New Zealand Embassy Tokyo, Japan

2NZEF (Japan): New Zealand's involvement in the occupation of Japan

New Zealand agreed to contribute around 4000 personnel as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) to work alongside the United States military forces following the surrender of the Japanese Government in August 1945.

There were two components to the New Zealand force. The first was an army brigade formed in northern Italy. It was made up essentially of conscripts, where possible unmarried men. Some officers and specialists were asked to volunteer and the Maori and nursing components were recruited solely from volunteers. A much smaller airforce squadron , made up entirely of volunteers, was formed in New Zealand.

Jayforce, as the 2NZEF (Japan) contingent became known, trained in Italy until February 1946 when personnel, supplies, equipment and transport were embarked for the journey to Japan. The airforce contingent, No 14 Squadron, sailed from New Zealand with new aircraft on board a British carrier.

All arrived in Kure on the Inland Sea of Japan in March 1946. The BCOF was to be responsible for Hiroshima Prefecture as it contained a large port, Kure, and an adjacent airfield, Iwakuni. However the zone of deployment was not big enough and so the area was extended to neighbouring prefectures. Jayforce took over responsibility for Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The key tasks for Jayforce soon became those of a peacetime military force. They searched for and collected military equipment. Post-war Japan was economically devastated and was therefore an ideal environment for black marketing. Policing duties for Jayforce included monitoring black market groups and also large gatherings of people on public occasions. There were repatriation centres in Yamaguchi where Jayforce had to oversee returning Japanese servicemen and civilians and departing Koreans. The coastline was also patrolled against smuggling.

The task of promoting democracy in Japan was more difficult but Jayforce supervised local and national elections in Yamaguchi.

Promoting and maintaining the prestige of the Allies was a significant role for Jayforce and involved ceremonial marches through towns in the prefecture and the regular deployment of a guard battalion to Tokyo for a month. The guard battalion was based at Ebisu Barracks and took part in ceremonial guard duty at, for example, the Imperial Palace and the British Embassy.

Initial difficulties that were encountered, such as lack of supplies, transport disorganisation, poor accommodation and a high incidence of disease, were gradually addressed. The original draft of personnel from Italy was replaced by volunteers from New Zealand. More food and equipment was brought from New Zealand, vegetable gardens were established, personnel inoculated and living quarters improved or rebuilt.

However the reality of the situation in Japan was that lack of activity became a problem. Sentry duty and basic drilling were very monotonous but in the absence of military activity, exercises and manoeuvres dominated. The implications of this were a heavy emphasis on sport and other recreational activities and a high level of misbehaviour and crime. By mid 1947 the decision was made to reduce personnel numbers and this continued until the final pullout of Jayforce and No 14 Squadron in the second half of 1948.

Once back in New Zealand Jayforce personnel found they were treated differently from WWII veterans. Their service went unrecognised and until 1964 they were not eligible to join the RSA or receive war pensions. It was not until 1995 that the New Zealand Service Medal 1946-1949 was instituted to recognise military personnel who had served in the occupation forces in Japan.

The main reference for this article is "Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-1948" by Laurie Brocklebank, Oxford University Press 1997, Auckland.

Margaret Pointer, Tokyo, 2008

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