BY KEITH JACKSON
A NOMINAL ROLL of 48,000 Allied servicemen who died in camps and elsewhere after being captured by the Japanese forces in World War II has been found in Kyoto, Japan.
The roll recording the deaths of foreign POWs was prepared by the former War Ministry and was never made public except for names provided to bereaved families who requested them.
Members of an organisation said to be the POW Research Group, composed of scholars and others gathering source materials on POWs, found the records preserved in a war dead memorial in a corner of the Ryozen Kan-non temple's premises in the East Ward of Kyoto City.
“(The records) are important materials to shed light on the last of the POWs on whom there are many issues yet to be understood," Japanese researchers said.
The nominal roll is in six volumes of files bound by a black leather cover. Some 7,630 Australian servicemen are included.
The records are in English in respect of name, unit, date of death, cause of death, place of death and burial condition (interment or cremation).
The nominal roll is well-preserved. The section on the deaths of servicemen includes "shot to death", "malaria" and "dysentery". Servicemen who died when transport ships were sunk are described as "went missing during voyage". More than 1,000 Australian servicemen and civilians died in one of these incidents alone, when the Montevideo Maru carrying prisoners from Rabaul, was sunk in the South China Sea.
In the section for place of death, there are rows of place names within and outside Japan where camps existed. In addition to mining sites within Japan where POWs were used as forced labour, names such as Kanchanaburi and Chonkai in Thailand are noted for servicemen who were forcibly deployed for excessively hard labour on the Burma-Thai railway.
‘According to the Ryozenkan-non, how the nominal roll was obtained is not clear, with no record left at the temple,” the Asahi Shimbun reported.
“It is presumed that in 1958, when a memorial of the unknown soldiers was erected within the temple, in memory of he military servicemen of various countries who lost their lives in the Pacific War, the roll was dedicated to the temple.”
"I heard a story that at that time a woman office worker made the record by typing from the original register,” said one temple worker.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Social Welfare, the former War Ministry's PW Information Bureau, immediately after the war, prepared a record of deaths of foreign PWs as source material for submission to the Allies.
"While is not possible to elucidate the process, one is virtually certain that the roll is a product of reproduction from the original register carried over by the Ministry,” said an official
The original register remains in the Ministry's storage but the state of preservation is bad, and deterioration is advancing. For the reason of protection of private information, the record is treated as "out of access to the public" except for a small party such as bereaved families.
Source: Asahi Shimbun, 31 July 2010. Translation by Harumi Sakaguchi,18 August 2010