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.
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.
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.
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.
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.