Prisoner of war records

The National Archives does not hold individual records relating to Australian prisoners of war held overseas during World War II. Most of the information relating to a person’s time as a prisoner of war is limited to brief entries on service and casualty forms found in service records.

Series B3856 was the main correspondence series recorded by the 2nd Echelon, Army Headquarters and the subsequent agency, Central Army Records Office (CARO). The bulk of the extant files relate to Australian prisoners of war and internees held overseas, and missing personnel during World War II. Some records contain the prisoner’s name in the item title, while others have more general titles. To find records relating to an individual, it is necessary to search through item lists of series B3856 in the Melbourne reading room.

Series B503, Prisoner of War Trust Fund applications, can be useful if an ex-prisoner of war made an application to the Trust Fund for assistance after the war. The applicants were required to state when they were captured and where they were held. Some applicants described disabilities and injuries sustained as a direct result of being in captivity.

For a detailed description of life as a prisoner of war under the Japanese, the following records may be of interest. 

Item titleDate rangeSeries number
Survivors of HMAS Perth – narrative of experiences as prisoners of war in Java, Burma and Siam [author: Lieutenant-Commander (S) RFM Lowe] NB: pp. 24–48 are a detailed account of experiences in Java, Moulmein, and on the Thai-Burma Railway1945MP1185/9, 567/201/82
Australian POW Far East – survivors ex-Rakuyo Maru [summarised report of events from 15 February 1942 to 4 September 1944] Provides a detailed account of prisoner of war living conditions in Singapore, on the Thai-Burma Railway, and aboard the Japanese prisoner of war transport ship Rakuyo Maru, which was torpedoed by allied forces in September 19441944MP729/8, 44/431/73

Additional resources 

Wartime internment camps in Australia

Fact sheets

World War I internee, alien and POW records held in Canberra

World War II internee, alien and POW records held in Canberra

World War II internee, alien and POW records held in Sydney

World War I internee, alien and POW records held in Adelaide

World War II internee, alien and POW records held in Adelaide

WW I internee, alien and POW records held in Sydney

Wartime internee, alien and POW records held in Perth

Memento articles

Memento, Issue 21 – ‘Living behind barbed wire’ (pdf, 826kb)

Memento, Issue 24 – ‘Who was Wolfe Klaphake?’ (pdf, 1mb)

Memento, Issue 27 – ‘Circling the Pacific, sixty years on’ (pdf, 1.52mb)

Memento, Issue 31 – ‘Uncovering a killer’s past’ (pdf, 2.30mb)

Memento, Issue 32 – ‘In the interest of national security’ (pdf, 2.48mb)

Memento, Issue 34 – ‘News in brief’ (pdf, 2.38mb)

Publication

In the Interest of National Security: Civilian Internment in Australia during World War II 
 

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