|PARKER WILLIAM CLEMENT CORPORAL
|2/20 Battalion AIF NX26087
I am William Clements Parker. I served in Malaya and Singapore with the 2/20 Infantry Battalion. My army number is NX26087.
In June 1940 I was working as a sawmill hand for H.P.Selay of Condobolin. On the 13 June 1940 I enlisted in the army at Forbes with three other lads from Forbes.
We travelled by train to Central Station Sydney, from there a bus took us to the Sydney Showground. At the showground we were sworn into the army, our photos taken. We were issued with blankets, bedding, and army uniforms and taken to our quarters. We were put in the Horse Pavilion. We had a duckboard to sleep on, and the floor was covered with sand, which was very wet. There were a lot of troops at the showground at the time. We had to march right round to the grandstand to get our meals; there was plenty of food in the mess. When you finished your meal you had to make your way back to your billets by yourself; luckily I noticed a giant windmill near our pavilion, so I was able to use it as a reference point to get back to my quarters.
When we were issued with our rifles we were given a lot of arms drill. We also had a lot of fire drill, to teach us about incendiary bombs. We were also put on guard on the main gate of the show ground.
We were marched around Centennial Park a lot, sometimes we marched up the road towards Anzac Parade. In one of the houses along the road a young girl about 18 years old lived. She was a cripple, all the troops were allowed to cheer and woo her, and she enjoyed that very much. She was always waiting at her window for us as we marched along. She was really adopted by us troops.
After about 8 weeks at the show ground we were moved to Walgrove. It was a tent camp, six men to a tent, the floor of the tent was covered with duckboards. We were trained rather consistently, in the bull ring, on route marches, and a lot of cross-country manoeuvres. Then we were formed into the 8th Division. I was put into A company 2/20 Battalion. We were then moved to Ingleburn which was a good camp with large huts for sleeping quarters. It also had a canteen and a Salvation hut with the sign outside of a kangaroo and "hop in you’re welcome". In the camp our training was stepped up, we were taken onto Anzac Rifle Range to learn how to shoot with our rifles and machine guns. At that time our machine guns were the Lewis type, later on we were issued with Bren machine guns.
Some of the troops were not saluting the motor cars which displayed a flag on the bonnet, so routine orders were read on battalion parade on morning, from then on all troops must salute each car displaying such flags.
One corporal by the name of George was drilling a squad near the main road near camp headquarters, when the Brigadier’s car came along. Instead of halting his squad and presenting arms, he gave the order to present arms on the march, the troops presented arms. They looked like a mob of ducks on a hot plate. Sad to say poor old George died on the Burma Thailand railway.
Before we went to Bathurst the three Battalions, 2/18, 2/19, and 2/20 paraded through the streets of Sydney. We formed up in the park near the Central Railway and marched down one street to the quay and back up George Street to the park. It was a great march, there were crowds of people everywhere, throwing streamers and cigarettes amongst us.
Near the end of October a group of us was sent to Bathurst, to get the camp ready for the main body of troops to move there. Bathurst was a nice camp, a large camp of many big huts to sleep in and also a canteen. It was a few miles out of Bathurst but there was a good bus service to get in and out of Bathurst.
We trained very hard at Bathurst doing big manoeuvres over the hills around Bathurst. The hills were covered with plenty of grass which was very slippery. We had to have studs put in our boots to help us climb the hills.
In January 1941 we were given our final leave. It was a bit of a chance for us to tell the people you saw, who had that catch phrase they always used if you were on leave was "when are you going away?" We were able to tell them then, "after this leave".
When we came back off leave about twelve of us were sent onto the Queen Mary as advance guard. We were on board for about a week before the main body of troops came on board. In that week we had to keep a check on where our stores were stored in the hold to make it easy to get at them when we disembarked. One day the nurses of the 13 A.G. Hospital came on board and we helped them with their gear to their quarters. It was a very lonely week for us out in the middle of the harbour, with no leave, because everything was so secret.
The troops came on board and we set sail. The people gave us a great send off. There were hundreds of small craft all around us bidding us farewell. The Queen Mary was a beautiful ship. It had eight decks to my knowledge. I was in a cabin on 6 deck, it had two beds, a bath, toilet and a fan. We were just above the water line.
I struck it for a good job on the voyage over. The Petty Officer in charge of canteen supplies needed thirty men to help him bring the supplies to the canteen each day. We started early and always timed it so we were outside the officers’ mess at breakfast time, as the officers always ate better than the troops. The mess for the troops had three or four sittings each meal. You were given a ticket that entitled you to the mess at a certain sitting, for example if you were in the second sitting your ticket would have a 2 on it.
The convoy we were in, on the Queen Mary, had four troop ships. They were the Mary, Mauritania, Aquitania, and New Hamstedam. The Aquitania had four funnels. Also in the convoy was a cruiser, and another war ship. We stopped at Fremantle but we had no leave. We were anchored out in the middle of the harbour. We left Fremantle and after about two days out to sea the Queen Mary blew a blast on her siren and put on speed and went one circle right round the convoy and headed off on her own. We finally reached Singapore and the Queen Mary docked without the aid of a tug.
