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Captives of Empire: The Japanese Internment of Allied Civilians in China and Hong Kong, 1941-1945 -

The Camps

Over 13,500 Allied civilians were held by the Japanese in China and Hong Kong, in over two dozen different camps. 

In South China and Hong Kong

Canton Camp

Located in Pokong, the camp consisted of the buildings and compound of the Oriental Missionary Society,  on Honam Island, in the Pearl River opposite the Shameen.  It contained an assembly hall and small residential buildings, giving internees 150 to 200 square feet each, five times more than what internees elsewhere received.  The smallest camp in China, it held only 59 internees, most of whom were South China missionaries or faculty of Lingnam University.  Over half were repatriated during the American and Canadian exchange in September, 1943. 

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Stanley Camp, Hong Kong

 photo: Grounds of Stanley Camp. 


Stanley Camp was located on the south side of the island of Hong Kong, and comprised the grounds of the Stanley Prison (but not the prison itself) and St. Stephen's College.  Over 3,100 Allied citizens were held there at various times from mid January 1942 to the end of August 1945.  Internees suffered under the strict discipline of the Japanese, and seven internees were among the over thirty civilians executed on Stanley beach in 1943 after the Japanese kempeitaiuncovered a resistance ring and discovered several hidden radios in the camp.  Internees were to suffer further casualties when the camp was accidentally bombed by USAAF bombers in January, 1945.  Seven internees escaped from the camp to Free China, but another party of four was not so lucky.  Recaptured within a short distance of camp, they were beaten, tortured, and held in prison for over a year.  

In and around Shanghai

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Ash camp

 Photo: Huts at Ash Camp. 

 Located at 65 Great Western Road, Ash Camp was a former British Army barracks which once housed the Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders.  Opened on 1 March 1943, the eastern half of the camp was used by Chinese troops under the puppet Wang Ching Wei government, the western half housed internees.  Named for the large amount of ashes which were used to build up the pathways and hut foundations, the camp was in a low lying area and flooded frequently.  Wooden barrack huts were partitioned into 10 foot by 12 foot rooms for small family groups, while older teens and unmarried inmates lived in six or seven room dormitories.  Most internees were former Shanghai Municipal Council employees.  Two gates faced Great Western Road, while a large stone house, called the White House (at right in photo above) housed the Japanese administration.  Ash Camp had 521 internees within its walls during the war years. 

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 Photo: Plan of second floor, East Building. 

 Originally built as the Great China University, the original buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed in the 1937 fighting in Chapei, north of the city.  The camp was located on Chungsan Road, about seven miles from the Bund.  Containing approximately fifteen acres, the camp housed a large number of Americans and housed internees in two three storey dormitory buildings.  The Japanese operated a chemical factory on the grounds for much of the war years.  Some 1,536 internees spent time in Chapei during the war. 

Great Western Road / Columbia Country Club

 Located at 301 Great Western Road, this was the American Columbia Country Club (CCC) in Shanghai before the war, well known for its Fourth of July barbecues.  The two storied clubhouse, built in a Spanish style with red tiled roof, sat on five acres of grounds.  During the fall and winter of 1942-1943, it was used by the Japanese to house enemy nationals from the outports awaiting repatriation, but many were stranded there when they lost their berths to influential Shanghailanders.  Space was extremely limited and inmates had to sleep in the bowling alley, bars, and other club rooms.  It became an internment camp in May 1943.  The swimming pool remained in use initially, but with no chemicals to maintain it, the water was eventually drained for good.  Hundreds stayed at the CCC at one time or another; 386 were interned there.  In April 1945, internees were moved to the Yangtzepoo Camp. 

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Haiphong Road

 Photo: Shirt signed by Haiphong Road internees, now in the Imperial War Museum, London. 

