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THE EMPREROR'S KILDARE SLAVES

The Emperor’s Kildare slaves

James Durney

According to Robert Widders in The Emperor’s Irish Slaves: Prisoners of the Japanese in the Second World War, The Irish History Press (2012), 650 Irishmen and women became prisoners of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941-2.  Nearly a quarter of them – 148 – died whilst in captivity. Widders mentions several Kildare men in the book: Tom Higgins, Christopher Samuels, Dermot MacDonough, John Caddy, George Sullivan and Paddy Quinn. At least seven Kildaremen died whilst captives of the Japanese: Tom Higgins, Fr. Tom Murphy, John Thompson, Patrick Byrne, James Belford, Patrick Quinn and Christopher Samuels and Widders book sheds new light on two of them.
Japan signed the Geneva Convention in 1929 but by 1941 had completely failed to ratify it. Foreign Minister Tojo then gave a solemn assurance to the Geneva authorities that although his country had not ratified the Convention, they would abide by it absolutely. He also pointed out that Japan had already signed the Fourth Hague Convention in 1907 which dealt with the conduct of war and the treatment of prisoners of war. In fact the only policy of the Japanese government and military authorities was the Bushido principle. The ancient knightly order held that the greatest honour for any Japanese citizen was to die for his Emperor. The greatest dishonour for a Japanese person was to surrender to the enemies of the Emperor, which would bring deep shame on himself and his family. On this basis the Japanese attitude to a prisoner was one of deep contempt.
After invading many countries in the Far East, Japan found themselves with a large amount of prisoners, but did not know what to do with them. Japan had never expected to end up with this many captives so their response was reactive initially and opportunistic later on. As the war altered they decided to use these prisoners as slave labour. Barney Byrne, son of John Byrne, Kilcullen, was captured in Hong Kong at the end of December 1941. He was held in a prison camp in Hong Kong, in which about 500 men died from disease and malnutrition. ‘We were left very much alone in Hong Kong by the Japs,’ he wrote, ‘who gave the internal running of the camp to our own officers who had to supply so many men for working parties per day. But apart from a hellish burst of slavery on the clearing of a new airport for about four months, the two and a half years in Hong Kong were not unduly tough, apart from the dirt, hunger and disease.’
In May 1944 Barney Byrne was sent to the Japanese Islands as a slave labourer. He was lucky to escape the hellish sea journey to Japan as US submarines were wrecking havoc on Japanese shipping. He recalled there were 200 men crammed into a 200-ton tramp steamer. He was to work in a coal-mine, near Tokyo, but had contracted ‘amoebic dysentery from the boat voyage – the luckiest disease I ever got. It kept me cut of that mine for nine months and it’s not a very severe type of illness, but, luckily, exertion causes acute outbursts. Eventually, on Dec. 19th I was sent to Tokyo P.O.W. so-called hospital. I am one of the few people who got cured there before they starved to death.’ At the end of March 1945 Barney went to work in the coal mine. He wrote:
‘From the 29th March to the 16th Aug. I have been working in this mine without a day’s illness or any injury serious enough to earn a day’s excused duty. Nine working days per shift, one day’s rest. Day shift went to work at 6 a.m. returned at about 4 p.m. Night shift at 4.30 p.m. and usually didn’t get back until 4 a.m. rarely back at 2.30 a.m. Often since the air raids started we stayed down until 6 a.m. and changed over with the day shift going down. Some hours, and most of the work, in badly ventilated shafts where you worked stark naked because of the heat…The fare has been miserable for the work we did. The day’s meal typical – Breakfast, a bowl of grain rice 20%; Soya beans 20%; and a rough grain called Korin 60%; and a bean soup for breakfast. Midday – Grain ditto and seaweed soup. To-morrow we have some fresh veg. cucumber and carrot thinnings, all tops no carrot. Tops of carrots go into soup and have a bloody bad flavour. Meat: once per shift, a spoonful per man, if you’re lucky.  Fish we used to get about twice a week, but since the Yanks moved into the sea around here, fish disappeared from the menu. My good condition I attribute to the Soya beans, we have been fed.’ With the surrender of Japan the American air force began dropping supplies into the prison camp and when the Japanese guards left Barney Byrne liberated himself and set off to Tokyo to find the US victors.
