The Seven Coast Watchers
from New Zealand

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Source: Gillespie, Oliver A., The Pacific, War History Branch, Dept of Internal Affairs, Wellington, NZ, 1952, p 233; letters from Kevin Menzies.

The islands described herein [Gilbert Islands] are now known as the nation of Kiribati. An excellent reference is the book, "Conflict in Kiribati" by Peter McQuarrie, Univ of Christchurch, NZ.

The seven Coast Watchers from New Zealand captured in the Makin Atoll were:
Captured on Bikati:
1. Michael Menzies, Pvt., NZEF, and his brother....
2. Jack M. Menzies, Pvt., NZEF
3. John M. Jones, a civilian Radio Operator
Captured on Little Makin (Makin Miang):
4. Pvt. Basil (Pat) Were
5. Pvt. L.E.H. Muller
6. Cpl. M.P. McQuinn- actually a civilian but retroactively made Army Corporals to prevent execution as a spy.
Captured on Abaiang:
7. Cpl. Sydney R. Wallace- also a civilian but retroactively made Army Corporals to prevent execution as a spy.
Captured in the village of Butaritari: (Not a Coast Watcher)
8. Charles Fulford-Williams, Civil Administrator
American Captured in China:
9. RM1c Arthur H. Griffith, USN, American Consulate, Tsingtao - [treated as a Diplomat and exchanged on the first POW exchange, June 1942, SS Gripsholm.]

The Coast Watchers and Fulford-Williams were held in a tin shed at On Chongs wharf on Butaritari until transferred aboard a Japanese minesweeper to Juliet Island on 27 Dec 1942. From Juliet Island, the men were sent to Yokohama in hold of the Yamagiri Maru.

Kevin Menzies, son of Michael Menzies, Pvt., NZEF, stated in letter of 9 June 2000:
"My father was captured [as a Soldier/Coast Watcher in the Gilbert Islands] on the islet of Bikati, the northern tip of the Makin Atoll, on 10 Dec 1941 and [later] began his incarceration in the University of Life at Zentsuji. He and his comrades, including his brother Jack M. Menzies, were among the first Allied prisoners in Japan, arriving in Yokohama on 7 Jan 1942. The American Marine from Tsingtao [Griffiths] joined them on 10 Jan 1942. When he would talk about [his experiences], (not often) he would tell of how he was in Zentsuji when in the middle of the night he was [wakened] by the Marines from Guam entering the camp. From then on, Dad built up strong bonds with these men which never left him. He told me, not long before his death, that often at night he lay awake and pictured all of their faces."

Assorted information on Michael Menzies

Questionnaire, 5th March 1947 (DOC file)
NOTE: "A warning with these is that my father said immediately after the war when interviewed that they tended to downplay things. For example, he seriously believed that the Japanese would rise again and come after him, so did not want to antagonise them."

Summary of the Facts and Evidence Relating to the Massacre of British Nationals, Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees, by the Japanese at Betio, Tarawa, on 15th October, 1942 (18 October 1944, PDF file)
NOTE: This is the official report into the murder of 17 NZ coast watchers and 5 civilians at Tarawa on Oct 15 1942. "My father in the NZers in Zentsuji were part of this coast-watching group. These men were their friends and comrades." See also this article published by Taylor & Francis in the JOURNAL OF PACIFIC HISTORY, on 15TH May 2018: "Peter McQuarrie and I wrote this story about where the coast-watchers were killed on Tarawa, where the bodies were buried and where their bones may be."

Notes on Diary of Capt. M. P. Murphy (Singapore-Zentsuji), by Kevin Menzies (DOC files)
NOTE: Murphy was a British officer incarcerated at Zentsuji.

BELOW PHOTO: "Picture of the NZers (including Dad) and American Arthur Griffiths being transferred from the Dennison House Yokohama to Zentsuji POW camp. This was taken about 14 Jan 1942. They were the 1st Allied POWs into Japan, and as such, for a week were well treated and photographed (propaganda) before arriving at Zentsuji a few hours prior to the Guam POWs."

Menzies transfer
Menzies transfer to Zentsuji
(Asahi News 16th Jan. 1942; from Mr. Williams)

Hajime Shindo
Hajime Shindo - "our Navy escort from Yokohama-Zentsuji, plus 2 guards"

Zentsuji POW article
Mainichi Nichi Nichi News, Jan. 1942

Notes on below photos by Kevin Menzies:

Tomorrow (Dec. 11), mid-morning (in my head I think 9.30-10.30am from what I have been told), it is 69 years to the day that Dad, Uncle Jack (NZ Army) and John Jones (NZ Post Office), stood on the beach with their backs to the Pacific Ocean and watched as the Japanese marines landed at the southern end of Bikati, an island at the northern tip of the Butaritari atoll.

The beach photo was taken at approximately 9.30 in the morning, at the point where they stood, looking towards the southern tip. Johnny Jones told me that there was less vegetation in those days and that they could see the Japanese marines advancing through the trees.

The Japanese came onto the coastwatchers small compound and began ransacking. It was only after a few minutes that they actually saw the coastwatchers no more than 50 metres away.

They lined up and shouting "Banzai," they bayonet-charged the coastwatchers, stopping short, by millimetres, of killing them. My father was knocked to the ground (I have heard said variously, that he was pistol whipped and/or knock down with the butt end of a rifle...who knows what weapon it was for sure, as time and trauma can affect one's memory. All I do know is that my father never forgot it and nor did Uncle Jack or Johnny Jones). Cito Teaki told me she saw the Japanese kicking Snowy (my father).

Thus, the first of the NZ coastwatchers were captured.

Bikati - Standing looking where the NZers watched
the Japanese advance from the far point

Cito Teaki
Cito Teaki - Saw Menzies being kicked

We believe that they were the first POW's shipped to Japan. They arrived in Yokohama on Jan 6th or 7th on the Yamagiri (sp?) Maru. The first night they stayed at the Yokohama Race Course. In the morning, off in the distance, they saw what they believed were other Europeans in civilian clothing. They were then taken to the Dennison House at The Bluff, Yokohama. Here they were joined by an American radio operator from the embassy in Tsingtao, Arthur Griffiths.

They spent about a week here, where they were photographed for propaganda purposes (film and still photographs). Apparently some Argentine newspapers might have given these pictures extensive coverage. They were well looked after with good food and served by ladies in kimonos. They knew it could not last and thought that it might be a precursor to their execution.

But no, they were to be work horses, slowly ground down. On Jan 15th, they arrived at Zentsuji after a 12-hr. train journey on public transport (train) where once again they were photographed. After a few hours, once they were asleep, they were awoken by American voices -- the Guam POW's had arrvived. Close bonds were formed, as Dad once told me just before he died: "...I often lie awake at night and picture the boys... I can remember their faces.." He then reeled off some names.

My own view of Zentsuji is that whilst it was at the "good" end of the Japanese POW camp system, in reality it was not a lot different from most others in Japan. A lot seems to have depended on each camp's physical location. Zentsuji was more in a rural environment away from the main centres of industry. Early it was good and a lot of people judge it on that basis. But later on it became very bad, like everywhere else. I guess that it is relative. Good in a bad situation is still bad.

That in a nutshell is basis of the beginning of their incarceration. It is all so sad really -- they were barely out of boyhood. They were a group of 24 captured NZ coastwatchers. The other 17 were beheaded. Of all coastwatchers captured in the Pacific, these are the only ones that I know of who were not executed.