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Hope you ok ma?: The Jayforce letters of James Thomas Griffin

James Thomas Griffin & Victoria Passau, Online Cenotaph & Enquiry Service Manager

In Japan 1946–48 Holding bonsai tree. James is in the centre. Uploaded by Judy - Child - 27 July 2023 - Family album

In Japan 1946–48 Holding bonsai tree. James is in the centre. Uploaded by Judy - Child - 27 July 2023 - Family album

All Rights Reserved.
James Thomas Griffin served with Jayforce in Japan from 1946 to 1947, taking part in New Zealand's pivotal role in post-WWII demilitarisation and reconstruction efforts. Jayforce was part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, and around 12,000 New Zealanders served in it from early 1946 to September 1948. Stationed mainly in Yamaguchi prefecture, these forces witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by the local population amidst the ruins of war, particularly near Hiroshima.

Born in Rotorua in 1924 to Thomas Albert and Pretoria Rosamund Griffin, Jim was one of four children in his family. Jim's father, Tom, worked as an accountant for the Hawkes Bay Motor Co, later Newman’s. Before enlisting in the Army, Jim lived at 21A Grass St., Wellington, and worked as a radio engineer.

Jim embarked on his journey in July 1946 aboard the Chitral, initially joining the 5th Engineering company before transitioning to the 11 Mobile Dental Corps. His letters home – provided by his daughter Judy Cardno – give an interesting insight into the daily life, challenges, and cultural encounters of New Zealand forces in Japan, encapsulating the broader historical context of this period.

The impact of service in Japan on Jayforce veterans was profound, often leading to a reassessment of their views of the country and its people. This experience, and the gradual recognition of their contributions, underscores the significance of Jayforce in New Zealand's military history and its impact on individual lives and national memory.

The letters

6/8/46

Sorry I haven’t written to you sooner. We’ve been having sports champion competitions and haven’t had time to sign my own name but here goes. She’s a great place this Japan, to keep out of. Yes the tuckers not bad, we get plenty of rice, but it’s nothing like at home. I don’t like it much and you know how I go for it at home. I got back to the Dental on Tuesday, it’s a great little unit, still camped in the same town Yamaguchi, only now our camp is right in the town away from the main camp here and its just the best.

Sports stadium used by New Zealanders of J Force, Yamaguchi, Japan. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch: Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: J-0302-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23059758

Sports stadium used by New Zealanders of J Force, Yamaguchi, Japan. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch: Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: J-0302-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23059758

No known copyright restrictions.

They had a big fire in the main camp on Friday, one of the big barracks went up. To give you an idea of the light wood and stuff they use for building over here. This will give you it. The barracks covers an area of 150 yards in length, about 60 yards in width and was 2 story’s high incidentally. Well was she a blaze, it was a beaut, it was exactly 17 minutes from the time it started till it burned to the ground. Had 4 fire engines and three trailer pumps and they couldn’t do a thing. The loss I believe was colossal, nobody hurt luckily but there wasn’t a thing saved. It’s the best blaze I’ve seen since Clark's timber yard went up in Napier years ago -remember.

Camp Canterbury, New Zealand J Force barracks, Yamaguchi, Japan. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch: Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: J-1424-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23234100

Camp Canterbury, New Zealand J Force barracks, Yamaguchi, Japan. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch: Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: J-1424-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23234100

No known copyright restrictions.

Had a [sic] accident on the road a week ago, hit a Jap truck, got a busied rib and a black eye, nothing to talk about. The old Jap truck finished up in the paddy field, it won’t ever run again for many a day. My own stood up to it pretty well. The mosquitoes are still pretty thick over here but there haven’t been any sleeping sickness cases for a while although they are still inoculating us for it. The scare finishes this month so don’t have to worry till January about it now. We’ve got great swimming baths here, it’s a real beauty, have a lot of fun in it.

10/11/46

Image from the FV Sullivan personal collection. View across the river towards the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima, Japan. Air Force Museum of New Zealand (2012-402.23). CC-BY-NC 3.0.

Image from the FV Sullivan personal collection. View across the river towards the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima, Japan. Air Force Museum of New Zealand (2012-402.23). CC-BY-NC 3.0.

CC-BY-NC-3.0

Visited Hiroshima today - the place that was atom bombed. Not a very impressing place at all, The atom certainty made a mess of it. We had a great time though. Went out to some Princes place out at a town called Bofu, he’s got a wonderful place, hundreds of acres and a natural lake just the best for us to wander round in. Not much news to tell you. Went through to Chofu by Jeep last Friday about 50 miles from here. By the way Mum can you please send me a tooth brush and some tooth paste as you cant buy them anywhere around here.

