"Great in adversity": Indian prisoners of war in New Guinea
Peter Stanley

{1} Hitherto little attention has been directed to the experience of Indian prisoners of war in South-East Asia, and much of that had concerned the formation of the pro-Japanese Indian National Army (INA). While several scholarly works explore the creation and outcome of the INA, much of the historiography of the INA is influenced by nationalist mystique, and especially by the legend of Subhas Chandra Bose.1 Of the approximately 40,000 Indians captured by the Japanese, mainly in the fall of Singapore in February 1942, up to 30,000 appear to have joined the INA, whether willingly or under duress.2 Many Indians still hail members of the INA as fighters for India's freedom. Those who rejected Japanese blandishments and remained loyal to their oath of service were regarded as dupes of the imperial power and have been disregarded by an independent India, which does not provide pensions to former members of Britain's Indian army.

{2} Indian prisoners of war have also been largely overlooked in the war literature of both India and of the western Allies. Official histories provide scant coverage. The Indian official history devotes almost no space to the experience of captivity, only to a brief summary of the work of the Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees organisation (RAPWI). An appendix to Volume V of S. Woodburn Kirby's British official history The war against Japan provides a short summary of the numbers captured and the locations at which prisoners were held. It makes clear that Indians were held in Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Sumatra and British and Dutch Borneo. Although at war's end nearly 6,000 Indians were recovered in Australian New Guinea the British official history omits any mention of them. The only reference is in relation to Singapore, stating that "many of the Indians eventually left the island, mainly in forced labour battalions for islands in the south-west Pacific".3 The Australian official history, which deals extensively with the war in the South-West Pacific Area, accords them half-a-dozen references in Gavin Long's volume The final campaigns. In spite of the importance of loyalty as a central idea in Indian Army history, Philip Mason's history of the Indian Army barely mentions loyal prisoners – though INA members are discussed at length.4

{3} Despite this neglect, the ordeal of Indians as prisoners of war was as severe as those of the less numerous British and Australian troops who were captured in the fall of South-East Asia. Unlike their British and Australian comrades, they have not published memoirs, nor have they been the subject of historical works. They therefore remain substantially neglected.

{4} Kaori Maekawa has written of the Japanese army's use of Asian "sub-soldiers", from the newly captured former European colonies of Malaya, the Philippines and Indonesia, and imperial troops from India. She advances and appears to accept the argument made by Japanese officers that these men had changed allegiance and had accepted the "temporary suspension" of their status as prisoners of war to become auxiliary members of the Japanese army.5

{5} Apart from the statements preserved in the Australian War Memorial's Written Records collection (AWM 54/1010), the only individual testimony that appears to have survived is John Baptist Crasta's memoir, Eaten by the Japanese, written in the early 1950s but published in 1999. Crasta, who was head clerk in an Indian Army Service Corps field bakery, was captured at Singapore, resisted Japanese blandishments and was part of a group sent to Rabaul late in May 1943. He describes the treatment his comrades received while on "heavy fatigues" in New Britain in naïve but often powerfully descriptive prose, the thrust of which corroborates testimonies gathered at the time.6

Shipped to New Guinea

{6} More Indians were transported by the Japanese to New Guinea than anywhere else. They reached New Guinea and its islands by various routes. Most were shipped in mid-1943 to Wewak or New Britain and dispersed from there. Others came from Banjermasin via Batavia to Surabaya and to Biak, others continuing to Hollandia. Some went from Singapore to Palau and on to Hollandia. It seems that perhaps 10,000 Indians were sent to New Guinea, New Britain and Bougainville, with smaller parties in the Admiralties, Timor and New Ireland. A small party was sent to Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands, where they were used as labourers. When the Admiralties were seized by the US 1st Cavalry Division in March 1944, the 69 Sikh prisoners there became the first substantial group of prisoners taken at Singapore to be liberated.7 These men's experience as prisoners of war is barely treated by the histories of their units. Some simply omit reference to those captured, others dismiss three-and-a-half years of captivity in a few lines: "disease, privation, and inhuman cruelty took a heavy toll".8 The history of the Frontier Force Rifles, for example, merely records that "the Sikhs and Dogras were sent to New Guinea, where most of them perished".9

{7} The experience of Indian prisoners of war in New Guinea can, however, be reconstructed in some detail, thanks to the records of Australian and, to a lesser extent, American formations by which they were liberated in and around New Guinea from 1944. The evidence of Indian and Japanese protagonists also presents challenges in deciding what actually occurred in the light of conflicting testimonies. Indeed, the evidence is so problematic that the few historians who have examined them have reached very different conclusions. Much of the evidence comes from surviving prisoners themselves, raising suspicions at the time and later that their testimony served to conceal "disloyal" decisions and actions. Considering their experience even in the light of this evidence, however, suggests that these men generally behaved with a fortitude, courage and loyalty that sheds quite a different light on the character of the Indian Army units captured in South-East Asia in 1942.