That was the 19th of February 1941, we were some of the first troops to be disembarked. We waited on the wharves for our train, as the Queen Mary was unloaded she kept coming out of the water, she looked liked a very tall building before we left.
We finally boarded the train and journeyed through the west coast of Malay. We passed through Serembam and onto Port Dickson on the West coast. We did a lot of jungle training at Port Dickson, rifle shooting, and the use of machine guns and hand grenades. We also learnt how to make a defensive position in the jungle. We saw our first sight of rubber plantations and rubber tapping. One group of natives started out very early in the morning and tapped the trees, taking a small sliver of the bark off the tree about a quarter of the way around. As the sap dripped from the tree it was caught in a porcelain bowl that was suspended by a wire clamp. When the cups was about 3/4 full, a native with two five gallon buckets on a stick across his shoulders collected the rubber latex and took it to the factory which was part of that particular plantation. It was hard work for them as they only got about 50c a day (that was equal to about one shilling and sixpence). In the Malayan jungle a creeper grows which has a white flower that has a beautiful scent you can smell a long way off. The natives collect this vine for making furniture. It grows up to 300 yards long, they cut the base of the plant and pull it out of the jungle with an elephant, it is called rattan.
There are many monkeys in the jungle too, also millions of ants, some ants spin a web like a spider; there are also flying lizards and very large scorpions. Also at night there are millions of fire flies; they have a little light on their nose which shines like a miniature torch. There are some Orang-outangs in the jungle too, and there are enormous amounts of spiders too.
While at Port Dickson a party of twenty of us from the battalion went to the Fraser Highlands in Malay. We had about six native guides and a white guide. We were issued with five rounds of live ammo as we were going into tiger country. We picked up two tame elephants and their handlers at the foot of the mountain where we left the trucks. We went right up to near the top of the mountain; on the way we saw a village that some wild elephant had destroyed. We didn't see any tigers but our guide showed us some tiger tracks; I think he made them himself with the palm of his hand. The purpose of this trip was to see if we could exist on rice in the jungle and also some of the food our guide showed us you could get out of the jungle; it came in handy in later years.
The guides showed us how to make bamboo rafts. The bamboo grew to an enormous size. We cut it down with a parang (native axe). The elephants ate the tender shoots off the bamboo; that’s their main diet. Our rafts were very good when we finished them. Coming back we came to a Malay Kampung just as the Sultan of that state was visiting them. They were very fond of him, they bowed and kissed his hand - all of them. When we got back to camp we were moved to Serembam, where we did more manoeuvres and intensive jungle training. I was made a Lance Corporal and then a full Corporal.
We were allowed some leave at Serembam. One day while on leave we went to a Tari dance hall. You bought tickets and you could choose whom you liked to dance with, and gave her the ticket. That was the way the girls earned a living. One chap in our party, McDonald, used to fancy himself at doing the Charlston as soon as he had a few drinks and this time he was fairly full. He was a tall skinny fellow who had seen more dinnertimes than dinners. He said "I'll show these b___s how to dance". So went into his convulsive impression of the Charlston, the more he did the more he used to go backwards. He finally fell over and we had to get him out before we were thrown out.
While at Serembam we were trained for a royal salute, which was to take place at Kuala Lumpur. We went to Kuala Lumpur by train and we were paraded in a big “padang” (sports field). We lined up the whole battalion, and as the Sultan came out onto a platform we had to move forward 26 paces in slow march and present arms. It went off very well; pictures of us were in the Womens Weekly and also on the news reels in Australia,
We were moved from Serembam to Mersing, a little village on the east coast of Malay. There we put up miles of barbed wire entanglements along the shore. We also laid a big mine field along the coast for about three miles. It was between the main eastern road and the sea, about 1/2 a mile wide. We also built a lot of fortifications, such as weapons pits, and machine gun posts. We were given more jungle training and more manoeuvres in the jungle. On the 8th of December 1941 the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, from then on we were standing to. The Japs were advancing on us from Thailand and in convoy by sea.
One of the biggest shocks we received was when the British Warships, Prince of Wales and the Repulse went up the east coast without any air support and were sunk by Japanese aircraft. It was a black day. The Japs were coming down the west coast of Malay and they had also landed on the east coast. Then the army decided to form a commando force to go up behind the Japs and attack their convoys. They formed a section from the six battalions the 18, 19, 20, 26, 29, and the 30 battalion. I was put in the section from the 2/20. There was also three officers, two sergeants, three guides and a medical N.C.O. in the party. We were formed into two platoons. We went by road transport to Port Swettenham, there we obtained two motor launches. We were taken up the west coast in a small ship which towed the two launches. We came to the mouth of a river which we were to go up by launch to get behind the Jap lines. But when we tried to start the engine in our launch it wouldn’t start, so they had to sink our launch there.