POWs from Hong Kong were fed into the Japanese industrial machine via a series of shipments by sea – six in all. The second shipment stands out in that it turned into a major disaster when the convoy was attacked by American submarines and the Lisbon Maru went down with 1,816 POWs on board. The Lisbon Maru was a 7,000 ton freighter and had two eighteen-pounder Quick Fire guns mounted fore and aft. Lisbon Maru sailed from Hong Kong on 29 September 1942 en route to Japan. In addition to the POWs she carried around 700 Japanese troops, but more importantly the ship did not display any markings indicating that it was carrying POWs. In appearance, she was an armed merchantman, and a legitimate target of war. Two days later she was torpedoed by the USS Grouper, off the coast of Zhoushan, China.
The ship did not sink immediately, but the prisoners were locked in the holds as an effort was made to save the vessel. There were at least twenty-two Irishmen amongst the POWs, serving with the Middlesex Regiment. Among them was Christopher Samuels, who was born in Newbridge, in April 1916, the son of a serving British soldier and his English wife. No. 1 hold contained about 300 men, with many from the Royal Navy; No. 2 hold had 1,100 men; N. 3 hold contained the rest, mostly men from the Royal Artillery. Conditions below had been bad enough prior to the submarine attack, but the situation was destined to get worse. The Japanese battened down the hatches above all the holds. No food or water had been issued since the day before and the prisoners were sick, hungry, and dehydrated. Many of the men with dysentery were losing bodily fluids rapidly. An attempt to tow the ship failed, so the Japanese evacuated all their men and blocked the air chutes leading into the holds.
The largest regimental contingent in Number 2 hold came from the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. There were at least six Irishmen amongst the battalion casualties, including Pte. Christopher Samuels. They died trapped in the holds when the ship sank, or were deliberately drowned by the Japanese afterwards. The Japanese had left a six-man suicide squad onboard to kill anyone who escaped through the hatches. About twenty-four hours after the first torpedoes struck the stricken ship gave another lurch. Lt. Col. Stewart, of the Middlesex, was the senior British officer on board. He gave the order to break out of No. 2 hold. The men forced their way out of the hold, but the Japanese kept shooting them as they climbed out of the hatch.
There was a brief moment of panic in No. 2 hold, as hundreds of desperate men jostled to get onto the two flimsy wooden ladders leading up to the hatch. Col. Stewart was well respected by the men and when he spoke they listened. “Steady, steady the Middlesex! Remember who you are!” Order was quickly restored and the men forced disciplined queues for the ladders enabling many of them to get up on deck. The Japanese suicide squad continued to shoot the prisoners emerging from the hatches, but there was so many, that they couldn’t shoot them all. Some of the men ran across to holds No. 1 and No. 3 and loosened the hatch covers. Hundreds of men now rushed up on deck, but fire was poured on them from the Japanese on patrol boats surrounding the Lisbon Maru. Dozens jumped overboard; some swam to safety on nearby islands; others were shot or bayoneted by the Japanese as they attempted to get into the patrol boats.
The ship suddenly sank entirely as men tried to rescue their comrades still trapped in the holds. The current was swiftly taking men in the direction of some small islands about three miles away. About four Japanese ships were standing by, but made no attempt to assist the prisoners. Ropes were dangled from the ships, and as prisoners tried to climb them they were allowed to get within inches of the deck, and were bayoneted or kicked back over the side. Many drowned in the water or were sent crashing onto the rocks. The more fortunate prisoners were picked up by Chinese fishermen in junks and sampans and taken to the islands. The Chinese treated the prisoners with great kindness, giving them what little food they had and some of their clothing.
