"F" Force - stories



Introduction Training War Prisoner of War Return to Australia


POW | Surrender - 1942 | Singapore - from Feb.1942 | Burma -Thailand Railway | "A" Force | "B" Force | "C" Force | "D" Force | "E" Force | "F" Force | "G" Force | "H" Force | "J" Force | Singapore - from March, 1945 | Surrender - 1945

Departed Singapore - April, 1943

1) Bruce and Bob

NX37498 - JACK, Robert William, Sgt. - C Company, 13 Platoon
NX38682 - McDOUGALL, Eldred Ernest (Jock), A/U/Sgt. - C Company, 15A Platoon
NX37575 - MITCHELL, Bruce, Cpl. - C Company, 13 Platoon, Doi Kanburi (Post Dysentery)

"Bruce and Bob Jack and I were made Corporals at the same time in 13 Pl. C Company and went all through action and "F" Force together until Bruce and Bob went further up the 'LINE' to No. 3 Camp - Kami Sonkurai - Bruce going on the 28/7/43 and Bob on 2/8/43. It was at Kami that Bruce became a very sick man with dysentery, Beri-beri and Malaria, as I saw, when passing through during one of the trips we made into Burma for rice supplies. He died at Kanburi on the way back to Singapore on 4/12/43 from these illnesses - aged 21 yrs. 10 mths.

(Source: E.E. (Jock) McDougall - Makan No. 264, Jan/March, 1982)

2) We shook hands

NX37374 - THORBURN, Archibald John Kennedy (Arch), A/U/L/Sgt. - C Company HQ

"We literally wasted away through lack of food. I went from 13 stone down to 8 stone and every other member of the Battalion lost proportionately the same weight. Ordinarily, when a group of Soldiers is indulging in an animated conversation, the subject is usually, to use a modern expression, "booze and birds". In the P.O.W. days any such animated discussion would be about food.

I recall waking up one morning and thinking, "something good is going to happen today. I know, the Back-up is on the "T"s. That meant that at midday the Korean Guards' leavings would be distributed, 2 dessertspoonfuls, to a man alphabetically and that day, since my surname commenced with T, would entitle, me to a part of the remnants of the Koreans' meal. The Korean is a dirty feeder - he slobbers in his bowl and most of them had V.D. to our knowledge. My subconscious mind had obviously been dreaming of this mind bending experience all night.

I recall being beaten unmercifully over the head by one of our guards, for what, I considered, a minor breach of discipline. They were strange people, those Koreans. When he had finished his beating he offered me a cigarette. I accepted it, flung it on the ground, glared at him and turned my back, waiting for something pretty dreadful to happen to me. Nothing happened. On our return to camp at the end of the day, I was summoned before the Senior Officer. There I saw my erstwhile belter with an Interpreter and it was explained to me that, when the Japanese Soldier had occasion to discipline me, I had looked resentful. Was that true or false. I said that I did not know how I looked, but that I certainly felt resentful. This was explained to my accuser, who looked puzzled, but said, through the Interpreter, "Would the Australian Soldier shake hands with him. I thought that this was not the time for mock heroics. I want to get home to propose the 40th Anniversary toast, so I said, "Certainly". His face broke into a great smile and we shook hands heartily."

(Source: Arch Thorburn - Makan No. 258, Dec, 1980)

3) Wally Mason

NX31689 - MASON. Walter Charles (Wally), L/Cpl. - A Company, 9 Platoon, Died of illness at Changi on 12/3/1944
NX29196 - MOONEY, Roy Ernest, Pte. - A Company, 9 Platoon
NX12530 - COOPER, James Herbert (Jim), Lt. - HQ Company, Carrier Platoon

"Re Wally Mason, we of course were in the same truck going to Thailand. (You were in truck 13, train 5 on F Force, Roy). We had the same experiences as the rest - I left Sonkurai with Jimmy Cooper’s party. We went to Konquita, unloading barges of stores to feed the Nip soldiers on their way to Burma. I lost contact with Wally until we got back to Changi. I saw him every day. He was in hospital at Selarang, He died there and I attended his funeral there. He had a normal burial for there – Padre, Last Post etc."

(Source: Roy Mooney - Makan No. 263, Oct/Dec, 1981)

4) They were always happy

NX45594 - ANNAND, Charles (Charlie), L/Sgt. - D Company, 16 Platoon
NX36597 - DOOLAN, Amos Anthony (Mossy), Sgt. - B Company, 11 Platoon

"They were all good fellows and their little faults sink into nothingness now. When one sits and thinks back to those years, little pictures fall down into one's mind - Charlie Annand working himself to death, in the rain, because he couldn't bear to see a weaker man do something he could do himself  - Mossey Doolan joking quietly as he died in No. 3 Camp, Sonkurai. They were always happy and would want us to be too"

(Source: Stan Arneil - Makan No. 12, Nov, 1947)

5) Some of the boys killed a yak

NX41357 - CAMERON, Alan Rentoul - Lt. - C Company, O/C 15 Platoon
NX47871 - WALLIS, Edmund Winston (Punter), Pte. - C Company, 15 Platoon

"You asked about Alan Cameron. I was with him on the Burma Railway, but can't recall him having any sickness other than what we all had. I clearly remember one incident, when we were all starving, as we always were, and some of the Boys went out and killed a yak. When this was discovered by the Nips, no one would admit to it, so poor old Alan stood up and took the blame, although, as far as I knew, he knew nothing about it. So he took the bashing those little yellow Coots were so fond of handing out. Alan was a fine fellow, and many a cigarette he gave me, when I was feeling at the end of my tether, and my deepest sympathy goes out to his wife and family."

