Kempeitai of WWII and the POW’s

Kanchanaburi (Kanburi). Prisoners of war, in their quarters in an open-sided attap hut in the POW camp (commonly called Kanburi by the Australians). All seem aware that their photograph is being taken secretly, at risk to themselves and the photographer if film or camera were discovered by the Japanese. Many prisoners were brought here from Burma after the Burma-Thailand railway was completed.

The Kempeitai (憲兵隊, Kenpeitai, “Military Police Corps”), was the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1881 to 1945.  It was not a conventional military police as we know them, but more of a secret police.  A member of the corps was called a kempei.

For prisoners of the Japanese life was never easy – even though conditions had eased somewhat for many men who had survived the building of the Burma Siam death railway.

Kanchanaburi in Thailand was regarded as one of the better camps, where there was a relatively regular supply of food. Malnourishment and the associated diseases were still common here but most men eked out a living.

Kempeitai soldier

Ken Adams, a medic with the RAMC who worked in the camp hospital, describes conditions at the end of 1944, when they knew from Allied bombing raids that the war was going their way. Trying to find out any details was a perilous business:

The railway station and stores also were bombed repeatedly, but our camp was far enough away from them and we avoided casualties.

Towards the end of the year Allied planes flew over our camp most days, going to bomb something or coming back from a raid, and camp security now required the excavation of a substantial ditch, perhaps 20 feet deep and at least 30 feet across, around the entire camp.

This was a massive undertaking without mechanical assistance and was similar to the ditch excavated around the camp at Taimuang. I think similar ditches were carved out around camps across southern Thailand, a reflection of fundamental changes in the world outside the camps: only a few months before a simple bamboo fence, drawbridge and gate had satisfied camp security requirements.

The Kempeitai’s presence increased through the year. These stocky little policemen with their fondness for torture, dark glasses and swords that were too big for them, filled everyone with fear. They didn’t often make forays into our quarters but were unnecessarily destructive when they did, throwing our kit about with abandon. A lingering look from them made you quake.

I remember a lad at the aerodrome camp who was trussed up in a drainage ditch near one of the huts. I managed to talk to him and he said he’d attempted to escape and was waiting for the Kempeitai. He thought they were taking him to Singapore for execution.

The Kempeitai were horrible little bastards. My most vivid memory of them is being lined up outside a hut as they beat a bloke to death who’d been caught with a radio hidden in a tin of peanuts. We had to stand to attention and listen to his screaming. The beating lasted a long time. I can’t say how long but the bastards knew how to prolong this torture and didn’t want him to die too quickly. I can still hear those screams.

While this was happening, the camp gunso sauntered among our ranks, kicking blokes in the shins if they didn’t meet his notion of standing to attention. If the purpose of the violence was to provide an object lesson in why not to build and operate a radio, it was very effective.

We speculated endlessly on the meaning of all this bombing, digging and secret police activity. We also speculated on what the Japanese were trying to achieve by making propaganda films at this time about our ‘privileged’ lives as prisoners.

We were filmed resplendent in new clothes we’d never see again, within drooling distance of fine foods we’d never eat and holding tennis rackets we’d never use to hit a ball.

Did the air strikes mean the end of the war was just around the corner? Did all the digging anticipate possible landings by paratroops and attempts to arm prisoners? Was the stage being set for a defensive tussle that might outlive us? Was the filming part of a strategy to rewrite history in preparation for a post-war world when we’d be reconciled?

Kanchanaburi, Thailand, 1944

 

 

Ken Adams wrote the book: “Healing In Hell: The Memoirs of a Far Eastern POW Medic”

This information is mostly from WW2 Today and Wikipedia.

####################################################################################

Military Humor – C.B.I. Roundup style – STRICTLY G.I.

“LET’S GET THAT POCKET BUTTONED UP THERE SOLDIER!”

“…AND TO PVT. JENKINS FOR TYPING 120 WORDS PER MINUTE…”

####################################################################################

Farewell Salutes –

James Bailey – Atlantic, IA; US Army, WWII

Archibald Gray – Matamata, NZ; RNZ Army # 422703, WWII

James Harmon – Orleans, IN; US Coast Guard, WWII, PTO, LST

Robert Jones – St. Louis, MO; US Army, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Lt.Col. (Ret. 27 yrs.), pilot

Victor Maccini – Wellesley, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Robert ‘Allen’ O’Berry – Kissimmee, FL; US Army, Sgt. (Ret. 20 yrs.)

