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Japanese War Crimes in the Pacific: Australia's investigations and prosecutions

4 The Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees and the Australian War Crimes Sections

Image 11: Lt Col John Warry Flannagan

Image 11: Lt Col John Warry Flannagan
NAA: B883, VX65494
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Until early 1945, administrative action and liaison work regarding war crimes was the responsibility of the Directorate of Personal Services, based at Army Headquarters (AHQ) in Melbourne. In early 1945, however, the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees (DPW&I), also at AHQ Melbourne accepted this responsibility. The four major duties of the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees were:

  • the custody and control of civilian internees held in Australia
  • the custody and control of enemy prisoners of war
  • the protection of welfare and interests of Australian prisoners of war held by the enemy, and the organisation of arrangements for their recovery
  • the tracing, apprehension and trial of minor146 war criminals.

The officer in charge of the directorate held the title of 'Director' and he had full executive responsibility for exercising and administrating war crimes investigations and prosecutions. The key officers in this role were Colonel Edgar Allan Griffin OBE (August 1945 – July 1947) and Lt Col John Warry Flannagan (July 1947 – July 1950), who was a barrister in civilian life.147

Image 12: Organisation of DPW&I in 1946

Image 12: Organisation of DPW&I in 1946
NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1
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Nominal rolls, at least in part, of officers serving or attached to the directorate can be located in the unpublished official history of the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees148 and their individual service records can be located in RecordSearch by searching by name or service number.

In December 1945, a section of the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees devoted to war crimes matters was established.149 Its duties were:

  • the collection and collation of evidence to assist with the prosecution of alleged war criminals
  • the establishment of a registry of suspects
  • the establishment of military courts for the trial of minor war criminals
  • administrative action on court findings and sentences.

Various sections were established under the existing Assistant Adjutant General (AAG) (War Crimes), including administrative, registry and investigation sections,150 each of which was headed by a Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG). The Administrative Section was responsible for, among other things:

  • control of general policy over war crimes
  • the handling of personal records, postings and movements of staff
  • arrangement of the movement of war crimes suspects and witnesses
  • the handling of the war crimes trial proceedings.

The Registry Section was responsible for:

  • the production and maintenance of a card registry system of all war criminals and suspects
  • the compilation, maintenance and distribution of lists of war crimes suspects in custody, suspects not in custody but wanted and, in due course, war criminals sentenced by Australian Military Courts.151

The War Crimes Investigation Section was responsible for:

  • obtaining and examining evidence of war crimes
  • searching for suspects.

The Investigation Section and the production of the Australian lists will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.

There are two comprehensive indexes to directorate files held at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).152 Many of these files can be located in series MP742/1; however, a number of them appear to have been destroyed, including some which have tantalisingly interesting titles.

The Australian War Crimes Sections

Outside Australia, the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees established two Australian War Crimes Sections (AWCS), known as 1AWCS and 2AWCS.

1AWCS was first based in Singapore, where it was attached to Allied Headquarters, South East Asian Command (SEAC), and worked closely with the British war crimes team based there. 1AWCS was both an investigation and prosecution section, responsible for trials at Singapore, Hong Kong and Manus Island. In what looks like wishful thinking in hindsight, Colonel EA Griffin estimated in early 1946 that the bulk of the work of 1AWCS would be 'completed in approximately six to nine months'.153 However, 1AWCS was still in operation several years later, based in Hong Kong and later on Manus Island.

2AWCS was based in Tokyo, where it was established as the Australian Division of General Headquarters Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (GHQ SCAP) Legal Section from March 1946. Although it was originally assumed 2AWCS would be an investigation and prosecution section similar to 1AWCS, it was primarily an investigatory section. General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander, would never permit Australia to set up its own war crimes court in Japan. In addition to investigating cases that went on to be tried in the Australian war crimes trials, 2AWCS investigated cases that were tried by the United States military tribunals at Yokohama. Moreover, personnel for 2AWCS included an officer – Lt Col Francis GJ Place – whose duty was to act as the Australian court member on the US trials. Various other 2AWCS members also served as prosecutors on the US trials, including Major Douglas M Campbell, Major Herbert F Dick, Major Robert RB Hickson and Captain EG Thwaites.154 The Yokohama trials are briefly discussed in Chapter 9.

