POW Research Network Japan > Reports on Activities >Reports of visits to Japan of POWs>Former US POWs visit Japan at the second invitation of the Japanese Government >Friendship meeting between Australian ex-POWs and Japanese citizens

Reports of visits to Japan of POWs

Friendship meeting
between Australian ex-POWs and Japanese citizens

5 Former Australian POWs and their family members visited Japan from November 27 to December 5, 2011. It was the second visiting group on the invitation of the Japanese Government. >>Jump

Ms. Lorna Johnston

Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for inviting us here, and for this week. I think you've done a fabulous job with the POWs. Thank you very much. The Japanese are showing their peace and friendship beautifully. Thank you.

I just have one story that I'd like to tell you, and that happened in March 1945. Now we were living in Totsuka, and we had been witnessing quite a few bombing raids by the Americans. But one night, I'm not quite sure of the date, I think it was about 25th March 1945 (correctly 10th March), and we were wakened at midnight with the sirens going, and they sounded as if they were from one end of Japan to the other - they were so noisy. It was actually the fire bombings of Tokyo and Yokohama. Now the Americans came over with their B29s, in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, and they started at midnight. The sirens went at midnight, and they kept going and going all night until five o'clock in the morning, when the all-clear went. We were sitting on the window sills and we watched this whole action from midnight to five o'clock in the morning, when the all-clear went. And the next day, we were quite afraid to get out of bed and go in because we thought the guards might take it out on us because Tokyo and Yokohama had been smashed during the night. But nothing happened. We didn't get any guards at all. And then Mori-san from the Foreign Office came in the afternoon and explained to us, told us about what had happened with the bombings. He said it had been so terrific that the people in Japan, in Tokyo and Yokohama had no air raid shelters, and they all rode to the river - the Sumida River is it, the river that runs through? And the people were just pushing each other in, and there were so many bodies in the river that they all floated out to the sea. There were a hundred thousand Japanese who were killed that night. And we actually thought that we would get some very great beltings from the guards when they came on duty. And they weren't very kind to us either. Maybe we couldn't really blame them. But still we were quite delighted ourselves to think that the end was so close, the war was nearly coming to an end, and that, you know, made us happy. But it did make the Japanese quite angry. Very sorry for the devastation and everything for the families  because most of all our guards, nearly every one of our guards lost completely everything - their families and their houses. And they were pretty cruel to us.

All I want to say to you just to end this story - I can't believe that you've built such beautiful cities like Tokyo and Yokohama that I've seen in the last couple of days in 70 years. It's a great honour for me to have come.

Mr. Arthur Gamble

My name is Arthur Gamble and I was a member of the 2nd/4th Machine Gun Battalion. On 15th February 1942 we became prisoners of war of the Imperial Japanese Forces. What followed was a long walk to Selarang Barracks. We stayed there as a unit under Colonel Mick Anketell. It was in the first few days we got organized. We built atap huts. Then we were sent out to work. I worked in quarries loading stones into crushers to make road base. I also worked unloading railway iron from ships, ships at the wharf, and leveling runways for an airport. The total rice diet affected me badly and I suffered from beriberi and dysentery.

After a time, I was sent by train to Thailand to work with H Force. We travelled to Ban Pong in Thailand in a closed, steel railway van. From there we marched, stopping at various camps along the way. I ended up at Konyu 2, which was a camp where I worked on the Konyu cutting, the southern end of it, I think. The work was hard and some of the guards were brutal, but I was not personally involved in any incident of violence. It was constant "speedo" and we worked long hours, often at night. We were pestered by flies and mosquitoes. I suffered constantly from diarrhea, dysentery and malaria. At a later stage I became very ill and found myself in the cholera lines. I had scooped up some water to drink from a puddle in the ground after it had rained. Little did I know that a Javanese work party had passed through the camp the night before and had probably contaminated the water. My two best mates took me out of the cholera lines and looked after me. Without them I wouldn't be here to tell my story.

Once the railway was finished I believe I went to Roberts Hospital in Kanburi (=Kanchanabri). After working out of Sime Road for a couple of weeks, I returned to Changi. I worked for some time on the construction of an aerodrome until I managed to get an easy job in the Changi prison camp gardens.

I finally made it back to Australia and to my family. It was a very long time ago and I have forgotten much, but I thank you for listening to my story.

