Mac Winchester was born 25 February 1916 in East Maitland in the upper Hunter Valley. He enlisted as a Dentist in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 24 November 1941 and four Doctors also from the area, namely Thomas Hamilton, Roy Mills, Peter Hendry and Thomas Brereton enlisted as Medical Officers around the same time. At the fall of Singapore he, with many others, became a Prisoner of War (POW). Later he was sent to work on the infamous Burma Thailand Railway. Little is written about the work of the Dentists. On the line they had limited opportunity to carry out their dental functions. The Japs would monopolise their services and the POWs were a poor second when needing dental treatment. However, the Dental Officers, because of their professional training, were able to assist with doing anaesthetics and other administrative duties. The following is a rather tragic story about Mac Winchester.
After the capitulation of Singapore the Japanese commandeered all available X-ray film as well as other supplies both from civilian and Army, Navy and Air Force sources.
Captain Mac Winchester, Dental Officer, had a portable X-ray machine at Tanglin Barracks area and was required to use this machine for two purposes:-
A. to X-ray the mouths of hundreds of Japanese soldiers whose head would be nestled on the pit of his stomach, so that his own lower abdomen would receive a massive dose of radiation as well as his own chest;
B. to open hundreds of cartons of film under supervision and then to expose one sample film from each carton with his hand superimposed so that the clarity of the film could be checked and the Japanese would not be sending to Japan any cartons of film that had fogged.
It is no wonder that Mac developed cancer of his fingers some of which needed amputation. It is also no wonder that when his bowel became obstructed and the surgeon found it adherent to his bladder that the pathologist reported extensive scar tissue in the large area of bowel excised and the adherent wall of his bladder, also excised. It is no wonder that Mac developed cancer of his lung which caused his death. He suffered greatly on the Thai-Burma railway. He was sent from Singapore to Thailand in May 1943 as a member of “H” Force, a composite force of 3,270 POWs. He had to march from camp to camp carrying his dental equipment; then have to wait; then to receive a bashing; then to render dental treatment to any Japanese soldier demanding it; all this before he was allowed to treat any Dutch, British or Australian servicemen, if at all; sometimes not, before he was bundled out to move on. Mac was a gentle person, an excellent boxer. He could have flattened any of his tormentors even when debilitated. Those in the AIF whom he treated or with whom he was associated will never forget Mac.
The above story was collated by Lt Col Peter Winstanley
RFD (Retired) JP and based on portion of a book written by the late Doctor
Roy Mills titled “Doctor’s Diary & Memoirs” and
permission has been given to use/quote from the book.