Image 13: Nominal roll of officers serving at 1AWCS

Image 13: Nominal roll of officers serving at 1AWCS
NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1
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Nominal rolls, at least in part, of officers and enlisted personnel serving over time with the two AWCS can be found in various files and in the unpublished official history of the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees.155

While the nominal rolls for 1AWCS and 2AWCS often do not list female staff, civilian women worked for both sections, usually as clerical staff. A more unusual appointment was Miss Doris Heath, a graduate of the Army School of Languages and former sergeant in the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS), who worked as an interpreter and translator at 2AWCS.

While both Australian War Crimes Sections were Army units, other service personnel were attached as appropriate. For instance, several Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officers were attached to assist in investigations, as many victims of war crimes were RAAF personnel. As one senior officer put it in February 1946, there was 'likely to be a public demand' that the RAAF 'be represented in the organization which seeks retribution'.156 These officers were not just air force liaisons in Army units; they were full investigators who played important roles. For instance, Flt Lt Lionel C Conduit, who was attached to both 1AWCS and 2AWCS, was highly praised and recommended for promotion, as he had displayed:

outstanding ability and application to duty as a result of which a number of known war crimes have been solved and a number of previously unsuspected war crimes … have been unearthed … His mind is keen, his thinking clear and logical, and his capacity for work and attention to detail is limitless.157

2AWCS even attached a New Zealander, Captain James G Godwin, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, who worked as an investigating officer.

Anecdotally, both AWCS were usually understaffed for the work they were meant to undertake, possibly as the war establishments had been drafted with excessive brevity of personnel numbers. As Lt Col Duncan LB Goslett, the Officer Commanding 2AWCS, pointed out in October 1947, his section was then covering 35 investigations with only four investigating officers, a load of eight investigations per officer.158

By January 1948, the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees was pleading with the Army for more personnel for 2AWCS, to handle not only investigations but also outstanding cases.159 In addition to shortages of investigators, court members, court staff, administrative staff and interpreters were also often in short supply. 1AWCS, for instance, pleaded for interpreters almost immediately in March 1946, as they were 'being forced [to] use Japs for interrogations' and 'best results cannot be obtained without independent interpreter to conduct interrogation or check Jap interpreter'.160 Similarly, by May 1946, the section was struggling with only one qualified court reporter.161

Overwork undoubtedly compounded the general stress suffered by overseas war crimes personnel. Not only were they still serving long after many other officers and soldiers had been demobilised, they were stationed overseas and often in basic or adverse conditions, which all took a toll on both physical and mental wellbeing. For instance, Mr CV Rooney, the civilian prosecutor selected to try the cases at Manus Island in 1950–51, lasted only weeks before his severe asthma meant he was repatriated to Australia. Similarly, a court member was returned from Manus Island in 1950 suffering from urticaria (hives) and acute auditory and visual hallucinations. Shortages were compounded by attrition, as personnel sought release for a variety of reasons, including illness and compassionate grounds.

Other war crimes investigators

Apart from the two AWCS, there were smaller, less formal war crimes sections elsewhere, such as at the 8 Military District in Rabaul, New Britain. The local chief legal officer confided that the war crimes section there was known 'more offensively' as 'the W.C. Section'.162 Other Army units, such as the Australian Prisoner of War Contact and Inquiry Units (PWCIUs), were also engaged in war crimes investigation activities, particularly in relation to prisoners of war. For instance, Captain Eric B Bailey, 3PWCIU, wrote up a report on Sham Shui Po prisoner-of- war camp in Kowloon and the Japanese treatment of Allied prisoners of war which later was provided to the Australian War Crimes Commission.163

In many areas of South-East Asia, however, war crimes investigations became the responsibility of local Allied military headquarters (that is, sometimes Australian Military Forces but often British), forward units or Australian liaison officers attached to other Allied forces. This meant that single officers sometimes carried the large burden of investigating war crimes in some areas.

