In This Chapter

The Perfect Storm

Japanese military brutality during World War Two

Authored by: Mark Felton

The Routledge History of Genocide

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415529969
eBook ISBN: 9781315719054
Adobe ISBN: 9781317514848


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Hong Kong, Christmas Day 1941. British nurses stood clutching each other in terror, tears of anguish running down their weary and grimy faces. Japanese soldiers were all around them, bayonets glinting dully in the early morning sun, their khaki uniforms dirty and their faces blackened by smoke and streaked with sweat. Nearby were 21 men, some British, some Canadian, some Chinese, all of them naked. They were kneeling with their hands tied behind their backs. 1 A Japanese officer strode imperiously around, his katana sword held stiffly in his left hand. His commands were sharp and guttural. Beside the British and Chinese nurses stood Major Barfill, commanding officer of the Salesian Mission Advanced Dressing Station in Hong Kong. He was pale and strained by the last few days of intensive work. Kneeling on the grass in a rough line before the Mission were five fellow army doctors. Men who had dedicated their lives to easing the pain of others now were victims of an army seemingly devoid of compassion. The nurses were terrified, and rightly so, for the Japanese had a fearsome reputation for murder and rape gained from a war on the Chinese mainland. The Japanese officer strode towards the kneeling doctors, drawing a Nambu pistol from its brown leather holster and cocking it with a harsh metallic click. Standing behind the first British doctor the officer levelled his pistol at the back of his head, Major Barfill watching through unbelieving eyes. The Japanese officer squeezed the trigger. The pistol shot seemed dreadfully loud as the doctor’s body slumped to the ground, the head half shot away. Calmly, the Japanese officer moved slowly down the line, shooting each of the doctors once in the back of the head. The nurses were sobbing uncontrollably by this point, as were many of the young medical orderlies and volunteers who were watching. The Japanese officer shouted some instructions to his subordinates, and eight young soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada, who had been volunteering in the hospital or driving ambulances, were savagely kicked and beaten forward. Other Japanese drew their katana swords as their men pushed the Canadians down on their knees. This was followed swiftly by the swish of a sword blade cutting the air, then cutting flesh and bone. The watching Japanese soldiers cheered and applauded. Other Japanese ran their bayonets through British medics, the Japanese soldiers’ screams and shouts echoing across the hills. After murdering five doctors and thirteen orderlies ‘the Japanese then started butchering some of the wounded patients, forcing Major Barfill to watch’. 2 Such was the fate of many of those unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War. Japanese troops killed up to, according to some estimates, 30 million people during the war, most of them civilians. Imperial forces also murdered prisoners-of-war on numerous occasions. Many massacres have entered the national consciousness of the countries that were affected while others remain largely unknown.

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