Mr. Barton Richardson

Are there any medical people here? I thought I'd tell you something about the medical side of the Burma-Thailand Railway, and the many illnesses that happened there. Cholera has already been mentioned. Cholera is one of those dreadful things from which few recover. All the fluid is drained from the body. A big, strong man, like this one tonight - tomorrow morning he would be nothing but skin and bones, and probably dead. As quick as that - most dead. We used to boil all the water we drank. We'd dip our Dixies into boiling water before we put anything into them and we would not smoke when we ate out of them in case we carried germs to our mouth. A dreadful thing. Now the opposite to that is beriberi. In that case, the fluid does not get away, and people swell up. Fingers are like big sausages. Faces are twice their size and people are almost unrecognizable.

The cure for it and the prevention of it is a teaspoon of Marmite or Vegemite every day. The author, Russell Braddon, in his book, "Singapore and Beyond," relates his own story. He had beriberi very badly, was called up before a Japanese officer and while there, he noticed a bottle of vitamin B. When he returned to his hut, he took the whole bottle of pills, drank them all down, and waited. Within a short time, all the fluid in his body drained away. He recovered and never suffered from beriberi again.

There were, of course, other medical problems - malaria, black water fever, all sorts of skin diseases and various other illnesses caused from lack of a proper diet. The Australian doctors were magnificent, though mostly inexperienced in beriberi and cholera, because they hadn't met them before. They improvised with all sorts of things. The rubber hosing in their stethoscopes was used for blood transfusions and very fine bamboo was used for the same purpose, and I think the technicians put it in their veins. They used it for that. The bigger bamboo, 4 inches at least in diameter, was used for a number of purposes. The big 4 inch bamboo could be used as a water bottle by cutting either side of the divisions in the bamboo, making a hole in one and using a small piece of bamboo as a plug, and we filled that with water  and that was our water bottle. Cut length-wise, cut in half, with a hole in one part  that was used as a bedpan.

That's about all on the medical side I'm going to say. I would just like to mention to you the Konyu cutting, these days known as Hellfire Pass, that Arthur mentioned. There is a big curve in it that doesn't run straight. It was halfway built, when it was discovered that it was going in the wrong direction. So it was straightened up. But there's quite a curve in it to the extent that it is not possible to see from one end of the cutting to the other. There are many stories that I could tell, but I must pass on to somebody else for these stories. Thank you very much.

Mr. Alfred Ellwood

Just let me say I'm very encouraged to see so many friendly faces, people who are interested in this POW Friendship tour, which I think is extremely important, a highly commendable movement. I'm delighted to be here and I thank you for the invitation.

I had the great misfortune to be delivered into the hands of the kenpeitai on the day after my capture. Yesterday I spoke at some length at another meeting, outlining the treatment I had at their hands. And I'm afraid my age is catching up with me, and I don't really have much stomach for repeating what I said yesterday. But I do want to stress that I have no argument with the Japanese people or the Japanese nation. My only big problem is with the Japanese military, in fact, your grandfathers perhaps, or in some cases perhaps, your fathers' generation, and of course with the kenpeitai in particular.

Indeed, the soldiers who surrounded our camp and eventually captured most of us treated us relatively civilly. They had us in custody for twenty-four hours or so. It was only when I was led into a room in Dili, in Timor, and the blindfold was removed, that I realized I was about to be interrogated, and it was soon made clear that there was no point on my relying on the Geneva Convention. The first question I was asked was...as to my age. My information was just to simply give my name, rank and serial number, which was all that was required under the Geneva Convention. But I was soon disabused of that notion. The kenpeitai officer asked me my age and I answered truthfully, "21," whereupon he struck me a violent blow across the head and knocked me to the floor. For some months then, I suffered a very long sort of interrogation. I was bound up like a turkey, handcuffs on the wrists, wires on the upper arms, and hobbles and ropes in front and back. The treatment I had included being denied food, water, and I had no medical assistance for various conditions that I contracted - malaria, dysentery, wet beriberi. It was only when I had a severe attack of asthma that I got medical assistance. So you can understand why I don't have much sympathy with the kenpeitai. However, I have no difficulty with the Japanese people, post-war. The younger generations are a different people altogether.

My son has just reminded me that I should say something about the conditions in which I was housed while being interrogated. I was in a cell which was sort of a cellar, as far as I could judge. I was blindfolded most of the time. The only toilet facility was a wooden barrel, which I think was a miso barrel. That soon became filled, overflowed, fly-blown, maggoty, and the maggots were crawling all over the floor and all over my body when I was resting.

