PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS IN JAPAN & JAPANESE CONTROLLED
AS TAKE FROM THE REPORTS OF INTERNED AMERICAN PRISONERS
LIAISON & RESEARCH BRANCH AMERICAN PRISONER OF WAR INFORMATION
By John M. Gibbs, 31 July 1946
MATSUSHIMA KNOWN AS TOKYO CAMP 2-D
Matsushima Prisoner of War Camp was located in Central Island
and was situated on the eastern banks of the TENRYU river in
latitude 35.55.99 North and longitude 137.39.00 East.
2. PRISONER PERSONNEL:
On 12 August 1944, the following prisoners were confined
in this camp: 93 Americans, captured in the Philippines, 116
British, captured in Singapore & Java. The senior American
officer was Boatswain Ernest W. Downey, US Navy. The senior British
officer was Lt. Rhys of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
On 15 Oct 1944, Captain Weinstein of the US Army Medical
Corps arrived in the camp. He became the senior American officer,
making a total of 94 Americans confined.
On 2 March 1945, Lt. George Estabrook Brown, US Navy &
Lt. Van Wormer, USAAF arrived in camp along with one British
officer making a total in the camp of 96 Americans and 117 British.
On 27 June 1945, a group of 100 British officers arrived
in camp. Captain Gordon, Royal Navy & former captain of the
HMS Exeter (sunk by the Japanese) was the senior British officer
of this detail.
Five deaths occurred during internment which are listed elsewhere
in this report.
3. GUARD DETAIL:
The camp was commanded by a Japanese Army Lt. [Kubo-
replaced Capt. Sukeo Nakajima (hanged)] Whose name is
not known. He was assisted by 8 to 12 guards and among them were
Big Glass Eye
Little Glass Eye
KENMORE or KENMUTA
Scar Face -beat a POW to death
ORI or AURI
Sergeant or Big Bird (Escaped- never captured)
These nicknames were given the guards by the prisoners for reasons
of identification. The Japanese camp commandant was seldom in
the camp, therefore, the sergeant had charge of the prisoners
most of the time.
Among the guard staff were 3 Japanese civilians who were interested
in the procurement of food for the camp, supposedly they were
hired by the Construction Co. For that purpose.
The prisoners were sent out to work on details for the Japanese
civilian contractors and among these individuals were the following:
KAMIJO, IGARASHI, TAKSHIMA, OIWA, IWATIA & NIPOTS.
4. GENERAL CONDITIONS:
(a) HOUSING FACILITIES: This camp, first opened in
Nov 1942, was occupied by Americans from the Philippines, Eurasians
from Singapore & British Army personnel from Singapore &
Java. It consisted of 13 structures and was surrounded by a 10
foot wooden fence with nails protruding from the top boards.
There were three (3) gates to this compound but only two were
used from 12 Aug 1944 until 4 Spt 1945. The main gate was on
the southern part of the compound and was guarded at all times
by 2 or 3 guards.
The living barracks were approximately 18' x 75' and housed 120
prisoners. These barracks were built of 1/4 inch wood and covered
with shingles or tree bark. The interior was divided into 3 sections
with an upper & lower tier for sleeping purposes. Each individual
was allowed and area of 30 x 73 inches for his living quarters
and stowage of clothing.
The floor was dirt & sand. During the rains it would be flooded
and as no proper drainage was provided, water, in depth from
2 to 3 inches stood on the floor during the rainy seasons.
During the winter, ice would form under the mats in the sleeping
area. The prisoners would wash this area down on their day off
& rid the quarters of the fleas & ice would form before
it could be properly dried. This condition existed throughout
the winter of 1944.
For heating these barracks, a 3' x 3' fire pit was placed in
the center of each section and a very small amount of wood was
allowed between the hours of 1700 (5:00 P.M.) And 2000 (8:00
P.M.). The wood supplied on an average day was 10 sticks about
4 inches in diameter and 2 feet long.
