Rear Admiral William J. Galbraith, USN (Ret)

An Inventory of His Papers in the Navy Department Library

 

Table of Contents

Overview of the Collection

Biographical Note

Scope and Contents

Arrangement

Detailed Description of the Collection

Biographical Information

War Experiences, Newspaper Article

POW Letters Written in Shorthand

Treatment of POWs

USS Houston at the Battle of Java Sea

Correspondence, 1944 and 1992

POW Ephemera

Radio Interview

Photographs

Restrictions

Index Terms

Administrative Information

 

Overview of the Collection

Repository: Navy Department Library
Creator: Galbraith, William J., 1906-1994
Title: Papers of William J. Galbraith, RADM, USN (Ret)
Dates: 1906-1994 (inclusive)
Dates: 1940-1945 (bulk)
Quantity: 1 box
Abstract: Collection of letters written to his son while Galbraith was in a Japanese POW camp along with other material relating to the Japanese mistreatment of American POWs during World War II.

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Biographical Note

William Jackson Galbraith was born on 15 September 1906 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He attended Knoxville High School and the University of Tennessee before entering the US Naval Academy. While a midshipmen, he was a member of the Academy's gymnastic team and placed first in the intercollegiate rope climb competition. Galbraith graduated from the Naval Academy and was commissioned an ensign on 8 June 1929.

Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1929, he joined USS Texas. In August 1931 he transferred to USS Pennsylvania. He was selected for the US Olympic team in 1932 and placed second in the rope climb during the games held at Los Angeles, California.

Galbraith returned to duty afloat in August 1932 and served in various billets until 1940 when he transferred to the heavy cruiser USS Houston as the ship's Air Defense Officer. Galbraith, who had risen to the rank of lieutenant commander, was on board USS Houston when the ship went down during the Battle of the Java Sea on 28 February 1942.

Following the sinking of USS Houston, Lieutenant Commander Galbraith endured eight hours in heavy seas until he managed to reach the beach at Java. There he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. His capture was made worse by the brutality which he received at the hands of the Japanese. Glabraith's treatment was much more merciless as a result of his attempts to have his crew treated less severely. He was imprisoned on the island of Java for five weeks under conditions that caused most of the men confined with him to become seriously ill. Galbraith remained a prisoner of war (POW) for the remainder of the war, facing uncertainty, a lengthy bout with pneumonia, and eventual transfer to other POW camps in Japan. He and the other British and American prisoners watched their weight go down as their risk of illness or death increased due to malnutrition and the unsanitary conditions.

On 2 August 1942, Lieutenant Commander Galbraith was transferred to Zentsuji War Prison on the island of Shikoku, Japan. It was at Zentsuji that Galbraith had his first opportunity to contact his family. Concerned with the fact that whatever he would write home about was subject to review and censorship by the Japanese, he conceived of the idea of concealing the the contents of his correspondence by writing his letters in shorthand. Between May 1944 and January 1945, he managed to send dozens of letters home through which he "spoke" to his son about his life as a prisoner. He spent his evening writing about his experiences, his hopes, and his will to survive. Each letter opened with "Dear Billy," thereby projecting the impression that his father was beside his son, recounting the day's or week's events to him personally.

These letters served several purposes. They provided the Galbraith family on the home front with the knowledge that their husband and father was surviving his internment, giving hope that he might return at the war's end. The letters also served as a diary of the naval officer's time during the war. Perhaps most importantly, by writing the letters Galbraith helped himself to remain mentally focused on what was most important - his survival, and eventual reunion with his family.

After being liberated in September 1945, Lieutenant Commander Galbraith had a period of sick leave and attended various prospective commanding officer schools before he assumed command of USS Allagash in June of 1946. In the years that followed, Galbraith attended the Naval War College, served as head of the War College Intelligence Department, was the US Naval Attaché to Norway, commanded USS Bellatrix, was Chief of Staff and Aide to the Commander Hawaiian Sea Frontier, and commanded an amphibious group.

