Category Archives: Pacific

Chinese Overseas Labor Recuitment, 1800s

From Singapore: Unlikely Power, by John Curtis Perry (Oxford U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 2328-68:

During the nineteenth century, in seaports along the China coast, … it was not a good idea for a Chinese man then to walk alone along the waterfront, especially after dark. “To be Shanghaied” entered the English language to signify the kidnapping that occurred, not for service at sea—unless it were pirates desperate for additional crew—but for labor ashore. A ship would simply be the vehicle bearing the victim to his new life. He would be headed for some overseas destination, sometimes Singapore, as a contract laborer, and a virtual slave in many cases.

Customarily brokers would not resort to kidnapping. Instead they would advance a variety of approaches to their quarry: cajolery and threats. Crimps would receive a bounty for every victim delivered to a holding pen, the so-called barracoon, a word taken directly from the African slave trade. The Chinese shipped all the way across the Pacific received treatment as bad as Africans in the Atlantic Middle Passage. Many would die at sea….

In the barracoon, the man would be given a cursory physical examination and if passed, which was highly likely, he would be handed a contract to sign specifying the number of years he must work and the amount of pay he would receive. A governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring, saw this process for himself: “hundreds of them gathered together in barracoons, stripped naked, and stamped or painted with the letter C (Cuba), P (Peru), or S (Sandwich Islands–Hawai’i) on their breasts .” They would be held there until a ship was ready for them. Some did escape from the barracoon, Bowring said, “by going through an opening in the water closet into the mud and water of the river,” which might mean survival—for those who could swim.

Driven by poverty, many Chinese also left the mother country voluntarily. The 1849 gold rush in California encouraged those looking for a new life promising prosperity. The mines and plantations of Southeast Asia beckoned others. Treatment of those bound for Singapore was marginally better than those heading for forced labor elsewhere. Their numbers were heavily male; the few females who came, often kidnapped or deceived, were mostly prostitutes whose services an all-male society craved.

From the China coast the seaborne flow of emigrants to Southeast Asia lay in Chinese hands. The official Qing attitude toward this human traffic, free or forced, was analogous to its attitude toward the opium trade. Many in authority deplored it; but no one took consistent action to stop it. Too many local officials found such activities personally profitable.

Those who went to mine tin in Malaya, tough as it was, were more fortunate than those taken across the Pacific, either to shovel acrid bird dung, guano, prized as fertilizer, in a treeless environment on a desolate island off the coast of Peru with hot sun beating down all day, or to equally disagreeable toil on sugar plantations in Cuba. The tin miners in Malaya were often able to complete a work contract and then find something better to do.

For them, Singapore served as a gathering spot, a free port for people as well as objects. Unlike so many other countries, Singapore welcomed immigrant Chinese, most of whom came as contract laborers who passed through the city to work in the nearby staple industries that were crying for labor. Those who stayed and failed to climb the economic ladder pulled the rickshaws, or carried sacks of rice on the docks, working a long day in the tropical heat. Immigrants were overwhelmingly male until the twentieth century. When females began to come in number after 1918 and the Great War, family life could begin, transforming the immigrant community.

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Japanese Soldier Diaries in New Guinea, 1943

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 1236-89:

It is always interesting to look at a battle through the enemy’s eyes but rarely possible. After Buna we captured many diaries kept by individual Japanese soldiers. These diaries, when translated, were informative. From them we learned that the enemy feared our mortars most, our artillery next, and our aerial strafing and bombing least. During the early stages of the campaign the entries clearly reflect the official Japanese Army propaganda line that the American was not a formidable soldier.

As the siege proceeded the point of view of the besieged began to change. But the diaries tell their own story. Dates of the entries are omitted here, but the excerpts selected follow chronologically the progress of the battle:

The enemy has received almost no training. Even though we fire a shot they present a large portion of their body and look around. Their movements are very slow. At this rate they cannot make a night attack.

