Tag Archives: John Bernard Patrick Byrne

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

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Filed under 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, Allied POW, Barney Byrne, Family History, History, Hong Kong, Inspirational, Ireland, Irish, James J Byrne, Japan, Japanese Imperial Army, Kathryn O'Reilly, Kilcullen, Photography, POW, Second World War

Righting a wrong: No evidence that Kennedy-Skipton was a Japanese collaborator during the occupation of Hong Kong

It seems the impact of Derry-born Irishman George Stacey Kennedy-Skipton’s (c 1898-1982) working for the Japanese is exaggerated at best, considering his focus was on agricultural activity aimed at dealing with a rapidly escalating food crisis. Everything written so far points to him being the victim of a grudge on the part of Franklin Gimson (the Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong who was Kennedy-Skipton’s direct report), who had powerful enough friends to besmirch Kennedy-Skipton’s  reputation. Loyalty, or the lack of, regarding Colonial Office servants is the key issue here, not collaboration with the Japanese. Kennedy-Skipton (K-S) was the only Colonial Office cadet to avoid capture and who stayed in Japanese occupied Hong Kong

I would also add that many Irish Free State passport holders (including my uncle) working for the Colonial Office, trading houses, etc, joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) and defending the territory with distinction. Kennedy-Skipton’s neutrality didn’t go down at all well with volunteers who put their life on the line defending Hong Kong, while up on The Peak he was flying the Irish flag declaring his neutrality to the Japanese. As to why he was flying the flag, and who he was protecting in his house was unknown and at the time deemed irrelevant.

A reference in the POW diary written by my uncle “Barney”  John Bernard Patrick Byrne “Diary of War: Private John Bernard Patrick Byrne “Barney” (HKVDC #4732) – Irish Prisoner of the Japanese in Shamshuipo and Sendai (1941-1945)” (Source: https://nialljoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/niall-and-barney/) throws some light on the depth of feeling suffering POWs would have felt towards K-S and other ‘third nationals’, or neutrals.

Righting a wrong No real evidence that Kennedy-Skipton was a Japanese collaborator during the occupation of Hong Kong - The Blarney stone

The Blarney Stone: According to legend whoever kisses the Blarney Stone is gifted with eloquence and persuasiveness.

In it Barney refers to a trial of French traitors as giving “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!”

A number of posts in Second World War related Hong Kong groups’ online recount the experiences of families who sheltered in his neutral house. None refer to him informing the Japanese. Far from it, he saved them from the Japanese.

What is curious are the secret files he claim to have discovered which hadn’t been destroyed. There is no evidence he informed the Japanese about the contents of these file. In fact, he went to extraordinary efforts to inform the British Government of their existence.

However, the receipt by the British government of the message relating such information would have been preceded by the Franklin Gimson / British Army Aid Group (BAAG) grapevine noting that one of their own had gone over to the Japs, and was therefore branded a collaborator…. which was pretty much the same label everyone who claimed neutrality and worked for the Japanese occupation government was tarnished with.

In conclusion, in my there is no evidence that K-S was a collaborator in any shape or form. He just chose to declare his Irish neutrality, at a time when he was working for the colonial government and most of the Irish, and his fellow colonial cadets living in Hong Kong were fighting for Hong Kong and subsequently imprisoned. As such he was effectively disowned.

I recall a conversation I had in the late 1990s with an eminent Hong Kong LEGCO legislator on the very sensitive subject of collaborators. Naturally given the depth of rage, anyone, irrespective of race and background, who had by hook or by crook avoided the hardship of the Japanese occupation, profited from the turmoil, or who had recently returned to Hong Kong from Macau to be part of and benefit from the Post War reconstruction effort would have been branded a traitor. In order to maintain law and order, and perhaps keep the degree of treachery under wraps, the colonial government would have taken a conscious decision to classify the wartime records of many collaborators.

And while mentioning by hook or by crook there is a question mark regarding whether or not Kennedy-Skipton actually carried an Irish Free State passport which would have been the basis for his Irish neutrality. He may not have held an Irish Free State passport.  At the time of the Irish Free State people living and born in the six counties of Northern Ireland, of which Derry was part, would not have Irish Citizenship. Probably he just exploited an opportunity to outfox the Japanese.

To the Japanese it didn’t matter if the Irish were from north or south Ireland, they still treated them as neutrals.  Kennedy-Skipton (K-S) January 1943 escape to China may well have coincided with the Japanese finally grasping the intricacies Ireland’s political boundaries.

Additional reading: http://gwulo.com/node/12900?page=1

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Filed under 1943, Hong Kong, Ireland, Second World War