WWII Australian Nurses who were Interned in Yokohama


By Mrs. Mayumi Komiya, POWRNJ member

   At 2006 Camberra Seminar of POW Research Network Japan


Translated by Yuka Ibuki, with assistance by Anthony P. Walsh




I work at a school founded by an American missionary in 1880. American female missionaries had always served as Principal at this school. However, just before the outbreak of WWII, Miss Olive I Hodges, who had devotedly worked for the school for a long time, was forced to retire. When war broke out she, along with other foreign residents still in Japan were gradually interned. It was utterly tragic to see Miss Hodges, who was loved and respected by everyone, being regarded as an enemy and robbed of her freedom. This incident aroused my interest in the wartime internment of civilians during WWII. In Australia, I understand the experiences of those brave nurses who were held by the Japanese Army are well known. However, internment in Japan during WWII is notable for the differences in the treatment of those residents originally in Japan and those captured and forcibly brought to Japan. I’d like to speak today about civilian interment in general, and about the three years spent by eighteen Australian women who were brought from Rabaul to Yokohama.


1.Internment of Civilian Residents from Enemy Countries Who Remained in Japan

It was in December 1941 that Japan entered WWII. Japan had been engaged in warfare in China since 1937, but hadn’t participated in the European theatre of war, which started in 1939. Japan didn’t follow the advice of the Western powers to withdraw her forces from China. In July 1940, the US introduced a permission system for the export of oil and scrap iron to Japan, and in August 1941, the US placed an absolute embargo on the export of fuel to Japan. Through those economic blockades, war against the US and other Allied countries gradually seemed inevitable for Japan. Consequently, a new problem arose about how to deal with those non-Japanese residents of Japan who would be enemies in a war against their countries. The Ministry of Home Affairs formulated a policy of interning male adults in camps and confining female adults, children and the elderly at home under police surveillance. Reasons given for the internment and surveillance were to prevent espionage and guarantee their personal security. The Police Department and its prefectural branches began secret preparations, such as ascertaining their whereabouts and establishing internment camps. The internment of foreign residents began on December 8 as soon as Japan launched its war against the US and the Allies.


The policy was to have interment camps in prefectures where the foreign residents lived, so camps were opened in almost every prefecture, bringing the total number of internment camps to 35. Those to be interned were males aged between eighteen and forty-five, but in practice a lot of elderly men over sixty were detained. In some areas, it included even religious nuns, so the total number of those interned was 342 at this time. Viewed by nationality, there were 106 British, 93 Americans, 67 Canadians, and only one Australian, Paul Vinogradoff, who had been teaching music in Tokyo. Most had lived in Japan and were engaged in business, education and religious activities. There were a small number of crewmembers of ships which were captured at the outbreak of war. The Japanese Government at that time perhaps didn’t expect to detain a lot of civilians or prisoners of war from outside Japan.


As the war developed however, quite a large number of foreigners began to be taken to Japan for internment, along with POWs from the battlefield and others on ships that had been captured. The first group which came in January 1942 consisted of 132 civilians who were captured along with the POWs in the Guam Campaign and were interned at Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. [ Kevin Menzies writes: Rod in this excellent article, there is a slight error of fact.They were in fact the second group. On Jan 6th 1942 a group of 8 men arrived from the Gilbert Islands, They were 3 New Zealand Post Office civilian employees and their 4 New Zealand Army soldier “companions”. (They were in fact Coast watchers in place in the Gilbert Islands to report by radio on Japanese movements prior to the Japanese entering the war and for as long as possible once they had entered the war.)Also in this Group was the 8th member, a British colonial administrator. They were interned as POW’s throughout the war.]

In July 1942, eighteen Australian nurses were captured in Rabaul, and were interned at Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture. In the same month of July, 138 passengers of the Nanjing were captured in the Indian Ocean by the German Navy and were detained in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture. In September, 40 Aleutians who were captured on Attu in the Aleutian Islands were interned at Otaru City in Hokkaido. In December, the Op ten Noort, a Dutch Hospital Ship was captured at sea near Indonesia, and a total of forty-four Dutch officers and crew members, including fifteen nurses, were interned at Miyoshi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, while thirty-five Indonesian sailors from the same ship were taken to Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. Then in March 1944, twenty-two Dutch electrical engineers and their families were taken from Java and interned at Minato-Ward, Tokyo. As the result, around 430 detainees were forcibly taken and interned in Japan proper. This type of internment was obviously different from the civilian internment that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Police had foreseen at the beginning. Compared to those long term residents of Japan who were accustomed to Japanese culture and were respected by the people around them, life for those internees who had no choice but to come to Japan in the clothes they were in when captured was much more severe.


