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Jayforce: 75 Years On

By Gail Romano
Associate Curator, History

Seventy-five years ago, the main body of Jayforce, landed in Japan. Jayforce is the name given to New Zealand Forces who served as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan. Gail Romano, Associate Curator, History shares some of the stories of those who served in Japan in commemoration of 75 years since their arrival in Japan. 


The occupation of post-war Japan, largely by the US supported by a smaller British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), worked to demilitarise the country and provide support and a level of security in the early years of social and political adjustment and rebuilding. Around 12,000 New Zealanders, known as J Force1, played a role in the BCOF from early 1946 to September 1948. 

Service in Japan was painful for many, not only on account of what they witnessed there. The Kiwis were stationed primarily in the rural prefecture of Yamaguchi at the foot of the main island of Honshu, and south west of Hiroshima, through which they had to pass. They saw the aftermath of the nuclear destruction and they saw the struggles of the ordinary country people amongst whom they lived, who were barely surviving on the land. 

Hiroshima, a small child with baby on back searches amongst devastation for anything useful. National Library of New Zealand \u003ca href=\"https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130201\"\u003eJ-0012-F\u003c/a\u003e

Hiroshima, a small child with baby on back searches amongst devastation for anything useful. National Library of New Zealand J-0012-F

Image may be subject to copyright restrictions.

Nurse June Yearbury, who arrived in Japan in 1947 with the second relief draft from New Zealand, remembered:

‘We had to go through Hiroshima to get to Kiwa and that was completely flattened. It was terrible. The worst sights though were seeing disfigured people.’2 

The first members of J Force shared relatively poor living conditions including inadequate sanitary arrangements. Some of the early returnees to New Zealand made ‘pungent comment … on the Army and provisions made for changes of clothing’ for which they were publicly rebuked by Brigadier Keith Stewart, commander of the 2NZEF in Japan.3 But perhaps worse was the lack of recognition they received on their return to New Zealand, where they were not treated the same, officially or socially, as those who had seen active service in a war zone. June, who worked for 18 months at the New Zealand hospital in Kiwa (Yamaguchi) recalls RSA members saying ‘we had just gone over there for a holiday.’4 Te Awamutu man Ray Johnson, a member of a J Force relief draft from New Zealand, remembered a less-than-triumphant return:

‘There was no sign of a “Welcome Home Boys”. Just an attitude of indifference’.5 

Iris Frazer Service Medals, Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, \u003ca href=\" https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/collections-research/collections/record/am_humanhistory-object-656462\" \u003e2001.25.365.3 \u003c/a\u003e

Iris Frazer Service Medals, Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, 2001.25.365.3

Auckland Museum CC BY

In his history of J Force, Laurie Brocklebank discusses motivations for the political deployment of military personnel, involvement hitherto unknown in New Zealand external relations policy.6 Such a departure from local expectation and experience seems likely to have played a significant role in how the work of J Force was viewed back in this country. Added to this was apparent growing disapproval of New Zealand’s continued role, in part due to an industrial workforce shortage.7

Certainly, for many years J Force returnees were not deemed eligible to join the RSA although a large proportion of individual RSA members supported their inclusion.8 It was not until 1995 that post-war service in Japan was officially recognised with institution of the New Zealand Service Medal 1946–1949. Pension support was also difficult to obtain in the post-war years. In 1951, ‘The service requirements for a war veterans’ allowance were changed from “actual engagement with the enemy” to overseas service of an “arduous or dangerous nature” to fit better with World War II service. However problems existed through the 1960s with the war veterans’ allowance criteria being too restricted for World War II veterans, as few were ever in actual engagement with the enemy or in arduous or dangerous service.’9 But that there was danger in J Force service has now long since been recognised. In late 2012 it was reported that 29 J Force veterans were receiving the then War Disablement Pension under a list of conditions introduced in 2007, which included those, ‘mostly cancers, presumed attributable to exposure to nuclear radiation’.10 June remembered the New Zealanders weren’t ‘allowed to eat anything that came out of the ground…. Nobody knew just what that atom bomb had done’, although full awareness did not yet exist. She was also told of a nurse in the Italian draft a year earlier who ‘went to Hiroshima and walked around and picked up some stones or something and she brought it back to New Zealand’.

