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HOW THE END CAME IN SIAM

Concluding Article of a Series by an Australian War Corre- spondent Who Spent Three and a Half Years in the Hands of the Japanese

By ROHAN D. RIVETT

TOWARDS the end of 1944 the

Japanese POW authorities or dered the construction of deep,   ditches and " bunds" around all prison camps in Siam. These were dug   by the prisoners and were all com- pleted by February. 1945. We were not quite certain of the reason for this step. Some felt that the Japan- ese were belatedly seeking to abide by certain clauses of International law regarding the outlay of prison camps so that they could be distin- guished from the air. Others felt it was a further precaution against attempts to escape and against the activities of the "traders" who were eluding the guards and going out from all camps to trade with the Siamese every night. The more pes- simistic thought it a device for firmer control of prisoners and to facilitate their "liquidation" in the event of a paratroop landing or some other emergency.

In February this year for the first time officer prisoners were separated from other ranks, and with the ex- ception of a few MO's and padres, all of the 3,000 British, Australian, Dutch, and American officers were placed in an officers' camp at Kan- buri, some 80 miles west of Bangkok. At first most of the other ranks were placed in camps in the same area, except for a party working on aero- drome construction at Ratburi. far- ther down the coast.

For some months a fierce struggle had been going on between the Jap- anese camp authorities and the offi- cers regarding officers working for the Japanese. In Burma, thanks to the fine fight put up by the senior Australian officers during construc- tion of the railway in 1942-43, offi- cers had never done coolie work, but had acted as a buffer between the guards and engineers on one side and the working "kumis," or labour gangs of prisoners. This usually meant that officers got abuse and bashings which would otherwise have fallen on the men. Generally speak- ing, it did some good. In Siam,

however, where there were some hundreds of Indian Army officers separated from their Indian troops, officers had been forced to work on the railway, and no distinction had been made between the officer "kumis" and the others.

In November, 1944, officers agreed that it was preferable to "volunteer" for work such as camp construction and similar jobs rather than allow the Japanese to force sick men to work, as they were threatening to do. The blackmail threat against the sick was the trump card of the Japanese, and they never hesitated to play it when faced with defiance.

So at Tamarkan, Chungkai, and Kanburi, the main camps in the Kanchanburi area, officers worked daily at full-time navvy tasks through these months. At the Kan- buri officers' camp, although some 300 OR's were allowed to assist, the bulk of the work was done by offi-

cers.

CAPTAIN BILL DROWER, the

popular English camp interpreter, was involved in the controversy fol- lowing the refusal of a British officer to draw water for a Japanese private. A phrase which he used provoked Captain Neguchi, the camp com- mandant, a sadistic little rat with a tremendous inferiority complex, and a bitter hatred of Allied officers. Neguchi seized a swordstick and struck Drower twice. In the words of Colonel Toosey, British camp commander, "the first blow raised a lump the size of an egg on his right temple. The second blow split his left ear like a ripe tomato. Follow- ing this attack on Drower, Neguchi jumped at him and grappled with him on the floor of the Japanese office, kicking and fighting with him and using jiu-jitsu. Lieutenant Taga- saki, who was also present, struck Drower several times on the face with his hand. During the melee most of the Japanese office was wrecked."

After this Captain Drower was ordered to stand outside the guard- room with three other officers who had been concerned in the incident. After three days these other officers were released, and Lieut. Taga- saki apologised to the British camp, commander for the fact that two Japanese officers had lost their tempers and struck a British officer.

Colonel Toosey's own report of the incident says: "After the first three days in front of the guard-room Capt Drower was put in a hole in the ground partially filled with water, where he was kept for six and a half weeks. "For the first three days he received no food or water. After this treatment he received two rice balls a day and water twice a day to drink. He was not allowed to wash or shave. After seven weeks, when Capt Drower was found by the Jap- anese to be on the point of dying, they agreed that he should receive proper nourishment from the British cookhouse. He was placed in one of the Japanese detention cells behind the guard-room, where he remained for a further three weeks up to the surrender of Japan. He was then released suffering from black-water fever and In an extremely dangerous condition. His mind was wandering, his body was terribly emaciated, and he had a beard extending down to

his chest."

Several days later Captain Neguchi was arrested by the Japanese-busily trying to save their own skins with

the Allied authorities-and placed in prison In Bangkok. When I left on August 31 Capt Drower's condition was stated to be improving under medical attention, and he is now out of danger.

Japanese threats to exterminate the prisoners In Siam had al- ready reached the British author-

ties in Burma, and during July and early August batches of paratroops were dropped in the neighbourhood of several prison camps without the knowledge of the Japanese. Colonel D. Cleagh, who was in charge of these operations, told me in Bang- kok on August 30 that, thanks to Siamese agents and our own aerial reconnaissance, we had a fairly ac- curate picture of the location of prison camps and conditions in them. Siamese were being equipped with arms dropped by parachute to these forces, and it was intended to storm some of the camps and release pri- soners in the last two weeks of August.

The prisoners had no more inkling of these events than did the Jap- anese, although British officers were often within a few hundred yards of two of the camps. But the Jap- anese had for many months been jumpy about paratroop landings, and when I left Bangkok there was increasing evidence of plans to mas- sacre prisoners in all camps in the event of any possibility of their re- lease. It was alleged that Japanese orders to this effect had been seen in one camp office. At the new offi- cers' camp, north-east of Bangkok, where I arrived on August 16 - the day we first got wind of the capitu- lation-friendly Korean guards, who had become increasingly anti-Jap- anese over the last few months, had been warning officers that Neguchi intended to shoot them all.

On the morning of August 14. when Neguchi arrived at the new camp, he immediately sentenced several officers who had accepted an egg or a cigarette from Siamese on their jour- ney up from Kanburi to stand at the guard house at attention without

their hats for an indefinite period. One officer endured this punishment for 84 hours on end. At the same time Neguchi told the British camp commander that officers were "bar- barians and criminals," and would henceforth be treated as such. The British colonel then warned all offi- cers that the position was very seri- ous, as the Japanese were unques- tionably trying to provoke an inci-

dent.

On the night of August 15-16 a Japanese staff car called at the camp and took Neguchi to a con- ference at Bangkok. On his return next morning he went immediately to the guard-house and said to the officers standing there, "Gentlemen, you are serving your King as I am serving my Emperor. We are all officers together, and we must help each other. You are now dismissed."

JAPANESE NCO's and guards

quickly spread the news of the end- ing of the war among prisoners, but it was not until next afternoon that Neguchi made formal admission of the fact to the British colonel and handed over administration of the camp to him. Neguchi then spent the next few days making cringing attempts to ingratiate himself with the officers he had persecuted.

In other camps British paratroop officers walked into the camps and took charge within a few days of capitulation. Colonel Cleagh's "shadow organisation," with head- quarters in Bangkok, had signallers with transmitting sets in every prison camp in Siam by August 25, and was receiving hourly reports as to the condition and needs of prisoners. Food and Red Cross sup- plies were being rushed out from Bangkok, where they had been with- held in some cases for two years by the Japanese, while further supplies of medical kit, clothes, and food were dropped from Allied planes fly- ing over the camps. On August 28 scores of prisoners were already being flown out of Siam to Ran- goon in Dakota transport planes.

Whatever the belief of some people about the atom bomb, there is no doubt that its inventors were the greatest of benefactors to the 30,000 prisoners in Siam. Had Japanese capitulation been delayed even an- other fortnight it is very doubtful whether many of us would be alive today. The End.

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