Danes in Siam During World War II
December 17, 2006 – by Gregers Møller
During the Second World War, the Danes in Siam were not rounded up and imprisoned by the Japanese along with the British and Dutch foreigners. Because of the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940 and as the Germans were allied with the Japanese, the Danes were considered to be friendly along with the German foreigners in Siam at the time.
This good fortune was used by many members of the Danish colony in Siam to secretly help the other foreigners, who were held prisoners in camps near the Palace, and also later on the prisoners of war in the Japanese PoW camps. The most infamous of these camps were the Kanchanaburi camps where the PoW’s were building the Death Railway to Burma.
Ten years after the war ended, in 1955, one of the Danes, Chrtistian Frederik Schiøpffe wrote a report on what happened during the war seen from a Danish perspective. His purpose was to ensure that the heroism of the Danes would not be forgotten. Ironically, his report was indeed for many years forgotten in the Danish Royal Library until in 2005 it was suddenly found by the amateur historian Peder M. Jørgensen, who was looking for data on Danish persons who over the years have lived in and had an impact on Thailand.
Peder M. Jørgensen forwarded the report, including the result of his own research on the names of the persons mentioned in the report, to Editor Gregers Møller who has made it available to a wider audience on https://scandasia.com/rapport-vedrorende-den-danske-siam-kolonis-forhold-under-den-anden-verdenskrig-fra-9-april-1940-og-indtil-1945/
It is clear from Schiøpffe’s report, that the balancing act by the Danes vis-à-vis the Japanese was extremely dangerous. There was death penalty for trying to help the prisoners of war. The Schiøpffe himself as well as his wife was arrested seven times by the secret Japanese police during the years from 1940 to the liberation in august 1945 and threatened with execution. He believes himself that not least the connection of one Japanese diplomat and several high ranking Siamese saved his life.
The most dangerous time for the Danes were towards the end of the war. Especially after Denmark was liberated in 1945 and thus were no longer allies of the Germans and even broke off diplomatic relations with Japan. The Japanese wanted to arrest all the Danes, but could not do this without the cooperation of the Siamese who dragged the arrest out using various technicalities as their excuse.
In August, however, the Danes were finally requested to report themselves to the Lumpini Police station where they were locked up and one by one underwent interrogation.
During those final days of the Japanese occupation, especially one Siamese, His Highness Prince Ajavadis Diskul intervened in favour of the Danes. He personally attended all the interrogations to ensure that they were all conducted according to protocol as the outcome was now a matter of life and death.
But he was not the only friend of the Danes. The Bangkok Police Chief Luang Adun Adun provided every morning the Danes with a transcript of the daily BBC news bulletin which was consequently shared and destroyed. Another Siamese who was always backing the Danes was Luang Raksa Nawes.
A high-ranking Siamese quoted by Schiøpffe said that “We have never forgotten the true friendship of the Danes which was shown so beautifully when practically every single male among the Danes in 1893 … a total of 21 men … were the only foreigners who reported for military duty on the Siamese side in the war against France.”
Eventually, it was the drop of the Hiroshima bomb that spared the lives of many Danes who were interned at the Lumpini prison. The Danes were released immediately after the Japanese capitulation.
Schiøpffe himself witnessed to his amazement how the Japanese soldiers turned over the control of Bangkok’s new harbour to the British on 29 August 1945 and saluted the British officers with seemingly the same pride as they had the day before saluted their own officers.
The Danes were also in the forefront during the assistance to the allied troops after the war. The British prisoners of war were sent home by airplanes immediately after the liberation while the Dutch stayed on for some time.
One of the many Danes helping them with their recovery was the author’s wife Mary Schiøpffe. She was given command over 20 Japanese PoW’s and helped in particular with the evacuation of the many wounded or extremely weakened Europeans coming up from Indonesia who needed to be sent home.
Back to normal:
On the morning of New Years Day, 1946, the EAC vessel “Fionia” arrived as the first evacuation ship. The foreigners were evacuated, the job was done and a strange emptiness occurred.
Without a handshake or a thank you, the many ladies who had been active during the after war assistance, went back to their previous lives. Their husbands, who had circulated illegal BBC news and smuggled medicine to help the prisoners on the Death Railway went back to their drawing boards and business desk.
An epoch of danger and heroism was over and everyday life returned.
Among the Danes in Siam during the occupation, some were more active than others in the underground assistance to the allied forces. Schøpffe mentions in his report in particular the following:
[hereafter follows a list of dozens of Danish citizens who assisted]