Sketch by Jack Chalker

Jinsen Camp - Korea

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Jinsen Camp - Korea

On arrival at Seoul the prisoners were again marched round part of the town before finally entering the prisoner of war camp which was to be their home for the next two years. As a result of this propaganda march, and the long train journey on starvation rations, several of the prisoners died a few days after arriving at Seoul. 34

When Dick and about forty other Loyals arrived at Jinsen Prisoner of War camp on 25th September 1942 they were part of a party of some five hundred and thirty men, made up of sixty officers and four hundred and seventy other ranks. 35  Dick estimated that there were approximately three hundred artillerymen, mostly Yorkshire men from the 122nd and about a hundred Royal Engineers. The rest of the contingent was made up of some members of the R.A.M.C., forty Australians [one of whom was Alex Johnstone whose diary account filled in many of the details in this account), two Gordons and four Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. 36  When the men first arrived they were lined up to hear the Camp Commandant’s welcoming speech. He began by introducing himself and then giving an account of the war so far from the Japanese point of view. He then moved on to a few thoughts addressed directly to the men lined up in front of him. According to Dick’s account he said that God, their God, had given them victory and that the prisoners would be treated like Japanese soldiers.

Sketch by J. D. Wilkinson

One of the soldiers who was also at this camp with Dick, Alex Johnstone, described the camp 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. 37 

Keijo Camp, Seoul, was the main camp for the whole of Korea. This was the camp in which Dick should have been; the bulk of the Loyals, under their C.O. Lt. Colonel Elrington, were held there. Its commandant at that time was a Colonel Y. Noguchi. He too welcomed the prisoners who arrived at his camp, and his speech has survived. I quote the following extract, as it seems to reflect the speech that Dick and his fellow prisoners had heard at Jinsen. 

However you have lost fighting strength now, you once fought fiercely against us. Judging from this fact, some of you will hold hostile feeling against us in your hearts that can never be permitted. Accordingly, we will punish you, if you act against our regulations, for instance, the non-fulfilment of regulations, disobedience, resistance and escape [even an attempt to do so) are understood as manifestations of hostility. I kindly request that you must be cautious, not spoiling yourselves by punishments…

…Closing my instructions, I advise you all to find interest and anxiety in your forthcoming daily life by according to imperial military discipline. 38 

Initially the men were treated exactly the same as Japanese army recruits, complete with passing out parade. They were housed in long wooden huts, divided by plywood partitions into sections, each with a low shelf on which the men were expected to sleep. The hut in which Dick found himself was about eighty feet long by thirty-five feet wide. The hut was divided into eight sections with a central passageway running down the middle of the hut. Six of the sections housed a total of a hundred or so men, each man having an allocated space approximately six feet long by two and a half feet wide. In that space he had his bedding and all his kit, eating utensils etc. 


The other two sections were the officer quarters. The officers who lived in Dick’s hut were nicknamed by the men “The Puppet Government.” Chief amongst them was Major Holohan, the Loyal’s Quartermaster who was the Senior British Officer, then Captains Gibbs and Morrish, who acted as the Medical Officers and dispensed such medicines as they had as and when necessary. Then there was Captain Bell, the dental officer, who had somehow managed to hold onto his instruments and Captain McQilvery, in charge of pay. Captains Kinlock, liaison officer, and Barge, i/c work parties inside the camp completed the group.


It would seem that following the surrender at Singapore there had been a loss of trust between the men and their officers. This was understandable; a defeat of that magnitude would clearly have its effects on both men and their officers. What emerges clearly from the notebook account is how the officers, by standing up to the Japanese and doing their best to intercede on behalf of their men, managed to recover the respect of the troops that they commanded. The fact that the officers also regularly used their own money to try and obtain drugs and medical supplies for the benefit of the men did not go unnoticed.

