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Paymaster Under Fire – Part 5

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!
After a couple of weeks away THIS IS the fifth part OF OUR BLOG SERIES on Sweeny. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN OUR other posts YOU CAN FIND them HERE. TODAY WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT Sweeny’s final few weeks in east Asia.

Repatriation of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees was a key element of the surrender document, with Japanese forces required both to identify camps and protect and provide support to their former prisoners. As Sweeny developed his money map (locations where large sums had been directed by the Japanese) he noticed that 12 million piastres had been directed to a location near Hue, a coastal town 400 miles north East of Saigon. At ‘morning prayers’ he posed a general question to all the branch commanders present, who said nothing. A Naval cruiser currently in the area investigated, with a shore party finding an unreported PoW camp holding 500 senior officers, who were believed to be an insurance policy against mass execution of Japanese officers. Something of a more human success for Sweeny and his team.

Japanese Plunder

With almost 120,000 Japanese soldiers located in French-Indo-China, it took until November 1945 to even plan their repatriation. Soldiers were disarmed and held at Cap St Jacques, which became an island at high tide. Access to the mainland was protected by wire, and the Navy patrolled the coast. Soldiers were then brought to Saigon in batches of 10,000 in order to hand over both money and valuables. This was done by their own officers, who each received a receipt which was placed in their pay book, and told to claim back the sum from their own government once back in Japan. Sweeny added that anything held back would probably be looted by the French after the British had departed. All the money (9 million piastres) and valuables were stored in the bank, with the money then being used to feed the Japanese soldiers.

There were the occasional surprises. Staff Sergeant Hardy reported that a soldier had 46 thousand piastres and 37 thousand rupees in their possession, however a follow up strip-search revealed that the soldier was actually a Japanese ‘comfort woman’ of Chinese origin. Eventually 250 women were identified and they were housed in a special camp prior to their repatriation to China.

Once all the Japanese soldiers were relieved of their money and valuables, Sweeny sought permission to search the private residences of Field Marshal Count Terauchi and his General Staff. Reluctantly Gracey agreed and Sweeny was able to recover a further 20 million piastres, valuables, gold and also bag of diamonds.

When Mountbatten paid a visit to Saigon he paid a visit to the bank to be shown the vault with its money, watches, cameras and gold, but Sweeny recalls that his eyes lit up when he saw the diamonds.

Once all the Japanese soldiers were interred, the Nationalists renewed their insurgency and with only 40,000 British troops present against 200,000 Nationalists, the Commission were forced to hire and re-arm 11,000 soldiers and former kamikaze pilots and employ them on security duties, where they fought alongside British forces.

Make sure to pop back in the next couple of weeks for the fifth part!
29/05/20