(Source: Punter Wallis - Makan No. 254, May/Jun, 1980)

6) Remembering some of the men

NX71966 - CARROLL, John Leslie (Jack), Pte. - A Company, 9 Platoon
NX54143 - CHARLTON, Alan Edgar, Pte. - HQ Company, Pioneer Platoon
NX27854 - HUNTLEY, Neilson Leonard Stenhouse (Neil), Cpl. - B Company, 11 Platoon
NX20447 - MASON, Joseph (Joe), Pte. - HQ Company, Carrier Platoon
NX20450 - MASON, Peter, Cpl. - HQ Company, Carrier Platoon
NX37708 - McNIVEN, Ernest Francis (Ern), Pte. - A Company, 8 Platoon
NX65549 - MUSGROVE, Sydney Kitchener (Sid), Pte. - D Company, 17 Platoon
NX27147 - PARSONS, James Charles (Jim), A/Cpl. - BHQ, RAP
NX65486 - QUINTAL, Laurie Patterson, Pte. - HQ Company, Signals Platoon
NX70453 - TAYLOR, John Lindsay, Capt. - BHQ Company, M.O.

LAURIE QUINTAL in the Signal Platoon from Norfolk Island, and whom I got to know very well on "F" Force. What a fine young man he was. I will never forget him! While we were "resting" at Selerang before going up North, he had found a guitar and used to sing, in quite a good voice, a song about 'The Singing Hills'. He like a lot of our mates, is still 'up North'.

You know, I got to thinking about that trip a few days ago; spending 5½ days jammed in those 'box cars', that were like furnaces during the day; taking turns to sit in the doorways (what a treat! I'll never forget how exciting it was to be told it was one's turn); we also had to take turns in lying down at night, because 28 men couldn't all lie down at the one time and, of course, so that we wouldn't mutilate each other, we'd hung our boots across a line rigged diagonally across the car after we had entered it.

We were fed six times in that 5½ days. The last meal was made up from tinned rations, that we had carried, (unknown to the Japs) and the meal was issued, when we had gone 40 hours without (seemed like 40 days!) and looked like it could be another 40 hours before our 'Hosts' came good.

I remember sharing the door with the late JACK CARROLL, "A” Company (what a wit); after about 30 hours of the fast and it was late in the afternoon, he turned to me, as I watched that jungle hurrying the other way and said, "Charlton, Old Boy, I'd like to meet face to face with a Tiger - I'd bite him to death. No trouble!"

We detrained at Bampong in the early morning darkness and, do you know what? My boots were missing! Someone must have taken them, as we all had boots, when we got into the 'box car'. So, I had to march that 199 miles in 15 nights and work there for months with bare feet. No wonder I was rotten with Hookworm (they had to start treating me on our return home here to Australia).

I got to remembering some of the men, that were with me on that trip and their devotion to their mates. That was an education that was, and now, from the security of my present life I realise, that it was an experience that I am not sorry I had, in one sense.

We all know of the way JOHN TAYLOR walked twice as far as we did on that march, up and down the line, looking after his men, - What a man! - a credit to his profession, but, how many of us remember that his batman, SID MUSGROVE, carried his own gear plus that of JOHN TAYLOR. Then when we were in camp, the work done by NEIL HUNTLEY, working as an orderly in the Hospital and those are only two, that come to mind, (Of course, there were those whose actions were just the opposite, but I'd rather forget about them, ) Oh! JIMMY PARSONS was another I remember with affection, also ERNIE MCNIVEN.

Then there were, of course, the funny bits, like the day the Japs had us on a special parade at No. 3 Camp and, on the way back to the hut, I got "caught short" and had to go to the nearest latrine, that happened to be for "Officers Only", it had a low Hessian wall around it and a Bastard of a Pommy Captain was abusing me for being there; the dysentery was nearly turning me inside out, and the boys were cheering me on! Oh, two others I have great respect for PETER and JOE MASON.

(Source: Allan Charlton - Makan No. 240, March/April, 1978)

7) A mere 6 stone

NX67315 - DUNCOMBE, Raymond Stewart (Ray), Pte. HQ Company, Signals Platoon

"Ray also became interested in Basketball in Malaya. He had weighed 11 to 12 stone, so trained and reduced his weight to 10½ stone and kept it at that weight, so that, when he left Selerang on "F" Force, he was still 10½ stone solid, but, when he came back to Changi, he was a mere 6 stone."

