Tag Archives: Thailand

Rangoon Agreement, 26-28 August

By Michiel Schwartzenberg

The Japanese unilateral cease fire on 15 august caught the South East Asia Command (SEAC) unprepared. The next day President Truman issued “General Order Number 1’ setting out the immediate aims for the allies. General MacArthur,  who had been appointed as Supreme Commander Allies Pacific (SCAP) issued an order that no allied units may move into Japanese held territories or engage in conferences with the Japanese until after the formal surrender, which was expected to be signed on 28 August (subsequently became 2 September). Despite these orders Mountbatten commanded his counterpart, Field Marshal Terauchi (also a cousin to his sovereign) of Southern Command, to send a delegation to Rangoon to sign a preliminary agreement before the Tokyo surrender.

AWM SUK 14675 Rangoon, Burma. C. 1945-08. The Japanese surrender envoys being escorted to the interrogation tent after landing at Mingaladon airfield, Rangoon.

The delegation arrived on 26 August and it immediately became clear the Japanese would agree to any proposal. They revealed that Tokyo had ordered Southern Command to care for the PoW and assist the British in any way in this regard. Unprepared for this degree of cooperation the British delegation asked Mountbatten for instructions. The second item concerned the acceptance of relief teams in the PoW camps. Eventually the Rangoon Agreement would contain 11 articles concerning the PoW.[1]

The British spied on the envoys; so they knew from an intercepted message (26 August) that the envoys sent instructions regarding the PoW to their HQ, including the advice that the air supply of the camps might commence on 26 August. Indeed, the degree of trust was so great that Mountbatten ordered the existence of the Force 136 units in Thailand to be revealed.[2]

SE 4594 1945-08-28 In the Throne Room, Government House, Rangoon, which was used for the surrender negotiations, Lieutenant General Takazo Numata with Lieutenant Colonel Morio Tomura (left) and Rear Admiral Kaigye Chudo (right) faces the Allied commanders (front row, l to r): Brigadier E G Gibbons, Captain F S Habecker, Major General Feng Yee, Mr M E Dening, Rear Admiral W R Patterson, Lieutenant General Browning, Air Marshal Sounders, Major General Denning, Brigadier M S K Maunsell, Air Vice Marshal A T Cole and Captain J P H Perks. In the rear row, seated to General Browning’s left is Lieutenant General Sir Montagu Stopford.

To his commanders Mountbatten wrote that the Rangoon ‘document was in effect but not in name an instrument of surrender covering SEAC area. Although to comply with instructions I received from SCAP not to sign any surrender papers before the Tokyo event, the document has been called a local agreement.’


[1] 1. Disclose location of all camps

2. Provide numbers, nationalities and sex of all PoW and CI in the camps

3.Withdraw guards and hand over control to senior Allied officer in the camp

4. Provide (armed) parties or arms to the camps. Armed parties under control senior Allied officer in the camp.

5.Be personally responsible for safety of all PoW (despite the senior Allied officer)

6. Remain personally responsible for provision of food, clothing and medicine

7. Assist any Allied personnel

8. Provide numbers, nationalities and sex of all PoW and CI outside the camps, in their area, and remain responsible for them

9. Disclose airfields close to the camps

10. Ensure all records are handed over intact

11. Notify the senior Allied officer in the camp of the Japanese surrender

[2] Apparently General Slim (ALFSEA) feared for their safety; so SACSEA ordered the Japanese be told the untruth that the Force 136 agents had parachuted recently with the sole purpose of RAPWI.

Thailand: 25 August 1945

By Michiel Schwartzenberg

On 25 August 1945 RAF 681 Squadron flew a reconnaissance sortie in the Kanchanaburi area and over Bangkok. Subsequently the Photo Interpretation (PI) by 347 Squadron commented on the pictures: ‘Kanchanaburi and Wanhkhani area: large number of prisoners waving at aircraft. Union Jacks displayed in the camps and prisoners “showing great signs of excitement”. Actions of prisoners indicate no supervision or restraint by Japs. Dakotas could drop supplies. Pinpoints easy to find.’[1]

AWM SEA 0063 Alipore, Calcutta, India. 1944-12-28. Framed between two huge aerial cameras, Warrant Officer M. (Bluey) George, RAAF of Gunnedah, NSW (in cockpit), of No. 681 (Spitfire) Squadron RAF, talks to a member of his ground crew before taking off on a reconnaissance sortie. Half the pilots in No. 681 Squadron RAF, a Spitfire photographic reconnaissance squadron operating over Burma and Thailand are members of the RAF. They fly deep into enemy territory to bring back photographs which enable future targets to be selected and damage done by bomber attacks to be assessed.

