|Captain Victor Brand MC
|VX39085 2/29 Battalion
Born Melbourne 1916 - Graduated Melbourne University 1937 - Enlisted AIF 1940 - Regimental Medical Officer 2/29 Battalion AIF - To Malaya 1941 - Japs invade Malaya December 1941 - Australian defence at Bakri - Awarded Military Cross - Care for wounded etc - Singapore falls Feb 42 - April 1943 to Thailand (Siam) as Medical Officer on "F" Force - Post war became Anaesthetist - Retired 2003.t.
Victor Brand was born in Melbourne on 16 July 1914. He graduated with a medical degree from Melbourne University in 1937. On 22 November 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) and was commissioned into the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) and subsequently posted to the 2/29 Battalion.. In late July 1941 the unit, as a part of 27th Brigade, embarked from various ports for Malaya.
The Unit landed in Singapore 15 August and on 15 September moved into central Malaya at Segamat. Then followed a period when the Battalion's sub units were involved. in a number of moves. A period of great instability.
The Japanese invasion force had landed on 7 December 1941 in northern Malay and advanced down the peninsular. It is not intended to talk about the tactical situation and, in particular, the withdrawal of the Allied forces back to Singapore.
It is intended to concentrate on the efforts of Captain Victor Brand, who along with Captain John L Taylor, were the only two Medical Officers to be awarded a Military Cross in the Malayan campaign. (other medical Officers could, and possibly should have, received similar acknowledgment of their efforts too). The citation for his award reads -
"Captain Brand was with the battalion near Vakri [sic]. The Regimental Aid Post was in the centre of the perimeter which was constantly under heavy shell and mortar faire. With total disregard for his own safety, he left the slit trenches in which all personnel were forced to shelter, and remained in the open during the heavy and continuous bombardment, attending to the wounded, both Australian and Indian. Shortly afterwards the battalion withdrew and left only a small covering group of carriers. Captain Brand, however, remained behind and refused to leave until he had attended to all the wounded and placed them on vehicles. He was wounded while out on the road….. He then went through the vehicles collecting the walking wounded whom he personally escorted to the battalion."
Readers who want to read the detailed account of this Medical Officer's work, and to gain an appreciation of the casualties suffered by this battalion, should read the appropriate chapter in the book "A History of the 2/29 Battalion- 8th Division, AIF" ISBN 0 9592465 0 9. Below I have made extracts from the abovementioned chapter. Permission has been granted to use this material.
"January 17 . I was getting the R.A.P. truck into position, when suddenly a burst of high pitched rifle and automatic fire broke out directly in front. Six or seven more casualties were brought in. Most of them .303 wounds.
I was told that there were some wounded on the road. Two Indians were lying within a few feet of the burning tank. Lynch and I jumped down and I found that one man's thigh was terribly smashed - probably by a cannon shell - and he was near death. I gave him ¾ gr morphia to ease his agony and passed to the other. He was a Subadar and was wounded in both legs, one being broken. Fire was now coming from the other side of the road. Lynch and I could see no way of getting him to cover. I gave him morphia and we climbed up the bank into the rubber.
Casualties were being brought to the R.A.P. in consistent numbers. Mr. Hackney was brought in with a bullet would through the left calf. A little later I went again to the cutting. One Indian was dead, the other pointed piteously to his crippled legs. I jumped down, told him to put his arms around my neck, and struggled up the embankment with him. Barely reaching the top I could go no further and I called for help. A man crawled to the edge of the cutting and we lifted the Indian into the rubber.
It proved to be the scene of calamity to a Chinese family. A young Chinese tearfully gave me to understand that his wife and son were lying wounded in the house so I went over with him. His wife was lying on her face, her buttocks and thighs torn with large bullet wounds, and the little boy, about eight years old, had a long deep laceration of the right arm. I did what I could, and promised to try and get them back to the hospital. The Chinaman arrived again tearfully, asking for help. An Indian volunteer accompanied him with a stretcher and they hurried back with the woman and the little boy. The mother lay on her stretcher among our wounded while we helped her son to bread and jam.