The internment camps, originally established in nearly every prefecture, were unified into six, i.e. in Tokyo and five prefectures, at the end of March, 1942, for convenience of surveillance. On the other hand, more and more civilians from abroad were brought to Japan for internment. Therefore, many new camps were opened and internees were frequently moved. Moreover, a change in policy in September 1942 meant that those females, who had not originally been subject to internment were to be detained. After that, teachers, missionaries, nuns, and kindergarten teachers, which also included many women, were detained in camps. Italy, which was one of the Axis powers, surrendered to the Allies in July 1943 and its citizens became enemies in September, causing the internment of some Italian residents in Japan.


In the meantime, three chances to return to their home countries were offered to the internees. In June 1942, 76 interned civilians went home in the first exchange by ship between the US and Japan, and in the following month of July, 60 went home through a ship exchange between Britain and Japan. Then in September 1943, the second ship exchange between the US and Japan made it possible for 73 internees to go home. A total of 209 civilian internees would make it home on the exchange ships during the war. However, these chances were given exclusively to those original residents of Japan, while those who were forcibly taken to Japan were not so fortunate.


Chart 1 shows the internment camps in Japan and movements of the internees. The Australian nurses were put in Kanagawa Internment Camp #2.


2Australian Nurses Captured in Rabaul

It was January 23, 1942 when 15,000 Japanese troops landed on New Britain Island, a UK mandated territory located north east of New Guinea. By January 26, the main part of the island was occupied by the Japanese, and the defending Australian forces lost around 300, while 833 were taken prisoner. Prior to the enemy landing, the Australian Forces 10th Field Ambulance Hospital evacuated along the coastline from the island capital of Rabaul to Kokopo amid fierce shelling from the sea The nurses surrendered to the Japanese on January 23, along with more than 100 patients. I’d like to recommend two books on the experiences of the nurses during the internment: “Prisoners of War: Australians Under Nippon” by Dr. Hank Nelson, and “Not Now Tomorrow” by Alice Bowman, who was one of the survivors. Japanese materials include “Monthly Report on Foreign Affairs”, (referred to below as "MRFA"). The following is the list of names of the seventeen nurses and one farm owner who became POWs of the Japanese in Rabaul.







ANDERSON Marjory Jean


Australian Army Nurses

Army Nurse



Australian Army Nurses

Died in Australia



Australian Army Nurses


KEAST Daisy Cardin


Australian Army Nurses




Australian Army Nurses


WHYTE Lorna Margaret


Australian Army Nurses


BOWMAN Alice Mary


Administration Nurses from Namanula Hospital

The rest are civilian nurses

GOSS Mary Elizabeth


Namanula Hospital


HARRIS Joyce Dorothy Oldroyd


Namanula Hospital



KRUGER Grace Dorothy


Namanula Hospital



McGAHAN Joyce Celestine


Namanula Hospital





Namanula Hospital



MAYE Dorothy Mary


Namanula Hospital



WILSON Dora Epacris


Methodist Mission Nurses



BEALEDorothy Liky


Methodist Mission Nurses





Methodist Mission Nurses



GREEN Mavis Fanny


Methodist Mission Nurses



BIGNELL Kathleen Dorothy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                


Plantation owner


*Names are from “List of Internees”, from The National Archives Japan, and “Not Now Tomorrow”. Age data is from MRFA July, 1942”, and professions are taken from “Not Now Tomorrow”.


The women were detained in the Vunapope Mission for a month, and then were moved to a convent within the mission on February 25, spending five months there. During that time they were under the control of the Japanese Army and exposed to constant threats and violence from the soldiers.

On July 6, 1942, the eighteen Australian women - seventeen nurses and one farm owner, were sent to Japan on the Naruto-Maru, along with the Australian officers of the Rabaul unit. After crossing the equator in the middle of summer and ten days at sea, the ship arrived safely in Yokohama Harbor.


3. Internment at Yokohama

Arriving in Japan, they were interned in the Bund Hotel, which fronted Yokohama Harbor. Founded in 1928 and situated on Bund Street, the two-storied Bund Hotel had fifty guest rooms. Clean rooms and good meals pleased the nurses at first, but gradually the amount of food began to decline. At this hotel, Mrs. Etta Jones, an American teacher sixty-three years old, joined them for the first time. She had been teaching English to the aboriginal Aleuts on Attu Island, but when the Japanese occupied Attu in June 1942, she had been taken to Yokohama for internment. Now the Australian nurses and the American, Mrs. Jones were to spend more than three years supporting each other.

After a few weeks at the Bund Hotel, they were moved to Kanagawa Internment Camp #2, the Yokohama Yacht Club located at Shin-Yamashita-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama City. It was a two-storied concrete building of more than 600 square meters, and fronted Yokohama Yacht Harbor. They were interned on the second floor. Food was scarce, and sometimes they caught floating vegetables from the sea with bamboo sticks and a piece of string.