On their arrival at the camp the men had been issued with a rice bowl, a vegetable stew bowl, a small cup and a small bowl. To eat the food ration the men were also given a spoon and a fork. On the breakage or loss of a spoon the man concerned got his face slapped and was issued with two chopsticks. 39 The issue was completed with the provision of three thick and one thin blanket. The blankets with which the men were issued were made of a rough wood fibre, which although heavy did not keep them warm in the harsh Korean winter. By the end of October the cold weather had begun to make the prisoners search around for any extra clothing that they could lay their hands on. On the morning of Saturday 24th October the first ice was seen on the windows of the huts. The first snows fell on the 8th November, but the men were not allowed stoves until the 5th December. 

Camp routine was fairly quickly established. The day began with bugle calls, followed two minutes later by the men lining up whilst the roll was called, names of the sick reported, etc. Dick and his fellow inmates were then introduced to the full rigours of Imperial Japanese Army drill, with all commands to be given in Japanese. This extended to learning how to salute with the palm of the hand facing down, standing to attention with the fingers splayed and at ease with the weight on one foot, all in the regular Japanese way. This training went on for several weeks and it has been suggested that part of the reason for this was that the Japanese authorities in Korea had no real idea of what actually to do with all these men and that they kept them at this drill until they could find suitable work details for them. 40

Food was, as always, in relatively short supply. It was also totally unfamiliar to Dick and the rest of the Lancashire lads. A typical meal would be radish and bean sprout soup with a bowl of rice and barley. This would occasionally be supplemented by the addition of a few small fish, commonly referred to as “heads and tails” because there was precious little in between. Seaweed was another speciality; long green and brown strips of the stuff, boiled in salty water with a little soy sauce which was as unappetising as it was possible to get. However, as Dick himself observed, this was probably better than the average Korean got and the same as most of their Japanese captors. In fact Dick’s weight, and that of many of the others, actually increased whilst at Jinsen Camp; although this was due in part to the extremely poor conditions which he and his comrades had had to endure at Changi and then on the voyage to Korea and their initial experiences in the first days in Korea. 41 

Despite the unfamiliarity of much that they were offered it must be said that, from the evidence of both Dick’s diary and Alex Johnstone’s account, the prisoners were not starved of rations at this stage of their ordeal. The men actually were responsible for cooking their own food. They would draw the ration for their squad on a daily basis and then use the cooking facilities provided to prepare the meal for the inmates of their hut. Part of the problem that the men had with the food was the fact that most of it was totally unfamiliar to them and they had, at first, little idea as to how to cook it so as to get the best out of what they were given. Clearly this problem got less as time went on and the contents of the Red Cross parcels, when they started to arrive, also helped considerably. 

In their first days at the camp, the conditions under which the men were kept were made more difficult by the regime to which they were subjected. The camp was badly run, the Commandant being described by Major Holohan as scarcely sane. He was disliked by his own men and was removed after two months. Dick’s description of the man is a little more vivid:

Finally there was Major ------- I never knew his real name. He was nicknamed were-were or the mad major. 42  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.

A few days after we had been in the camp he had us doing Japanese drill with Japanese commands as a reprisal because many of the men had not saluted him.

It was like depot days again with a difference. We were on parade from 8.30 till 12 noon in the morning and from 1 p.m. till 4.30 p.m. in the afternoon. This was all privates, NCOs and OFFICERS [sic) excluding Major Holohan, senior British officer in the camp. Surprisingly he did permit him the dignity to be absent. 43

The man who replaced this Major as Camp Commandant was a more reasoned individual and although some of the guards were cruel and vindictive, generally speaking life in the camp was tolerable, food was barely adequate, and the hardships and cruelty suffered less as the officers and men grew accustomed to Japanese Army routine and the psychology of their captors. 44

A few days after their arrival at the camp the men had been issued with the camp rules. Men were not allowed to smoke outside their huts whilst in camp; in the huts they had to sit next to an ashtray. It seems that the Japanese authorities were obsessed with the dangers of fire and held frequent fire drills and insisted on all the prisoners taking the fire precautions seriously. Any man not observing this rule was liable to receive a sharp slap across the face by whichever Japanese guard caught him.

