Research & Articles by Lt. Col. Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired), JP
Research, Interviews and Articles about the Prisoners Of War of the Japanese who built the Burma to Thailand railway during world war two. Focusing on the doctors and medical staff among the prisoners. Also organised trips to Thailand twice a year.
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Norman Arthur Clayton Dean was born at Goondiwindi, Queensland, on 25 July 1918, but his family moved to Cleveland two years later so he has been a resident of Cleveland since 1920.

When a local militia platoon was formed at Cleveland in 1938 he enlisted.  Two days after war broke out on 3 September 1939 he was called up for duty on Moreton Island.  He did full time militia duty until June 1940 when he joined the AIF with the regimental number QX9450.  When the Queensland battalion 2/26th was formed he was made an NCO and after attending an Officers’ School in Liverpool was commissioned as a Lieutenant in February 1941.

In July 1941 the 2/26th Battalion embarked for active service in Malaya.  He was involved in all the action seen by the 2/26th (mostly as second in command B Company) in Malaya and Singapore.

He became a prisoner of war of the Japanese and as a member of the ill-fated “F” Force (7,000 men) spending 12 months on the Burma Railway where there were over 40% deaths in “F” Force.

In August 1943, whilst in Shimo Songkurai camp, he was appointed a Wardmaster of a makeshift hospital in charge of 120 patients suffering from all the tropical diseases – malaria, dysentery, cholera, berri berri and shocking tropical ulcers.  The role of an officer being a Wardmaster was an initiative of Major Bruce Hunt who was an outstanding Medical Officer in this area with “F” Force.  Medical Orderlies where normally the Wardmasters, but, to enable the Medical Orderlies to put the maximum time and effort into the care for the sick and wounded, Major Hunt appointed these officers to attend to the administration of the hospital wards (this involved the cleaning of the wards and, as far as possible, providing food). 

Around this time, Lt Dean was moved to Tambaya (50km from the northern end of the railway) in Burma where a hospital for around 2,000 patients (very sick men) had been established.  In a matter of months 671 men died.

When the rail line to Burma was completed (October 1943), the Japs decided to return the surviving POW’s to Singapore via Thailand.  The Senior Medical Officer at Tanbaya Major Bruce Hunt convinced the Japs that some men were too ill and would die if moved.  As a result 500 POW’s remained at Tambaya.  Some of those remaining POWs were carers, cooks and six officers.  Three of the remaining officers were Australian, a doctor Captain Frank Cahill, a Captain and Lt Norm Dean, who was made the Quartermaster.  This group remained for another 4 months. 

Lt Norm Dean doesn’t dwell on the atrocities during his incarceration but has many stories illustrating the ingenuity, courage, camaraderie and humour of his fellow prisoners.

He finally returned to Singapore in the later part of 1944 where he remained until the end of the War on 15 August 1945.  Of the 7,000 men who went the Thailand as part of “F” Force, 3,200 died.

On discharge from the Army after the War, Norm Dean had a successful career in Real Estate.  He also supported the Uniting Church (and it’s predecessor) and in 1996 received a 50 Year Service Certificate.  He became a Paul Harris Fellow in Rotary and formed the Redland Chamber of Commerce.  Suffice to say that the foregoing detail is but a small part of Norm Dean’s contribution to the Community.  His work was acknowledged in 1987 with the ward of the Order of Australia Medal.

In 2008 Norm Dean provided me with the following three articles about

  1. Major Bruce Hunt                   Medical officer (SMO Tanbaya Camp)
  2. Captain Frank Cahill               Medical Officer (Surgeon)
  3. Chaplain Noel Duckworth      British Chaplain

Article assembled by Lt Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD JP.



Major Bruce Hunt was well built, very strong and with a dynamic personality.  He served in World War 1 as an artilleryman.   He studied medicine on his return to Australia.

Major Hunt left Changi and traveled by train to Bampong in Thailand, then marched to a camp on the way to Burma.  Before climbing the heights to Tarsao Major Hunt had obtained permission from a Japanese doctor to leave around 20 or more P.O.Ws who were suffering from a number of complaints and who Major Hunt considered were not up to going further without some rest.

A trainload of approximately 600 Aussies under Captain R.W. Swartz were formed up, waiting to move off.  The Jap corporal of the Guard would not allow the sick to remain.  Major Hunt endeavoured to reason with the Jap Corporal through the interpreter Major Wylde, a British officer.  The Corporal became extremely angry and struck both Hunt and Wylde with sticks used for walking a number of times.

The Aussies were outraged and there was a very definite movement in the ranks that would have seen them overpower the guards.  Bruce Hunt saw the movement and raised his hand, ordering the Aussies to stay out, this is my fight.  Bruce suffered a broken bone in his hand.  A padre, Dean, had hammer toes in a very bad state.  He had to be carried most of the way to Tarsao, where he died.

