Bank worker Miyakatsu Koike was minding his own business, working quietly in the Surabaya Java branch of the Yokohama Specie Bank, but events on one December day in 1941 turned his life upside down. He had no connections with the military. But his homeland had staged a daring, amoral and unprovoked attack on the US pacific fleet in Hawaii, dragging both countries immediately into World War II. Mr Koike, then 36, was arrested by Dutch colonial authorities immediately and in January the next year became one of South Australia’s most reluctant residents. In harsh conditions, he spent more than four years at the Loveday internment camp located near Barmera.
Loveday POW camp
Daily Mr Koike recorded his struggle in a diary, the harsh conditions at the camp, and his personal growth despite the hardship. Mr Koike finally returned to his home country on the Kōei maru in February 1946, never to return to Australia. Despite the rare insight into a crucial part of South Australian history, his diary has long been inaccessible to the vast majority of Australians, most of whom would never have heard of Loveday. It was published in Japanese in 1987 and is now the subject of a Wakefield Press book Four Years in a Red Coat: The Loveday Internment Camp Diary of Miyakatsu Koike.
The diary was translated by University of Queensland researcher Hiroko Cockerill and edited and introduced by Flinders University Professor Peter Monteath and Queensland University’s Dr Yuriko Nagata.
Reading the diary, it is hard not to be moved by the ordeal Australians put Mr Koike through. His was yet another life destroyed at a young age by the war. Most poignantly, when he was finally allowed to return home in March 1946, it was to a catalogue of tragic news.
“Then I heard from my wife that my father had died while I was interned,’’ he notes. “Both my wife’s parents and three of my uncles had also died,’’ he wrote. “I also heard that my first son, who was due to be born in March 1942, had died a week after birth.”
“Almost 11 years had passed since I left Japan in May 1935. I was, indeed, an unfilial son, who had returned home not knowing of my own father’s death. The train was heading due west in the darkness. On the way, I was pleased to see Mt Fuji, as beautiful as ever, greeting me, a poor repatriated person.”
Although not a well-known part of Australia’s past, the internment of non-combatants from Australia and overseas as “security threats” was commonplace, Prof Monteath said. POWs were also kept at Loveday, although only briefly and not at the same time as the civilian internees. The Australian government swiftly interned people who were regarded as security threats because they came from countries with which Australia was at war, with the largest groups being Italians, Germans, and the Japanese,” Prof Monteath said.
“Four Years in a Red Coat (their uniforms) is a keenly observed record of this man’s arrest, his hellish voyage to distant South Australia, his endurance of years in the Loveday Internment Camp, and his return ultimately to a war-ravaged homeland. The book is a testament to one man’s calmly stoic triumph over sustained adversity. The scars of his war are indelible, yet Koike emerges from it with his humanity not just intact but enhanced.”
The diary will be an uncomfortable insight for many into how Australians of the time were viewed from the outside. Parts of the diary make clear how Australian authorities treated “enemy aliens” at a time when Australia was directly under threat.
Ironically on the hellish sea voyage to Australia in a Dutch tub the main threat was the Japanese fleet. Koike wrote; “I stayed in Surabaya until the last moment in the hope that I could do something for the Japanese empire, even though my ability was limited”. Disease was a constant threat on the voyage; “We could not clean the toilet and its stench filled the whole ship. On top of that, most people were unable to have a proper bath for so long that an odd smell permeated the hold. It seemed as if we were living through hell”.
Prof Monteath said at Loveday the conditions were austere and regimented, much like in POW camps. “Not only were the guards at Loveday and other civilian internment camps drawn from the Australian Military Forces, but the facilities were very similar to those of POW camps,” he said. “Among Japanese internees in particular, release was extremely rare, and repatriation could not finally be arranged until well after the war had ended.
“Bitter memories of internment lived on in most internees for decades. It even lives on in their descendants to this day.”
The Loveday Japanese realised they had fared far better than their countrymen elsewhere when news arrived of the famous 1944 breakout of soldiers from the Cowra POW camp, Mr Koike recording that; “On 5 August, a rebellion by Japanese prisoners of war in Australia occurred. Two hundred and thirty-one people died and 18 huts were burnt down. One hundred and eight people were wounded”.
But small things in the diary will reassure modern Australian readers that there was still humanity in our continent for the enemy, including this description of one excursion from the camp for the funeral of one of the 134 Japanese who died in Loveday. “While I was fascinated by the beautiful scenery of the vast continent, suddenly a car stopped, and an old foreign gentleman got out of the car,’’ he wrote. “The gentleman took off his hat and silently paid respect to the deceased. Humanity has no boundaries. I was greatly moved by this Australian gentleman’s warm heart.”
The diary’s end records the heartbreak and chaos Mr Koike discovered when he returned home. But it is clear we never broke his spirit, nor dulled his appreciation of a lifestyle and place foreign to his comfortable middle-class life.
“The train took a straight course through the vast plain. From the train we could see vast undulating grazing land,’’ he wrote when finally returning home. “I saw no herd of cattle or flock of sheep, but only eucalyptus trees here and there.
Once again, I marvelled at the vast Australian continent.”
Australia marks 75 years since its largest prison break The 75th anniversary of the Cowra breakout has seen army veterans recall the harrowing experience of halting more than 1,000 Japanese prisoners of war. On August 5th 1944, four Australian soldiers were killed in the small New South Wales town, while more than 200 Japanese were killed trying to escape. World War II veteran Ron Feld told Sky News he could vividly remember being ordered to find the Japanese escapees. “We noticed that the POW camp was alight and we had to stand there and guard the premises,” he said.
Hay Internment Camp guard tower
Cemetery at Hay
Japanese POWs on way back in 1946