I had about 18 wounded at the R.A.P. at this time and was anxiously wondering how the devil we were going to get them out, cut off as we were by the Japanese behind us……During this bombardment the Battalion H.Q. stretcher-bearers suffered badly. When the barrage ceased the R.A.P. was flooded with wounded. While we were loading these trucks, Indians, wounded and unwounded, stormed us, crying, pleading to be taken. The Carrier men suffered heavily when the Japanese began to use Armour Piercing bullets and were holing the armour plate through and through…..Quick's paybook had been holed by a fragment and I had a few splinters in the skin over my shins which I did not discover for another five days. The R.A.P. was choked with wounded who needed further treatment. A message came through ordering us to retire. Trucks were unloaded and the wounded lifted in.
I then thought we might attempt to carry the wounded on stretchers through the roadblock by invoking the protection of the Red Cross. Lynch, Warburton, Hughes and I carried a man whose leg had been blown off at the thigh. After this, realising that there were more wounded than healthy men, I gave up the idea. I went to the rear truck and leaned against the tailboard holding a Red Cross sign in the hope that the Japanese would spare the wounded.
We would make a break for it into the jungle with our walking wounded. I remember Pte. C. Mapleback coming up to me, and it was with difficulty that I understood him to say "Can I make a break with you, Doc?". He had been wounded in the face and had a great hole in the cheek communicating with his mouth. Pte. Cant, who had wounds in the tongue and a shoulder (the day before he had come to the R.A.P. but on seeing the other wounded he said that his injuries were nothing, and he went back to his Coy.). Cant, a man of great ability and courage, said he could lead us by the stars, and he placed the armed men in strategic positions. The going was terribly hard, up to our knees in water and pushing through jungle so dense that we could barely see the sky above. After some distance we heard an outburst of yelling and screaming behind us. The Japanese must have been dealing with the wounded we had left. We found a tiny hillock nearby, with just enough space to allow us to lie out of the water, and there we spent the next few hours till dawn.
In the morning (20th) we found that we had stumbled on a Malay family's refuge. Cant could speak a little Malay and was given to understand that if we followed a nearby water channel for 10 miles we could reach Ayer Hitam. Poor Mapleback was the worst case. He could not eat at all and could only drink with difficulty, but he never once complained and kept going without any sign of failing as did the other wounded men. The interpreter showed me the best track to take along the edge of the swamp. Here we met a small Chinese refugee family - mother, father, young man and a young son about nine years old in a huge pith helmet. They were of poor coolie class and were carrying all their possessions in a large sack. On seeing our plight they immediately opened their sack, and the little fellow gravely and busily handed out cigarettes and biscuits. As we set off I offered the boy a $5 note, but he vehemently refused to take it.
We skirted the swamp for some miles. After waiting for some time I went forward with the wounded, doing the last 50 yards waist deep and often chest deep in the water.
We got to our weary feet and joined them on the road in the darkness. Trucks crept along nose to tail and a few 25-pounders limped along on punctured tyres. I put our wounded on trucks, and we joined the files of men marching on either side of the road. Our feet were softened by the previous 24 hours of swamp, and our socks were gritty with mud. The road was flanked by deep ditches waist high in water - there were very few footbridges and we must have waded through these ditches scores of times. I saw the little Chinese boy whose arm I had dressed but no sign of his father or mother. Fighting was heavy; automatic fire seemed to come from all directions. Mortaring was constant and an artillery barrage began to open up. There were fearful sights. I can never forget one of our men who was wounded in the neck. I found him pacing aimlessly along the road, his swollen tongue protruding from his mouth. I could do nothing but give him some morphia and beg him to sit down and rest.
I had to hurry away to restrain my emotion, but when I saw Lieut. Hackney I broke down. I remember crying bitterly and repeating "They're machine-gunning the wounded in the trucks" while Hackney stroked my hand. Still crying I tried to say something to Major Kidd lying on the roadside. He must have thought I was mad. I controlled myself and finding Lt. Col. Anderson pointed out the terrific position of our wounded and that many had been wounded for three days without treatment, and I suggested the following plan to him. This was to put all the wounded on trucks and let them proceed slowly towards the Japanese roadblock headed by the ambulance in the hope that the Japanese would let them through. It was getting towards dusk before the trucks were ready. They were driven by wounded men and the only sound man was one stretcher bearer. The drivers received instructions to drive very slowly and off they went. The Japanese Commander had seen the stretcher bearer and told him that he would allow the wounded through if there was a total surrender of our troops. If not the two vehicles would be held on the bridge as an additional roadblock, but in the dark the wounded released the brakes and the two vehicles rolled back into our perimeter. So there was no more hope of any clemency to our wounded.
