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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.