Oral Answers to Questions — British Prisoners of War (Fareast)

– in the House of Commons on 10th November 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has received any fresh lists of names of British prisoners of war at Singapore and Hong Kong, together with, any information as to their care and welfare?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I apologise for the length of the answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give it after Questions."] With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will give the answer at the end of Questions, and also circulate an additional statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

At the end of Questions:

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

As regards Singapore, a relatively short official list of names of prisoners of war has been received within the last few days from Tokyo through the agency of the International Red Cross Committee. The next-of-kin have in many cases been informed, and the notifications are being completed as quickly as possible. As regards Hong Kong, the majority of names of British Army personnel have been reported by the Japanese authorities. As regards the care and welfare of prisoners of war, a certain amount of information has been collected from various sources, and I will circulate a statement on the subject in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The House will wish to know that, in view of the delays which are taking place in the receipt of complete lists of prisoners from the enemy Powers, it has been decided that the normal period, for which Army family and dependants' allowances and soldiers allotments continue to be paid in respect of officers and soldiers reported as missing, shall be extended in future from the existing 17 weeks to 26 weeks from the date the relatives are notified that the officer or soldier is missing.

The position of the relatives of the comparatively small numbers who are still regarded as missing after the surrenders in Hong Kong has also been considered, and it has been decided in their case that the allowances already specially extended shall be further extended to 31st January next.

The position in relation to those reported missing in other Far Eastern theatres of operations is being kept under constant review. The special extension of the allowances in these cases will not generally begin to expire until the end of the year, and I am not in a position to announce any further extension at the moment; but the House can rest assured that a further extension will be made in their case if we do not receive from the Japanese Government in the near future anything like a full list of names of those who are prisoners.

The same arrangements will apply to the allowances payable in respect of Naval and Air Force missing personnel.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

Will my right hon. Friend consider continuing the dependants' allowances indefinitely? And has he any information with regard to the food position there? Also, could he say something about the return of mails addressed to prisoners at Singapore?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

The food position is dealt with in the statement that I propose to circulate; but, if the hon. Member likes, I will just read that bit of it: Little information as to living conditions is available. It is believed that they are receiving similar rations to those issued to Japanese troops; these consist principally of rice, vegetables and fish. European food is probably not available.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that parents of men in Java are very much concerned? Has he any information about those lads?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I am well aware of that. My own nephew was in Java. I have no information on the point.

Photo of Mr John Wardlaw-Milne Mr John Wardlaw-Milne , Kidderminster

When my right hon. Friend receives the information that he is awaiting from the Red Cross, will he be able to give us any information as to the conditions of the Stanley Camp at Hong Kong?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I have not included any information about that in the statement, but I will look into the matter and let my hon. Friend know.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

In view of the great number of people who are still absent, have the good offices of the Vatican been sought, in order to get a more comprehensive list out of the Japanese?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I had better have notice of that question.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

Has my right hon. Friend any information about our own people in Thailand?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I have no specific information about them.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

Has my right hon. Friend considered whether we can send food ships from Australia?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

The question of food ships is dealt with in my answer. The hon. Member had better look at that answer, and then put down any Questions arising from it.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

Is there any substantial number of prisoners taken at Singapore whose names are not known?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

It depends upon what is meant by "substantial." I should have said that, on the whole, the list of those notified as prisoners of war is rather small in relation to the total number.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

In view of the fact that many of us are getting very anxious letters from dependants with regard to mails from Singapore, has my right hon. Friend any information about those mails?

Photo of Mr George Mathers Mr George Mathers , Linlithgowshire

In view of the lack of information about individuals, has the right hon. Gentleman taken into consideration the possibility of giving information to relatives about the fate of units to which such individuals belonged?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I will look into that.

Photo of Mr Thomas Harvey Mr Thomas Harvey , Combined English Universities

Does this information relate also to British civil servants who remained at their posts?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

It covers prisoners generally.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

May I ask a question on a cognate matter? Is it not the case that correspondence from certain camps in Germany has recently been interrupted by the German Government, and that no letters from those camps are reaching this country? Has my right hon. Friend any information?

Following is the statement:

So far the Japanese Government have continued to refuse permission for visits by the Red Cross and Protecting Power representatives to prisoners of war camps, except in Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Red Cross visits have been allowed. The information available on prisoners of war conditions in other Japanese occupied territories is therefore scanty and unofficial in character.

It is understood that a large number of the prisoners of war, who were captured in Hong Kong and Singapore, are being moved Northward to camps which are being established in Japan, Korea and Formosa. Other prisoners of war captured in Burma and Singapore have been moved to various places in Siam, Indo-China, South Burma and Malaya. Prisoners of war captured in the East Indies were imprisoned in Batavia and other parts of Java.

A small number of naval and Mercantile Marine prisoners of war are confined in Woosung camp, near Shanghai. Their names have been telegraphed, and next-of-kin have been informed. Conditions in this camp appear to be satisfactory. Parcels are sent into the camp from residents in Shanghai.

A summary of the International Red Cross Committee telegraphic report on Hong Kong has already been issued to the Press.

Little information as to living conditions is available. It is believed that they are receiving similar rations to those issued to Japanese troops; these consist principally of rice, vegetables and fish. European food is probably not available. The prisoners of war are being made to work hard; in some cases the work is connected with aerodromes and fortifications and is thus of a kind not allowed by the 1929 Convention. Morale is good, in spite of the hardships of the life. Treatment probably varies considerably in different places, as a wide discretion is left to local commandants. An assurance of good treatment was recently given by the Japanese Commander-in-Chief in Singapore. Officers are usually confined in the same camps as their men.

Limited quantities of medicines, food and clothing have been sent on ships returning to Japan with Japanese Diplomatic Staffs and others, and they are known to have arrived at Singapore and Hong Kong. Owing, however, to the refusal of the Japanese authorities to allow distribution of these supplies under independent supervision, their distribution is in the hands of the Japanese military authorities who have undertaken to use them for the prisoners. In the event of any further exchanges every effort will be made to send relief supplies by the returning Japanese ships to the limit of their capacity available for this purpose. The Japanese Government still will not allow the passage of ships carrying relief supplies under the auspices of the International Red Cross.