The Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, made his first radio broadcast in the afternoon of 15 August 1945. In it, he told his nation that he had accepted the unconditional surrender demanded by the Allies at Potsdam. The next day, 16 August 1945, Major Guy Rupert Turrall of Force 136 crossed the Kyaukkyi Chaung in Burma to tell the Japanese that the war was over. Before he went, he wrote two letters, the first was to Major General David Cowan, officer commanding 17 Indian Infantry Division; the second was sent across the water to the Japanese:
Louis Allen, in his Burma: The Longest War, described Turrall’s mission as ‘precipitate and entirely unauthorized’, and an act which ’caused consternation’ in both Army and SEAC headquarters.
At two months short of his 52nd birthday, Major Turrall was in charge of Hyena Red area of SOE’s Operation Character. He had been in the field since February 1945, and had just fought the Japanese in what became known as the ‘Battle of the Breakout’. This was when the Japanese 28 Army, gathered in the Pegu Yomas, attempted to join up with the rest of the Japanese Army in southeast Burma. The 28 Army had taken a mauling from Force 136 guerrilla units as they tried to cross the rivers and chaungs; one SOE officer’s post operational report described it as a ‘turkey shoot’. Adding to Japanese casualties was the excellent cooperation with the RAF and 12 Army’s artillery units. In Turrall’s post operational report, written in October 1945, he records 1400 Japanese killed in air and artillery strikes between 9-15 August. A message from one of his officers dated 15 August reported:
‘All my targets had excellent results. The number of casualties I mentioned are absolute fact. I have not mentioned the wounded. Limping in fields, all naked. Japs were caught in a sudden ………………….. [sic] and gave them a terrific pounding. Not many escaped that strike. All these places are now stinking.’
To verify the figures, signed statements were supplied by Burmese stating how many Japanese had been killed in their area, for example Maung Po Chit of Kyaukkyi, who corroborated approximately 100 dead from aerial machine gunning, and shelling.
Perhaps, having been in the field six months and almost having survived another world war, and seeing all this carnage around him, Turrall felt compelled to try and stop the fighting – whether he was authorised to or not.
According to Allen, on crossing the chaung with his white flag and a bottle of whiskey, Turrall said “The World War is over! Let us stop this useless fighting”, and asked to be taken to a senior Japanese officer. Allen then proceeds to tell the story of Turrall’s attempt to obtain the surrender of the Japanese in Burma, mostly using the memoir of Japanese Colonel Furuya Sakuro, Recollections of Kanjo Force, published in Japanese in 1965.
With the declassification of SOE files since Allen wrote The Longest War some of the questions and gaps left by Allen can now be answered and filled. Once he regained Allied lines, Turrall gave an account of his eight days in captivity:
The account was taken down by a shorthand writer at HQ 4 Corps while Major TURRALL related his story over a continuous period of two hours, speaking rapidly and with some tenseness.
The account was then checked for inaccuracies and discrepancies, which resulted in two pages of handwritten amendments which mostly correct points of detail, for example:
The most curious point of comparison between Allen and Turrall’s debrief is the absence of Colonel Furuya Sakuro in Turrall’s account. Turrall describes how he ‘met a junior Jap officer’ at the first camp he was taken to. This officer spoke English, ‘but was not very pleasant’. He made him wait upstairs in a house until Lieutenant Kitamura arrived. Lt. Kitamura claimed to have come from the ‘high commander’, whom he would take Turrall to the next day.
That first night in captivity, Turrall stayed in ‘a forest camp’ and the Japanese guards amused themselves by ‘partially throttling the boatman’. In his own account, the boatman, Kyaw Yin, reported that ‘a Jap crept up to me and tried twice to throttle me’ during the night. He decided to escape, which he did in the early morning. Turrall was then marched two days south, where they ‘arrived at the camp of the supposed high commander.’ Kitamura disappeared for an hour, returning with a Lt. Nagai. Lt. Nagai told Turrall that his presence was illegal and proceeded to tie Turrall’s hands behind his back. He was then taken ‘into the camp of the supposed high commander’ but Turrall discovered ‘there was, in fact, no high commander there and I was placed in a lean-to shack made of leaves and bamboo, with a guard composed of an officer and 8 men.’ Turrall’s hands were tied to the roof and about twenty minutes later Allen’s Hawaiian Nisei, Lance Corporal Matsumura came in to act as interpreter.
In Allen’s account, this is where Col. Furuya Sakuro seems to have met Turrall. He ordered that Turrall be treated as a peace envoy, that his bonds be cut, to feed him, and for Lt. Nagai to question Turrall using L/Cpl Matsumura. In Turrall’s account there is no mention of the Colonel, and no mention of being fed or being untied. Instead, after questioning, Matsumura said “You lie!” and hit Turrall, after which ‘NAGAI started on me, hitting me across the face four times as hard as he could go’.
The next day, which Turrall’s account has as 19 August, Turrall reported that he ‘kept having momentary black-outs.’ This could have impacted upon his memory of events, but not enough to forget meeting Col. Furuya Sakuro? In the next round of questioning, Matsumura and Nagai tried to obtain military information, ‘pulling and jerking’ Turrall upright when he blacked out. Turrall again asked to see their commander at this point, protesting at their questioning and threats of further mistreatment.