It was at Shimo Sonkuri or No.1. Camp where Aussies, exhausted from the 300 kilometer march, contracted dysentery and the dreaded cholera disease.  The camp latrine was a large open pit in a disgusting state.  The camp huts were without roofing and the monsoon rains were in full force.  All men had to turn out next day to work on repairing the road to allow the Jap trucks to get through the mud.

Cholera deaths struck within a few days of arrival.  It was at this stage that Major Hunt arrived.  He held a parade of all in camp and dressed them down, telling the P.O.Ws they needed discipline and order if they were to survive.  He said the cholera germ was water carried and it could kill within 4 hours.  Major Hunt said the death rate was usually around 60%.  He went on to say that cholera patients had to be segregated and a site established away from the main camp.  A nearby hill was chosen.  It became known as “Cholera Hill”.

Major Hunt then called for volunteers to care for those affected with cholera.  Almost all volunteered.  He said no one should drink any water that had not just been boiled.  Dixies would be immersed in boiling water prior to receiving food.  New latrines would be built, of the type where one could be used, then closed down, and then the next one used.  They would be in lots of three.  By the time the third was due for closure, No.1 could be reopened.  The existing open Jap latrine would be closed down.

Bruce Hunt assumed control not only of the other doctors, but also the running of the camp.  He was the officer who contacted Lieutenant Fukuda, the Jap Guard Commander.  He told Fukuda that all P.O.Ws required vaccination against cholera.  All the P.O.Ws could see the importance of Major Hunt’s discipline.  They now felt there was a chance that they might survive.  The arrival of the cholera vaccine saw a slight reduction in cholera deaths.  Following the second dose, deaths came to an end quickly.

Other diseases – dysentery, malaria, tropical ulcers and beriberi – were rampant. Major Hunt decided to set aside four huts for the sick.  He appointed an administrator, Captain Bernie Berry, 2/10 Artillery Field Regiment and four Lieutenants as Wardmasters.  These were Norm Crouch, Ian Perry, Norm Dean and Captain Berry used half bamboo boards to record the P.O.W illness details.  At this stage there were more sick than fit men.

Lieutenant Fukuda demanded more men to work.  He ordered Major Hunt, two doctors Captain Berry and the four Wardmasters to parade before him.  Fukuda harangued the group but really addressed himself mainly to Major Hunt.

Major Hunt endeavoured to discuss the issue but Fukuda had worked himself into a terrible rage, and his reply was to knock the Major down into the mud.  Undeterred, Bruce Hunt rose on one knee and told Fukuda he would have more men for work if he would supply quinine for the treatment of malaria.  Fukuda, taken aback by the sudden directness of reply from Major Hunt, agreed to allow an officer with a guard to go that day and bring back a haversack full of quinine tablets. 

Later a hospital camp was set up at Tambaya in Burma for some 2,000 British and Australian sick. Bruce Hunt was the leader of the M.Os and was the doctor the most respected by the P.O.Ws.  He was the officer whom the Japs recognized.

When the Japs said all men would be returned to Changi, Bruce told them that a certain number of P.O.Ws would not die if they were allowed time for their health to improve.  Around 500 were allowed to remain at Tambaya, including sick and staff.  Of those who remained, there were deaths.  However, almost the exact number that Bruce Hunt said would survive did so.

The survivors from Tambaya left in March and spent around one month in Kanburi where they met up again with Major Hunt.  They were taken by train to Singapore some time in April, 1944, arriving there approximately one year after their departure.

Other outstanding dedicated M.Os had assisted Major Bruce Hunt but he was the most respected by the men of F Force.  He outshone other senior service officers and was an excellent Camp Commander.  The Japs also respected Bruce Hunt.  His service to the Aussies and the British was tremendous.

The order, discipline and his medical skills were responsible in Shimo Sonkuri for the saving of some hundreds of Aussies’ lives.

Major Bruce Hunt received some recognition for his services to Australians on “F”. Force when he was honoured with an M.B.E.  He deserved a higher award.


Captain Frank Cahill was in Shimo Sonkuri Camp where he assisted Major Hunt.

He was a well respected M.O. who really cared for his patients. He was popular with both the sick Aussie P.O.Ws and also the British P.O.Ws.

It was in Tambaya Hospital Camp in Burma where he really came to fame.  Frank was a surgeon who was in great demand and was required to work long hours under primitive conditions.

When the sick were allowed to remain behind at Tambaya two doctors volunteered to stay: Frank Cahill and Jock Emery M.O., a Malay volunteer who assisted Frank.

The sick left behind were all too ill to travel.  Some of these had the most dreadful leg ulcers.  These ulcers were often from the knee to the ankle.  The ulcers were quite painful and the stench from the ulcer ward was obnoxious.  Some P.O.Ws’ ulcers were so severe that they were life threatening.  When it was considered that the only chance the P.O.W. had of living was to remove the offending leg, an amputation was performed.