The platoon got away O.K. They were very successful. They mined the road and blew up a Jap convoy, in it they killed a couple of high ranking Jap officers. On our journey back to Port Swettenham we picked up a white woman and her daughter. She had rushed onto the beach to escape the Japs and our lookout saw them. We were able to pick them up by a small boat. The woman was really upset, poor beggar.
A few days later we were notified of a Jap patrol landing near Port Swettenham. We up and attacked them, but in doing so one of our guides was wounded in the shoulder. He was taken back to Singapore, I suppose he probably got back to Australia. He was the only casualty we had luckily. We moved behind the Japs lines a fair while longer. One day we picked up several Gurkhas (Indian soldiers from Nepal) who had been taken prisoners by the Japs but had escaped.
While behind the lines we would often see the Jap planes dropping pamphlets. One I remember pictured a Jap soldier bayoneting a British soldier and an Indian soldier just looking on. Another was a picture of a hand cut off, the line underneath in Malay said it was the hand of a daring Australian soldier cut off by a Japanese soldier. We also picked up an English soldier while we were behind the Jap lines who had been cut off.
Owing to the Japs coming down the west coast so fast we were ordered back to our units. On the first day back with our units the Sergeant of our Commando platoon was killed in action, as well as four men from the 2/29 who were with us.
The 2/20 Battalion was holding the river at Mersing so when the Japs came down the road in force they called on the artillery. The barrage forced the Japs off the road into our mine field, but unfortunately the mines failed to go off as the spring tides had flooded them and spoilt the cartridge which triggered the bomb which was bad luck for us. On the river one day my Sergeant was ordered to take a patrol across the river to see what the enemy was doing. They ran into a Jap patrol and had one man wounded in the groin. He was sent back and finally got back to Australia.
The 2/18 and 2/20 and Shopsmore battalions held the east coast, but owing to the west coast being pushed back by the Japs we had to withdraw where the west and east coast meet and hold it till all the troops from the west coast area withdrew over the causeway to Singapore Island. We finally withdrew to Singapore Island and took up our positions on the Kranji River where we dug entrenchments in preparation for the Japs invading the island.
On the morning of February the 8th 1942 at 2am a runner came to our company to inform us the Japs had landed and taken D company’s position. We were ordered to take back the positions and we did so but at a terrible price. In my section I had eleven men. After the first action I had lost three men killed and four wounded. One lad who was killed that morning was only 16 years old. The fighting lasted all day. A party of about twenty of us were cut off but we made our way back after dark through enemy lines. To get back we had to swim the Kranji River. The next morning we got a shock when we saw each other; we were all black all over. The black was caused from soot falling everywhere. The big petrol storage tanks were on fire which caused the black to fall everywhere especially on the river. That night we were in action again. My platoon sergeant was killed. He was a very brave soldier.
As I was coming through the Japs I saw a young lad lying wounded, I put him on my shoulder and brought him back to safety, I dressed his wound with his field bandage and also dressed his sergeant’s wound. His sergeant was wounded in the right elbow. I hailed a plantation manager and he took both of them to hospital in his car. They were put in the Alexandra Hospital, but unfortunately Indian troops retreated into the grounds of the hospital, so the Japs massacred everyone in the hospital, the doctors, patients and all.
On Singapore Island while we were in action I came across the big guns they had installed for the defence of Singapore Island. One had been blown up when I saw it. It was a mighty gun, but they tell me that it would only point out to sea, not towards the Malay Peninsula the way the majority of the Japanese army came. Apparently the powers that be had claimed no army could come down through the jungle. They mustn’t have been very intelligent is all I can say.
I was then sent to join the 2/29 battalion as they were short of N.C.O.s. I was given temporary rank of sergeant in charge of the platoon. We had several skirmishes with the Japs the next couple of days. The first night one of our corporals was killed in action. We were then ordered to withdraw to a smaller perimeter. This was Brigadier Taylor’s idea; it was a good move because the Japs didn’t shift us one inch from then on. As we were withdrawing Colonel Robertson was collecting all the 2/20 personnel, so I had to say farewell to the 2/29 platoon. On the island during the first day our original Colonel, Colonel Asherton was killed, then Major Robertson was promoted to Colonel and put in command of the 2/20 battalion.
On the night of the 15th of February 1942 we were ordered to lay down our arms; so 3 and 1/2 years of hell began. The next day we were marched to Changi and imprisoned. We knew we were in a desperate position but that didn’t worry us as much as our concern for our country. I think every one jack of us hoped and prayed that these yellow hordes wouldn’t reach Australia; thank God they didn’t. We had seen how they rape and plunder any captured city. On the way back to Changi we were able to obtain a lot of tin food that was left in the rich people’s houses who had been evacuated before the Japs landed. We pooled it all at Changi; it helped our rations for a while. At the start in prison our cooks had no idea how to cook rice. They made it sloppy, hence when you ate it you were hungry very soon after. But they learnt the right way in a very short time and the rice was more enjoyable.
