Who were the BCOF?
The Yokohama War Cemetery in Japan is home to 82 graves of Australians who served in the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) from 1946 – 1952. These 82 service personnel were part of an estimated 16,000 strong Australian force sent to Japan in 1946. The entire BCOF force totalled 45,000 from Britain, India, New Zealand and Australia.
Participation in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force marked the first time that Australians were involved in the military occupation of a sovereign nation which it had defeated in war.
The Australian BCOF contingent included 4,700 infantry, 5,300 base units, and an RAAF wing of 2,200 who were stationed at Bofu, in Yamaguchi Prefecture. There were also 130 medical personnel from the Australian General Hospital, including nurses from the Australian Army Nursing Service and the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service located at Eta Jima. In addition to these servicemen and women the Australian Navy formed part of the British Fleet.
The Australians represented approximately 30% of the 45,000 troops responsible for ‘the military occupation and supervision of the demilitarisation and disposal of the remnants of Japan’s war-making capacity.’
At its peak, the Australian contingent was responsible for over 20 million Japanese citizens and 57,000 square kilometres of country, including the western prefectures of Shimani, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Shikoku Island with the BCOF headquarters located at Kure.
The army was encamped at Hiro, the RAAF at Iwakuni, and the naval shore establishment at the former Japanese naval base, also at Kure.
In September 1945 Japan surrendered following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. The atomic bomb had caused devastation unlike anything seen before. The formal act of surrender was received 20 days after the bombing on 2 September 1945.
The Australian Army contingent of the BCOF arrived on 12 February 1946, and witnessed loss and injury to Japanese civilians on an unprecedented scale.
One of those in the Australian BCOF contingent was South Australian Clarence Charles Pollard OAM, from Payneham.
Clarrie joined the RAAF on 30 June 1942 commencing as a Flight Rigger and later Aircraft Fitter with 22nd Squadron with whom he served on Moratai, Tarakan and Labuan islands, earning him the Pacific Star and 1939-45 Star.
He volunteered at the end of the war and served for approximately 18 months.
He disembarked at Kure on 1 April 1946, arriving in appalling conditions with the whole area devastated. Clarrie witnessed firsthand the aftermath of the ‘A bombs’ on Japan’s civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, eight months after the devastation had occurred.
When asked about what he saw, Clarrie said: “You wouldn’t think one bomb could do it all. All that was left standing was anything that was round, like large chimneys. Anything rectangular or square was totally flattened. What happens is it displaces the air outwards causing a vacuum and the air comes back again so that’s when it takes everything in its path. There were so many who were so badly burned.”
Clarrie headed home in June 1947, leaving the Air Force and returning to civilian life at 24 years of age.
He met his wife, Walda, and was married for more than 60 years, and together they raised two daughters. Clarrie’s post war life included working for the Adelaide City Council as Roadwork’s Maintenance Foreman working on the conversion of Rundle Street to Rundle Mall, and the original removal of the trams from King William Street.
For his significant services to the community such as the RSL, Clarrie was awarded an OBE in 2011.
He passed away in 2015, aged 91.More about Clarrie’s life can be read on the RSL Virtual War Memorial.
“The role of the occupation force was manifold: from demilitarising a former enemy and rebuilding its basic infrastructure to the high-minded ideal of bringing democracy to a country long under the yoke of Imperial rule. The occupation experience for those Australians who spent time in Japan was diverse and complex, with some surprising legacies. It was the first time that such a large number of Australians were able to explore an Asian society in depth – a domestic encounter between people with apparently incompatible traditions and temperaments. The Australian experience of occupation encompassed power, prejudice and possibly violence, but it also engendered friendship, compassion, and even love.”
15 RAN warships were engaged on occupation tasks in Japanese home waters from February 1946 to June 1950. They included the cruisers Australia, Shropshire, and Hobart; the destroyers Warramunga, Arunta, Bataan, Quadrant, Quiberon Quickmatch, the frigates Culgoa, Murchison and Shoalhaven and the LSI’s Manoora, Westralia and Kanimbla. The naval shore base was designated HMS Commonwealth. On 1 October 1948 Australia took command of the total naval force which was redesignated HMAS Commonwealth.
At the end of the war, the Australian government, under Prime Minister Ben Chifley, sought a bigger role for Australia in the Pacific on behalf of the British Commonwealth. Chifley felt that maintaining Australia’s military effort on the scale of the BCOF provided the leverage Australia needed to ensure we would have an effective voice in the WWII peace settlement. He and the government, on the advice of senior defence force personnel, were also adamant that the Australians would be commanded by an Australian who would report to General Douglas MacArthur.
By the end of 1948, following the withdrawal of other forces, BCOF was largely an Australian commitment. Australia would not withdraw until the Japanese Peace Treaty had been signed in 1951.
By 1950 the effort had begun to be a drain on the limited manpower of Australia’s three Services, and this drain was ‘likely to be sharply accentuated’ due to a decision by the Menzies Government to introduce National Service. On 25 June 1950 events changed dramatically when the North Korean Army attacked South Korea, requiring redeployment of Australia’s principal combat elements to the war in Korea.
This turned the remaining elements of the BCOF into a convenient forward base from which to support these deployments, the technicalities and implementation of which would ultimately lead to the disbanding of the BCOF on 28 April 1952; the date upon which the ratification of the peace treaty with Japan (The Treaty of San Francisco) finally took effect.
In addition to conducting the first overseas peace time occupation in Australian history, the achievements of the BCOF included organisation and maintenance of a supply line that stretched 9,000 kms across two hemispheres. This enabled complete logistic support to BCOF and all British Commonwealth nationals in Japan. It was also the first example of Australian and US forces working in full co-operation with each other, including training and sharing of amenities and facilities. Another notable achievement was encouraging the wives and families of the BCOF members to live in Japan. This cultural exchange involved approximately 700 families of UK, Australian and Indian servicemen who travelled to Japan in 1947 and 1948, including 495 wives and 626 children from Australia. It involved the planning of Western style houses, specials shops and schools to enable Japanese people to witness firsthand Western family life
Recognition for those Australians who served with the BCOF was remedied in 1997 with the issue of the 1945-75 Australian Service Medal, Clasp Japan.