Tag Archives: Keijo Camp

The End of Captivity

by Jane Davies, Curator of the Lancashire Infantry Museum

Hostilities with Japan ended on the 15th August 1945.  However, for those men of the 2nd Battalion, The Loyal Regiment, who had been held in captivity since Singapore fell on the 15th February 1942, freedom did not come straight away. 

The Loyal Regiment had been imprisoned at first in Changi POW camp and then later the vast majority of men were imprisoned in Keijo Camp, Korea.

Keijo Camp by Harry Kingsley; Photo courtesy of the Lancashire Infantry Museum

Although Keijo was a Japanese ‘show camp’ the conditions for the men were still harsh. They lived under the constant fear of death.  For example, face smacking of POWs was commonplace, but this was preferable to other punishments. One Japanese Corporal earned the nickname ‘Scoops’ following an incident in which he hit a prisoner in the face with a ladle five times.

Weight loss and malnutrition were significant problems. Lieutenant Lever in his diary, which we hold in the museum, recorded that ‘men were now changed so much that they were unrecognisable as the same people they had been before the surrender.’ He later went on to say that ‘body and soul were often kept together by the rare red cross parcel which was deemed infinitely better than the eternal, infernal, rice and stew.’

The conditions in the camp were trying and morale was maintained by holding gang shows and producing a magazine called “Nor Iron Bars”. After three years in Keijo Camp, news began to filter through that the end of the war may be in sight. Brigadier Elrington, in his reminiscences about life as a POW, stated ‘It will be remembered that after VE Day there was no prospect of an immediate end to the war in the Far East. After the reaction of VE Day our morale ran so high that we chafed as each day went by. But, our captors not only chafed, they trembled. Their paramount fear was not of defeat, or death, but of war with Russia. They had no illusions about the Russians, and no power to stay their advance.’

As the Russians were approaching Keijo, in a last act of defiance and cruelty, the Japanese guards threatened to shoot all the Officers imprisoned there. As the Japanese were to die at their posts then the Allied Officers were to, too. The Officers were only saved by the dropping of the second atom bomb and the consequent surrender of Japan on the 15th August. 

Brigadier Elrington concludes his memoirs with this passage ‘After the unbelievable news of VJ Day (August 15) had turned to weeks of inpatient waiting for deliverance, the great moment for us arrived on the 9th September. Amid tremendous excitement and noise of tanks, trucks, bewildered Japs and frantic soldiery, a very large and confident American Company Commander sort [sic] out our CO, saluted smartly and shouted, “Say, Colonel, who d’ya want shot?”

Officers Garden, Brigadier Elrington on the right; Photo courtesy of the Lancashire Infantry Museum

The survivors left Korea and embarked for the Philippines. From there they went on HMS Implacable to Vancouver and eventually reached England in October 1945 where they were reunited with friends and family.

In 1948 a few of the Loyals gave evidence at the Yokohama Minor War Trials against Colonel Y. Nogouchi and 11 others. Nogouchi, former Commandant of all POWs in Korea received 22 years hard labour and Corporal Takuma Mastaro, alias Scoops, former Corporal, later Sergeant, of Keijo received 31 years hard labour. One guard was realeased, others were sentenced to hard labour and one Lieutenant Mizuchi Yasutosi, former Camp Commandant of Jinsen (where a few members of the Battalion were incarcerated) was sentenced to death by hanging.

FEPOW Artwork


By Jane Davies, Curator of the Lancashire Infantry Museum

I have worked at the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston for 15 years.  The Museum houses a wonderful collection, full of interesting objects and archival material; from an account describing the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo to letters back home from the Front during WW1, we hold everything that you can think of.

My favourite collection, without a doubt, is that of the 2nd Battalion, The Loyal Regiment dating from WW2. The Battalion was present at Singapore on the 15th February 1942 when the island fell to the Japanese. Over three years of incarceration began, first of all at Changi prisoner of war camp and then later on (for the majority of the Battalion) in Keijo, Korea.

I first ‘discovered’ the collection when I came across a bound ‘book’ called “Nor Iron Bars”.  Looking inside, the ‘book’ was remarkable.  It was full of magazines compiled by the Battalion’s Officers whilst being held as POWs.  Written on any scrap of paper they could find, mainly old Naval message pads and paper from Red Cross parcels, a series of magazines were produced containing humorous drawings, poems, educational lectures and essays about the Officer’s situation.  Photographs were also attached including ones of the men erecting defenses on Singapore before the Japanese invaded and also photographs of activities within the camp in Keijo itself.  These included photographs of camp shows, the vegetable patch and the funeral of a POW attended by Japanese Officials.

I found these photographs quite extraordinary and at odds to what I knew about other Japanese POW camps. These photographs of men from the Battalion seeming to enjoy themselves were so different to what I had read about the men from 18th Recce (previously the 5th Battalion, The Loyal Regiment) and their experience as POWs on the Thai-Burma Railway.  Further digging about the camp at Keijo was required and, after seeing those photographs it was no surprise to find that the Japanese treated Keijo as a ‘show camp’.  A camp that would be held up as a beacon of good treatment.

The fact that Keijo was a ‘show camp’ should not distract from the harsh conditions that 2 Loyals lived under.  Second Lieutenant Pigott was caught exchanging an old shirt with a Korean for a small loaf of bread.  His punishment was to spend the remainder of his time as a POW in the civil prison, without heating and in winter, a nightly 40 degrees of frost. Near the end Lieutenant Piggot re-joined the camp, but only lasted a few days.  He died on the 29th August 1945.

The danger of being caught with the magazine was summed up by Brigadier Elrington ‘If they were caught with the magazine their punishment would have been terrible. Production of it was punishable by torture and death’ – ‘ these pages were surreptitiously produced, passed from hand to hand and eventually smuggled out of captivity, in spite of the grave risks involved; indeed this constant fear of secrecy added spice to our enjoyment and each successive edition of Nor Iron Bars gave a fresh fillip to our morale.’

For the duration of the war the copies of the magazines were kept in a safe place, hidden from the view of the camp guards.  In 1947 the magazines were bound together and presented as an album to the museum where it is on display now.