Kiwai, Magazine of the 6 New Zealand General Hospital, Japan. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, \u003ca href =\"https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/collections-research/collections/record/am_library-catalogq40-8726\" \u003eD807.N5 KIW\u003c/a\u003e

Kiwai, Magazine of the 6 New Zealand General Hospital, Japan. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, D807.N5 KIW

All Rights Reserved

Among the first Kiwis to arrive in post-war Japan were troops who would have otherwise been returning home from their service in Italy. This included staff who had been posted in October 1945 to a newly formed medical unit in Florence, No. 6 New Zealand General Hospital (6NZGH). On 19 March 1946, volunteers from this hospital unit including 37 New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS) nurses and almost the same number of private nurses, VADs or ward assistants from the New Zealand Women’s Auxilliary Army Corps Medical Division (NZWAAC), sailed into Kure harbour with the rest of the 2NZEF (Japan) contingent from Italy.11 As members of 6NZGH, the women had had the chance to work together for a few months in Italy although initially in Japan they were attached to 130th Australian General Hospital (AGH), closer to and almost directly south of Hiroshima, while the New Zealand hospital in Kiwa was prepared. 

Portrait of Iris Frazer, Collection of Auckland War Memorial Museum, Tāmaki Paenga Hira \u003ca href =\"https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/collections-research/collections/record/am_library-manuscriptsandarchives-3403\"\u003eMS-2003-107\u003c/a\u003e

Portrait of Iris Frazer, Collection of Auckland War Memorial Museum, Tāmaki Paenga Hira MS-2003-107

All Rights Reserved

Among the NZANS nurses was Sister Iris Frazer. Iris trained at Waikato Hospital, graduating in 1940. She joined the New Zealand Army Nursing Service in December 1944, and during 1945 served on HS Maunganui and with 5NZGH at Bari, Italy. Regrettably we have no details of the few months Iris spent in Japan but the glimpses of the experience of others give a flavour of her life there. 

Nurses may well have been under some pressure in the new New Zealand hospital as it was operating with a bare minimum number of doctors, and the labour shortage in New Zealand contributed to a reduced number of volunteers for relief drafts from New Zealand, and in particular of specialists, including doctors.12 Later in 1946, seven English doctors joined the New Zealand hospital, providing much needed support.13 Just as well since, according to NZ’s ‘Official Correspondent with J Force’ in June 1946, while the New Zealand servicemen were a hardy bunch and not very sickly, they were accident prone.14 The hospital also provided care for local people in the interests of keeping J Force healthy.

The hospital was a repurposed TB sanatorium that had been built for Japanese service personnel, and it was described even six weeks prior to the New Zealand medical staff moving in as:

‘a wilderness of weeds, broken windows, smells, stagnant water and dreary, unpainted buildings occupied by 200 Japanese patients in every stage of tuberculosis’.

Iris Frazer with other New Zealand Army Nursing Service Nurses, Japan. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, \u003ca href=\"https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/collections-research/collections/record/am_library-manuscriptsandarchives-3403\"\u003eMS-2003-107\u003c/a\u003e

Iris Frazer with other New Zealand Army Nursing Service Nurses, Japan. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, MS-2003-107

All Rights Reserved

By the time it opened for its first patients in the second to last week of June 1946, it had been stripped, scrubbed and disinfected with DDT although renovation was not complete.15 When the Director-General of Medical Services of the New Zealand Forces, Major General Sir Fred Bowerbank inspected the New Zealand hospital services in Japan during that period he remarked, ‘The attention in the hospitals is very good under great difficulties.’16 This was a restrained observation given that he acknowledged heating and sanitation was still a weakness and these needs were urgent in the face of approaching winter. Indeed, Iris’s colleague, fellow nurse Jean McKie who arrived from New Zealand in mid-June to begin a year’s service in Japan was ‘surprised to find the hospital building so flimsy and cold’. Winter snow drifted through cracks and the precautionary water barrels held in the hospital against fire, iced up.17 And June remembered hearing of a nurse from the first draft falling through the ‘rotten floor.'18

It seems Iris had only a short opportunity to work in the ‘new’ dedicated hospital, because she embarked for New Zealand in August 1946 as part of the second and last contingent of the J Force Italy draft to leave Japan. Her army experience left an impression and she rejoined the Army in 1950 after three years in civilian hospitals, eventually becoming matron at Papakura Camp Hospital. She received the 1953 Coronation Medal and in 1965 became an Associate of the Royal Red Cross, Second Class (ARRC).  