That night, Turrall described how his Karen levy had managed to slip his ropes, but that he then heard shots and heavy noises suggesting a body had been carried away. The Japanese told Turrall that the Levy had escaped ‘and denied that they had killed him.’ Turrall did not believe them, but in fact Levy Ku La Lu had survived. In his statement, Ku La Lu said that he was beaten, but ‘[f]rom the way they treated Major TURRALL I felt sure they would kill us.’ After slipping his ropes, he escaped towards the road and ‘I heard some shots fired near the guard huts I had left. I thought by this that they had killed Major Turrall.’ At this point then, both men thought the other was dead. Ku La Lu made it back to safety by 29 August.
Meanwhile, on the morning of 20 August, Major Sugiyama arrived, and Turrall’s ropes were loosened but he was tied to two guards. They started marching south to a point Turrall estimated as being eight miles north of Shwegyin:
That morning, as we went along, a terrific straffing started […], being carried out by MOSQUITOES and SPITFIRES. We were walking towards this point and the Jap camp for which we were making was in the vicinity. We all took cover. As soon as the straffing started SUGIYAMA became violent, talking and shouting to the men. After the straffing we went on and came to the camp on a road slightly north of SHWEGYIN. This camp was obviously of some importance as we passed guard after guard on the way in to the camp. The camp was situated about a third of a mile off the road KYAUKKYI_SHWEGYIN in the forest. SUGIYAMA went away to interview somebody and came back in about fifteen minutes. I thought to myself that I was for it, because of the straffing, but we were told to continue on to the SE.’
According to Allen, Sugiyama was ordered by Furuya to take Turrall south to find 28 Army HQ, so this ‘important’ camp might have been that HQ. Here the two sources seem to tie together describing how Sugiyama started to take Turrall back the way they had come, and describing meeting Japanese officers on the road. One of these officers, who remains unnamed by Turrall, ‘smiled at me and asked me to go over and sit with him; I did so and sat down in a chair. The Jap officer then talked to me with a view, as I thought, to making me feel at ease; however, he talked mostly of himself and his battles in the Arakan.’ Perhaps this was Col. Furuya, who had led 112 Infantry Regiment there?
Back at the camp where he had been beaten, Turrall decided to try and escape. He managed to free his re-tied hands ‘threw away the ropes and […] rushed off into the forest.’ His guards shot at him, missed, and gave chase. After about a quarter of a mile, ‘realising I could not out-distance them, I threw myself down. They beat me about my head with rifle butts and kicked me in the head an face, although the senior guard was trying to restrain the other three’. Back at the hut, Matsumura asked why he had tried to run: ‘I told him that the major I was with that morning had released my hands and I was coming back quite happily, when the others tied me up and I was anxious about what they were going to do. He accepted this explanation.’
Both Allen and Turrell write about leaflets dropped by the RAF. It was at this point in Turrall’s account that Matsamura asked if he was given orders by the commander of 4 Corps, Lt. Gen. Tuker, to be a peace envoy: “This is a pamphlet dropped by your aeroplanes and it says he sent you”. In Turrall’s opinion, ‘receipt of this pamphlet actually saved my life, because they saw that there was something in my story, and NAGAI told me that they now thought I was allright [sic] and would try to make a little reparation for their treatment.’
It was now that the Japanese wanted a letter written for them, according to Turrall’s account, so as to avoid trouble now that they knew the war was over. In Allen’s account, Furuya asked for a note at the time of Matsumura’s initial beating of Turrall. In Turrall’s account, there is still no mention of Col. Furuya:
From the point where it was agreed to take Turrell back to where he had first come over the chaung, the stories diverge again. Allen wrote that ‘[w]ithin a short time Turrall was back across the Sittang, a luckier man than perhaps he realized.’
On the morning of the 24 August, Turrall set off with Kitamura plus ten soldiers to reach the British lines. The Japanese were quite jittery, at one point suggesting that Turrall was leading them into an ambush, and at another insisting they went back to the road where there were more Japanese soldiers. On the road, Turrall’s guard twice prevented him from being assaulted by those soldiers. Kitamura then tried to leave Turrell to make his own way back as he had orders to return by the next day. Turrell convinced him to take him further because he was not through Japanese lines and his safety was Kitamura’s responsibility. On the afternoon of 25 August, Turrell said goodbye to Kitamura and attempted to swim the Kyaukkyi Chaung. After avoiding Japanese soldiers and getting lost, Turrall eventually found some friendly villagers and managed to make it back alive.
The quote used in the title of this post comes from Allen. Apparently this is what Furuya said to Turrell when he met him. Whether Furuya met Turrall at all is unclear from Turrall’s account, but the statement is true, nonetheless; the Japanese with whom he came into contact did not believe the emperor had surrendered, and remained sceptical after the RAF leaflets were dropped. Other Japanese soldiers across the theatre refused to believe that their country had surrendered and that the war was over for decades after 1945. The most famous of those soldiers is Hiroo Onada, who gave himself up in 1974, but as late as 2005 there was a story about Japanese soldiers still surviving in the jungle on the Philippines.
Major Turrall might just have contributed to ensuring that Japanese forces in Burma gave up the fight sooner than they would otherwise have done, but there can be no doubt that he realised what a lucky man he was to get back alive.