Singapore to Jinsen
Tracey George Clifford Sinclair
My father, Tracey George Clifford Sinclair, volunteered for the armed forces at the outbreak of World War II when I was still an infant. In a letter to me dated 13th March 1966, he gave me details of his military career.
“Regards my military career, here it is for what it is worth. I volunteered for service in the Indian Army through the European Association, went to Bangalore OTC and was posted to the 2/10th Punjab Regiment at Meerut and subsequently seconded to the 13th Auxiliary Pioneer Battalion at Camtee, Poona. My designation was Company Commander and my rank at the end of the war, was that of Captain, Emergency Commission No. 3492. So much for that!”
Dad opted for the Indian Army rather than the British Army, as being European, he could be offered a higher rank. He did want to join the British Ghurkha Regiment as he spoke Nepali fluently, but since he was also fluent in Punjabi, he was chosen for the Punjab Regiment, as there was already a British Officer candidate, Desmond Doig, who besides English, spoke only Nepali, so he was selected for the Ghurkha regiment in preference to Dad.
When he was finally posted to Singapore, I seem to remember him mentioning the Raffle’s Hotel. Whether he was accommodated there or just visited is unclear. It may have been commandeered by the Army to accommodate serving British officers, but when Singapore fell to the Japanese invasion forces on 15th February 1942 which led to the capture of 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops, he was transferred to Changi Prison in Singapore, where he was incarcerated for about six months, with 18,000 other prisoners.
Dad did relate a little story about one of the British officers in the hotel, who wanted to take his golf clubs with him. The arresting Japanese officer, who they nicknamed “Smokey Joe” said, “But Sir – you can’t play golf there!”
After six months in Changi, the prisoners were transported to various Japanese prison camps, some to Korea. Dad related that the ship they were being transported on had several floors of crude wooden planks which had large cracks between the joins, and when the one above was being swabbed (several of the prisoners were suffering from diarrhoea) drips of water mixed with human excrement fell on the prisoners below, and even on the small bowl of rice they were given to eat. Dad said, they were all so hungry, that they simply flicked away the bits of offending material and continued to scoff their meal!
This ship they were transported on was the “Fukai Maru,” which sailed from Singapore to Chosen (Korea) on Sunday 16th August 1942 with approximately 1,100 English and Australian POWs on board.
Route of the Fukkai Maru to Korea
The ship’s holds were dirty and infested with vermin, which rendered rather pointless all the disinfecting and fumigating that had preceded the men’s arrival on board.
The ship’s next port of call was Takao, Formosa. The ship anchored in the harbour on the afternoon of Saturday 29th August. The PoWs spent some two weeks working in the docks to load the Fukai Maru with its cargo of bauxite. The men had to load the cargo into lighters, either shovelling it or carrying it on their backs like sacks of coal. It then had to be unloaded from the lighters into the ship’s holds the same way. It was hard physical labour; the only consolation being that the men were fed better rations and had three meals a day. On most of the days that they were in harbour it rained, usually heavily; it was the beginning of the typhoon season. Finally the ship was fully loaded and set sail on Tuesday 15th September. The men were then housed on top of the cargo of bauxite for the duration of the next part of the voyage.
200 men were packed into this section of the hold on the Fukai Maru
Sketch by J. D. Wilkinson
On Tuesday 22nd September the ship finally reached its destination, Fusan in Korea. The ship docked, the holds were fumigated and the men subjected to a medical examination by a team of Japanese doctors. More than twenty men were found to have contracted dysentery and most of the others were suffering from beriberi and acute diarrhoea.
In Korea, he was incarcerated in Jinsen - Inchon POW camp (K1-129). Dad described life at the Jinsen POW Camp in Chosen, Korea as dull and uninteresting. The Japanese prison guards seemed bored and disinterested with their charges. From a write-up on the Internet, one of the soldiers who was also at this camp describes it in the following terms:
“Our camp is about 4 acres, sleeping huts, wash huts, kitchens and parade ground and is totally shut out from the outside world by an 8 or 10 foot fence, barbed wire on top and electrified. At 1600 on the parade ground a high Jap officer gave a speech which was in turn interpreted to us through a microphone, the gist being that we are POW, should not have been POW, must obey discipline and be prepared to work as Jap civilians work.”
Dad said he was suffering from tapeworm, (at either Changi or Jinsen) and this was steadily and surely devouring any sustenance he was given to eat – usually a small bowl of rice with perhaps a few bits of vegetable or fish (mostly heads and tails) floating in a thin soup. Scrounging around the campsite, Dad said he found a cocoanut that had fallen from a tree, and breaking this open, he scooped out the flesh and gobbled this up. Miraculously, he passed the tapeworm the next day. If he had not, he believed he would have surely starved to death.
Written on back of photograph in Dad’s handwriting: Lt. James, Lt. Robinson, Self, Lt. Brake, Lt. Shaw, Capt. Vining, Capt. Raund, Capt. Hayden, Lt. Stevens, Capt. Mackay. Xmas 1943 Jinsen POW Camp, Chosen.
The camp was reserved for Officers and conditions and the food were described as “tolerable” which could account for the prisoners’ apparent healthy appearance. Small parcels from the Red Cross were allowed, and letters could be received and sent.
Research on the Jinsen POW camp has revealed that it was a camp reserved mainly for Officers, and conditions and the food were “tolerable” which could account for the prisoners’ healthy appearance. Small parcels were allowed by the Red Cross and letters were allowed to be received and sent.
A letter from my father written from the POW camp to my grandmother dated 23rd November 1944, about a year before my father’s return home.