Japanese bugles blew calls. The Japanese hit us with everything they had. Casualties were numerous. I saw one section of which almost every man had been killed or wounded. The stretcher bearers were doing a magnificent job, carrying on with their work up and down the road without troubling to take cover from the intense fire which was being poured on us. I was so fatigued by this time that whenever I went to ground I immediately dropped off to sleep, in spite of bursting shells and mortars. …the blowing up of a medium tank by an Artillery Sergeant who was working his 25-pounder single handed.
Three slow old British biplanes came swooping over our position and dropped four containers by parachute. They were eagerly opened and were found to contain bully beef, biscuits, tea, shell dressings and morphia. I was glad of the last, my supply having run out, and I immediately did a tour of the wounded. I climbed into truck after trucks - all full of wounded men lying there stoically. Some asked for morphia to ease their pain, others said they could do without it and asked me to give a cobber an injection. I carried my Luer Lok syringe all the time and gave scores of injections with the same needle - through clothes and sometimes waterproofs.
There was no particular R.A.P. site. Stretcher bearers took Capt. Cahill and myself to various places in the perimeter where we were needed. Word came through that Lt. Col. Anderson had ordered a withdrawal to the north. All wounded who could not walk were to be left in the trucks. I later heard that the ambulance had made a desperate dash on to the bridge where it was met with such a heavy burst of fire that it went over into the river. As we approached I asked Lynch if he could swim. He said "No", so I told him to grasp our backs and kick his legs and we plunged into the water without losing a step or waiting to discard any weight. Many men were drowned here, but somehow we got across. I myself was exhausted and felt I could hardly go on much longer as I had had little sleep and less food for five days now. As we rested on the hillside, the English officer went away, presumably to do a reconnaissance. A shot rang out close by and everyone stiffened in alarm, it sounded so much like a Japanese rifle. But nothing happened. A few men went over and found that the English officer had shot himself through the head, leaving a note to say he was all in, that he would only be a drag on us, and wished us good luck. He had drawn a map on the back of the note showing the route to Yong Peng. Sgt. Fowler took the compass and map and plotted a course to Yong Peng and we set off.
This N.C.O. had come from Muar proper, fighting all the way, and I cannot praise him highly enough for the way in which, notwithstanding his previous exhausting days, he led our party through to Yong Peng. After passing through some swamp we came to a small kampong on a road which led to the village of Pasir. We began to go in this direction, but a Malay rushed up and vehemently begged us to go in the other direction. He pointed to Pasir and pushed Sgt. Fowler on the chest repeating "Nippon, Nippon!"
…we made a small meal- 1/5th of a biscuit and 1/30th of a tin of bully to each man.
At a shout behind us I saw Capt. Cahill coming down the hill on a bicycle and he swept past me. Some 2/29th men came up to us carrying a wounded man on a stretcher. How they had carried him all through the terrible country which we had left behind I could not imagine. Bakri is 30 miles from Yong Peng by road and we must have done much more than that, on our flat feet. We had few wounded, about 12 during the day, who were immediately evacuated by Capt. John Park who kept an ambulance at my R.A.P. About midday Park left with his ambulance and I did not see him again, nor did anyone else. A perimeter was formed and I had got the R.A.P. into position when I was told that Capt. Brown had been badly wounded by a mortar. I painfully returned to the R.A.P. and dropped on to a stretcher, but I soon had to get up to strip and shake viciously biting ants out of my clothes. I had to do this twice again, and to add to my miseries it was cold and raining. …our own guns were doing the damage.. In the light we found that soot from burning oil wells had been falling on us. About 3 a.m. Lt. Col. Pond came to me and asked me whether the men could march. I answered "No".
At this time I was told by a 2/10th Field Ambulance officer that the Americans had taken Penang and were streaming into Johore. This he gave out as official. I rushed round and told the men, and this furphy proved to be a great morale builder."
I feel that these extracts will give a better indication of the horrific situation than any selection of words could make. It is worth quoting from Thomas Hamilton's book "Soldier Surgeon in Malaya"-.
"Captain Brand was their regimental medical officer. He was young and competent. I felt he would make good. Captain Brand justified my confidence some six weeks later by winning the Military Cross for coolness and bravery under fire. The whole of the medical service applauded when it (Brand's work) was recognised by the award of the Military Cross."