{8} Indian troops captured in Singapore were immediately separated from their European officers and exposed to INA propaganda. Those who refused to join the INA – perhaps a quarter of the total – were held in Malaya and Singapore and treated as harshly as any other prisoners of the Japanese. Lacking administrative, medical or engineer officers accustomed to taking responsibility for large numbers of troops, perhaps they suffered more severely. The picture is unclear, such little work having been done on the subject. Early in May 1943, the Japanese in Singapore formed "Indian Working Parties" from Indian soldiers who had resisted Japanese appeals to join the INA. The largest group of Indian prisoners assembled in South-East Asia after Singapore appears to have been the 5,000 sent to Rabaul in New Britain. Their experience awaits a more detailed investigation. The second largest group of Indian prisoners of war was sent to Wewak, in north-western Australian New Guinea, the destination of about 3,000 men.10

{9} Six companies of Indians went to Wewak in New Guinea and nine to Rabaul. Their experience suggests both the ordeal of their captivity and its legal and ethical ambiguities. According to Jemadar Chint Singh, a key witness in the story of Indians in New Guinea, the Indians were at first accommodated in a swamp about eight kilometres from Wewak Point, between the sea and a creek.11 The campsite was selected by Colonel Takano, the commander of the six Wewak working parties. Prisoners were compelled to build their own "totally inadequate" huts, hastily erecting them using grass offering little protection from heavy rain. Chint Singh recalled how the camp flooded and "we usually slept in water". Because no effective sanitary facilities could be constructed in the waterlogged camp the sick rate increased. The few Indian medical officers in the working parties had no medical equipment and were obliged to labour at the harbour unloading ships as part of work details. Colonel Takano repeatedly called for the prisoners to work harder, beating men whom he thought were working too slowly. On one occasion recalled by Chint Singh, he beat three men with a thick wooden stick, shouting "Why are you working so slowly?", though the men, who were suffering from beri beri, could not understand him. Despite this ill-treatment the Wewak prisoners are unique among prisoners of the Japanese because they mounted at least three protests against the conditions of their captivity: a petition, a hunger strike, and what Japanese witnesses described as an "uprising".12

{10} About the end of July 1943 the Indians' officers submitted a petition (in English) to Colonel Takano. They asked for better food, medicines and medical attention, shorter working hours and a weekly rest day. They requested that they be treated according to the conventions of international law and that their camp be marked so they were protected from inadvertent attack by Allied aircraft. Takano's response was to parade the officers who had signed the petition. "He was very angry", Chint Singh remembered. Through an interpreter Takano described them as "traitors of Asia and India". "You have surrendered unconditionally", he said, "You must do the work you are ordered to do". Takano told his Japanese officers not to allow prisoners to make further representations, but to "see that they work hard". In August 1943 five or six Indians were killed and thirteen were wounded when Allied aircraft raided Wewak. The wounded were carried to the beach, where they lay, some crying out in pain. Colonel Takano arrived and angrily threw handfuls of sand at them, shouting in broken English, "Why are you crying? This is not my fault. It is Roosevelt and Churchill". The wounded were bandaged but not otherwise treated. All died of infected wounds soon after.

{11} Despite the failure of the petition in July, the following month (possibly after the attack) the Indians' officers again decided to protest against their treatment. The Japanese officers of the several working parties, in accordance with Colonel Takano's orders, refused to receive another petition. Accordingly, the officers and men of 19 Indian Working Party (Chint Singh's) decided to stage a hunger strike, a form of protest often used as part of the nationalist struggle in British India. Under the leadership of Captain Nirpal Chand, a King's Commissioned Indian officer, the men refused to eat. The Japanese commander of the party, Captain Izumi, called them together and threatened to shoot them unless they ate. Captain Chand replied, "We will go without food and die if necessary unless our requests are heard." Colonel Takano then became involved. He drove the prisoners back to work and threatened to obtain permission to kill them. Still weaker from lack of food, some prisoners were collapsing. Takano relented, telling the prisoners that "Your request will be heard." He acknowledged that the Indians were prisoners of war (presumably implying a recognition of rights at some level) but refused to place a sign on the camp to protect it from accidental attack. That, he said, "would be a disgrace to the Japanese Army". He then ordered the prisoners back to camp, where they were fed. Conditions improved slightly for about six days and then "the ill treatment began again".