Worried now that there were too many witnesses to the slaughter Japanese landing parties went ashore and rounded up most of the prisoners and transferred them to Shanghai. Others were taken aboard Japanese craft, or put down the holds of other ships. On 5 October all the prisoners who had been recaptured were assembled on the dock at Shanghai and a roll call was taken. Of the original 1,816 prisoners, only 1,006 answered their names; 804 had perished. It was learned later that three men had managed to escape, assisted by the Chinese. As the Japanese did not keep records it is not known exactly which men drowned and who managed to survive. Many more survivors died later of hardship and disease. However, it is known that one of those who drowned was Christopher Samuels. As he has no known grave Christopher Samuels’ name is inscribed on the Sai Wan Memorial in Hong Kong.
It had been the intention of the Japanese to let the prisoners all drown, so that they would be able to say that the ship had been sunk by the Americans, leaving them no chance to affect a rescue and giving them a propaganda coup against the Allies. It was only after the Japanese had watched the Chinese rescuing so many prisoners that it was decided that their original plan would not be believed. All the prisoners could have been saved, had the Japanese transferred them at the same time they had evacuated their own troops.
Able Seaman Paddy Quinn, from Co. Kildare, was onboard the HMS Jupiter when it took part in the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1942. Following an inconclusive long-range engagement with a superior Japanese force, the Jupiter hit a mine and sank. The survivors landed on the shore at Java, where some were killed by Japanese troops and the rest rounded up and brought to a prison camp at Batavia. This was a former Dutch Army barracks, called Cycle Camp, which earned a terrifying reputation for brutality largely due to its sadistic commandant, Lieutenant Sonne. The prisoners were used as working parties for the nearby main docks of Batavia, sometimes unloading Red Cross parcels. These supplies were intended for the Allied prisoners, but the Japanese immediately confiscated them. There were nearly 10,000 Allied and Indonesian prisoners at Batavia, but the number was constantly being reduced by the departure of working party drafts to Sumatra, Borneo and Japan. After much brutality and privations a draft of prisoners was moved to the island of Haroekoe, where they were forced to construct a runway with little more than hand tools. Hundreds died from disease, starvation and brutality and in July 1944 the surviving prisoners were moved to other camps. Paddy Quinn died on 19 October 1944, at Muna, in the Celebes Islands. He is buried at Ambon Island Cemetery.
James Belford was captured in Singapore. He was born in 1914, the son of Peter and Brigid Belford of Church Lane, Kildare. In 1933 James travelled to Belfast and enlisted in the British Army, later rising to the rank of Lance Sergeant in the Royal Artillery. He was posted to Malaya soon after. By the late 1930s the British naval base at Singapore Island, off the Malayan peninsula, had twenty-nine garrison artillery pieces, manned by the 9th Coast Regiment, enabling them to repel an invasion from both land and sea, or so they thought. In December 1941 Japan invaded Malaya and quickly swept down the peninsula towards Singapore. At this time Sgt. James Belford was a member of the 9th Coast Regiment. Fighting continued until 15 February 1942 when the Singapore garrison surrendered with the capture of 100,000 British, Australian and Indian troops. Winston Churchill described it as: “The worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.”
George Sullivan was also serving in Singapore. He was a Major in the Royal Army Service Corps, working as a headquarters Staff Officer during the Battle of Singapore. Born in 1889 at the Curragh, George Sullivan joined the British army in 1904 at the age of fifteen. Sullivan went into captivity one week after his fifty-fourth birthday. Around 380 Irishmen were captured when Singapore surrendered. Initially the bulk of Allied prisoners captured at Singapore were held in Changi Barracks. Around 50,000 British and Australian soldiers went into Changi Barracks and the married quarters’ area. In addition to the military personnel there were hundreds of European women and children in Singapore. Many of them were the families of British and Commonwealth servicemen. There were also dozens of non-military Europeans, who were rounded up as well. Fred J. Patton, from Kildare Town, was an Inspector of Police, in Singapore. He spent 1942-45 in a Japanese concentration camp. After the first successful escapes from the prison camp the Japanese took further measures to deter break outs. Sergeant Dermot MacDonough, from Co. Kildare, serving with the 2nd Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, said: ‘We were forced to sign papers undertaking not to attempt to escape, and were given to understand that should one escape ten of his comrades would be executed.’
