Paymaster Under Fire – Part 2

The Adventures of Lt. Col. Thurston Humphrey Sweeny OBE.
Royal Army Pay Corps

One of our favourite life stories at The AGC Museum is that of T.H.Sweeny, so we have decided to do a series of posts about him and his varied and interesting career!
This is part two of our blog series. If you haven’t seen our first post you can find it here. Today we are going to talk about one of Sweeny’s first successes in Saigon.

When Sweeny arrived in Saigon he reported to Gracey at his Palais Jucoch headquarters as soon as he could. There, Gracey told him that he was to take over the Financial Advisor Saigon position, something which Sweeny protested should have gone to a Treasury man, and that he was not trained for such work. Gracey replied that he had requested a Treasury man but that they wouldn’t send him one. ‘You don’t find them at the sharp end of operations like this. They stick to the rear area HQs like Ceylon or Dehli.’ Sweeny was the only one who knew anything about finance so he was told to get on with it and not question his orders (despite what the Senior RAPC Officer in Rangoon had said).

One of the first things that Sweeny did was to go, along with his small team and a platoon of Gurkhas, to the Yokohama Specie Bank (the pre-war HSB bank) as this was the financial link between Saigon and Tokyo. The building was staffed by hundreds of Japanese clerks, all going about their day as normal. Sweeny dismissed all the clerks, who were then searched by the Gurkhas before they could leave. Every key was to be kept and labelled; the two chief cashiers were retained and showed where each key was for. It was going well until they came to the second door of the strong room… the two combination locks had been jammed and neither the manager nor his clerks could open the door ‘not even with the assistance of the occasional prod in the back with a kukri’! Sweeny gave the manager 24 hours to open the door, otherwise he would be handed over to the MPSC and tried as a War Criminal. Within an hour the manager returned with a locksmith who had the door open in 20 minutes. Inside was 27 Million Piastres (over £500,000 in 1945 and just over £21 million today), much of which would have been destroyed if they’d had to use explosives.

The seizure of this bank was a major success for Sweeny; it provided him with access to a financial reserve and officers and, when a week later Sweeny was appointed ‘Custodian of Enemy Booty on behalf of the Victorious Allies’, it became a store for material collected from the Japanese (and others). Sweeny and his deputy kept the keys in their possession at all times, and the bank was guarded day and night due to its immense strategic power.

When Sweeny locked the bank at the end of the first day, it was already dark and so he decided to walk the 400 yards to the Majestic Hotel for a well-earned beer. Luckily Sweeny had already consumed the contents when the bottle was smashed by a sniper’s bullet!

With secure billets unavailable, Sweeny and his team returned to HQ where a meal was arranged and beds were found, even if Sweeny had to sleep on a string bed in the corridor…

Sweeny’s ‘customised’ drill shirt – worn between 1945-1947 during his service in South East Asia

Make sure to pop back next week for Part 3 – The Hunt for the Missing Millions!