I made a bit of a hash of my talk yesterday. I don't think I made it entirely clear that I cracked under interrogation, and I disclosed to the interrogators (who had managed to find my code book and my signals diary, and they'd secured our wireless) how to use those, and they established a link with, a false link, a bogus link, with Australia using those means.

It was a matter of me talking or being bashed to death. That was it. It boiled down to that. I was bashed so severely about the head that I couldn't see out of my eyes on those occasions when I had the blindfold off. But given that they were using my link to send bogus communications to Australia, they needed to keep me alive. Otherwise I would've been dead.

Perhaps I should explain to an audience too young to have experienced any of the horrors of World War II, that communication headquarters would occasionally run a security check, like setting me questions..."What is your mother's maiden name?" "Where did you first go to school?" Something of this sort. And had they not kept me alive, they ran the risk of the...the whole thing would have been blown. It should have been blown anyway, but there we are.

War is a nasty business, a really nasty business. It's to the great credit of the Japanese people that they've renounced war. War really is a failure of intelligence. Neither side knew very much about the other side. It's a failure of diplomacy, it's a failure of politics, a failure of leadership, and of course it's the old people who run it, who are the leaders and the politicians and the diplomats, who send the young people to war and destroy a lot of lives. In the case of Japan, well over two and a half million men were killed, soldiers. Goodness knows how many civilians. Translate that into bereaved mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, lovers, children - it must have had an enormous effect on Japanese society.

But on a brighter note, I want to say just a few words about the warmth and friendship that we've received at the hands of the Japanese people we met everywhere, especially the children, Grade 4 children at a little school we were taken to who cheered us and clapped and sang. It made an enormous impression on me, anyway. So I think in their hands the future of Japan looks very good. And I wish the Japanese people all the best for the future, and that they hang onto their renunciation of war. I don't think you'll find too many warmongers among old soldiers. None of us would be too keen on war, I'm sure. And I hope the same sentiment remains among you all. I'm sure it will. Thank you very much.

Mr. David Barrett

Konnichiwa. I was taken prisoner in Singapore and the night the war ended I went into the Adelphi Hotel and slept in a bed, the first time for a while, and when I got up in the morning, I went out onto the balcony, and there was a Japanese officer there. We had a chat and he said, he didn't think we'd be harmed and I said, "OK. Well, I suppose you're right." But I wasn't.

After a couple of days around St. Andrew's Cathedral and the Adelphi Hotel, then we were marched into Changi, to Selarang Barracks where we were given a bed each - a piece of concrete on the floor - and we stayed there in Changi for, I forget how long, but it would have been about ten or twelve months.

I then arranged a group of prisoners to enter the officers' quarters, they were all at a meeting, and we stole all their food and we gave it to the patients in the hospital. The officers didn't like me from then on, and that's when I volunteered to go up on the railway in Siam.

The Japanese promised us if we went to Siam, that it was a rest camp, and we would get lots of food, we could play games and so on, which was a lot of what-have-you. We went up in these steel rice trucks on the railway for five nights and there were 38 of us in this rice truck. Everyone couldn't lie down or sit down at once, you had to take turns.

The Japanese had hundreds of thousands of Romusha (Asian laborers) - that was the native contingent of railway workers. I was allocated to the No.1 Hospital in Kanchanaburi. My job was digging a mass grave every day. We'd bury the day's dead. That was usually up to twenty. The guard we had at our cemetery was Takeo Harada and he worked for an Australian company before the war and he was a little, as close as you could be, friendly.

I had another job in that camp. When the Japanese officer told me to build a fire under a 44 gallon drum of water for his daily bath, I started the fire up and kept stoking it up and I said, "It's ready now," and he jumped in and straight out, and I got bashed up over that.

When the railway was concluded I was moved to Camp Tamuang then Nakon Nyak and then Lopburi, where we were building an airstrip, and I think there were 200 prisoners there, and I was the medic. All the doctors that had been on the railway had been removed to Korea, Japan, to China, they were moved everywhere. But there were none left in our camp, and I was it. But being a cheeky fellow, I engaged myself with the Japanese officers there, and I finished up going into the village with them to get supplies. I got medical supplies, and I got money off them...it was a much better camp.

Tropical ulcers was a big problem on the Siam-Burma Railway and after. If you let them go, you finished up...your leg went gangrene and had to be amputated or you would die. I had two cases at this Lopburi camp where they let them go, and their legs or their feet had turned black and I told them, I said, "Either I cut your leg off or you die." So they said, "Cut the leg off." I did two amputations. (What did you use? Did you have a proper knife?) I had some. I can't remember everything, but the Japanese helped me to get them. Yes, I got a bit of cooperation for the first time from them.