The enemy has been repulsed by our keen-eyed snipers. In the jungle it seems they fire at any sound, due to illusion. From sundown until about 10 P.M. they fire light machine guns and throw hand grenades recklessly.

They hit coconuts that are fifteen meters from us. There are some low shots but most of them are high. They do not look out and determine their targets from the jungle. They are in the jungle firing as long as their ammunition lasts. Maybe they get more money for firing so many rounds.

The enemy is using ammunition wildly. I wish the main force would hurry and come.

The enemy has become considerably more accurate in firing.

Enemy approached to about 50 meters. Difficult to distinguish their forms in the jungle. Can’t see their figures.

The nature of the enemy is superior and they excel in firing techniques. Their tactics are to neutralize our positions with fire power, approach our positions under concentrated mortar fire. Furthermore, it seems that in firing they are using treetops. During daytime mess, if our smoke is discovered, we receive mortar fire.

This entry was a turning point in the diary serial-story. It seems to me probable that this was the enemy’s unconscious acknowledgment that we Americans had learned our hard lessons and that the 32nd Division had found itself. From that time on the military observations are discouraged and very brief:

From today’s mortar fire the third platoon received great damage.

Headquarters is a pitiful sight due to artillery fire.

Carried in one coconut tree and filled in all of the shelter. Now we are safe from mortar fire.

Artillery raking the area. We cannot hold out much longer.

Our nerves are strained; there is a lack of sleep due to the continuous shelling.

The enemy scouts which have been bothering us all night quit about two hours before dawn. The night strain has passed.

Enemy scouts appear everywhere and attack, shooting automatic rifles.

A second series of diary excerpts collected by my staff presents an even more interesting and unusual picture of the garrison troops. These paragraphs are highly personal and represent the aspirations, fears, and frustrations of men. They demolish the idea that the Japanese soldier, however rigorously trained, is “unemotional,” an automaton.

Morale of troops is good because we feel reinforcements will come.

Received word of praise from the Emperor today. We will hold out to the last. . . . Our troops do not come. Even though they do come, they are driven away by enemy planes. Every day my comrades die one by one and our provisions disappear.

We are now in a delaying holding action. The amount of provisions is small and there is no chance of replenishing ammunition. But we have bullets of flesh. No matter what comes we are not afraid. If they come, let them come, even though there be a thousand. We will not be surprised. We have the aid of Heaven. We are the warriors of Yamamoto [sic; probably Yamato].

How I wish we could change to the offensive! Human beings must die once. It is only natural instinct to want to live; but only those with military spirit can cast that away.

Now the tempo of retrogression heightens, and despair takes hold. Like young men everywhere, the Japanese soldiers are sad and unwilling and self-pitying in the coming presence of death. Sentences from the journals tell the story in a staccato fashion:

“There are some who are completely deteriorating spiritually. . . . We can’t eat today. Mess gear is gone because of the terrific mortar fire. . . . Everyone is depressed. Nothing we can do. … It is only fate that I am alive today. This may be the place where I shall find my death. I will fight to the last. . . .”

December becomes January and the final onrush of the Americans is at hand. These are the last entries:

With the dawn, the enemy started shooting all over. All I can do is shed tears of resentment. Now we are waiting only for death. The news that reinforcements had come turned out to be a rumor. All day we stay in the bunkers. We are filled with vexation. Comrades, are you going to stand by and watch us die? Even the invincible Imperial Army is at a loss. Can’t anything be done? Please God.

Night falls. Thought we saw two enemy scouts. It turned out to be a bird and a rat.

It is certainly lamentable when everyone runs off and not a single person remains to take care of things. Can these be called soldiers of Japan?

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Southwest Pacific Campaigns in 1942

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 609-28, 1153-63:

“Were the Buna and Sanananda campaigns really justified?” an acquaintance asked recently. “Why didn’t you just by-pass the Japanese garrisons and leave them there to starve and rot?”