Major Harold S Williams, for instance, was assigned as the Australian officer attached to the Recovered Personnel Division, Adv AFPAC (US Army Forces, Pacific) in Tokyo, where he spent quite a bit of time investigating, among other missing personnel, what had happened to Australian soldiers and civilians in Rabaul who had been shipped on the ill-fated Montevideo Maru.164 Williams conceded in a letter to the historian David Sissons in December 1975, however, that while his 'attention and enthusiasm was focused upon a search for facts' in relation to war crimes, the 'administrative portion' of his work was 'of little interest', which is why he recalled almost nothing about the organisational structure in Japan.165

Unlike Harold Williams, sometimes these lone officers actually had little to no administrative support. For instance, Captain John Myles Williams (no relation), the legal officer for Headquarters 33rd Infantry Brigade, had no staff and only four months to investigate atrocities committed on Ambon after arriving there in September 1945. During this period, he had to collect evidence, arrest suspects and prepare prosecution cases.166 John Williams became a judge later in life, and an interesting series of his correspondence from this period is held in his papers in the State Library of New South Wales.167

Similarly, in Western Java in late 1945, investigations into the deaths of about 1000 Australians, 'many of whom had been brutally murdered' after the Japanese occupation in 1942, were being carried out by a single officer.168 As that officer, Flt Lt HM McDonald, wearily observed:

volumes of evidence is snowballing in daily, and it is quite beyond the establishment of one junior officer to dessicate [sic] and classify it even if he did not have to travel many miles and interrogate people at the same time.169

At this early stage, too, Australian policy regarding the investigation or prosecution of war criminals had not yet been established, so investigators were working without real knowledge of the parameters of their authority, duties or the actual end goal of their investigations. McDonald, for instance, had 'found it increasingly difficult' to 'carry out his job effectively owing to the lack of a directive laying down the policy of the Australian Government regarding the eventual bringing to justice of the war criminals'.170 McDonald was formally attached to 1AWCS in early 1946 but, despite Army assurances of extra assistance in Java, as well as increased status, authority and allowances, McDonald reported in February 1946 that he felt:

very strongly that justice is not being done to either, living or dead service personnel against whom crimes were committed, to the relatives of those missing, or to the hopelessly inadequate staff, who are endeavouring to do this job under difficult circumstances'.171

Lt Col RC Smith, the officer commanding 1AWCS, who thus now commanded McDonald, took a dim view of McDonald bypassing proper channels to send this complaint directly to no less than the Chief of Air Staff.172 Smith asked for the question of McDonald's continued attachment to 1AWCS to be considered as 'one of urgency'.173 McDonald seemed about to be recalled to Australia amid some suspicions about his activities when, on 17 April 1946, he and another RAAF war crimes investigator who had subsequently arrived in Java, Sqn Ldr FG Birchall, were both killed in an ambush.174 McDonald and Birchall were the only two Australian war crimes investigators to die on duty. They were buried at the Batavia (now Jakarta) War Cemetery.175

The end of the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees

The magnitude of the directorate's duties obviously increased and then waned over its existence. War crimes investigations by the directorate officially ended on 13 January 1950; however, certain administrative war crimes duties continued, such as receiving the records of trial proceedings from Manus Island.176

Overview of the records

This chapter sorts records into several sections:

  • official history of the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees (DPW&I)
  • directorate operations, policies and correspondence
  • records of the 1st Australian War Crimes Section (1AWCS)
  • records of the 2nd Australian War Crimes Section (2AWCS)
  • Japanese prisoner of war information.177

Files held at the Australian War Memorial are listed separately at the end.


146 Although this would suggest no involvement whatsoever with Japanese 'major' war criminals, this was not necessarily the case but DPW&I activity in relation to 'major' war criminals was certainly incidental to duties regarding 'minor' war criminals.

147 For their personnel files, see NAA: B883, VX108122 (Griffin) and VX65494 (Flannagan).

148 'Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 1939–51', part VI, pp. 472–76, NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1. A handwritten early list of appointments at DPW&I as of 5 July 1945 can be found in AWM: AWM226, 96.