Dr Cahill performed around fifty leg amputations.  Unfortunately, only four men lived to make it back to Changi.  Although almost all survived the operation, they could not stand the added burden of a bout of malaria or even a common cold.

Frank Cahill was distressed that such a small number of his amputation cases survived.  He was suffering and not eating well.  The C.O. of the Camp, A British Major, asked Norm Dean, who was acting as Quartermaster, to provide Captain Cahill with a special meal, hoping this would tempt his appetite.

The day prior to the C.O’s request, the weekly ration party, the Quartermaster and six P.O.Ws had collected the weekly ration from the village of Annaquin and, pulling the loaded yak cart, were returning to camp.  It just happened that a yak in good condition joined the P.O.W party.  No doubt this beast had got away.

All P.O.Ws in this group, not having had any meat for a long time, looked hopefully at the animal.  The Quartermaster asked the Jap guards if we could have the beast for muckin.  The Japs agreed, on condition that they received half of the meat.

A British private in the kitchen, Bert Neville, had been a butcher and he attended to the necessary with the yak.

The Quartermaster instructed the sergeant at the cookhouse to provide the special for Major Cahill but left it to the sergeant to select something suitable.  This was to take place the next evening.

It so happened that a P.O.W had just died.  He had given some trouble and Captain Cahill thought it possible he could have had a brain tumour and decided to hold a post mortem.

Captain Russ Walker and Norm Dean were requested by Captain Cahill to assist him.  The carpenter’s saw Frank had used for amputations was used in the post mortem.  No tumour was found.

Dr Frank Cahill was a modest, brilliant, dedicated doctor who treated the sick men much as he would have done in private practice.  Those who survived and made it home to Australia and Britain owe their lives to him.



Padre Duckworth was a rosy cheeked, rather small man with a delightful smile.  He studied at Cambridge University, where he became Cox of the Eights rowing team.  The Cambridge Eights defeated Oxford on three successive occasions at their annual boat race.  The Cambridge team was then selected to tour Europe with Padre Duckworth as Cox.  They were not defeated.  Later the same Cambridge crew with Noel as Cox was selected to represent England at the Munich Olympic Games in 1938.

During the Malayan action Padre Duckworth showed great courage when he remained with British wounded, although ordered not to do so.  The wounded had been part of a British force that was cut off and had to fight their way out.  When the Japs arrived Padre Duckworth berated them so successfully that they did not kill the wounded, but they did inflict severe punishment on the Padre.

Noel Duckworth was a member of F. Force and endured the 300 kilometre march to Sonkuri or No.3. Camp, where approximately 2,000 British P.O.Ws were held.  This camp was on the river where a bridge had to be built.  It turned out to be one of the worst camps for disease, particularly cholera.  The deaths here were higher than at any other camp.

Padre Duckworth seemed tireless on the march.  He had an oversize teapot that he referred to as the “parish pot”.  Many a weary P.O.W. on the march enjoyed a cup of tea from the parish pot.  Noel’s policy was not to empty the pot, just add a few more leaves.  It was rather akin to the Biblical story of the widow’s “cruse of oil” it never appeared to be empty.

In No.3. Camp there was a second Padre.  He was a Welshman and he and Noel would hold a short service in each hut.  Noel read from the Bible and the Welsh Padre, who had a strong tenor voice, would sing a hymn.  Noel would give a short talk.  On one occasion he spoke about the P.O.Ws all living in glass houses, where you could look right inside the person and see the good and bad points.  There was no pretence or shame left in them.  Unfortunately the Welsh Padre died with cholera only a few days after this service.

A hospital camp was set up in Burma at Tambaya.  Padre Duckworth went there with the British sick.  “Duckie”, as he became known to all, treated Aussie and British sick alike.  He showed great compassion and was able to help many a dying P.O.W. find peace.  He gave comfort to all, irrespective of their religion. He remained in Tambaya when the main party left.

Duckie had set up an open air chapel.  He had a rough bush altar and logs for seats.  On Christmas Eve, 1943, Duckie held a midnight service.  Such was the respect held by the P.O.Ws that everyone in Tambaya Camp attended.  All ranks from the Major down and men of different religions were present, those too sick to walk were carried there.  Duckie had somehow managed to acquire some candles for the altar.

It was a very moving experience.  Everyone present had managed somehow to survive the harsh treatment of the Japs and many were recovering following the suffering of dysentery, malaria, ulcers, cholera, beriberi and often starvation rations.

Duckie’s service to P.O.Ws both British and Australian, was inspirational.  He gave all he had to the sick and when he had no more to give he would encourage his friends to contribute something.

Post World War 11 Duckie spent many years in Africa as an Anglican priest.  On his return to England, he went again to his beloved Cambridge University, where he was appointed first Chaplain of the newly built Churchill Chapel.

Now Canon Noel Duckworth, he returned to the family home in Riccall, Yorkshire, where he was appointed to the Riccall Church of England


My thanks to Norm Dean for the above three tributes. Lt Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD JP



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