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Paymaster Under Fire – Part 3

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 Three OF OUR BLOG SERIES. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN OUR FIRST POST YOU CAN FIND IT HERE. TODAY WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT the background to finding the missing millions.

In the week following the seizure of the Yokohama Specie Bank, Sweeny’s investigations revealed that just prior to the arrival of British troops, Japanese foces had removed a colossal sum of 615million Piastres from banks across French-Indo-China. Initial requests for the Japanese Army to hand over their military ccounts were met with responses that they had been accidentally incinerated. Sweeny however was not convinced, and informed Gracey that 615 million piastres would support an armed insurgency of 200,000 nationalists for a considerable amount of time.

Sweeny then dictated a precisely worded signal to Field Marshal Terauchi on behalf of Gracey. The main points were:

  1. In mid-March 1945 the average Japanese expenditure was 30million piastres.
  2. Japanese reinforcements (20%) would see this rise to 40million piastres.
  3. March – September expenditure was approximately 280million piastres.
  4. Actual Japanese expenditure 819million piastres.
  5. In the first two weeks of August, Japanese forces withdrew 369million piastres.
  6. 615million piastres were unaccounted for.
  7. Japanese orders issued at the surrender was to withdraw every pisatre from every bank.
  8. At the surrender you handed over 1million piastres, declared 77million piastres as assets (wages, canteen, and relief funds), 2.75million piastres for keeping you and General Mabushi, and a similar sum for the upkeep of the Japanese Consulate.

Field Marshal Terauchi was ordered to provide an explanation for the discrepancies, and information such as lost or incinerated records would not be tolerated.

Within three hours of this signal being sent two lorries carrying two tons of accounts were delivered to the Yokohama Specie bank… following a discussion between Gracey and a Japanese general over the retribution if this didn’t happen. These accounts lined the walls of Sweeny’s office, three feet high and three feet deep. It would take Sweeny three months of long hot days and nights to work his way through.

The ledgers taken from the Yokohama Specie Bank were relatively easy to investigate as they were written in French, the Japanese accounts were in Japanese and Sweeny neither wrote or spoke the language. Sweeny obtained the services of two Japanese Account officers. He set them apart in adjacent offices with an identical set of questions to retrieve from the ledgers. The first responses were mismatched so clearly one was trying to falsify the responses. As it turns out, both were.  

Japanese Government issued currency for Malaya and Borneo
Occupation Currency

In their pre-war planning, Japanese authorities prepared ‘Occupation Currency’ to replace monetary systems in countries where the Japanese anticipated opposition. With little opposition in French-Indo-China, there was no need to introduce the currency there. After the war, the plan was that the Yen would be the single currency for all Japanese Occupied area. All money was printed by the Bank of Indo-China, and when the Japanese needed funds, they merely requested it. Any resulting local inflation saw generous pay rises for those working for the Japanese. It cost the Japanese nothing.

The Japanese were, however, printing Occupation Currency for Siamese Bhat and Indian Rupees from presses located in a nationalist stronghold north of Saigon. Sweeny identified the location from the aforementioned bank documents and an operation was mounted to destroy the plates and presses, whilst bringing back the specialist paper to Saigon.  The operation succeeded but at a cost, with Nationalists using ambush and bridge destroying tactics to delay the column. 

Make sure to pop back next week for Part 4

18/04/20