Long Night's Journey into Day: Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945

Long Night's Journey into Day: Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945

Long Night's Journey into Day: Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945

Long Night's Journey into Day: Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945


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.


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 of believing that they have failed in their military duty. For western POWs, this worry could be temporarily depressing; for POWs from Japan’s military services, the failure had cultural connotations that often led them to commit suicide.

Moreover, as soon as men cease to be military “effectives” they also cease to be of day-to-day interest to their parent military establishment. This can have long-term connotations to permanent-service soldiers, who, after the war and their captivity ends, usually and not unnaturally find that they are permanently retarded in terms of promotion. Often, they return home to dislocated families and have to struggle to cope with a world significantly changed from the one they knew before captivity.

Nevertheless, twentieth-century POWs in general have had an infinitely better prospect than was the case in previous centuries. Until the eighteenth century, prisoners routinely could expect to be mutilated, killed, or enslaved by their captors.

Beginning in the 1700s, ad hoc arrangements began to be made in the field, between opposing generals, that permitted the repatriation of the prisoners they might take in ensuing battles. In the 1800s, more generalized arrangements began to be made. The United States codified a humane set of rules for managing the existence of POWs during the Civil War, a groundbreaking formulation known as the Lieber Code after Francis Lieber, its author. These rules were promulgated by the Union in May 1863 as General Orders No. 100, “Instructions for the

Notes to Preface are on p. 329.

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