Also on Saturday 25 August, Mr. P.F. Kuhn Regnier was in Tamuan and began his diary. At 2:30 in the afternoon a fighter was spotted and the PoW ran out and displayed a British flag outside the camp. ‘We’d been expecting some of our planes over for the past few days, as we’d heard wireless broadcasts that supplies would soon be dropped over PoW camps. Everyone raised a mighty cheer and waved frantically at the plane, which acknowledged our waves by a wobbling of its wings from side to side. At the next flypast the pilot opened the canopy and waved. Our feelings then were difficult to describe. He was the first free Allied man that we’d seen over 3,5 years. He then went away […] to do his stuff over the Kanburi Officers camp. Well, we now know that our friends know for certain just where we are, and that we can expect to see the bigger boys coming over during the next few days to drop us much needed and looked forward to supplies by parachute. Everyone in the camp feels 100% happier. It is slowly sinking in that we really are free, and that in a few weeks more we shall be as other men, and shall be out of this dreadful country and such terrible memories once and for all. On that happy day when we shall see old England again.’[2]

One may assume that Mr. Kuhn Regnier was one of the prisoners ‘showing great signs of excitement’; but his wish came true. The mission confirmed to South East Asia Command that the Japanese would abide by the Rangoon Agreement. Later that day “Goldfish”, the codeword for commencing of liberation of the PoW camps, was passed to all the MASTIFF-teams. From 28 august the MASTIFF teams entered the camps and from 1 September the camps were supplied by the RAF.


[1] WO 203/5194 (140) & HS 1/326 (3) Adv 347 SQ PI Section to SACSEA, 25 Aug 1945

[2] Lid Hart GB0099 KCLMA Kuhn-Regnier, Diary

Post VJ Day 1945 – Returning home from Thailand and Burma

By Martin Percival

My father, Frank Percival, was called up in December 1939. He was 21 years old. After initial Army training at Seaton Barracks in Plymouth, he was posted to Bradford before heading to Gourock in Scotland to embark on 30th September 1941 on the troop ship ‘Empress of Canada‘. The troops onboard thought they were heading to North Africa – in fact they were enroute for Singapore, disembarking on 28th November 1941. After the short lived Malayan campaign, along with 80,000 plus other Allied military personnel, he was captured in Singapore by the Japanese on 15th February 1942. 

Frank Percival, September 1945. (Courtesy of Martin Percival)

The next 3.5 years saw my father engaged in railway and bridge construction work in Thailand and Burma and by the summer of 1945 aerodrome construction work for the Japanese. Soon after his return home from the war in November 1945 the story of his experiences was published by the local newspaper where he lived in North West London – the Willesden Chronicle and Kilburn Times. This was very unusual. The military had made it clear that they didn’t really want the men returning home to talk about their experiences. My father died in December 1982 and I only discovered the newspaper cutting when I was moving house in 2004. I was both delighted and sad to read it. The whole piece can be found here; https://www.far-eastern-heroes.org.uk/Your_Gods_Stronger_Than_Ours/

Here’s an extract from the article on what he had to say about the period from VJ Day up to his arrival back in the UK: 

“On the night of August 15th 1945. all the Japanese in our camp were drunk. We thought nothing of this, as it was a fairly frequent occurrence. The working party for the aerodrome paraded for work as usual at 8 a.m. on the morning of the 16th, but no Japanese sentries came to take them to work. At 10.30 a.m. the Japanese Commandant made an announcement to the effect that he was going away for a few days and upon his return hoped to have some very good news for us. In the meantime outside working parties would cease. The camp immediately went mad with joy and few slept that night.

On the afternoon of August 20th, a British parachutist major arrived in the camp, gave us details of the cessation of hostilities, said that he and a number of colleagues had been in Siam for some months and arrangements were under way to get us out of Siam as quickly  as possible. He advised us to ignore the Japanese as at that time there were less than 1,000 Allied troops in the country and there were over 100,000 Japanese yet to be disarmed.

