Captain Roy Mills was born is Denman (in the Hunter Valley) on 28 April 1917. He was educated at Denman Public School (two teacher school ) and later at Maitland Boys High. After passing his leaving (in which he distinguished himself) he gained entry to Sydney University, where he studied Medicine. Whilst at University Roy joined the Militia as a member of Sydney University Regiment. He graduated in 1939 and in 1940 enlisted in the AIF and was appointed as a Medical Officer in 2/10 Field Ambulance. (A Field Ambulance is a unit with an establishment of around 260 including 9 medical officers and 1 dental officer. In normal circumstances, the Field Ambulance collects and transports casualties from a unit e.g. battalion Regimental Aid Post (RAP) back to Advanced or Main Dressing Station (ADS/MDS) or to Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS)). In 1941 the 2/10 Field Ambulance was deployed to Malaya/Singapore as part of the 8th Division AIF.
During the fighting withdrawal down the Malayan peninsular, the 2/10 Field Ambulance was initially deployed on the east side on the peninsular. However, in the latter stages some of the combat units (including 2/30Bn and the 2/10 Field Ambulance) were moved to the western side of the peninsular. I have searched for the war diary of 2/10 Field Ambulance, but at this stage it has not been located. Roy and his friend Capt Peter Hendry modified the conventional medical evacuation system and developed a system of mobile teams working in the front lines. What is known is that things were in chaos and the Medical Services were no exception. Troops were withdrawing and as I have reported previously (story of Capt Peter Hendry) in many instances the medical personnel were between the allied troops and the Japanese. Two of the Medical Officers were awarded the Military Cross and there are a number of others who could also have been acknowledged in like manner. In an article such as this, space and time does not permit covering in detail the Medical personnel in this fighting withdrawal. One example will portray something of the difficulty. Captain Victor Brand (MO 2/29 Bn was examining wounded in the dark (to use a torch would have resulted in being shot). His examination was being done by touch with a morphia syringe in his mouth, when he realized he was examining a Jap.
Following the 2/10 Field Ambulance withdrawal to Singapore Island the unit retreated through several positions. Shrapnel, from an airburst caused when an enemy artillery shell detonated upon hitting some trees, hit Roy. The shrapnel entered Roy’s chest. He was evacuated to 10 Australian General Hospital and developed a high fever and other problems. Before recovery he rejoined his unit and went to St Andrews Cathedral, where medical facilities had been set up. During an intense bombing raid all men fell flat to the floor. Pus and blood appeared all over Roy. An enormous chest wall abscess (associated with the shrapnel entry) had ruptured. His relief was instant.
After capitulation the severely wounded were moved by ambulance to several locations, mainly in the Changi area. Many, including Roy, (with assistance) marched. Roy’s wound required dressing twice a day and it gradually healed over and he resumed medical duties. He worked at Adam Park with other Medical Officers -Majors Hugh Rayson, “Bon” Rogers and Alan Hazelton together with Captains Phil Millard, Dick Parker and for a time Jock Frew. Later he went to Sime Road Camp. In April 1943 the Japs ordered a force of 7,000, to be known as “F” Force, to be formed. They were told they were being sent to a place where the climate would be better and food more plentiful. They were transported to Thailand in steel rice trucks, 18’ X 7’, with about 30 crammed into each truck. The trip lasted 5 days, with only spasmodic stops for food and latrine use. They were advised they could take 30% as light sick or unfit. The details of the train journey have been covered many times and will not be repeated. Suffice to say, that in 5 days the condition of these men had already further deteriorated.
On arrival in Thailand the POWs quickly realised they were not in a rest camp for recuperation. Almost immediately they started the forced-march of around 300 Km to their workstations. This was unlike earlier groups who were trucked (not a comfortable trip with 25/30 men crammed on the trucks) sometimes as far as Tarsau (a rail distance of 130Km or road/track distance of around 100 Km.). From Roy’s diary he says, that when at Konkoita they had marched 270 km (47 km on asphalt) over 16 days 12 hours.
Other elements of “F” Force-marched on. At Konkoita “Pond’s Party” was formed. It was a combined group of 700. Roy became the sole Medical Officer to 700 POWs with few medical personnel to assist initially. At the end of June Roy had 4 medical orderlies attached to him (this is thought to have been an initiative of Roy’s MO mate Peter Hendry). Pond’s Party was repeatedly moved and this is covered in an attached article.
