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Lot 59: Identity tag of a POW of the Japanese
April 30, 2015
Adelaide, AustraliaLive Auction
[Prisoner of War] The identity tag or pass of one Richard Green, a prisoner of war of the Japanese during the Second World War. It is a piece of white cloth (approximately 80 x 86 mm, slightly unevenly cut on all sides, with the top 6 mm turned over), printed with an unidentified emblem in the centre. This is a five-pointed white star set within, and almost to the circumference of, a 50 mm red circle; in essence, it resembles the Japanese national flag surmounted by a white star. Japanese text is printed in black down both sides and across the bottom margin. The cloth is in excellent condition, apart from some light stains. It has been inserted in a sheet of rigid cellulose nitrate sheet film; this has been folded in half along the top edge, with a metal eyelet pierced through it near the centre of the fold, and machine-stitching along the left and bottom edges (only a small portion of the fine thread remains). 'Eastman-Nitrate-Kodak 3' is imprinted on one edge, which also has the V-shaped notches identifying nitrate film. (Due to the inherent instability of cellulose nitrate, production of portrait and commercial sheet films was discontinued in 1939; aerial films followed in 1942. Its use here would appear to be as recycled obsolete material.) The sheet film is a little marked and uniformly discoloured yellow, with a short split near the eyelet, but essentially it is also in excellent condition.
**PLEASE NOTE** This record has been revised to include information received after the catalogue was published
The right-hand column of printed text can be translated as 'Enemy released under oath'; the name 'Richard Green' on the left-hand side, and the number '56' at the bottom, have been added by hand in black ink. A thorough search through information on prisoner of war relics located approximately fifty examples of means of identification of prisoners of war. The great majority are metal tags engraved with a unique identification number (often the soldier's service number), the prisoner's country of origin, and whether he is an officer or enlisted man. However, examples in institutional collections show that a bewildering range of other formats and materials (including wood, paper, bamboo, plastic and - rarely - cloth) was used; very few examples mention the prisoner by name. Our research has discovered at least three Richard Greens who were interned by the Japanese - an Australian (NX73681 Private Richard Harold Green, 2/19th Battalion, who was in Changi Prison), and two Americans (one a Captain and one a civilian, both interned in the Philippines) - and there may well have been more. We cannot assign this tag with any degree of certainty to any particular individual, or even to any particular country of imprisonment, but ongoing research makes it unlikely that it was issued to the Australian private.
Recent correspondence from Dr Kaori Maekawa, one of the POW Research Network Japan members living in the Netherlands, refers to a similar item in the collection of the Netherlands Institute of War Documentation (NIOD). The small cloth tag has the same star motif and printed text ('Enemy released under oath'), with the handwritten name and number 'Zaalberg 733'. This is attached to an armband on which is written 'Interpreter, P.H. Zaalberg, M.K.K.' (the latter being possibly the institution where Zaalberg worked as an interpreter). Dr Maekawa knows of a number of cases where civilians or POWs were taken as interpreters or engineers, and were granted the status 'Released on oath' by local Japanese Military Administration authorities. Apart from the fact that this item was purchased privately in Australia some decades ago, the provenance of this prisoner-of-war identity tag remains a mystery; however, its very existence is in itself remarkable.