Allied interdiction of Japanese shipping gave rise to plans to build a railway line from Burma to Siam to help their war effort and thousands of prisoners and local natives were forced to work on this project. As a POW James Belford worked as a slave labourer on the building of the 'Death Railway' from Burma to Siam, an experience made famous in the movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” He was lucky to survive the brutality of the guards and the atrocious working conditions. However, three other Kildare men were not so lucky. John Thompson, Newbridge, Patrick Byrne, Walshestown, and Tom Higgins, Naas, all died working on the railway.
Lance-Corporal John Thompson, Newbridge, was the first Kildareman to die on the ‘Death Railway.’ He was born in 1918 and left Newbridge in 1936, when the new Liffey bridge was being built. He enlisted in the British Army and was sent to the Far East with the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment. Lce/Cpl Thompson was captured in Singapore. He was reported missing and for several months his family was unaware of his whereabouts. Then word came that he was a prisoner. John Thompson died from malaria, on 29 March 1943, aged twenty-five. I spoke to John’s sister in Pairc Mhuire, Newbridge, in 1999, and his loss was still keenly felt. That he had died away from his family and had no known grave was something his sister found it hard to live with.
Cholera broke out along the Railway during 1943 with the coming of the rainy season. Cholera always accompanied the rains in Thailand at that time and it spread like wildfire amongst the thousands of unvaccinated debilitated prisoners, whose sanitary facilities provided the perfect medium for infection. Private Tom Higgins, Dublin Road, Naas, was also serving with the 1st Manchesters, in Singapore, when it fell to the Japanese. He died of cholera, on 4 June 1943, aged twenty-six. Most cholera victims were burnt, immediately, and without ceremony. The bodies of Tom Higgins and another prisoner, Andrew Boyd, from Co. Cork, were burned the morning after they died.
Another Kildareman, Sergeant Patrick Byrne, aged thirty-eight, died on 26 September 1943, while a POW in Burma. Patrick Joseph Byrne was the son of Joseph and Mary Byrne, Walshetown, Newbridge, and husband of Nellie Byrne, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia. He had immigrated to Australia where he married and settled in Kensington, New South Wales. He joined the Australian Army and was attached to the Personnel Depot when the Japanese captured him. With thousands of other Allied prisoners Sgt. Byrne was put to work on the Burma-Siam railway line. A base camp and Prisoner-of-War Administration headquarters had been established at Thanbyuzayat, Burma, and it was here that work had ceased on the railway line, which had been intended to link Moulmein with Bangkok in Thailand. The administration headquarters and the nearby hospital, set up in January, were situated close to a railway marshalling yard and workshops, and these were bombed several times between March and June 1943. Numerous casualties occurred among the prisoners and the camp was then evacuated and prisoners, including the sick, were marched to camps further along the line where camp hospitals were set up. For some time, however, Thanbyuzayat continued to be used as a reception centre for the groups of prisoners arriving at frequent intervals to reinforce the parties working on the line to the Thai-Burma border. A cemetery was located close by and 3,771 men who had died while working on the railway are buried there. Among them is Patrick Byrne. How he died is unknown.
When the railway was finished, many of the survivors were picked to be sent to Japan. On 4 September 1944, a Japanese convoy sailed from Singapore to Japan. Two ships, the Rakuyo Maru and the Kachidoki Maru carried Allied POWs. The Rakuyo Maru carried 1,317 POWs (British and Australian) and the Kachidoki Maru a further 900 (all British). James Belford was onboard the Kachidoki Maru, a former American passenger and cargo ship captured at the beginning of the war. The ship was painted battle grey, and flew the Japanese merchant marine flag, which was a red ball in the centre of a white field. It had no Red Cross markings, as Japanese ships rarely displayed the internationally recognised markings indicating that POWs were onboard. It was late summer in the tropics, hot and humid. The Japanese forced the prisoners into the cargo holds and battened down the hatches. Many of them were sick, with malaria and dysentery.