The majority took this wise counsel, being loath to prejudice their chances of recovery after having endured so many hardships. Siamese gendarmerie replaced the Japanese guards in the prisoner-of-war camps, and were placed there only for the protection of the ex-prisoners.

We moved down to Bangkok by rail on August 31st and were given wonderful receptions by the Siamese people at every station en route. We departed from Bangkok the following day by Dakota aircraft for Rangoon, and it was not until we were actually on the planes that we felt ourselves out of the clutches of the Japanese.

Our new-found elation was dimmed, however, by the memory for many hundreds of our friends left behind in Siam. They would never again see the shores of England as a result of the bestial treatment meted out to them by their Japanese captors.”

Unlike some of his peers, my father didn’t hate the Japanese. He felt that was pointless. However he never forgot his war time experiences. The war had held a number of lifetime firsts for him. His first time leaving the UK was onboard the ‘Empress of Canada‘ troopship on 30th September 1941 and his first time on a plane was on the Dakota that airlifted him from Bangkok to Rangoon on 1st September 1945. From Rangoon he headed home on 21st September on the troopship Orduna, arriving in Liverpool on 19th October via Colombo and Port Said. Like many returning home the news that greeted him was not all good. His father had died in August 1944 – the letters sent informing him of this sad news eventually caught up with him many months after getting home. Family members have told me that he didn’t talk about his war time experiences during the 1940s and 50s. However by the 1970s and 80s a lot of time had passed and he would talk about his war time experiences to my brother and I. I suspect he found it therapeutic. I am very glad that he did talk.

A Prisoner’s Diary

By Ray Withnall

February 1945. We arrive in Ubon north-east Thailand and ordered to build an airstrip for the Japanese. We’ve been prisoners for 3 long barbaric years.

June. Work on the airstrip is going well. Not too demanding. Local Thais tell us the war in Europe is over.

July. A plane flew over the camp and dropped leaflets with news the allies invaded Japan. Is that really true? The guards are on edge. Next day when we’re ordered to dig trenches across the airstrip. Is it to stop our planes from landing, or have we dug our graves? We’re anxious.

Early August. The Japanese tell us we don’t need to work but they’re as confused as us. Some are friendly, all of them less demanding. Something is in the air.

15 August. Today we saw the guards in a panic burning papers. Rumours that the war is over spread through the camp.

18 August. We’ve been uneasy for the last 2 days. RSM McTavish ordered everyone onto the parade ground.  We were called to attention and Major Chida Sotomatsu, the camp commandant, made an announcement. It was translated:

‘The Greater East Asia war has ended. You must carry on as you have been for some time until your own people come and take you over. I, as camp commandant, wish to thank you all for the good work you have done for me in the group. Higher officials have given out certain orders and it is my wish that you all adhere to these orders in a soldierly manner. I am still responsible for you all until I can hand you over to your own people. Outside work will cease as from tomorrow. Inside work as far as the I.J.A. are concerned is also finished, but work will have to carry on as before for your own benefit. Do your work as exercise. Those of you who are fit must keep fit. Those who are sick must do their utmost to get fit as soon as possible.’

We are free!

24 August. We were stunned at first. We are free but stay in the camp. Local Thais generously bring us food and drink. They’re organising entertainment for us; cinema, dancing, sports, even horse racing. The Thai army spoke to RSM McTavish, but they couldn’t tell him when we will be leaving.

25 August. Colonel Toosey arrived this evening. We gave him a tremendous reception. He said he had been worried about us, but relaxed when he saw us in good shape.

27 August. British officer Major Smiley arrived early this morning. He tells us he’s been in Thailand since May training the Seri Thai resistance. When the Japanese surrendered, he came straight to Ubon. He stayed undercover in case of Japanese revenge attacks. His radio operator contacted HQ to requisition supplies. We need decent clothes. The Thais send in more food.

28 August. Colonel Toosey sent the 20 sick men back to Bangkok with the 4 Americans. No news of our departure. We are organising football with the local Ubon team. We now have a radio and listen to the BBC. We go into Ubon but back before curfew.

22 September. It’s been five frustrating weeks waiting to go home. But we are now on the move. The Australians and 250 of the British have gone. The rest of us go in 2 days. Feeling sorry for the hundreds of Dutch who can’t go home because of fighting in the Dutch East Indies.

