A number of Australian dentists have been identified as being employed on the Burma Thailand Railway. They were Captains Stuart Simpson, Mac Winchester, Bill Treleven, Roy Mannion, Jock Clarke and Jim Finimore. Little has been recorded, nor has there been sufficient acknowledgement, of their work caring for their fellow POWs. Because of their professional training they were able to make a significant contribution assisting with the sick. (As a related matter, it is of interest to note that on Ambon, when the Medical Officer Captain Peter Davidson was killed on 15 February 1943, by force of circumstance, the role of Medical Officer (doctor) substantially fell on the Dental Officer Captain G Marshall.)
James Finimore was born in Ipswitch on 9 June 1906. At the outbreak of War he tried to enlist in the Navy. Then in 1940 he tried to enlist in the Australian Army as a private soldier. Fortunately, he was recognized and commissioned on 9 September 1940 as a Dental Officer with the rank of Captain. He had postings at Gaythorne and Redbank in Brisbane. The following is a picture of him, taken with other members of the Dental Unit, at the Redbank Camp, Queensland. On his right is a fellow Dental Officer Captain Roy Mannion.
Captain Finimore had postings to a number of Dental and Medical Units, and was in Singapore with the 8th Division when Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. This article, has been prepared about the experiences of Jim Finimore as a Prisoner of War, from his hand written notes. These were recorded in a Japanese notebook and written in pencil. See a page from the note book at the end of this article.
“In Singapore, we were first notified that we were to become prisoners of war on 12th February, 1942. The allied forces capitulated to the Japanese on 15th February. I felt very depressed and miserable. Many of us were anxious. The gaol at Changi was chosen as the P.O.W. camp. That camp will never be forgotten!
On April 3rd I left Changi to go to Adam Park (about 30 kms away) which had been a British Army barracks. The group included my friends Medical Officers Majors Hugh Rayson and Alan Hazelton, Captains Dick Parker and Roy Mills, Mills together with Lt Gerry Vetch (QM of 2/9 Field Ambulance) a very good team. The personnel in that camp were often changed. Other Medical Officers Majors Bon Rogers, Tim Hogg and Jock Frew (Post War Sir John Frew) came and left. There were British prisoners in the camp next door where I met a good chap named Lt Colonel Harvey (a British Medical Officer).
There was a very fine dental surgery in the camp. The facilities were excellent with hot water systems and a silky oak side-board and dental table. There was plenty of work to do, with 3000 prisoners in the camp, about half of them Australians. Supplies were very short but the Nips (Japanese) allowed us to buy some. Friday was shopping day. We went to Singapore in a trip truck. The city was still quite [busy] and the Chinese were still in control. T & S Brothers had a dental supply depot at Upper Hocking Street. They were prepared to give me credit, although they were anxious to know if the supplies were for us or the Nips.
A new interpreter arrived in our camp, Captain Andrew, an Anglican Padre, who was born in Japan and lived there for 30 years. He knew the Japanese well. The lads were working on the old golf course, below a shrine converting an area into a Memorial.
I had another trip to Singapore to buy yeast from the Tiger Brewery. There were many funny incidents occurring daily in the camp. We managed to get a supply of petrol for a steam roller, (which, of course, didn’t use petrol). An officer’s sword was found buried in a cement drain. There was also a camp canteen which was an amusing affair, much like a Malayan market.
I had a trip back to Changi with some sick prisoners. The old Padre there is an interesting fellow and a good Christian. He has a new chapel, too. They had a fine concert with some of the boys making fine girls. There was a grand piano, violins and big basses made in the camp from tea chests. I was glad I did not stay in Changi. I had lost faith in my professional colleagues. They were lazy and uncooperative with a FYJ (“F… you Jack”) attitude. The Australian method of choosing a D.O. (Duty Officer) [……… Reid …….. after McDonnel, Fritz & Co].
There was a very fine show on Anzac Day, with many in attendance. The church service was well attended too. Colonel Oakes (CO 2/26 Bn and later Senior AIF officer “H” Force Thailand) is a very regular attender. He introduced Friday night meetings of all the officers with lectures on medical, military, musical and humorous subjects, spelling bees and other things.
There was an interesting incident here one day. Two lads walked into the camp carrying a stretcher covered by a blanket. The Nips stopped them but they told them it was a very sick patient in a hurry. The Nips allowed them through. Actually, there was a carcass of a stolen bullock, killed and dressed on the stretcher.
I saw a lot of Nips in my surgery. They kept me in smokes and I had a large quantity of Virginia cigarettes. Two bottles of beer came one day. We were short of kerosene when I persuaded a Jap to have a dental plate made. He supplied fuel. Each day that he came he brought a bottle of kerosene. On his final visit he brought beer instead of kerosene.
