This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 11 November 2000
The text here may not be identical to the published text

PoWs win their last battle - but it's too late for some

Victims will get £10,000 each

Tuesday’s announcement that men and women who were interned by the Japanese in World War II – or their surviving spouses – would receive an ex gratia payment of £10,000 each is welcome news for the people who will get it. But the long delay in agreeing to make a payment has saved successive governments millions of pounds. Only around 6000 of the 37,500 British servicemen who returned from the camps are still alive together with an estimated 2400 of the 18,300 civilian internees who survived to 1945. If the previous Conservative government had paid up in 1995, when campaigning was intense, an estimated 15,000 ex-servicemen who would have benefited, doubling the £167 million cost of the payments. With ex-prisoners dying at the rate of 10 a week, even the three-year delay by the Blair Government has saved more than £15 million. Every further week that passes before a payment is made will save another £100,000.

"Four groups of people who were interned by the Japanese in World War II will benefit.

· Members of the British armed forces

· Merchant seamen

· Civilians

· Members of the Burmese and Indian Army and those serving in the Colonial forces

Surviving widows and widowers of people in any of those four categories will also get the payment. It will be taxfree and not affect any other benefits."

Ten die every week so the three-year delay by the Government has reduced the total payout by over £15m

The Government estimates that there are 16,700 potential beneficiaries, though officials of prisoner of war and ex-service organisations say that estimate is too high. The Daily Telegraph has also learned that people who have not registered there presence in a camp before, either by claiming a war disablement pension or by joining one of the campaigning organisations, may have to go before a panel, which will include ex-prisoners and internees, to establish their bona fides.

One woman who will get the payment is Thelma Cassell. Her husband Ken survived three and half years in a labour camp after his ship HMS Exeter was sunk in 1941. She told The Daily Telegraph "I am delighted, over the moon. They have worked so hard for this. But I had a little weep. Ken never thought they would get anything. I wish he was here to share it with me."

Ken Cassell died three years ago and it has taken Thelma that long to get her own war widow's pension. Despite Ken’s serious illness – he had tropical diseases, a damaged intestine, and nightmares for fifty years – the War Pensions Agency claimed that his death from a stroke in 1997 was not due to his internment. After a long appeal process, her claim, which will mean around £150 a week, was finally agreed in August this year.

Further information

War Pensions Agency website

War Pensions Agency helpline 0800 169 22 77 or +44 1253 866043 from overseas

Royal British Legion helpline 0345 725 725

11 November 2000

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