(The Dutch are trained in firearms and tactics in anticipation of fighting the insurgents. They eventually leave Thailand in February 1946.)

On VJ Day 74: Letters between the generations

On the 74th anniversary of VJ Day, Ashley Prime writes for RFHG about his father, Lance Corporal Ashley Prime – a former prisoner of war in Singapore and Thailand – whose moving post-war letters have been published open access for all to read.

Ashley Prime
Lance Corporal Ashley Prime. Courtesy of Ashley Prime

I had of course always known that my father had been a Japanese Prisoner of War. I grew up with that always in our minds in our home, but it was never really seen as a negative. It was just there, and from my childhood, I recall kindly former colleagues of his visiting our home. They were always kind and I never felt any anger in the way they were. At least to me as a small child. 

Later in life, I was living in West Germany in my early twenties, and whilst back in London on holiday, I asked my father about the war and his experiences. He said he hadn’t really ever talked to me about it but did want to rectify that. We didn’t discuss anything further, but it was at that point that I started to receive a series of handwritten letters on A4 paper, over a period of around 18 months. He had been meticulous in keeping as many of the original documents as he had, including the postcards he had sent my mother, the only letter he had received from her and his record card. All in support of his letters.

And he wrote and wrote and wrote. Sadly he died in 1983 before he was able to complete his life story. He had written up to the mid 1950s and had therefore covered the fall of Singapore, captivity and liberation.

Ashley Prime’s letters can be accessed here: Ashley Prime: Calcutta to Singapore

 What did I take from the letters? And how did it change my view of my father? Firstly, there was throughout his letters a lack of anger, a lack of bitterness, with a pragmatic acceptance of his fate.  He said that ‘you will be back’ – the parting words from his wife – and ‘another life experience’ kept him going. 

 He had already said to me that forgiveness was one of the most difficult things to do. But holding on to bitterness eats us all away from the inside and doesn’t allow us to move on. And I think he did that with his captors, with the evidence of him giving them cigarettes, refraining from beating them and pitying them at the end of the war when the Japanese themselves became captives.

 And that is how I remember him. He was always kind, thoughtful, loving and caring. I rarely, if ever, saw him angry and he never raised his voice to me. I miss him today in 2019 as much as I do when he was here. 

 

All words © Ashley Prime, 2019.

D-Day

In honour of the D-Day commemorations, Martin Percival writes…

The 6th June 2019 sees the 75th anniversary of D Day. The focus, quite rightly, is on Europe. What’s interesting though is to understand when and how the news was received by the POWs in the Far East and the impact it had upon their morale.

My father, Frank Percival, was captured in Singapore in February 1942 and was a member of one of the early work parties that headed up country to Thailand in June that year.

Upon returning home in October 1945, contrary to Army orders, the story of his captivity was published in the local newspapers in North West London – the Willesden Chronicle and the Kilburn Times. He told me when I was a teenager that as a young man, before he joined the Army in 1939, he had aspirations to be a journalist. I have often wondered if this piece, written on the ship home, was an attempt at fulfilling his career aspirations.This piece was re-published  in full with some additional photographs on Ron Taylor’s excellent Far Eastern Heroes website – see below:

http://www.far-eastern-heroes.org.uk/Your_Gods_Stronger_Than_Ours/

The piece reveals that the news about D Day was already circulating in Thailand as early as 9th June 1944 – just 3 days after the allied invasion of France. Although not mentioned in my father’s article, the news was received via ‘canaries’ – secret radios hidden in mess tins and other items to help to disguise them. If found the men held responsible by the Japanese risked death by beheading. The section on D Day and receiving news on the progress of the war from outside is as follows:

‘Most prison camps possessed excellent news facilities. In the camp in which I was interned in 1944 we knew full details of “D” Day on 9th June. Towards the end however things deteriorated, mainly as a result of the frequent searches carried out by the Japanese. But this was compensated for, in some measure, by the leaflets which occasionally came into our possession printed in Burmese, Chinese, Japanese and Siamese. We ware easily able to follow the course of the War from these, aided by excellent sketch maps printed on their reverse sides.’

My father told me that these communications were an incredible boost to morale – and that especially the news on D Day helped the POWs to believe that maybe there was now an end insight.