Peter Sallis – Middlesex, ENG; RAF, WWII, wireless mechanic, (beloved actor)

Margaret Treleaven – Saskatoon, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII, ETO

William Weinstein – NY; US Army, WWII, SSgt.

James Willis – Norfolk, VA; US Navy, WWII, USS Bailey

####################################################################################

Advertisements

About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 8, 2017, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 148 Comments.

  1. Shared the post with my 10-yr-old.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An awful story, but one that shouldn’t be forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello, I am on a ‘blog holiday’ but as I recently returned from a conference on Far East POWs, I had to read this. I remember reading Ken Adams book and it describes it as it really was. In early 1945 all the officers in Thailand were separated from the men (ORs/other ranks) and held in Kanchanaburi. My father helped to build that ditch and an embankment and he remembers the camp as being very scary because of the constant harassment by the Kempeitei – their guards were so scared of them, they often got advance warning. It was here that he buried his diaries (now under a car park). The caption to the photo is a little misleading; the Thailand-Burma railway was mostly in Thailand (300 kms to 116 in Burma). Kanchanaburi was one of the bigger base and hospital camps for the railway, so men fetched up there after the main railway work finished in October 1943, but although some of the unlucky F and H force men went over the Thai border into Burma, most of the men never never left Thailand and the majority of the books you read about the railway are set in Thailand.
    http://hellfire-pass.commemoration.gov.au/building-hellfire-pass/map-of-thai-burma-railway.php
    http://www.230battalion.org.au/history/pow/POWCampsBurmaThailand/POWCampsBurmaThailand.htm

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much for contributing all this and the link to the post. Having first-hand accounts of the events and places from back then helps people to put the entire story into perspective. I appreciate all you’ve done!

      Like

  4. I read a real good book called Prisoners of The Japanese.
    It was a real eye opener about how the Japanese treated POW’s

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My father had many stories about the Japanese time. and yes, the dreaded kempetai. but after decades of service in the armed force, i kinda understand where these guys were coming from. they had a job to do. there may have been atrocities along the way. true. but the nature of their work needed for them to be strict. hence the notoriety in their brand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with that thought for the regular army, who followed orders. Being a ‘secret police force’ puts them in the same line of work and mind-set as the Nazi SS. If you can remember, please add a story of that time from your father.

      Like

  6. “We were filmed resplendent in new clothes we’d never see again, within drooling distance of fine foods we’d never eat and holding tennis rackets we’d never use to hit a ball.” To me, one of the most damning of the charges. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It is difficult even to read accounts about the mistreatment of prisoners of war, but all the more important that we remember what these men endured. Thank you for helping to keep these stories alive.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Musings of a Penpusher and commented:
    We must never forget the suffering endured and sacrifices made by so many who served in so many fields of conflict throughout the world. Their names deserve to be carved into history.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. For example, Russia betrayed Japan in WW2.
    In Russia, Japanese POW were slaughtered , many died. Japanese Civilians POWS also and many died.
    However, now Japanese civilians love Russian civilians. So we will exchange culture. Diplomacy and people’s exchanges are different, so we try to learn from the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It is important diplomacy that the top of the country signs an agreement on past wars.

    In the past war, we should not criticize which way was Bad, we should learn a method that how to not repeat.

    Japan were embroiled in the War of the United States and the U. K etc, Japan made the armed forces in a hurry. The KenPeiTai is imitation of the French militaries.

    In The fighting ,The victorious nation had been committing atrocities against civilians and defeated soldier etc… .
    The history is handed down by the victorious nation side to justify it.
    Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals of Japan(極東裁判) were one, too.

    Japanese commited atrocities against civilians of Southeastern Asian countries,soldier of enemy and a Japanese citizen and Japanese soldiers.

    Therefore “His Majesty the Emperor” who is the symbol of the Japanese citizen has been visiting to those countries for the memorial service of all war victims.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. I say this repeatedly to the readers. Actually, I often put quite a bit of the blame on President Roosevelt for pushing japan into the Pearl Harbor attack. Thank goodness, MacArthur understood the what the Emperor represented and gave explicit orders not to bomb the palace or to put him on trial. It was a different world back then and thankfully we now share a good relationship. I wish the rest of the world turned out so well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Of course, Japanese also love Americans.
        Even during the war and after the Japan defeat, some of Americans soldiers who also loves their family helped the Japanese.
        It is difficult for people to keep their minds on an unusual battlefield. However, the Japanese knows that there was a US soldier who kept on keeping own heart.
        Please visit and welcome to Japan:D

