During World War II, the Japanese Armed Forces captured nearly 140,000 Allied military personnel (Australia, Canada, Great Britain, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States) in the Southeast Asia and Pacific areas. About 36,000 were transported to the Japanese Mainland to supplement the shortage of the workforce and compelled to work in the coal mines, mines, shipyards, munitions factories, etc. By the time the war was over, a total of more than 30,000 POWs had died from starvation, diseases, and mistreatment both within and outside of the Japanese Mainland.
According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate of Western prisoners was 27.1%, seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians.
The Empire of Japan, (which had never signed the Second Geneva Convention of 1929, it is, however, important to note that the Japanese Emperor had agreed to its provisions) did not treat prisoners of war in accordance with international agreements, including provisions of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), either during the second Sino-Japanese War or during the Pacific War.
Moreover, according to a directive ratified on 5 August 1937 by The Japanese emperor Hirohito, the constraints of the Hague Conventions were explicitly removed from prisoners of war from China, the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the Philippines held by the Japanese armed forces and these POWs were subject to murder, beatings, summary punishment, brutal treatment, forced labour, medical experimentation, starvation rations and poor medical treatment. The most notorious use of forced labour was in the construction of the Burma–Thailand 'Death Railway'.
Search the ‘Far East Prisoners of War 1942-46’ collection from Forces War Records today and see who you could to add to your family tree.
Our Historic Documents archive contains vivid accounts of the conditions endured by all PoWs, whether horrific or remarkably fair. We have issue upon issue of ‘The Prisoner of War’ magazine, a monthly periodical produced by the Prisoners of War Department of the Red Cross and St John War Organisation that went free to the relatives of prisoners. It contains war news, interesting news snippets from within the camps, correspondence from relatives, official reports of Red Cross inspections, descriptions of the camps, letters from the prisoners and much more. We have several volumes of ‘Far East’ journal too, though one wonders how much news from this sector really got through.
With so many sources around for prisoners, the hardest part is doing the initial background research to find out that your relative was taken prisoner. Once you’ve realised that, the avenues to explore to try to find out more are endless.