|STORY OF "F" FORCE
|The following article was passed to me by the 8th Division Signals
Association around 2004. In 2009, the website owner received
permission from the RSL Victoria to reproduce the article.
Background:- "F" Force was a combination of 7,000 POWs (3,600
Australians and 3,400 British) sent from Singapore to Thailand in April
1943. Unlike most other groups it was forced to march to it's
work stations in Northern Thailand a distance of around
270km. The Force marched at night to avoid the day time
temperatures of over 40 degree C. They were often deep in mud
as the Monsoon had started. It is reported that the force had
no "Yasme" (rest) days and it is estimated that they worked for around
150 days straight. The Force was in the most remote area of
all Forces. Supply of food was irregular. They had
to carry personal effects and medical supplies. When the
railway was completed in October 1943 the remnants of the Force were
returned to Singapore. Around 3,000 (2,000 British and 1,000
Australians) died during the period they slaved on the Railway for the
Japs and their remains are in Thailand and Burma.
The above map was copied from Don Wall's book "Heroes of "F"
Force". Don's son Richard gave me approval to use material
from the book, as long as it was acknowledged. The book,
which is a valuable resource is still available.
The above map was copied from Don Wall's book "Heroes of "F"
Force". Don's son Richard gave me approval to use material
from the book, as long as it was acknowledged. The book,
which is a valuable resource, is still available.
The Victorian R.S.L. has granted permission to our Unit (8th Division
Signals) to print story of "F" Force as appeared in "Mufti" in 1951 -
This article commences the story of "F" Force, a body of men from the
8th Division who were captured in Singapore, and lived for three years
as prisoners of the Jap. The story covers a period of eight
months in which the force was absent from Singapore.
This report provides an authoritative account of the activities of
3,662 A.I.F. P.O.Ws who, together with an equal number of British
prisoners, were sent to Thailand by the Imperial Japanese Army in
The Malayan campaign had terminated on 15th February, 1942, with the
capitulation of Singapore, and from April of that year groups of
prisoners were despatched to Burma, Borneo and Japan, but as none of
these forces had returned to the prison camp in Singapore at the time
of writing of this report a comparison with the treatment meted out to
them is impracticable.
To the best of the belief of the narrators, however, the barbarism to
which the force was subjected had no equal in ferociousness and cruelty
in the history of other A.I.F. groups.
The purposes to which this report may be put at a later date are not
known, and to this extent the compilers are handicapped in that they
may fail to place sufficient emphasis on aspects which may become of
especial importance in the future.
They have endeavoured, however, to record faithfully and accurately all
the events, good or bad, which occurred in the eight months the force
was absent from Singapore.
Both the compilers were members of the force, and were either in
immediate contact with the commanders of the various groups (and the
Jap. Guard) or witnessed the conditions and happenings
recorded. (One of the compilers was commander of the A.I.F.
troops throughout the period and was in direct contact with the
Japanese commanders in practically all the camps and thus had personal
experience of all phases of camp administration and control; while the
other daily accompanied the men to work and gained first-hand knowledge
of working conditions on the road).
This report is based on: (a) The personal experiences and first-hand
knowledge of these two officers;
(b) Reports furnished by battalion commanders of the 27 Aust. Inf.
Bde., who acted as commanders of various camps;
and (c) The detailed log books that were maintained in all camps in
which A.I.F. troops were quartered.
The force comprised 7,000 men and was designated "F" Force to
distinguish it from the previous parties to depart. Within
eight months of the Force leaving Singapore approximately one half of
its members had died; of the remainder practically every man suffered
from one or more major illnesses, the full effects of which on their
future health can only be guessed at.
Some of the men have been incapacitated for life by the loss of limbs
and others have been permanently injured in mind and in body.
It will be established in this history that these results were brought
about by the ruthlessness, cruelty, lack of administrative ability,
and/or the ignorance of members of the Imperial Japanese Army.
The compilers, in fairness to the men, believe it necessary to say that
no word picture, however vividly painted, could ever portray faithfully
the horrors and sufferings actually endured. Incidents
occurred repeatedly in which the heroism and fortitude of the prisoners
equalled the highest traditions of the A.I.F. in war, but the written
word again falls short in conveying to the reader an adequate picture.