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Jemadar Chint Singh identifying alleged war criminals at Mission Point, New Guinea, in November 1945.
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{12} By April 1944 the Japanese became aware that American landings were likely along the Sepik coast. Many of the prisoners were ordered to march from Wewak through the coastal jungle toward Hollandia, 300 kilometres to the west, just inside the border of Dutch New Guinea. Captain Mitsuba had difficulty collecting the remaining 70 members of his party. After he divided his unit into several parties, the Indians set out accompanied by Japanese soldiers. The Japanese were armed, the Indians were not. Mitsuba found that "Nirpal Chand's actions were one of resistance" [sic]. At But, 100 kilometres into the journey, Mitsuba saw Nirpal Chand "inciting his subordinates". He "said some Indian words in a very loud voice" and his men "raised their knives and clubs above their heads". Mitsuba feared "an uprising", as Chand refused to go further than But. Nirpal Chand, said Mitsuba, "had to be disposed of in order to get the Indians to continue the march". Captain Mitsuba gave Nirpal Chand a further chance to change his mind, which he refused. "It was finally decided that Nirpal Chand would be executed . we could waste no more time on the matter." He was summarily beheaded at Captain Mitsuba's order on about 22 April 1944.13 Two strokes were needed to sever Chand's head. Mitsuba struck the first blow, Lieutenant Murai Koichi the second. Lieutenant Imamura Kazuhiko, who watched the execution, described it as a "lawful and honourable means of execution".

{13} The circumstances of Nirpal Chand's death became the subject of dispute when, in March 1946, three Japanese officers and a lance corporal were tried for his death at a war crimes trial at Rabaul.14 A key difference in the Japanese and Indian testimony related to the Indians' status, whether they were prisoners of war or "sub-soldiers" of the Indian National Army. From February 1942 Indian prisoners of war on Singapore had been subjected to appeals to join the INA, and those sent to New Guinea were repeatedly entreated to change their status. In 1943 Japanese officers in New Guinea urged the Indians to join the INA, promising that those who did so would be returned to Singapore by air. General Imamura Hitoshi submitted a paper testifying that Indian troops at Rabaul were "co-operators who pledged their loyalty to the Japanese forces". In Japanese terms they had become "sub-soldiers", who like the many Ambonese and other Indonesians in the Netherlands Indies and New Guinea "lived in the same billeting quarters together with the Japanese".15

{14} All agreed that Nirpal Chand had been executed. The witnesses and the prosecuting and defending officers at the Rabaul trial disagreed, however, over whether the Indians were prisoners or sub-soldiers. Captain Mitsuba claimed that the Indians "on their own initiative wanted to work for the Japanese", and had formed a "combined unit" with his 19 Special Water [or Sea] Duty Company. He claimed that Japanese and Indians had received the same treatment, and even that "we continued to treat the Indians very good even at the sacrifice of food for the Japanese". Mitsuba dated the Indians' change of heart to after the August 1943 air raids on Wewak. From then on he recalled that the Indian officers, particularly Chint Singh and Nirpal Chand, manifested an increasing opposition to what Mitsuba and his officers saw as legitimate demands and orders.

{15} The dispassionate Australian defending officer (implicitly refuting any suggestion that the war crimes trials represented "victors' justice") argued vigorously that the Japanese had executed Nirpal Chand in accordance with Article 22 of the Japanese military code and in a manner which respected his standing as an officer. The court decided otherwise. Captain Mitsuba was found guilty and was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment. Lieutenants Murai and Imamura were sentenced to twenty and five years in prison respectively. Appeals by the officers failed. The lance corporal who assisted was acquitted.