While at Changi we were put to making vegetable gardens and making latrines. After a few weeks, the Japs wanted working parties to clean up Singapore. I went with a party to 'the Great World'. It was an amusement park something like Luna Park. We camped there for a week or so and we worked on the wharves. I had a mate we called Lil Abner after the comic strip in the paper. One day the Jap guard caught him pinching a packet of cigarettes. The Japs tied him up but let him go when we were finished work. Funny thing, they gave him back the cigarettes. Our party was moved to Tanglin Hospital where we were put to work unloading medical supplies, building roads and cleaning up from the bombing. We also went into Singapore cleaning out the chemists shops which had no owners since the war. We used to sometimes get some eatables in the shops; pinch them of course.
We fared the best at Tanglin for food, because we were able to pinch some food out of the Jap stores we were unloading. Tanglin was where we first encountered the Ampo Tai ( Kempie Tai - Jap military Police, highly trained in sadistic behavior). While we were at Tanglin some natives were caught blowing up Japanese ammunition dumps. There were seven of them. The Japs beheaded them all. They placed the heads on tables in different parts of Singapore. The tables were covered with white sheets with four different languages written on them to warn people about destroying Jap property. The Japs took us around the town and showed us the grisly looking heads to warn us. A couple of our boys escaped about then, but the natives betrayed them and they were shot by the Indian soldiers who had turned over to the Jap side
We were sent back to Changi at the end of 1942. We were put to carting wood for the camp. We were in parties of about ten men and had an old army truck with the engine taken out to cart the wood. We had to push and pull the truck. When going down hill we'd all ride on the wood and let the truck coast along. We were going real well at it.
One day we rode past an Indian guard who was guarding a couple of Australians who had escaped. We didn’t salute the guard and at the time we had an Australian officer in charge of us. He should have given the 'eyes left’ but he didn’t. A Jap who was on the road at the time pulled us up. He asked for the 'Anchow’ (that’s No. 1 in charge). The officer pointed to me so the Jap got me off the truck and belted me with his rifle. Then he took me back and made me salute the Indian about ten times. From then on I made sure we saluted even if we had an officer with us. We were all dressed the same and you could not tell who was an N.C.O., officer, or private. We only had shorts and no shirts to wear.
We often saw the white women and children prisoners when we were carting wood. They were going down to the beach to wash themselves and wash their clothes. They had big Indian Sikh soldiers guarding them. Some of the women had lost a leg during the fighting on the Island.
Before the first Xmas the officer in command of the Australians (I think it was Colonel Black Jack Callagan) got the men to make toys for the children in prison. I believe it was a great success, I hope they kept it up for each Christmas after that. That was the last Christmas I had on the Island.
While in Singapore I had $70 in my pocket, so Lil Abner went over where they were playing two up and won $500. It was handy for us when we shifted up to Thailand. We had one chap who was only about 16/- in the pound and he had flat feet. If we asked him to do something he would say "I can't, I've got flat tyres". If we got anything extra we'd give him some. He was our friend for life. I saw him up the line a couple of years later and he was doing a great job helping the sick. He was a big strong man and his help was greatly appreciated.
I was finally put in a group to go to Thailand to build a railway to meet the line the Japs were building from the Burma side with Australian Prisoners of War, Our party was called 'D' Force under Captain Newton and Lt. Ralph Sanderson of the 2/19 and five officers of the 2/20. We also had a padre named Harry Thorpe.
We boarded a train in Singapore. The trucks we were transported in were steel rice trucks, 17 feet by 7 feet by 6 and half feet high. In each truck there were 30 men. We travelled from Singapore to a little village in Thailand about 800 miles I estimate it. Our fellows took a wireless set up there with them concealed in buckets of rice. The Japs closed the doors of the trucks at first but found it was too unbearable with the heat, so they finally left the doors open. It was quite alright in the trucks when we were moving, but when the train stopped at a station for long periods the heat was suffocating. The only place we were allowed off the train was at Kuala-Lumpur when they fed us breakfast. Two of our lads left the station when the train stopped one night in Thailand, but the Thais put them in and they were recaptured.. Luckily they had made up a good story about getting off the train to have a 'Bayo' (toilet). The Japs believed their story and they were returned to us.
As we travelled through the Thailand peninsular, I noticed the country was flat in area, and steep hills seem to jut out of the plains, like large trees. We finally reached our journey’s end. As we pulled into Non Product (Non Pladuk) a train with dining cars pulled along side of us. Some of the Thais were having a meal and it seemed so strange to see them eating at neat tables after the way we had been eating the last twelve months.
We detrained there and we camped for the night. This place had duck eggs, vegetables, and fruit everywhere. It was like the story in the bible, the land of milk and honey. We had a duck that night and we were able to buy eggs and fruit very cheaply too.