Then the war ended, and I was moved to Tamuang and Nakon Nyak and then into Bangkok. I went to a Japanese camp and I pinched a truck, loaded it up with Japanese furniture and whatever was saleable, and took the whole lot down to Paddy's Market in Bangkok and sold the lot. Then I had enough money. Then I booked into a Chinese hotel, the Onron Hotel. They had a local war in Bangkok at that time between the Chinese and Siamese. There were machine guns, and hand grenades were thrown everywhere. Some of the wounded came into the hotel. I had to look after them as well.

That's when Lieutenant Eldridge came to the hotel and asked me to volunteer to go back up the railway on the search for the graves of prisoners of war. And I agreed to do that. That's where I met Nagase Takashi. He was our interpreter. Nagase was an interpreter - he was a Lieutenant in the Japanese Army, but was a Lieutenant kenpeitai. (Note: According to Nagase's book, his official rank was an Army interpreter with officer's status ) So I did a lot of talking to him, and I told him, I said, "You soldiers of the Japanese Army in the war were like a lot of sheep blindly following the Emperor." He had that published in a newspaper in Tokyo.

So after we left Nong Pladuk, I met Nagase many times. We became friends, and he spent a lot of money and a lot of time...he even went back to the railway and built two temples for our dead...one hundred and thirty-five times. He did a lot of good work, helping people, and I admired him very much.

In the short period going up to Thanbyuzayat in Burma and back, we located on that trip over ten and a half thousand POW graves. But there were 14,000 who died building the railway. We estimated that there would be up to 200,000 natives. They were from all countries - Burma, Siam, Malaya, Indonesia - they came from everywhere.

In the post-war years, in 1986 I formed the Australian Reparations Committee, ex-prisoners-of-war reparation committee, and in 1991 I came to Japan. I was interviewed on Tokyo NHK TV in Tokyo and I believe I had a 33-million Japanese audience. I claimed 500 million dollars reparations. Never got it!

But over the years of coming to Japan, I've been here five times, I've made some wonderful friends...Taeko, Utsumi-san, Yoshiko, Keiko... That's all.

Question and Answer

Q: My question is about Hellfire Pass. You said you discovered the direction was wrong. What happened after that?

Richardson: When they found out the direction was wrong, they were moving in the wrong direction, they corrected it to the right direction. That's why it's curved the way it is.


Q: I would like to ask anyone who can answer my question. My question is, when the war ended, did you believe our Emperor Showa, Emperor Hirohito should be hanged?

Barrett: Yes. In my opinion, Australia wanted the Emperor executed, America didn't, because they wanted a "soft peace" with Japan, which was quite healthy, I suppose. But he was, the Emperor was as guilty. He was in charge of the Army and the Armed Forces. And he supported them. He was as guilty. He should have been executed.

Richardson: In Outram Road, Singapore, there used to be a gaol. It was built by the British in the 1800s, and with small cells, not a good prison at all. The Japanese used to put people in there who they thought were bad people. With a gathering like this (today), I'm not going to tell you what their treatment was like, because it was horrendous. When General Slim moved into Singapore and heard about the treatment the prisoners had received there, he ordered that the Sergeant-in-Charge be taken out and shot. And that was very, very much unlike General Slim, later Field-Marshal Slim. It just wasn't like him. He thought so badly about the treatment the boys had received.

Johnston: When we're talking about the Emperor...I just want to say that I heard the Emperor's final speech to the nation when the war was finished, when he was saying they were declaring peace, and not one Japanese person had heard his voice until that radio message. So that was...he wasn't well-known to the public.


Q: I'd like to present a book which describes some of the views of the Japanese soldiers who worked on the Thailand Railway.


Q: My name is Hashimoto. I appreciated your precious testimony. Some of them were very moving stories. I felt like crying, almost. I would like to ask the families who accompanied the ex-prisoners-of war, how do you feel and how do you find your fathers' or mothers' experience? Anyone?

Daughter of Gamble: There are five children in my family. We didn't hear very much about the war at all until later on, when it became more spoken about. Dad apparently never spoke about his war experiences because it just wasn't the Australian way. Having my father as a war hero, my whole family considered him a war hero, he's very special to me. He has no animosity towards the Japanese people, and sometimes I find that surprising. But he is a humble man and he's forgotten a lot of it. But I'm very proud of him and I'm very proud to be over here and associated with the whole experience.