{16} Both Chint Singh and Nirpal Chand emerge more ambivalently in the Japanese testimony. Captain Mitsuba recalled that his company commander, Captain Izumi, had overheard Chint Singh say "that the Indians would be on which ever side the wind blows".16 The court disregarded this potentially incriminating hearsay. It was, after all, a reasonable stance for one who had stood up to the Japanese on behalf of his men – men who had seen the consequences of resistance. The Japanese testimony in the trial raises the question of whether the Indians had acceded to Japanese appeals and became sub-soldiers or whether accused Japanese claimed that the Indians were not prisoners as part of their defence. It would seem that Japanese officers believed that the Indians were no longer prisoners of war. A Lieutenant Colonel Tanaka Kenoroo, a staff officer at Eighteenth Army headquarters, believed that "these Indians had taken an oath of allegiance to the Indian Independence League" and that according to the War Ministry they were no longer prisoners of war.17

{17} Chint Singh's account is corroborated by other Indian prisoners in other parties. Naik Aziz Ahmed of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery recalled that throughout the two-month voyage from Singapore to Rabaul prisoners were "subjected to anti-British propaganda in an effort to suborn them".18 The prisoners refused to co-operate, even refusing to accept Japanese puttees in place of their own ragged clothes lest they be regarded as "favourable to Japanese military effort".19 The coercion continued after their arrival in New Britain of another party. The entire party was paraded and ordered to opt for the pro-Japanese force. "The whole parade refused", Havildar Rozi Khan recalled. Japanese soldiers then began beating Captain Sadiq Ali of the Madras Regiment.20 Captain Ali called out to his men "it is better to die than serve the Japs!" In response, Japanese soldiers seized Lance Naik Rehmat Ali (apparently at random), placed him by a trench and laid the blade of a sword on his bare neck as if to behead him. Then a gun was pointed at his chest and the trigger was pulled – the gun was unloaded. None of the detachment agreed to serve the Japanese but insisted on remaining prisoners of war.21 Soon after arriving in New Britain in 1943 another party was ordered to learn Japanese drill. When its members refused to comply men were beaten unconscious and left lying in the sun. Men who tried to help them were beaten.22 According to many other Indian participants all Indians in New Guinea refused Japanese appeals. Their obduracy meant that they "would be treated as traitors and the treatment you are receiving at present will continue".23 Of those who reached New Guinea, virtually all the Wewak detachments resisted Japanese appeals, while some at least of the New Britain became, in contemporary terminology, "white" INA members, joining under duress.

AWM 098229
Freed Indian prisoners at Karavia Nay, New Britain, act out an account of their daily treatment by the Japanese in October 1945.
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{18} There is, in addition, a chronological argument against the enlistment of Indian prisoners in New Guinea being active INA members. As a result of friction between Mohan Singh and the Japanese command in Malaya, the INA was dissolved in December 1942. Most of its members were returned to prison camps. After the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in Singapore in July 1943 the force was revived, and it was members of this "second" INA that fought in Burma. The point is, though, that when the detachments sailed from Singapore to New Guinea in May 1943, the INA was in abeyance.24

{19} Though the conflicting Japanese evidence will always leave the matter open to question, it would appear that the Indians transported to the South-West Pacific were mainly those who had refused to collaborate with the Japanese or to join the INA. When, in 1945, No.4 Contact Team of the Indian Army Mission of the RAPWI (Repatriation of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees) organisation processed liberated Indians, its tasks included the identification and isolation of INA members. It appears that no Indian Army personnel from New Guinea were held for investigation or trial as members of the INA.25 The term "JIF" (Japanese Indian Forces) so common in the South East Asia Command, where the Fourteenth Army faced an INA division, is nowhere seen in the Australian records. The only evidence of collaboration comes from Japanese sources, all (it seems) oral rather than documentary. Certainly, the testimony of liberated prisoners from various places interrogated by different officers at different times disclosed no hint that the New Guinea Indians had agreed to become "sub-soldiers" of the Japanese. John Crasta's memoir makes clear that when Indian prisoners at Sourabaya were asked to exchange their ragged uniforms for Dutch colonial uniforms they accepted only tunics, "since they suspected that the Japanese were trying to enlist us".26

{20} The status of Indian prisoners of war became significant when they began to be recovered as MacArthur's forces advanced along the northern coast of New Guinea. The first indications that Indians were to be found in New Guinea came in March 1944 when the Indians were liberated on Los Negros. Though these men were the first Allied prisoners of war taken at Singapore to be recovered by advancing Japanese forces, almost exactly two years after their capture, little publicity seemed to have ensued. The survivors were taken to Australia and left Sydney by ship for India in October 1944. It is apparent that the presence of Indians on Los Negros came as a surprise to Allied authorities. Neither American nor Australian formations had any experience of Indian troops – who largely spoke Urdu rather than English. Passed along a medical chain of evacuation by unfamiliar personnel, they evidently repeatedly encountered difficulties in cultural and religious sensitivities. For example, even in October 1944, men of the 1st Bahawalpur Infantry were offered a meat curry by well-meaning Australians as they waited on the wharf to board the SS City of Lincoln to carry them home. The men refused the meal because the meat had not been killed by one of their own.

