The strange case of John Holland

John Holland, alias David Lester, wrote a column for Tokyo's Shipping and Trade News, circa 1970, under the name Claude Carstairs. (The article reproduced below is from January 26, 1971.)

Holland, an Australian, was one of those almost legendary characters who had a series of amazing adventures before, during and after the Pacific War. In fact, he ended up on General Douglas MacArthur's initial list of suspected war criminals — for having made radio broadcasts for the Japanese.

Reporting Holland's arrest in Hokkaido on September 21, 1945, The Sydney Morning Herald said: "[He] has had a varied career. He was a car salesman in Singapore before the war and ran arms for both the Japanese and Chinese in China."

A few days later, on September 28, 1945, the Herald gave the riveting details of his apprehension:

"It was revealed today that Eighth Army counter-intelligence officers dramatically arrested John Holland, the Australian who, it is alleged, broadcast enemy propaganda from Shanghai during the war, just as he had completed plans to flee to China from Hokkaido Island.

"Holland was seized by three officers who had loaded a jeep into a plane and flown 600 miles north from Tokyo to Hokkaido, where they made a long journey by road to his hideout. They flew him back to Yokohama.

"When the officers arrived, Holland was reclining in a chair in the barber shop of the Grand Hotel at Sapporo being shaved by one girl barber, while another was manicuring his nails. Two of the officers drew their pistols but Holland surrendered meekly."

A "hideout" in the Grand Hotel? Well, no one could claim that Holland didn't have style!

The Sapporo Grand Hotel, as it was just after the war.

To cut a long story short, the Americans transferred Holland to the custody of the Australians, who flew him first to Morotai Island in Indonesia and then to Australia. But although "no charges were brought against him on his return to Australia" (Herald, October 21, 1946), his legal troubles weren't over — as he discovered after becoming a seaman and being arrested aboard an oil tanker at Hull, England, on February 18, 1947. The following article is from The West Australian of March 6, 1947:

"LONDON, March 5, 1947. — John James Holland, 39, described as a seaman, was today committed for trial when he appeared in the Bow-street police court on charges that he had committed acts likely to assist the enemy. Holland was arrested at Hull on February 18 by officers of the Scotland Yard Special Branch.

"On the same day he was remanded on charges of doing an act likely to assist the enemy, firstly, by entering the service of the German-controlled radio station at Shanghai on February 13, 1942, and secondly, by entering the service of the Japanese broadcasting system at Tokio on December 5, 1942.

"The Prosecutor (Mr. H. A. K. Morgan) said at today's hearing that he would not ask for a committal on the first charge because of certain legal difficulties. The case depended entirely on Holland's voluntary admissions. Holland had typed out and signed the most important of several documents supporting his admissions when the Americans arrested him in Tokio. Passages in this alleged statement included: 'I commenced broadcasting from radio headquarters, Shanghai, on February 13, 1942. I was asked to read a commentary written especially for the Australian audience, urging Australians to refrain from any further participation in the Pacific War.'


"Continuing, Mr. Morgan said that Holland said in a broadcast from Shanghai on August 20, 1942: 'Yesterday Churchill chalked up the blackest mark on an already lengthy dossier of dastardly crimes. It is evident now that the second front was demanded by Stalin, and to appease this monster Churchill made a foredoomed attempt to land at Dieppe.'

"Holland was also alleged to have said that he was asked to write a daily commentary on the Pacific War. He selected music and wrote a commentary called Asia's Views on the News. He was gradually asked to do more, and asked for a higher salary, which was refused. When he complained that this was rather unjust he was told, 'rather sneeringly', that if he left the radio station's service he would not be able to earn a livelihood.

"The statement continued, Mr. Morgan said, by saying that Holland had lived at the Tokio Hotel at Tokio Radio's expense. The Japanese begged him to remain when he complained that he was uncomfortable. Holland, said the Prosecutor, was allowed his freedom until April 24, 1943, when the Japanese S.S. arrested him. He was secretly tried and sentenced to three years' imprisonment for attempting to disturb the Japanese people's morale. He went to gaol in March, 1944, and was placed in solitary confinement until August, 1945, when he was taken to hospital.


"Mr. Morgan said that Holland had admitted broadcasting the scripts which were discovered after the occupation of Japan. Holland had written a letter to his father saying: 'I belong to an Australian political party here which is interested in trying to secure a separate peace with Japan.'

"Holland when he was committed for trial pleaded not guilty and asked the magistrate why he had not been tried in Australia. Mr. Morgan said: 'The case was undertaken by the Director of Public Prosecutions at the request of the Australian Solicitor-General.'

[Holland was born and educated in Western Australia. He went to Shanghai early in the war and was interned when the Japanese occupied the city. After the Japanese surrender, he was accused by General MacArthur's Headquarters of having broadcast enemy propaganda from Tokio between 1942 and 1943. He was taken to Yokohama by United States Army officers and subsequently to Sugamo prison and held there until January, 1946, when he was flown to Morotai and placed under open arrest. He was released on June 1, 1946, on instructions from Australian Army Headquarters, Morotai. He returned to Australia and told the story of what had happened to him in Japan. He joined the Tai Ping Yang (7,025 tons) of Norwegian registration, at Fremantle on September 7, 1946.]"

Justice was not long in coming. On March 26, 1947, The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article under the headline "Charge of Treason: John Holland Sentenced":

"LONDON, March 25 (A.A.P.). — John Joseph (sic) Holland, an Australian, was bound over for five years at the Old Bailey today on ten charges of doing acts likely to assist the enemy.

"Holland pleaded guilty to the charges, which alleged that after Japan declared war he broadcast over the German-controlled Shanghai Radio and later over Tokyo Radio.

"Holland's counsel described the tortures which Holland had suffered in gaol after he refused to continue to broadcast for the Japanese.

"He spent 30 months in prison, lost six stone in weight and developed beri beri, said counsel. For at least half each year Holland was put on the fourth grade ration list. He had to sit cross-legged on the floor for 14 hours a day winding pieces of string into balls.

"The guards, threw water over him and made him stand for hours at a time. At other times they flogged him until he lost consciousness.


"Holland began broadcasting anti-Allied propaganda from Shanghai Radio when Japan entered the war until about February, 1942, said counsel. Six months later he asked the Japanese whether he could broadcast from Tokyo. He was in the Japanese broadcasting service for four months and took part in propa- ganda broadcasts designed to create ill-will between Australia and Britain and between Britain, America and Holland.

"He then quarrelled with the Japanese, who sentenced him to three years' imprisonment for trying to disturb the Japanese people's morale.

"He was released in September, 1945. The Americans re-arrested him.

"Defence counsel said that Holland honestly believed that Australia's position was hopeless and that the Empire was crumbling. He tried to persuade Australians to save themselves.

"Binding Holland over, Lord Chief Justice Goddard said that Holland caused his own downfall by handing himself to the Japanese. His vanity made him think that he could influence Australia's policy."

Japanese surrender party at Morotai, 1945.

I have Holland's long account of his arrest and questioning by the Kempeitai ("Japanese SS"), which the Shipping and Trade News ran in a series of 18 articles under the headline "Letting Out Big Secrets". For technical reasons, it is unsuitable for republication here. For the time being, my readers will have to be satisfied with this sample of Holland's writing: