A prisoner of the Japanese
On 16 November 1940 Donald Magrath, M.B., D.P.M., D.P.H. (14070) was
granted the war substantive rank of Squadron Leader in the RAF Medical Branch. Initially, on being called-up, he was made responsible for the health of barrage balloon crews from Portsmouth to Haverfordwest but in 1941 he was posted to Singapore.
By mid January 1942 all RAF personnel in Malaya had been driven back by the advancing Japanese troops to Singapore Island in the south, whence began a mass evacuation to the Indonesian island of Java. Singapore fell on 15 February 1942 and a fortnight later the Japanese landed on Java. A week after that the ruling Dutch administration declared an end to all organised resistance, resulting in almost five thousand people becoming Japanese prisoners of war.
Donald was captured at the city of Batavia (its name became ‘Jakarta' after the Japanese invasion) on Java. He was later held prisoner at Wakayama Branch Camp (Osaka 14-D) in Japan, at 842 Matsue, Wakayama City, Wakayama Prefecture, though this would not have been until after 8 November 1943, when the camp was established to provide forced labour for the Sumitomo Metal Industry Company; eighteen POWs died at this camp. After Donald's obituary appeared in the British Medical Journal in 1987, a fellow POW added this recollection of Donald:
ECS writes: Wakayama prisoner of war camp was on the main island of Honshu, a few miles from the sea. It received about 480 supposedly fit men from Java via Singapore in the autumn of 1943. Work was in a neighbouring factory, and soon exhausted men were being carried back to the camp by their comrades. The commandant’s view was that illness was due too bad spirit in the men concerned, and regulations allowed only half a dozen men to be off work. Men were dying at the rate of one or two a week. Dr. Magrath (obituary, 4 July, p 58) persisted in making out a case for lighter work for sick men, and this was finally granted. At a time when survival seemed uncertain and morale was under threat his example and his genuine care for others had a steadying effect on all. And then he was taken away from the camp. Months later I heard a sound unknown for years: men cheering. This was in a situation when to step out of line was to court a beating from the guards. I looked towards the gates and saw Dr. Magrath had entered, marching between two Japanese guards, head high, arms swinging. The cheering was a spontaneous tribute to his goodness, courage, and integrity. >