Gambling was, as one would expect, strictly forbidden. Equally, as one would expect, this rule was totally ignored by any soldier with cash in his pocket. The men had playing cards available and so there were the usual card schools catering for all tastes, poker, nap, solo, pontoon, bridge, etc. After threats of punishment and the confiscation of cards the men learned to settle their gambling accounts after the game was finished and no one played with money on the table or in evidence. Alex Johnstone, in his diary account, writes that the Japanese guards would confiscate the playing cards, then return them, sometimes twice in the same day. Consequently the men were never sure whether they were allowed to play cards or not.

The men were also issued with baseball equipment and each squad fielded a team. A league was soon organised with regular games each evening after work. For some this was too good an opportunity to miss and there were soon bookies offering odds on all the games. This rapidly became formalised and there were soon football pool style coupons where for a 5 sen forecast a man had a chance of winning up to 28 sen. The camp bookies would also offer odds on almost anything, from whether the next fish issue would be boiled or battered to the date of the next issue of Red Cross parcels.  

Reveille was at 7 a.m. in the winter months, but moved back a half hour at a time as the year advanced and was 5.30 a.m. in the mid summer. Lights out was at 9 p.m. during the winter and 9.30 p.m. in the summer. Morning roll call was ten minutes after reveille and evening roll call was one hour before lights out. For roll call the men had to parade properly dressed and number off in Japanese, each squad leader then reporting the total to the orderly officer, including reasons for absentees, all likewise in Japanese.

Men were expected to keep themselves and their clothes clean, dress and conduct themselves in a soldierlike manner and salute all and any Japanese soldier of equivalent or higher rank. Dick recorded that he was slapped more than once for neglecting to salute one of the guards. He decided that the humiliation of being slapped was worse than the humiliation of having to salute Japanese soldiers and so complied with the order.

Escape, naturally enough, was also forbidden. Dick put down in his notebook some of his thoughts on the topic of escape, setting out the difficulties and other pros and cons. The first problem was their location, about four hundred miles from the nearest allies, the Russians to the north; and all of those miles through jungle where the escapee would be the only white face. The men had no maps, Dick wrote that there were only three compasses in the camp; and then there was the not inconsiderable problem of what to eat along the way.

And finally the Camp Commandant (Major Okasaki) who took command about a fortnight before Xmas 42  was such a good bloke and had treated us so decently that to attempt to escape while he was in office seemed to be a breach of trust and an escape whether successful or not would almost certainly cause him to lose face with his superiors and possibly to be relieved of his command. 46 Dick concluded that not only were the chances slim, but that any attempt could put the welfare of all the men in jeopardy.

From the evidence of Dick’s notebook it did certainly seem that Major Okasaki was a decent man. The men were expected to work, but they were paid for their work. They did receive the Red Cross parcels that arrived. They had a vegetable garden, access to books, which seem to have arrived in the camp courtesy of the Y. M. C. A., issues of mosquito netting, replacement clothing and cigarettes. According to Alex Johnstone there were even occasional distributions of apples, although these were relatively rare and usually not enough for one per man and so they were usually raffled. 47  They were allowed recreational activities, baseball equipment was provided and they had camp concerts. Men were also allowed to report sick to their own officers and get time off work with little or no fuss being made. There were occasions when POWs were slapped or hit, but this was the normal punishment in the Japanese army at that time and on some of the occasions that Dick records, when it might have been considered out of the normal run of things, it was dealt with by the Japanese. Two examples:

Today a sentry struck the officer in charge of the salt party. He was reported to the camp commandant who promised that he would be severely punished and returned to his unit at the end of the month. 19 June 43.

