Sketch by Jack Chalker

Konan Camp - Korea

Konan Camp - Korea

In late 1943 however came a change for the worse. A group of prisoners, including Dick, were transferred from Konan Camp. 52

The information, which the men had at the time, was that they were going to Keijo initially and then on from there. Keijo Camp had been opened on the 25th September 1942. It was situated on a flat fertile plain, some thirty metres above sea level, near to Keijo-Fu, which was the capital of the province of Chosen, Korea. There were two drafts of men who were transferred from Jinsen Camp, the first being some sixty officers and men who left on Sunday 18th July 1943. The night before they left the men each received ten packets of twenty cigarettes, two yen each from the Officers’ Fund, one Red Cross parcel between six men and twenty-four tins of bully beef for the party. There was a concert in their honour, followed by a speech of farewell from Major Holohan. 53 That party then left at eight thirty on the Sunday morning. The second party, of about one hundred and sixty men, left at seven in the morning on Monday 13th September 1943. They too had had a farewell concert the night before and additional supplies of cigarettes and bully beef. We don’t know on which of these two dates Dick left, but the odds are that it was the second.  

The climate at Keijo Camp, according to the Red Cross reports, was healthy and dry. 54 The camp originally occupied a total area of 5,184 square metres, enclosed by a wooden board fence. The site had previously been a spinning mill and the main building, a four-storey construction with a tiled roof, was used for the prisoners’ accommodation. Only the top three floors of the building were used for this purpose, the separate levels being divided by wooden partitions to form sleeping quarters for groups of up to eight men. The camp was designed to take 500 men, but it never seems to have had that many. Whether Dick actually got to Keijo, or whether he was sent directly to Konan Camp we shall probably never know. What is certain is that at Konan conditions were in many ways much worse for the prisoners.

We were to supply a work force for the main plant there. To the best of my knowledge the fuel for most if not all vehicles in Korea was that of carbide. It was part of our function to feed the carbide furnaces at the plant. There were four furnaces situated on an upper floor. Each furnace was about 40' diameter and of a circular shape. The task comprised of feeding the furnaces with a limestone product and coal. During an eight hour stint to the best of my recollection there were three man teams to each furnace. Task involved feeding the furnace at high speed otherwise surface contents of the furnace became white hot and conditions of work became even more akin to being in part of Dante’s Inferno. Each man completed twenty minutes work followed by a forty minute break during which period two other teams did their stint. Each five days we completed a twelve hour shift for purpose of changing to next shift. The furnaces were manned twenty four hours of each day. Because of the activity involved and the nature of the work there was generally a permanent dust cloud. 55

Back in England, Richard and Gertrude were not initially aware of what had happened to Dick. Following the fall of Singapore there was a great deal of confusion and very little in the way of hard information for those families back in the United Kingdom waiting anxiously for news of their menfolk. Like so many others Dick was listed at first as missing; this state of affairs persisted for many months. The file on correspondence between families in the United Kingdom and their family members who were Japanese prisoners shows that as early as January of 1942 the British authorities were trying to open up lines of communication with their Japanese counterparts. 56

The situation was obviously complicated; the first problem was the actual physical one of distances: option one was to send letters via Lisbon - Marseilles - Geneva thence by rail Budapest - Istanbul - [by sea or rail whichever most practicable) Batum - Savator - trans Siberian rly - Vladivostock.

Or via British port - Murmansk - Vologda - Syerdlovsk - trans Siberian rly - Vladivostock. 57

Neither route was quick, option one would take 3-4 months, option two 5-6 months. The second problem was the attitude of the Soviet Government, which was not over keen to have any dealings with the Japanese. The third difficulty was the Japanese themselves, they either could not or would not provide a list of men who were prisoners, nor would they outline any form of procedure by which mail could be addressed. It wasn’t until May 15th that the Japanese agreed, in theory, to establish a postal link; but they still failed to furnish any practical details as to how this was to be done. The G.P.O. refused to accept any letters or postcards until there were clear instructions as to how this problem was to be solved. 