(Source: Ray Duncombe, Makan No. 251, Nov / Dec, 1979)

8) Out of weed

NX67315 - DUNCOMBE, Raymond Stewart (Ray), Pte. HQ Company, Signals Platoon
QX19117 - WALSH, Patrick John (Paddy), Very Reverend Dean - MiD, DD - Padre BHQ

"While up at No.1 Sonkurai, Paddy Walsh asked Ray once, if Ray had a smoke. Ray thought Paddy was out of weed and said, "No, Padre, I am sorry, but I have not any." However it was the other way round, it was Paddy who wanted to make a hand out. He gave Ray some weed, apologising for it being boong weed, then asked if Ray had any paper, and the answer being "No", Paddy took out a Bible and tore some pages out, giving them to Ray, but saying, "Now, before you use them, you must read them."

(Source: Ray Duncombe, Makan No. 263, Oct/Dec, 1981)

9) "F" Force diary

NX30914 - BROWN, Gordon Victor, Lieut. - A Company, O/C, 7 Platoon
NX56826 - TUCKEY, Francis Harmston (Frank), Pte. - A Company, 7 Platoon

NX56826 - Pte. Frank TUCKEY, 7 Platoon, A Company, 2/30 Battalion was asked by NX30914 - Lieut. Gordon V. BROWN, to make a record of the experiences in No. 2 Camp, on "F" Force.

Pte. Tuckey was originally in No 1 Camp, then moved to No 2 Camp. He died on 11/01/1944, in AGH Changi, after his return from the railway. more....

(Source: 2/30 Bn. Archives - originally transcribed from the Diary written by Pte. Frank Tuckey for Lieut. Gordon Brown)

10) On arrival at Sonkurai

NX10825 (NX502833) - BEGGS, Vincent John (Vince), Pte. - B Company, 12 Platoon
NX36285 - GARNER, Donald Francis (Don/Afghan), A/U/WO2 - B Company, Coy. HQ

We are told that Vince was kicked in the chest by a horse, when he was a boy, and that the muscles had become knotted together, though no difficulty to being accepted in the Army and had come to Battalion, “B” Company, as a 3rd Reinforcement.

He is remembered also as having had a box-on with one of the B Company Sergeants and beaten him. (NX36285 - GARNER, Donald Francis (Don/Afghan), A/U/WO2 - B Company, Coy. HQ) 

He was on "F" Force and, when he arrived at Sonkurai, he was so exhausted, that he had discarded all his kit except the clothes in which he stood up, his spoon and dixie, and that the pain in his feet was so intense that he cried because of it. An occurrence, which was completely out of character for him.

(Source: Makan No. 257, Oct/Nov, 1980)

11) Bridge work

NX47498 - GRANT, Thomas Bertram (Tom ), L/Cpl. - C Company, 14 Platoon
QX18842 - FORAN, Daniel (Danny), Pte. - C Company

I am not quite clear where I first met Danny. It was, I think, some time during our P.O.W. days. He was a Queenslander, having come from Mackay. He always lamented the fact that he was not drafted to the 2/26 Bn. Being a Queenslander, he rated it an injustice to have to serve with a unit from another State. We talked some time, as we did in those days, and he spoke of his time cutting cane in North Queensland. He spoke on what he would do after the war. We all did that. He seemed to like the idea of growing cotton in the Dawson valley.

My first clear recollection of him was at No. 2 Camp on the Burma railway. With the talk these days of the bridge on the river Kwai, I am reminded that this was our bridge on the river Kwai. In fact there were two of them - a low level traffic bridge and a high level railway bridge. One beside the other. My main memory of these times was working in the mud and rain on what was called the road.

However, we had our turn on the bridge also. I can remember working with Danny, together with a lot of others, on the approach on the camp side of the river. We were driving piles on the dry land part, using a monkey on a stick, as we called it. It consisted of a long steel rod which was centred on the top of the pile. The rod passed through a hole in the centre of a square block of steel. A handle was on each side of the square, ropes were attached, and on the end of each rope would be ten or a dozen men. On the call of one, two, three, you gave a heave which sent the steel block to the top of the rod, and it came down with a thump on top of the pile. So it was we drove the last piles on that bridge. It was the unfortunate pommies who drove them in the river, before we got there - we having moved to this place from No. 1 Camp.

I was always thankful we missed the work in the water on that bridge. It was here one day, when the little yellow basket decided we were not doing as well as we should, that Danny and I copped a hell of a bashing - not unusual of course in those times. Danny bore it as well as he could. But on reflection I wonder what these indignities did to men like Danny.

(Source: Tom Grant, Makan No. 220, Jan/Feb, 1975)

12) On top of the platform

NX31010 - AMBROSE, Robert (Bob or Lofty), Sgt. - HQ Coy. Carrier Platoon
NX2497 - BEE, Robert James Frederick (Bobbie), Pte. - HQ Company, Transport Platoon
NX37498 - JACK, Robert William (Bob), Sgt. - C Company, 13 Platoon
QX20320 - RICKARDS, Jack Noel, Pte. - D Company
QX20492 - SUTHERLAND, Donald George Sinclair (Don), Pte. - D Company, 18 Platoon

"I recall BOBBY BEE speaking to me sometime before his death, and BOB JACK, on top of the platform as teams from both sides pulled the weight up and then let go to drive the piles into the ground, ROBERT AMBROSE who used to make the Crosses, with names and number on Cholera Hill, and JACK RICKARDS who died beside me in June '43"

(Source: Don Sutherland - Makan No. 265, April/June, 1982)

13) Fair share

NX34437 - MITCHELL, James (Jim), S/Sgt. - HQ Company, CQM
NX34999 - RAMSAY, George Ernest (Gentleman George), Lt. Col. - BHQ, CO. 1942

Many will remember big Jim. Stan Arneil said way back in 1961 that "Quartermastering and the related jobs seemed to attract some of the Battalion's most colourful characters, including amongst their members....Big Jim Mitchell, HQ Company Quartermaster".