26/11/46

Going up to Tokyo on the 8th of next month for a month so this will be the last letter you’ll receive till the new year from me I think. Putting in a new Dental section in Tokyo. I’m going up with the boss to jack things up so no doubt you can guess the boys are all very envious of my coming job. It’s the third biggest city in the world so I’ll be able to tell you all about it later on. Be alright to be able to walk into a pub and ask for a ‘C straight’ or whisky or something and a restaurant where you can have real live hopping up and down steak, eggs and tomatoes alright eh.

Having a pretty good time at present, plenty of beer and what not. I’d give anything for a fresh glass of milk though. Be getting that up in Tokyo hopefully. Haven’t tasted milk since we left NZ. Be quite a luxury won’t it. The weather over here is still holding and its really marvelous.

Had an Australian concert party here a fortnight ago, they were really tops, everyone was really tops. Best I’ve ever seen, by gee it was good.

Playing rugby here now, boy its dynamite, the ground is as hard as hell, when you fall down you come up with blood flowing quite frequently but we still play. Fools aren’t we.

Cast our votes day before yesterday. Politics is the main topic today its just like races really as they either win or lose.

They’re trying to cut our beer over here. They won’t do it. Haven’t a blaze, but it’s a wonderful opportunity for bitching & arguing the point, its really good. We also hear all the sports results from NZ every Tuesday night from Australia on the radio.

21/12/46

Winter has set in now and she’s pretty cold, had about four days of snow up to date, looks like we will be getting plenty soon, Jan and Feb are supposed to be the real snow months so am expecting to get snowed under. The sports post you sent me took just on 3 months to get here, received them last Friday so far haven’t had more parcels barring the one of soap and milk received some time ago. They were very welcome - if you can mum, will you send me some more. Mum will you also send over my footy boots soon as possible, the ones I’ve got here are a damn nuisance. Not much news this side of the world. Went down to Shimonoseki yesterday to see Jack Griffin but missed him. That place is nearly as bad as Hiroshima as far as bombing goes, its still in a mess.

The portion of Japan which was most severely affected by the earthquake and tidal wave. Otago Daily Times, Issue 26342, 23 December 1946, Page 5

The portion of Japan which was most severely affected by the earthquake and tidal wave. Otago Daily Times, Issue 26342, 23 December 1946, Page 5

CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

 

04:30am This morning had quite a good earthquake, lasted 7 ½ minutes, not bad eh. No damage done much.

Was going through to Tokyo this month to put in a new Dental Sect but the Brig put a stop to it. Worse luck. Managed to get one day up there and it wasn’t to bad. She’s a great city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6/1/47

The weather here is pretty grim, getting into the winter proper now. Had a bit of snow and quite a bit of rain over Christmas but everything went along pretty good. The Christmas dinner wasn’t too bad, won’t go into much detail, will take to much paper. Had plenty of beer and quite a bit of spirits. So there was no complaining. New Year went pretty good too from all accounts but for myself I thought it was boring. Ill give you the reason later. Well the news from this side is practically nil but Ill [sic] do my best. I suppose you heard about the quake we had over here. Think I mentioned something about it in my last letter. I was rather fortunate over that. I had been up around Honshu for about a fortnight and I left 3 days before the shake and came back to Yamaguchi luckily for me. Honshu and Osaka got hit pretty hard they are still working on the ruins. We got a fair shaking here from it though. I slept through it as usual. One of the boys woke me up after it was over and told me I’d better got down stairs and outside in case we got another, he wasn’t very popular after that I’m afraid I said a bit of French language on him and then rolled over and went to sleep again. No damage done at all, barring a couple of garages that were bout falling down before the shake, they right down now anyway, that was about all.

Fixed an old truck up. We have been here about a week before and had a trip down to Chofu (50Miles) to try her out. Didn’t go so bad either. While down here I thought I would go through to Shimonoseki as it’ s only another 7 miles.

Hope you can read my horrible writing, as I’m writing this in bed as I’m in the hospital with a poisoned leg, nothing to worry about should be out in about a fortnight came in Boxing day and that’s why I said I had a lousy New Year.

James Griffin is in the back row 2nd from right.  Taken Japan 1946. Others are unnamed. Uploaded by Judy - Child - 6 September 2023 - Family photo

James Griffin is in the back row 2nd from right. Taken Japan 1946. Others are unnamed. Uploaded by Judy - Child - 6 September 2023 - Family photo

All Rights Reserved.

