Keichi Endo and the Kempeitai: the story of a Japanese PoW

Amongst the collections at the National Archives in Kew are a set of Japanese Prisoner of War (PoW) identity cards dating from the end of WWII. After the Japanese surrender, thousands of captives were detained whilst evidence was collated for their trials.

By studying these intriguing documents, we cannot only help families trace their long lost relatives but also gain an insight into the career of an ordinary soldier in the Imperial Army during WWII. For an example, we shall examine the case of Keichi Endo.

Who Was He?

Keichi Endo was, according to British records, a Military Police Sergeant in Batavia (Dutch Jakarta). After the Japanese surrender, he had been arrested and sent to Bang Kwang Prison in Thailand before being transferred on 7th December 1945 to Changi Prison in Singapore, having made a stopover in Saigon.

The notorious Changi prison had been used to imprison Allied soldiers in brutal conditions during the Japanese occupation
The notorious Changi prison had been used to imprison Allied soldiers in brutal conditions during the Japanese occupation

What Was He Accused Of?

Endo was arrested under suspicion of unlawfully executing two Australian PoWs and two Dutch nationals. He was to be tried by an Australian war crimes commission.

Service Record

Endo had been conscripted early on in WWII, joining the 74th Infantry Regiment on the 1st December 1941. The 74th was part of the 19th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army which had its garrison in North Hamgyong, part of Japanese Korea (now North Korea), on the border with the Soviet Union.

Endo would have been responsible for securitising the Japanese border with the Soviet Union and subduing any resistance posed by the native Koreans, who had been under Japanese occupation since 1910.

In May 1942, Endo was sent back to Tokyo to attend a training course for the Military Police. The Japanese Military Police was the notorious Kempeitai. Formed in the late 19th century, the Kempeitai took on a variety of often secretive roles to ensure peace, both within Japan and subsequently the territories it had conquered.

Chinese PoWs in the hands of the "Japanese Gestapo", the Kempeitai
Chinese PoWs in the hands of the “Japanese Gestapo”, the Kempeitai

Counterinsurgency and surveillance were particularly important tasks for the Kempeitai and it had developed a fearsome reputation in Korea (where it had had a presence since 1907) for its brutal methods of extracting information and subduing dissent.

Mr Endo’s role was thus both secretive and, potentially, lethal, and he returned to Korea in July 1942 after just a couple of months of training. The 74th Regiment would soon be transferred to the 30th Division and Endo was transferred to Java in in February 1943, by now part of the Japanese Empire. Here, he would establish himself at the Kempeitai headquarters in Batavia.

The British describe his role in Batavia as “Dealing with Jap. military offenders” yet it is likely that Endo’s concerns were more directed towards the Dutch and Indonesian settlers, in addition to Allied prisoners, than they were to his own kin.

In May 1943, Endo was transferred to a place named Pogol (this appears to be the present-day city of Bogor) to undertake clerical duties. Whether his actions in the field had brought him into disrepute or whether he was now adjudged senior enough to take on an organisational role is unclear.

However, what we do know is that on the 5th May 1943, two Australian PoWs and two Dutch civilians were executed in Bogor and Endo was suspected of being the guilty party. So much for clerical duties.

Endo's arrest card shows the accusations against him
Endo’s arrest card shows the accusations against him

His possible complicity in this horrible act seemingly did not displease Endo’s superiors. Promoted to Corporal in December 1943, he would see out the rest of the war in the Bogor Kempeitai division, even becoming a Sergeant on the 1st August 1945, a mere two weeks before the Japanese surrender.


No details of Endo’s trial are available except for a note that he was acquitted for lack of evidence on the 30th September 1946, over a year after his initial incarceration.

Whether Endo was guilty we will probably never know, yet these important documents (brief though they may be) offer a fascinating portrait of the path of an individual soldier through the carnage of the world’s greatest battle.

The Politics of Homosexuality in Russian History: a meandering story

Vladimir Putin’s latest comments stating that gay athletes and spectators are welcome to attend the Sochi Winter Olympics next year are unlikely to satisfy observers. Coming from a leader instrumental in passing a law that has prohibited the publication of “homosexual propaganda” to under-18s, Putin’s remarks are just the latest stage in an ongoing saga over the politicisation of homosexuality in Russian history.

A movement to boycott the Sochi games is struggling for momentum
A movement to boycott the Sochi games is struggling for momentum

As early as the sixteenth century, political opponents accused Tsar Ivan IV (the ‘terrible’) of homosexuality to discredit his increasingly debauched and erratic rule. At a time when cross-dressing and homosexuality were illegal, some suggested that Ivan encouraged his male attendants to dress in women’s clothing for his pleasure. There is little historical evidence for this, with the exception of some dubious works of 19th century literature, yet it is an early example of how the ‘taboo’ of homosexuality has been used for political purposes by Russia’s elite.

Peter the Great outlawed homosexuality in the army during the 1700s. For Peter, this was an essential step in ridding Russia of its international reputation as a weak, corrupt nation. By preying on accepted European sentiments of the time (i.e. that homosexuality was unnatural, pathetic and immoral), he could convey an image of unbending strength and virtue within his armed forces.

Tsar Nicholas I would introduce a ban on sodomy to Russian society in general in 1832. Despite punishments of exile and imprisonment, this law was not always enforced and Russia would become notable for its gay community in the 19th century, particularly in intellectual circles. Why there was no crackdown on this behaviour is difficult to ascertain. Possibly it was an acquiescence of sorts by Nicholas, whose Romanov dynasty was already facing accusations of being excessively repressive, particularly with regards to the persisting conditions of serfdom amongst the peasants.

Nikolai Gogol, Russia's most famous writer of the time, was openly gay
Nikolai Gogol, Russia’s most famous writer of the time, was openly gay

Perhaps then the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861 gave the Tsars greater confidence in clamping down on homosexuality towards the end of the 19th century. Seizing on an apparent popular conception that homosexual behaviour was a symptom of the corrupt elite (expressed in works by Leo Tolstoy and others), the Tsars attempted to distance themselves from the toleration of sexual ‘deviance’ by enforcing punishments for perceived crimes.

This atmosphere of sexual repression would be altered by the communist revolution of 1917, which sought to reverse nearly every aspect of Tsarist policy and portray a climate of freedom amongst the populace. Indeed, Lenin was instrumental in legalising homosexuality in the new Soviet Union.

Stalin’s rule would lead to another change in the political establishment’s view of homosexuality. Stalin opposed it not so much on moral or religious grounds. Rather, he saw homosexuality as counter-productive to the workers’ revolution. Men and women should copulate to increase the manpower of the workforce. A simple if absurd theory, which would condemn many to the Gulags.

"Bring up a generation of selfless devotion to the cause of communism"
“Bring up a generation of selfless devotion to the cause of communism”

The fall of communism and the election of Boris Yeltsin as President was followed by the re-legalisation of homosexuality. Just as Lenin had tried to disassociate his new regime with that of Tsarist rule, Yeltsin wanted positive comparisons to be drawn between him and his communist predecessors.

That Putin has slowed the progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights in Russia is unsurprising given his general desire to do anything that he knows will rile the West.

It is, however, also symptomatic of the way homosexuality and politics have been linked in Russian history. What is needed now is for the burgeoning political opposition movement in Russia to embrace LGBT rights as an expression of their promise for greater freedom to the Russian people. Such a statement is long overdue.