Noel Johnston in 1962, speaking of "the personalities who in one way or another influenced the development of the moral fibre of the real Battalion, instanced Jim Mitchell amongst many from the grievous days of P.O.W. Camps, as one of the names, that seem to dwell in our memories".

George Ramsay paid tribute to Jim Mitchell by saying that "in Burma while he had Jim in charge of the rations, George had no worry about all the men being given a fair share of what was available". Jim suffered from Tropical Ulcers and jeopardised his own recovery by giving away to sicker men some, and even, on occasion, all his on meal, so that those men might have a chance, and did not realise that he would die there in Burma at Khorkan (Kohn Kuhn) the 55 Kilo Hospital Camp on the 16th December 1943.

(Source: Tom Grant, Makan No. 220, Jan/Feb, 1975)

14) Cholera Ward

NX27001 - MOLONEY, Norman Patrick, Cpl. - HQ Coy. Signals Platoon
NX65486 - QUINTAL, Laurie Patterson, Pte. - HQ Company, Signals Platoon

Mal says that he put in a week working in the Cholera Ward at Sonkurai, that Laurie contracted cholera but got over it.

Laurie was to die later in the "Burma Hospital" from Beri Beri and Dysentery. 16/10/43.

(Source: Jack Moloney, Makan No. 259, Jan/Feb, 1981)

15) Throw in the extra stripe

NX54474 - STEVENS, Francis Rupert Brotherson (Snowy), Pte. - HQ Company, Mortar Platoon
NX54467 - STONE, Eric William (Ric), Cpl. - HQ Company, Mortar Platoon
NX46503 - TATE, David William (Dave), A/U/Sgt. - HQ Company, Mortar Platoon
NX12542 - TOMPSON, Richard Clive (Dick), Capt. - HQ Coy. O/C Carrier Platoon

That date of promotion of Cpl D.W. Tate of 1/12/1943 was when the "F" Force was back at Kanburi from Sonkurai, and would have been a date invented by the Force for purposes of variety to replace NCOs lost on "F" Force, and I was told by NX54474 Pte. Francis Rupert Brotherson Stevens, and who was on "F" Force with Cpl D.W. Tate and one of his close mates, that Dave had said to him after coming back down the Line from Sonkurai that the strain as Acting Sergeant in fighting the Korean and Japs for the men and putting up with their antics and corporal punishments was too much for him and that he was going to throw in the extra stripe, and that this was said in December even though the date chosen by the Force was 1st December ...

I have also been told by another of the same Mortar Platoon, also on "F" Force, NX54467 Corporal Eric William Stone, that Dave Tate had been a cholera case but had survived. Cpl. Stone said that it had been the Medical Officers' custom on "F" Force, for lack of paper to record admissions to hospital, to write the details in the back of the men's Pay Books, where they had them, and this had been confirmed to me by NX12542 Captain Richard Tompson, O.C. Carrier Platoon, HQ Coy 2/30 Bn AIF, another member of "F" Force, but Cpl Stone says that these Pay Books, when held, had been taken by the P.O.W. Recovery Team at Singapore, for purposes of reconciliation of pay records before issue of their interim pay books, and that the original pay books had never been returned to the men, thus depriving them of their medical records ...

(Source: Alex Dandie – 2/30 Battalion Archives - 4/2/1984)

16) Punishment

NX54474 - STEVENS, Francis Rupert Brotherson (Snowy), Pte. - HQ Company, Mortar Platoon
NX46503 - TATE, David William (Dave), A/U/Sgt. - HQ Company, Mortar Platoon

I was working with … Dave Tate and … some of the strains to which we and he in particular, because it seemed of his height in being a head taller than most of our guards, were punished in ways that over-taxed his strength, and of which occasions two come vividly to mind, viz:

(a) Dave was made to pick up a log about 6 ft in length and 9 inches diameter, hold it above his head, with arms outstretched and straight and get on to another log, whose top was about 18” from the ground, slippery from rain and mud, all the time being belted, if he relaxed the arms over his head or did not make the top of the log on the ground, and was forced to carry on this punishment for more than an hour.

(b) Dave and I were part of a party carrying stones, on top of a sack, which had two bamboo poles as carrying sticks thrust through the bags from top to bottom and extending from each end in the form of a stretcher, to the Railway embankment. The Japanese in charge at the time was not satisfied with the number of stones, which we had placed on the bag; he threw more stones on top of our load, then, still not satisfied, sadistically, sat himself on the stretcher and made us carry him and all the stones over to the embankment, a distance of some hundreds of yards.

I am not able to detail the dates of the punishments described … above as I had neither pencil nor paper to record them.