 On 5 November 1942 the Japanese kempeitai rounded up over 300 Allied nationals in Shanghai in the early morning hours.  Many were prominent citizens, and were individuals who, because of their connections in the financial, political, and information spheres, had the potential to cause trouble for the Japanese.  Considered POWs with the rank of sergeant by the Japanese, 382 eventually found themselves in the former barracks of the US Marine Fourth Regiment, Second battalion, at 372 Haiphong Road.  Originally built for a wealthy Chinese family, the compound consisted of two large buildings and was utilized by the marines until their departure from the city in November 1941.  Internees who survived the torture and degradations meted out by the kempeitai in Bridge House were then often sent to this camp; those interned here were also liable to be hauled off to Bridge House for further interrogation sessions.  In one incident, internee William Hutton, formerly of the Shanghai Municipal police, was tortured to death there.  The camp's inmates, all men, were moved north to Fengtai, near Peking, in June of 1945, under exceedingly difficult conditions.  There, they lived in crowded, hellishly hot godowns (warehouses) until the end of the war.  

Franciscan House

 Located at 141 Avenue Dubail, held 56 Catholic fathers during the war. 

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Lincoln Avenue

 Photo: Tablecloth with empbroidered signatures of Lincoln Avenue Internees. 

 On 28 June 1944, the Japanese decreed that all remaining Allied nationals in Shanghai, who had been medically exempt from internment up to that point, report to the Lincoln Avenue Camp.  Thirty able bodied volunteers from Lunghwa Camp preceeded them to help move the new internees in and to care from them afterwards.  The camp consisted of concrete houses in a compound owned by the Bank of China and used for their employees before the war.  They had been looted and seriously damaged in the 1937 war.  Set on very rough ground with little open space, the camp was surrounded by a wall and electric barbed wire fence.  Because of the advanced age of most of the internees, the camp had a higher than average death rate compared to other China camps. Internees from other camps also transferred to Lincoln Avenue, bringing the cumulative total of those held there to 415.  It remained open, housing internees after the war, until February 1946, when the Highland Chieftan carrying repatriates, sailed for Britain. 

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Photo: F block, the administration building, at Lunghwa. 

Located about eight miles southwest of the Bund on Minghong Road, Lunghwa was the former Chinese Kiansu Middle School which was heavily damaged during the 1937 fighting.  It was about two miles from the Lunghwa airdrome.  The camp was large, containing seven concrete buildings, three large wooden barracks (originally built as stables by the Japanese), and numerous outbuildings.  There were fifty nine dorms and 127 rooms for families.  A number of ruins were on the grounds as well.  Lunghwa held 1,988 internees during the war and saw a number of escapes, with most of them successful.  Nine internees eventually made their way to free China.  

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 illustration: Internee sketch of the main block at Pootung after liberation, with a white painted cross and flags of the Allied nations on the water tower. 

 Pootung Camp received the first intake of internees in late January, 1943.  Originally a men only camp, it held single men, men who had sent their families home before the war, and men married to non interned third nationals or Asians.  Most of the crew of the American President line's SS President Harrison were held here initially.  The buildings consisted of the condemned godowns of the British American Tobacco Company and was located not far from Pootung Point, across the Whangpoo River and Shanghai's Bund, which could be seen from the upper stories of the buildings.  The compound was littered with junk and debris and included the bombed out ruins of a Chinese village destroyed in the 1937 fighting.  By manual labor alone, internees cleared this area to construct playing fields and garden plots; this area was christened the "Happy Garden."  After the September 1943 repatriation of Americans and Canadians, many Pootung internees were transferred to other camps to provide manual labor there, while many women were transferred to Pootung from other camps, including two of the Yangchow camps which the Japanese closed.  1,519 internees called Pootung home at one time or another. 

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Sacred Heart Camp

 Photo: The main building of Sacred Heart. 

 The Convent of the Sacred Heart, at 622 Avenue Joffre, housed nuns from eleven religious communities, including the Sacred Heart, in the third floor of one wing.  (The Japanese utilized the rest of the building.)  These communities slept, worked, and kept their own rules in their rooms, while sharing a communal dining hall and chapel.  Sacred Heart Camp held 97 sisters. 

