC gals and a BAND playing ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ followed by ‘Roll out the Barrel’. Of course, the poor half-starved POWs must drink more coffee and eat some doughnuts and biscuits. I mustn’t allow myself to write too much about the generosity of these Yanks but I will remark that even the way they give is nice — they make you feel glad to take all this stuff from them, it gives them such obvious pleasure to pamper you; there is no suggestion of charity about it.

Left the airport and drove in a lorry for about half an hour to this Reception Camp which appears to be on the outskirts of the city. It’s a really vast camp and they impress on you the necessity of remembering the number of your street and tent in case you get lost.

I’ve not seen much of the camp as yet; cinema, canteen,bath-houses, stores everywhere. You get something for nothing at every turn: two sets of uniform, complete from cap to boots; toilet accessories of all kinds, and a Canteen ticket which entitles you to three bottles of beer, 40 cigarettes, 5 cigars, 2 ozs of tobacco, candy, cocoa, peanuts, and Coca Cola and fruit ad lib. All in addition to three huge meals a day. I’ve got to admit its got me licked — I can’t eat or drink or smoke fast enough to keep up to the issue.

Today I’ve been through my medical examination and I think I’ll rate A1 after a little dental treatment. For about the 20th time since the war started I’ve been vaccinated and inoculated against cholera and typhoid. Any germ connected with these maladies must turn pale with fright when it sees me coming. I’ve also been issued a pay-book and five pounds in cash. It’s burning my pocket at present and you can’t spend a penny here in camp if you tried.

Tomorrow I think I’ll find my way to the City and see if I’ve still retained the knack of spending dough. If I’ve forgotten I think I can relearn rapidly.

I’ve cabled Byrne Kilcullen today and sent air mail letters to Jim, Tom, and the Long Lad, congrats on marriage. Tomorrow I hope to do ditto for Nick and Peter Barden, Mamie and Gertie Lawler (I’ve remembered the name Ned Coffer of course). Lights out in the canteen now. Hot and sticky here in Manila, prefer Japanese climate.

September 17th. [Note: Monday 17th September 1945]

Still working in Manila. I’ve been down in the town once only to see the sights, but both the Artillery and the bombers had got there before me and ruined the view. The town is just a mess, and at present it is purely a military camp. There’s tents pitched right in the centre of it, and traffic is still 90% military transport.

Night life is booming of course with literally hundreds of little cafe night clubs. Beer is unobtainable and rot-gut whiskey, gin and run about 6.9 peso a half pint (15/-) [Note: shillings] a half-pint. A meal costs a fortune, if you can buy one.

The remnants of the Hong Kong POW camp arrived here yesterday, including my pal Komorsky, who is dead set on going to England. If that crazy Russian ever gets to Kilcullen, please give him a bed and some food. He and his mother gave me a lot of help in remaining alive. He is a most wonderful raconteur, and you’re quite safe in believing 25% of his yarns, but the other 75% is well worth listening to for its entertainment value! You’ll probably meet Anatoly Mihailovich Komorsky some day and you’ll enjoy it.

He and the others have brought the full account of what happened in Hong Kong during and after the Jap occupation and I’m mad at having missed that aftermath. Komorsky or I will be able to relate that at some future date, but now I’m finishing this letter and hope to persuade the air mail to carry same. I’ve shelved my original plan of giving it to Terry Ashcroft as he hasn’t yet got out of Japan.

Where I’m going myself is still a matter of conjecture as the authority are being pig-headed in refusing to send people to China.

Cheerio ladies and best of love


I’ll cable my first possible mailable address


Appendix 01: Family background and biography of Barney “John Bernard Patrick” Byrne

My connection to Barney is that he was the son of my mother’s (Kathryn “Kath” O’Reilly nee Byrne) father’s (James J “Jim” Byrne) sister Bridget “Birdie” Byrne.

Birdie had five older sisters, or the aunts, Katie Agnes (who married Michael Shortall, and was known by Barney as “Auntie Katie”) Sarah (Dais), Nora, Anna (Nannie), Margaret (Peg) and a younger brother James J Byrne.  All resided in Kilcullen, a small town on the banks of the River Liffey in Co. Kildare.

Their mother Catherine “Kate” Byrne died in 1901, while their father James Byrne died in 1904. Sister Nora took over the running of the family shop and pub, while Peg ran the Post Office.

Birdie Byrne married a John Byrne (no relation, just a coincidence), thus not changing her last name and they lived at Kilgowan House, in Usk, just outside Kilcullen, Co., Kildare which is referenced in Barney’s diary above. At the age of twenty-five she died, twenty-two days after the birth of her first child. Bernard, who always known as Barney, was born on Sunday 7th of December 1913, just over seven months before the outbreak of World War I.