I made another trip to T & S Brothers. There was an incident involving [stolen] sugar and another involving petrol in an Indian shop. The Nips brutally punished troops who were involved in stealing from the waterfront warehouses (godowns). They stole food, smokes, old clothes, boots and other things. The men went in and came out with food packets hidden in the crutch or anywhere. There were many searches, but food was only sometimes found.
We could not understand the Nips. One was good, the next would bash you silly using anything from a stick to an iron bar.
I broke out of the camp one day and went for a long walk through a kampong (Malay village) to an Indian’s home where I read the paper and drank and ate. I could see the Nips while I was there. I found currants could be fine fruit, sometimes.
The way we received our news was interesting. Thank God for wireless. We had one run by signalers with earphones under the pillow connected to the set yards away. One of the sets was in a dust bin in the bathroom. Some Nips walked in and as they did so, the orderly was ordered to remove the rubbish bin. So the set walked out under their noses!
I had a long walk to Gallaghan’s (Lt Col Gallaghan Senior AIF Officer in Singapore after Aug/Sept 1942) camp, and the Padre went as my orderly, and we had a pleasant outing.
We were lucky to be able to obtain food in the town. Our mess was first class with an electric stove. I met many old friends like Bung, Winter and Stan Roberts. I had Ferguson over to afternoon tea with two English dental officers, Brennan and Doyle. I had another trip to Changi followed by a party at the Adelphi Hotel with the Nips.
Over the period June to October 1942, all the English troops were moved to Thailand so we took over their camp. It was very rough but we made it into a first class camp. We moved everything across, even the refrigerator, tommy guns, wireless and ammunition. Our guards watched the Nip guards. The Sikhs were a bad type of guard. But, life was good at Syme Road with wireless news at midnight.
Another trip to the Brewery finished at Tanglin Road terminus. On Boxing Day 1943 I returned to Changi. It was still a dreadful place, very unhappy, but with first class entertainment, concerts and other things. Foster Haig, a tenor singer, was wonderful. (Foster Haig was a British Chaplain who died in the Songkurai area, in northern Thailand, near the Burmese border, late 1943)
In March 1943, I was attached to Don Force and sent direct to Thailand. My first impressions there were good. Our party moved on to a place called Tarsoa. Impressions here were dreadful. The Dutch had departed. I met Lt Col Harvey (British Medical Officer) again. The condition of the AIF was poor. I got five pounds seven shillings worth of valise that night.
On Anzac Day I saw a complete breaking of Don Force. On June 10th I was the only Don Force officer at Tarsoa. A new hospital was formed by the river bank. Capt Vardy (British MO) was the CO. The work was fairly light with 350 patients in 3 wards. In July the dentistry was light. I was made adjutant, or registrar of the hospital. Ivan ? was the RSM.
The hospital grew rapidly. During August and September, work continued on the railway, which was getting better, but we observed the results of a blitz with patients coming down from the north in a shocking state. The Japs had a lot to answer for! The hospital grew to 2,777 patients. One day there were 300 patients out and 540 in. The last party to arrive at 10p.m. I never saw men in worse shape than at Tarsoa. With the influx of men there was also an influx of officers who spoilt our pleasant mess. But, it was OK.
Martin, Bonso and Mason were grand fellows. I became closely associated with Col Harvey who used my bed and table as his own. He was a keen fisherman too, when he was needed by the river bank.
There was a check parade at the hospital: Hinimarma or God in Heaven business. I made a note to remember how money was obtained Kanchanburi.
There was an incident at the cookhouse involving Norby Watts, John Day and Jack Marsh. It was a dreadful Christmas Day at the cookhouse. There were nightly visits to the river and beside the men’s room. Allan, Bonso, Col Harvey and I talked after lights out. There was a check parade when the men slept in. Euki was a bad man. The sick were evacuated to a new sick camp at Nakom Patom.
I was transferred to Tamuang. We were watched more closely during those days, and there was no freedom. The Nips provided us with drinks and I was drunk many times, the first time with the CO Walker.
I will never forget Christmas 1943, with Barnett, and Hazelton, Bonzo, you bastard! Ivan got me to bed.
In January 1944 a party of workers, troops and officers, made contact with Thais for money and news. The Nips discovered this, but it was nearly successful. However, fellows did get into trouble. A few of them had a penchant for going outside the camp. There were some good Nip entertainers.