This afternoon a civil policeman kicked a couple of our men. He was given a bit of a hiding by the Jap sentry in charge and put in their guardroom. 22 June 43.  48

Shortly after their arrival at the camp the men had been split into work squads of about thirty-five men in each squad. In each squad there was on average of about 23 privates, 9 NCOs [including lance corporals) and 1 company sergeant major. The CSM was responsible to the Japanese for the discipline and welfare of the squad he was in charge of. He by the way was paid 25 sen per diem. 49  In November 1942 some of the men were employed in making improvements to the railway at Jinsen. Various work parties were used to dig the excavations for additional track. We do not know if Dick was employed in this way, but it is extremely likely that he took his turn along with the rest. One bonus of being part of this working party was that the Korean civilians, children in particular, came to watch the prisoners at work and regularly passed apples and turnips and cigarettes to the working men.

There is some evidence to suggest that the relatively benign treatment meted out to Dick and his fellow prisoners was, in fact, deliberate Japanese Government policy. It has already been noted that the reason that the Loyals, the Yorkshire Royal Artillery prisoners and the Australians were shipped off to Korea in the first place was for political reasons, to impress the native Koreans. It would also seem that whilst the men were in the Korean camps the Japanese were intent on using them as propaganda to the rest of the world. There were visits from Japanese journalists and photographers, copies of the photographs were even sold to the men, and the camps were filmed for the newsreels more than once. The Red Cross were also allowed easier access than was the case elsewhere. Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence that this was the case is the fact that the death rate amongst those 1,000 prisoners who went to Korea was 2.7%, a far lower figure than for any other group of Japanese held prisoners. The overwhelming majority of those who did die did so in the first few weeks in Korea, mainly as a result of their dreadful experiences on the Fukai Maru. 50

Christmas Day 1942 was celebrated in the camp. There was a Christmas service celebrated in the morning, followed by Christmas dinner. As the men were responsible for their own cooking arrangements with the rations that they were issued, some judicious hoarding had been going on for some time in preparation for the festivities. In addition to their usual rations the Japanese doled out a sugar issue, two packets of cigarettes per man, five bags of chestnuts between each squad of thirty-five men, two apples per man and nine tins of sardines for each squad. There was also a camp concert, attended by the men and the Japanese officers and filmed for Japanese propaganda purposes. All in all it was an eventful day.

By now, in the depths of the harsh Korean winter, the temperature was regularly around minus ten degrees centigrade. The sea at Jinsen docks was frozen on Boxing Day. The men piled on as many clothes as they could find in an effort to keep warm. The Japanese authorities did their part with fresh issues of socks and gloves on the 28th December. Some of the men piled on their new issue, grateful for the extra protection; others immediately swapped them for food, reasoning that a full stomach was the better protection. The fierce cold continued, but there was a lift for the men’s spirits when on Wednesday 24th February 1943 the first issue of Red Cross parcels was doled out to them.  

As the year progressed there came other reasons for hope and optimism. Each month the men were now issued with “goodies” from the Red Cross; there was a regular sugar and cocoa issue and bully beef and toffees were also often available. Most of the working parties at the docks were unloading salt, so there was no shortage of that commodity. By April the Japanese were insisting on regular blackout precautions and the men noticed the arrival of Ack-Ack guns in the dock area of Jinsen. This, of course, led to the speculation that perhaps the war wasn’t going entirely the way that the Japanese intended. These two things combined gave some grounds for optimism.

According to Dick’s account of his time as a prisoner, in the spring and early summer of 1943 he spent some of his time as a member of a working party of some thirty prisoners unloading bags of salt at the docks. The men on this particular detail at the docks were expected to unload 1,440 bags each day, and for this they received pay in both money and cigarettes. The pay rate was initially 10 sen per man per day, which rose to 17 sen per day by June; the men also received 30 cigarettes. At this time the working conditions were not overly harsh, as this extract shows:

12th June 43

Whit Sunday

Rained all day. Washed overcoat, service dress tunic and slacks ready for handing in the following day. Went to RC service in no. 2 hut which same was conducted by an Irish private in the absence of the officer who generally conducted who was sick. Celebrated Whitsun by opening and eating the contents of a Red Cross tin for dinner.