On 12 September the convoy was attacked off Hainan Island, by US submarines, who were unaware that two of the ships carried Allied POWs. Both of the ships carrying POWs were hit, the Kachidoki Maru being struck by two torpedoes fired from the submarine USS Pampanito, one at the stern and the other amidships. The torpedoes blew holes in the hull plates, flooding the entire aft end of the ship. The Japanese crew took the lifeboats. The ship was also carrying Japanese wounded, and a Japanese officer went around with a pistol shooting them. The coverings on the hold were opened, and among the prisoners, it was every man for himself. 244 of the POWs were lost, while 656 survived. James Belford was one of the dead. He was thirty. As his body was never recovered James Belford’s name is inscribed on the Commonwealth Singapore Memorial. Most of those rescued from the Kachidoki Maru were picked up by Japanese trawlers and continued their journey to Japan. All of those who survived the sinking of the Kachidoki Maru jumped within the first ten minutes of the ship being hit. Back home in Kildare Town news of James Belford’s death was not received until the war was over. James’ father, Peter, had died in 1941 and his mother, Brigid, in 1944. Neither of them knew for sure that their son James was dead or alive.
In Thailand, Burma and elsewhere, a clandestine network of radios kept the POWs informed of the progress of the war. The Japanese were aware that wireless sets were being used and constantly sought to locate them. If caught the wireless operators would expect to be interrogated, tortured and then executed. Sergeant John Caddy, from Kildare, recalled, ‘the courage of those British personnel, who, at various camps, maintained a radio news service knowing full well the dire penalties if discovered.’ Sgt. Caddy was serving with the FMSVF (Federated Malay States Volunteer Force) Light Battery.
An Athy-born man, Gerard Whelan, was serving as an officer with the Australian Army when he was captured by the Japanese. Gerard Whelan was the son of Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Whelan, William Street and ‘Holmcroft,’ Athy, and emigrated to the USA and later Australia when he was a young man. He also served with the Australian forces in WWI and was wounded in action. Gerard Whelan died in Sydney, Australia, in September 1964. Peter Whelan, a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C.) was captured in Malaya by the Japanese in 1942. Peter, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Whelan, Kilmoroney, Athy, was released at the end of the war and spent some time in a hospital in Calcutta, India, recuperating from his ordeal.
The remarkable story of a Co. Kildare doctor, who was officially regarded as dead for some years, but in reality, was a prisoner of the Japanese. Dr. Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ O’Neill was serving with the Indian Medical Service with the rank of Colonel in Malaya, when the Japanese troops broke through the centre of the peninsula and routed the defending forces. Dr. O’Neill, who with several colleagues was serving at a post along the Slim River, was subsequently reported killed in action, and a telegram to this effect was received at the family home, Mount Offaly, Athy. In fact he had managed to escape through Japanese lines with two companions, one an officer in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, the other an Irish corporal from Donegal, Paddy Mearns. After three months hiding in the dense Malayan jungle, they were captured soon after they had secured a native boat to make the journey to Burma. Brought by rail to Singapore, Dr. O’Neill was subsequently charged with espionage before a military tribunal and later related that he did not understand a word of what his captors were saying during his trial. He was sentenced to one year’s solitary confinement and five years hard labour. Naked in his cell measuring seven feet by five feet, he was subjected to cruelty and extreme deprivation, and later his family, following the joyous re-union, was amazed that he managed to retain his sanity. He was one of 2,000 prisoners held at the notorious Outram Road Prison. After spending a year of solitary confinement in a cell in which the only ‘furniture’ was one block of wood, he was sentenced to 3½ years hard labour. Less than one in ten of the prisoners survived their ordeal.