        Liked by 1 person

  11. No matter whether they were at the battle front or in a prisoner of war camp, life was terrible for everyone involved. How they maintained their sanity is beyond me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is surely an understatement, Bev. I’ve often wondered that myself. But the more I learn, not only the more in awe I become, but understanding why many of them said and behaved as they did. Quite an admirable generation!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. gratitude for these continued honors & revelations, GP!
    seems there’s been more than enough
    suffering from wars
    that humans would other ways
    to settle differences & live harmoniously
    on this little space ball 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Whenever reading about the Japanese POWs my mind instinctively goes to Weary Dunlop, who gave the Japs hell,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weary_Dunlop

    Liked by 2 people

  14. It’s always so sad to read about the overly cruel things that took place during the camps. I don’t know how people do mean things to other people.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In some cases, they were just plain mean to begin with – others were ordered and threatened to do so. War brings out the very best and the very worst in humans, I’m afraid, RoseMary.

      Like

  15. The even bigger tragedy is the fact that so many Japanese war criminals were allowed to go free without any punishment whatsoever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were so many tried in so many courts around the Pacific, I suppose they needed to pick the most responsible. The lower ranking soldiers of the Japanese were not just ordered to do harm to the enemy, but also threatened themselves and their families.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I had not heard of the Kempeitai. The story is a hard read, but educational. The atrocities man heaps upon himself and other creatures is incomprehensible.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. A tough read. It’s hard for me to understand the cruelty of some people.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Good to read this post because I know nothing of life of the Pow in Japan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very few did until long after the war, Mary Lou. Especially since so many of the men couldn’t talk about it. Thank you so much for dropping in.

      Like

  19. Whenever I read stories like these, I can’t help but think of how those poor guys came home. So little was known then about the horrible effects of what they went through while there, and how it carried over after they came home.
    Though it’s difficult to read, what you are doing is so vitally important. Some people want to re-write history, it can’t be allowed to happen. Thank you for your efforts to keep it alive and known.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks for highlighting one more little known aspect of POW life under the Japanese. The Kempetai also doubled as “political police” to keep the occupied population in line and prevent “fraternization”. They left a lasting trauma with the inmates of the camps. I once met a lady who had been “interned” on Java for over 3 years and her eyes turned glassy at the word Kempetai. Forty years after her imprisonment she still rattled off the sentences in Japanese that were compulsory when one of those “policemen” entered her hut and she involuntary came to attention…

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Horrible to read this, GP. Still we need to know how the military suffered and survived during the war. Thank you! 🌺 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you understand and sincerely care for our troops, Christine. I want you to know how much I appreciate your loyal reading at each post. You are one who will never forget.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. And yes, I know we’re not allowed to call them ‘Japs’ any more … they are our oriental brothers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First off – they didn’t deal with politically correctness back then. And in some cases it was simply a shortening method for record keeping. [war doesn’t usually give you the benefit of as much time as you need.]

      Like

  23. People today don’t and cannot understand.

    I was at a social gathering where the conversation got around to this topic and one old guy in his cups who normally kept very much to himself said that the most pleasant thing for him was seeing Jap soldiers drop after he’d fired—and one particular “—bastard go arse over turkey out of sight”.

    I talked with his wife later, she said that the man she’d waved off to Burma (Brit 14th Army) and the man who came back were two different people. He never talked about it … but he hated, loathed, detested Japs with a vengeance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, the forgotten army – Burma, India – rough territory. Very understandable on his part. You then are one who understands why I feel these prople can not and should not ever be forgotten!!

      Liked by 2 people

  24. A barbaric regime indeed, how these people live with themselves is beyond me.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. ” The Kampeitai were horrible little bastards ” holds a universe of pain , fear , grief , and agony in one little concise understated Americanism . It’s difficult to read these experiences .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I realize that and thank you for getting through the article, but as I repeatedly say, we can not forget what this generation went through for us and we can not change history [no matter how hard some people try to erase it]. Thank you for ‘hanging in there’, Dan!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. The POW story is one that needs to be remembered. Nice job GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I wonder if those questions at the end of your post have ever been answered. I recall a similar situation reported by the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, when the political prisoners were treated royally for a couple of days. The Soviet authorities had invited a group of American Quakers to look at their prison conditions. When they arrived, the prison was more like a luxurious hotel complete with clean rooms, fine clothing, excellent food even with Playboy magazines in the reading room. Solzhenitsyn writes that the Quakers had hardly left when everything returned to old dismal conditions. I guess the Japanese may have had similar motives to show the world how well they treated their prisoners. Another interesting post, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even though the Japanese never signed the Geneva Convention, and felt they had no obligation to enforce the rules, they did try to display to the world that were ‘nice guys.’ Back the, they could all easily get away with it. Thank you for the information.
      ps. could you possibly read the question from OIKOS about the German bunkers? I am trying to research this for him, but you know I am not “up on” my ETO info as much as I should be.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. It is difficult to imagine the emotional and physical pain endured as a result of war. So thankful for these brave people.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Over the years, I read an occasional piece about some former POW who forgave his tormentors. I understand that giving such forgiveness does more for the former POW than it does for the former guard, but it still amazes me that it is possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know if I could be so magnanimous, but yes , it has happened. Usually I heard it about POW’s who were lucky enough to have at least one guard who was not sadistic.