Senmouyeu Nuns' Residence

 At the Zikawei compound, this residence held 40 Catholic sisters in detention. 

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Yangtzepoo (Eastern Area number 3 Camp)

 illustration: Internee drawing of the compound. 

 The Japanese had taken over the Sacred Heart Hospital, located in the middle of the industrial Yangtzepoo district, for their own use during the war.  As bombing raids increased in 1945, the Japanese moved out and occupied the camps at Yu Yuen Road and the Columbia Country Club, which were known to the Allies as internment camps, and moved those internees to the Sacred Heart Hospital site at 41 Ningkuo Road on 27/28 April, 1945.  The hospital, which was evacuated by the Japanese just hours before the move, was left in an indescribably filthy condition.  The compound was surrounded by twelve foot walls and contained five rat infested, two story buildings, in decaying condition.  There, near the river and close to the gas works, waterworks, barracks, and armament stores, the over 1300 internees from Great Western Road and Yu Yuen Road camps waited out the end of the war, weathering Allied air raids in increasingly difficult conditions. 

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Yu Yuen Road

 Photo: B Block at Yu Yuen Road Camp. 

 Yu Yuen Road camp, like Ash Camp, held a large number of former Shanghai Municipal Council employees.  Located at 404 Yu Yuen Road, it was composed of the grounds and buildings of the Western District Public School and the Shanghai Public School for Girls.  "G Block" was the Girls' School, next to the Fire Station, "B Block" was the Boys' School, and "T Camp" were temporary wooden huts along Tifeng Road which had been constructed to house British troops during an emergency.  Internees were moved near the end of the war to Yangtzepoo.  972 internees were held at Yu Yuen Road throughout the internment period. 


 The large Catholic compound of Zikawei, located in southwest Shanghai, held 96 Catholic fathers during the war. 

North of Shanghai

Located 150 miles northwest of Shanghai, Yangchow is 15 miles up the Grand Canal from Chingkiang, where the canal crosses the Yangtze river.  The Japanese held over 1400 internees, nearly all of them from Shanghai, in three camps they set up there.  They were transported by river steamer and barges, an overnight trip, in eight separate journeys.  All the Yangchow camps suffered from severe water shortages.  After the September 1943 repatriations, A and B camps were closed and their internees returned to Shanghai by rail, where they were interned in other camps.  Yangchow C internees remained, almost lost and forgotten in an interior city with minimal resources, until well after the war. 

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Yangchow A

 Surrounded by a high wall, Yangchow A camp held 377 internees, all British, and was a former Southern Baptist Mission hospital.  Internees lived in the patient rooms and the corridors, while six internees were housed in each of the bathrooms, which had no running water.  All internees, less one who died, returned to Shanghai in September 1943. 

Yangchow B

 Formerly the Baptist Mission Julia Mackenzie Memorial School for Chinese girls, Yangchow B camp consisted of the main school building, a dining hall, and several small staff houses.  382 internees were held there until the camp closed and the internees returned to Shanghai. 

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Yangchow C

 photo: Housing block at Yangchow C known as "The Slums." 

 Located about three miles northwest of A and B camps, Yangchow C had been the American Episcopalian Boys' School, in the northeast corner of the city.  A walled compound with two gates, there were several houses as well as a church and outbuildings.  Most of Yangchow C's 673 internees remained in Yangchow until the end of the war, facing severe water shortages and increasingly short supplies; the distance from Shanghai made it especially difficult for the Red Cross to get aid to them.  Climate was especially harsh, with broiling summer temperatures and bitter, wind swept winters.  Internees remained stranded at the end of the war, most not returning to Shanghai until October 1945. 

