Prisoners of War
IV: Relief Supplies for the Far East
IV: Relief Supplies for the Far East
The problem of relief in the Far East resolved itself into finding ways of delivering the goods into the hands of the appropriate Japanese authorities and reaching agreement with them on their distribution to camps. From December 1941 until almost the end of the war, attempts were made to co-ordinate the arrangements necessary for a regular relief service by sea, either by deposit at and collection from a neutral port under safe-conduct or by delivery in Japanese waters on a neutral ship. In 1944 the Allied authorities had stored a considerable quantity of relief supplies at Vladivostok, and in November of that year the Hakusan Maru collected 2000 tons, which were distributed to areas containing prisoner-of-war camps in Japan and Japanese-occupied territory. But the Awa Maru, one of the ships carrying out the distribution in the southern occupied areas, was torpedoed on her return journey in April 1945, and thereafter Japanese co-operation in this field, such as it had been, came to a standstill.
Apart from this single voyage of the Hakusan Maru to the Siberian seaboard,1 the ships used in the two civilian exchange operations of 1942 and 1943 were the only means by which relief supplies for Allied prisoners of war and internees were able to reach the Far East.2 Little time was allowed for the loading of the exchange ships at Lourenço Marques in 1942, and of the 7000 tons of supplies gathered together from the Commonwealth under the supervision of the South African Red Cross Society, only 4000 tons could be loaded. At Goa in 1943, however, it was possible to load a large quantity of urgently needed drugs and other medical supplies. These three despatches spread over the whole war period allowed only a very thin distribution of relief goods to the 300,000 Allied nationals estimated to be in Japanese hands.3
1 The actual port of call was Nakhodka, adjacent to Vladivostok.
3 The International Red Cross Committee estimate that during these exchanges the following quantities of goods were brought back by Japanese ships:
Exchange of August-September 1942
- Asama Maru 6993 parcels (to Japan)
- Tatura Maru 48,818 parcels (to Singapore)
- Kamakura Maru 47,710 parcels (32,940 to Hong Kong)
Exchange of October 1943
They estimate the total number of parcels received by the Japanese for distribution at 225,000.
It has been possible since the end of hostilities to gain some idea of how much prisoners and internees actually received over the whole war period. New Zealand prisoners in Japan seem to have received an average of four to five food parcels, except those in Zentsuji who received anything up to twenty parcels. Prisoners and civilians in China and Hong Kong also received about four to five parcels, in addition to a certain amount of bulk food which was used to augment the camp meals. Prisoners and civilians in Singapore received a fraction of a food parcel (sometimes as low as one-sixteenth) on three occasions, as well as bulk food. Those who were transferred to Thailand received during their stay there a fraction (anything up to one-seventeenth) on one occasion, in 1944. Prisoners in Java and Sumatra received fractions of a parcel on two occasions; civilians, a tiny fraction on one occasion. The men who went to Macassar received nothing at all.
It was fortunate that in some at least of the areas of the Far East where prisoners of war and internees were held, the Japanese permitted the local purchase of food and to a smaller extent of medicines. Once the pay of officer prisoners had been agreed upon, this provided an important source of camp funds for such purchases, and part of it was usually contributed towards a fund for other ranks1 if they happened to be, as at Hong Kong, in a separate camp located in the same area. But, with the progress of the war, local currencies became greatly inflated and the prices of goods so high that in 1944 and 1945 these funds could not be made to go far.2
1 Working other ranks received between 10 and 30 sen a day according to the type of work.
Similar arrangements were made in other areas. In 1943 British authorities sent instalments of £10,000 to Singapore, increased in 1944 to £18,000. Hong Kong received as much as £10,000 a month, increased in 1944 to £15,000 a month. But of the latter only 25 per cent could be spent on behalf of prisoners of war in the area, and in Singapore as little as two per cent of the funds provided. It was not until 1944 that the Japanese would allow funds to be provided in the Dutch East Indies. A factor which may have contributed to Japanese complaisance in this matter as the war progressed was the fact that transfers of funds to the Far East had to be made in Swiss francs, and such transfers gave the Japanese Government additional badly needed European currency. Britain, on the other hand, had the greatest difficulty in finding Swiss currency, since not only did the vast sums required use up her reserves, but in time of war she was unable to supply Switzerland with the goods necessary to rebuild a credit. The authorities concerned realised that this would create post-war penury in respect of Swiss currency, but as this was the only means of regularly sending relief to British nationals in the Far East, who were in dire need of it, it was felt that the sacrifice was worth the consequences and the risk from the point of view of economic warfare justified.
1 The Japanese allowed only the Catholic Mission to give relief on a small scale to prisoners there.