Phase 4 - 21st January 1944 to August 1945
On 21st January 1944, the Nipponese Army Authorities assumed control of the Camp but most of the officers who had held office under the M.A.D. administration remained. Lieutenant Suzuki continued as camp Supervisor and Mr Tominaga as Camp Censor and Officer-in-charge of Communication. Kobayashi and Kawasoi also retained office but the supreme command of the Camp was vested in Military officers - Major General Saito, Major Tanaka, and Sgt-Maj. Tanaka. Junior Military officers also appointed in charge of the various branches of Camp work, e.g. vegetable gardening, mechanical transport, road construction, etc. Some Sikh guards (later to be reinforced bt Malays) were retained but their authority was reduced and the main guard consisted of Nipponese soldiers.
The change in administration did not result in any immediate relaxation in the restrictions imposed by the Gestapo, but Major Tanaka affected an improvement in the Camp Cereal ration wjich was increased from three and a half ounces to about 13 ounces and its nutritive value was improved for the first 2 months by the inclusion of soya beans.
With the departure of the Gestapo in January, the patrolling of the Camp became less rigourous but harsh and inconsequent methods of administrating discipline occurred from time to time. A room Representative in the Men’s Camp and his predecessor were kept in the Guard Room without food for 7 days because they were unable to explain the origin of some footprints in the earth floor of a passage running underneath the ground floor of the gaol and entrance to which could be hained from the room for which they were responsible. Eight workers in the Camp Rice Stores were arrested on a charge (Never substantiated) of misappropriation of stocks. They were taken to the Guard Room where they hands tied together, were made to kneel, and were then punched and kicked, and belaboured about head and body with sticks. They were subsequently tethered together on a rope at intervals of about two feet and were locked up in a windowless apartment near the Guard Room where they were kept without food for 6 days.
In April the Camp was visited by Major-Saito who surprised internees bt addressing them in terms of courtesy expressing sympathy with them and telling them he was working on some new ideas for the betterment of their conditions. The new ideas were revealed on 1st May when internees were moved to Sime Road Camp. The change from the prison conditions of Changi to open air life of the Sime Road Camp was generally welcomed but the condition of the Camp was a disappointment. Many of the huts (built of rough wood and attaps) were very dilapidated, some being on the verge of collapse and the great majority of the roofs leaked more or less seriously. Congestion in living quarters was as bad as Changi, the average space per internee being 24 square feet.
Like Mr Asahi, General Saito started his reign with an ambitious programme for the improvement of conditions in the Camp. Extra huts to be built to relieve congestion, materials were to be provided for repair of huts, separate accommodation was to be built for married couples and families, and a pig, poultry, and cattle farm established which would ultimately fill the Camp’s requirements in meat, eggs, and milk. But also like Mr Asahi, the General found the forces of obstruction too strong for him. No materials could be obtained for repairs or new constructions until March, 1945, when 1100 new internees were sent to the Camp. The new huts built were less than required for their accommodation and original internees had to submit to increased congestion. The farm established but on a scale so small that it made no appreciable contribution to the Camp’s food supply.
An important change in the life of the Camp which followed upon the move to Sime Road was that a greatly increased number of men was engaged on regular work for 3 to 6 hours daily. At Changi only some 700 to 800 men had been engaged on regular fatigues. The number was now increased to 2,000. At first, the additional labour was mainly employed on gardening, woodcutting, and levelling a site for the farm (which was never used), but during recent months a large number of men have been employed on work which is of no apparent benefit to the Camp - The construction of roads outside the perimeter, the sinking of a large oil storage Tank, and the digging of tunnels said to be for A.R.F. use but which have all the appearance of military works.
Work is normally voluntary but the non-worker is cut down to a starvation scale of food and on several occasions during the last few months, the Nipponese have threatened to cut the rations for the whole Camp in order to qualify for a mere subsistence scale of rations meant that most internees were compelled (particularly during the latter stages of internment) to do more physical work than was consistent with their weakened and ill-nourished condition. Internees became more and more emaciated: ulcers. boils and carbuncles were prevalent and tended to develop into serious septic conditions. Treatment was hampered by shortage of antiseptics, medicines and bandages. During the last few weeks, dispensaries were unable to supply bandages and patients were required to bring their own.
Other common health illnesses were dysentery, pellagrous dermatitis, and malaria. The latter was due to refusal of the Nipponese to allow our Health Officers to carry out anti-malarial work outside the Camp during the early months at Sime Road or to supply oil to deal with mosquito-breeding places.
Since the last cut of the Camp ration scale (since February, the full-time four-hour worker’s daily ration has been 9 ounces rice, half-ounce fish, half ounce oil. 10 ounces of leaf, and a little salt) most internees have lost weight rapidly and many are now in a state of extreme emaciation with their resistance to disease at a dangerously low ebb. In spite of repeated requests, no extra food was provided for the sick.
Under General Saito’s regime, there has been no fundamental change in the methods of administrating discipline but major incidents were less frequent. On three occasions, men accused of making contact with persons outside the Camp perimeter were severely beaten and kept in confinement under the customary conditions of privation for periods of from 3 to 10 days. A Camp official, accused of answering a Nipponese sentry disrespectfully, was knocked down by a blow from the sentry’s rifle and then severely kicked and finally taken to the guardroom where he received about 12 strokes from a heavy pole. A none in this wrist was broken. The liaison Officer for the Women’s Camp was assaulted by a member of the Nipponese guard (Yamada) whilst he was performing his ordinary, sanctioned duties. He was punched, kicked, seized by the throat, shaken, and generally manhandled. There were many other instances of face-slapping, punching and kicking of internees by Nipponese guards, one of the most oppressive of whom was Yamada.
Lieuteneant Suzuki, who was Camp Supervisor from April 1943 to August 1945, did not )as far as is known) order the punishment of any internee but he must be held responsible for the oppressive treatment of internees during his regime. He took insufficient steps to ensure that justice was observed in the administration of discipline or to curb the brutality of his subordinates. He took no steps to ascertain conditions in the Camp and never visited kitchens at mealtime to inspect rations and scarcely ever inspected the Camp living quarters except when accompanying a visiting officer. He took no interest in the Camp Hospital or in the problem with which the doctors had to deal, although he must have been aware that the Nipponese doctor, who normally supervised the health of the Camp (Capt. Dr Suzuki) from January 1944 to August 1945, was a confirmed drug addict, incapable of carrying out his duties.
Major-General Saito no doubt had good intentions and would have done a great deal more to improve conditions in the Camp if he had not been thwarted by those in higher authority. But, during the last year of his regime, he seemed to lose interest in the Camp. He never paid an unheralded visit and he often left the Camp without giving the elected Representatives of the men’s and Women’s Camps an opportunity of interviewing him. Even admitting the obstruction with which he had to contend, he could have done a great deal more than he did to ease the burden of internment.