      Like

  30. POWs & MIAs Worldwide, You are not Forgotten. 🌎🌍🌏

    Liked by 1 person

  31. This reminded me of what the Nazis did at Theriesenstadt—-creating a “model” concentration camp with music and good food and children playing sports for a propaganda film.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. It is difficult to learn of such brutal and sadistic treatment of prisoners, but history cannot be whitewashed. It is hard to grasp the mindset of the captors.
    In college I read a great deal about the Iroquois treatment of prisoners – – and some academics would insist on distinguishing between “torture” (in the sense of punishment, sadism, or extraction of info) vs. inflicting pain in a ritualized way, in some cases, as a test of bravery, followed by adoption into the tribe. Even when the prisoner was killed, they might be sincerely honored for their stoicism. Of course, I’m not sure the victims who died after horrific ordeals, appreciated the distinction.
    Sometimes in the U.S., it seems increasingly acceptable to mock and decry the Geneva Conventions and protocols, as outdated niceties, and talk of “taking the gloves off,” etc. It is a slippery slope.
    Thank you for posting on a difficult topic, GP, this is a valuable history site.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thank you for handling this post in such a mature and understanding manner. Too many people gloss over it and pretend it never existed. I appreciate you opinions on this.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Thank you very much, for another piece of information. May i ask you about a special thing? Since over 20 years i am researching on POW’s inside our region. No one of the officials wants to know anything. Now i heared about a bunker with two parts built by the SS. No one want to give out information about the structure of this bunker. Maybe there in are burried hundred of POW’s. Do you know some how i can get much more information? Perhaps someone of the US army has information about this bunker?

    Liked by 1 person

  34. War is truly hell GP. From what I have read the Those soldiers captured by the Japanese were at the mercy if the most barbaric and ruthless.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. My uncle served in the CBI Theater. In China, he was with the Army Air Forces and returned home with malaria that bothered him the rest of his 82 years. He passed in 2005.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Very true, GP – the Kempeitai was the equivalent to the Nazi SS – not the Waffen SS, but quite similar in other ways.

    But those were different times and people with different outlook.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I feel so bad for these men when I read these stories. I can’t imagine what brings people like their captors and guards to treat them so badly. I don’t know how you ever get past those sights, sounds and treatment.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. It’s so horrible to think of what hides behind History’s most defining moments… To see what people are capable of doing to one another 😦
    Thank you for sharing. Each of those men deserves to be remembered.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. I recently watched a doc on Tojo and this group was mentioned a lot…..from all I saw a group of sadistic bastards…..chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  40. I have vivid memories of visiting Kanchanburi in 2001. I walked over the bridge adjacent to the main memorial cemeteries – yes, THAT bridge, with the replacement centre span after Allied bombing partially destroyed it. The scale of the toll taken on Allied – principally British and Commonwealth – POW’s as they were forced to build the bridge and railway beyond was brought home to me by the sheer size of the cemeteries. Its human truth was underscored by the fact that, on the day I visited, I found fresh flowers on grave markers, left by families to remember their fathers and grandfathers – memories kept alive six decades after the end of hostilities.

    Liked by 3 people

  41. I don’t know how those guys went through such horrific and barbaric treatment. They were treated worse than caged animals and yet they kept going. Young kids these days talk about their ‘heroes’ like kim Kardashian and Kanye west. They should look at these damned photos and see what a REAL hero looks like. Lest we forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. That ‘somewhat’ attached to eased conditions says it all

    Liked by 2 people

  43. I read a book by a Japanese soldier many decades ago, and recall that they were just as scared of the Kempeitai. Makes me wonder why some of us still buy Japanese cars…
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Thank you very much.

    Like

  1. Pingback: The Weekly Headlines – My Daily Musing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: