ESCAPE FROM MALAYA JAN 1942
1. After a gruelling night, fleeing from the Japanese, through forest,
jungle, and swamp, we were at last told to rest, just as daylight was
breaking. The Officers contacted the natives and a meal was organised,
mostly rice, but we were so hungry that anything edible was welcome.
Rumours were rife and then we were told that Yong Peng had fallen.
Because of our large numbers and the difficulty in feeding us it was
suggested that we break into small groups, and make our way where ever
possible to Singapore. There we were to regroup and again try to stop
the enemy. This announcement shattered us somewhat. Here we were in
completely unfamiliar territory, knowing only a few words of the
language, being told that we were now on our own. No food, very little
money tired and nervous. We had the feeling that we had been abandoned.
Such is the fortune of war.
My group consisted of Pte.C.M. (Mac) McKenzie (VX27931), Pte Robert
Brace, and Pte 'Doc' Richardson, our first-aid man and myself. After
resting for an hour or so we started off and found a native store. The
only article of any use that we could see was three bottles of TOOTH'S
beer. We bought it and disposed of it. We continued to make our way
south, at times diverging to habitation to beg for food. The Chinese
and the Indians were for the most part the only people who gave any
positive response. Malays either ran away or ran inside their flimsy
dwellings and locked all windows and doors.
The next day we were joined by two wounded Jaats, Indian troops who had
filtered back to our position after being overrun at Muar. Neither of
them could speak English and as they had lost all their white officers
who spoke their language fluently, they were in a pretty pickle. One
had a bayonet wound right through his chest and out the back. I never
did find out whether he was stabbed from front or rear. The other
one had been shot in the shoulder. We didn't have much choice, so took
them along with us. Either later that day or next day another 2/29th
lad, Pte Ritchie joined us. We were happy to have these extra people at
first, but as time passed it became increasingly obvious that we could
not get sufficient food for the seven of us.
One day while walking along the side of the road, we heard approaching
motor vehicles. We clambered up the bank at the side of the road and
hid in the jungle, which came right to the road. Around a bend in the
road came a convoy of Jap trucks laden with troops. The first truck
passed and the second truck was exactly in front of us when the whole
convoy stopped. The Japs were two-three metres away from us. 'My God' I
thought, "they must know we are here". But as they sat tight in their
trucks, so did we in the jungle. After a short stop they moved ofF
again, much to our relief.
We now began to get less and less food. We decided to break up into
groups of two. Bob Brace and 'Doc' Richardson went together, the two
Jaats and Pte Ritchie, and 'Mac' and myself. We bade our farewells to
'See you in Singapore, or Young and Jacksons', and moved off in
By this time I had come the conclusion that if we could get to the
coast and get a boat we would get to Singapore much quicker, as
anything would be quicker than trying to battle with the jungle or
alternately the mangrove swamps. Also if we had a boat we could travel
by night and rest in the daytime. We were passing through a grassy
field one morning when a Jap fighter plane flew overhead. He must have
spotted us and turned back. We could see he was coming directly at us,
so we bolted towards a banana plantation about 40 or 50 yards on our
left. He changed course and just as we entered the plantation began
firing. As soon as we were in the shelter of the banana palms one
turned right and one turned left. We finished up about 100 yards away
from each other and he missed us. But he made another run and sent
another burst of bullets into the plantation with the same result. He
then gave it away and cleared off. Those bullets sure made some
nasty marks on the palms.
After this we gave our rifles away to the Chinese, as they were a bit
of a hindrance, and we were afraid that if and when we were caught, we
would probably be shot if we were carrying any arms.
We eventually came to the mangrove swamps again. We continued
along the edge of these until we came to a tidal creek. Some distance
along the creek we could see a small hut and (from this point page one was indecipherable)
2.They would only let us have the canoe and one paddle. Then we had to
arrive at a mutually agreeable price. After much "Tida Bagoose"(No
good) and many "MANA Boleh" (Bulldust), we arrived at $10. We
gingerly boarded the canoe and paddled downstream. As we approached the
open sea we could see native fish traps half a mile or so off shore. We
waited until dark and then paddled out to the fish trap. These fish
traps as we called them, (don't now why we called then fish traps) was
a room constructed of bamboo and mounted on stilts. I now believe that
they are used by the fishermen to rest during the night. We had
sufficient cooked rice to last us a day and a half and decided to spend
the time here resting. This rest really was most welcome as we were
near exhausted and near starving. As we lounged on the fish trap we
could see in the distance four or five miles away an island with a
lighthouse on it. We could also see the giant plume of black smoke
coming from the burning oil on Singapore Island. We decided we
would try for the island, and after a rest, go on to Singapore.
We left next morning just after sunrise and paddled back to the
coast. Had we taken a direct route to the island we would have
been very conspicuous. We took it in turns to propel the canoe
with the single paddle. Suddenly we came to the mouth of a river
which was clogged with Japanese soldiers bodies. The stench was
quite overpowering. An intermittent hissing, we discovered was
gas escaping from bloated corpses. There must have been 4O or 50 bodies
there and right in the middle of them was one with a paddle gripped in
his hand. It was a manufactured one and just what we
wanted. We pushed the other bodies aside and gradually made our
way to the paddle. When we got to it we found that the corpse had
a tight grip on it. By this time I could taste the foul
smell. I got the paddle away from it and we beat a hasty
retreat. I could taste that smell for weeks. It was the most
abominable and foul smell I have ever experienced.
We now made much better time but it wasn't long before Mac began to
show signs of fatigue. Before we were halfway to the island he
completely collapsed, losing the native paddle in the process. He
slumped down but fortunately, he was still inboard. I spoke to him two
or three times but he must have passed out as he never answered me. I
could not move around in the canoe otherwise it would tip and take on
water. We only had about two inches above the waterline. I kept going
but long before we reached the island I too felt I would collapse. But
somebody must have been watching and helping because we eventually got
there. I literally fell out of the canoe and tried to carry Mac up the
beach. I was so weak I fell over in the attempt to lift him. So I
sat and rested for a time and then noticed that the tide was coming in.