His father John Byrne, a farmer and publican, remarried and he and his new wife lived in Kilgowan.  However, she did not want to care for the infant Barney who was subsequently raised in Kilcullen by his mother’s sisters who lavished him with care and love. All the sisters adored Barney but Peg, to whom his diary letter is addressed, was especially close to him.

According to the memoirs of Phyllis Brugnolotti, whose grandmother was Auntie Katie:

“..Peg was our favorite aunt. She was full of pep and she always had bright ideas about how to entertain us. She ran the Post Office which was across the street from the Byrne grocery. Telephones were not common at that time so most people went to the Post Office to make telephone calls.  If a call in for someone in the neighborhood, Peg answered the phone in a stentorian voice. She was a legend in the town.

Peg had been to a convent school in England which may account for her distinctive accent. The school was known as Adelphi Academy located in Salford, near Manchester.”

When he was a child Barney had rheumatic fever which left his heart weak, so there was considerable dismay among the aunts when they learned, possibly because he had broken a tooth, he had taken up boxing as a hobby.

He attended school at the Dominican Order run Newbridge College, in Co. Kildare from where he went to University College Dublin (N.U.I.) to study accounting earning a B. Com degree. He also became an Associate of the Society of Accountants and Auditors (A.A.S.A.).

“When Barney went to London to work, he was a member of the Irish Club. My younger sister and I subsequently went to London and once we saw him when we were going down the escalator and he was going up.  We found him fascinating and he always gave us half a crown”, recalled Phyllis.

He appears to have left London in November 1940 heading by ship to Hong Kong to take up the position of Hong Kong Government War Taxation Examiner, which commenced in January 1941. Leaving behind a Britain at war, a London which had just been ravaged by the German bombing blitz, and weary of sudden attack by enemy aircraft or submarines, as his ship steamed into the relative calm of the Indian Ocean a notion that he was heading out of harm’s way toward the East would surely have crossed his mind.

Noted Phyllis:

“During his imprisonment from time to time the aunts would receive a postcard from the prison camp, the war of course being a great anxiety to them. Having survived the war he finally got back to Kilcullen.”

 “We saw him cooking cooked ham in a frying pan; this was a revelation to us as we had never seen anyone fry cooked ham!”

After the war Barney seems to have travelled directly to Hong Kong where met and later married Phyllis (1925-1978). It is unclear where or how they met. She would have been in her early 20s when she married him. He went on the found what was to become a leading accounting and auditing firm in Hong Kong: John B P Byrne & Co, certified public accountants (Note: Now known as JBPB & Co., a subsidiary of BDO Limited in Hong Kong). According to his nephew Brian Byrne (Note: son of Jim Byrne, my mother’s brother, who was very close to Barney) Barney made his first trip back to Ireland in the early 1950s.

Similar to most POWs, Barney’s body, already challenged by the health troubles of his childhood, never really recovered from the appalling treatment meted out at the hands of the Japanese. To the deep sorrow of his wife Phyllis, Peg, and the Byrnes of Kilcullen, on the 10th April 1955, at the age of 42 in the Hong Kong Club Barney had a heart-attack and died. He was with friends. His 25 year old wife Phyllis [Note: Phyllis Christine Read, formerly Byrne née Kirby, otherwise known as Phyllis Christine Sharp, of No 18, St George’s Place, York, North Yorkshire and formerly of No 55, Buxey Lodge, No 37, Conduit Road, Hong Kong. Source: http://catalogue.jerseyheritage.org/collection/Details/archive/110286633/%5D

was in England at the time undergoing treatment for Tuberculosis (TB). [Note: This last sentence requires further corroboration as being factually correct] She subsequently remarried, and being of a similar age to my mother they became good friends. She used to stay at Avoca Lodge during her visits to Ireland.

At the age of 53 Phyllis died on the 20th October 1978, she was interred with Barney.

Source: Quotations related to Barney are from the memoirs to Phyllis Brugnolotti the grand-daughter of Katie Agnes Byrne, the sister of my mother’s father.