The question shows a profound ignorance of the situation as it existed in 1942. It is true that later in the war we successfully by-passed many Japanese garrisons, cut across their sea and land supply lines, and, in the words of the callous amateur strategist, left them “to starve and rot.” But that was at a time when we had secure bases from which such operations could be maintained, when we had achieved air superiority and were on the way to supremacy at sea as well.

At this same time, it should be made clear, the Allies were also dealing with another Japanese offensive in the Pacific, the drive down the Solomons. This theater of action was under Navy command with headquarters in Noumea. The area was called “South Pacific” to differentiate it from “Southwest Pacific,” where General MacArthur was Allied chief.

In the Solomons, operating on a shoestring and with heavy losses in fighting ships and planes, Americans were seeking to maintain a precarious foothold on the advanced beachhead at Guadalcanal. I still recall the dismal August day when Admiral Leary told me the results of the Battle of Savo Island. We had five heavy cruisers and a group of destroyers there to protect our Guadalcanal transports. The engagement lasted eight minutes. The Japanese had no losses. We lost four of our cruisers — the Quincy, Vincennes, Astoria, and Canberra (Royal Australian Navy). The fifth cruiser, the Chicago, was damaged. It took considerable optimism in those days to believe we were on the winning side of the fight.

It was a poor man’s war in the Pacific, from the Allied point of view, when the Battle of Buna was fought. The miracles of production managed by American factories and American labor were slow to manifest themselves Down Under. We were at the end of the supply line. There were no landing craft for amphibious operations; indeed, because the Japanese had air control in New Guinea waters, no naval fighting ship of any size was permitted to enter the area. The Japanese had gone into the war fully prepared; in 1942 it was they who had the specially designed landing craft for amphibious campaigns, the equipment, the ships, the planes, and the battle experience.

In battle the margin between victory and defeat is often narrow. Under the terrific pressures of combat, officers and men alike tend to forget that the enemy is hard pressed too. Sometimes just plain stubbornness wins the battle that awareness and wisdom might have lost. That’s what happened at Buna. The Japanese morale cracked before ours did. Major Schroeder was one of the brave, stubborn men. He was killed in the very attack that won us the sea.

Several days of hard fighting followed. On January 2 a coordinated attack was made by both the Urbana and Warren Forces. More tanks had come in to spearhead the Warren Force attack, and the Urbana Force had succeeded in surrounding the Mission. Before nightfall we controlled the entire coastline east of the Girua River. I find that I wrote that evening: “At 4:30 p.m. I crossed the bridge (from the Island), after C Company had passed, and I saw American troops with their bellies out of the mud and their eyes in the sun. … It was one of the grandest sights I have ever seen.”

Organized resistance ended on January 3, but for many days thereafter our soldiers were hunting out Japanese stragglers in the jungle and swamps. Almost all resisted capture and had to be killed.

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Australian vs. American Military in New Guinea

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 428-37, 1883-1904:

The attempted integration of Australian and American troops at times produced curious results. Sir John [Lavarack] laughed about the fact that he had an American officer at Toowomba who was supposed to be his operations officer. I had been told before leaving Washington that General MacArthur had asked for key American officers to assist the Australians with their staff work. The Australians didn’t think they needed much help from anyone. Many of the commanders I met had already been in combat with the British in North Africa, and, though they were usually too polite to say so, considered the Americans to be — at best — inexperienced theorists. At Camp Cable I encountered a situation that was little less than fantastic. The 32nd Division was assigned to the American I Corps for offensive training and to the Australian II Corps for defensive training. This was a military conception entirely new to me and, of course, quite impracticable. On a day when I paid a visit to observe artillery firing, Australian staff officers arrived to look over defensive techniques. The 32nd went through its paces for them too. Out of the recollections of a Sunday school boyhood there came to me a cogent bit of Scriptural wisdom: “Man cannot serve two masters.”

