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Number One Work

Japanese investigation into alleged Civilian sabotage in Singapore

With the fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Military Administration of the Imperial Japanese Army began to establish control of the island, rounding up Western civilians and interning them in the Changi Internment camp on the eastern side of the island. Doctors, financial experts, civil engineers and such like were allowed out of prison for specific periods to help the Japanese authorities administer the island.

The camp itself was run by the internees themselves with the Japanese providing less than adequate rations to feed approximatly 3,000 men and 400 women and children. Generally, the military authorities left the camp alone leaving the internees to somehow provide their own blankets, medical supplies and other creature comforts. This situation started a flourishing trade of essential goods from the outside to those inside who were fortunate to have items of value or money to buy or barter for the goods. Many Western internees had good Asian friends outside the camp who were prepared to help with illegal activities such as supplying money, goods and news of the war and of missing friends. They even supplied parts to build radio receivers, which were strictly forbidden. Contact between other internment camps was established with the exchange of general news although sometimes of a military nature such as movement of Japanese shipping, troops, and the construction of airfields.

By spring of 1943 the heady days of victory were over and the progress of the Japanese war machine was becoming more difficult with heavy losses being encountered and their forces becoming less successful in battle. These setbacks in turn affected the Japanese propaganda of the benefits of a single unified Asia under Nippon. Slowly, the occupied population began to see the Japanese propaganda for what is was and hatred began to set in. Singapore in particular had a large Chinese population who had no reason to like the Japanese. Foodstuffs and basic commodities for civilians were becoming scarce or non-existent. Rationing was enforced and it was not long before the hatred turned to action. A small act of sabotage here and there, a soldier missing, little actions to start annoying the authorities which were already having to deal with the strong rumours that the British were going to re-occupy Singapore.

To add fuel to the flame of rumour and misinformation, clandestine British troops operating in Malaya were helping tear apart the screen of censorship with anti-Japanese propaganda. General lawlessness began to appear with further shortages of essentials and the Japanese authorities began to see sabotage and hostility everywhere be it real or imaginary. To the Japanese, the question of who was responsible for all the unrest was clear. Certainly not the conquered Asian people who should by now have accepted and be firmly in the grip of the One Asia under Nippon policy. It had to be the European civilians and as most were interned in Changi, they must be in contact with subversive elements of the non-Japanese world. Informers notified their masters of some illegal activities with in Changi but when some escapees made contact with Chinese and British forces, this, in the eyes of the military authorities, was positive proof that all their troubles were coming from the Changi Internment camp.

In the summer of 1943, plans to tighten their control on the subversive elements in Singapore and especially Changi started with the arrival of Major Sumida Haruzo (later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel) of the military security police, the feared Kempei Tai. (The Japanese version of the Nazi Gestapo). Sent especially from Japan to oversee the elimination of all anti- Japanese elements, Major Sumida established his HQ in the YMCA and gathered around him extra Kempei Tai staff from other areas and began to plan their 'Number One Work '

His staff members mingled with the Asian population of the city reporting back to him anything suspicious, spies in the prison kept watch for any signs of subversion. Much was uncovered but most was merely suspicion. The ringleaders had to be identified and dealt with. The internees themselves knew something was going on but what, was unknown. In the meantime, Major Sumida was carefully planning for a raid to take place around Christmas time of 1943. His plans had to be advanced by an incident that shattered Japanese confidence and was to be a great morale booster to the people of Singapore. A commando raid from Australia.

Code named 'Operation Jaywick' members of Z Special Unit sailed an old captured Japanese fishing boat renamed 'Krait' from Exmouth in Western Australia to Subor Island, 11 kilometres from Singapore, a distance of over 3218 kilometres. From the island they paddled their two man 17 ply rubber and canvas skinned Folboats into Singapore harbour, attached limpet mines to the anchored ships and paddled back to the island. The commandos eventually returned to Australia completing one of the most famous Australian Special Forces exploits in WW2.

At about 5 am on the 27th September, the limpet mines exploded sinking 7 ships effectively confirming the Japanese paranoia of sabotage organised by the Western civilians in Changi. Major Sumida was ordered to accelerate his planned raid on the dissents. What was to become know as 'The Double Tenth Incident' (10/10/1943) all internees were paraded just after dawn in the main yard of Changi Prison as if for a normal roll call. Soon after the Kempei Tai and armed soldiers guarded all doors and a number of internees were called out by name, labelled and segregated. The remaining prisoners were ordered back to their block yards where further labelling and segregation was carried out. A search was made of the personal belongings of the internees and of the camp with looting and destruction being normal procedure. In particular, the Japanese were looking for wireless sets and documents. Although no documents were found, the searchers did manage to find at least one complete radio and parts. Altogether, 57 internees were removed from Changi Prison including the Bishop of Singapore on or after the 10/10/43.

So began the Kempei Tai's 'Number One Work' an investigation that would cause many brave men and women to endured interrogation, terrible suffering, torture and degradation at the hands of their captors. Over the preceding months after the Double Tenth raid, it was becoming increasing obvious that the internees were not involved in sabotage but the torture was to go on until May 1944. Of the 57 detainees, 12 would die from sickness attributable to the appalling conditions they were forced to endure. One died as a result of his attempted suicide and one was executed. The survivors who returned to Changi required lengthy treatment in the camp hospital for extreme emancipation, beri-beri, scabies, ulcers, weak hearts, chronic dysentery and injuries to joints and limbs.

On the 18th March 1946 the victorious Allied Army brought to trial as war criminals Sumida Haruzo and twenty others involved in the torture and death of the civilian victims of the Double Tenth raid. The trial went for four weeks, 7 were acquitted. 8 sentenced to hang and 6 to varying terms of imprisonment. The purpose of the trial, apart from retribution, was to prove that in wartime it is easy to lose sight of the principle of individual responsibility and such trials as these are to ensure that this responsibility is fostered and remembered.


Trial of Sumida Haruzo and Twenty Others - William Hodge and Company Ltd 1953 edited by Colin Sleeman.The History of Changi - UKMAMS Changi History [internet]Australian War Memorial Research Centre, Canberra, ACT.Ring of Fire - Leo Cooper 1983 by Dick Horton. The Double Tenth Trial War Crimes Court. - The Malayan Law Journal Office 1946 edited by Bashir A Mallal.

[C] Ken Wright. 2003