The next day we were moved to Canton Buri (Kanchanaburi – usually called Kamburi or Kanburi by the POWs) where we were put to work carting ballast and packing sleepers on the line. While we were there the Japs had a change over of their guards. We were left for a couple of days in our tent camps till they changed over all their administration troops. A few miles out of Canton Buri is a small Kampung (Tamakan or Tha Makham) on the River Kwai where the line crosses the Kwai and then continues up the right hand side of the Memir River (Menam Kwai- now known as Kwae Noi River). I don't know which is the mother river, the Memir is a longer river than the Kwai and after they join, it becomes a lot larger river and finally runs into the sea near Bangkok.
We moved from Canton Buri to Tarso, which is about 125 km. Tarso was near the river. It had a fair few huts when we went there so they started us on the line. At Tarso 'D' Force was known as U Batti by the Japs, Our fellows soon altered that to 'you beauties', a name that has stuck to us because ‘Roaring' Reg Newton still refers to us as 'you beauties' at our reunions. We worked on clearing the line at Tarso first. In doing so we had our first casualty on the line when one of our lads was hit by a falling tree and died.
After we cleared the line we were put to building the embankments. The task for each man was one and a half cubic metres, so we had four men in each group, two dug and the other two carried the earth using rice bags with two sticks through them. Some of the embankments were six feet high, the majority on an average were about four feet high. We sure shifted a lot of soil on that line. The first day we went out the Japs didn’t allow for provision of water to drink but Lt Ralph Sanderson got that fixed. He was allowed six men to cart water from the river and boil it so it was fit to drink. We also built a lot of huts for a hospital, stores and living quarters. The rainy season came while we were there and you had to slog through about a foot deep of slush and mud. The rain brought many diseases too, such as cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, beriberi, malaria, dengue fever, and elephantitis just name a few, not forgetting tropical ulcers. A lot of lads lost a leg through ulcers. We didn’t have much medicine to treat these diseases. For the ulcers the doctors sometimes used Eusol, a lime solution. When the ulcers got real bad they had to be scrapped out with a spoon to get the gangrene out. When the cholera broke out the patients had to be isolated and ringed with lime around their quarters to stop the disease traveling. Not many people survived after contracting the disease cholera.
When we moved above Canton Buri the possibility of getting any fruit, vegetables or eggs was nil because there were very few people living above there. You could travel for miles without seeing any Thais at all. Our rations consisted mainly of rice, sometimes a weak vegetable stew, or a very weak yak stew. The ration was a mug of cooked rice for each meal.
When we were travelling along the road to work one day we saw an Indian along side the road. He had been there awhile because from continual turning over and over like a sheep in a drought he had dug a hole in the ground. We gave him a tin of water but he died before we came back from work.
I got my first bout of malaria at Tarso, I was 105 degrees temp and the Jap guard wanted to know why I couldn’t work. Just before Anzac Day in 1943 a party of about forty of us were sent to North Tarso to build a portion of the line there. On Anzac Day we had a parade of remembrance, the Jap guards were very impressed with it and they wanted us to do it again the next day. The country was different at North Tarso as it was sort of stony quartz. We finished the line at North Tarso and moved back to Tarso.
Tarso Railway Station was made into a big marshalling yard. There were dozens of sets of tracks for shunting and it was also had a station house. The Japs had a lot of old steam engines at Tarso station and they used them to run up the line as far as it was finished and also down the line to Non Product. They used to fire the engines with wood cut along the line and piled in heaps. About ten miles up from Tarso at a place called Tampi there was a waterfall. The Japs had a large bamboo pole about 8 inches at the big end and about 4 inches at the small end. They had knocked all the bamboo wood out of the centre of the pole and it was like a large water pipe. They put one end in the waterfall and propped the other part of the pole on trestles and they had a rubber tube on the other end which they were able to take on water in the tender of the train. I thought it was very ingenious.
The Japs had us cutting sleepers from the trees we cleared off the line and along the line. We also got timber for the bridges in the forest along the line. They had a few Thailanders with elephants to bring the logs for the bridge making, but sometimes the elephants refused to work so we had to carry the big logs on sticks, fifteen men each side. It was hard work to carry these logs on to the bridge site for the decking. The Japs used say elephant 'dummy dummy' (no good) 30 Australians very good. The bridges were built over steep gullies like small rivers which ran into the main river, the Memin.
The bridge always had a curve towards the way the water would come from, it was a Japanese idea for strength. The Japs used their military trucks to lay the lines. They were able to take the tyres and wheels off the truck and they had flanged wheels which ran on the metre line. They would bring a load of rails along the line which had been laid, and as they laid one set of lines they would keep moving up till their load was exhausted and they would return to base and get another load. The spikes they used to pin the tracks to the sleepers were pointed and they didn’t have to bore any holes in the sleepers like we do in Australia. They just belted them in with a hammer. I mean to say we did. The shovels the Japs gave us to work with were made out of petrol drums. Some of the shovels even had some of the letters of Shell on them. They took a lot of getting used to work with because they would bend so easily, the blade would turn up and look at you.