149 For the War Establishment dated 7 December 1945, see NAA: MP742/1, 96/1/2868.

150 For an overview of the sections and their responsibilities, see 'Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 1939–51', part VI, pp. 414–16, NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1.

151 For the instructions to the registry clerks, see 'AMF Registry of Japanese War Criminals' in NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/2196.

152 See AWM: AWM226, 36 and 37.

153 Memorandum from Lt Col EA Griffin, DPW&I to Maj Mackenzie, 9 January 1946, NAA: MP742/1, 251/1/2234.

154 For further information on the United States Yokohama trials, see Chapter 9.

155 'Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 1939-51',
part VI, pp. 472–76, NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1.

156 'Retribution' was an unusual choice of words for a senior officer: see minute paper from W Cdr GO Reid, D/DFS (Cas) to the Secretary, Department of Air, 4 February 1946, p. 1, NAA: A705, 32/6/127.

157 Memorandum from Lt DLB Goslett, OC, 2AWCS, to AHQ, n.d., NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1096 PART 16.

158 Memorandum from Lt Col DLB Goslett, OC, 2AWCS to Lt Col JW Flannagan, DPW&I, 14 October 1947, NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1096 PART 15. For Goslett's personnel file see NAA: B2458, 240000.

159 Memorandum from Lt Col JW Flannagan, DPW&I, 'Staff Requirements – 2 Aust War Crimes Sec (SCAP), 22 January 1948, NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1096 PART 16.

160 Message from 1AWCS to Landforces, 19 March 1946, NAA: MP742/1, 251/1/2234.

161 Letter from Lt Col RC Smith, OC, 1AWCS to Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 18 May 1946, NAA: MP742/1, 251/1/2234.

162 WC is an abbreviation for water closet, that is, toilet. Memorandum from Col Crofton Stephens, Chief Legal Officer, HQ, 8MD to Brig AS Lloyd, Director of Legal Services, HQ AMF, 11 March 1946, p. 1, NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/338. This gives an excellent overview of the operations of the section.

163 For Bailey's report, see AWM: AWM226, 92.

164 See some of his reports in NAA: B3856, 144/14/81.

165 Letter from Harold Williams to Dr Scissons [sic], 18 December 1975, Papers of Harold S Williams, National Library of Australia, MS6681, Series 1, Box 4, File 30B.

166 JM Williams, 'Australian War Crimes Trials 1945-1951: National Sentiment, Australian Ethos, their Historical Genesis and Impact on the Trials', unpublished MA thesis, University of Sydney, November 1988, p. 29, held in Papers of John Myles Williams, 1927–89, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 5426, Box 3, Folder 7.

167 ibid.

168 See Flt Lt HM McDonald, Report on Situation in Java, 11 November 1945, p. 1, NAA: A705, 32/6/127.

169 Flt Lt HM McDonald, Report on Situation in Java, 11 November 1945, p. 4, NAA: A705, 32/6/127.

170 Reported in memorandum from Brigadier --, General Staff, HQ Allied Forces, Netherlands East Indies, SEAC to CAS and RAAF HQ, Melbourne, 22 December 1945, NAA: A705, 32/6/127.

171 Flt Lt HM McDonald, Australian War Crimes Section, Batavia, to Casualty Section, RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne, and copy to Chief of Air Staff, 19 February 1946, p. 1, NAA: A705, 32/6/127.

172 Letter from Lt Col RC Smith, OC, 1AWCS, to HQ AMF, 22 March 1946, p.1, NAA: A705, 32/6/127.

173 ibid, p. 3.

174 For an account of their deaths, see memorandum by Air Vice Marshal, Chief of the Air Staff for the Minister, 26 April 1946, attaching a report, NAA: A705, 32/6/127.

175 See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission,

176 See 'Trials of Japanese Suspect Minor War Criminals', AWM: AWM166, 5.

177 Further records on Japanese prisoners of war and internees in Australian custody can be found in Pam Oliver's separate archival guide: Pam Oliver, Allies, Enemies and Trading Partners: Records on Australia and the Japanese, Canberra: National Archives of Australia, 2004.


Chapter 4
The Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees and The Australian War Crimes Sections