In New Guinea the fighting into the autumn was largely an Aussie show. Our Air made it possible, our Amphibs did much of the fetch-and-carry, elements of our 162nd Infantry Regiment handled themselves gallantly, but the main responsibility was borne by the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions. Because of the term “Allied Forces,” which the censors then employed, many Americans still believe erroneously that our own troops carried the burden of that back-busting advance against the Salamaua-Lae-Finschhafen sector. The Aussie advance took off from the inland village of Wau, which is about one hundred and fifty miles northwest of Port Moresby. Around Wau, which is thirty-five hundred feet high, lies one of the richest alluvial gold regions in the world. More important militarily to the Australians was the small, steeply sloping Wau airfield. An interesting and little known chapter of history was written there.

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Gen. Yamashita’s Surrender, 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 4619-68, 4674-83:

The headquarters of the 38th Division, which had been assigned the job of cleaning up central Luzon, was on a ridge only about an hour’s ride east of Manila. Major General William G. Chase, division commander, met me at Nielson Field, and we made the inspection trip to the front together. From a high hill. Chase and General Bill Spence pointed out to me the Ipo Dam area and other battlefields of the 38th; although the tempo of the fighting was now slowed, two hundred and fifty-nine Japanese were killed between dawn and dusk the day I visited there, and twenty-nine were captured. The 38th and elements of the 43rd Division inflicted appalling losses on the enemy during a six-week period. Some sixty-three hundred Japanese were killed or found dead and more than nine hundred were made prisoners. Much of this slaughter was accomplished by combined artillery fire and aerial attack. Losses of the 38th Division and 43rd Division were small.

That evening at Chase’s headquarters I wrote General MacArthur that I had inspected the combat-active divisions on Luzon and found morale very high. My own morale was high. I was convinced that the back of Japanese opposition was broken and that the enemy was incapable of effective resistance. I might not have been so optimistic if I had known that, considerably after the official Japanese capitulation. General Yamashita was to come out of the mountain wildernesses to the northeast of Baguio and surrender forty thousand well-disciplined troops. Although negotiations with Yamashita for surrender were completed after Eighth Army had relinquished control of Luzon, the story should be told here. It must be remembered that Japanese forces at this period had little or no communication with the homeland. On August 7 — the day of the fall of the first atomic bomb — an American pilot was forced to abandon his disabled plane and parachute behind the Japanese lines in northern Luzon. He was picked up by an enemy patrol the next morning and taken after five days of forced marches to General Yamashita’s headquarters, then southwest of Kiangan.

There he was subjected to vigorous and prolonged interrogation. He was threatened with physical violence when he steadfastly refused to answer questions. On August 16 — the Emperor first offered to capitulate on August 10 — the attitude of the Japanese interrogators abruptly changed. The pilot received medical treatment for his parachute-jump injuries and was extended many small courtesies. The next day the American was guided toward the American lines; when the Japanese soldiers had gone as far as they dared, they gave the flier a letter, written by Yamashita himself, which explained the circumstances of the pilot’s capture and commended him for his military spirit and devotion to duty.

On August 24 the same pilot flew an L-5 liaison plane over the area in which he had been held and dropped a message of thanks to General Yamashita and two signal panels of great visibility. The message, written by General Gill of the 32nd Division, suggested that if Yamashita were in the mood for surrender negotiations he should display the two signal panels as evidence of his willingness to parley. The following morning another pilot found the panels staked out according to instructions; also on the ground were many cheering, hand-waving Japanese soldiers, who beckoned the plane to land. Instead, a second message was dropped. It suggested that Yamashita send an envoy to the American lines to receive detailed instructions for his surrender. Late in the afternoon of August 26 a Japanese captain, carrying Yamashita’s answer, entered the American lines under a flag of truce. The letter, which was written in English, follows:

GENERAL HEADQUARTERS
IMPERIAL JAPANESE ARMY IN THE PHILIPPINES
August 25, 1945
TO: General W. H. Gill, Commanding General
Kiangan-Boyombong Area
United States Army in the Philippines

1. I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication addressed to me, dropped by your airplane on August 24th as well as your papers dropped on August 25th in response to our ground signals.