In the afternoon read a book [The Autobiography of a Cad) killed about 100 flies, and cursed a thousand more and made out the coupon for the week’s baseball games 5 sen per forecast [2 forecasts). After tea had a couple of bridge rubbers.


13th June 43

Whit Monday

Went to work and came back an hour later owing to the ground being too wet to work in. Handing in of overcoat, slacks and tunic postponed till next Monday. Opened a Red Cross tin for dinner and ate it to celebrate Whit-Monday. In the afternoon went into the garden and read part of a book [Kenilworth) had a game of baseball and lost 20 sen on a bet on another game.

After tea watched another game of baseball, spent 40 sen and won 2 yen 20 sen on playing tombola or Housy Housy [sic) after the baseball.


14 June 43


Came back from work at 2.30 p.m. which time was later than usual owing to the ground being wet.

Had the first news summary for a couple of months. Items among the news where the fall of Tunisia into our hands and CHURCHILL’S STATEMENT that Singapore was the biggest defeat in English history. 51

In his account, Dick made more than one reference to news bulletins; a later one concerned King George’s visit to Tunisia in June 1943 and Allied war gains in the Mediterranean. These events were recorded at pretty much the time that they actually took place. It is a fairly obvious assumption is that someone in the camp either had a radio, or access to one. That would have been the only way that such news could have reached Dick and his mates so quickly, almost instantaneously. It was also the case that the prisoners were issued with Japanese newspapers, usually about two weeks out of date. These papers would seem to have been written in English and so, presumably, were intended for propaganda purposes and aimed at the prisoners. No doubt the men became adept at reading between the lines to work out, if only in general terms, what was actually happening. Neither Dick nor Alex Johnstone went into any further details about the sources of news, perhaps for obvious reasons, but it is clear from both of their accounts that the men did receive regular news about the progress of the war.



34 Unidentified British prisoner quoted by Russell op cit.

35 Most of the Loyals went to Keijo Camp, it was apparently by mistake that Dick and the forty or so other Loyals were separated from their comrades and sent with the gunners to Jinsen.

36 Information from In Durance Vile – Dick’s account of his time as a POW

37 Diary of Alex Johnstone, op cit

38 Instructions given by Col Y Noguchi, Chosen POW Camp [accession K 41723 Imperial War Museum]

39 In Durance Vile op cit

40 de Groen and Masterman-Smith op cit.

41 Dick’s estimate was that on arrival at Jinsen, 10% of the men had dysentery, 60% had diarrhoea, 90% had symptoms of beriberi and practically all would be rated as C3 from the effects of semi-starvation.

42 This was Major Okuda; he had been part of the Japanese guard as the men had marched through Fusan. He had been on horseback and had repeatedly and deliberately ridden his horse right up to the backs of the marching men, allowing the horse to slobber all over them. He had apparently found this amusing. [de Groen and Masterman-Smith op cit.] 

43 In Durance Vile op cit.

44 Major Holohan quoted in official history notes CAB 101/199

45 Alex Johnstone gives the date of Wednesday 9th December – he remarked that they were not sorry to lose the last one and that this man looked a more soldierly officer.  Op cit

46 In Durance Vile op cit

47 The Years Between entry for 13/10/42

48 In Durance Vile op cit

49 In Durance Vile op cit

50 Evidence from an article published on the Australian War Memorial website Prisoners on Parade: Japan Party “B” by de Groen & Masterman-Smith 2002.

51 In Durance Vile op cit

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Konan Camp - Korea



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[Swarbricks War] [Training] [Singapore] [Japanese Invade] [Singapore Falls] [Fukai Maru] [Fusan - Korea] [Jinsen Camp] [Konan Camp] [Going Home]


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