Petty discipline in the camp was enforced. This took the form of face-slapping. Those reserved for punishment were lined up, and the short Japanese Camp Commandant, with his Samurai sword trailing on the ground, would slap the offending prisoners on their faces. When it came to a tall Australian, the officer’s orderly placed a small stool in front, so the officer could climb up to gain enough height to slap his face. In a write-up on the Internet, there is an account of probably the same Officer Dad describes, which says:
“Finally there was Major ------- I never knew his real name. He was nicknamed “Were-Were” or the “Mad Major.”
“There are many majors called mad this was one of the maddest of them all. A small man about 5 ft in stature, his sword always seemed to be dragging on the ground. Drunk or sober, amiable or angry, pleasant or unpleasant he always had a grin or smile on his visage.”
“The 2nd day of his reign at the camp he gave us a speech of his own composition. The swine told us that we Englishmen were lower than the scum of India. Him, one of the yellowest, [sic) slant-eyed, squattest, nipponest, [sic) objects that ever existed told us that the cup of humiliation was full.”
This Camp Commandant was eventually replaced by a much kindlier and more reasoned individual (Major Okasaki), who treated them so decently, that thoughts of escape were abandoned so as not to disgrace him and have him replaced by someone less congenial. Also the nearest allies were the Russians 400 miles to the north, and that through thick and impenetrable jungle, with no maps to guide them.
Another memory I recall was my Dad telling me that one day he was petting a stray cat, when the camp cook told him not to get too fond of it as it might be on the menu the next day!
The one traumatic incident my Dad suffered was one day, two bored prison guards took hold of my father and tied his hands behind his back. They led him to a ditch just outside the camp and told him to kneel in front of it. He heard a sword being unsheathed, and felt the edge tap the back of his neck – once, twice – my Dad had visions of his decapitated head lying in the filthy ditch below – but then he heard the sound of the sword being returned to its scabbard, laughter from the Japanese guards, and the bonds on his hands were cut.
Dad kept a sort of diary on a roll of toilet paper which he scribbled on when going to the toilet. He had to keep this carefully concealed, and somehow he managed to do this. What happened to this diary, I do not know.
There was no news about the progress of the War, but towards the end of his term, he noticed the prison guards looked more despondent, and security was even more lax. Then one day, the officers were summoned by the Camp Commandant and told that the War was now at an end. They were invited to a small celebration by the Camp Commandant to show there were no hard-feelings, and given Saki to drink. They were even some geisha girls in attendance!
This photograph was found together with the POW group photo among my father’s papers. It is stamped on the back with “USS Noble September 16 1945.
They were transported probably by the USS Noble to a South-East Asian port, (probably Manila), and while waiting to be sent back home, the British authorities kept assuring them with words like - “We’ll soon have you home chaps,” but they waited and waited in vain. It was at a local bar that Dad met two American Air Force pilots. When he told them of these delays, one of them said “My buddy is flying to Calcutta tomorrow. He can take you back home.” So now, outfitted by the Americans in a smart flying jacket, Dad was flown to Calcutta and arrived back home in Darjeeling in about October 1945, unannounced and far in advance of his fellow POWs. He did bring back some trophies with him – a Japanese Samurai sword, and I remember he gave me (a six-year-old) a Japanese painted bottle.
Japanese Index Card
Photo of Dad’s original POW Record card sent to me by Ron Bridge, with the following Notes:
Top of card has MALAYA crossed out, CHOSEN in red (Chosen is the Japanese name for Korea). "KOR-246" is perhaps a filing number.
Camp: Chosen Sept. 25, 1942
No.: Chosen Main Camp 129 (Camp 1, which was Jinsen, is crossed out; the Main Camp was Keijo; 13 and 129 were probably his POW #'s)
Nationality: British Date of Capture: Feb. 15, 1942
Occupation: Tea cultivation (assistant 10 years, manager)
Note that Destination of Report box is filled out with “FiancÚ – Miss Tweedie.” This is Dad’s sweetheart to whom all his Army pay was sent.
In an email from Ron Bridge, he describes how these information cards were made out for the Japanese authorities:
“From diaries and documents that I have seen the cards were issued by the Japanese mid. August 1942, there was a near riot in the Changi Area but the men were ordered to fill in the cards by their own officers, some thought that they were postcards that would be sent to their nok. And some cards have messages on the back like, in good health, etc. The cards were either filled in, in ink by the individual or typed out on their behalf by clerks who were themselves British POWs. Individual units had their own scribe and one can trace the writing, as one can see that one typewriter had been used or a units cards. There is evidence of Dutch Clerks being used in the Java Camps (Bent type script, letters like a and e filled in).
As far as the Captain goes I am sure that was his rank at the time the card was filled in, however he had an emergency commission from his service number and I believe that the 2/Lieut was added in the UK by a War Office clerk checking the cards in 1946 and all he had was the copy of the Gazette.”
Entry when he was commissioned, then being a Pow and then leaving the army the Gazette entry will not have been updated. I have come across quite a few examples of this. So there would not have been a sinister geisha girl changing documents!
James Sinclair May 2014.
I am not certain what events took place in Changi Jail or Jinsen POW camp – for example. finding the cocoanut or the mock beheading experience.
The USS Noble was in the pacific area at the date quoted, repatriating PoWs.
Tracey was part of the Special Parties where the officers were taken away from their men, in an attempt to stop leadership.
Dick Swarbrick’s War - Also on the Fukkai Maru to Chosen, some information added from Dick’s story.
Roll of Honour - Tracey George Clifford Sinclair’s Page