In the latter part of 1943 dysentery was very prevalent at Tarso and a lot of our boys died. Also practically everybody was going to the toilet at least five times a day with diarrhea. But if you started passing blood you had dysentery. The chaps with dysentery just lay on the bamboo bed and bled to death. The diarrhea made you very weak and it was very hard to do your work when you were suffering from it.
While we were at Tarso we also saw battalions of Indian troops moving through on their way to Burma. They were Indian troops who had turned over to the Jap side. They had been fooled into thinking that they were going to liberate India from the British yoke with the DAI NIPPON FAR EAST CO PROSPERITY SPHERE. They were wearing our army boots.
We also saw a lot of Japanese troops moving up too. They seemed very young recruits because they had no stars on their shirt collars. These troops came through during the wet season. They were pulling a field gun and the sergeant in charge of one platoon was giving them a hard time. He was belting them left and right, cursing them to get the gun moving.
I was on sick parade one day queuing to see an English M.O. and in front of me the doctor was serving a young English soldier who had stomach trouble. The doctor told him to bring a stool next morning (a stool is a specimen). The next morning he went to the M.O. and the doctor asked "did you bring a stool?"
The lad said "I didn’t have one of my own so I borrowed one off my “mate". With that he produced a three legged stool. I thought the old doctor would go into convulsions.
While I was in hospital at Tarso a large load of young English soldiers came down from the line. They were in a pitiful state. A lot had ulcers which were really bad, a lot were fly blown. A lot of the chaps were dead the next morning.
One day while we were working on the line a Jap came around a bend in the road singing “She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes”. He was leading a large group of about 300 Thai workers going up to work on the line. He sang out to us “I’m the Bombay Duck.” He looked like a duck waddling along the road. This Jap had had a shop in Bombay and had learnt his English there.
In the Thai jungle there are tigers although I didn’t see any but some of the lads did. There are also peacocks and what I did see was a fair few little bantams. They were the style we call brown leghorns, probably that is where the brown leghorn originated. Along the Memin River we saw a lot of monkeys. They were a fawn brown colour, about as large as a kangaroo dog. They used to follow one another in single file along the river bank. Also when they were in the trees they seemed to be playing follow the leader. We used to see a bird flying along the river which had a very long tail about three times as long as its body.
In Thailand the Thais herded their ducks like we herd sheep in Australia. I have seen mobs of ducks in Thailand up to two thousand in number. They had about a dozen shepherds with them, and as well as shepherding them they had to collect the eggs. As you know ducks will lay anywhere. While I was in Thailand I saw a lot of vultures. They were usually in large mobs of up to one hundred. They are a carrion bird, and they are very ugly.
We used to swim in the river after work of a night, but you had to wear a loin cloth because the fish were pretty savage and would snap at anything. One English lad found that out when he swam without a loin cloth on. The fish would also attack your sores or ulcers on your legs.
Early In 1944 I was sent with a party of 30 Australians up the line to Krea'nKrai (Kurian Kurai), We went by train as far as the line was finished and had to walk about three miles to a big river camp where we stayed the night. Our sergeant took sick at that camp and had to return to Tarso. I was put in charge of the thirty men and we journeyed up the river by boat. The boat was commanded by a Thai man and his wife, the owners. That night we stopped at a Jap camp and they fed us diced boiled pumpkin. The next we continued on our way by boat to Krea'nKrai.
At Krea'nKrai the thirty of us were put to building huts for the English lads who were working on the line. We built the huts out of bamboo. We made platforms, each side of the huts for the beds leaving a passage down the middle. When we completed their huts we made one for ourselves. After that we had to work on a big cutting for the line. We worked a twelve hour shift at night. There were about 200 men in the shift, 30 Australians, the rest English. We had to drill holes in the rock with a hammer and a long drill. One man held the drill and the other hit it with a sledge hammer. When the hole was sufficiently deep the Japs put the dynamite in and we returned behind the hill while it was blasted. Then we formed a long chain and passed the rubble along in baskets over the side of the hill. When the cutting was finished it was about 60 feet deep and about a mile long. We did three or four of these cuttings at Krea’n Krai. There were a couple of small bridges built over a couple of gullies too. When driving the piles for the bridges, four men stood on scaffolding and drove the piles in with a big wooden pile driver, each man lifting it up and letting it go. We finished the line at Krea'n Krai and the line was joined at the Three Pagodas with the Burma side.
While we were working at Krea'n Krai, I had two of my men get very sick, one chap in particular. One night I found him under the bed in the mud. He thought he was fixing his car, he was mad with fever. In the camp we had a Korean guard who was a Christian, so I got around him and was able to buy two tins of condensed milk and some sugar off him. I fed it to the sick men and was able to send them down to Tarso hospital. They both got well, I saw Kerry (that was the sick man with the bad fever), at Tarso as I went down at the end of 1944. The other chap I saw in Sydney when we came home. His name was Pat O'Brien.
