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Appendix 6: Central Army Records Office and the Prisoners of the Japanese

During the war it was not advisable for the relatives of prisoners of the Japanese to be told all about the efforts of the Central Army Records Office to collect information about the prisoners. The following extracts from a History of Central Army Records Office during the War of 1939-45 written by Captain L. I. Parker set out the problems which confronted that office as a result of Japanese policies concerning prisoners, and its efforts to solve them.

The Japanese Government steadfastly refused to comply with the terms of the International Convention. Therefore, nothing was known as to the fate or whereabouts of members of the AIF until letters from our men were received in Australia. By arrangement with the Chief Censor, all these letters, of which there were some thousands, were examined for evidence of the whereabouts of the writer and other casualty information. The casualty category of the writer was changed from “Missing” to “Prisoner of War”, and that of any personnel mentioned in the letters who could be identified from “Missing” to “Missing believed Prisoner of War” or “Missing believed Deceased” according to the evidence recorded.

The actual place of internment of any individual soldier was still uncertain, and reports reached AHQ that there was evidence the Japanese were moving prisoners of war, but the extent of these movements and who had been moved was not known.

Numerous requests were received by the Echelon organisation for information relating to personnel who were in Malaya, on the island of Ambon, in Rabaul and other occupied Japanese territory, and there were many very bitter complaints of the inability of the Army to supply information relating to such personnel. The plain fact was that the Army had no authentic information regarding thousands of personnel missing in operations or believed to be taken prisoners in operations against the Japanese, and all efforts to obtain information through the appropriate channel of communication proved resultless.

Later on the Japanese did report the removal of some officers from Rabaul to Japan, and reported from time to time the death of personnel, but the general position remained obscure until the recovery of prisoners of war at the cessation of hostilities.

Early in March 1943, the Japanese apparently considered that the anxiety of the Australian Government for news of prisoners of war had potential propaganda possibilities and commenced a series of cunningly conceived radio broadcasts. The names of several prisoners of war would be given in these broadcasts with messages for next of kin, relatives or friends, which included statements extolling the virtues of the Japanese.

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Copies of all such broadcasts, which were recorded by the Broadcasting Receiving Stations, Short Wave Division of the Department of Information, were forwarded to 2nd Echelon AHQ.

Serious consideration of these broadcasts was given by the Prime Minis-ter, the Minister for Information, and Officers of the Department of Information and Publicity Censorship, regarding the policy to be adopted, and it was suggested to the Minister for the Army that in conveying the information to next of kin it should be pointed out that, as the messages came from enemy sources, they should be accepted with the reservation that part or parts of them may not be authentic. This policy was adopted by 2nd Echelon AHQ [the base records organisation] when despatching copies of messages to next of kin.

A number of letters broadcast by the Japanese in November 1943 contained internal evidence that they were written about a year before the date of their broadcast. It was difficult to understand why these messages should have been held so long. The delay was a pungent commentary on the repeated claim of the Japanese-controlled broadcasting station at Batavia that it was conducting its message service by radio in order to overcome the inevitable delay in sending letters through regular Red Cross channels.

During the period of the broadcasts the Batavia Radio maintained a continual emphasis on the fighting qualities of the Japanese forces, and nearly every letter broadcast from a prisoner of war contained a tribute to the fighting spirit of the Japanese. The Batavia Radio also broadcast an offer to cooperate in a two-way exchange of radio greetings.

To assist Records Offices in answering the very considerable number of enquiries from next of kin, etc., concerning the well-being of Australian prisoners of war, a situation which necessarily called for the exercise of considerable tact and courtesy, they were provided with Intelligence information such as the following, the source of the information, of course, not being made known to the enquirer: –

“Two of the chief objectives which Japanese propagandists hope to achieve through their prisoner of war propaganda are – (a) to aggravate war weariness in Allied countries and so pave the way for a negotiated peace; and (b) to deter the Allies from bombing Tokyo and other cities in Japan.

“To obtain the first of these objectives the Japanese use broadcasts by Allied Prisoners of War (and/or their impersonators) over enemy stations to paint the Japanese as chivalrous and peace loving people who hate war as much as you and are kind and generous to prisoners of war; describe the Japanese and their national aims as misunderstood, and stress the desire of prisoners of war to be home with their loved ones and the mental anguish which their imprisonment entails not only for themselves but for their wives, children and mothers at home as well.