They were not subject to the kinds of atrocities that had occurred at the POW Camp on New Britain Island, but were forced to do work such as making envelopes and little cloth bags for holding religious talismans. The August 1942 issue of the MRFA states that the work was given to them “as they needed to buy everyday necessities, but had no Japanese currency, so we let them do work such as making and talisman bags, which also helped to keep them in good health. They worked from August 21 guided by Miss Hana Yamazawa, instructor of the Welfare Work Center, and could make five to seven items per day. They made around 20 sen per day, and six yen per month.” Six yen per month was one seventh of the salary of new graduates from girls' schools.

After about two years at the Yokohama Yacht Club, the nurses were moved to 4573 Izumi-cho, Totuska-ku (present day Izumi-ku), Yokohama-City. The MRFA makes no mention of their movement at that time. However, Mr. Rod Miller from Sydney says on his excellent website with photos that it was in July 1944. Being located in the central area of Yokohama, the Yokohama Yacht Club must have become a dangerous area because of the intense air raids as the war situation worsened for Japan.

The building at Totsuka was a former isolation ward for contagious diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and cholera, a wooden one-story building of 300 square meters, which stood in a nearly 20 acre lot, surrounded by woods. Nowadays the location is a busy area consisting of the local ward office and a shopping center, but at that time it was a quiet agricultural village near the Chogo Highway. Differing from life at the Yokohama Yacht Club, where the nurses were prohibited from even taking one step outside, they could grow vegetables in the garden of the new camp and were allowed to take walks in groups of several people around the camp. The neighbors had no ill-feelings towards foreigners, and some offered them potatoes and other vegetables as they met them. At a meeting between the neighbors and the authorities prior to the opening of the camp the local people were told, “These ladies believe that someday Japan will lose the war and the Americans will come to help them. Therefore, do not offer them anything and do not hurt them in any way.” However, no explanation was given about their nationality, so the neighbors thought they must be Americans from Yokohama.

In “Not Now Tomorrow”, there appears a female cook who took care of their everyday life and was called “Obasan” by them in Japanese, which is a common word used to describe middle-aged female workers. Mr. Kenji Yamakawa, who now lives at the old location of the camp, is the son of this “Obasan”. I interviewed him twice, in 1995 and 1997. He was twelve at that time, and lived in a little hut inside the camp with his mother and little sisters, after his father and some of his seven siblings had passed away. According to him, the foreign ladies lived in seven former bedrooms of the patients, each of which was around 13 square meters, and there were a police guard and Mr. Yoshida, an interpreter in the two Japanese style rooms by the front door. The ladies were growing vegetables and flowers in the garden. All of them were sweet and kind, but he was once scolded by Miss Parker as he naughtily took a vegetable. A few policemen took turns, and they were gentle people.

In Totsuka, the nurses were not forced to do any work but had to pump water at the well as well as carry wood and stumps home for fuel. They were not used to the vegetable growing either, and “Obasan” instructed them. As the war situation got worse, the food shortage gradually became serious. To quote Mavis Cullen’s statement in “Prisoners of War: AUSTRALIANS UNDER NIPPON”, “We were losing weight and we were hungry and it was cold. And we were all sick. I escaped malaria, but we all had dysentery, beriberi, and tapeworm.”

Information about the POWs should have been passed on to the Central Intelligence Agency of POWs in Geneva, in accordance with International Wartime Laws. However, the Japanese Government had never passed on anything about the Australian Nurses, and their internment at Yokohama had long been hidden from the international world. In January 1945, the Japan Representative of the Int. Board of the Red Cross passed on an inquiry to the POW Information Bureau of the Japanese Army, titled “Regarding Information on the Non-Combatants and POWs interned at Rabaul, New Britain”. It was a request that they wanted to meet the Australian POWs held at Zentsuji POW Camp to get information about the safety of non-combatants in Rabaul, as they had received very little information about them from Japanese authorities. On May 2, 1945, the Chief of the POW Information Bureau sent them a flat rejection, saying, “As all the information we received about the non-combatants and POWs of the enemy countries has been passed on, there is no more we can do.” Then on June 16, two months before the end of the war, in a reply sent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Minister of the Swiss Legation, they finally admitted that there were Australian nurses interned in Totsuka Internment Camp and sent them a list of nineteen names, including the American, Etta Jones. The Japanese Government had hesitated to make their internment public. Being alone in the world with their existence hidden, the nurses encouraged each other and endured food shortages as they waited for victory and liberation.


In May 1945, there was a major air raid over Yokohama, and large-scale air raids such as the Kawasaki Air Raid occurred in June, and the Hiratsuka Air Raid in July, but nothing happened around Izumi-cho, Totsuka. A rumor among the neighbors of the camp was that because of the foreign residents, the area was safe from air raids.