I am not able to detail his sicknesses on that Working or when back in Changi, but I do remember that he was one, who was afflicted with, what we called "Happy Feet" due to lack of vitamins and when nerves were so disturbed that he had to keep walking round or place his feet in water, as he was unable to rest satisfactorily.

At Kanburi (Thailand), when a force of NCO's was required to be set up as an internal Provost Corps within the Camp to protect the men in the camp from doing any act, which would provoke the Japanese guards and cause punishment to the whole comp, Dave was promoted to Acting Unpaid Sergeant, a position he loathed, because of the responsibility and caused him to worry all the time that he carried out such duties until he was reverted to his usual rank of Corporal back in Changi.

(Source: Snowy Stevens – 2/30 Battalion Archives - May, 1979)

17) Making ballast and packing sleepers

NX58970 - HENNESSY (De St. Hilair), Sydney Rudolph (Sid), Pte. - B Company, 11 Platoon
NX46503 - TATE, David William (Dave), A/U/Sgt. - HQ Company, Mortar Platoon
NX70453 - TAYLOR, John Lindsay, Capt. - BHQ, M.O.

We were both in Nos 1 and 2 Camps Sonkurai engaged in work on the Railway making ballast for packing under sleepers, being required to build each day a mound of broken metal or stone, by measurement 2 metres by 2 metres and 1 metre high, for packing under sleepers and carrying it to the embankment, or digging holes, 2 metres by 2 metres by metres for the roadway, on which the rails were to be laid; work went on as usual wet or fine, and it was mostly wet as it was the season of the wet monsoon rains. We were forced to work every day, whether fit or sick. If the Jap Guards could not get their quota for the day of man, they would take sick from huts, under protest from our Medical Officers, Major Bruce Hunt, Capt. L. Cahill or Capt F. Cahill, Capt. John Taylor or Maj. Roy Hunt. The Medical Officers, like us, were under-nourished. It was no good going on sick parade for most troubles, as there was no quinine or M & B Tablets, just charcoal for dysentery and rice water for beri-beri.

When we moved from 1 Camp to 2 Camp things and conditions were a lot worse, as those in the camp earlier had it in a dirty condition and it had to be cleaned up by the not so sick, who evaded the drafting on to Jap working parties. Most of us were weak by this time and we were losing a lot of men from cholera. Dave by this time, like the rest of us, was feeling the strain, but he had to go on the ration party, a 3 mile walk both ways, because the mud on the roads did not allow the use of trucks. The Ration Party had to make their way through this mud, walking with arms on each others shoulders to stand upright, as we pulled each leg out of the mud and took a pace forward. On the 3 mile journey back to our camp we had to have a pack on the back and a haversack on the chest, both full of rice, and a sack of other foodstuffs, vegetables, if any, fish, if any, beans, if any etc.

On these trips I was usually able to scrounge a bit of sugar and a few sweet potatoes. These I shared with Demo who was very low. I picked green leaves and cooked them for us, also the banana stalk centre, even though with little good, did give a little variety. At night I could give him hot water with some sugar in to give him a hit of energy.

On our return to Kanburi I had some money at first, so was able to get some greens and sugar, eggs and duck, which I could cook and add to normal issue, but my money soon ran out and we were back on normal rations.

When we left Kanburi and returned to Changi, Dave went to hospital, and I went on a Party to Johore, digging tunnels, so that I did not see Dave much after that …

(Source: Syd Hilaire – 2/30 Battalion Archives - May, 1979)

18) 50 kilo Hospital

NX46609 - BAILEY, Gerard John, Pte - HQ Company, Transport Platoon HQ

During Prisoner of war days, Gerry was one of those, who went back into Singapore on Japanese work parties, at first at Keppel Harbour, Great World and River Valley Road camps during 1940. Then in 1943 he was on F force working on the infamous "Death Railway". There he suffered from dysentery, malaria, and as well had a spell in the so called hospital with an injured heel, after his boot leather had perished, but his health had deteriorated, and in July 1943 he was one of those to be sent to the 50 kilo "hospital" under Major Bruce Hunt as being too sick to remain in the working camp. He survived to return to Singapore at the end of 1943, but still not classified for full duties until one of the latest tunnelling parties, X10, on 1/7/1945.

(Source: Obituary for NX46609 - Pte. Gerard John BAILEY, August, 2004)

NX27012 - SCHOFIELD, Phillip Alfred (Schoey), WO2 - C Company, CSM Platoon
NX46609 - BAILEY, Gerard John, Pte - HQ Company, Transport Platoon HQ

It is an odds on certainty that Gerry is a lot fatter and fitter than he was at Sonkurai when the Editor carried him out of the so-called hospital, sat him on a stump and cut that black wiry mess growing on the top of his head, which he called hair - he was even rude about the Editor's tonsorial artistry.

(Source: Phil Schofield – Makan 193, Jan/Feb. 1971)

19) We killed a yak

NX69100 - HUME, Frederick George, Pte. - BHQ, RAP.
NX21640 - NEIL (Peterson), John Henry George (Jack or Bluey), Pte. - C Company, Coy. HQ
NX69101 - ROBERTS, Lenington Vawn (Len), Pte. - HQ Company, Transport Platoon
NX47557 - ROBERTS, William (Bill), Pte. - HQ Company, Carrier Platoon

"I have fond memories of "Bluey" - we were mates all through our prison days. I remember at No.3 Camp (Kami Sonkurai) on the railway - he myself & another (can't remember his name) went out one afternoon and killed a yak, got it back to camp at night and distributed it amongst the blokes in hospital. Kept a little bit & made myself & Len and Bill Roberts a stew. It was really great stuff.""