As late as September of 1942 Richard, through the attempts of Captain Roe in Preston, was still trying to find out what had happened to his son. The major in charge of Infantry Records, with whom Captain Roe was in correspondence, could do no more than refer to a War Office circular dated 4.9.42:

Next of kin can rest assured that all possible steps are being taken to obtain information which will be conveyed to them immediately on receipt. It is still not possible to say when the lists of Prisoners of War from Japan will be received and all that can be said to enquirers at the moment is that it is hoped that it will be received soon. It is not known when it will arrive. 

It was not until the 24th November 1942 that Richard was at last able to write to Dick, having just received official notification that he was alive and a prisoner. In the letter Richard explains the restrictions imposed on all letters to prisoners: only two sides of writing, clearly written, no enclosures and no more than one letter a week. This first letter is full of family news, as one might expect, and the promise that the weekly 14/- allotment from Dick's pay was being saved and that “there should be a nice little nest egg for a good ‘binge’ when you come home.” That letter, posted on the 24th November 1942, finally reached Dick on the 17th February 1944; a delay of some fourteen months. 

Most of the remaining Loyals, those who had not been sent to either Konan or Japan, seem to have remained at Keijo camp until the end of the War. There were occasional visits by representatives of the International Red Cross Committee whose duty it was to ensure that all prisoners were treated according to the various international conventions and treaties. The representative who visited the camp was a Mr Angst, who appears to have visited on three separate occasions: the 7th January 1943, the 13th December 1943 and the 29th November 1944. By the date of this last visit the number of prisoners in the camp had fallen considerably from the four hundred plus who had been there in 1942. Listed in this report were forty-one British officers and twenty-six other ranks together with four Australian officers and six other ranks, a total of seventy-seven men in all. The Japanese authorities knew in advance when and where the visits were to be and so made sure that everything seemed to be as it should be. It would be na´ve to expect that what the good Mr Angst was allowed to see bore any relationship to the true state of affairs that actually existed in the camp, but it is worth quoting sections of his report because he does seem to attempt to hint at what the truth might be:

Typical letter sent to Dick by his father – addressed to Keijo Camp, posted 13th December 1944, received by Dick 17th August 1945

One of the replies sent by Dick back to his family – note again the reference to Keijo Camp

The medical, surgical and dental equipment is adequate for minor cases, and those patients requiring X-ray diagnosis are taken to Keijo Army Hospital. It is said [my emphasis) that the medical needs of the camp are supplied sufficiently regularly by the Japanese Army…

… Sufficient clothing is said [my emphasis) to be issued to the prisoners of war and officers may obtain clothing against payment…

…Laundry and drying facilities as well as soap are said [my emphasis) to be sufficient to avoid too much inconvenience. 58   

The report lists the daily ration allowance for each prisoner, so many grams of this, so many of that: all in all supposedly amounting to the equivalent of 3250 calories per day for all working POWs. If that were true it would have been a more than adequate diet. However, set against that, there were the statements of the officer prisoners:

Captain Paque, who was speaking for Lieut.-Colonel M. Elrington [C.O. of the Loyals, Dick’s regiment) British, who was sick at the Camp Hospital. He stated that the camp requirements in bulk supplies were: sugar, salt, flour, fat [very much lacking), tinned meat, cocoa or tea, as well as food parcels, as the prisoners had only had one per head during the 18 months prior to the recent arrival of the American Red Cross food parcels via Nahodka, and these would only allow for a distribution of one carton per head until April 1945…

Lieut.-Colonel Cardew … enquired whether there were any plans for the repatriation of British and Australian prisoners, either for those permanently incapacitated or too old for further service…

… Captain Philipps … would appreciate further vitamin preparations to replenish stocks… he also asked whether the canteen food supplies could be increased. 59

These statements would seem to suggest that, despite what the Japanese authorities might have claimed, the rations issued to the British and Australian prisoners in the camp by this stage in the war were certainly not as generous as those that were listed in the report.   

