Jack Troedel was born in the family home at Caulfield, Victoria on 8 October 1917. He was educated at Caulfield North and Hampton High School. In those days he rode a bike to school. In 1932 he started work at a company called McPhersons. He was interviewed by a couple of senior staff which included the Managing Director. He progressed from Office Boy to the Sales Department with a starting wage of 13 shillings per week. He met Beryl, his future wife in 1937. In 1939 the war in Europe started.
Jack tried to enlist in the Air Force. Subsequently, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 July 1940. In January 1941, he was on the Queen Mary which sailed for an unknown destination. The Queen Mary, as part of a convoy, sailed to Singapore via Fremantle. Conditions were very congested and at times some men slept on the deck.
On arrival in Singapore they were initially accommodated at a Naval Barracks. Later they were moved to Port Dickson and Malacca on the Malayan mainland and underwent jungle training. He was with fellow unit member Colin (Nugget) Coombs SX10134.
Whilst they were in Malacca the Japs invaded Kota Bahru on 8 December 1941. The Allies were driven south down the Malayan peninsular and crossed back onto Singapore island. The Allies capitulated on 15 February 1942. The Japs had planned to capture Singapore in 100 days, but had achieved their aim in 70 days
Jack commented on the lack of defensive facilities on the north coast of Singapore and that the air defence resources were totally inadequate. Jack also mentioned the inadequate breeching of the Causeway which joined Malaya to Singapore Island.
Jack was forced to work on a memorial to the Japanese who had died during the invasion of Malaya and the attack on Singapore. The memorial was at the Royal Singapore Golf Club near the Mac Ritchie Reservoir.
In April 1943 he was sent to Thailand (Siam) as a member of “F” Force. This Force was of 7,000 POWs of which 3,600 were Aussies and 3.400 were Brits. The initial journey was by train, travelling in steel wagons about 18 feet by 7 feet with around 30 men in each wagon. Jack travelled in train No 6. The journey was over 5 days including 4 nights. The Force arrived at a place called Banpong in Thailand and were then forced to march around 300km to their work stations near the border with Burma. The first 50 km was on a sealed road and they were then forced to trudge the remainder of the journey through the jungle over a period of around two and a half weeks. These marches were at night, to avoid the day time temperature which was in the mid forties. Jack recounted that during the march they experienced electrical storms. An advantage of these storms was that when there was a lighting flash they could, at least, see where they were going.
His group marched up to the Songkurai area. During the march he was associated with an Australian Medical Officer Major Bruce Hunt. Jack expressed admiration of Hunt, who was beaten by the Japs when trying to stop the Japs taking unfit men to work on the railway project. It is well known, that Hunt managed to have the men kept from working on the railway for a few days so the camp could be made more habitable. This was a rare occurrence. Other Aussie doctors in this area were Captains Lloyd Cahill from New South Wales, Frank Cahill from Victoria and John Taylor (who was one of two doctors awarded Military Crosses for their action in the battle for Malaya and Singapore). Whilst in the camp area of Shimo Songkurai Jack was working felling trees. An accident occurred when a tree fell on Jack’s left leg. This injury became infected and a tropical ulcer developed, which spread up his leg beyond his knee. This resulted in the need for an amputation.
The date of the accident is not known. However, a rough date can be calculated. It seems likely that the operation took place after a large party of around 2,000 desperately sick men were shifted to a supposedly better hospital Camp in Burma called Tanbaya (located 50 km from the start of the railway at the Burma end). The Australian Medical Officers who accompanied this party were Major Bruce Hunt (as the senior MO) and Captain Frank Cahill (the only Australian Surgeon in the party). If Frank Cahill had been in Shimo Songkurai he would have done the amputation (whilst in the Tanbaya Hospital Camp he did 40 amputations).
Some confirmation of this can be made by reference to the following extract from the book “Heroes of “F” Force” by Don Wall ISBN 0 646 16047 8. I am delighted to quote from the book with the permission of Richard Wall the son of Don Wall.
“My Dear Bruce,
From the above extract it is clear that Captain John Taylor, who had remained in Shimo Songkurai was writing to Major Bruce Hunt. This was after the Tanbaya group had moved and was clearly around mid September 1943. Accordingly there was no Australian surgeon with those remaining in Shimo Songkurai. However, in the area was Lt Col Huston, who was the Senior Medical Officer of “F” Force. Huston had been unwell himself on the march up to the work stations and was almost certainly located at the Songkurai Camp about 6 km further north (this was a predominately British Camp). Earlier during the battle for Singapore Huston was the Commanding Officer of a British Field Ambulance. Jack said that Huston told him (in rather formal Harley Street fashion) “You will have to have your leg off”. The amputation was high on his thigh.
The operation was carried out on a bamboo operating table, with old fuel drums used for boiling water. The saw was borrowed from the work parties. The chloroform lasted a short time and Jack said that he experienced great pain. Notwithstanding the above, the operation was a success and there was no infection of the wound. Jack paid tribute to the care he received from the Medical Orderlies who with constant attention kept the healing wound clean. He had bamboo crutches made and existed in this camp until the Railway was finished and he, and others, were moved down to the Kanchanaburi area probably in November 1943.
In Kanchanaburi he was reacquainted with a British soldier Norman Hunter, who had been a great help when at Shimo Songkurai. Here Hunter contributed to his care. Jack as part of “F” Force was returned to Singapore late 1943 or early 1944.
Amongtst other groups there were two groups (Forces), “F” and “H” Force, which were sent to slave on the Burma Thailand Railway in 1943. These two groups were never transferred to the Japanese Thailand Command. They were only on loan and had to be returned to Singapore when the task was finished. This made communication with the owning Head Quarters very difficult. This was a further complicating factor in ensuring that “F” Force probably suffered more than the other groups. The other factors were the remote area they were deployed to and to the arduous march to the border area. 3,000 of the total force of 7,000 died in something like 8 months.
Once back in Singapore, Jack was cared for by mates. He had a new pair of crutches made and showed a great deal of independence. He worked in a workshop operating a Singer sewing machine with his one leg. His work involved, amongst other things, patching old and worn clothing. In Singapore, he was with Nugget Coombs who was a blacksmith. Nugget using scrap metal and other salvaged material made cut-throat razors. See the following picture of the razor which was made for Jack. It was complete with his name etched or engraved on the blade.
When the war ended he returned to Australia on the Hospital ship Oranje andupon arrival in Melbourne he was taken to Heidelberg Hospital where he refused to be retained overnight. At the hospital he was reunited with his girl friend from pre war days Beryl
Whilst Jack had been a Prisoner of the Japanese, his girl friend Beryl had enlisted in the Australian Army. She enlisted in May 1942 and rose to the rank of sergeant VF346894 and at the end of the war was on a Headquarters working in the Military Secretary’s branch.
In 2008 Jack and Beryl reside in a comfortable Retirement Facility at Point Lonsdale, Victoria.
Article written by Lt Col (Retired) Peter Winstanley OAM RFD JP. In September 2008 Winstanley held a personal interview with Jack and Beryl at Point Lonsdale, Victoria. Audio tapes, recorded by his grand son Alister Forbes, were also provided by family and information extracted from them. The assistance of his daughter Mrs Dianne Forbes is acknowledged and appreciated. Gordon Newton, himself an ex POW, willingly provided transport to enable the writer to visit Jack (Gordon and Jack had been members of the same Bowling Club).