So bending down put my arms under his arm pits, locked my hands
together on his chest and dragged him about a 100 yards up the beach
and laid him down in the shade of some native banana palms.
We rested here until the sun was low on the horizon. Mac was still
breathing and I began to explore the banana palms for fruit. They were
heavy in fruit but not a lot were ripe. Sufficient, however to give us
a bellyful. They weren't very tasty and it was the first time that I
had eaten bananas with seeds in them.
We pulled the canoe well up on the beach and after a short search,
found a path which led up to the lighthouse. We arrived at the
lighthouse just as dusk was falling. It seemed completely deserted, but
we did not venture into it until next morning. The previous occupants
had only recently left as evidenced by tins of fish, salmon, sardines,
meat and vegetables, bully beef etc. all having been pierced by a sharp
instrument like a bayonet or such like. We found a tin opener and
quickly attacked what had been spoiled and discarded. Mac was
horrified (before the war he worked for Heinz baked beans} and warned
of the dangers of food poisoning. I argued that I would sooner
die of food poisoning than of slow starvation. When he saw that the
food had no ill effects on me, he decided it must be alright and
scoffed as much as he could. After the feast and a rest we did a tour
of inspection. We found a garden with lots of sweet potatoes and
cassava (Ubi Kyui). A form of Pumpkin was also growing and a Durian
tree laden with fruit, but very few ripe. A tame water buffalo and
three chooks (which we were never able to catch) completed the
potential food supply outside. Inside the dwelling (from this point page 2 was indecipherable)
3. Next Morning we followed a well worn track down to a small
jetty which faced the mainland. Here we found a solid sort of a boat
about 3Oft long and 8-10 ft wide named the "Chit Wat". Unfortunately
the "Chit Wat" had two holes chopped in one side, 2 grenade holes in
the other side and the motor had been savagely attacked either with an
axe or a large hammer. She was a bit of a mess.
I think we were on this island about 3-4 weeks. We found from the work
books in the lighthouse that it was named 'Palau Pisang' (Banana
Island). After a week laying about and eating as much as we could we
decided we had better push on to Singapore. We went to the opposite
side of the island to load our canoe with some bananas but found that
an extra large tide had taken our canoe out and dashed it against some
rocks. So-that was the end of our canoe. I elected Mac cook and decided
to have a go at repairing the 'Chit Wat'. Fortunately there was an
abundance of materials lying about that could be used. Each time the
tide came in the poor thing filled with water and lurched back and
forth with the waves. It was a great day when it floated as the tide
came in. A little more caulking and she was right. Then I took out the
useless motor and propeller-shaft, and put in a long mast and made a
huge square sail from surplus canvas.
At the end of the second week we reckoned it would be nice to have some
meat and began plotting the death of the buffalo. We were still far
from being strong, so adopted the following procedure. First we tied a
rope around his neck, then wound another rope around his legs. As soon
as this was done, we gave him a hefty kick in the stomach. He
immediately tried to run away but because of the ropes around his legs
tripped and fell. As soon as he was down Mac sat on his head while I
sawed away at his neck with two old knives that we had sharpened on a
slab of concrete. Sure was a messy job but we eventually slew him. We
cooked both hind legs and one front leg before it all "went off".
We felt so much better after a two day gorge on meat.
Before the end of the third week we were all set to launch the 'CHIT
WAT'. We had loaded up with plenty of water, coconuts and any bits and
pieces we could find. We tried three times to get her out to the open
sea but failed each time. Just as our hopes were at a very low ebb,
another small boat with seven people aboard arrived. Three from 2/19
Battalion and four white 'planters', who were seconding as guerrillas.
They had loads of food and gave us the best balanced meal we had eaten
in weeks. The 2/19th boys were all carpenters from the pioneer platoon.
The Sgt, examined the boat and declared it fit to put to sea. Two
nights later we went out on the tide, helped by a light breeze. About 2
a.m. when Mac and I were on watch, a light storm caught us and gave us
a few anxious minutes. After this we were becalmed. We were now trying
to make Sumatra as the new arrivals had told us that Singapore had
fallen. We sat becalmed for six hours, while Tich who had sailed
dinghies around Sydney harbour, whistled up the wind. Whatever the
cause, the wind sprang up again about 2p.m.
We were bowling along like a lot of toffs, wishing we could catch and
handle several great turtles that swam by. Then another object caught
our attention, and we eventually caught up to it. It was a raft about
12ftxl2ft.square, laden with European bodies. We thought at first that
perhaps they had been wrecked, and were resting. But as they came
closer we could see there was no movement. We shouted and whistled but
received no response so assumed they were all dead. A few appeared to
have naval clothing on but most only had underclothes and some were
completely (naked). They did not drift any closer than 15-20ft, but
this incident had a very sobering effect on us. Nobody spoke for four
or five minutes. We just sat and watched them drift away.
Night fell before we reached our goal. As we bowled along, we began to
hear great explosions to the south east. As night fell we could see the
flashes and realised we were hearing a great naval battle. We have been
since told that it was the Perth engaged in her last combat with the
Jap navy. But my dates do not correspond with this. Perhaps I should do
a little more research. We eventually reached land about 2AM, only to
find (from this point page 3 was indecipherable)
LAND ON SUMATRA
4..... after an inspection of the boat he agreed. The planters thought
he agreed too quickly, so demanded a meal as well. He also agreed to
this as well. When he chided them for bartering something they/we
didn't own they retorted that as Singapore had fallen and the Govt was
now Japanese they had no compunction in disposing of the boat.