Mettle: Diary of Private John
Hong Kong Catholic Cemetery Map Location of Grave #2965A Private John Bernard Patrick Barney Byrne (HKVDC #4732) - Irish Prisoner of the Japanese in Shamshuipo and Sendai (1941-1945)
Red Star marks the location of the grave of Private John Bernard Patrick Byrne (HKVDC #4732) – Barney – and his wife Phyllis Read

Mettle: Diary of Private John Phyllis Christine Read Mettle: Diary of Private John Mettle: Diary of Private John

Lost but not forgotten - - Byrne family plot at New Abbey Cemetery, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Ireland
Lost but not forgotten – – Byrne family plot at New Abbey Cemetery, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Ireland
In Memory of John Bernard Patrick Byrne, New Abbey Cemetery, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Ireland
In Memory of John Bernard Patrick Byrne, New Abbey Cemetery, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Ireland

Appendix 02: The Fall of Hong Kong – A Personal Experience Xmas 1941 by FRANCIS CRABB, O.B.E., E.D. Ex. Pte. No. 2 (Scottish Coy) H.K.V.D.C..

[Note: Verbal accounts by different informed sources in Hong Kong confirmed that Barney Byrne was one of the HKVDC 2 Coy “elements of the Volunteer batteries” referred to in the piece below. Niall distinctly recalls a conversation in which Barney was mentioned as “one of the last 60 to surrender at Choong Hom Kok”].

“…. by the next day, the 24th, we were well pinned down in the valley by shell and machine gun fire. Our casualties gradually mounted so that the three platoons were getting rather thread-bare. I was transferred to Company H.Q. as a runner and we all moved off that evening. The H.Q. was in STANLEY VILLAGE POLICE STATION, one platoon going on up to the CHUNG HOM KOK peninsula and the others spreading out in the foothills above the village. The Japs attacked in strength all that night but we held our lines until midday on Christmas Day. We were now all mixed up — Middlesex, ourselves, Stanley gaol warders and elements of the Volunteer batteries, all under control of our Company Commander. The only method of communication we had was by runner so I was on the go all the time. By midday the position was pretty hopeless, the Company H.Q. had been wiped out during one of my absences and control was taken over by an officer who had been in gaol up to a few days before. We pulled back to the hills just overlooking the gaol and then were relieved by the Royal Rifles of Canada who had been in STANLEY FORT. We were exhausted and retired to the Fort to sleep out that night. Next morning we were advised that the Colony had capitulated the previous day and that the STANLEY PENINSULA area — or what was left of it — had surrendered early that morning, the 26th. We set about destroying all the arms we had, but when they were all put together it was a pitifully small pile to be dealt with. It was then necessary to contact the Japs and see what we could do about our wounded who had been left in the hills during the retreat. Parties were organised to search and I went on several, but it was rarely that wounded men were picked up; in the majority of cases it was burial parties that were required. The Company gradually collected together: we had 50% casualties of which half had been killed, including our Company Commander and Company Sergeant-Major. The remainder was a very sorry group to be herded into prison camp. We did, however, have the satisfaction of knowing that the Japs in direct opposition to us had considerably greater casualties than our own, for their funeral pyres on the STANLEY football pitch were extremely large….”  

Appendix 03: Hong Kong’s “Eve of Waterloo”

[Barney Byrne‘s allusion to “The Eve of Waterloo” fittingly portrays a sense of the edgy atmosphere at the China Red Cross Ball at the Peninsula Hotel on the night of Sunday 7th December 1941. At 8.00 am the following morning the Japanese invaded Hong Kong.

The Eve of Waterloo” is a part of one of Byron’s most celebrated poems, “Childe Harold.  Three nights before the Battle of Waterloo the English Duchess of Richmond gave a ball in Brussels, and invited many of the officers of the allied English and Prussian armies, which were at war with the French. The Duke of Wellington, commander-in-chief of the English army, was said to have been one of the guests. While the ball was at its height a messenger brought word to Wellington that the French under Napoleon were advancing towards the city. He did not wish to alarm the people, and so kept the information secret, but he sent the officers one by one to their regiments, and finally left for the field himself…

Source / read more: http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/the_eve_of_waterloo.html.

THERE was a sound of revelry by night,

And Belgium’s capital had gathered then

Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright

The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.

A thousand hearts beat happily; and when

Music arose with its voluptuous swell,

Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,

And all went merry as a marriage bell;

But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!

Did ye not hear it? — No; ’twas but the wind,

Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;

On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;

No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet

To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.

But hark! — that heavy sound breaks in once more,

As if the clouds its echo would repeat;

And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before;

Arm! arm! it is — it is — the cannon’s opening roar!

Within a windowed niche of that high hall

Sate Brunswick’s fated chieftain; he did hear

That sound the first amidst the festival,

And caught its tone with death’s prophetic ear;

And when they smiled because he deemed it near,

His heart more truly knew that peal too well

Which stretched his father on a bloody bier,

And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell;

He rushed into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.

Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,

And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress,

And cheeks all pale, which, but an hour ago,

Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness.

And there were sudden partings, such as press

The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs

Which ne’er might be repeated; who would guess

If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,

Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!

