A 68 year-old photograph reveals an Irish prisoner of the Japanese – “Uncle Barney” Byrne

It’s almost 68 years to the day on 28th August 1945 when the photograph below of  twenty-three Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Corps (HKVDC) prisoners of war (POW) who were on the verge of liberation following their internment at Yoshima POW Camp (Sendai No. 2 Branch Camp (#2-B)) in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture was snapped.

It was at this POW Camp where Private John Bernard Patrick ByrneBarney-, HKVDC #4732, and POW #96 was to spend:

13 months incarcerated … nine months incapacitated by amoebic dysentery …. and five months used as a slave labourer inside the Iwake coal-mine run by the Furukawa Mining Company

as written in ‘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)’ https://nialljoreilly.com/2012/12/07/john-bernard-patrick-byrne-barney/ – “the remarkable account of life as an Irish prisoner of the Japanese by an extraordinary man, “Uncle” Barney Byrne“.

On 5th August, while perusing a photograph album dating back to the 1930s belonging to my late mother Kathryn O’Reilly, I came upon two photographs of Barney during his childhood and as a young adult.

I soon found myself scrutinising the HKVDC POW photo below (Source: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/sendai/sendai_2/sendai-2-03-ROCHA.jpg  courtesy of a Chris Rocha).

Appendix 05: ‘I knew your Uncle’ in the Diary written by fellow POW Alfredo Jose Prata noted:

“… a tatamie bunkmate of Barney’s “(Barney) 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 (and worked  in the same shifts in separate shafts in the coalmines).”

There are also a variety of nationalities in the photo. My attention was soon focused on the somewhat malnourished and tired looking man sitting at the far right of the bottom row.

Compare this man’s nose, the ears, the eyes and hair parting of to the two photographs from my mother’s album below.  Re-checking his diary entries for 28th and 29th of August 1945 in one instance Barney Byrne complains of having gone 72 hours without sleep, while in another instance he notes: “Photographs taken today – personnel only” .

After sixty-eight years the face now has a name: Private John Bernard Patrick ByrneBarneyHKVDC #4732 – Irish Prisoner of the Japanese in Shamshuipo, Hong Kong, and Sendai, Japan (1941-1945)

… when fighting was certain, and either capture or death highly likely (Barney) doesn’t show one glimpse of regret or self-pity. What a remarkable man…

[Source: Brian Edgar, 8th August 2013 @gwulo.com]

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)
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)
My Grandfather James Byrne, Senior, James Byrne Junior. and Barney Byrne (right).
My Grandfather James Byrne, Senior, James Byrne Junior. and Barney Byrne (right).
John Bernard Patrick Byrne - Barney - early childhood
Childhood- Barney Byrne

Neutral Ireland and the Axis: Fact and fiction

Reading through letters and other papers maintained by my late parents I found a half sheet of paper which I believe was typed in 1945.  It looks authentic and I’m wondering who wrote / or spoke it. Given my interest in the https://nialljoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/niall-and-barney/ it’s highly probable my mother found it and left it for me to read…

“I would like to disclaim the many rumours about Ireland being a sort of espionage central for the Axis, According to the rumours, 4,000 Germans and Japanese were supposed to live in Ireland during the war. In reality there were three Japanese: the minister, his wife and secretary, and six Germans. The day we declared our absolute neutrality, the secret radio transmitters which were in the possession of the Japanese and German minister, were embarged by the Irish Government.

In relation to our population more voluntaries took part in the Allied Forces than from any other country [Note:* below], and likewise proportionally more Victory [Note: Victoria] Crosses were dealt out to Irishmen than to any other nation.

We are hoping for an invitation to the United Nations. Even if we are a small nation, we want to help build up the world again, and contribute to the world peace being secured and the banner of democracy being help high.”

Source: Unknown

A token used by German and Allied Forces internees during  the second world war, known as The Emergency, in the Curragh Military Internment Camp, Kildare, Ireland
*Over 50,000 Irishmen and women born in the Irish Free State joined the British forces during the Second World War. 
[Source: http://www.historyireland.com/volumes/volume6/issue1/features/?id=181] More than 5,000,  more then a 10th of the soldiers in the Irish Free State military left without permission to fight for the British forces. The returnees were branded traitors, and after the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Irish government drew up the “starvation order” list of  so-called deserters, banning them from tax-payer funded jobs. On May 7th 2013, 68 years after the end of the Second World War, the Irish Parliament, or Dail, passed a bill into law pardoning the men posthumously (only about 100 are still alive) and apologising to their families “removing any tarnish from their name or reputation” Note: wording of the Second World War Amnesty and Immunity Bill.  

“Had Germany successfully invaded Great Britain, Ireland was next on the list. These individuals made a substantial contribution to protect the sovereignty of this country”

[Source: Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, Minister of Defence.]

* 8 Irish VCs were awarded in the Second World War