After the meal and a few hours rest we were wakened at daylight and
boarded a river boat, which went down the coast a short way and then
turned into the Siak River. Thick heavy jungle came to the river's edge
on both sides. We passed the occasional native in his fragile canoe,
either paddling up or down the river. At infrequent intervals we passed
native villages, where the natives stood and stared at us. Shades of
"Trader Horn" and "Sanders of the River". We arrived at Pekanbaru
late that afternoon. The Dutch put us up at the local Rest House. Good
food, showers and soap, and beds to sleep in. Oh how wonderful. Next
day we just lounged about waiting for motor transport to take us to
Padang. This day I took my beard off. It was the first shave I had
since going into battle back at Bakri. Nobody except Mac, knew me and
kept asking me when I got in. Next morning at daylight a truck picked
us up and away we went to Padang. We stayed over night at another Rest
house and late next day we arrived at Padang. We were billeted at a
We were here perhaps 6 or 7 days. Rumours were rife. Ships were due
tomorrow or the next day. Ships had been torpedoed. Australian navy
were coming to pick us up. All manner of rumours. The night before the
Japs came there was a loud rumbling and the whole building shook. We
all ducked for cover as we thought we were being bombed, but after a
few minutes realised it was only a minor earth tremor. We all laughed
at each other, and hearing some subdued shouting went to investigate.
In the middle of the courtyard was a well about 12 feet deep. When we
all ducked for cover two pommies jumped down the well. Two very
embarrassed fellows were hauled out of the well.
SURRENDER TO THE JAPANESE
On March 17th 1942(St Patrick's Day) the Japanese arrived and took over
Padang. The Dutch had declared it an Open City, so thankfully, there
was no fighting. A Jap Officer and several troops came to the Chinese
school. We all lined up and stood to attention, wondering what would
happen. He came into the room strutting like a peacock, until he saw a
picture of Chiang Kai Shek hanging on the wall. He swelled up with rage
like a big frog, dragged his sword from his scabbard and systematically
destroyed every vestige of that photo and frame. When he was at last
satisfied, he turned away and one of the private's jumped up and down
on the remains for at least two minutes. So began our life as prisoners
of war in the Far Eastern Co-Prosperity Sphere.
We were allowed to stay at the Chinese school for two days and then
transferred to a native soldier's barracks. This was a very spacious
camp with plenty of room to move around. Also interned here were the
Dutch. To us they were living like Lords. Pillows, mattresses and deck
chairs, and it seemed food galore. Our food was less than enough. Lt
Col Coates (A Medical Officer who post war was Knighted) was a prisoner
at this camp. A few working parties were organised, but they were more
of an outing, as work was light and we were well treated. Our main
problem here, was cooking the food given to our cooks. They made a
ghastly mess of it, and it wasn't until later when the Dutch either
assisted or took over completely that we began to get well cooked
Lectures were organised in the camp. The more energetic played soccer
and a soccer competition was even organised. Popular rumour had it that
we would spend at least one rice crop here, and at worst two rice crops
before war was over. What disastrous prophecies! Because we had so
little, some decided to explore the outside at night and returned with
essentials such as eating utensils, clothing etc.
Here it was we first experienced the Japanese difficulty in counting.
They could never get it right first time. We were always counted by two
or more Japs two or more times before we were allowed to move on. We
were told that for every prisoner that escaped one of those left would
be shot! After some weeks in this camp it was announced that 500 would
be leaving in 2 days for an unknown destination. The party was thought
to be mainly British and Dutch and Lt Col Coates (Australian Medical
Officer) was with this group.
5.....more useful in other areas. We found out later that they had
travelled north to Belawan, boarded a ship or ships and finished up in
On the 13th June 1942 the remainder of the camp were loaded into motor
trucks and departed for an unknown destination. We travelled north and
stopped the first night at Loebock Sekaping?. The next night in a Dutch
army barracks at Sibolga. The third night at Larung, and the fourth at
Siantar. At Siantar the Jap guards had a great brawl among themselves
and one was stabbed with a bayonet. Great chuckling among the Ps.O.W.
Next day 17th June we reached Belawan. This was the main seaport for
Northern Sumatra. It was only a few kilometres outside Medan, the
largest northern town.
MEDAN BELAWAN GLOEGOER
We were allotted a coolie wharf labourers billets. As our names were
called so we went to our specified area in the camp. When they
came to Pte Chris Wilms (Willms) 2/29th Btn (QX23493), the Dutch said
"He's one of us, a Norseman". The Aussies to a man shouted; "NO! He's
one of us". The huts were crude and filthy. Mosquitoes so bad that it
was impossible to sleep unless one was completely exhausted. The strong
rumour at this time was a boat trip. Fortunately we only remained in
this camp for a week.
On 20th June we were loaded into railway trucks. We were packed into
box cars like sardines, the doors were shut and bolted and if we had
failed in our appeals to the Japs, some of us would have surely died
there and then. But the doors were flung open and we breathed freely
again. We were moved much closer to Medan, to a native soldiers
barracks called Gloegoer. Actually there were two Gloegoer's, Gloegoer
1, which was our barracks and Gloegoer 2 which was a haven for the
We were crammed into this camp. Each mans bed space allowance was 21
inches. But the grounds were spacious, we were dry, plenty of water for
washing, and latrines were flushed with running water. Food was
reasonable but sparse. After some weeks a shop was allowed to open
inside the camp. This was mostly patronised by the Dutch. Those of us
who were allowed on working parties received 10 cents a week, and we
would pool our money to buy food.
Daily working parties began. In the beginning the work was light and
easy. Young and naive, and not aware of Jap behaviour we finished our
given task early and went home. But this only lasted a short time, work
loads and quota's soon increased to such an extent that before long we
were doing a heavy day's work. The work at this time was at Socony Oil
Depot. We only lasted there about 6-8 weeks when they realised we were
wasting as much petrol as we were putting in drums. About this time
they also began receiving reports that petrol was dirty and full of
BUILD TEMPLE AND SHRINE
To celebrate their glorious victories they decided to build a Temple
and shrine. The prisoners were to supply the man power. The Temple was
to be surrounded by a moat. This was a rather tedious task but at times
we turned it into a lot of fun. We were supplied with small 4 wheeled
metal trucks to move the soil/dirt from one place to another. The soil
had to be pushed up hill and then dropped to build up the site for the
Temple. Some of us would then ride the trucks down to the bottom of the
moat for another load of soil. As the trucks had no brakes or steering
it was quite an adventurous task to try to get it to the bottom without
it jumping the rails. As this project neared completion we were
gradually diverted to the outer suburbs to construct a racecourse.