The war ended with the surrender of Japan. A few days later, supply goods were parachuted from aircraft, which is described as follows in A Hundred Years of Nakawada Primary School” compiled by the local school: “Around August 20, soon after the end of the war, a drum of supply goods was dropped by a US Forces plane for the foreigners (military personnel) interned in the isolation ward building of Izumi-cho. With an astounding noise, it crashed through the ceiling of Nakawada Primary School. The drum broke open and the content scattered all around. Members of the Civil Defense rushed to the scene, collected the goods and delivered them to the foreign ladies in the isolation ward.” Their starvation had changed into abundance, and the internees had eaten them in such a hurry that it made them sick.

On August 30, the occupation army started to be stationed on Japanese territory. Two days after that, a bus from the US force came to pick them up. They were liberated, and went home, but Miss. Eileen Callaghan, who had been suffering from a serious case of TB passed away some time later in a South Australian hospital, having sent a cheerful letter to Alice Bowman saying that she was glad she’d die in Australia.


4. Unique Features of the Internment of the Australian Nurses

In comparison with other internment camps in Japan, the Australian nurses from Rabaul had had experiences more severe and in some features, unique. First, while they were in New Britain, they were under the direct control of the Japanese Army, and like the POWs, exposed to violence, atrocities, and even sexual harassment by the soldiers. According to Hank Nelson's book, they were slapped in the face for not bowing deeply enough and were kicked, while some soldiers enjoyed threatening them by trying to urinate on them. There were nights in which some soldiers tried to enter their rooms. A German Bishop with strong influence over the Japanese soldiers had talked with their commander, who stopped such behavior. Since they were taken to Japan, they were under the control of the police, and the danger of violence had lessened. However, some had experienced a few face slappings by some policemen, which differed from the original foreign residents in Japan, who in general were never hit.

Secondly, they were assigned some compulsory work, as mentioned before, while they were at the Yokohama Yacht Club. The original foreign resident internees had never been forced to do any work. The Aleuts in Hokkaido were forced to dig up kaolin everyday, while the passengers of the Nanjing in Fukushima were made to disassemble old books and so on to make wrapping bags for fruit on trees. The police claimed these works were side jobs introduced to the internees for the purpose of letting them buy daily necessities, however, in reality it was forced labor.

On top of the other problems, the Japanese Government kept the existence of the nurses secret, rejecting inquiries from the Australian Government or the International Red Cross. On December 9, the day following the outbreak of war, the International Red Cross in Geneva made a proposal to the Japanese Government about establishing a POW Information Bureau, based on the 1929 Geneva Conventions on the treatment of POWs. The Japanese Government accepted this proposal, and opened the POW Information Bureau within the Army Ministry on December 27. Therefore, they had a duty to provide a list of civilian internees as well as of POWs. However, they didn’t perform that duty until June 1945, as far as the Australian nurses were concerned. That made it impossible for the nurses to receive visits by the International Red Cross Board delegates, aid money or relief supplies. They had also been excluded from the correspondence privileges allowed to POWs and civilian internees. Without encouragement from their home country, religious support and comfort from the Catholic Church, as well as being isolated from the international community, they fought these difficulties on their own. Why? Here lies a problem that needs recognition and clarification.


Not only those nurses, most of the internees at Hokkaido, Fukushima and Kobe as well had gone through the fires of battle, become exposed to extreme exhaustion and stress, and were brought to Japan against their will. They didn’t understand the Japanese language, were not used to the Japanese climate, and had totally different eating and other customs. Moreover, they came with no belongings, just the clothes they were in, and were unable to buy everyday necessities, and with no friends to bring them supplies. We can imagine how they must have had strong psychological fear and anxiety towards the enemy country. Therefore, among those internees who had been brought to Japan, there were many cases of sickness and death from the beginning of their internment. Out of forty Aleuts sent to Japan, sixteen died, while of their five babies who were born in Otaru, four died, making a total of twenty deaths. Of the Americans who were brought to Kobe from Guam, four died, and Fukushima Internment Camp produced four deaths. In the case of the Australian nurses interned at Yokohama, all managed to make it home, which is attributed to their cooperative spirit, wisdom and courage.



The Australian War Museum has photos of these nurses right after they were liberated. Although they seem haggard, the survivors of that awful internment look dignified and wonderful. Of all the 22,000 Australian POWs, just 10,435 returned home, including a couple of dozen women. To my regret, such history like this between Australia and Japan is little known in Japan. However, it was in fact through the help of one of my students that I could find the site of the Totsuka Internment Camp. One day I told them in class that the US supply goods dropped from an airplane came through the ceiling of the nearby Nakawada Primary School, and a student said, “It was my school!” She came along with me as I interviewed some elderly people in the neighborhood, and I could verify the site of the camp. I’ll continue to work on further research on those Australian nurses who were interned at Yokohama where I live, and tell my students what happened between Australia and Japan.