Once the Thai government officially declared war on England, the Swiss Consul assumed the responsibility of ‘looking after’ British interests. There were a number of British-owned companies in Bangkok that attempted to continue to operate with a primarily Thai staff.
But the Consul had to walk a fine line. He was first and fore-most there to look after the interests of his home country. He needed to act with extreme caution in his interactions with the Japanese on the behalf of other countries. He ended up “responsible” for the citizens of 23 countries! Many civilians of all nationalities were interred by the Japanese at a camp on the grounds of Bangkok’s Thamasat University.
The Consul was able to provide two important functions. The Embassy was also the HQ of the International Red Cross (IRC). They oversaw the shipping of millions of Red Cross Packages meant for the POWs across the world. Most of these arrived on Swiss-flag ships. Of course, once off-loaded they had no control over their handling and actual delivery. It is widely believed that the Japanese confiscated or looted many of these. If the POWs ever saw one, they were distributed in such a way that 5-7 men had to share the contents of ONE package!
Perhaps the most vital function was communication. They were able to send and receive diplomatically protected messages. From Knights’ autobiography we have indications of some of those messages. [see Section 15.1 for a review of Knights’ text]
There seems to have been regular exchanges between the Swiss in Bangkok and the British Embassy (Consulate?) in ChungKing China. The fragmentary information provided by Knights suggests that while the British were well aware of the plight of their troops at the hands of the IJA, they were reluctant to act on behalf of the POWs. It appears as if they were overly concerned that they were being scammed. But they did so in the most passive-aggressive of ways. The Swiss Consul reports that they simply ignored messages he sent requesting various types of aid. The delivery of requested funds would obviously have been a rather complicated series of secret hand-offs. The Brits seemed to feel that if they could not truly control the process, they did not want to participate in it.
As a back-up plan, the organizers of the V Organization simply asked for a guarantee of repayment of pledges. They thought that they had donors who could locally provide funds if they had assurances that those IOUs would be paid post-war. No such guarantee was forthcoming from London! Apparently, even the Chinese government offered a loan that the Brits refused. There were times when the messages suggested that the Brits were playing at this by offering a wink and a nod, as if to say, “We don’t disagree, but we can’t agree.”
So while the diplomats played word games the POWs died!
According to the fragmentary messages provided by Knights, in MAY 1943 the IRC was able to negotiate an agreement with the Japanese authorities in Bangkok to purchase supplies locally and have them delivered to the POWs – particularly those working the TBR. While laudable in its own right, such a delivery was fraught with the same myriad problems that prevented the adequate care and feeding of those POWs.
Just as they couldn’t prevent the hording and looting of the standard Red Cross Packages, they could not control deliveries anywhere. Even if the IRC personnel were aware of the existence of the V Organization, it could never be revealed as a means to make deliveries or all its members would be in jeopardy.