During this period the Dutch (who had among their numbers, one named
Hammerslaag who spoke fluent Japanese) had managed to persuade the Japs
to let us have a garden. (Incidentally Hammerslaag, who took some
dreadful beatings from the Japs, brought his wife and family to
Australia in the 1960's and settled in Croydon, Victoria. I was not
aware of this before 1977 and on becoming acquainted with it
immediately rang his home. His wife sadly informed me that he had died
two years earlier). After due consideration they agreed, much to our
delight. But as the garden became a reality, and the vegetables
and fruit paw paws etc. began to ripen the Japs would knock them off,
and sell or trade them to the natives. It didn't take us long to wake
up, and when they complained they were not getting any produce from the
garden we told them it was being stolen by the natives.
Food at this time was adequate to keep us alive and well and if this standard had been maintained until the end of the War we would have been in much better condition to work,.....
6..... operating, and almost everybody was participating. Church
services were held each Sunday, and one or two Masonic meetings had
been held (thought to have been arranged by George Lewis North
(VX30155). Some enterprising souls had even started businesses, such as
clog making and cigarette making. The Dutch still seemed to have plenty
of money and were the main target of the business men.
One day whilst working on the wharf at Belawan, a Japanese troopship
docked. The soldiers thought they were in Australia. When we laughed
and pointed out that they'd never (tongue in cheek) get to Australia,
one became quite violent and began slapping and kicking everyone near
him. On another occasion a Jap produced a picture of the Sydney Harbour
Bridge and told us that a Jap submarine had blown out the middle pylon.
Several of our boys laughed scornfully at this and were bashed for
Towards the end of 1942 the Japanese guards were replaced by the
Koreans. They were nervous and timid when they first arrived, but soon
learned it was great sport to bash and harass the prisoners.
One Sunday, the nearest to Melbourne Cup Day, the Australians decided
to run their own cup. Frogs were the contestants. A West Australian,
Bluey Semple (WX7532) appeared in jockey's colours with a riding whip.
Nobody knew where they came from. Appropriately his frog won, and he
was presented with the cup - half a coconut on a stand.
One afternoon on our return from a working part, the
Australians-'Gorshus' were ordered to remain on parade. Lieut Takahashi
told the Australians approx 15, that some Japanese Ps,O.W. in Australia
had been shot and it was his intention to do the same to us. After some
confusion, as there generally was on parade, he advised the shooting
had taken place in New Zealand. We were then dismissed.
RED CROSS SUPPLIES
November 17th 1942-A Red Letter Day! We received on this day a large
quantity of supplies from the South African Red Cross. The food was all
of Australian origin, the clothes South African. Some of the supplies
were sent to the women's camp.
One day while working on the race course, Sid Frewin (2/19th) (NX52142)
and myself managed to catch and slaughter a great pig. We told the Japs
it was a wild pig, and by hell he was wild after we had clobbered him a
few times. They let us keep him and though he had to be shared with
another 98 blokes, it was still a choice meal.
Soon after entering this camp we were forced to sign a 'No Escape'
document. A token resistance to signing was staged, but they soon
starved us into submission. Where could one escape to?
At one period in this camp I had abscesses in both ears at the same
time. The pain was so intense and soul destroying, that if I could have
laid my hands on a firearm I surely would have committed suicide. After
three days of the worst anguish I have ever experienced they both burst
within minutes of each other. I have never had an ear abscess before or
since. At one time I was covered with ringworm. One great thing as
large as a large dinner plate spread over my chest, stomach and side.
Smaller ones covered my back and legs. Surprisingly enough they never
worried me nor did they give me any discomfort. Everybody had them. As
time passed and we became thinner they must have died of starvation, as
they went as silently as they came. One worm that did worry me was some
beastie that got in under my skin, on the back of my leg, just above
the knee. It began to travel up the back of my leg towards my thigh and
was very itchy. After consulting the doctors, they decided they would
remove it by scraping the skin away. As they had no pain killers I had
to suffer it, but it was worth it eventually.
After a few days of rumours we were given definite news. On March 8th
1944 a draft of 500 would depart for parts unknown (to us). It would
Include a number of Australians under Lt.R.Tranter(2/29th). On the
appointed day, to shouts of "See you in Young and Jacksons" and "See
you in Aussie" etc., we moved out.
MOVE NORTH FROM MEDAN
We boarded trucks outside the camp with the usual pantomime of endless
counting, shouts, slaps, kicks, board the trucks, get off and be
counted again-what a hassle! We had no knowledge of the area or where
we were going but fortunately we had two Dutchmen in our truck who knew
the area well and gave us a running commentary. We went north. The
first day we travelled 308 kilometres to Kototjane. Next morning much
to our disappointment our transport turned round and we went
back. So the rest of the journey was on foot. We had a couple of days rest here and on the .....
7....... morning of 13th
set off on foot for an unknown destination. It was quite a happy start,
whistling, singing, and exchanging ribald jokes. This phase soon passed
and we settled down to a steady trudge-trudge. One truck was provided
for guards equipment and cooking utensils.
After some four hours of steady marching, the weak began to falter.