Following capituation, Captain Brand became a prisoner of war. Subsequently in April1943 Captain Victor Brand became one of the Medical Officers who accompanied "F" Force to Thailand. "F" Force was a force of 7,000 POWs who it seems had it hardest of all groups sent to be slaves on the Burma Thailand Railway. I had the privilege of visiting Victor Brand in 2003. When I asked him about his time on the Burma Thailand Railway he handed me the following story.
"TAMURONPAT This place is so obscure that it doesn't appear on most maps of the railway. It is 240 K north of Bampong between Takanoon 280K and Konkoita 257K. I got there by truck with 2 Korean guards,3 men from medical units, and an English officer, Capt. White,and his batman. It was a thrilling journey, close to disaster all the way. We rounded a corner and there was a big elephant screaming through his outstretched trunk and some little brown men running away from him in all directions. Probably Jumbo's first sight of a truck. This would have been one of the many Burmese elephants and their keepers that the Japs had recruited to work on the railway.
We came to a small natural clearing in the bush about 500 metres west of the rail track and were off-loaded. A small coffin shaped structure made of attap stood in this place. It was occupied by an Australian sergeant with Pneumonia; both lung bases were solid. He recovered but was to die later with Cholera.
Our supplies-a kuali-a big wok, an axe head, a machete, a handful of quinine tablets and not much else.
We had one large tent with us which Capt White and myself occupied together with the 3 Medics. We built small huts for the rest of the population using the beautiful bamboo growing on the bank of a small stream nearby.
Soon after our arrival I was struck down by a fever which flattened me for some days, I don't know how many. I lay on the ground aching all over. I think it was probably Dengue .popularly known as "Breakbone Fever".
I eventually rose very weak and thin and inspected the camp .Our numbers had grown- as parties of men marched up the line our job was to take in those who were too sick to go further or had reached the limit of their endurance. So our numbers reached something over 100, a very diverse group. There were English, Argylles, Gordons, some from the Straits volunteers and 2 merchant seamen. Frank West was the only 2/29 man who turned up.
We were not badly off; we knew nothing of the terrible conditions which the rest of F Force was enduring. We always had sufficient rice and could add peanuts, gula malacca and sometimes some meat when we got hold of a runaway
yak. These little beasts were used by Burmese to pull their small carts-probably conscripted by the Japs to work on the railway.
The slaughter of the Yak always followed the same pattern, the beast was tied to a tree with some homemade rope. Our axehead was produced fitted to a beautifully whittled handle made of defective timber. Our slaughterman brandished the weapon and brought down the blunt back of the axe on to the animal's head. The axehead flew off into the bush and the poor beast grimaced, pulled away, the rope broke and he was off into the jungle with everyone who could after him.
He was eventually caught, I rushed in with a bamboo container to catch the blood which we fried up with red palm oil for the sick. Fried blood and good
pieces of meat went to the sick on a scale of sick sicker sickest.
It was early in May and the Monsoon started. This meant steady rain all day; the ground underfoot turned to mud and our huts needed constant attention to the roof which was thatched with wild banana leaves-this had to be replaced every 10 days. We gradually paved all the paths with split bamboo, so the place eventually had the air of a jungle resort!.
Jap troops began to come up the railway track on their way to Burma. They struggled through the mud pulling little carts loaded with their machine guns and other heavy equipment. Pushed on mercilessly by their officers and NCO's they were bashed with sheathed swords and bamboos. I watched them reach their staging camp a few K's north of us. There they went on parade immediately and the officers and NCO's went up and down the lines picking out a man here and there-knocking him down and kicking him!
It was here that I saw the "Jungle Cinema". When the rail was completed and the monsoon had finished life became more pleasant. A mobile movie came up the line and performed at this camp one night. I inserted myself inside this big marquee amongst a mob of Genghis Khan like soldiers barking at each other. Although the story was set in modern times, the star actor was presented as a Samurai with typical hairstyle and two swords in his belt with which he fought his way up and down staircases against numerous opponents. The villains were 3 Caucasians who spoke English lines but I reckon that by the way they spoke they did not understand the meaning. Maybe they were Russian?
But remarkably their names on the brass plate outside their office were" "Goldberg, Cohen and Rosenberg"! The awareness of Jews by Japanese is small so I would think that we see here token Antisemitism by Japan as an ally of Germany.