And there was mounting in hot haste; the steed,

The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,

Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,

And swiftly forming in the ranks of war;

And the deep thunder, peal on peal afar;

And near, the beat of the alarming drum

Roused up the soldier ere the morning star;

While thronged the citizens with terror dumb,

Or whispering, with white lips — “The foe! they come! they come!”

by: Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Appendix 04: Memories of Shamshuipo POW Camp

– By Corporal Arthur Gomez, HKVDC # 3053

– Arthur Gomez, a Portuguese national (who like Barney could have chosen to sit out the war in the neutral Portuguese colony of Macau, but instead also joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps) was interned at the Shamshuipo POW Camp with Barney, whom he knew.   

 Freedom was something we lost and never found in Shamshuipo. Never did we think that such conditions could ever prevail when we would be prevented from sitting down when we wished – or eating or drinking when we were hungry or thirsty. Yet these were very minor things compared with our other deprivations that we endured during those bitter years.   Sometimes we yearned to have a moment to ourselves to mend or wash our clothes. Every day we went on some form of working party. The Camp kept Tokyo time i.e. 2 hours ahead of Hong Kong time. This meant that we paraded at 5 o’clock in the morning every morning – summer and winter. It was exasperating to hear that bugle call. Every time it sounded the Orderly Sergeant would rush to pick up the new orders and come back to detail a group of men to do this or that. It goes on for weeks on end and then there is a break.   There was always that constant pang of hunger. When a picture of food would appear it seemed more attractive than a picture of Betty Grable in shorts. In three years and eight months we were in Shamshuipo Camp, there was only one issue of a toothbrush with a small packet of “Lion Brand” tooth powder, one issue of “Short Time” towel and twice we received a ration of 20 sheets of toilet paper. The rest the time we depended on the library! The Dutch used “bottled water” and it was an acrobatic feat as the “facility” was a length of water pipe run through the wall from end to end with a big soil bucket underneath each “compartment”. So with a bottle of water, we had to perch on this pipe like so many sparrows. Occasionally some would tumble and splash right in it! Then I remember the cookhouse. Most of the time we had nothing to cook but rice. The menu read for weeks: RICE BUST. But the cooks were ingenious: they saved the oil and the salt which were minuscule quantities per man per day but added up after a few months to provide us with a real treat. I remember that we did get date duff once or twice. Our festival menus at Christmas and the New Year were not only works of art but of imagination. It really looked grand when elaborately written up in restaurant French but it really meant that we were getting a bit of corned beef, some vegetable boiled in water and a bit of oil with a serving of hot tea. Ooh la la – scrumptious Christmas fare!

Arthur E Gomez”

Source / read more: http://www.rhkr.org/history/memory/Shamshuipo.html

Appendix 05: “I knew your uncle” Private Byrne HKVDC

– By Private Alfredo Jose M Prata, HKVDC #3604 POW #168

“From: Ajmprata@XXX.com To: niall@XXX.com Subject: Diary 28/06/2004 12.37:GMT Standard Time Date: Fri, 2 Jul 2004 11:37:26 EDT

Dear Niall

I believe I ‘knew’ your uncle (Pte. Byrne HKVDC) who was ‘drafted’ in April’44 from Camp ‘S’ (Note: Shamshuipo POW Camp) Hong  Kong to Camp 7′ (Yoshima POW Camp, Sendai near Tokio) Japan in  mid-May’44.(The voyage was as described in the Diary). He and others of the HKVDC (mixture of  British, Polish, French  Norwegian, Swede, Czech and a few Americans) shared the same No.2 (combined hospital) hut with some 120 odd Portuguese POWs from Nos.5 and 6 Portuguese Coy HKVDC [Note: Two of the HKVDC’s seven infantry companies were wholly comprised of Portuguese volunteers](and worked  in the same shifts in separate shafts in the coalmines). The other shift was made up of Canadians (Royals Rifles and Winnipeg Fuseliers) [Note: Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers, not Fuseliers] POWs complemented by a few of the British Units RN/RA/RE/RAMC/RASC [Note: Royal Army Service Corps]/Dockyard [Note: Royal Naval Yard Police]) in Hong Kong and were bunked in the No.1 hut. I do not recall a Pte.3632 K. A .Komorsky, but remember Pte’s. Solansky, Tausz [Note: Czech Sergeant Joseph Tausz, HKVDC #4309, POW #23], Arnulphy [Note: Gunner Carlos Arnulphy, HKVDC #4688, POW #198], the K(Ch)ristians  [Note: Danish Gunner Jorgan Vibe Christensen, HKVDC #4689, POW #199, and Gunner N O Christensen, HKVDC #4354] and particularly T.R.(Theo) Ingram [Note: Australian Private Ralph ‘Theo’ Theodore Ingram, HKVDC #1747 POW #196] all HKVDC POWs who I thought were ‘tetamie’ bunk-mates in the lower bunk some distance opposite mine in the far right top bunk in the No.2 hut.

