Major Hashida’s Diary: a Japanese spy in wartime Australia, Part 3

Previous parts gave the background to Major Sei Hashida’s espionage mission to Australia in January-March 1941, including a description of the Australian intelligence establishment which had kept him under surveillance.

Hashida spent ten days in Melbourne. As a city, he found it ‘more agreeable than Sydney’.

By now political developments were beginning to complicate his progress. Prime Minister Menzies was abroad, having travelled to the UK via Singapore, where he had been alarmed by the weakness of the defences. In place of Menzies, Arthur Fadden was Acting Prime Minister and on 12 February he made a major statement in which he said that Australia was faced with an international situation of the ‘utmost gravity’. ‘We find ourselves in serious danger of hostile action near or upon our own coastline’, Fadden said. His comments were seized on, and widely reported in Australia and overseas, as an official pronouncement that Japan was close to precipitating war in Asia. Hashida commented in his diary that Fadden’s statement was ‘exaggerated’, but it dominated his conversations over the next few days.

Hashida also noted news items directly related to military affairs, like an increase in the training obligations for the Militia – made up of soldiers who had been conscripted, but who were not liable for service overseas. He also recorded how in Sydney the authorities had begun to take air-raid precautions, digging shelters and issuing pamphlets.

Surveillance was constant. Hashida made a courtesy call on the Victorian Police Commissioner who, according to the post-war article in the Melbourne Herald mentioned above, masterfully spun out his interview with Hashida long enough to allow ample time for intelligence officers to get into his hotel room and examine his luggage.

In Part 1 we encountered John Sleeman, the journalist, fixer and racing tout who had ingratiated himself with the Japanese Consulate in Sydney. Another employee of the Sydney Consulate in 1939-1940, though one who carried themselves with slightly more dignity, was Hugh Millington.

Millington had worked as a journalist in China throughout the 1920s and 1930s. At the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, he had taken the line that the Japanese were justified in their ruthless assault on the Republic of China. Nowadays the Japanese aggression, including episodes such as the Rape of Nanjing, is regarded as a crime against humanity on a massive scale. But before the outbreak of the Pacific War, a considerable body of opinion in the West held that Japan had been forced by Chinese corruption and maladministration to step in to defend its own (and other foreign) interests. This, of course, was the same argument the European powers had been using to justify their own aggression against China for a century. The point is that Millington was not alone in his beliefs, though as the extent of Japanese aggression grew, such views became harder to support.

Recommended by his pro-Japanese stance, in March 1939 Millington was appointed editor of the Sydney-based Far Eastern Trade Bulletin, a monthly publication sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce. The Bulletin reported a judicious mix of statistics, changes to trade regulations and sly observations on Australia-Japan relations, such as the fact that the khaki uniforms of the Australian Army came from Japanese cloth mills. But because of the continuing Japanese aggression, by January 1941 Millington felt that he could no longer reconcile working for the Japanese with his unquestioned loyalty to King and Country. So he resigned from the Far Eastern Trade Bulletin and moved to Melbourne.

But for all his renunciation of his lucrative position and his protestations of having severed his ties with the Japanese, Millington remained on the Consulate’s books.  A telegram sent from the Consulate in Sydney to Melbourne and intercepted by Ic, the postal surveillance wing of MI, shows Millington making arrangements for Hashida’s visit to Melbourne.

When they met, Hashida quickly sized Millington up, identifying his besetting weakness of sitting on the fence. On the one hand Hashida found Millington to be ‘a little pro-Japanese’; but on the other he noted that the journalist ‘disapproved of the methods of Japanese soldiers in China from sentimental motives …’.

For his part, Millington would comment on Hashida in a newspaper article he wrote a year later: ‘The subject which seemed to interest Hashida most during our conversation was the “White Australia” policy, and the frequent use of the word “Japs” for Japanese. The latter is a very sore point indeed with most Japanese … They consider it is used in a belittling way and that it implies inferiority of the Oriental race’.