The inmates of our camp almost all suffered from Malaria, Dysentery. I was unable to establish whether the latter was Amoebic or Bacterial and I had no means of treating them. So the best I could do was to ensure that our hygiene was good. Our mess gear was dipped in boiling water before each meal - latrines as clean as possible. Until Cholera struck I could do no positive medical treatment.
I was wakened in the middle of the night-a party of 2/29 men were coming through. They were carrying sick men on bamboo stretchers, 8 men to a stretcher .They were struggling through mud almost knee deep and many of the "fit men" looked as if they too should be on stretchers. There was Captain Bert Kemp sobbing with fatigue. The main body of men-about 200 went on and made camp in some open country a few k's down the track, but we gave hospitality to some stretcher cases and their exhausted bearers for the night. As we were supposed to be in quarantine due to the Cholera, our little guards jumped up and down and stopped our rice, but Kemp made it up for us. So our own Cholera epidemic started.
Our first case was a New Zealander-a member of the Straits Volunteers. He had been teaching somewhere in Malaya. Clive Boan who was with the 2/29 party had informed me how the disease was treated in the big camps. I cut down on a vein in the ankle and inserted a length of bamboo-about three inches, with a bore about half that of a drinking straw. This was attached to some lengths of stethoscope tubing fixed to the bottom of a pint sized container. The essential treatment was to replace the large amounts of fluid into the blood together with important salts. River water was boiled and strained through some old shirt. Very rough rock salt was heated to a high temperature-to drive off impurities! And about a teaspoon to a pint of water. This flowed into the patient's blood stream in large amounts, say 6 pints in 24 hours, and was accompanied by fearful rigors showing that our intravenous fluid was far from pure! But this man recovered and was the genesis of some extraordinary stories in the papers when he returned to Australia. From then the epidemic intensified, and there was a succession of deaths. A man might be quite well in the morning, and dead by next day. We had about 6 of these fatalities, and then the virulence began to diminish, some would seem to recover but after a few days secondary illnesses such as Dysentery, Malaria, general malnutrition and vitamin deficiency carried them off.
Finally our new cases showed the essential symptoms of Cholera-excessive diarrhoea and extreme loss of body fluid, but with no general toxicity and one replaced the fluid loss by drinking large amounts of water.
We occupied our little jungle camp until some time in September when I was ordered to weed out the "heavy sick" which were sent off down the river by barge and ended up in hospital in Kanburi.
I was left with about 20 men and we were moved about one kilometre away, lodged in a big bamboo hut and came under the direct supervision of the Japs; the men used as a working party and I had to parade them each morning and provide the expected numbers. I have described else where my run in with the Gunso. And my boozeup with the Jap medico, No Nose and the "Gymkhana".
After some weeks I went over to visit our little jungle camp. It was almost unrecognisable-the jungle had repossessed our former home.
December came and we rejoined the remains of F Force at Kanburi. There was the smouldering mound of luggage including the box containing the Bren gun . Nobody came forward to claim it.
I am grateful to Victor for this description of the work in his area of responsibility. It shows that even within "F": Force conditions did vary greatly.
Roy Mills in his book "Doctors Diary and Memoirs" ISBN 0 646 19473 9 mentions Captain Brand as follows.-
"…expecting to link up with Captain Brand at Tamarompat. …Vic Brand very busy...I got fever again- Vic Brand wonderful assistance daily visits… Reached Tamarompat about 2100 having seen Vic Brand 1 ½ kilo from camp. Cannot get permission to go 1 kilo along to road to see Vic Brand (Capt AAMC) … Maj Stevens, Maj Hanbury (RAMC), Capt Brand and self remaining here (Kanburi- Kanchanaburi)to eventually move on."
Captain Victor Brand eventually returned to Singapore, where he remained until the end of the war. On his return to Australia he was discharged on 7 December 1945.
Post war Victor Brand became an Anaesthetist and retired in 2003.
In 2005 Dr Victor Brand lives in Brighton Victoria.
The late Captain EC (Robbie) Robbins (who took a great interest in the Burma Thailand Railway), made this comment to me about Victor Brand "He may be small in stature, but, in my mind he was a giant of a man".
Article compiled by Lt Col (Retired) Peter Winstanley OAM RFD JP
email firstname.lastname@example.org website www.pows-of-japan.net
The assistance of Mr Bob Christie Secretary 2/29 Battalion Association is acknowledged. Also permission to use extracts from "A History of the 2/29 Battalion 8th Australian Division".