Civilian Internees in the Far East

British Women and Children Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp, Syme Road, Singapore, 1945, by Leslie Cole; Women and children were also interned by the Japanese and held in separate camps to men. In May 1944, all the internees in Singapore were moved to a former military barracks at Sime Road outside Singapore city. Leslie Cole visited the internment camp soon after its liberation. The emaciated appearance of the internees is an indication of the harsh conditions endured by the internees.

British Women and Children Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp, Syme Road, Singapore, 1945, by Leslie Cole

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Women and children were also interned by the Japanese and held in separate camps to men. In May 1944, all the internees in Singapore were moved to a former military barracks at Sime Road outside Singapore city. Leslie Cole visited the internment camp soon after its liberation. The emaciated appearance of the internees is an indication of the harsh conditions endured by the internees.

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Over 130,000 Allied civilians - 50,000 men, 42,000 women and 40,000 children - were interned in the Far East; the majority of these were Dutch nationals from the Netherlands East Indies. They were held in more than 350 camps across the Far East....

Over 130,000 Allied civilians - 50,000 men, 42,000 women and 40,000 children - were interned in the Far East; the majority of these were Dutch nationals from the Netherlands East Indies. They were held in more than 350 camps across the Far East.

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.

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 in contrast, conditions in the Netherlands East Indies were among the worst; 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. Their subsequent ill-treatment resulted in the death of 16 of them.

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  • Bed sheet from Stanley internment camp

    souvenirs and ephemera

    Bed sheet from Stanley internment camp; Embroidered bed sheet from Stanley internment camp, Hong Kong. Daisy Sage, an internee in Stanley Camp made an embroidered record of her captivity on a bed sheet. The embroidered sheet contains approximately 1,100 embroidered names of other internees in as well as two years' of camp diaries in coded words, signs, symbols and colours. The sheet was hidden between the rugs on her camp bed. She later described it as 'simply a hand steadying, mind employing, secret thought recorder of my own.'
  • Handmade shorts made from flour sacks

    souvenirs and ephemera

    Handmade shorts made from flour sacks; After the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, over 2,500 civilians were interned in Stanley Camp. Food supplies were very short, particularly during 1943 and 1944. There were outbreaks of dysentery and diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies were also common. These handmade shorts were worn by Archibald Elston during his internment in Stanley Camp. Before his internment, Elston had been an Assistant Superintendent in the Hong Kong Police.
  • Shirt given to Carl Lopes

    souvenirs and ephemera

    Shirt given to Carl Lopes; Shirt given to 17-year-old Carl Lopes in Lunghwa Camp, 1944. Lunghwa Civil Assembly Centre was one of the largest civilian internment camps in China. Housed in a former school, it held 2,000 internees, among them the author J G Ballard, who was interned there as a child. He later wrote the semi-autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun about his experiences. This shirt was part of a Red Cross parcel which reached the internees.
  • Handmade cloth bag

    souvenirs and ephemera

    Handmade cloth bag; Handmade cloth bag fashioned from a rice sack by Dorothy MacLeod, an internee at Palembang in Sumatra. Many civilians trying to escape from Singapore in the days before its surrender were interned on the island of Sumatra when their ships were sunk or captured by the Japanese. As a result, these internees lost almost all their personal possessions which made survival in these camps an even greater challenge. Some of the camps in which they were interned were situated in parts of Sumatra that were very prone to malaria.
  • Embroidered tablecloth

    souvenirs and ephemera

    Embroidered tablecloth; Embroidered tablecloth made by internee Rosalina Raymond. Rosalina Raymond was aged 21 when she was interned with her mother and seven younger sisters in Bandoeng, Java. To pass the time she embroidered scenes from her time as an internee on a tablecloth which she obtained by barter from one of the other women in the camp. Much of the thread she used was recycled from old clothes. The tablecloth shows her internee number, 59.
  • Quilt made by Girl Guides

    souvenirs and ephemera

    Quilt made by Girl Guides; Quilt made by Girl Guides who were interned in Changi civilian internment camp. The quilt was made by 20 girls aged between 8 and 16 years. They collected scraps of material and met in secret to sew them together. Each girl embroidered her name on the quilt. The quilt was a surprise birthday present for their Guide leader, Elizabeth Ennis.
  • Changi prison, Singapore

    photographs

    Changi prison, Singapore; Photograph showing a water colour drawing of Changi prison, Singapore c 1942. Changi prison was used by the Japanese to accommodate all the civilian internees held in Singapore. The 2,000 men and 400 women and children were held in separate camps within the prison and very little contact was permitted between them. In May 1944, they were all moved to a former military barracks at Sime Road outside Singapore city. By the end of the war the number of internees had grown to 4,500.
  • Armband worn by Dr Cecily Williams

    equipment

    Armband worn by Dr Cecily Williams; Armband worn by Dr Cecily Williams in Changi civilian internment camp. Dr Cecily Williams, a specialist in children's medicine, was one of six doctors in the women's internment camp. She was initially in charge of nutrition. She was one of three women who was arrested by the secret police in the 'Double Tenth' incident in October 1943 and suffered terrible hardships during six months interrogation before she was returned to the women's camp.
  • Memorial to Norman Coulson

    souvenirs and ephemera

    Memorial to Norman Coulson; Memorial to Norman Coulson, carved by his fellow internees, 1944. Norman Coulson, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was employed in the Public Works Department in Singapore until its surrender to the Japanese. He was interned in the men’s camp at Changi. He was arrested following the 'Double Tenth' incident and died in July 1944 as a result of his brutal treatment by the Japanese military police.