The World War 2 Japanese Prison Diaries of
Alexander John James
(1918 - 1989)
Royal Indian Army Service Corps (R.I.A.S.C.)
(With kind permission from Ian James and sister Lynda Haire)
Hi... my name is Ian James and along with my sister Lynda Haire, would like to introduce our dad, Alexander John James Lieutenant RIASC (Royal Indian Army Service Corp). Alex was born in 1918 and had two brothers, Group Captain RAF Leslie Vidal James (1916-1942) and Flying Officer RAF Oliver Barton James (1920-1943). His poor mom, Eleanor Mary James, had lost her husband early on and she had been left bringing up three rambunctious boys on limited resources. I think this slightly pre war picture tells us something about the man and his interests. It also explains why he was messing with an MG’s and a Bentley on the streets of Singapore in January 1942 while under heavy bombardment by the approaching Japanese.
By all accounts the three boys were primed and ready for adventure. However, war being what it is, by 1943 poor Eleanor was left with two dead son’s in Europe (both were decorated pilots) and her remaining “Zander” was somewhere in the far east but she had no idea even if he was alive. So how did Alex end up in Singapore? In his own words:-
“When war came petrol rationing hit hard at motor-mad Alex, so through a friend of Wilfred Harrison, owner of The Downs School, came enlistment in the R.A.S.C.
(Royal Army Service Corp) and Driver James T/173165 became a minor threat to the Third Reich. Soon it was Corporal, then Sergeant, the optimum rank and a motorcycle to go with it. In the summer of 1940 an Army Council Instruction came out soliciting volunteers from the ranks to go to India for training for commissions in some units of the Imperial Forces, and in the Indian Army. Not slow to take advantage of the opportunity to see a new country Alex was in there like an arrow from a bow.”
This story may be somewhat different twist as it is both a day to day diary (Part One) which covers his arrival in Singapore in January 1942 through to his arrival at Jinsen Camp in Korea in late September of 1942. His introduction, also written in 1946, mentions “Part Two” which is a narrative covering the full 3.5 years of captivity, written immediately after the war while his memories were fresh. While naturally there is some overlap in the parts, part 2 does have details of the Changi experience not included in the diary which is a day to day account of life in Chiangi. I have also enclosed the contents of two other diaries he kept; one being from the time he joined the Army in Dec 1940 up until he left Bombay for Singapore a year later, and the second covering the “going home” period of Aug 15 1945 to Nov. 10 1945 and ends with his arrival at the Suez Canal.
Keeping a diary was forbidden by the British Army when he signed up, let alone allowed by the Japanese. One of his first diary entries is on Sunday January 5, 1941 and it reads “Diaries are not allowed to be kept!”. His next entry is the next day and he pretty much kept on writing until his last entry on Sunday November 11th 1945.
In addition to diaries he kept lists... lists of his body weight changes, lists of Red Cross Parcels and their contents, lists of all the books he had read, lists of fellow prisoners, lists of food rations, etc. We also found several speeches and have included a few made by the Camp Commandant along with a detailed list of “the rules” their “guests” were expected to follow. How did he do it? Some of the speeches were handed out at the time, and we have the original documents, and some were not. From a review of his notebooks, one of the first things he did when arriving in Changi was to learn shorthand, and by all accounts he used it well.
This is the record of one man’s journey through a horrific experience that was shared by many. As he points out, it is a story of understatement. Dad ended up on the Fukai Maru, a small badly rusted tramp steamer, at the equator, with some 1,400 other souls crammed into the vessels modified cargo holds... and this was their home for 5 weeks. You can read other accounts of this journey if you really want to know why they called it one of the Japanese ‘Hell’ ships as you won’t find all the details here. It is enough to say it was a remarkable journey that left many young men with scars of the kind that didn’t heal easily if at all.
In starting this journey Google led me to contact a Mr. James Sinclair in England, whose father Tracey George Sinclair was also caught up in Singapore. Both men ended in Jinsen P.O.W. Camp, Korea and as mentioned in the diary, they were gardening mates. Given Tracey Sinclair also arrived from Bombay, their war experiences would have been very similar. Mr. James Sinclair, with extensive knowledge of India having lived there for many years, has been of great assistance in the post editing of this documentation and it was an honour to share it with him as he, along with many other children of survivors, have no details of their father’s experiences. Hopefully this record with bring some comfort.
During our email discussions James mentioned an incident of his father being taken aside, given shit for some stupid reason, being told to get on his knees and bend over as sword was drawn and brought down sharply on his neck with the blade only being turned sideways at the last minute. It was bit of a déjà vu moment as, when we were young our mother had related dad going through the same experience. This tale of psychological warfare was the only story my sister and I ever heard about dad’s war experiences and we didn’t hear it from him. Dad was always about the present and never once talked about his war experiences. There is no mention of the sword incident in his diaries. We have to wonder how many other soldiers endured the same terrifying treatment. In many instances the sword was not turned sideways. We are putting this book together in order to share the wealth of perspective Alex’s story brings to the Far East WW2 story. We have not altered any of his writings or the spelling of words.
Dad left us in 1989 and it is only now that thanks to a gentle nudge from Ann Berens, a dear cousin whom has also just completed a book about her father (thanks Ann). I felt the time was right to dust off that box on the shelf. This is a small part of a wonderful dad’s life story. Dad used brackets – his are in normal text while the ones in Italic are my comments added for clarity purposes.
Introduction by Alex
Singapore Under Siege
Singapore to Korea
Appendix - Notes
Appendix - Rolls
Appendix - Speeches