Whatever the conditions might have been at Keijo, the working conditions in Konan Camp were clearly much worse than the men had endured at Jinsen. It was perhaps significant that the Red Cross never actually visited Konan Camp. On the one occasion that a visit was planned the representative, Mr Angst, fell ill and the camp was “inspected” by the Japanese themselves. They turned in a satisfactory report. 60

It is possibly because of the harsher regime that at Konan there were attempts to escape. On one occasion Dick was part of the group that helped in an attempt. As in all escapes, the longer the man had to get away from the immediate vicinity of the camp the better his chances. Dick’s part in this particular attempt was to impersonate the escapee at roll call by answering to the other man’s number and then quickly returning to his normal place to answer his own number. Unfortunately, as was all too often the case, this attempt ended in failure and the man who had attempted to get away was brought back to the camp, interrogated and then placed in the punishment cage. Dick spent a very uncomfortable few days in fear that the man might break under questioning and name his accomplices. However, the man’s courage held and he did not betray his friends. 61

Falling in for Work Parties at Konan in 1945

 by J. D. Wilkinson

This was not the only time that Dick faced danger in his time in the camp. The heat and dust from the work that the men were forced to carry out caused Dick severe problems with his chest. At one point he felt so unwell that he declared himself too ill to work. He was told to report himself to the Japanese officer in charge. Dick duly did so and then had to face the Japanese Major’s rage. The officer threatened Dick repeatedly with his sword, whilst constantly asking him, “Why you no work?” Dick held his ground, maintained that he was too ill, and eventually the officer just left him. It was also at this camp that Dick had his hand deliberately broken as a punishment for something that had displeased his captors. 62

In August of 1945 the war in the Pacific came to an end and the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters gave the total number of prisoners in all camps in Korea as 551. Dick’s camp was liberated by Soviet Russian forces. The actual troops who liberated the camp were women, all of whom were apparently wild and quite crazy. In the absence of any alcohol, they got drunk on high-octane gasoline and then began to shoot wildly at anyone and anything. Supplies were then airlifted into them by the American Air Force, under whose jurisdiction the Korean camp came. The Americans dropped canisters, forty-four gallon drums, containing supplies and foodstuffs. Unfortunately their aim was none too good and one of the drums demolished the camp hospital injuring some of the inmates. By far the most welcome delivery was the containers of DDT, which were needed to rid the camp of the flies, fleas and mosquitoes, which plagued that marshy area. Despite that Dick contracted malaria at or about this time.

 

Appendix

52 In Dick’s account of his medical problems, see below, he states that he was transferred to Konan POW camp in 1943. However all the letters to him from his father at this time were addressed to Keijo

Camp. The diary account of Alex Johnstone does not seem to contain any reference to any men transferring directly to Konan, it is assumed that Dick went via Keijo. According to a paper presented to the 2002 History Conference [Australian War memorial Site] by Professor de Groen [op cit] Konan Camp was opened in September 1943 and took men from Keijo camp. It was at Konan that the men were set to work on the carbide plant [see below]. The roll of the Loyals at this time, now at Fulwood Barracks, Preston, Lists Dick as a prisoner at Konan.

53 Major Holohan remained at Jinsen Camp as the Senior British Officer. On Monday 15th November 1943 the camp was visited by a Red Cross Representative. Major Holohan was one of three officers who complained to the Representative about the poverty of the rations. For his trouble the Japanese sentenced him to ten days solitary confinement for telling lies. The other two officers got two days apiece.

54 Red Cross Reports on Chosen [Korean] Camp WO 224/195

55 Part of Dick’s claim for increased pension due to disability caused by lung complaints which in turn had been caused by the working conditions in the camp.

56 File on Mail to Imperial Forces who were prisoners of the Japanese WO 32 10705

57 ibid

58 Report of the visit of Mr Angst, representative of the International Red Cross Committee to Chosen Camp 29th November 1944 WO 224/195

59 ibid.

60 de Groen op cit.

61 Information from conversation with Dick, Autumn 2002, and with Jean Swarbrick, February 2003

62 Jean Swarbrick ibid

 

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