After retiring from the Navy, Galbraith entered the teaching profession as Associate Professor of Mathematics at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia.

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Scope and Contents

The bulk of these papers consist of approximately 100 letters written by Galbraith, then a lieutenant commander, while he was being held by the Japanese in the Zentsuji POW camp on the Japanese island of Shikoku. The letters, most of which are addressed to his son "Billy", were written in Gregg shorthand to conceal their contents. The collection consists of the transcripts, which were done by his sister and later by a member of the Naval Historical Foundation, along with a significant number of originals in short hand. The latter were frequently written on the backs of letters that Galbraith had received while a POW--presumably due to a shortage of paper in the camp--and provide a unique picture of the messages he was receiving from home. The letters from his son, who was just seven years old, are especially poignant. The collection also contains material on the Japanese mistreatment of American POWs, a few first hand accounts relating to the performance of USS Houston's main armament and the crew's morale during the Battle of the Java Sea, a list of citations prepared by Galbraith for members of Houston's crew, various photographs of Galbraith, biographical information, a recording of a radio interview conducted in Galbraith's later years, and a few pieces of prison camp ephemera.


Arrangement

The collection is arranged in folders by subject.

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Detailed Description of the Collection

Biographical Information
Galbraith's official naval biography along with several notes and papers containing information on Galbraith's navy career, family, and personal achievements.
War Experiences, Newspaper Article On
"Mary Baldwin Professor Relives War Experiences," The Mirror of Staunton [Virginia], 4 February 1965
POW Letters Written in Shorthand
Transcripts, January 1944 - May 1945 (Transcribed by James Lee, Naval Historical Foundation)
Transcripts, May 1944 - November 1944 (Transcribed by Elizabeth Galbraith)
Originals, 8, 9, 10 September 1944
Original, 15 September 1944
Original, 3 November 1944
Original, 5 November 1944
Original, 6 November 1944
Original, 8 November 1944
Original, 11 November 1944
Originals, 13, 15, 18 November 1944
Original, 29 December 1944
Originals, 6 January 1944 - 17 January 1945
Treatment of POWs
Comparison of Rations: USS Houston vs POW Camp
Mistreatment of POWs, Prisoner Statements
USS Houston at the Battle of the Java Sea
Main Battery Performance, Ship's morale
Citations for Crew Members
Correspondence, 1944 and 1992
Regarding broadcast from Tokyo mentioning his name (1944)
From Houston shipmate Maurice Hurd, radioman (1992)
POW Ephemera
Shorthand cards and practice book
Notebook and sketch pad
Pocket notebook/dictionary
POW Christmas Card from Crew of HMAS Perth to Crew of Houston
Radio Interview
Taped radio interview with RADM Galbraith on WHRO radio with Tempe C. Fiske, date unknown.
Photographs
CD containing six photographs [JPEG format] of RADM Galbraith at various stages in his life.

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Restrictions

Restrictions on Use

Manuscripts are unavailable for loan and must be consulted in the library. Photocopying of manuscripts is generally prohibited, though the use of digital cameras by researchers to reproduce non-copyrighted materials is permitted. Permission to photocopy a limited number of pages may be granted by the reference staff, contingent upon the physical state of items. All photocopying of materials shall be done by the reference staff, or under their close supervision. The use of personal scanners by non-library staff personnel must be approved by the reference staff on a document-by-document basis (Reference: Naval History and Heritage Command Instruction [NAVHISTCENTINST] 5070.1C.).

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Index Terms

This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

Personal subject:

Galbraith, William J.

Corporate subject:

USS Houston (CA-30)

Subject term:

Prisoners of war -- United States
Prisoners of war -- Japan
Prisoners --Correspondence
World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Pacific Ocean
World War, 1939-1945 -- Prisoners and prisons, Japanese
World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American

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Administrative Information
Preferred Citation

Cite as: Historical Manuscripts, Navy Department Library, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC, William J. Galbraith Papers.

Processing Information

The collection was processed and a finding aid prepared by Thomas Wildenberg in Februry 2005.

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