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The treatment of prisoners of war during world war ii

Over two-thirds were taken prisoner by the Japanese at the beginning of 1942. See image 1 The treatment of Australian prisoners of war at the hands of the Japanese was brutal. Prisoners were often forced to live in uninhabitable jungle, at the mercy of the elements, and perform back- breaking manual labour for hours on end.

Many received no medical treatment, were starved, taunted, abused, maltreated, beaten and derided by their Japanese captors. The Japanese treatment of prisoners of war did not act in accordance with the various international conventions regarding human rights of prisoners.

In January 1941, the Japanese government issued a 'no surrender' clause in a battle ethics brochure. This clause explained that it was more honourable for Japanese soldiers to die in battle than to surrender.

Japanese soldiers often had little respect for the human rights of prisoners.

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They considered surrendering troops morally weak. Changi Some 14972 Australians were taken prisoner when Singapore surrendered in February 1942. See image 3 Prisoners at Changi were used in work parties. Labourers were rewarded with 4 ounces of meat. Their first projects involved levelling bomb shelters, filling shell craters, unloading ships and stacking food. The workload steadily increased, however, as more projects were introduced.

POWs in World War II

Prisoners were used to construct an airstrip. Work on the airstrip was harrowing. Prisoners worked ten- to twelve-hour days and food rations were not improved. The prisoners suffered from the demands of manual labour. Lack of food, and therefore vitamins, saw the development of skin sores, ulcers and other medical conditions.

Other tropical diseases also plagued the prisoners. By September 1942, the population was half its original number. Many prisoners died while working, or succumbed to tropical diseases. The majority of prisoners were transferred from Singapore to work on Japanese engineering projects in South-East Asia.

They needed to transport vital supplies as they marched north. It was decided that a railway would be built across Thailand and Burma. Australian soldiers were forced to move two cubic metres of earth, regardless of their health, size, or physical capabilities. The Japanese set a cracking pace by working prisoners in shifts of 24 hours on and off.

See image 4 Food was difficult to obtain.

  • Beatings were frequent, resulting in broken teeth and jaws;
  • Many received no medical treatment, were starved, taunted, abused, maltreated, beaten and derided by their Japanese captors.

Prisoners survived on rice and whatever protein they could find. Most men slowly starved to death. Living conditions were no match for the harsh environment. Clothes rotted, shoes fell apart, latrines overflowed. Flies bred and maggots were found everywhere. The almost constant rain, heat, and humidity were a breeding ground for a host of tropical diseases.

Most horrifying of all was the brutal treatment experienced by the prisoners at the hands the treatment of prisoners of war during world war ii their Japanese and Korean captors. The guards were not disciplined by their superiors and were free to beat the soldiers with whatever implements they had at hand, including rifle butts, shovels, bamboo poles and crowbars.

The prisoners were hit in the groin, on ulcers and wounds, broken bones, faces, necks and backs. After prisoners were beaten, some guards forced the prisoners to stand at attention for several hours, even days. Sometimes prisoners were forced to hold up heavy weights, such as buckets of waters, on their outstretched arms.

They were beaten if their arms relaxed, if they sagged under the pressure, or spilled water from the buckets.

Of the 12000 Australian prisoners taken to the Burma-Thailand railway, 2646 died of starvation, disease, exhaustion and brutality. Sandakan Australian soldiers were also transported to the north-eastern coast of Borneo to build an airstrip for the Japanese. Beatings were frequent, resulting in broken teeth and jaws. When men were injured, they were made to stand at attention with bags of salt balanced on their heads. Salt ran down their faces and bodies through their sweat and seeped into their wounds causing excruciating pain.

Other prisoners were kept in cages too small to stand up or lie down in. See image 5 In January 1945, 470 men were sent on foot from Sandakan to Ranau, approximately 250km away, in groups of 50. They each carried 20 kilograms of rice. Once these men arrived at Sandakan, they were sent back to Ranau. There was no shelter, food, or medical attention provided for the soldiers while they were on the march. Each day they were only given one cup of rice water with a thin layer of rice at the bottom.

When the second group returned to Ranau, only five Australians and one British soldier were alive. As the Allies drew closer to the Japanese position at Ranau, a friendly Japanese guard informed two Australian soldiers that the Japanese were planning to kill all the prisoners.

These two prisoners escaped. In August, prisoners at Ranau were executed before they could be taken by the Allies. Of the 2500 prisoners at Sandakan only six survived.