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A Forgotten Chinese Army

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Mingxian Su

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A Forgotten Chinese Army

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A Forgotten Chinese Army

After the Japanese was defeated and announced to surrender to Allies on 15 August 1945,the Australians tried to get detailed information about their over 1000 lost servicemen who were captured in early 1942 after the Japanese had attacked and occupied Rabaul of New Britain Island,the then capital city of Australian Mandated Territory New Guinea.However,on 4 September at the first face-to-face meeting with the Japanese regarding the scheduled formal surrender two days late,they were told that the Japanese didn't held large numbers of Australian POWs,apart from 28 European prisoners of war and 8000 Asians.The Australians were very disappointed for such a result,because Europeans were unexpected as eighteen of them were British gunners,seven American,one Australian,one New Zealander and one Dutchman,and so were the large numbers of Asians,including 1397 Chinese.At this time,the Australians were still not sure the identities of these Chinese prisoners of war.Six days after,Australian forces reoccupied Rabaul.They finally realised that the group of 748 Chinese prisoners of war was a“lost army” of China,and others were Cantonese laborers.

Such a discovery raised questions:who were these Chinese servicemen and where were they from? With the assistance of Tim Mack,Chinese interpreter between the Australian forces and Chinese troops,and Rev James Ferguson of The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA),a former Australian missionary in China,the Australians learnt that they were the remnants of double that number (1504) originally before transported to Rabaul in late 1942,and were used as forced laborers to serve the Japanese in New Britain and surrounding islands.Actually,they were originally combined by two portions of prisoners of war:1000 of them were taken from Nanking (Nanjing) camp,the other 504 soldiers were from Zhejiang province.

These 1000 prisoners of war from Nanking were composed by different Chinese troops according to places and periods when they were captured by the Japanese.(1) Soldiers from the“Lost Battalion” (四行孤军营) of the crack 88th Division who defended four bank's warehouse in Shanghai in November 1937 seem the most significant.Originally,57 of these POWs were brought to Rabaul,but only 36 of them survived when the Australians found them in September 1945.Since Shanghai was fallen into the Japanese hand in the fall of 1937,they were taken as prisoners of war.In other words,these men liberated in Rabaul had been interned nearly eight years.(2) Soldiers from the so-called Loyal Army for National Salvation (忠义救国军) under command of General Dai Li (戴笠).This special troop had plenty of affiliated guerilla forces fighting in Anhui,Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces,including suburbs surrounding Shanghai,particularly conducting sabotages to the Japanese.Most of them were captured in 1941 and 1942 during village sweeping activities launched by the Japanese forces.The original figures of this group brought to Rabaul was unknown,but over 100 of them survived.(3) Men from 1st war zone in North China who were soldiers of 9,14,15and 27Armies,the main body of the nationalist forces in Shanxi and Henan provinces under command of General Wei Lihuang (卫立煌).They were captured after fierce fighting to the Japanese during Zhongtiao Mountains Campaign in May 1941.They were interned in Nanking camp of prisoners of war before shipping to New Britain Island in late 1942.The figure of their survivors was similar to those originally from Loyal Army for National Salvation.(4) A small group was composed of soldiers from New 4Army under command of the Chinese Communist Party.Considering its theatres of war mostly covering the above three provinces similar to the Loyal Army of National Salvation,it is not surprised that some of soldiers from New 4Army were captured by the Japanese during different battles.Eight of them survived in Rabaul.(5) Soldiers of new 30Division affiliated to 88Army.This division participated in early stage of battles of Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign launched by the Japanese in May 1942.The captured soldiers were soon transformed to Nanking prisoners of war camp.Around 50 of them survived in Rabaul finally.(6) Others were mostly guerilla forces and militia units affiliated to the above mentioned Anhui,Jiangsu and Zhejiang provincial governments and headquarters of 3and 5war zones.Most of them were captured during the Japanese anti-guerilla sweep in 1942.

Other portion of 504 Chinese prisoners of war came from Zhejiang province,all of them were soldiers of 86Army who fought the Japanese in Quzhou in late May and early June 1942 during Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign.They were captured after defending Quzhou which was under siege of the Japanese and had been attacked over 4 days.They were interned somewhere in Zhejiang before transported to Shanghai in late December in the same year,from Wusong port,departing two days late than their Nanking fellows,they were shipped to Rabaul.Since concentrated on Shanghai,this Zhejiang group had been headed by Lt Col Woo Yien (吴棪).Around 331 of them were liberated by the Australian forces in Rabaul in September 1945.

At the beginning of the face-to-face meeting between the Australians and the Japanese,the later advised that 8000 Asiatic prisoners of war in Rabaul area as special service corps of the Japanese.According to this,when the Australian forces liberated the remnants of 1504 Chinese servicemen prisoners,their status whether regarded as forced laborers or prisoners of war became a question,it required a classification as soon as possible.Fortunately,just one week after,on 18 September,DPW&I (Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees) of Army headquarters confirmed that these Chinese servicemen were classified as recovered prisoners of war.In fact,the Australian forces in Rabaul seemed to understand that these Chinese troops were their Allied comrades.They had reasons to do so as the Australian Imperial Force sent a contingent named“Tulip Force” to China in late 1941 and early 1942,on mission to provide technical aid and training to Chinese guerrillas in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces operating against the Japanese.In other words,as Allied soldiers,they once fought together shoulder by shoulder by facing the common enemy.The liberated Chinese soldiers seemed also sharing the same feeling.On 17 September,when an Australian party approached a camp containing about 70 Chinese soldiers,they stood outside the internment camp to welcome their Allies,holding a long banner inscribed“the road to victory was a success”,“welcome victory for friendly Australian Imperial forces!”The Australians were touched as they noticed that these Chinese soldiers cut up shirts and made themselves special hats and regimental insignia so that they would not be mistaken for Japanese.They also made Chinese national flag hung on the camp gate to welcome their Allied comrades to identify where they were from.The Australians had a strong impression that these Chinese soldiers were proud and defiant,never yielded to the Japanese.They stoically awaited the day of their release.Indeed,the Australians learnt that these Chinese prisoners of war had been treated by the Japanese worse than other Asiatic in New Britain during the past two and a half of years.Half of them died as a result of Japanese maltreatment.Some died from ill-treatment,and others took their own lives.The death rate of Chinese POWs in New Britain and surrounding islands was higher as Japanese atrocities,which included mass murder,shooting,slaughter by swords and bayonets,buries alive,etc.Their fate could be compared with 600 English gunners who were captured in Singapore and were also taken to Ballalae Island in 1942.All of them died either by ill-treatment or killing,apart from 28 of them were left in Rabaul because of sickness during their transferring from Singapore to Ballalae Island.

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