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Long Night’s Journey into Day

Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945

Charles G. Roland

Publication Year: 2001

Sickness, starvation, brutality, and forced labour plagued the existence of tens of thousands of Allied POWs in World War II. More than a quarter of these POWs died in captivity.

Long Night’s Journey into Day centres on the lives of Canadian, British, Indian, and Hong Kong POWs captured at Hong Kong in December 1941 and incarcerated in camps in Hong Kong and the Japanese Home Islands. Experiences of American POWs in the Philippines, and British and Australians POWs in Singapore, are interwoven throughout the book.

Starvation and diseases such as diphtheria, beriberi, dysentery, and tuberculosis afflicted all these unfortunate men, affecting their lives not only in the camps during the war but after they returned home. Yet despite the dispiriting circumstances of their captivity, these men found ways to improve their existence, keeping up their morale with such events as musical concerts and entertainments created entirely within the various camps.

Based largely on hundreds of interviews with former POWs, as well as material culled from archives around the world, Professor Roland details the extremes the prisoners endured — from having to eat fattened maggots in order to live to choosing starvation by trading away their skimpy rations for cigarettes.

No previous book has shown the essential relationship between almost universal ill health and POW life and death, or provides such a complete and unbiased account of POW life in the Far East in the 1940s.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. ix

Illustrations and Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

World War Two prisoners of war (POWs) had an unenviable existence. No matter where one is captured or by whom, at the time of capture there is always the frightening possibility that one will be killed on the spot. Then, once men have surrendered and survived, they have to cope with the psychological crisis ...

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pp. xvii-xix

This project has had an existence of more than 20 years and, therefore, there are many persons and institutions to be recognized. I have been helped by so many selfless people in so many ways that it is humbling to look back and contemplate such cooperation. ...


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pp. xxi-xxiii

Hong Kong Chronology

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pp. xxv-xxviii

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1. Hong Kong before 8 December 1941

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pp. 1-12

Wars end in different ways for different participants. World War Two ended at Hong Kong formally and officially on 16 September 1945. On that day, in the afternoon, in Government House, Maj.-Gen. Okada Umekichi and Vice-Admiral Fujita Ruitaro surrendered formally to Rear-Admiral Cecil Halliday Jepson Harcourt, ...

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2. The Eighteen-Day War: 8-25 December 1941

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pp. 13-44

Two infantry brigades were created out of three battalions. The Mainland Brigade, under the command of Brigadier C. Wallis, consisted of the Royal Scots on the left of the Gin Drinkers' Line, covering the slopes of Tai Mo Shan Mountain and the Shingmun Redoubt; 2/14 Punjab Regiment, which was assigned to ...

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3. The Prisoner-of-War Camps and Hospitals

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pp. 45-90

On 25 December 1941, the Hong Kong garrison capitulated and all surviving Allied troops became prisoners of war. The remainder of this book will be devoted to telling what happened to these unfortunate men. The main groups of prisoners were the survivors of the two British, two Indian, and two Canadian ...

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4. Prisoner-of-War Life in Hong Kong

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pp. 91-126

If any one aspect of prisoner-of-war life stands out in the memories of the men it is the sameness. Their lives stretched off into an unknown and therefore interminable future punctuated by a relatively small number of memorable moments. Some of these were unpleasant, such as a severe beating, a tedious or ...

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5. Trying to Cope with Too Little Food

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pp. 127-154

No subject surpasses food as the cardinal topic of recollections and writings about POW life and of conversations with survivors. Among Far Eastern POWs the subject became an obsession. Evening conversations usually gravitated quickly to food -- when they didn't start with that subject. Men remembered special ...

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6. In Sickness, Rarely in Health: Life and Death in the Camps and Hospitals

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pp. 155-206

This remarkable constellation of illnesses may have been more likely to occur under the extreme conditions of the Burma-Siam Railway, but POWs in sites such as Hong Kong ran the same basic risks. They lived fundamentally unhealthy lives, underfed, overworked, unable to keep clean, often living among swarming ...

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7. The Overseas Drafts

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pp. 207-224

During 1942 and 1943, the number of POWs at Hong Kong fell rapidly. Group after group, generally referred to as drafts, were shipped out to Japan, Korea, and Manchuria. This chapter will relate some of the events connected with these movements, and give a general summary of POW life in Japan. The following ...

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8. POW Camps in the Japanese Home Islands

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pp. 225-302

Allied prisoners of war found themselves incarcerated in camps all over the four Home Islands -- Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido. POW camps were located wherever heavy work needed doing, near businesses, docks, mines, or manufacturing plants, to provide a nearby, cheap labour force. There were about ...

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9. Less than Perfect Soldiers

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pp. 303-320

To obey Imperial commands, to be brave as well as just, to be humane as well as brave, and to realize the grand harmony of the world -- such is the spirit of the Emperor Jimmu [first Emperor of Japan]. Bravery must be stern and charity must be far-reaching. If there is any enemy resisting the Imperial troops, ...

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10. The Journey Ends -- But It Never Does

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pp. 321-328

At Hong Kong, there was a delay of almost four weeks between the apparent surrender of Japan and the arrival of Allied relieving forces. The ex-POWs had difficulty coping. One noted in his diary as late as 4 September: "All of us are just going on our nerves, drinking too much, too much entertainment all ...


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pp. 329-374


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pp. 375-404


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pp. 405-421

E-ISBN-13: 9780889209428
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889203624
Print-ISBN-10: 0889203628

Page Count: 449
Publication Year: 2001