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Men of the 1st Bahawalpur Infantry waiting to board SS City of Lincoln in Sydney in October 1944. These men had just refused a meal of curried meat that had not been prepared in accordance with their religious practice.
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{21} Throughout the final year of the war in the Pacific, Australian troops in several parts of the South-West Pacific Area encountered thousands more survivors of parties of men of the Indian Army who had been captured by the Japanese and sent to labour in distant parts of their empire. By this time, however, the Australian troops were equipped with guidelines as to how these men were to be treated. Late in 1944 First Australian Army headquarters issued instructions – which curiously described these men as being "re-captured" – describing how "members" of the Indian Army would be processed. Typically, they would be sent to Australian medical units for transport to general hospitals, or held in detail depots on Bougainville and at Madang, Aitape, Jacquinot Bay or Lae. "Members" would be issued with Australian uniform and kit – including twelve yards of white muslin for turbans, individual cooking utensils if caste rules required them, and Australian pay books. All were to receive a 5 initial payment, with King's Commissioned officers receiving 10 a month, Viceroy's Commissioned officers 5 and other ranks £2.27 They were allowed to write home in English or in Indian script. Those processing them were enjoined to use the "greatest care" in recording unfamiliar names and all ranks were reminded that "members are British Troops and should be treated accordingly".28

AWM 017107
A Punjabi Sikh being processed at an Australian field ambulance after he was liberated by Americans at Los Negros in May 1944.
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{22} John Crasta's memoir suggests that these instructions were not necessarily honoured. While he describes how "Australian soldiers would mingle freely and dine with us, disregarding all codes of etiquette", he also mentions that British RAPWI officers at Rabaul – probably suspecting the presence of INA sympathisers among the liberated prisoners – took a less accommodating approach. Despite the evident hardships the prisoners had endured, the British insisted on the men building their own huts (as they had under the Japanese), denied them the initial payment, and ensured that they were "deprived of most of the concessions and amenities offered by the Australian staff".29

{23} In New Guinea the 6th Australian Division took over responsibility for operations in what became known as the Aitape-Wewak theatre in December 1944. Its units immediately began encountering sick and starving prisoners, often wandering in the bush. On 10 December a patrol of the 2/4th Battalion found two emaciated Indians who had been travelling from Wewak for forty-five days – the first of many Indians recovered by the 6th Division in the Sepik campaign. The histories of several Australian battalions refer to their encounters with liberated prisoners. Men encountered by the 2/1st Battalion in March 1945, for example, were described as "very weak but morale still high". In July sentries from the battalion fired on figures they saw in the jungle, inadvertently wounding mortally one of three men of the 4th Punjab Regiment. They were "fine men" but "in a desperate state".30 More followed: in mid-May, for example, 88 prisoners were recovered by the operations following the landing of "Farida Force" east of Wewak.

{24} Meanwhile, on Bougainville, the Australian offensives north of Torokina brought more Australians into contact with Indian prisoners. In December 1944 a patrol of the 2/8th Commando Squadron operating on the coast recovered three Indian prisoners of war who had escaped from north-east Bougainville. Later that month a force of Bougainville scouts under Lieutenant K.W.T. Bridge, RANVR, found sixty at Tanimbaubau, at the neck of the Bonis Peninsula. The Japanese had shot forty others as a deterrent after the escape of the smaller party.31

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Indians recovered near Rabaul bear the signs of the starvation, illness and brutality borne in captivity.
AWM 096911

{25} By November, then, the numbers of Indian prisoners of war recovered in the Australian area of operations in South-East Asia numbered 6,344. The great majority (5,674) had been concentrated at Rabaul. Australian units also recovered Indian prisoners of war in both British and Dutch Borneo and the remainder were mainly in the Netherlands Indies (with 390 on Morotai and 190 at Balikpapan) with 90 on Labuan in British Borneo.32 All of these men were to return to India. They were brought from temporary camps in the islands to detachments of the Indian RAPWI Mission. The mission's tasks were to document and re-equip liberated prisoners and despatch them to India "rehabilitated both mentally and physically to the utmost extent in the time available". Many Indians from New Guinea and the islands passed through a depot in Brisbane before being repatriated by sea. With shipping in such demand in South-East Asia (and, indeed, across the world) the transport of Allied troops, liberated prisoners, surrendered Japanese and displaced civilians presented huge problems. In the case of prisoners of war liberated Australians needed to be transported south-eastwards, while Indians in New Guinea needed to be carried north-westwards. Accordingly, some of the shipping used to repatriate Australian prisoners to Australia was then used to carry Indians home on the return journey.33