There were no flues to carry the smoke away from the fire pits
and as the barracks were inadequately ventilated the smoke would
become so dense that the eyelids of the prisoners would swell
to such an extant that vision would be cut off.. Many days the
wood was not furnished when the thermometer registered as low
as 9 degrees Fahrenheit. The guards would attempt to justify
this action upon the claim that rules had been broken by some
A small amount of disinfectant was allowed but not in sufficient
quantities to rid the camp of the flies, fleas & bugs. The
prisoners would have "fly campaigns" in which they
would spend their rest hours killing flies and vermin to ease
the terrible condition. Fleas were uncontrollable & rats
were a continuous source of worry.
A small washstand was erected in the center of the camp which
had 12 spigots. This stand was for washing clothes & dishes.
No hot water was supplied for this purpose.
Weater was pumped into camp from a well along the edge of the
TENRYU river. This water wasnot fir for human consumption unless
bailed and there was a small boiler provided which held about
15 gallons. All the drainage from the town of Matsushima entered
the river just a few feet from the well. This well was approximately
30' deep. Water was not at all times available and had to be
carried by buckets from the river in sever cold weather when
the lines and pump would freeze up.
(b) LATRINES: There were 2 latrines in a separate wooden
building large enough to accommodate 30 me at a time. They were
of the same variety used throughout Japan, "straddle trench".
There were no drainage facilities, consequently they had to be
hand dipped out and the accumulation was distributed to the camp
garden and the country side for fertilizer. The latrine openings
were not covered consequently flies abounded and maggots crawled
around the building and into the living quarters.
(C) BATHING: On bath tub was provided. It was a box affair
about 6 x 6 x 4 and was filled on the average of once each 10
days for the prisoners' bath. The water was heated by piping
running along one end and fired by a small fire place. Cold showers
could be had by those risking pneumonia due to their weakened
(d) MESS HALL: There was no mess hall but each barracks
was provided with 3 tables. To eat the food, the men either sat
on their bunks or the dirt floor.
(e) FOOD: The general run of food was a mixture of barley
& rice in a proportion of 8 to 2 respectively. The issue
would seldom be other than grain but occasionally vegetables
and beans were provided.
Meat and fish were seldom provided but the prisoners would occasionally
get the stomach and bones of the cattle butchered in the area.
The meat & fish would normally be (in American minds) unfit
for consumption but it would be boiled sufficiently to make it
The food was issued each 3 days and was weighed and cooked by
the American personnel. The average issue was from 400 to 500
grams per day per man.
(f) MEDICAL FACILITIES: There were no Japanese medical
officers attached to the camp but a British doctor (Richard
G.S. Whitfield, Royal Navy) attended the sick until 15 Oct
1944 when an American doctor (Captain Weinstein, Medical
Corps, US Army - ex Shinagawa) arrived
in the camp and assumed the medical officer duties. Two corpsman
of the British army assisted the doctors. There was little medicine
provided and the doctors gave the most severe cases special consideration
using the scant supplies furnished. Surgical cases were taken
to the company hospital. A Japanese doctor visited camp one time
(1) Red Cross: There was an
ample supply of Red Cross clothing in this camp for everyone
but it was never issued in quantity, consequently the men were
compelled to work in straw shoes of go barefoot. The sick were
employed in making of these straw shoes as well. A civilian was
employed in instructing the prisoners in their manufacture, supervised
by a military guard.
The Red Cross items were received by each individual between
Aug 1944 and 4 Sep 1945.
Dates of issue: 25 Dec 1944; 15 Jan 45; 15 Feb 45; 15 Mar 45;
5 Apr 45; 19 Apr 45; 15 May 45; 14 Jun 45; 15 Jul 45.
Chart not added
(2) Japanese issue: There were no other supplies in the
food line received but there were a few items of athletic gear
supplied by the YMCA & also a few books from the same source.
The Japanese supplied scrap cloth for repairing clothing. In
August work clothing consisted of 1 suit of work clothes and
1 pair of rubber soled shoes were issued to new arrivals. This
clothing had previously been used by Chinese & Eurasian prisoners
who had been transferred.
(1) Incoming: - was received
sporadically, probably an average of once in 4 months.
(2) Outgoing: Communication
cards were allowed to be written on: 5 Jan 1945, 5 Mar 1945,
5 Apr 1945, 5 May 1945, 15 Jun 1945 and 15 Jul 1945. The majority
of these cards were received by the addressee after the surrender
having been forwarded by the American occupation forces.
