Use the search box on the left to look for war crimes details, e.g. by trial location, location of alleged crime, type of crime, names of accused, names of victims, dates, etc
INTRODUCTION: wo 235 jag papers
Judge Advocate General's Office: War Crimes Case Files, Second World War
uWO 235 is the call number for a series of war crimes records held at The National Archives (TNA) United Kingdom. This series contains transcripts, supporting evidence (e.g. affidavits, photographs, maps, illustrations) pertaining to trials conducted by British military courts in both Europe and the Far East after the Second World War. The cases marked WO 235/813 to WO 235/1117 in TNA's archives relate specifically to war crimes trials conducted in the Far East -- that is, Southeast Asia, South Asia and East Asia.
Notes for Researchers
Usually each case file comprises of documents such as a charge sheet, an abstract of evidence, trial testimonies from accused, victims and witnesses under examination or cross-examination by prosecution or defence counsel, appeals from accused, affidavits and sometimes -- though less often -- photographs, maps or diagrams and other supporting evidence. However, not all case files are as comprehensive. Whether this is because some documents have been lost over time or because some investigations were less complex or exhaustive is unclear. In some cases, trial testimonies were completely absent; all that are left are summaries. And then there are the odd case files here and there that appear to have gone completely missing. Nevertheless, the bulk of the available files are often substantive -- e.g. trial transcripts are recorded verbatim for posterity (e.g. see image of page 11 of Captain Kumasuka's testimony - case no. 819 - on the left) -- and can run into hundreds of pages per case file depending on the number of witnesses and accused that were cross-examined in court.
Cases in the archive are not in chronological order in terms of dates of trials or locations. Further, where the trial was conducted is not always indicative of where the alleged war crime took place. E.g. WO 235/822 case file relates to a trial conducted in Singapore. However, the charge is for ill-treatment of British POWs at Kanburi Camp located in Thailand.
Each case file does not necessarily correspond neatly to one incidence or an alleged crime. Each case file relates to trial of particular accused. Hence, one case file can relate to a single or multiple alleged crimes, pertain to one specific incident or involve a variety of alleged incidences spanning months or years. The latter is particularly true in cases where charges relate to torture or ill-treatment of persons perpetrated at a specific police station or prison for the duration of the occupation. Such cases appear to form the bulk of the alleged crimes tried in the aftermath of the war. That is, the majority of crimes tried relate to actions by the Kempeitai or military police. There are however several cases which point to a particular army garrison or division. These types of cases often involved massacres or mass killings.
While perhaps obvious, it should be emphasised that not all war crimes were reported or tried. As such , the war crimes trials are a valuable primary source in providing insight into war and occupation in the Asia-Pacific generally, and in British Malaya and British Borneo more specifically. However, rich in details they may be, they cannot provide a complete or exhaustive account of events during that time.
It is noteworthy for example, that while rape was known to have been widespread, to date I have yet to come across a trial relating specifically to this crime. Further, I have found no cases relating to the abuse of women at comfort stations, though these too were known to have existed and have been documented by researchers such as Nakahara Michiko (Waseda University) and Hayashi Hirofumi (Kanto Gakuin University).
Lastly, it should be noted that investigations and trials came to a halt in December 1948 as part of Allied attempts to rehabilitate Japan as a bulwark in Asia against the growing perceived threat of communism. Further, several known war criminals became respected politicians within an occupied Japan government, while some others were subsumed within Allied covert operations as agents. Therefore, when examining the war crimes trials presented here, it would be prudent to recognise that many of the cases tried did not involve more renowned or higher ranking officials who had served in these particular theatres of war.
A final caveat: Please note that any of the images from the WO 235 cases used on this website are my own photographs and are not official copies ordered from TNA. As such, they are meant for illustration purposes only. Please do not copy, reproduce or distribute them. All images are credited and captioned. Archival images distributed under Creative Commons licence are indicated.
If, after reading about a specific case, you wish to have copies of any of the records mentioned on this website, please take note of the case file number and order from TNA:
Alternately, some cases are available freely via the UN's International Criminal Court website (ICC). Link: https://www.legal-tools.org/ (though requires a bit of digging about).
I have tried to be as concise, careful and accurate as possible. I apologise in advance for any unintended omissions or errors on my part.