{26} One of the tasks of the Brisbane-based Indian Army mission was to ensure that liberated prisoners were "instilled with the idea that they were still soldiers".34 This appears not to have been necessary. There is abundant evidence that Indian prisoners of war retained a military identity and demeanour in captivity. Late in April 1945 the 16th Australian Brigade was operating around Bolken Point and Koanumbo. Nineteen Indian prisoners came into the Australian lines on the 26th and more followed over the coming weeks. In May an Australian officer described how "inspiring" it was to see a party of twenty prisoners arrive. "They are a great race", he wrote, "Sikhs and Punjabis – great in adversity". They were weak and ragged, but before mounting the lorry that would take them to a camp a sergeant "pulled them up and made them tidy their clothes to the best of their ability so that they would arrive at headquarters looking as presentable as possible." The witness found this display of soldierly pride after so much privation "ennobling".35 Accounts from other brigades amplify and corroborate the impression the Indians made on Australian witnesses. In May 1945 a company of the 2/8th Battalion found a party of fourteen Indians approaching its perimeter. As they were led in, the havildar in charge formed his ragged and starving men into two ranks and reported to an Australian captain, "Havildar [name] reporting with thirteen Sepoys, Sir." This was "a moment of great triumph", a witness wrote, "not to be forgotten by those privileged to witness it".36

{27} The Australians recognised the Indians as soldiers, warming to their expressions of martial commitment. In December 1944 men of the 2/4th Battalion found a Sikh and a Dogra eating green watermelons in a native garden near the Danmap River. They were brought back to Suain and, fed a little at a time, "started to pick up immediately". The Sikh, who had lost his turban, was given half a mosquito net. This "made quite a presentable turban and the turban made quite a presentable Sikh, emaciated though he was". But the Sikh did not only desire the outward forms of his faith, he also sought the tools of his trade. Before leaving on the company's ration DUKW, he asked to fire a few shots from a rifle. "It was touching", the Australians recorded, "to see the way the poor chap placed his hands on the weapon once more". He fired exactly as the musketry manual laid down and hit all of the bully beef tins set up as targets.37

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Indians mount guard with sticks at Kumuia Yama, New Britain, within days of being recovered in September 1945.
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{28} Similar reports by Australian soldiers in other areas suggest that the response was characteristic of liberated Indian prisoners. At Kumuia Yama camp, near Rabaul, for example, prisoners formed a quarter guard at the camp, drilling with bamboo sticks within weeks of their liberation. Indian prisoners retained a sense of unit cohesion even after three-and-a-half years of captivity: at Rabaul liberated prisoners stood guard by a guard-hut and flagpole decorated at its base with whitewashed rocks reading "1st Hyderabad" – an Indian States Force battalion captured on Singapore. It is notable that John Crasta asserted the pride his comrades felt at the war's end. Describing the deaths of men from disease, starvation, Japanese brutality and inadvertent wounds from Allied bombs, he reflected that "these men could very well have stayed back in Singapore and saved their own lives". They had not, however. They had stayed with the loyal working parties "to be away from the INA influence in vindication of certain principles".38

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The flagpole in the liberated camp of the 1st Hyderabad Regiment at Rabaul.
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{29} The evidence of war crimes trials provides further evidence of the tenacity of a soldierly ethos among captive Indians. Near Rabaul in May 1945, for instance, Indian prisoners of 20 Indian Working Party were ordered to wear Japanese badges. While some of the other ranks complied, their officers reacted vigorously, ripping off the badges that had been pinned to their shirts and throwing them onto the ground. At his trial, Sergeant Major Yoshioka Makitaro admitted striking the Indian officers, on the orders of his officer. He was later found guilty of ill-treating prisoners and was sentenced to imprisonment. At the trial there was some dispute whether the insignia were rank or good conduct badges. It seems unlikely that an army which insisted on compliance upon pain of physical brutality should have even considered the idea of "good conduct" badges for Indian subordinates. However, even Sergeant Major Yoshioka conceded that it was the fact that the badges were Japanese that the Indians objected to, and that they were adamant that they would not be open to imputations that they had co-operated with the Japanese.39