2. I am taking this opportunity to convey to you that order from Imperial Headquarters pertaining to cessation of hostilities was duly received by me on August 20th and that I have immediately issued orders to cease hostilities to all units under my command insofar as communications were possible. I also wish to add to this point the expression of my heartfelt gratitude to you, full cognizant of the sincere efforts and deep concern you have continuously shown with reference to cessation of hostilities as evidenced by various steps and measures you have taken in this connection. To date of writing, however, I have failed to receive order from Imperial Headquarters authorizing me to enter into direct negotiations here in the Philippines with the United States Army concerning the carrying out of the order for cessation of hostilities, but I am of the fond belief that upon receipt of this order, negotiations can be immediately entered into. Presenting my compliments and thanking you for your courteous letter, I remain, yours respectfully,

/s/ T. Yamashita
Tomoyuki Yamashita, General, Imperial Japanese Army, Highest Commander of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines.

This message was the first of a series exchanged between Yamashita and General Gill. The exquisite courtesy of the exchanges probably has for the average reader something of the quality of Through the Looking-Glass; these same troops and same commanders had been fighting each other in the same area with no quarter whatever and in a completely barbaric manner.

Eventually an American radio group, escorted by a Japanese safe-conduct party, moved into Yamashita’s headquarters to take over communications. Details of the surrender were worked out. On the morning of September 2 General Yamashita and a party of twenty-one, which included Vice Admiral Okochi (“Highest Commander of the Japanese Naval Forces in the Philippines”), entered American lines at Kiangan. The party was escorted to Baguio where the formal instrument of the surrender of all Japanese Army and Navy personnel in the Philippines was signed in my former headquarters.

I was sorry that General Griswold who had directed XIV Corps operations could not be there to accept Yamashita’s sword. But it was entirely fitting that the 32nd Division should receive the vanquished enemy. Three years before at Buna they had won the battle that started the infantry on the jungle road to Tokyo.

General Yamashita was tried for “crimes against humanity” by an American Military Court in Manila. He was sentenced December 7, 1945, and hanged on February 23, 1946.

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Hawaiians in Canada, Canadians in Australia

On Canada Day, the Globe and Mail published a column about two forgotten Canadian diaspora communities, Hawaiians in British Columbia and Canadian exiles in Australia. Here are a few excerpts:

Indigenous Hawaiians, who crewed transpacific ships, had been settling the Vancouver and Victoria areas since the 1780s, jumping ship to take jobs in the burgeoning fur and later mining and timber industries; in the 19th century, they were recruited and imported by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In the 1830s, Hawaiian Canadians were the single most populous ethnic group employed by the company on the West Coast. By 1851, half the working-age population in Fort Victoria was native Hawaiian. By 1867, according to Tom Koppel’s history of their community, the Hawaiians had become farmers, landowners and fishermen, and were known, sometimes derisively, as “Kanaka” (the Pacific Island word for “man”). There was a substantial “Kanaka Row” shack town in Victoria, and sizable districts in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island. They had their own schools and preachers, and while they taught their children English, some subscribed to Hawaiian-language newspapers….

Unlike the large populations of Chinese, Japanese and Sikhs who’d settle in the late 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, the Kanaka weren’t subject to exclusionary laws, race riots and the restrictive white-nationalist politics that defined Canadian citizenship policy during most of the country’s first century….

Canada is defined even more by the diasporas it creates elsewhere – after all, there is nothing more Canadian than being forced to leave Canada to succeed. Nowhere is this more evident than on the southeast coast of New South Wales, Australia, where an influential Canadian immigrant community reshaped reality in the middle of the 19th century.

The Canadians were not voluntary immigrants. They were political dissidents, 58 francophones and 82 English-speakers, well-educated and influential men who were convicted of fighting for democracy, public education and free trade in the 1837 rebellions. They avoided the executions and dismemberments meted out to others, and instead were shipped to the Australian prison colony aboard the HMS Buffalo.