“Wireless programmes introducing these broadcasts frequently contain dramatic scenes in which Allied soldiers are portrayed on the verge of

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madness in the jungle, the death of the PW through illness and wounds despite the efforts of the Japanese to save them, sob stories of the horrors of war and appropriate incidental music.”

As it was apparent that the Japanese Government had no intention of establishing satisfactory channels of communication with prisoners of war, in August 1944 authority was given for the institution of a two-way short wave message service in respect of prisoners of war in the Far East.

The scheme was administered by the Australian Prisoners of War Relatives’ Association in conjunction with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. All messages were lodged with the PW Relatives’ Association. The messages were then forwarded to the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, which in turn passed them to 2nd Echelon AHQ for the checking of next of kin, who were the only persons eligible to send a message. After the check the PWIB prepared the message for the censorship authorities and the short wave division of the ABC.

Individual messages consisted of 25 words excluding address and were broadcast daily for one hour, messages being restricted to one from each next of kin.

Replies to outward messages were broadcast from Japanese controlled radio stations at Singapore and Batavia, but there was no evidence that other Japanese broadcasting stations were monitoring outward messages or whether messages reached Australian prisoners of war other than those held in Singapore and Java.

This service was discontinued on 28th August 1945.

A telegraph message service between prisoners of war and civilian internees in Japanese hands and their relatives in Australia was inaugurated on 15th January 1945. This service was introduced by the Australian Red Cross Society, and under arrangements made by the Department of External Affairs and the Postmaster General’s Department each next of kin or authorised sender could send one telegram per year. Each telegram was restricted to a maximum of ten words, excluding address and signature, and the charges for the service, both as regards outward messages to Japan and replies, were borne by the Australian Red Cross Society. ...

For the purpose of assisting recovery teams in their search, lexicographical rolls of AMF prisoners of war and missing in campaigns against the Japanese were made up to the 30th June 1944 as follows:–

(i) By theatre of operations in which personnel were serving – 100 copies.

(ii) By units – 200 copies.

(iii) Prisoner of war locations as recorded at date of compilation of roll – 200 copies.

Copies of these rolls were distributed among the members of the reception groups and 2nd Echelon components in Australia, Directorates of Prisoners of War and Internees, Prisoner of War Information Bureau and the Australian Red Cross Society.

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Interrogation Statement forms (AAF A.119) were printed and copies forwarded to the interrogation officers and, in addition, copies of photo-graphs of missing and prisoners of war.

In making the preparations as detailed above it was fully realised that the tracing of missing and prisoners of war personnel in all theatres of war in which operations were conducted against the Japanese presented special problems, in view of the numbers and various forces involved, and the fact that little and in some cases no information had been received from the Japanese regarding Allied personnel in those theatres.

It was planned, in fairness to anxious next of kin of those who would not be recovered, that the interrogation of recovered prisoners of war should be made in the prisoner of war recovery camps prior to embarkation for Australia, and that the first information sought would be regarding deaths and the whereabouts of unrecovered personnel.

While an immense amount of information was obtained in the recovery camps and transmitted to Australia, so rapid was the recovery and movement to Australia of recovered prisoners of war by transport vessels and aircraft that a good deal of interrogation had to be completed after the arrival of personnel in Australia, in particular of those who had been flown out of campaign areas by aircraft.

To facilitate the speedy and efficient control of all casualty information obtained, Army forms B.199(a) and B.103 of all prisoners of war and missing were concentrated at 2nd Echelon A.H.Q. and a casualty index sheet opened for each recovered person, on which all particulars of recovery and events subsequent to recovery were recorded.

During the period early September to middle November 1945, 2nd Echelon A.H.Q. received, verified, collated and transmitted to next of kin or to the appropriate authority information concerning the recovery or death of over 20,000 Australians and 30,000 Allied personnel.

To cope with this immense amount of work, the staff of the casualty section was augmented by officers and staff from other sections of 2nd Echelon. This work was carried on 24 hours daily by 3 shifts each of 8 hours’ duration until the end of November, by which time all next of kin and appropriate Allied authorities had been notified, and the information recorded.