Mail would be received by the prisoners in camp & would be
held by the interpreter, one Japanese names MACHETA. This individual
would notify the prisoners that they had received mail, It was
distributed at his discretion.
(i) WORK: Many men were required
to work regardless of health as each contractor requested a number
of men daily. If a man became too ill or weak to perform his
work he was given the job of "tea boiler" and made
tea on the job for the workers. The civilians, as a whole, were
very considerate and at times let the men rest at the rick of
The military guards in this camp were very rough on the prisoners.
They invariably made their own rules at every change of the guard
& would go out and look for someone to beat for infractions
of rules that never existed officially.
(j) TREATMENT: At this camp
was rather severe. He continuous "heckling" by the
guards caused unimaginable hardships on the prisoners. They would,
for no reason known to the prisoner, call him out of the barrack
and beat him severely for being uncovered while asleep or for
smoking while not sitting near a tin can or some other excuse.
Each change of the guard brought new rules & excuses to beat.
Many times men were taken out of their barracks in the middle
of a cold winter night & forced to stand at attention in
front of the guards for no apparent reason than to amuse them.
The general description of the treatment could be boiled down
to 2words "very severe". Justice was a forgotten word
(k) PAY: (1) Officers: Pay
for officers was 50 yen per month. (2) Enlisted men: Pay for
Non-Coms was 15 sen per day, for privates 10 sen per day &
for warrant officers 25 sen.
(l) RECREATION: None.
(m) RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES:
Church services were occasionally allowed by the Chaplains attached
to the camp but no area was allotted for that purpose. A memorial
service was held on 28 Nov 1944 in memory of the Americans who
had died at this camp It was also a service for the opening of
the camp. A Jap Christian Minister performed the ceremony and
was followed by a British Medical Officer (Dr. Whitfield).
(n) MORALE: - was very high
throughout the years 1944 & 1945. This can be attributed
to the fact that the prisoners were able to steal & purchase
newspapers & keep up on the advances of the American forces.
5. FIRE FIGHTING EQUIPMENT: A hand drawn fire wagon was available
and was kept in camp near the Japanese headquarters. A fire drill
was allowed on the average of once every 2 months; Buckets &
water boxes were provided.
6. AIR RAID SHELTERS:
An air raid shelter was built in 1945 to accommodate about 200
men. The Japanese compelled the prisoners to build it near the
Jap headquarters. Also there was a spud cellar for that purpose.
They were flimsily constructed jobs with only a few branches
of trees thrown over a 8' hole and dirt thrown on top of the
branches. They would have been perfect graves in the event of
a bombing near that area.
The following deaths occurred in 1944 and 1945: (Partial Only)
Date Name Rank Service
43.03.03 Teas, Robert Gordon PFC, USAAC,
19 BG (H) 93 BS, [beaten to death]
44.12.27 Wilson, Harold Pte Royal Army
44.12.27 Westwood, Bernard Pte Royal Army
45.3.17 Williams, Benjamin S. PFC USMC
45.3.22 Newstead, H. Pte Royal Army
45.4.12 Skubinna, Norman Johnny PFC US Army
45.7.19 Mitchell, A.E. Capt Royal Army
45.7.26 Atkins, Leslie M. Jr. Pvt USMC
8. MOVEMENTS: On
4 Sep 1945, after disarming the camp guards, the officers and
men fell in and marched out of the camp along with the Japanese
camp commander and proceeded to the railroad station, arriving
there 1120 and the train departed 1204. They traveled through
small villages while proceeding to the seacoast, arriving at
TOYAHASHI at ARAIMACHI at 1630 (4:30 p.m.) and reported to the
The Matsushima Prisoner of War camp was cleared of all Allied
prisoners at exactly 1112 on 4 September 1945 and "taps"
was blown by a bugler with a bugle that had been used by the
United States troops in the Philippines.
This report was made by Lt. Downey, US Navy, in May 1946 while
on detail from New Orleans to the American Prisoner of War Information
Bureau. Lt. Downey was a prisoner in this camp.