This special Prisoner of War Post cover with Air Mail vignette was sent from Brisbane in1945 (month not certain) with a ‘3 Opened by Censor’ label, as well as a purple boxed ‘Opened by Censor 195’ marking. It was addressed to Service No.: Q302572 Rank: Lieutenant Noel Joseph Lyons, Camp Zentsuji, Japan. A 5d stamp was required, and a pair of the red 2½d Duke and Duchess of Gloucester stamps were applied. This stamp was issued 19 Feb 1945. There was a pointing finger “RETURN TO SENDER/SEE BACK” marking (Figure 1).
The reverse showed that the letter was probably sent by his mother Mrs A.M. Lyons, Figtree Pocket , (a suburb of) Brisbane and there was an additional pointing finger with “RETURN TO SENDER”. The seller described the item as follows: A rare cover. Great combination of postal markings and a scarce destination. Prisoner Lyons was captured at Rabaul, taken to Zentsuji and later moved to Hakodate #4, Japan (Figure 2).
The listing of Australian Prisoners of War (P.O.W.) in Japan confirmed that Lt. Noel Joseph Lyons was captured at the New Guinea Headquarters, Rabaul and he was sent to Zentsuji P.O.W. Camp. The heading of this list states: “NOTE: Most of the Australians were moved to Hakodate and rescued at Hakodate #4”. Searching Hakodate confirmed Lt. Lyons’ name, showing that he had been transferred to Hakodate #4, but no date was given. Another important point mentioned in the Zentsuji list is as follows: “This list is NOT the rescue roster”, so it is possible that Lt. Lyons died in captivity in Hakodate and this might account for the Return to Sender marking. Whereas Zentsuji is found on the map of Japan in the main island of Honshu, Hakodate which is in the north island of Hokkaido, is not shown (Figure 3).
A picture taken in 1942 is the only known photo of ‘Saki Pete’ of the Zentsuji Japanese Army Administration (Figure 4) and this hand-drawn postcard was made by an inmate of the Zentsuji Prisoner of War Camp in May 1943 (Figure 5).
There was not much to laugh about in these Japanese camps where so many were subjected to privations and hard labour, and many died.