Daughter of Richardson: My father was like Leonie's. For many years he didn't speak about the war. When he was asked to come on this tour, or offered to come, he didn't want to come, and then he thought about it overnight, and decided that after 70 years that it was time for reconciliation. He's had an amazing transformation. We really thank the Japanese people for the hospitality that they have given to us and the kindness that they have shown to us. So, thank you very much.

Son of Ellwood: Good evening. My name is James Ellwood. I'm Jim Ellwood's eldest son. When I was growing up, there were really only two things I knew about my father's war. I knew that he had been a commando on Timor - I knew that he had then been a part of a secret force which I later learned was named, "Z Special Force." And I knew that my mother had prayed for almost two years in the belief that her husband would return, notwithstanding the various messages she received from the Intelligence people that he was either dead or captured...or dead or captured...or dead or captured. It went on like that for two years. I watched him in what were malarial sweats, even as late as the late 1960s. But he would never talk about his experience in the war. It was only really in the 1980s when a series of books were published about the special operations, Z Force and others, that my father first talked to me about it, because I had been an amateur student of military history for quite some time. I then set about trying to help him restore his memory of what had happened. I used the records of the Australian War Memorial and similar resources. Eventually I found some of the records of the War Crimes Trials in Darwin, which were held immediately after war. And that led me to documents edited by the Australian Armed Forces so that the whole thing did not go before the trial, which described some of the treatment that my father had received at the hands of kenpeitai. Anybody who has studied anything about torture, and its effects on the human mind, the human heart, perhaps can understand what a totally unhuman, nonhuman thing it is to do to another human being. What was in that report which was written shortly after he was recovered included something that he didn't say to you today (but) he did say to the party yesterday. That is, that he was so broken by the torture that he pleaded with his torturers to kill him. Now I've told you that long-winded story for a reason  so that you understand how difficult it has been for my father to decide to come to Japan and do what he has done. But I can tell you that all through my life when I was being raised by him, I've never heard him say a harsh racial word against the Japanese nation or the Japanese people. But I wouldn't want to put him in a room with the kenpeitai when he had a Tommy gun. Thank you very much.

Son of Barrett: Hello, I'm Jeff Barrett, son of David Barrett. And again, like many of the others, there was not much spoken about it in my early years. I was not aware of how my grandparents felt. They both died long before I was born. So it wasn't until my father really started the War Reparations Committee that it all started to come out. But it seemed to very quickly turn to reconciliation, particularly after he visited Japan, and he met the Japanese people, he became friends with the kenpeitai officer, Nagase Takashi, and he met many other people, some of whom are here today. So I'm very proud of my father. But reconciliation is the main issue he has been fighting for, for about 20 years. I've been here now three times, and I also feel very welcome here. The Japanese people have just been wonderful. We look forward to the future, and understanding the past, not continuing the past, as some nations around the world are prone to do. Thank you.

Daughter of Johnston: Hello. I'm Lorna Johnston's daughter, Patricia Wright. When I was around Lorna, she didn't really ever speak about the war. I don't think I've really ever heard her speak about it, or if she did speak later, once it became more appropriate to do so, I never heard her speak in bitterness. I never heard her say a nasty word about the Japanese. That's not to say that she's not quite upset about the starvation and the treatment that they received. But like everyone else, she's always been quite even about her attitude to the Japanese and I know she's enjoyed coming here today, and she's enjoyed coming on this trip and meeting the other people that we are travelling with, and hearing their stories. It's been really quite moving, and I think we've enjoyed it so far, and Lorna has, I think, probably put this behind her some years ago. But she has very kind thoughts towards the Japanese and her children and her grandchildren also feel very kindly towards the Japanese, because we really never were taught any difference, and war is awful, and I think that's probably the whole point for us just to say that we hope it never happens again. Thank you.

Ellwood: As usual, my memory has let me down. I had every intention of mentioning one man who...firstly, let me rephrase that. Not all the kenpeitai were as black as I painted them. There was one man, a Nisei whose name to my great shame I have forgotten, who showed some humanity to me at great risk to himself. He was a 2nd Class driver, as far as I can recall, and he, on occasions, gave me yeast tablets, or a tomato, some little gift like that, thinking it would help me with my beriberi. I had very severe wet beriberi. And to my shame, I never acknowledged that. I should have acknowledged it years ago. And if I could, by some miracle, discover his name or the name of his family, and pass on my thanks and gratitude for his help... So if anyone knows anything about Nisei members of the kenpeitai in Timor, please let me know.