Hashida, Millington continued, was ‘a serving Major in the Japanese Army, with three years’ Chinese war experience. The Major’s mission was no secret, and he made no secret of it. He came to Australia to find out all he could about military matters here. And the Military Intelligence Department at Headquarters in Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, assisted him all they could …’

The Major would definitely not have agreed with this latter statement. By now MI was taking a tougher line than they had in Sydney, and began to rule not just individual sites like military facilities, but whole areas off limits to Hashida. ‘Each morning’, Millington recalled, ‘a high-ranking Intelligence Officer at the barracks called on the Consul (Otabe), who was accompanying the Major on his visits, and drew a rough map for his guidance. The Major was allowed to cover the area marked, but no other …’

But Hashida just ignored MI. Forbidden to go to anywhere near the coastline, on 13 February he went to Geelong anyway, with the assistance of a Melbourne-based Japanese businessman, and they looked over the harbour together. On the morning of 14 February Hashida witnessed a military parade through Melbourne; his diary describes the soldiers as ‘AIF’ but in fact the unit was the AMF’s 4th Brigade, at this stage still a part-time Militia unit. Hashida wasn’t overly impressed; he noted that their rifles were old. In the afternoon, he went for a drive into the country beyond Seymour. On 16 February he visited Healesville Sanctuary with a party of Japanese businessmen and their wives to see the koalas.

Meanwhile, relations with MI deteriorated; on 17 February Hashida was shown over a wool mill by a Major Walker, but the next day he was forced to take ‘a severe attitude’ towards Walker to show him ‘that his way of treating me is improper’ – i.e. that in abruptly limiting his access, Walker was showing Hashida insufficient respect. But Melbourne was not entirely unfriendly; ‘Miss Brisbane’ reappeared and she and Hashida went for a moonlit drive along the foreshores of Port Phillip Bay. Despite his suspicions of her, it sounds like that Hashida had been sufficiently taken with ‘Miss Brisbane’ to ask for her phone number in Melbourne.   

On 18 February Hashida and Otabe had lunch with an officer attached to MI, a Major Grey, who had family connections with Japan and spoke good Japanese. Hashida had asked the local Japanese manager of Kanematsu to arrange the meeting and Grey kept a record of the conversation, which was later circulated by MI among the intelligence community.

Hashida wanted to make his usual complaint, that MI were restricting his movements too closely, to an officer who might be more sympathetic than the unyielding Major Walker, adding that Minister for the Army Percy Spender had given him a ‘rather cool reception’. According to his account, Grey responded that given the constraints Japanese authorities placed on foreigners in Japan, Hashida had nothing to complain about. Grey cited the fate of British journalist and MI6 agent James Cox, the Reuters correspondent in Japan, who was murdered at the Tokyo police headquarters in July 1940.

Hashida raised Fadden’s statement of 12 February with ‘surprise and dismay’, saying that nothing in Japan’s recent conduct had warranted Fadden’s warning that conflict in the Pacific was imminent. Grey’s rejoinder was that Tokyo’s signature of the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy had unequivocally made Tokyo the friend of Australia’s enemies.

Summing up, Grey observed that Hashida did not seem to be a regimental officer: he was too young for his supposed rank of Major and his overall interests and attitudes did not align with what Grey knew of the Japanese officer corps. Grey’s conclusion was that Hashida was certainly working for Japanese military intelligence and that his real mission was to prepare for the evacuation of the Japanese community ahead of the outbreak of war as well as – obviously – to pick up as much useful information as he could.

Grey’s supposition about Hashida’s military standing was confirmed two years later (see Part 5). His other guess – that part of Hashida’s mission was to warn the business community to go back to Japan – was also correct. As it happened, the majority of the Japanese business community left Australia four months before Pearl Harbour.

Next: Adelaide to Darwin

(Nick Hordern is the co-author, with Michael Duffy, of two histories of the Sydney underworld: ‘Sydney Noir’, which covers 1966-1972; and ‘World War Noir’, which covers 1939-1945. Both are published by NewSouth Publishing.)

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