Enlisted into the AIF with 2/20 Battalion. Escaped from Singapore in rowing boat. Landed in Sumatra and captured by Japs. Worked on the Sumatra Railway. Returned to Australia October 1945.
Harry Badger was born in Newcastle NSW on 8 April 1917. He was one of six children. Harry was educated until the age of 15. At breakout of war he was working with a plumbing firm. He enlisted on 9 July 1940 as a member of the 2/20 Battalion and underwent training at Ingleburn and Bathurst.
The 2/20 Battalion went to Malaya in February 1941. With the invasion by the Japanese in December 1941 2/20 Bn was involved in defensive operations on the East coast of Malaya
They joined them. And initially headed south. However, following advice from some Chinese, they turned north in their escape attempt.
They eventually landed at the mouth of a river near Medan. Actually they were near Belowan the port to Medan. (see “Harry Badger’s War Story” (which follows) for details of the trip across Sumatra and subsequent capture) They were there put into a POW camp in that area. The camp had high walls and there were Australian, British & Dutch POWs. Nearby there was a camp for Dutch female civilian internees.
As occurred in Singapore, they were required to sign a non-escape document. When they refused the Japs crammed three huts of POWs into one and cut off their food & water for three days. They eventually signed. Very similar to the Selerang Incident in Singapore.
To overcome a lack of salt, they carried seawater to their camp and used it for cooking, salt making and even drinking.
For a time Harry was moved around and spent some time at Aceh further north. During one of the moves he saw Lake Toba, a beautiful sight. Here he saw a stand of white-limbed gum trees. This rare sight caused an emotional reaction for the Australians.
During construction on the Sumatra Railway (a railway 230km long connecting Pakanbaroe and Moeara) Harry worked in squaring the ends and tops of sleepers.
To overcome malaria, based on advice from Ditch POWs, they pulverized the bark from the quinine trees and ate it. However, Harry said it tasted like saw dust and was hard to swallow. The main causes of death were dysentery, malaria, Dengue Fever and malnutrition. The was no cholera on Sumatra.
Stores, including rails were moved to work sites by wood burning steam engines. Occasionally POW workers rode in open carriages on these trains. The cinders from the engine would often settle on the POWs . Not a pleasant experience. From time to time, the camps were moved to the proximity of the work. He recalls being bashed by the guards a few times.
There were 3 Australian officers with his group. He does not have good recall of their names, but, names like Moody (Major) and Nichols or Nicholson seem familiar. The Japs did not require the officers to work. This was a sore point. He does remember them performing some functions and, in particular, remembers them digging graves.
Around 15 August 1945 conditions changed and they received more food and had less contact with the Japs. Then around 31 August they were advised the war was over. Around this time food was dropped to them by aircraft. Also Lady Mountbatten flew in and visited the POWs. Harry recalls he and his fellow POWs shaking her hand. He noted that she was the first white woman they had seen for some time.
He returned to Australia by ship on October 15, 1945 and was discharged on 12 December 1945. He, along with many others, then tried to put the memories out of his mind.
On his return to Australia Harry married his girl friend of pre war days. Harry and two of his brothers and their father all served during the Second War. In 2006, Harry is in the Mayflower Aged Care Facility, 2 Helen St. Westmead NSW 2145 02 98913755)
Story written following telephone call interviews with Harry, and with the assistance of Harry’s son Rick, by Lt Col Peter Winstanley RFD (Retired) JP 248 / 85 Hester Avenue, Merriwa Western Australia 6030 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional material follows. This has been put together and provided by Harry’s on Rick.
Dad’s war story - Mayflower Nursing Home
Today dad wanted to talk about his experience in escaping from Singapore in 1941.
He and three other Australians, two of whose names he remembers, Leo Martin Joseph Burns and Freddy Nelson, had been wandering around the dock area of the harbour waiting to be taken by the Japanese after the general surrender. They noticed that one of the small coastal ships which had been sunk in the harbour had what appeared to be intact lifeboats still attached and above water.
They investigated and found them to be in perfect order so hatched a plan to hide until dark and make an escape by rowing to Sumatra, the general direction of which they were pretty sure was West because Nelson had been a boy scout and said he had a good sense of direction. Before dark they met up with two British soldiers who asked to be included after being told of the plan.
The escape went smoothly and the twenty one miles across the Strait of Malacca was covered in one night by rowing continuously. There was some urgency as they were afraid Japanese planes would spot them in the light. Landfall was a dense and vast area of mangrove swamp with no obvious landing place and appeared to be an area of many islands so they proceeded down the coast in a South-easterly direction for about 50-60 miles.
Several days later, near a small village, they met up with a party of about twenty Australians and twenty or so British seamen who were survivors from the battleship Prince of Wales who were on a sampan. Here natives told them about the massacre of Australian nurses. The general consensus seemed to be that if they kept bearing South they would eventually reach Papua New Guinea and Australia if they did not run in to allied forces before then.
They were near Belowan, some kind of port and arranged with the Dutch to have a motor launch tow the sampan up the river so they could get to the west coast. The group traveling as far as they could by boat, then bus and finally train to Padang, close to the Straits which separate Sumatra and Java. Food and water was in short supply so they needed to make themselves known to the Dutch colonialists. The Dutch told them the Japanese were at least two weeks away and suggested the group could be comfortably accommodated in the school building overnight.
The next morning they woke to find themselves surrounded by the Japanese with no hope of escape.
Story compiled by Rick Badger 21 May 2006.