Some significant things, which relate to Roy follow:
In December Pond’s Party was moved to Kanchanaburi by train over the railway, which the POWs and natives had built, with a huge loss of life. Later in the month Roy moved to Singapore, also by train. It seems that Roy was ill for much of 1944 and 45. On the day of the Japanese capitulation Roy was advised that he had tuberculosis.
On his return to Australia Roy spent most of 1946 in hospital. In 1947 Roy started work with the Repatriation Department. He was admitted to the Royal Australian College of Physicians in 1950 and was appointed staff physician at the Newcastle Hospital in 1953. He made a considerable contribution to the planning of the establishment of a medical school at the University of Newcastle.
A remarkable man, doctor and officer Roy Mills died in
2000. The story of Roy Mills would be incomplete without the following
note by one of the men of Pond’s Party, John Parkes, Annandale Sydney.
Roy Mills as Medical Officer Pond’s Party
“I have worked out as well as I can the kilometers Captain (Dr) Roy Mills would have walked during our nine months on the railway, as members of Pond's Party, F Force. We left Banpong (Japs called it RAIPUAI) 23/4/43 and finished up on 11/5/43 at Taimonta shown on the map as Krian krai on that walk of 257 kilometers Roy would have walked up and down the line of POW's, which was usually strung out for about 3 kilometers. He would have done about another 100 kilometers at least.
After working at Taimonta for a few weeks, the Japs sent about 300 of us (supposedly the fitter ones) to Lower Neiki a distance of about 19 kilometers. Roy stayed back with the remainder. By that time there were quite a few sick ones. After about 9 days at Lower Neiki, we were ordered to move back to Taimonta and then everybody headed south. The sick had to be carried on stretches, by this time the monsoons had set in and it rained day and night. We didn't know then where we were going. We finished at Tarcanoon. 56 kilometers south. Again the Japs split us up, and sent about 300 of us north about 3 kilometers. During the time there, Roy visited the camp to check the sick. That is where I had Weils disease. He used to visit the camp ever couple of days, so you could add about another 40 kilometers over that period. On 5 September we moved north again-carrying the sick, stretcher cases and all cooking utensils to Taimonta. We stayed there until the line joined. Then we had to walk to Lower Neiki, Roy was on all these walks. At Lower Neiki there was only enough accommodation for about half the number of us and the rest had to continue onto Songkurai, a distance of 11 kilometers. We stayed there a couple of weeks then walked back to Lower Neiki to catch the train south to Bangkok.
During the time we were in Thailand, Roy would have walked 800 to-900 kilometers in the nine months, as well as attending to the sick.
If a working party arrived at 2am in the morning, Roy Would always be there ready to hold a sick parade. He was a marvelous man and a wonderful doctor and we all agree we owe our lives to him. Many a time he stood between us and the Jap's and received quite a few bashings as a result”.
John Parkes 8 Div Sigs 3 July 2002
A “must” read for people interested in the Medical History on the Burma Thailand Railway is Doctor’s Diary and Memories by Roy Mills ISBN 0 646 19473 9
Stephanie Bladen has this to say about Roy Mills-
“My father, Sgt Fred Hughes of 2/12th Field Coy RAE 8th Division died in August, 1971 at the Concord Hospital in Sydney of heart disease which was attributed to his war service. As he rarely spoke of his experience as a prisoner of war of the Japanese Army during WW2 I have researched all the information I could lay my hands on and discovered Roy Mills' book which describes the hardship and suffering which Pond's Party of "F" Force went through. My father was part of this group until 16 August when he was evacuated down river from Takunun with 80 very unfit men. Some died in the barge on the way down river to Wanyai. Dad suffered from dysentery, beri beri, pellagra and malaria and I know that he was so ill at one stage that in his delirious state he heard someone say: "He'll be gone by morning," and he said to himself: "No, I won't be. I'm going to survive to go home to see my family again." Dad had a friend who sat with him all night and bathed him to get his temperature down. I don't know the name of this mate and I have been trying to find out who it was. So, in fact, Roy Mills saved my father's life by evacuating him down river to Wanyai and I suspect if he hadn't had that chance he may have succumbed to his illnesses.”
Prepared by Lt Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired) JP