However the strong(?) gave assistance and shared any load the weak were
carrying. We marched 30 kilometres that day. We arrived at Goonung
Satin (Devil's Mountain) and dropped exhausted. The second day's march
was really hell for me. During the morning, I accidentally kicked a
rock, hidden in the grass (it was easier walking on the grass when we
had no footwear) and fell to the ground. As I fell so I wrenched my
knee. If walking before this had been painful it now became
excruciating. I limped and hobbled along and whenever possible, tried
to get a stout stick to use as a crutch. This was a hellish day's march
but after 9 hours arrived at Maloek.
On 17th March after four day's of marching, covering about 30
kilometres a day, we arrived at Blankerjaran, a former Dutch military
barracks. The halt and the lame were left at this camp to
recover. Most of those left behind caught us up again in a few days,
but a few of the worst we never saw again until the end of the war.
This camp was henceforth known as the hospital camp.
We marched on again next day up a great hill, and then along a plateau
through a beautiful Pine plantation, eventually arriving at an area
with a small scattering of native huts. The territory we were now in
was peopled by a once fierce tribe known as the Atjeh or Achinese. They
were a wild and savage people, and inflicted terrible casualties on the
Dutch permanent troops. They had never been thoroughly subdued.
We were divided into two camps, British and Australian in one and Dutch
in another about 5 kms away. We were housed in rough atap shelters. We
slept on the ground and cooked in the open. The toilet facilities were
extremely primitive, a great open pit with two poles for the feet and
one pole about 2feet high in front to hang onto to avoid overbalancing
and falling into the pit. Dysentery became a real problem and other
maladies associated with a lack of proper diet, either soon became
evident or in other cases worsened. One night, late, we heard for the
first time in many months, the sound of planes overhead. The Japs told
us next day that they were not Japanese. We found out later they were
We were high in the mountains. Nights were cold, days were comfortably
warm. We were put to work building a road. Many beatings and
bashings accompanied every yard we made. We built culverts and graded
hills, built up one side and chiselled down the other, made small
bridges etc. All this with axes, chungkils (hoes) and small baskets.
What a boring, gruelling, backbreaking job this was.
On 3rd May we 1944 we moved up a few kilometres (due to progress of
road). This new place was named Kenyaren. The shelter was just as crude
and we slept on low benches made of split bamboo. During the night when
restlessly turning over, the bamboo would pinch our naked or near naked
bodies. Here conditions were slightly better than previously. We had a
covered cookhouse, and toilet and washing facilities were an
improvement. Work loads increased and the quality and quantity of the
food decreased. Here, the main diet was soya beans. Stomach complaints,
if possible, increased. It was not at all unusual for the men to foul
themselves whilst on the way to and from work. Beri-beri and 'Cherry
Balls' inflamed scrotum worsened. The latter made life terrible. They
itched unceasingly and when scratched, bled and wept continuously. On
the way to Kenyaren we passed a native farm, which had a good crop of
corn (maize). A few nights later Sid Frewin and myself borrowed two
rice bags from the cookhouse and under cover of darkness, sallied forth
to raid the corn. As the corn was just about ripe the leaves and the
stalk were dry and rustled with every little breeze. Sid was like a
draught horse in the field and it wasn't long before we became aware
that we were being stalked by the owners of the field. We took off in
different directions, and though I managed to evade them they caught
Sid. The natives took him to the local Jap guard house, where he was
bashed until he was black and blue. The Japs also took his rice bag and
corn. Next morning on parade our C.O. said a complaint had been lodged
by the natives about corn stealing and if it was anyone in our camp
would they please report to him, after parade-if no one owned up the
Japs had promised to punish the whole camp. I owned up and expected to be placed in ......
8....... the Jap guard
house. But unless I reported they would not give us back our rice bag,
and without our rice bag we would be short of rice, as they gave us a
full bag for an empty one. They gave me a token belting only-knocked me
down twice with the butt of their rifle, gave me a lecture on the evils
of taking other people's property, gave me a dollar to buy some food,
threw the bag at my head and it was over. Capt Mura, the Jap in charge
at that time told our C.O. (Capt Henman R.N.) not to worry about it as
"When he was a young man he too played many pranks".
As we were now fairly high in the mountains we were allowed to have
fires at night. At this camp I decided to try and supplement my diet
with grasses and native herbage. A number of water buffalo grazed
nearby. I watched what they ate, shoo'd them away and cut the grass for
myself. Cooked up at night on our fires. I at least was getting
The first death of one of our Australian group occurred at this camp
and we lost two in a short space of time. (We did not know it at the
time but the day our first boy died, 13 of those we left behind in
Gloegoer also died the same day on a torpedoed ship.)
On 14th August 1944 we received some American Red Cross parcels. We
were given one carton to four men. Each carton contained 4 -2 and a
half oz packets of soup, packets of soup powder. 9 pkts Chesterfield
cigarettes, 3-3 and a half oz tins of butter, 8-10 pkts of ?????
powder, 5-3 and a quarter oz tins corned pork loaf, 2-2 oz pkts of
soap, half a lb tin Kraft cheese, 12oz tin of cocoa, 1-1 lb tin
powdered milk, 4oz tin of coffee,1lb prunes, ?? orange juice, 6oz tin
Millplate (Stew), 2-3 and half tins Chopped Ham and Eggs, 50 cubes of
sugar. This was so very welcome, but so little.
Fortunately for me, by this time I could converse fairly fluently in
Malay. During the day other fellows would bring me whatever they wanted
to dispose of e.g. garments, watches, fountain pens etc. After dark I
would go out .and bargain with the natives, either for gula (sugar),
rice, tobacco or money. One native I became friendly with an
Atjehinese, and he would invite me inside his house and give me a bowl
of rice and vegetables. I was always suspicious that I would meet a Jap
in there or get a knife in the back, but I was lucky. While making a
road through the outskirts of a village I became aware of a vile smell.
The ground seemed to be a bit spongy and the next shovelful uncovered a
human foot. Phew-what a pong! We notified the Jap and he told us to
pack up and go home. Next day when we returned we found the natives had
taken the body away and reburied someplace else.