Despite exhaustive enquiries by the Vatican, the War Office and the Red Cross no information whatsoever could be obtained concerning Jerry O’Neill. His family and friends in Athy attended anniversary Masses for him during the years when he was presumed dead, and his ‘widow’ was granted a pension. News that he was alive was conveyed to Gardai in Athy and the Garda who received the message on the phone ran all the way to the O’Neill home, where he informed Dr. O’Neill’s father, Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill Snr., the then Kildare Co. Coroner, that his ‘dead’ son was alive. The released prisoner was extremely weak when put aboard a hospital ship to Bombay where his brother, Dr. John O’Neill, was also serving with the Indian Army and had also been through the Burma campaign. He was severely wounded and was mentioned in dispatches on a number of occasions.
As the ship berthed, Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill recognised a former colleague, Dr. Vincent Lee, of Carlow town, who had gone aboard. The astonished Dr. Lee, on recovering his composure exclaimed: “But, Jerry, you are supposed to be dead!” Flown to London, Dr. O’Neill immediately telephoned his family and there was great rejoicing when he subsequently arrived home. After spending over a year recuperating, he resumed his service with the Indian army and was the only white officer at Rasmuk. He was to witness some appalling scenes when he remained on after the departure of the British forces. Later he retired from the Indian Medical Service and lived in Co. Wicklow before entering a practice in London. He retired to Dublin, where he died in 1974, aged sixty-eight.
It was not only military servicemen who suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Civilians and members of religious orders also fell victim to the march of the Japanese Empire. Fr. Tom Murphy, of the Columban Fathers, was a missionary in Burma since 1936. Tom Murphy was born into a large family in 1906 and lived at Kilcullen Road, Naas. He was ordained into the Columban Fathers in December 1935 and left for Burma the following year. He was interned by the Japanese in May 1942 when the Imperial Army captured Bhamo, in Burma. He and his fellow missionaries were held for a month, then released and ordered to go to Mandalay, where they were assigned a house in the Agricultural College. Surrounded by Japanese forces they were bombed incessantly by the Allies. The missionaries were moved to the nearby St. John’s Leper Asylum. This was bombed for some time until an American air force major learned of their plight and from that day on not one bomb fell within a mile of the leper asylum. In early 1945 an Allied offensive brought the British back to Mandalay. The interned Columban Fathers found their liberation was the most trying time of all. When the British were moving in to recapture Mandalay, the Japanese placed a large artillery piece in front of the leper asylum drawing the Allied fire. On the morning of 16 March 1945 the priests arose around 5 a.m. and began a round of services. Fr. Tom Murphy was saying the Epistle when a stray shell exploded over the roof. Of the twelve priests in the room several were injured, none seriously, except Fr. Tom Murphy. The Japanese held their fire as a little group brought Fr. Tom to a British outpost. A gun carrier was waiting to transport Fr. Murphy a few miles to an advanced dressing station and thence to hospital. Every care was taken, but after reaching the first dressing station Fr. Tom died through loss of blood. He was laid to rest in the British War Cemetery in Mandalay. In 1984 Naas Urban District Council decided to name newly-built houses, near to the Church grounds on the Sallins Road, as Fr. Murphy Place, in honour of the Columban priest who died so far away from his native town.
Sister M. of the Angels, Good Shepherd Convent, in Rangoon, wrote to Mrs. Francis Downey, formerly Mrs. Orford, Boden Lodge, Brownstown, Curragh, stating that her son was safe and well. The letter stated that the nuns were great friends of her ‘dear boy’ and were extremely indebted to him for many a kindness, chief of which was the re-tiling of one house rendered almost roofless by a severe monsoonal storm. For weeks Mr. Orford and his friend, Mr. Evans, were on the job and spared no pains to make the house watertight. But for him the nuns would have had to call in local labourers who would have charged a good deal more that they could afford. Especially since they lost some £50,000 worth through Japanese destruction.