{30} This response is intriguing in the light of the general opinion of Indian troops captured in Malaya. Most British historians are apologetic. S. Woodburn Kirby included an appendix in the British official history canvassing reasons for the "rather disappointing performance" of Indian troops in that campaign.40 He judged that "the explanation is simple", that Indian units had been "denuded" of experienced officers, non-commissioned officers and men. The wartime expansion of the Indian army had diluted its regular personnel too thinly to give wartime volunteers the "spiritual foundation on which a good unit depends". They "knew nothing of the old loyalties, . the mutual confidence . between officers and men and between men of different creeds." The behaviour of these liberated prisoners suggests that the "simple" explanation is deficient. These are men who had not seen a British officer for three-and-a-half years. They had survived the ordeal of captivity, in which they had endured neglect, brutality and ill-treatment. In the course of that captivity they had supported each other and even, like few other prisoners of war, banded together to mount a hunger strike in the traditions of Indian non-violent resistance. Throughout this shared experience they had retained what the Indian Army referred to as their martial spirit. Indeed, manifestations of the survival of their soldierly character were evident at the moment they reported to Australian patrols and in the camps administered by Australian formations. It would seem that many Indian soldiers captured at Singapore maintained a loyalty unimpaired even in the darkness of captivity under the Japanese.

 

The author

Dr Peter Stanley is Principal Historian at the Australian War Memorial. He has worked at the Memorial since 1980 and been involved in the development of many of its permanent and temporary exhibitions. He is the author of eleven books, and during 2002 will have three more published: Whyalla at war 1939-45; For fear of pain: British surgery 1790-1850; and (with Mark Johnston) Alamein: the Australian story. Peter has wide interests across the field of Australian military history and beyond. His current research interests include Australia's military connexctions with British India, the Pacific war; and the Gallipoli campaign (which has inspired a book about DCM winners in 1915).

 