Early in October 1944 we were told we were going to move. At exactly
0600hrs we moved out on foot. The truck was supplied for Jap equipment
and cooking utensils. They allowed us 5 Minutes rest every hour- a
great concession. But then found we had to complete our march in a
specified time, which meant march 8 hours, rest 8 hours, until the
march was completed. By this time very few had any foot wear left and
because of the night marches our feet suffered terribly. Toe nails were
torn off, feet were staked and bruised, and by the time the march ended
there was not a good pair of feet between the lot of us. This was truly
a living hell, and is one of the horrific memories I will carry to my
grave. We were fortunate that the guards could not understand
English, because the amount of abuse hurled at the guards, their
parents, their ancestors and children, would have made a Wharfie go
pale. The dysentery sufferers were in absolute torment and some lost
control completely and just kept fouling themselves, and lost all
incentive to clean themselves up.
During the match one of the cooks Hilly Stanton (2/29th) stole
a quantity of salt from the guards stores. As soon as the
theft was discovered it was likely there would be violent
repercussions. But either because they had no accurate assessment of
their stores or whether they, like us, were too exhausted to worry, we
will never know because the theft was never discovered. The salt was
put into the rice that night and no doubt helped us see the march
We finished the march at a camp just outside Medan. Here curiously
enough we rested for a week. That is exactly what we did -rest, eat
(such as it was) and sleep. Miraculously, most people recovered from
the march very quickly and by the end of the week, though torn toenails
and deep cuts weren't healed we felt reasonably well again. The
Japanese commander Lt Mura, had the cooks paraded to him and thanked
them for the good job they did both on the march and at the rest camp.
This Jap was nearly human and was never charged with War Crimes. Much
to our disappointment, but, not surprisingly we were told to move
again. At this time both Mac and myself were in reasonable condition
and I was in condition to.................
9......cook and able to have a lay off now and again he would have faded away.
We were formed up, counted umpteen times. Then marched out of the
camp, guessing at our destination. A few natives stood silently by; but
during the last twelve months the native's attitude towards us had
changed considerably. They no longer laughed at us or made rude
gestures. In fact wherever possible they were now more likely to slip
us a banana or a cake of gula. They had realised at last that the Jap
slogan 'ASIA for the ASIANS', was in fact 'ASIA for the JAPANESE'.
After about three miles we came to a railway station. Drawn up waiting
for us were a number of passenger carriages. "How posh" we thought,
until we moved inside. The seating was of slatted bamboo and we
reckoned it couldn't have been used for a long time, as there were
literally thousands of lice and bugs, all apparently suffering acute
starvation, waiting for humans to supply their daily needs.
It was terribly hot in the train; windows were jammed and could not be
opened. The speed of the train when we did get going was not enough to
stir the air sufficiently to dry our sweat. Fortunately we only
travelled in the train for a short time and then boarded motor trucks
(Lorries in those days). From then on for several days we followed
south the same route we had followed coming north from Padang. We
finished up at Bukit Tinngi (formerly Fort de Kok), the Japanese
capital of Sumatra.
One or two nights prior to arriving at Bukit Tinngi were spent at
native civilian camps. They were appallingly primitive and usually
fouled up with human excrement. It took us at least an hour to make the
place reasonably habitable, and this by our sub standard conditions. At
Bukit Tinngi we occupied the old Police Barracks. We had three
miserable days there before another train was organised for us
At dawn we were squatting beside the railway waiting for the train.
Three hours later we boarded. If we thought the last train was the
ultimate in bugs and lice we were mistaken. This one had literally
millions of lice - they could be seen crawling on the floor, seats,
wall and ceiling. This was the heaviest infestation we had ever
experienced and we were never able to get rid of them. They were with
us till we were deloused in Singapore at war's end. They were so
numerous it was not unusual to see them crawling on the shirt, jacket
or even skin of the man in front of you.
"Hilly" is still very sick and getting very low, because of lack of
interest in food. However with some encouragement, he managed to get a
little down each day, eventually picked up and became as normal as
possible under the conditions.
The rail journey was quite a long one and we ended up at a small
clearing in the middle of the jungle, with the name Moera. Stacked
about the area are huge heaps of sleepers and long stacks of steel
rails - it wasn't hard to imagine what our next task was. A road of
sorts led away from the station through evil looking, swampy jungle. A
number of motor trucks were there to meet us accompanied by the most
evil crew of Japs we had yet encountered.
After boarding the trucks we went at breakneck speed, through thick
heavy jungle, with pools of water in view most of the way. Ideal
mosquito breeding country- and we were right. We arrived at our
destination to be greeted by - electric light! We were housed in
three large huts; Dutch two, British one. They were built of atap and
saplings, flattened or split bamboo forming a bench for our beds. A
fourth hut was there and this was set aside as a 'hospital'. The word
hospital was used rather euphemistically, as very few people who ever
went into the hospital ever walked out - they were usually carried out
by the burial party.
By daylight we could see that the place had been very quickly prepared
with lots more work to be done. We worked for five days on the camp,
clearing stumps, an area for a cemetery (which incidentally we could
never keep pace with), latrines etc. Then Lt Mura told us we had
the honour of building a railway line for the Emperor. Two lines in
fact, a small gauge and a large gauge. When finished we would all
be given a medal for a good job well done! None of us ever did
see the medal.
BUILD A RAILWAY
Then began the worst phase of our internment. We would troop off
each morning, with various tools, parangs, chunkels, baskets, axes etc
and build, dig, rake and chop as necessary. When we had finished
the small spur line we moved back to the main line. There we built a bridge entirely with timber hacked out of the jungle.
10. on this bridge for a long time. The 'Atas' party, was the one
that worked at the top of the bridge. Because of the skill needed or
the danger involved, extra rations were given to the 'Atas' party. So I
thought --be in this. The Jap in charge of the 'Atas' party was very
big and strong and also very dark, and was nicknamed the 'Gorilla' the
first day. One day through misinterpreting his orders he became mad at
me and began throwing metal spikes at me. These were half to three
quarters inch, round steel about 8 inches long, with another 3 or 4
inches bent at right angles. They were used to hold the smaller cross
timbers in place. I sure did a bolt for the ground but he
insisted that I return. However after that day I always dodged the
'Atas' party by declaring that I had dysentery.