The decision to send home the released prisoners of war first was delayed for some months. Sister M. hoped that Mr. Orford would be home for Christmas. Nearly all the boys in the army were grumbling at being kept there, ‘but your boy very unselfishly owns that preference should be given to those poor human wrecks who so desperately long to receive the loving care their condition demands … Priests, Nuns, airmen, soldiers were all alike fiendishly tortured and executed and those who escaped can never thank God sufficiently for His mercies to them. We tell the boys they have been saved by the fervent prayers of their loving mothers and wives, and as a reward for their own fidelity to God and, that, indeed, is our firm belief.’
Rev. Brother Justin Lennon, of the De La Salle Order, went to the Far East Missions in 1932 and was based on Penang Island, off Singapore, when the Japanese war machine began its blitzkrieg. Around 2,000 civilians died on Penang from Japanese air attacks, but the Imperial Army suffered no casualties as there had been a secret and sudden evacuation of all Europeans to Singapore. Br. Lennon was taken prisoner at the Community House of the De La Salle Brothers when Penang fell on 19 December 1941. During his three years’ imprisonment he endured very harsh treatment from which his health became impaired. On 6 September 1945, with the unconditional surrender of Japan, all POWs and internees were freed from the camps when British troops returned to Singapore. After his release Bro. Lennon spent some time in Genoa from where he sailed for Ireland. He arrived home in March 1947 and his Community in Kildare and a wide circle of friends were pleased to see Brother Justin had returned to his former good health. He returned to his mother in Moorefield, Newbridge, on a twelve months’ holiday, having spent the last fifteen years in Malaya. A native of Two-Mile-House, Justin was the son of James and Ellen Lennon, and a cousin of Rev. Fr. John Flanagan, A. M. (Rome), Rev. Brother Louie Flanagan (Australia), and nephew of Mrs. Ann Flanagan, ‘Anna Villa,’ Portarlington. After a year in Ireland Bro. Lennon returned to his missionary work.
Another Catholic priest, Rev. Father James Doyle, returned from Japan, in 1946, to spend a year with his mother and family in Teelough, Carbury. Fr. Doyle was interned as a prisoner of the Japanese for 3½ years and was released just before his uncle, Cardinal Glennon, was made cardinal. The joyous occasion was saddened for him by the death of Cardinal Glennon and his brother, Rev. Fr. Doyle, P.P., within a short time of each other. He spent a year with his family at Teelough and began his long journey back to Japan, on 12 October 1947. Fr. Doyle travelled back to Tokyo where he was again to resume his missionary work so tragically hindered by the war. He visited his uncle, Dr. W. P. Glennon, St. Louis and Rev. Henry Byrne, Silver Springs, a class-mate of his own in Edenderry, after arriving in the USA. Like many of the missionaries in the Far East the war was only a chapter in their life and these ‘soldiers of Christ’ returned to the work they had originally set out to do. Few, if any, felt any bitterness towards their former captors, the Japanese.
In contrast military prisoners were not as forgiving. The death rate in Japanese POW camps was 27 per cent, compared with a 4 per cent death rate for Allied POWs held by Germany. According to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, Japan took 132,142 Allied prisoners. About 34,000 of these died in captivity from starvation, illness and outright brutality. Twelve thousand Allied deaths occurred during the building of the Burma-Thailand railway alone. Perhaps 100,000 native labourers also died on this project, but they are rarely even mentioned. In a further twist of cruel fate it took fifty years for survivors of the Japanese POW camps to receive any proper compensation from the British government. Many of the Irish, British, Australian, American and Dutch prisoners were so scarred by their experiences that afterwards they could not discuss them even with their families. Most went to their graves with little fanfare, their experiences rarely recorded. This article may help in recording some of the experiences of the Japanese Emperor’s Kildare slaves.

 


Dozens of Kildaremen were used as slave labourers by the Japanese Empire - six of them died in captivity


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