While we were working on a line at Krea’nKrai a train load of Geisha girls came through, they seemed friendly enough and they threw some cigarettes to us as the train passed by. They stopped at the Jap camp that night. There was a big party that night, we could hear the singing and shouting till the early hours of the morning.
After the line was finished we were given a couple of days “yasmi” (rest). I went up a small river with our lads to do our washing. We saw some little fish in the water. There were also some wild bananas which had seeds in them like passion fruit. We were able to get some sugar content out of them by straining the seeds off through a cloth. That day we found a little bee hive. The bees were what we call rat bees in Australia, they have no sting.
While at Krea'nKrai when we were on day shift we would see at least eight bodies a day floating down the river. They were native workers who had died up the river. Life was very cheap in the east,
We went from Krea'nKrai down the line by train to Tampi. As we were marched into camp we could hear “Roaring Reggie Newton” addressing his men. Apparently they had been at Tonshon and made it into very clean camp and had to leave it and move to Tampi. We were given Tonshon camp. We had a force of about 300, mostly English, a number of Dutch and us, 28 Australians, We sang out to Reggie "Can you hear me in the rear", which was a catch phrase of his. He came and welcomed us (28 Australians) like his lost children. He was a very good officer.
We went to Tonshon by train. At Tonshon we were put to cutting and carting big bamboo, I think the Japs intended to build a lot of huts and store rooms at Tonshon. A lot of us got very sick at Tonshon and contracted yellow jaundice as well as having a lot of malaria.
One night at Tonshon one of the English fellows in the first hut had a nightmare in which he was being attacked by a tiger. He actually panicked all his hut and they rushed through the next hut and so on till the whole camp was running away from this mythical tiger, I was in the sixth hut, the last hut, and the stampede of men over the bamboo beds sounded like a hurricane. It was quite a while before every one was settled down including the Japs.
All the time I was with the 30 men (the Australians), a couple of them and I used to shave them and cut their hair if need be. Our party kept pretty clean looking. Our rations remained the same. I must say I often wonder what rice has in it, for to work so hard swinging a pick and shovel and to keep going on such a small amount, rice must be really good,
The Japs must have gone through our trades that we had done before the army, for out of our camp they picked about 25 blokes and sent us to a camp near Canton Buri. I was a sawmill hand before the war, so apparently they would rate me a carpenter. Hence when I went to this special camp we were put on the pick and shovel. We first went by train down to Tarso, it had a big hospital on the river, and they had a machine to make Soya bean milk for the hospital. A lot of the men with one leg had wooden legs fashioned from bamboo. We were joined at Tarso by a lot more to go to this camp near Canton Buri, about 200 altogether.
We went by train from Tarso. I had a seat on top of a bogie load of railway lines. Every thing went well until the train seemed to bolt down the steep hills. We were afraid the rails would shift and cut our legs off, but as luck happened, the driver got the train under control and we reached our destination about 5 miles past Canton Buri. We detrained and the Japs took us about 2 miles the wrong way and we had to retrace our steps and we finally arrived at the camp.
It was a very hot camp, with not much water about, only a well outside camp. To quench your thirst you had to queue up to the canteen and buy a mug of coffee. Our first job at the camp was to build a reservoir. We dug out the top of a big hill near the camp, and cemented the sides and bottom. It was a lovely body of water when the Japs filled it. Our next job was digging trenches to lay the water on to the camp and surrounding Kampungs. The Japs put water taps along the roads for the native population to draw water and also to wash. We also built a lot of roads around near the camp, and after we finished our daily work we had to spend 2 hours each night digging a ditch around our camp. The ditch was 15 feet wide by 10 feet deep with the dirt thrown on the opposite side of the camp.
The Thais worked on the roads with us. They consisted of children from 11 years old to grandmothers. They were poorly dressed. They had patches on patches on their clothes. We used to eat our lunch close by the Thais. One English soldier was a hard case and used to pretend he was Cecelia Courtridge in the picture “Deepest Africa”. He'd put on her voice and say “Isn't it such fun eating with the natives". I think the Thais thought he was mad. Another chap who had false teeth would take them out and hand them towards the natives. They would shrink away from him. The “daddy” of all was Kid Denuli who would get a cigarette butt live and put it on his tongue and draw his tongue back and pretend he was choking. The natives really thought he was going to choke.
The Jap guard hut was on the way out of the camp, and as we marched past we had to give an ‘eyes right’. One day an American petty officer off the Houston, had charge of us so when the salute time came he said, "Take a look at these blokes." The Japs stood up as one and returned our salute,
Near the end of the war Allied planes were coming over very often. Our camp was near a branch railway line so one day the planes bombed the line. Some of the pieces of the bomb landed in the camp, one piece was 6 foot long by 6 inches thick.
