The Story of Saigon Battalion
The first thousand prisoners of the Japanese to be shipped into slavery following the fall of Singapore later became known as "Saigon Battalion".
They sailed from Singapore to Vietnam in April 1942, with their commanding officer Lt-Col F. E. Hugonin. After six days at sea in filthy, suffocating conditions, they reached Saigon – about half of them with dysentery – and were marched into what looked like stables. This, they learned, was to be their new home.
One hundred were immediately sent on to Hanoi to build an airstrip (returning to Saigon in November), while the rest remained in Saigon, mainly to be used as forced labour on the Saigon docks.
The exact number that had sailed to Saigon was 1,118 – virtually all of them British – but they were joined there by five American prisoners three months later. This brought their total to 1,123, but that is only a notional starting figure: deaths from dysentery and malnutrition began very soon after reaching Saigon, to say nothing of two executions for failed escape attempts.
After fifteen months, about two-thirds of them were transferred to Thailand to work on the Burma Railway. Conditions there proved to be even worse, with the group losing one-fifth of their number in the first month alone.
After completion of the railway, the survivors were gradually moved into other camps and different areas, so that by the end of the war they were dispersed around Saigon, Thailand and Japan. Practically a third of those who had moved from Saigon to Thailand two years earlier were dead.
This website is dedicated to the courage and the memory of Saigon Battalion.
This is the first of the annual Saigon Reunion Dinners that were held in London after the war. Of the men standing at the side, 6th from the right is Lt. Colonel Hugonin and to the right of him is M. Emile Lienard (who became known to the men as "Sparks"). Sparks was a French resident of Saigon who smuggled news, money and medicines into the camp throughout the men's internment there - at enormous personal risk to himself. (Photo provided by Jean Roberts.)