Then we had a change of guards. The new ones were from the Burma
Railway and were very wise in the ways of P.0.Ws. They were proper bash
artists and 'Hurry -Hurry' their continual shout. They were committed
to build the line to a definite date. This was the reason for the
haste. The work loads became heavier, the work hours longer, the food
less and less.
While on the 'Atas party' Jack Pearson (Mobile Laundry) had a blackout
50 feet up. He fell backwards onto a crossbar, about one foot thick. We
thought for sure his back would be broken, but he continued to fall
hitting other objects and landing in a shallow pool of water. Workers
at the base pulled him out and though groggy, he soon revived and got
up and walked away with only bruises.
On 19/12/44 we had our first fatal accident. Pte Jack Stapleton, 2/19
Bn (NX4521), was falling a tree when the trunk split and speared back
pinning him to the ground crushing his chest. Shortly after this, Mac
again caught dysentery. During the last year the three of us,
Hilly, Mac and myself, had spasmodic attacks of malaria and dysentery.
Dysentery never bothered me very much, but I had so many attacks of
malaria that I lost count after 4O. The only remedy we had for malaria
was the bark of the quinine tree. It wasn't even crushed up fine.
One had to try and swallow this, and if possible to get it down, it
would then upset one's stomach. I bought different items that
were available, at terrible prices, for Mac but all to no avail. On
2.1.45 Mac passed away. This was a terrible blow to Hilly
and myself - we had thought after coming this far we would surely see
it through. He was buried with full Christian ceremony by Padre Eric
Jones, (British) a former M.P. His remains are now in a military
cemetery in Singapore.
Then for the first time ever some letters from home. They were up to
two years old, but those that received them did not worry about the
date. By this time our plight was really very serious. Food was the
worst we had ever had. Malnutrition was evident among at least a third
of our group. Even the ringworms had disappeared through lack of
sustenance. Ulcers were more common, malarial attacks were only days
apart and morale was at rock bottom. When on working parties we did
everything automatically-like a Zombie. As one's illness became
progressively worse, one was sent back to the hospital at camp 2.
Rumours began to reach us, warning us not to go back to camp 2 and
certain death. The burial party worked full time, but still could not
keep up with the demand. It was reported that 2 men whilst at the
latrines had suffered blackouts, fallen into the latrines and either
drowned or suffocated,
We now met other parties working on the line and learnt of the sinking
of the boat carrying the balance of the Gloegeer party. After we left
Gloegeer they were put on board the 'Harukiku Maru' (previously S.S.van
Waerwijk), a Dutch ship captured in Java. On 26th April it was sunk by
torpedoes. Casualties were very heavy, 13 Australians perished, several
of them 2/29th boys. We heard the Perth was sunk, and the capture of
some of the 7th Division in Java. These were dark days indeed. Every
thing seemed to be slipping away.
Food, if possible was worse than ever. A large part of our diet
consisted of Ongle Ongle, a dark glutinous muck, which was processed
into glue before the war. Work was hard as they were pressing us to
finish the line as they were behind schedule. Sometimes we worked right
through the night. One day early in our line experience, we decided to
slow them up by laying the rails too wide. Along came the train and ran
off the line. Guess who spent half the night putting the rotten thing
back on the rails. We had no clothes, only pieces of rag or bag as loin
cloths, no hats, no footwear.
11. The only consistently pleasant aspect of our whole life whilst
captive was the plentiful supply of water. It was in abundance every
where we went and even though we could hardly get to the stream through
sheer exhaustion, once we had bathed in the beautiful clear water, we
always felt better. As far as I know cholera was not at that time
present in Sumatra.
Our language had deteriorated to a marked degree. Every second word was
a foul oath or curse, and our speech was a mixture of English, Malay,
Jap and Dutch. It was totally incompressible to all but the
By this time I was eating any fungus growth I could find in the forest.
I would chew and swallow any broadleaved plant that did not taste
bitter. Occasionally we would pass through a deserted village or an
abandoned native garden, and find the odd chilli bush in full fruit.
Though the first few were hot, one soon got used to them and would eat
them direct from the bush. Our doctors told us to eat them if possible
as they were full of vitamins. Young tender leaves from trees were also
on my diet. Though it may seem to be a queer diet, it kept me going
until disaster struck.
One day I had an itching under my left ankle bone, and on investigation
found I had a pimple. Now I had had plenty of pimples before but they
had always behaved themselves and healed up in due course. This one
didn't. It eventually became a small sore about half an inch wide. Then
slowly it spread and I realised I had an ulcer. For some time I was
still able to go to work, but as it became progressively worse, the
officers took me off the working party. Though I was thankful to be
relieved of the toil, once one became bedridden it usually meant the
end was not far away.
Once a week we went to see the doctor and have the bandages changed.
The doctors had no medication whatsoever. The only thing they could do
for ulcers was to scrape them out. To do this they sharpened one side
of a teaspoon and used this to scrape out the puss and foreign matter
in the ulcer. This sure was bloody murder and one usually finished up
with the ulcer bleeding.
In mid 1945 our camp moved to a new location-"Logas". This
appeared to us to be the worst camp of all. For some reason
unknown to us, the sick were no longer sent to camp 2, but left to die
in this camp. Percy Haworth (2/29 Bn VX42190), after great suffering
died in this camp just before war's end.
I began to deteriorate rapidly. One morning while gazing blankly at my
bandaged foot, I saw the bandage move and out crawled a fat
maggot. This positively repulsed me and if felt terribly unclean.