In North China

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Peking British Embassy Camp

 After Peking internees were moved to Weihsien, remaining Allied nationals were instructed to report to the British Embassy Compound by 15 May 1943.  The departure of American and British diplomatic officials in June 1942 had made the living accomodations available.  Living conditions were comfortable, with Chinese servants allowed to come and go for shopping and food preparation for the 54 people kept there.  For reasons not ever known to them, four internees, including Henry Houghton of the Peking Union Medical College and Leighton Stuart of Yenching University, were held under house arrest in Peking for the entire war. 

Religious Centers Detention Camps

 Approximately 500 Catholic fathers and nuns were collected from outlying areas of North China and originally interned in Weihsien.  In August, 1943, the Japanse agreed to a proposal put forth by the Apostolic Delegate in Peking, Archbishop Zanin, that these internees be allowed to reside in religious houses in Peking.  They were transferred to nine different segregation centers for missionaries.  Maison du Sacre Coeur, off Morrison Street, housed 29 nuns, while the remainder of the houses, in the Tartar City, were Christ the King Convent (77 women and another 25 in the annex), Franciscan House (96 men), Peitang Ming Tao Yuan (41 men), the Catholic Orphanage (3 nuns), Maison Chabenel (96 men), Scheut Mission (64 men), and the Fu Jen Girls' School (7 nuns).  Oddly enough, the internees were under more restrictive rules in these houses than when they were interned in Weihsien. 

Temple Hill Camp

 In the northern port of Chefoo, 119 Allied citizens of the business community were interned at the Temple Hill Camp, formerly the American Presbyterian Mission compound, on 29 October 1942.  Students and teachers of the China Inland Mission Chefoo School, numbering 239, joined them on 4 November.  Five single family residences and a two family residence comprised the camp, with up to 71 people quartered in one house.  One of the bigger problems confronting the internees was how to supply food for the over 200 children in camp.  In early September 1943 the internees were transferred by ship to Tsingtao, from where they traveled by rail to Weihsien, where they joined other internees from North China. 

Tsingtao Iltis Hydro

 Allied nationals in Tsingtao were interned on 27 October1942 at the Iltis Hydro Hotel, a dilapidated building about two miles from the city center.  Designed to hold 45 guests, 147 people were interned there, including Filipinos, Iranians, and South Americans.  The larger rooms held families, while the ballroom served as a dormitory.  On 20 March 1943 the Tsingtao internees were the first continengent to arrive at Weihsien Camp, the main internment center for North China. 

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Weihsien Camp

 illustration: Letter from Weihsien internee, sent to a third national in Peitaiho. 

 Located two miles east of Weihsien, the American Presbyterian Compound in Weihsien was known by the Chinese name of "Courtyard of the Happy Way." Its Shadyside Hospital, constructed in 1924, was considered one of the best constructed mission hospitals in North China.  However, by the time internees arrived, all useable equipment had been looted or carried off.  Student dormitories, consisting of rows and rows of rooms, as well as large buildings originally used as classrooms and libraries, housed the internees.  One of the largest camps in China, Weihsien housed, at one time or another, almost 2,250 internees.  Two internees who escaped provided information on the camp to OSS operatives in Chungking, while remaining in the vicinity of the camp with Nationalist guerillas.  At the end of the war Weihsien was the scene of an exciting drama when a seven member OSS team parachuted near the camp and were welcomed by the overjoyed internees.  Afterwards, Chinese Communist guerilla activity prevented the evacuation of the camp.  After an initial group was removed by rail to Tsingtao, the railway line was blown up.  Internees were finally airlifted out by Army Air Force planes. 

In Manchukuo (Manchuria)

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Hoten Camp (Mukden Club)

 About fifty internees were held in the British and American Businessmen's Club in Mukden, located in the Hongkong and Shanghai bank building on Naniwa dori.  Some were transferred to Japan, from where they were repatriated on the Asama Maru in 1942.  Most of those remaining were Belgians. 


 About sixty internees, mostly Canadian priests, were held in a seminary building outside of the south gate of this city.  They were eventually moved to the bishop's house (Shihei vicarage) in the Maryknoll Mission compound inside of the city.