I am afraid I cannot tell you much about your Uncle except that I knew him to be a quietly spoken man who had friends but a very much kept-to-himself type of person – like the most of us in the camp.  Because there was no question of “escape” and the living and working conditions of the Camp [with Day and Night shifts] did not provide much time for us to ‘socialise’; everyone had only one object…to stay alive and fit enough to walk out free of and from the Japs.

We spoke only to those involved in our daily (nightly) life: to those working in the same team (Driller and 4 shovellers) and mess mates [for meals in camp].  I believe your Uncle worked with Theo Ingram in the mess/mine team  as ‘line cleaners’ keeping all rail- lines completely free of ‘falls’ which, if un-cleared, would/could (and in some cases of deliberate acts) un-rail coal-filled-wagons on their way up to the top 800+metres to the mine-head.

There were only four (4) Camp deaths: 2 Portuguese, 1 American and 1 British (RN) but no funerals and I do not know what happened to their ashes. (I believe the Diary mentions 6 – quite possible! – Zinho Gosano was mentioned but did not die. After repatriation by hospital ship from Japan he became a priest and remained and died in NZ about a year ago.) Theo Ingram (pre-war HK Government) retired in Canada and I believe died only a couple of years ago. Tausz passed away in the late 50s and Arnulphy not long afterwards.

Since your Uncle kept a Diary he would have mentioned some of his friends (in HK/Jap POW Camps).  Did he mention a Mario Roza [Note: Sergeant Mario Luiz Roza, HKVDC #2463, POW#26] who was a trainee accountant — your Uncle started a company of Accountants (Note:  John B P Byrne & CoChartered Accountants, which is now JBPB & Co – formerly Grant Thornton in Hong Kong), shortly after the war in Hong Kong and I am sure Mario Roza would have spoken to him both during and after WW2.  Incidentally I believe Mario Roza was also a member of Theo Ingram’s team in the mines……..”

**************** Thank you for a copy of his Diary which I have gone through just once, so far, with lightening speed.  I assure you that this and it’s contents will be kept completely confidential and will (with all my personal papers on WW2) be destroyed on my demise. I enjoyed our brief “talk” and welcome further correspondence…….

Yours sincerely Alfredo”

Appendix 06: “I was forced to work in a coal mine (Iwake)”

– By William James McGrath, Royal Naval Yard Police, Hong Kong

“…. 2. I was taken prisoner at HONG KONG on the Twenty fifth of December 1941, and confined in SHAM SHUI PO P.O.W. Camp HONG KONG. I remained there until late in 1943 [Note: McGrath – POW #76 – was actually in Hong Kong 6th Transport Draft on the Naura Maru], and was taken to JAPAN. I cannot remember the name of the ship I sailed in, on arrival in JAPAN I was taken to SENDAI No. 2B P.O.W. Camp YOSHIMA, JAPAN. I remained a prisoner in the above camp until my release in August 1945.

…..3. While a P.O.W. in SENDAI No. 2B Camp I was forced to work in a Coal Mine, I am unable to recall the name of this mine, I had no previous experience of mining, and had never worked in a mine. The work I consider was very dangerous for inexperienced men, and conditions were very bad with no safety precautions. Coal dust was almost unbearable and ventilation non existent: The use of explosives by inexperienced men constantly endangered the lives of those working underground. We were told each day the number of trucks of coal to be got out, and were forced to remain in the mine until the stated number were produced irrespective of the hours worked. On several occasions after attention by Medical Officer when suffering from dysentery, I was ordered by the Japanese Medical Officer to go down the mine and work, and I was then forced to go. Early in 1945 when working in the mine I was struck by some trucks that had broken away on a steep incline, one truck struck me in the stomach and crushed me along the side of the tunnel, I was knocked out for some time and unable to continue working, I was refused permission to go to the surface and see the Medical Officer. My mate working with me on this day was a man by the name of Pelly MURPHY [Note: The same Murphy referred to in Barney’s letter as his “fanatical West Briton” friend”, which establishes, given Barney’s comments about the circumstances in which Pelly received his injury, that the writer, William James McGrath (who was also injured), Pelly and Barney were in the same work gang. Barney it appears was very lucky to escape injury]. He had his leg broken and was badly knocked about, and he was taken to the surface and received medical attention. Medical supplies were very limited and medical attention very often refused. We worked in gangs of five in the mine, with one Japanese guard to each gang……..”