(Source: Fred Hume - Makan No. 262, Jul/Sep, 1981)

20) Hobbling back to lines

NX2536 - UPCROFT, Ernest Bruce (Bruce), Pte. - D Company, 18 Platoon

Bruce Upcroft, whom I mentally recall as a skinny scarecrow hobbling back to lines from the Cholera Hospital in Shimo Sonkurai.

(Source: George Brown, Makan No. 261, May/Jun, 1981)

21) Going up on "F" Force

NX56869 - BLANSHARD, Douglas Copeland (Doug), Sgt. - A Company, 8 Platoon
NX65999 - BLOW, Ernest John Stewart (Stew), Sgt. - HQ Company, Mortar Platoon
NX37451 - BURKE, Samuel John (Jack), Pte. - C Company, 15A Platoon
NX27503 - FELL, John Joffre (Jack), A/Cpl. - B Company, 11 Platoon

"Going up on F Force, (you were on train 5 truck 3 with Doug Blanshard, Stewart Blow and Jack Fell. Ed.) I still remember the pencil rocks sticking up in a rice plain in Thailand; and on the march from Kanburi, at one of the ten minute stops, I looked at the left hand side of the road into empty space, as we were on a cliff face. You could have thrown a pebble into the river hundreds of feet below, and as it was not unusual for us to start marching again half asleep, this sight woke us up with a start. Never saw it coming back by trail so must have been asleep. Another night, while stopping for a rest, some kind of sand fly or midge attacked us round the nostrils and lobes of the ears. Getting into the smoke of the fire helped and tying a handkerchief round the ears. A big water buffalo pushed his way into the smoke amongst us to get away from them.

Another night when marching through small trees, two Nip guards got into the middle of our group and stayed there with us all night. We found out the next morning that it was tiger country. Not that we heard or saw any sign of them.

On the way to Burma Hospital I was interested to see the Three Pagodas on a low red clay hill. The Burma Hospital camp was different from ordinary camps only in that we didn't have to do work, other than camp duties, if we were not fit enough. No medical supplies - still ground charcoal for dysentery. We only had fresh meat if the yaks were too poor or sick. An officer from 2/29 used to do the killing. A Nip would go with him to look at them. If they were in a bad way, he would point one out while hitting another weak one alongside him behind the ear with a tomahawk. As it hit the ground he used to yell out 'bioke' (sick) and it always worked. Sometimes we would get the other one as well, but of course they were only skin and bone."

(Source: Jack Burke - Makan No. 263, Oct/Dec. 1981)

22) Twenty first birthdays

NX47498 - GRANT, Thomas Bertram (Tom ), L/Cpl. - C Company, 14 Platoon

Tom, one of the young fellows in the Battalion, had his twenty first birthday on one of the Working Parties on Singapore Island. I asked him which one it was and he has told me that he was working on the "Shrine Job”, but he's not quite sure of the name of where he bedded down for the night.

Most of us would have celebrated four birthdays over there; some might have had five. It was possible that the Burma Railway was the venue for the next. I am not at all sure whether it was at No 1 or No 2 Camp. Indeed conditions were such, that I doubt, if I could have told you off hand what month it was, let alone the date of birthdays or any other anniversary. The wonder of that place was not that so many died but that any one at all survived the place.

My next anniversary was on the 'drome job at Changi and the following one at Johore Bahru; after the Burma Railway experience these places tend to be forgotten. The 'drome is not much mentioned these days, though it was, at that time, a long haul, exposed to the sun all day and every day and tended to take away some of the edge one may have had. In Johore Bahru I was on Xl Tunnelling Party and that was also hard work on the rations of that time.

(Source: Makan No. 236, Sept/Oct, 1977)

23) Noel Johnston's Memo

NX47498 - GRANT, Thomas Bertram (Tom ), L/Cpl. - C Company, 14 Platoon
NX70427 - JOHNSTON, Noel McGuffie (Charlie Chan), Lt. Col. - BHQ. 2 I/c Bn.

Tom Grant comments on Noel Johnston's Memo, "I think that his writings on the subject of Burma Railway and Thailand are important. He was, in those days, one in authority. Much has been written one way or another on the subject. But, what is overlooked mostly, was the continual torment. Verbal torment, that seemed never-ending. The physical strain was one thing. The verbal attack was another, which went close to driving men mad. Indeed, in some cases, it did just that. I recall on one occasion, out in the mud and rain, as we were often compelled to work, it came time to move for camp. Before doing so, although it was getting dark, these tormentors, of whom I speak, wanted a count taken of those present. The day had been such that no one wanted to come forward. Morale, at that moment, was at rock bottom. It was a junior NCO, who came out, to dress the column by the right, so that a count could be taken. Perhaps it was individuals, who came forward at such times, when, maybe, others faltered for the time being, who pulled us out of the place. There were no officers present on this occasion.