As they were bombing a lot of us ran up to the Australian hut, we were singing out to the planes to ‘come on again’. A guard who could speak English was on the bank heard us shout out and reported it to the Jap Commandant. That night, about 2 am we were awoken in the Australian hut to stand at the bottom of our beds. A Jap officer came through with his guards and as he came up to each man he knocked him down. He only hit the first few, after that the others fell before he hit them. Next we were marched on to the parade ground and stood there till about 12 noon. Our interpreter convinced the Jap officer that all we said was ‘here they come again', and the guard misinterpreted it. So we were let off.
In our camp there were Australian, American, Dutch, and Javanese prisoners of war. The Javanese were very proud of their queen, Queen Wilhemenia. They were planning a celebration for her birthday. They saved up a lot and sold some of their jewellery, so as to put on a spread. We were all pretty hungry and we were all invited to partake. That was when I saw a real Irishman. His name was Paddy Ryan. The Dutch offered him some eats but he flatly refused. I asked him why after and he said “I don't like their bloody Queen or them either.”
At this camp one “yasmi” day we were allowed to stage a concert. The Jap commandant and a lot of his guards attended. About half way through the performances the Japs were asked if any of their troops could do an item for us. So the Jap commandant ordered one poor Jap to sing. I don't know if he was a Bing Crosby in his Japanese own right, to us he sounded like a kangaroo dog with its foot caught in a rabbit trap. When he finished we applauded him so much the Jap commandant made him sing again. We kept applauding each time he sang and the Jap officer kept making him sing again. After about four times the poor beggar was knocked up.
We had heard rumours that the war would soon end. Then one day after we returned from work the NCO in charge of our camp told us it was all over. We were very elated. That night a British paratroop officer came into our camp. He informed the Jap commandant and then came and told us the good news. We had much singing and rejoicing that night. The next morning the Jap commandant came to our camp with four of his troops carrying a large basket of fruit for us. He made a speech through our interpreter that the war was over and we must all work together to make a better world. He said Japan had been defeated in the war.
In a very short time the big transport planes began dropping supplies to us. We were sure living it up, smoking Camel cigarettes and eating Yank chocolates.
The next day we went down to the river for a swim about 3 miles away. A lot of Thailanders were there at the river and there were a lot of young babies amongst them. The Thais allowed a lot of Australians to have a nurse. I noticed one Thai woman feeding her baby just plain cooked rice. She carried the rice wrapped in a big green leaf.
The Australians were finally moved to Bangkok. In Bangkok we met General Slim, who was more like an Australian than an English General. He told us he had his army poised to take Thailand and Singapore at a minute’s notice.
We went by air to Singapore and we were put into hospital as the 113A.G. Hospital had come over from Australia. We were there for about a fortnight and were then moved to a tent camp to await transport to Australia. While we were there Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife visited us. He was a fine man and she was a lovely lady. When he was ready to go his wife was still mingling amongst us signing autographs, so he came down and picked her up and said “I can't keep her away from you Aussies.”
We finally sailed for Australia on the Moreton Bay, it was a lot smaller than the Queen Mary, I had a bunk in the loading well. We had. a good trip home but it was very rough in the Indian Ocean. The waves used to break over the decks. I saw a lot of flying fish, some of them used to hit the deck. We pulled into Fremantle on the way back. My mate and I went into a restaurant for a meal. When they set the table, the number of utensils they set in front of us frightened us as we had been used to only a spoon and knife in the prison camps. We had a look around Perth and returned to the ship. We sailed, the next morning.
We called at Melbourne on the way back. I got a hair cut in Melbourne. We spent the one day in Melbourne and sailed for Sydney the next day. On the journey up the coast to Sydney I felt if I got out I could beat the ship into Sydney I was that anxious to get home.
While we were fighting in Malaya we had a Salvation Army Padre who was a good chap. He always managed to get you things that were in short supply. We always talked of him in the camps and we thought he had been killed by the Japanese, but luckily he got away and came back to Australia. He was the first one to come aboard to welcome us. The Prime Minister of the day met us too, Mr. Francis Forde.
We went by bus to Ingleburn where we were met by our relations. We were given £50 and leave for a month. We went on leave straight away. In spending three and a half years in Japanese Prison camps I was enriched with the great comradeship that existed in the camps. I rubbed shoulders with mates whose sole purpose was to help one another. When I returned to Australia I was horrified if I saw any food wasted. We had been so careful not to waste anything in the camps. Another thing I enjoyed very much was the music on the wireless, we had been starved of music all that time.
I have a lot of physical complaints, such as diabetes, kidney trouble, blood pressure, failing eyesight and many others. But I am very happy and have no regrets.
This story was written in 1982 by William Clement Parker and before computers were in common use. He passed away in October 1983. The story has been reproduced by his daughter Vicki Mail with the addition of photos. I am grateful for the privilege publishing the story. Spellings have been clarified to accord with current usage. Peter Winstanley.