Sketch by Jack Chalker


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War Crimes Document

The Internment of Civilians in Singapore By The Nipponese Authorities

February 1942 to August 1945



The Nipponese Army High Command Order calling for the internment of civilians in Singapore as translated and circulated on 16th February 1942 read as follows:

    “Citizens of all nations at war with Japan, including members of the Chungking Government, are to proceed to the Padang at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 17th February with enough clothing for 10 days, but must carry the packages themselves. Sick and wounded civilians to remain in their homes or in hospital. Their addresses to be recorded.

    Internees will be accommodated in 2 camps, one for men and one for women. No servants permitted except of the same race. Those engaged in Public Service to carry on and wear armbands signifying “SERVICE” in Japanese characters. ‘Public Service’ to be defined later. It is unnecessary to take food”

In response to this order 1197 men, 145 women, and 37 children assembled on the Padang where they were kept on parade until nearly 2 p.m. and were then marched the 5 miles to the first internment camps - Joo Chiat Police Station and Karikal Flats for men and 2 large houses near the Roxy Cinema for women and children. They had to carry with them most of their baggage but some transport was provided for the heavier packages and a few internees who brought their cars with them were allowed to use these for conveying the old, sick, and young children to the Camps.

No preparations had been made at any of the buildings for the reception of internees. They wer herded into rooms and outhouses, the floors of which were thick with dirt, torn papers, broken fragments of furniture, and other debris left by the looters. In Joo Chiat Police Station, the bucket latrines had not been cleared for 5 days. No food or hot drinks were provided and internees had nothing to eat or nothing but water to drink from breakfast on 17th until 3 p.m. on 18th February when small quantities of canned food were delivered to the Camps by a British member of the Capitulation Liaison Committee.

In the days which followed, many hundreds more men and women were interned and on 24th February a new Camp for men was opened at the French Convent, Joo Chiat. But no supplies of any kind were forthcoming from the Nipponese Authorities until 26th February when they supplied the Camps with rice, cooking oil, salt and tea. In the intervening period, the Camps had had to depend on supplies collected by internees (5 from each Camp) who were provided with passes and cars and who collected food, cooking utensils, etc. from such private houses, offices and warehouses as had not already been occupied by the Nipponese.

Living conditions at these Camps was deplorable. I Joo Chiat Police Staion, for example, every available building, outhouse and shed was occupied on the basis of about 20 to 40 square feet per man. Internees had no mattresses, beds, or mosquito nets. They had no stools, chairs or tables. Many of them had no proper feeding utensils and had to make do with empty food containers. They slept on concrete or wooden floors using spare clothing as bedding. The internal latrines could not be used as every inch of space up to the doors was used as living accommodation and open pits were dug in the central parade ground for use as latrines and for the disposal of rubbish. This work was hampered owing to lack of proper tools which the Nipponese refused to supply. latrine buckets and garbage tins had to be used for cooking and distributing food. There was no provisions for the segregation of the sick who were treated where they lay on concrete or wooden floors. Doctors were without proper drugs, medicines or instruments which had to be collected as opportunity offered from the surgeries of interned medical men. Fair quantities of canned food were collected during the first week but by then sources of supply were rapidly disappearing and as the Nipponese would give no indication as to when regular and adequate rations would be supplied, the Camp was rationed on a bare subsistanve basis:

    Breakfast: A cup of tea or coffee

    Lunch: Canned meat and/or fruit and a little boiled rice

    Tea: Tea or coffee with or without a small scone or biscuit.

On 6th March, male internees were transferred to Changi Gaol, followed by the women and children two days later. With the exception of the old and infirm and mothers with infants in arms, the 7 mile journey to the Gaol was made on foot, light baggage being carried. The portion of the building allocated to male internees (whose numbers had now grown to 2300) had been designed to accommodate 400 Asiatic prisoners. (The population progressively increased and had grown to 2834 men when internees were moved to the last Camp at Sime Road in May 1944). Three internees were allocated to each cell and in addition 20 to 30 were accommodated in the central alleyways on each of the first floors of cells. On the ground floors, workrooms, messrooms and punishment cells were used as living accommodation and there was a considerable overflow population living on open verandas. in passages, and in makeshift sheds and huts. A survey made at the end of 1942 showed that each male internee had an average of 30 square feet of floor space. But this included passages through workshops, doorways and other spaces in Communal use, and the actual area which each internee could call his own was not more than 24 square feet, i.e. 8ft x 3ft. In workrooms and messrooms there was no room even for the small quantity of baggage, which had to be accommodated, and suitcases, kitbags, hats, towels, and clothing had to be suspended from the roof. There were no separate rooms for messing, recreation or religious purposes. Concerts, lectures, educational classes and religious services had to be held in the open air.

The Camp was infested with bed bugs which originated on the upper floors of cells but spread rapidly to all parts of the building. The high degree of congestion in the living quarters complicated the task of dealing with this pest and the utmost efforts of the Health Officers could do no more than keep the plague from getting completely out of hand. Throughout the stay at Changi the bed bug added its quota to the squalor of living conditions and (ably assisted by the mosquito) constituted one of the major sources of discomfort at nights.

