A Short History Of Civilian Internment Camps In The Far East

By Amanda Mason

Over 130,000 Allied civilians - 50,000 men, 42,000 women and 40,000 children - were interned in the Far East during the Second World War. The majority of them were Dutch nationals from the Netherlands East Indies.

Internees included colonial officials and their families, employees of European companies and the families of servicemen. More than 14,000 civilian internees were to die as a result of their internment.

Internees were held in more than 350 camps across the Far East. In the internment camps conditions were severe. Food and clothing were generally in short supply and facilities were basic. Conditions varied according to the location of the camps. Those on mainland China fared relatively well, but conditions in the Netherlands East Indies were among the worst and casualties from disease and malnutrition were high.

Overcrowding was widespread: 2,800 civilians were held in Changi jail in Singapore, which was originally built to hold a quarter of that number. Limited numbers of Red Cross parcels were received in the camps and internees were sometimes permitted to buy or barter for food from locals.

Discipline could be harsh in some of the camps, particularly those in Java and Sumatra. On 10 October 1943, the 'Double Tenth' - the discovery of secret radios in Changi jail - led the Japanese military police to arrest a number of the internees on suspicion of spying. Sixteen of them died as a result of ill treatment.

Image of Leslie Cole’s painting of British women and children interned in a Japanese prison camp in Singapore