Source / read more: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/sendai/sendai_2/mcgrath_affidavit.html

Appendix 07: Barney Byrne and War Taxation in Hong Kong, 1940-41

– By Edgar Mathias  McGrath (reproduced unedited by Ray Chidell)

“At the outbreak of the Second World War the British Empire was encouraged to support the war effort. For the Colonies and in particular, Hong Kong, this came down to a financial contribution.

The Hong Kong Government considered raising $16 million (1 million pounds) – the question was HOW?

Hong Kong was traditionally almost a FREE Port – Customs and Excise levied income by way of licenses on the opium trade and controlled the liquor trade similarly but apart from a rating system there were no taxes as understood in the United Kingdom.

So taxation appeared to be the answer – Taxation of Income.

Of income there was a great deal – from individual salary earners, from Corporations (Banks and Hongs like Jardines for example) businesses and land.

But income tax on the UK model involved taxation of the individual and a complete disclosure of all his or her income from all sources and this became a problem as the Chinese Business community (from where a large part of the income derived) were completely opposed to a full disclosure of the structure of their businesses, the names of the individual partners, the family holdings in the firms and, of course, the possibility of disclosing the holdings of Tongs (Secret Societies) in many of the trading businesses.

“Compromise” became the operative word and a system was devised to produce a number of separate compartments of taxation rather than a unified personalised system. So – tax salaries, Corporations, Businesses and Land (at varying rates) but importantly secure the consent of the Chinese traders to pay a flat rate tax on their business profits without disclosure of the details of ownership.

There was a similar system already operating in 1939 in Ceylon and this became a model for the War Taxation Ordinance 1940 which finally got through the legislature.

Problem no.2 – Staffing

For a new Department of Government the Cadet Corps could offer no specialists with business or taxation experience.

For a Head of their Department there would be a Commissioner and two Assistant Commissioners. The nearest to a specialist available was the Accountant General at that time – Tom Black – not a Cadet – entry into the Civil Service but right down to earth in financial terms. He was despatched to Ceylon to study their system and whilst there he recruited two of their senior taxation team for secondment to Hong Kong – Cyril Van Langenburg and Hans Lourenz (both being of Dutch Burgher descent).

For Assistant Commissioners then – One Cadet (Arthur Clarke) and Cyril Van Langenburg.

So far so good.

To perform similar functions to UK Tax Inspectors there had to be specialists. None existed in the HK Civil Service and the Accounting community in Hong Kong had no-one with any recent experience of the Taxation system.

Six Assessors or Examiners were needed so Government decided to recruit from the UK – six Chartered Accountants, aged 25-30 with experience, since qualifying, in Taxation. These posts were advertised in the UK in professional Journals, interviews were conducted by the Crown agents assisted by top men from the INLAND REVENUE and appointments made on two-year contracts, first class return passages paid for both husband (and wife if any).

We (that is including me the composer of this piece) were sent out as travel allowed – the first two Charles Tresise and Philip Appleyard latched on to the last of the flying boat passages and got there first in June 1940. Paul Chidell got passage by sea on the “NARKUNDA” P&O and in July 1940 I and James MacIntyre made it round the Cape on the Viceroy of India arriving mid September 1940.

The sixth appointee left last and was torpedoed en route!

So then there were Five.

It was a tremendous experience – apart from the upper echelon of Commissioners and Examiners there was a staff concerned with Information and Intelligence to set up individuals and Business details calling for Returns of Income, a collection section to get in the tax assessed and a most important group of Chinese with Accountancy training to translate into English format the beautifully painted Chinese Accounts – works of art really (but no one could ever be certain whether the accounts presented to us were either the true record or the one for the proprietors, or the one for the tax man!). But we assessed and we collected.

We, the Examiners, were at the sharp end of the operation – as already explained the idea of taxing was anathema to everyone in Hong Kong and they expected us to be “blood suckers” no less.

Our PR job was to convince them that fairness and impartiality was what we aimed at. The fact that we had all come from “the other side of the fence” so to speak, infected our attitude instinctively, so that I remember one taxpayer saying to me (with wonder) “You chaps treat us as if we were your CLIENTS”. On occasions we told people they had a right of appeal against our assessments and they could be represented at the appeal by a representative – either legal or accountancy – and argue their case. So we became accepted and no one got beaten up!

The War Taxation Ordinance 1940 had been drafted by the legal luminaries of Hong Kong and when we came to implement it we came across technical anomalies which could never have arisen had experienced taxation drafters been in charge.