Endnotes

  1. Scholarly studies include Joyce Lebra's Jungle alliance: Japan and the Indian National Army, (Singapore: Donald Moore for Asia Pacific Press, 1971) and Hugh Toye's The springing tiger (London: Cassell, 1959). Peter Ward Fay's The forgotten army: India's armed struggle for independence, 1942-1945 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) is a passionate account based on unique individual sources and testimonies, but it is flawed in accepting INA mythology without question. Chandar Sundaram's article, "A paper tiger: The Indian National Army in battle, 1944-1945", War & Society, vol.13, no.1, May 1995, pp.35-59, explores the INA's military contribution and concludes that Japanese suspicion impeded it being used effectively. There is a large body of Indian works, many hagiographic toward Subhas Chandra Bose.
  2. The numbers of Indian and other Allied servicemen captured in Singapore varies widely between even standard sources. I.C.B. Dear (ed.), The Oxford companion to World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p.1010, claims that 32,000 Indians were taken at Singapore.
  3. S. Woodburn Kirby, The war against Japan, vol.5 (London: HMSO, 1969), p.534.
  4. Philip Mason, A matter of honour (London: Jonathon Cape, 1974), pp.513-22.
  5. Kaori Maekawa, "Forgotten soldiers in the Japanese army: Asian personnel in Papua New Guinea", paper presented at the symposium, "Remembering the War in New Guinea", Australian War Memorial and Australian National University, 20 October 2000.
  6. John Baptist Crasta, Eaten by the Japanese: the memoir of an unknown Indian prisoner of war (Singapore: SNP Editions Pty Ltd, 1999). Note, however, that while Crasta himself appears not to have completed a statement to war crimes investigators, he worked for three weeks as a clerk to an investigation unit in Rabaul in October 1945
  7. B.C. Wright, The 1st Cavalry Division in World War II (Tokyo: Toppan Printing Co. Ltd., 1947), p.24; photographs on p.52. The Sikhs made their way into the perimeter of the 12th Cavalry Regiment on the afternoon of 8 March and were evacuated on 9 March. Photographs taken by Australian official photographers "at an Australian base" in New Guinea in May show them in Australian uniforms except for turbans; see AWM negative numbers 017107 and 017103.
  8. Geoffrey Betham & H.V.R. Geary, The golden galley: the story of the Second Punjab Regiment, 1761-1947 (Oxford: 2nd Punjab Regiment Officers Association, at the University Press, 1956), p.247.
  9. W.E.H. Condon, The Frontier Force Rifles (Aldershot, Eng.: Gale & Polden, 1953), p.174.
  10. It is possible that only a thousand of these men actually reached New Guinea. The Thames Maru was torpedoed with the loss of 2,000 Indian prisoners en route to New Guinea: Genevieve Thompson, Nobody's heroes: Indian prisoners of war in New Guinea, BA Hons thesis, Australian National University, 1996, p.13.
  11. Much of the account of Indian prisoners in the Wewak area is drawn from a statement by Jemadar Chint Singh to Allied war crimes investigators, AWM 54, 1010/4/31, "War Crimes and Trials - Affidavits and Sworn Statements – Chint Singh, Indian Army". A jemadar was an Indian commissioned officer equivalent to a second lieutenant.
  12. Testimony of Capt Captain Mitsuba Hisaneo, AWM 54, 1010/6/100, "Trial of Lieutenant Mitsuba Hisaneo, Lieutenant Murai Koichi, Lieutenant Imamura Kazuhiko [and] L/Cpl Hibino Kazuo charged with murder of Nirpal Chand of Indian Army 1/3/46", sheet no.5.
  13. Captain Mitsuba Hisaneo testified that it was "on the same day" as the American landing at Aitape: AWM 54, 1010/6/100, sheet no.6.
  14. AWM 54, 1010/6/100.
  15. AWM 54, 1010/1/23, "Status of Indian Service personnel recovered at Rabaul –".
  16. Testimony of Capt Mitsuba Hisaneo, AWM 54, 1010/6/100, sheet no.4.
  17. Testimony of Lt Col Tanaka Kenoroo, AWM 54, 1010/6/100, sheet no.13.
  18. A naik is the equivalent of a corporal.
  19. AWM 54, 779/3/46, "Information obtained from Indian Army personnel – recovered by the Allies". This evidence is corroborated by Havildar Khudadad Khan, also of the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery, AWM 54, 779/3/103, "Copies of purported atrocities and acts of brutality. Interrogation of Indian Army personnel".
  20. A havildar is the equivalent of a sergeant.
  21. AWM 54, 779/3/102, "Copies of purported atrocities and acts of brutality. Interrogation of Indian Army personnel". Captain Ali's unit is uncertain. The Madras Regiment was not itself at Singapore, but he may have been serving as an individual.
  22. Testimony of Havildar Lal Khan, 2nd Indian AA Battery, AWM 54, 779/3/46, "Information obtained from Indian Army personnel – recovered by the Allies", pp.8-9.
  23. AWM 54, 1010/4/31, "War Crimes and Trials - Affidavits and Sworn Statements – Chint Singh, Indian Army".
  24. R.C. Bhardwaj (ed.), Netaji and the INA (New Delhi: Lok Sabha Secretariat, 1994), pp.43-44.
  25. Rajendra Singh, Post-war occupation forces: Japan and South-East Asia (Kanpur, India: Combined Inter-Services Historical Section India & Pakistan, distributed by Orient Longmans, 1958), p.186.
  26. Crasta, Eaten by the Japanese, p.36.
  27. The Indian Army's Indian officers could hold several types of commissions. King's Commissioned Indian Officers had trained at Sandhurst or Woolwich in Britain, or at the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun in India after 1934. Viceroy's Commissioned Officers were generally commissioned from the ranks and held commissions junior to all King's Commissioned officers.
  28. AWM 54, 555/2/4, "First Army Administrative Instruction – Members of the Indian Army recaptured from the enemy – 1944".
  29. Crasta, Eaten by the Japanese, p.75.
  30. E.C. Givney & Association of First Infantry Battalions, Editorial Committee, The First at war (Earlwood, NSW: Association of First Infantry Battalions, 1987), pp.400, 415.
  31. Gavin Long, The final campaigns (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1963), pp.106, 127-28.
  32. Rajendra Singh, Post-war occupation forces, p.190.
  33. Rajendra Singh, Post-war occupation forces, p.183.
  34. Rajendra Singh, Post-war occupation forces, p.186.
  35. Gavin Long, The final campaigns, p.340.
  36. Arthur Bentley & 2/8th Battalion Association, The Second Eighth: a history of the 2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion (Melbourne: 2/8th Battalion Association, 1984), p.153.
  37. 2/4th Australian Infantry Battalion Association, Unit History Editorial Committee, "White over Green": the 2/4th Battalion (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1963), pp.226-27.
  38. Crasta, Eaten by the Japanese, p.56.
  39. AWM 54, 1010/6/129, "War crimes trials by Military Court at Rabaul accused – charged with illtreatment of Indian prisoners of war".
  40. S. Woodburn Kirby, The war against Japan, vol.1 (London: HMSO, 1957), pp.513-15.