As it was three days before doctors visit I was somewhat nonplussed as
to what to do. Best leave it until doctor sees it-suggested
Hilly. When the doctor un-bandaged it six great maggots an inch long
fell out. The doctor was quite cheerful about it and said, "This will
probably save you some agony" and so it/they did. When completely
unwrapped the wound was as clean as a whistle, with nothing but pink
flesh showing. The maggots had eaten all the rubbish and there was no
need for the spoon. Not the sort of diet that would appeal to
everybody but I sure was pleased the maggots liked it. After this I
often shoved my smelly foot out hoping it would attract the flies, but
it never happened again.
Not being in working parties or able to move about very much I was not
able to scrounge any greens or bargain with the natives. My body became
less and less and it wasn't very long before I had trouble even
walking. I was just able to hobble about using a home made crutch.
THE WAR IS OVER
It was one day in August, when some unexplainable actions by the
Japanese, gave us some indication that something unusual was afoot. The
working party was returned to the camp in the morning. On the way back
a native had told them 'Prang Habis'-(War is over). Rumours were more
numerous than The mosquitoes. The next day Capt Jimmy Gordon (English)
confronted the Japs and asked them point blank if the war was over.
They admitted it was. Capt Gordon came running back and jumping on the
bed platform in the hut, called for silence and told us the news. There
was a loud cheer, then a few moments of silence and somebody, most
likely an English lad began singing "God Save The King". Within seconds
everyone in the hut, including myself, joined in and I have never sung
with such fervour. After the singing was over one was treated to a
variety of emotional reactions- some cried, some laughed, some prayed
and some began scurrying about to contact the natives for food. It was
a glorious moment. Poor exhausted skeletons that we were; we exulted in
the fact that -
We had beaten the Bastards.
12. The Japs told us we were not allowed to leave the camp as they were
still responsible for us. Our rations increased and we were issued with
white jackets and shorts. We were told to mark the camp so it could be
recognised as a POW camp from the air. This was important so that
medical supplies could be dropped. But no planes came and our mates
Major Jacobs O.B.E. Royal Marines who took control of Sumatra from the
Japs on behalf of the allied forces, describes this camp in his book
"Prelude to the Monsoon", and I quote: "Before
taking the main road, we made a quick detour to Logas where I had heard
there were several hundred Dutch P.O.Ws. There were also English,
Australian, 1 Yank, 2 Canadians and 2 New Zealanders. Remnants of a
contingent that had worked on a jungle railway. These men we
found had been completely cut off from the outside world and were not
aware the war had ended (we were). Isolated in the jungle, they had
lived under conditions of unimaginable primitiveness. Many had learned
to eat the bark off trees and the roots of plants to keep alive.
The mere fact that they had survived was elegant proof of the
resilience of the human being. To look at these pitiful human wrecks,
to hear about the atrocities that had been committed against them and
to see the degradation to which they had been subjected was a harrowing
experience. It was necessary, however to have a complete record, and I
forced myself to go into the huts, to take photographs and make a
detailed report of everything. It imposed a severe strain which soon
began to take it's toll. I lost my appetite completely and after having
taken so such Benzedrine, I could no longer sleep. This lowered my
resistance to the horrors around me and so the cycle continued". End of quote.
After 14 days of waiting for something, which never came, we were told
that we were to move back by train. By this time I was about 6and a
half stone (91 lbs), all 6 foot one inch of me. At least I could
still hobble about, there were others worse than me, they could not
move around at all. Hilly was reasonably well and fed me extra food
whenever available. I became determined to get home.
It took three dreadful days of train travel to get to Pekanbaroe. It
was a terrible ordeal, but as much help as possible was given to the
sick by their mates. I think one or two died on the train trip. After
three days in this camp, various allied personnel began to appear.
Among the earliest was the late Lady Edwina Mountbatten. She came and
sat on my bed and talked to me, gave me a packet of cigarettes (50) -
she was a real Lady.
SUMATRA TO SINGAPORE
Arrangements were made for our evacuation to Singapore. At this stage I
lost track of Hilly and we never met again until we were back in
Australia. Somewhere, somehow a few of the fellows had got hold
of a car and were running it on kerosene. This was used to take non
stretcher cases to the Airfield. I had an argument with our
officer (Lt Nicholls) as to what category I was in and he finished up
telling me if I could get out to the car I could go in the next batch.
I fell over twice in the first ten feet and finished up crawling out to
the car. Away we went to the airport but would you believe it, the car
caught fire twice on the way out. I thought I was to be
incinerated, but found that the driver and his mate were equal to the
occasion and soon had it out with bags etc. Apparently it
happened each time the car motor became very hot. We eventually boarded
an R.A.A.F. plane and all passengers except Sparrow, Mac and myself
were Pommies. After take off we found we had an Australian nurse on
board. When she eventually found us she really gave us V.I.P.
treatment. Arriving in Singapore we were taken to the military hospital
at Katong, deloused, showered, issued with new pyjamas and tucked into
bed. After a few days there some of my old mates from the Signal
platoon came to see me and greeted me with "G'day ya skinny bastard".
Then I knew I would make it home.
Pte R.F.(Slim)Nelson VX8212
Pte.H.A.(Jonger)Stanton QX23428 Co-Authors.
of two Australian POWs experiences on the Sumatra Railway was put
together around 1946. Whilst jointly written, it was based on the
experiences of Hilton Stanton. The Website owner Lt Col Peter
Winstanley had been given the story around 2003. It was clearly a
copy of an original carbon copy of the account as put together in 1946.
In the original document there were 12 pages and those numbers have
been noted. There were several lines missing from the bottom of each
page. This was probably the result on copying from an original foolscap
manuscript to A4 paper. I have scanned the paper given to me using OCR
and laboriously edited it. In October 2009 I established contact
with one of the authors Hilton Stanton and took oral instructions
regarding the content of the lines missing from each page. Accordingly,
on a number of pages there are comments which have been added in
italics based on Hilton Stanton's recollection.
Lt Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (JP)