Rumour had it that one clause had been scribbled on to the back of an envelope one evening in the Hong Kong Club! So we had to put up various submissions to iron out these inequalities and inequities – these were accepted and passed as amendments so we were building up a taxation structure similar to the mountain of legislation since 1840 in the UK! (Just as well it ended there in December 1941.)


1. Tom Black went on long leave to Australia October 1940 and Arthur Clarke stood in until his return in August 1941.

2. The FIVE became SIX at last – Thea Mathias (FCA) Edgar’s wife had to remain in the UK when women and children were evacuated from HK in June 1940. In 1941 she lobbied the Colonial Office to appoint her to the sixth place, sailed May 1941 from Gourock and arrived HK mid-September 1941 (an Epic Voyage!).

3. James MacIntyre fled the coop for private practice in early 1941 and Barney Byrne was appointed and came out from UK mid 1941 so we were SIX again and all ended up in Japanese bags!!

4. FCA means Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. When Thea (FCA) arrived the locals thought it meant FEMALE Chartered Accountant. They were really behind the times!!

[Paul Chidell’s widow added the following note in May 1998.]

I believe that the £1 million was indeed raised for the British war effort before Hong Kong fell to the Japanese. Arthur Clarke returned to Hong Kong after the war and subsequently became Financial Secretary. Of the rest only Paul Chidell and Charles Tresise returned to the post-war Inland Revenue Department, which was constructed from the War Taxation beginnings with Eric Pudney (previously Accountant General) as Commissioner.”

Edgar and Thea Mathias set up practice in Tavistock, Devon. Barney Byrne and Charles Tresise returned to private practice in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively and Cyril van Langenburg went home to Ceylon.

Edgar Mathias is, to my knowledge, the only survivor [as at May 1998] of the Wartime Taxation team, but tells me that their senior clerical assistant, ‘Andy’ Andrews, lives in Guernsey, aged 98.”

[Paul Chidell, uncle of Ray Chidell, suffered shockingly in Japanese captivity during the war but survived. I remember him as a fairly elderly man, practising as a Chartered Accountant in Chichester. RMC]

Source: http://www.claritaxbooks.com/2012/11/war-taxation-hong-kong-1940-41-2/#comment-1861

(c) 2019 Niall O’Reilly as published and individually to the contributors concerned – Please do not cite, circulate, or copy without permission of the author of this post

22 thoughts on “1945 – 2020: 75 Years Since V-J Day Diary of War: Private John Bernard Patrick Byrne (a.k.a “Barney”), HKVDC #4732, and Irish Prisoner of the Japanese in Shamshuipo and Sendai (1941-1945)

  • Although not about Stanley Camp itself, I’m sure some people will be interested
    in this site:


    It’s a very well presented account of the experiences of ‘Barney’ Byrne, who,
    although a neutral, joined the HKVDC after the Japanese attack. He spent time in
    Shamshuipo before being transported to forced labour in Japan. The blogger has
    provided a lot of very interesting material to expand the story, which is
    fascinating in itself.

  • Brian. Thanks for posting Barney’s ‘letter’ to his Aunt Peg – a truly historical and most interesting record of HK pows. I see the pows in Japan had the same nail-biting long wait in camp (as we had in Stanley) from the time of news of the Jap surrender until the arrival of Allied planes, and proof that the war really was over.

    I knew Barney post-war in HK through the Church, as he was a great friend of my late sister Olive and husband. We were all so shocked and saddened at his sudden death; it transpired that only a few weeks previously he had had a medical exam. and passed OK. So sad that his wife too died so young.

    • Barney’s widow was Mrs Phyllis Christine Byrne, Midhurst, Sussex. She re-married and took the surname Phyllis Read (the inscription name on the grave stone she share’s with Barney in Hong Kong Cemetery.

      Phyllis was close to my late mother, she would at the Colonial Secretariat, Albert Road, Hong Kong and passed away in 1978.

      I am eager to learn more about her.

  • I wish I could remember more about your Uncle Barney to tell you! I knew him mainly through my late Sister Olive, she and her husband Bill Darby were great friends with him – I have a feeling they were fellow members of HK Yacht Club.
    Barbara Anslow

  • We are very much interested in your uncle’s diary. Some years ago I visited a former POW camp site which is very close to Yoshima with a colleague, Ms. Taeko Sasamoto. We met a daughter of a camp interpreter. Unfortunately he passed away many years ago, but he left a lot of photos he took in the camp. Some of them shows Christmas time with a goat. Is there any description about this occasion in your uncle’s diary? We are very curious what else he writes about. Is he still alive? We hope he is fine and enjoying the life.