One night, Harvey, Knights, Lilly, McEachern and I climbed a ten foot fence and walked to a Thai village. Eight people were sleeping in one room. They gave us green paw-paw drinks and bananas. A Thai took us into another kampong to see his so-called wife. It was so late no one stirred so we went back to camp to eat and drink in the moonlight. We had a game of crib on my birthday*.
On New Year’s Eve there was a shooting incident. I slept on a bed on the floor under which was a cellar. There were always 3 or more bottles of whisky there. I felt it was a bit dangerous. However, What Ho!
*This is out of context. Jim’s birthday was in June.
In January 1945 the officers were ordered to leave this camp. Col? was now the unofficial head.
Whisky was replaced by bottles of money. I thought that we must get caught one day. Work was plentiful and I had a few interesting cases, a couple of Nips with gingivitis.
The Nips were on the alert for something that worried them. They searched the officers’ camp. They came with a shovel, but we were lucky again, we got word of it and the CO removed the bottles of money before the Nips arrived. Arthur Moon was lucky.
I remember how lucky the CO was when he had 2000 bucks in his webbing. It was a good job that mangos were in his kit bag. I did not want to forget the trip to Kinsayok (no date). There was talk of a move to a new camp at Pratchai. I went in an early party through paddy fields – Suzaki in – no mud. How camp improved.
After capitulation of the Nips it was very quiet. An interpreter came to visit us, and on the second visit he brought some drink. I visited Capt Redman of the Scotch Guards. We were still awaiting our departure. The question of work was raised. At Changi it was as little as possible by all. At Adam Park 70% of the AIF boarded fit.*
The records of the hospitals including Tamuang, were kept by Deveney. D Force was dentally fit. Records showed the results of many sad men who had been forced to work. I remember the sights of men returning from the jungle to Tarsoa, and the dreadful punishments adopted by the Japs. They made them hold heavy weights above their heads at arm’s length, and cracked anyone who weakened with bamboo. The Japanese Kempe (secret police) terrorized many of us.
Our wireless was always a concern to the Japs. They found one at Kanchanaburi with frightful results. This was traced from Adam Park. Jock Fraser, Hawley and company went to their graves.
During this existence, the Dutch never forgot their royal families, holding parties on all their birthdays. We played bridge, poker and pontoon with Jackes, Higgins, Shield and Hart. [There was a local joke.] What is the definition of Umph – the same effect on men as central heating.
30th August, 1945 was a grand day. It was the Dutch Queen’s birthday. There was a Levy in the morning and a party at night. The Governor visited Colonel Lilley and offered him a pretty, shy girl who had never “done this” before. I also remember Tom Evans efforts with the guard on the gate and his visit to Suzaki dressed in a singlet with no shoes.
We had a party at Swanburi, a concert too. I had a few drinks in the markets with a Thai airman.
On 6th September, 1945, I came to Bangkok with only a small towel and was told to stay and live at the Oriental Hotel. So, there I was, in my shorts and shirt and cap. However, it was OK. I thought I might make a trip to Tamuang while I waited for my gear.
I visited the Palace which was just a mass of temples made of very small pieces of glass, ½” x ½” in all colours, red and yellow. Those places were gigantic.
I found a good book for kids to read by a German author: On Growing Up. I had a trip around China Town, seeing the Temple and the old boys with opium pipes and things. There was an old “phantom” who always hung about at night. I went to see Tom Ashley in hospital. There was a Siamese party at the hospital. There were plenty of low dives. I remember an incident at Alexandra Hospital (unexplained, Ed), orchids and a strip tease at Su Nan Tar. There was a battle between the Chinese and the Thais. I had received lots of letters. And there was a grand show and entertainment at the home of a Danish man, Mr Vervelts.
Note by Jacqueline and Charles Wellings - Editors. The diary ends with some enigmatic notes which are indecipherable, and were probably reminders of incidents he had not recorded. There were also some detailed statistics of patients, the diseases they suffered from and an indication of the amount of food supplied by the Japs.
An example of the pencil written notes which Jacqueline and Charles Wellings had to interpret follows. You will note that the pages of the note book have Japanese characters as column headers. Accordingly it is assumed that these notes were written immediately following capitulation by the Japanese after 15 August 1945. If only these pages could talk!!. A sketch of Jim Finimore by one of his fellow Prisoners of War is also below.
I am indebted to Jacqueline and Charles for the opportunity of recording Captain Finimore’s POW experiences and to add to the record of the contribution of the Health Services (Medical, Dental) in this sad chapter of our Military History. Jim Finimore managed to carry his portable foot operated dental drill with him on the Railway. As mentioned above, the Finimore notebook included statistics and other comments which have not been included in this article. I also thank Marie Wilson who typed this and enabled it to be published.