In view of the intimation in the original internment notice that no transport would be provided, those who assembled on the Padang on 17th February had limited their baggage to hand packages such as suitcases and kitbags containing in the main clothing, toilet necessaries and valuables. Those subsequently interned received very diverse treatment. Some were allowed to bring with them beds, bedding, and a reasonable quantity of personal belongings. Others were sent in with even less baggage than those originally interned and often with no more than the clothes they wore. Of the great majority it may be said that they entered upon internment grossly deficient in the bare necessities of civilised life. They had no beds, bedding, stools, chairs, tables, and many of them had no feeding utensils, no (or little) spare clothing, boots or toilet necessaries. The Nipponese dad nothing to supply these deficiencies, Their provisioning of the Camp was limited to food (rice, cooking oil, dried fish, sugar and salt) small quantities of washing soap, old newspapers (for use as toilet paper) and petrol for the Camp lorries. From the third year of internment they also supplied small quantities of drugs and hospital supplies and a fraction of the materials required for bed making and the repair of living quarters. The quantity of food supplied by the Nipponese ranged from 40% to 95% of the total rations issued to the Camp at various periods. Everything else had to be supplied by the internees. They had to buy extra food necessary to supplement official rations, to fell, cut up and transport to Camp all firewood required, and to procure as bast they might, drugs, medicines, hospital supplies, beds, bedding, clothing, footwear, toilet necessaries, tools and materials required for the maintenance of essential services, for the cultivation of vegetable gardens and the repair of buildings. Funds were raised by loans from internees and un-interned persons but neither money available nor facilities provided by the Nipponese for its expenditure were ever sufficient to meet the full requirements of the Camp.

The diet of the Camp except for two periods (April/September 1943 and June/August 1944) was deficient in essential dietetic values and was insufficient to satisfy hunger. As the period of internment lengthened, internees became more and more emaciated. Food became an obsession. It accounted for at least 75% of the conversation of the Camp and when internees contemplated the pleasures of release they placed next only to reunion with their families, relief from the nagging annoyance of incessant hunger. The Camp did not expect or ask for a European scale of diet, and at any time during internment their requests for extra food would have been met by an expenditure at pre-capitulation values of an additional 10 to 15 cents per head daily on such commodities as groundnuts, soya. green or red beans, dried fish or meat, eggs, and local fruit. During April/September 1943 these requirements were met by supplies from the Neutral Agent, Singapore (Mr Schweizer) who was allowed to supply the Camp with food and necessaries on behalf of the International Red Cross, Geneva. This arrangement was negotiated by Mr Asahi, Controller of Enemy Civilians, from September 1942 to April 1943, to whom internees owe a debt of gratitude for his efforts to improve their conditions in the face of opposition from those in higher authority. The Camp menu at different stages of internment but typically, it was:-

    Breakfast: 1 to 1.25 pint Rice porridge and tea without milk or sugar

    Lunch: Boiled rice and vegetables with or without small quantities of dried fish

    Supper: Bread made from rice flour and some form of baked or boiled dish made from rice, vegetables with dried fish (2 or 3 times weekly) and tea

 The extent to which internees lost weight is indicated by the following figures:-

Age Group

Usual Weight

Expected Weight


Nov. 1941

May 1945

Loss in Weight


Nov. 1941

May 1945

Loss in Weight











Young (25/34)









Middle (33/44)









Old (45/50)









The most serious dietetic deficiencies were in Vitamin B and Protein. Rubber seeds were collected when opportunity offered and issue under medical orders to those suffering from B deficiency. To provide supplement protein a snail farm had been started in August 1945 which (it was estimated) would provide about 1 oz of snail meat per internee daily within 3 months. Fortunately, release has come before this scheme reached fruition.

The Camps requirements in beds and bedding were never fulfilled. Beds were made in the Carpenter’s shop whenever labour and materials could be spared. Some beds and mattresses were bought but at the end there were still several hundreds of internees without beds and most of the bedding in use was in the last stages of dilapidation.

In the matter of clothing and footwear the position went from bad to worse until during the last year or so of internment the standard Camp working dress had been reduced to V’s (a species of bathing slips) or shorts. Most of the men were barefoot and less than half of them had hats.

The administration of the Camps passed through phases as follows:



Controlling Authority

Phase 1

Feb. to Sept. 1942

Nipponese Army High Command in Malaya

Phase 2

Oct. 1942 to 10th Oct. 1943

Military Administration Dept., Singapore (M.A.D.)

Phase 3

10th Oct. 1943 to 21st Jan. 1944

Nipponese Military Police (Gestapo)

Phase 4

21st Jan. 1944 to Aug. 1945

Nipponese Army High Command in Malaya



Phase 1 - Nipponese Army High Command in Malaya


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