VJ75 – Civillian Internees

By Dr Bernice Archer

Over 130,000 Allied civilians (an estimated 50,740 men, 41,895 women and 40,260 children), were interned in the Far East during World War 11, with the subsequent deaths of approximately 15,000.

The Japanese created hundreds of civilian internment camps in Japan, Korea, Manchuria, China, French Indo China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines, Burma, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, West Borneo, East Borneo, and the Celebes. The smallest, Pangkalpinang in Sumatra, held approximately four people. The largest, Tjihapit I in Java, held approximately 14,000. In Java and Sumatra, the men were separated from the women and children and, from approximately 1944 onwards, boys over ten years of age were transferred from the women’s camps to the men’s camps. In Java there were special camps for boys and the sick old men. In China, Hong Kong and the Philippines men, women and children shared the camp accommodation. Accommodation differed from area to area including schools, warehouses, university buildings, prisons, prison warders’ accommodation, houses or bamboo barracks.

Although the Japanese surrendered on 15th August 1945 liberation from the civilian internment camps differed widely. In February 1945 the American forces stormed the camp at Santo Tomas in Manila and liberated all the internees. (A vivid account of this from the perspective of an eight year old boy can be found in Rupert Wilkinson’s book, Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp –Life and Liberation at Santo Tomas, Manila in World War 11 (Macfarland & Company, Inc 2014).Others had to wait weeks or months after the Japanese surrender – it was November 1945 before the last group of women and children, in Aik Pamienke in Java, were liberated. Reaction to the Japanese surrender and liberation differed too.

Throughout the RFHG’s VJ75 webseries we will be posting many recollections of VJ Day and liberation from those that were civilian internees.

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