17/1/47

Hope you ok ma? I’m still going strong and looking on the bright side of life, although I don’t know why I should there’s not much on the bright side. I can’t remember when I wrote last but I hope it isn’t too long ago. I went into hospital on Boxing day with a poisoned leg, it’s a great place to get infections, the country’s absolutely full of germs and diseases, but the old leg is on the mend, should be out of here next week I hope. Haven’t had a bad time though, the sisters and nurses are a great crowd and we have quite a bit of fun with them...

Your cake arrived Christmas eve, mum but I’m afraid it had, had it. If you send anymore parcels mum see if you can get the tins soldered shut, the sticking plaster comes off in the tropics and lets the air in.

4/3/47

Sorry its taken so long to write to you but there was nothing to say and that’s the truth of it. We’ve just started to get into the summer weather once more in about three weeks we will be swimming again I think. We had a few falls of snow here but nothing to talk about really. Went skiing several times and it was really good fun. Went to a place about thirty miles distant heaps of snow up there and we had quite a lot of fun. Got an old Jap Launch over here, she’s not bad either. Stripped her right down and gave her a good overhaul, just finished putting the motor together today and will put her back in the water in about fortnight I think.

There’s a lot of rumors about when we’re going home. Think the first draft goes in May or June. Don’t know if I can get that one or not, hope so.

Seems to be a great deal of experiments back in Wellington with the refloating of the Wanganella and what not. Must have been a sticky job.

24/3/47

We’ve got old Freddie Jones over here at present. He might be doing alright at it. Good show.

Heard the re-broadcast of the second Murphy v James fight. It sounded a great fight. I’d like to see this Jones in action must be good to watch.

29/7/47

Received you [sic] welcome letter yesterday and was very pleased to hear you and the rest of the family are keeping ok. This letter will be rather short Mum as I have several to write this morning. It is now 5am and it’s the only time you can write here on account of the heat, the heat this year is really terrific just about kills you. Glad to hear the tea-set arrived home ok. Mum I didn’t expect it too.

Well the next draft arrives on Sunday the 3rd I think so this will be our last weekend here I think. Should pull out about the 8th or 9th I think we haven’t been told anything yet. Don’t go making any arrangements for when I get home Mum because we have a reunion on the first night and are having bit of a do. But you can certainly get a few bottles in because we’ll be pretty dry im [sic] picking.

On his return home

Upon returning to New Zealand, his daughter Judy said that Jim received a suit of clothes and £100. He generously treated his mother and her second husband, also named Jim, to a trip to Picton, where Jim and his friends embarked on an adventurous tour of the South Island. In brief, their escapades led to them being ordered to leave the South Island within 24 hours and never return. This stern action was taken after they detonated a First World War cannon that served as a memorial to the fallen, summarily ending their eventful journey.

Jim went on to marry Maureen Joyce Tonks and had three children – Cheryl, Judy, and Craig – and worked as a refrigeration engineer for most of his life. He faced a significant challenge when he was diagnosed with throat cancer at the age of 59. Despite this health setback and the adjustments it required, Jim continued to pursue his passions, particularly swimming, much to Joyce's concern. This was especially true after the surgery left him with a hole in his throat, which Jim ingeniously managed by covering it with his thumb. Throughout his life, he battled several other cancers, including lung cancer, where he had only a 5% chance of survival. However, his incredible determination and love for life allowed him to defy the odds and live to the age of 80, passing away on August 11, 2004.

Conclusion

James Thomas Griffin's service in Japan as part of Jayforce was shaped by adaptation, cultural encounters, military responsibilities, personal challenges, maintaining links to home and observations of post-war reconstruction. His experiences showcase his resilience as he navigated the complexities of living and serving in a foreign country in the wake of World War II.

James' interactions with the Japanese culture and people, alongside the camaraderie he shared with his fellow service people, helped punctuate his often-monotonous millitary service. Challenges such as health issues and natural disasters reflect the unpredictability and hardship of post-war occupation duties. James’ letters were a crucial emotional link to home, where he could share insights, request comforts, and receive support. His observations provide an interesting perspective on a transformative period in Japan.


Acknowledgements

Ngā mihi nunui to Jim's daughter, Judy Cardno, for sharing her father's letters, offering a unique glimpse into New Zealand's time in Japan. Judy's self-published book, "Life & Times: NZ J Force," (2023) ensures these important stories continue to resonate.


Further References:

  • Brocklebank, L.W. (1997). Jayforce : New Zealand and the military occupation of Japan, 1945-48. Auckland, N.Z.: Oxford University Press.
  • Romano, Gail. Jayforce: 75 Years On. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 6 April 2021.
 

Cite this article

James Thomas Griffin & Victoria Passau. Hope you ok ma?: The Jayforce letters of James Thomas Griffin. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 20 February 2024. Updated: 23 February 2024.
URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/features/James-Griffin