  • “… He was one of the few men who joined the Volunteers after the attack had begun when fighting was certain, and either capture or death highly likely and the letter you published doesn’t show one glimpse of regret or self-pity. What a remarkable man….”

  • I would like to say thank you to your uncle to have had the diary. It is a treasure for us, too, to learn about that time.
    And thank you very much for adding some explanation for the readers to understand well. It must have been a hard task, I think.

  • I am just making an inquiry for more details and a photo of Naura Maru, because there is a museum for mariners and vessels sunk at war (the only one in Japan).

    … I am really enjoying reading your uncle’s diary and your research with much respect. How wonderful he kept a diary and you started your research based on it.
    I would like to say “Cheers!” to Barney for his 100th birthday if he were alive.
    I am very sorry for his hard time in Hongkong and in Japan, but I think his observation ability and his viewpoint even in that awful time was marvellous.
    I am just on the way to read he is repatriating to Hongkong.

    Strangely enough, our organization just had an inquiry from a man in Canada whose father was in Hongkong
    and came to Yoshima as a POW. He repatriated to Hongkong after the war. He wishes to have any information how he repatriated. I think you can help him. I’m afraid somebody else has already answered him, so I have just sent this person in charge about it.

  • have just for the first time, got an inkling of what happened to my uncle John Pelly Murphy during the war–nobody ever knew, and now there’s practically no body but me to know why he was so dreadfully disturbed! Very very interesting. Pamela Maher (another west Briton in Cornwall (the West Briton is our local newspaper, curiously!)

    • Dear Pamela.
      How wonderful to receive your comment.
      I am delighted this blog featuring Barney Byrne’s diary has provided an insight into your late uncle’s circumstances during his incarceration as a POW at Yoshima POW Camp.
      As you have surmised Irishman Sergeant John Pelly Murphy, of No 1 Company, Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps # 2601, was a friend of Uncle Barney Byrne. They worked together in the same work gang as slave labourers inside the Iwake coal mines. The constant fear of a tunnel collapse was their worst nightmare. While John Pelly Murphy was seriously injured in such a collapse it seems the whole gang were lucky to get out alive.
      Undoubtedly, the dreadful experiences these brave POWs would have lived through left an indelible mark in their consciousness, a darkness that would haunt each of them every day of their ‘liberated’ lives.
      If you have any observations regarding your uncle and his experiences in Hong Kong and Japan before, during, and after the second world war please feel free to share – although I fully understand most POWs never wanted to talk about their circumstances for fear of reliving what they spent the rest of their lives trying to shut out of their minds.
      All the best

  • Hi, Are you the Author of “The Yank from Mourne Abbey”. I have a spiral bound manuscript copy, but a friend is interested in getting a copy and I wondered if it was for sale ?

  • Dear Niall, Thank you for publishing this letter. My Uncle Desmond Alva Hynes was the officer mentioned in Barnies letter. It was good to get an understanding of the hardships he faced during his time in Japan as a POW. I wonder if their are any pictures of Desmond during this time – still looking!!!

  • Thanks so much for sharing this. Even though many of us have heard of these memories since we were children, the horror and misery of these men can never be realized. I often think of the many nights of hearing my father yelling in the night, and wanting to be alone for days at a time. Being told to keep quiet about their experiences must have been beyond torture. These guys will always be my hero’s and I wish more young people could see why they have their freedom today, and what is cost.

  • Your website is very interesting. My late father was a HKVDC prisoner that was sent to Japan on the Naura Maru and ended up at Sendai Camp #2. After the war, he became a marksman and an athlete. He represented HK in two Asian Games (1958 and 1966) and two Olympic Games (1960 and 1964). He won the Bronze Medal for Hong Kong in 1958 in shooting. We immigrated to Canada in 1968 and he died in 1975 at age 53.

      • Hi Niall,

        I do have photos of him in Sendai that were taken in 1944 and 1945. Sorry, I don’t recall seeing the pictures you posted. About 12 years ago, I put together a PowerPoint called “The Occupation of Hong Kong and the Life of a Veteran” that combined my hobby of coin collecting with my father’s life. The PowerPoint covered the use of Hong Kong currency before, during and after the war, along with the use of Japanese occupation currency in Hong Kong. My father’s life before, during and after the war is also covered. The PowerPoint was converted into an article for the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association in 2018 and won the Guy Potter Literary Award for the best original numismatic article that year. The PowerPoint was converted into a Word Document and I would be pleased to send it to you if you would like to share it with your readers.

        I am still trying to locate a photo of the Nauru Maru. According to some websites, it was a 200 ton tramp steamer and was later sunk by US planes later in the war.

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