Serving in Japan had a profound impact on many J Force veterans, particularly those in the relief drafts who went directly from New Zealand and stayed longer than did the interim draft from Italy. Many of these men and women left the country with changed attitudes towards the Japanese people and warmer memories of their interactions and relationships than they were expecting when they first arrived. That legacy has continued to develop.


The Auckland War Memorial Museum, cares for a few objects which relate to Iris Frazer's service with New Zealand Army Nursing Service during the Second World War and Japan.

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Displaying 1 - 6 of 11 records


REFERENCES

[1] A.k.a. J-Force, JayForce

[2] Helen Harvey, ‘Our Veterans: June Yearbury saw the aftermath of the atom bomb close up’, Taranaki Daily News on Stuff, 25 April 2016. 

[3] ‘Complain about Lack of Clothing’, Northern Advocate, 22 July 1946, 5. ‘Sharp Rejoinder to Troops’ Complaints’, Northern Advocate, 23 July 1946, 6. But not all had been phased by the conditions and at least one of the first returnees described them to a reporter as ‘fair’. ‘Conditions in Japan’, Otago Daily Times, 24 July 1946, 6.

[4] Helen Harvey, ‘Our Veterans: June Yearbury saw the aftermath of the atom bomb close up’, on Stuff, 25 April 2016. 

[5] ‘Member’s Profile’, RSA Newsletter of the Te Awamutu and District, online, March 2020, 23. 

[6] Brocklebank, Laurie. 'Jayforce : New Zealand and the military occupation of Japan, 1945-48'

[7] ‘A Full Part’, Otago Daily Times, 8 February 1947, 8.

[8] ‘Honorary Members’, Ashburton Guardian, 23 August 1947, 6; ‘Readers Write. J Force and RSA’, Northern Advocate, 17 August 1948, 2; ‘Association of J Force Men’, Bay of Plenty Times, 8 December 1948, 6.

[9] From the timeline in ‘Towards a New Veterans’ Entitlements Scheme: A Discussion Paper on a Review of the War Pensions Act 1954’, Issues paper 7, Law Commisson, 2008, 30.

[10] Shane Gilchrist, ‘The Horrors of Post-war Japan’, Life & Style Magazine, Otago Daily Times online, 21 April 2012.. The War Disablement Pension was replaced in 2014 by the Disablement Pension for which service in the ‘Second World War (Japan and Japanese waters) from 15 August 1945 to 27 April 1952 is ‘Qualifying Operational Service. Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand Te Tira Ahu Ika A Whiro, online

[11] The war diary of 22 Battalion is available to view online including the full period of their service with J Force from embarkation in February 1946 to the battalion’s disbandment in August 1947. 

[12] ‘Doctors Needed’, Gisborne Herald, 23 July 1946, 4.

[13] ‘Medical Care of J-Force,’ Evening Star, 9 September 1946, 4.

[14] ‘The New Zealanders’ health is excellent, their main trouble still being injuries caused by tailing out of Japanese windows and through walls.’ ‘N.Z. Hospital in Japan’, Gisborne Herald, 15 July 1946, 6.

[15] ‘N.Z. Hospital in Japan’, Gisborne Herald, 15 July 1946, 6.

[16] ‘Medical Care of J-Force,’ Evening Star, 9 September 1946, 4.

[17] Sherayl McNabb, 100 Years New Zealand Military Nursing : New Zealand Army Nursing Service : Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps, 1915-2015, (2015), 281.

[18] Helen Harvey, ‘Our Veterans: June Yearbury saw the aftermath of the atom bomb close up’, Taranaki Daily News on Stuff, 25 April 2016. 


Cite this article

Romano, Gail. Jayforce: 75 Years On. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 4 March 2021. Updated: 19 March 2021.
URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/features/Jayforce