There, the Canadians proved popular. The Bishop of Sydney sympathized with them and assigned many to serve as free labourers in Sydney, where they played a significant role in building the community physically and politically. Their presence is remembered in the names of Canada Bay, today a major suburb of Sydney, and nearby Exile Bay. And, according to Australian historian Tony Moore, they also proved politically influential, helping advance the causes of labour rights and governance (which, as a result of their defeat in the rebellions, lagged behind in Canada).

Most were eventually freed and returned (though some stayed and started families), but their exile cost Canada many of its best minds.

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Rapid Fall of Germany’s Overseas Empire

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 365-394:

Today, a bronze historical marker in Belgium memorializes the first British shot of World War One and the first death in battle involving British troops. According to this marker, the opening round of uncountable millions was fired by Corporal Ernest Thomas of C Squadron, 4th Royal Irish Dragoons on August 22, 1914, in a cavalry action near the town of Casteau, Belgium. The first combatant killed, a German uhlan (mounted infantryman), is credited to Captain Charles B. Hornby in that same action. Captain Hornby pierced the unfortunate uhlan’s heart by saber thrust—an ironically old-fashioned death (on horseback, with a sword) in what was to become a decidedly modern war (mechanized, faceless), its human toll exceeding 14,000,000. But the markers’ assertions do not stand historical scrutiny; their authors disregard earlier campaigns in far-off Africa.

The first British shot of the war actually occurred on August 5, fired off by Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi, a black African soldier serving with British Imperial forces a few miles north of Lomé, in German Togoland. The first recorded British death in battle, one Lieutenant G. M. Thompson of the Gold Coast Regiment, took place sometime over the night of August 21–22, also in Togoland: Lieutenant Thompson, given command of a company of Senegalese Tirailleurs, fought it out with German askaris in a confused action in the thick bush on the banks of the river Chra. His comrades found him in the morning, lying dead and covered with insects in the midst of his slaughtered command. They buried them that way; the Senegalese arranged around Lieutenant Thompson’s grave like a loyal pack of hounds around the tomb of a Paleolithic chief.

After less than a year of war, the German Overseas Empire—one of the main catalysts for the war in the first place—seemed nearly at an end.

In China, on the other side of the globe, the small German garrison holding the Kiao-Chow Concession found itself besieged by a Japanese Army 23,000 strong, supported by a small contingent of the 2nd Battalion of South Wales Borderers. The Concession—a 400-square-mile territory centered in the fortified port city of Tsingtao on the Yellow Sea—had been ceded to Germany in 1897 as compensation for the murder of two German Catholic priests by anti-Christian Chinese mobs. Tsingtao’s commandant, Kapitän zur See Meyer-Waldeck, held out against the siege behind the city’s thick walls for two months, under continual bombardment from land and sea as Japanese Infantry assault trenches pushed relentlessly forward. Realizing the pointlessness of further struggle against the combined might of the Japanese Army and Navy, Meyer-Waldeck surrendered his garrison of 3,000 German marines and sundry volunteers at last on November 16, 1914. It came as a surprise to him that the Japanese and the British were fighting together against Germany—they had signed a secret mutual defense treaty in 1902, only now bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese forces easily captured German possessions in the South Pacific. These included the Bismarck Archipelago, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, Palau, New Caledonia, and Samoa—where the Kaiser’s barefoot native soldiers sported fetching red sarongs beneath their formal German military tunics—and Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, now the northeastern part of Papua New Guinea. Here one intrepid German officer, a certain Hauptmann Herman Detzner, who had been off exploring the unknown interior with a contingent of native police, refused to surrender and remained on the loose in the wilderness for the duration of the war. He turned himself in to the occupying Australians on January 5, 1919, wearing his carefully preserved and outdated Imperial German uniform—a kind of German Rip van Winkle who had been asleep in the jungle while the world changed irrevocably around him. By July 1915, of Germany’s prewar colonial possessions, only German East Africa remained.

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