All Suffolk Archives branches are closed. Please see here for further information

Liberation of Prisoners-of-War

Following the Japanese surrender, Allied Prisoners-of-War (POWs) were liberated from camps in Japan and Japanese-occupied territory. They had suffered severe malnutrition, illness, and overwork.

3,500 Allied prisoners died in Japanese camps. Approximately 620 men of the Suffolk Regiment (4/5th battalions) had been taken prisoner after the fall of Singapore early in 1942. Many died working on the Burma/Thailand railway.

On VJ Day, many families of people who had been taken prisoner or interned had no idea whether their loved ones had survived. Even obtaining up-to-date information had been extremely difficult, let alone being able to exchange letters. People often waited months or even years to find out what had happened to a loved one.

This 1944 booklet, A Handbook for the information of Relatives and Friends of Prisoners of War and Civilians in Japanese or Japanese-Occupied Territory explained the challenges of contacting and supporting POWs in the Far East, as compared to POWs in Europe:

  • Cultural differences created challenges in communicating
  • The Japanese-run camps were scattered over a huge area covering a wide range of climates
  • Many camps were far from the centre of Japanese authority, making communication very difficult
  • The Japanese authorities exercised ‘absolute control’ over communication going in and out of their occupied territories
  • The International Red Cross Committee did not have a base in the Far East as they did in neutral Switzerland in Europe

A Handbook for the information of Relatives and Friends of Prisoners of War and Civilians in Japanese or Japanese-Occupied Territory, Published for the War Office, May 1944, p.12 (HD2272/300/3/4)

All this meant that the Allied authorities had only patchy information about Japanese POWs and civilian internees. There was no route to maintain regular correspondence, and what did get through could take months. There was also no reliable route for sending aid packages; 20,000 Red Cross parcels (plus millions of cigarettes) were delivered early in the war but no more were allowed until November 1944. The parcels were stockpiled in Vladivostok during much of the war.

The brutal treatment which POW received in the Japanese camps has been widely documented, notably in photographs of severely emaciated men. 140,000 ‘Liberation Questionnaires’ are held at The National Archives in WO344 (completed by British and Commonwealth POW held in Germany and Japan). These include personal details, the camps the men were held in and their experiences.

Next – Private Raymond Suttle >>