(Source: Tom Grant, Makan No. 246, Mar/Apr, 1979)

24) Keen to escape

NX37420 - GEE, Desmond Hugh (Des), Pte. - HQ Company, Carrier Platoon
NX42596 - GOLDING (Rash), Josiah Buddy (Joshua Golding) (Buddy), Pte. - D Company, 18 Platoon

"We first met on the wharf one day when loading a ship with bales of rubber and during lunch a few of us were walking around looking for anything of value when Joe emerged from a concrete bomb shelter. He was holding a hand grenade. He asked what he should do with it and I suggested he pull the pin but hold the spring and then wedge it into a gap between the bales of rubber which he said he did.

Joe and I became friends and he was very keen to escape and saw in me an ally to his plans. I was rather more cautious than Joe and after watching the naval and aircraft from that attic in Virginia House I concluded that such moments were too constant to get away in any small boat and I held the view that local people when confronted would be no help going overland.

We were in F Force together and when we got to the last camp on the railway Joe was going and nothing I could say was going to stop him. To use his own words he said he would rather die escaping than die in that camp. Perhaps he was right. I was not keen on going and I felt I was too weak to go anyway."

(Source: Des Gee, series of letters sent to Makan editor in 1998)

25) Smoking cigars

NX25845 - BUCKINGHAM, Arthur George, A/U/Cpl. - B Company, 10 Platoon

"My 'Do You Remember' goes back to 1943 in Thailand when we were in No.3 camp and working on the line to see the Burmese coming down the road from Burma - we heard out of the cigar factories with nothing but a loin cloth on and a stick over their shoulder with a very small bundle of possessions, but smoking great big cigars. It did look humorous in a place where humour was very hard to find."

(Source: Arthur Buckingham, reply to Makan No. 264 questionnaire, Jan/March, 1982)

26) Worth his weight in gold

NX47025 - HAYES, Brian Lindsay, Pte. - D Company, 17 Platoon
NX47513 - PEARCE, Reuben Niles (Ben), Pte. - D Company, 17 Platoon

"Brian Hayes said that during the period of hell on the Burma Railway that Benny Pearce was worth his weight in gold - Brian's words - ' He would thieve the bridle off a night mare!!"

(Source: Brian Hayes, Makan No. 264, Jan/March, 1982)

27) On the railway with "F" Force

NX26723 - ANGUS, James Corbett (Jim ), Pte. - A Company, 8 Platoon
NX65377 - McBURNEY, Ernest Harold, Pte. - 73 Light Aid Detachment 
NX37655 (NX33257) - McBURNEY, Ronald James (Ron), Pte. - A Company, 7 Platoon

"I marched with main group to Kami Sonkurai (No 3 Camp).

Upon arrival at that camp I learned my brother, Em (73 L.A.D.), was hospitalised with an ulcerated leg. This subsequently proved to be fatal.

Whilst there, together with others, I was diagnosed as a cholera carrier and was transferred back down the track to the cholera camp. The late Jim Angus and I were in the same tent with two other from different Units.

Upon returning to the main camp, I was one who had to march north and collect rations for the remainder of the camp. The usual thing, a full pack of rice or beans etc, plus a butt of something else on top, for the 10km march back. Then normal work on line.

When the line was completed back to Selarang and met by B.J. one moonlit night.

(Source: Ron McBurney - letter to Alex Dandie, 1/11/1996)

28) His spirit pulled him through

NX36696 - WEBB, Francis John (Spider), Pte. - HQ Company, Carrier Platoon

Frankie Webb is still living up Yenda way and he is a ball of muscle these days. You should remember young Webb if you were a member of F Force. In No. 3 Camp, he had a gigantic ulcer, the size of a dinner plate on his hip and if anybody was marked for death, it was he. The one person in No. 1 Camp who gave Webbie a chance for life was himself and his spirit seems to have been the only thing that pulled him through.

(Source: Makan - No. 29, 1st April, 1949)

29) First ration of meat

QX20003 - TUCKFIELD, Colin James (Col), Pte. - D Company, 17 Platoon

At Kuala Lumpur, however, I was interested to see the outside of the famous Moorish Railway Station, which we had previously seen, only from the inside, en route to Thailand. That was on Good Friday, 1943, when we received, ironically, our first "ration" of meat for a year. Mine, I recall, was a cubic inch of meat in soup - but the meat was gristle, and mine lasted a full hour.

(Source: Col Tuckfield, Makan No. 231, Dec, 1976)

30) The cholera was reaching alarming proportions

QX20003 - TUCKFIELD, Colin James (Col), Pte. - D Company, 17 Platoon

Col was one of our young men in D Company and celebrated his 21st birthday at Caldecott Hill, when the shrine job was in progress, but not keeping a diary in those days has no recollection that anything special marked the day. The next year he was up on the Railway with "F" Force and as from 25/6/1943 kept a sort of narrative written from time to time, so that he felt that he spent his 22nd birthday on Cholera Hill at No. 1 Camp (Shimo Sonkurai). As he wrote and we quote, "By the end of the month (May 1943) the cholera was reaching alarming proportions - so bad that men were risking their lives trying to escape -no hope of that from here - rather than sit down and die. On 31st (May) I volunteered to nurse the cholera patients and was accepted. I thought that I would rather die working for my cobbers than constructing a highly strategic road for the enemy. (Did I really think like that in those days? (He interposes) (Must have been the last volunteering I ever did in the Army!). I was on for ten nights (orderly duty) and by this time the crisis was past and I was able to take a 2 days spell" - and so on and on in the story we all know so well. So somewhere in that time was my forgotten 22nd birthday.

My 23rd birthday is somewhat better documented - 6/6/44 - 23 years old today. Had birthday party for breakfast. Issue was 1 pint rice gruel. So I bought ¼ coconut and 1/6 lb Gula Malacca and mixed. Quite tasty. Coconut 80¢ each and Gula $1.50 per lb. (I wonder why the preoccupation with food).

(Source: Col Tuckfield, Makan No. 235, June/August, 1977)

31) Lightening the load for the march

QX20003 - TUCKFIELD, Colin James (Col), Pte. - D Company, 17 Platoon

Mention of the "big guns" at Changi, reminded me of the brass plate I salvaged from one, containing, I think, instructions for elevating it or some such. I diced it when lightening the load for the march up the Railway on "F" Force and have often thought what a marvellous souvenir it would be today. I still have a few souvenirs, however - my mess tin, colour patches, pack of cards made from cigarette packs ("The Three Castles - W. D. & H.O. Wills - Remember them?) my diary and an Ordnance Map of Singapore Island, which I somehow carried through the lot.

(Source: Col Tuckfield, Makan No. 239, Jan/Feb, 1978)

32) The cholera was reaching alarming proportions

QX20003 - TUCKFIELD, Colin James (Col), Pte. - D Company, 17 Platoon

Shimo Sonkurai (Thailand) - Saturday, 17th July 1943

"Started work at 0820 hrs and knocked off at camp at 2120 hrs. First job cracking stones with sledge hammer convict style. Got hit on head for not understanding Nippon-Go (Japanese language) hurled at me. A man was hurt carrying logs and I was put on carrying logs for the rest of day. Jap standing over me with "Kurrahs" and following and bashing us. I was on tail of log being tallest and he followed hitting me over head and body with axe handle. Told 10 of us to lift log 20'x12". Impossible, so more bashings. This kept up all day.

Shimo Sonkurai - Wednesday 21st July 194

"Had short day - 0800 to 2010 hrs. Work hard but only one bashing. I think we have finished the road and tomorrow go on railway. Had relapse of malaria on job and will go on sick parade tonight. Entered hospital with malaria relapse Temp. 104.8° at 2200 hrs. Bad night. Poisoned finger and feet almost unendurable also touch of diarrhoea.

Kami Sonkurai - Tuesday, 14th September 1943

"Push is on now. Reveille 0530 hrs, work through to 1300 without smoko, then to 0200 next morning. Filling in bridge boxing &c.

(Source: Col Tuckfield, Makan No. 239, Jan/Feb, 1978)

33) Dawn streaked the sky

NX41219 - LOGAN, Haig Lincoln (Jock), Pte. - HQ Company, Transport Platoon

"Every morning as dawn streaked the sky we were marched from Sonkurai to work at hacking out the route for the railway. We were not marched back until late at night. We did this seven days a week. We lost all consciousness of time. Was it Tuesday, the 4th, or Friday, the 17th ? Who could say ? And who cared ?

Except for our G strings we worked naked and barefoot in heat which reached 120 degrees. Our bodies were stung by gnats and insects, our feet cut and bruised by sharp stones. Somewhere the guards had picked up the word "speedo". They stood over us with their nasty staves of bamboo yelling "Speedo. Speedo" until "speedo" rang in our ears and haunted our sleep. When we did not move fast enough to suit them which was most of the time they beat us.

Some victims of the beating simply slid to the ground and died, other men died of thurst, hunger or exhaustion; cholera, dysentery, malaria and tropical ulcers claimed others. The eventual toll came to approximately one third of the 46,000 prisoners employed.

His battalion mates tell of an occasion when working on the railway the camp ran out of food. The nearest source of food was a supply of rice at a depot 20 kilometres walk distance. Jock was one of the volunteers who set out on this walk in the tropical rain and slush and was the first to return with a 40 pound pack of rice on his back. This he delivered straight to the camp hospital to relieve the sick and dying.

Jock survived his ordeal on the railway but not without a heavy penalty to his health. He contracted tropical ulcers and severe malaria, a disorder from which he never recovered and which affected his health for the rest of his life.

(Source: Profile of a Benefactor, April, 1982)

34) I'm not bloody going to do this

NX72646 - RICKARDS, Raymond Thomas Keith (Ray), Pte. - C Company, 13 Platoon
NX32388 - RICKWOOD, Garrett George (Garry), A/S/Sgt. - D Company

Ray Rickards said once he will always remember Garry for some punishment being made to hold a shovel or some other tool above his head with straight arms; that Garry stood there for a while, until perhaps the first feeling of weariness, and then threw the tool on the ground saying “I’m not bloody well going to do this”, and stalked off, and the Nip did not do a thing.

(Source: Ray Rickards - 2/30 Bn. Archives)


Last updated 31/08/2021