P.O.Ws were not fighting a tangible enemy but starvation and
disease. To the man who was starved to death the end was a
lingering one; to those who were struck down by disease -
from cholera, cerebral malaria or from any one of the loathsome Asiatic
death-dealing diseases, death often came quickly, but over every man
hung the pall of death, depreciating morale in all but the strongest.
Some of the finest men of the force, and, for that matter, of the
A.I.F., contributed towards their own illness, and in some cases
hastened their own death, by repeatedly trying to relieve the
intolerable hardships of their weakened comrades.
Camp commanders were frustrated at every turn. Efforts to
improve conditions, such as sanitation, were thwarted time and time
again with the result that the never-ending fight for lives gained no
relief at all.
Although it was not known at the time, the reason for the despatch of
the force from Singapore was to assist in the construction of a
railway, through the heart of the Thailand jungle, from Banpong to
Moulmein, for the most part following the route mapped out by British
engineers some years previously.
No accurate estimate of the number of P.O.W. and coolies employed on
the undertaking can be arrived at, but probably there were
150,000. The death rate amongst the A.I.F. men was lower than
that of the British or Dutch prisoners and of the vast army of coolie
labour that had been drawn from Malaya and Burma.
Deaths in the A.I.F. were 892, and an additional 31 died on their
return to Singapore, making a total of 923 known deaths at the date of
compiling this report.
This story will continue in serial form.
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
Commenced last month, a history of the force sent from Singapore by the
Japs to work on the Burma railway.
It is a story of almost incredible hardships, adding weight to the
growing opinion that compensation to the utmost should be exacted from
the Japs and paid to the survivors of their brutality.
On 8th April, 1943, Hdqrs. Malaya Command was informed by the P.O.W.
Supervising Office at CHANGI Gaol that a working party of 7,000
medically fit British and Australian Prisoners was to be organised and
ready to move from SINGAPORE by rail commencing on about 16th April,
1943. The destination of the Force was not disclosed.
The reason given for the move was that the food situation in SINGAPORE
was deteriorating and troops were being moved to an area where food was
plentiful. At that time the rations issued by the I.J.A. were
extremely poor and the physical condition of even the fittest troops in
consequence was well below normal.
The following information was given by the I.J.A. :-
climate at the new location was similar to that of SINGAPORE.
Camps did not
exist and would have to be constructed on arrival.
Force would be distributed over 7 camps, each accommodating 1,000 men,
administered by an I.J.A. Commander and Staff directly under
command of General
Commanding P.O.W. in MALAYA, who was stationed at CHANGI.
would be in hilly country in pleasant and healthy surroundings.
Sufficient Army Medical Corps personnel capable of staffing a
300-bed hospital could
4. As many
blankets and mosquito nets as possible were to be taken by individuals
deficient in these articles and of items of clothing would be issued
with them on
at the new camps.
5. A band
would accompany each 1,000 men, and gramophones would be issued after
Canteens would be established in all camps in 3 weeks of the
restrictions would be placed on the amount of personal equipment to be
could take their trunks, valises, etc., and men, all the clothing and
that they could manhandle.
and cooking gear, sufficient to maintain the Force as an independent
group, were to
and specific approval was given to include a field electric lighting
set for the
of the hospital and Force Hdqrs. Camp.
Transport would be available for the cartage of heavy
personal equipment, camp and
stores, and for men unfit to march. The latter concession was
granted when it
pointed out that a percentage of such men would have to be included in
would be no long marches.
boot repair material could be issued at once, but a supply of the
materials would be taken
forward with the Hdqrs. of the I.J.A. Commander.
be no doubt that the whole project was presented by the I.J.A.
favourable light, either deliberately or from a failure to ascertain
in THAILAND, the destination of the Force.
The A.I.F.'s quota was 125 Officers and 3,300 other Ranks (Combatants),
10 Medical Officers, 1 Dental Officer, 5 Chaplains and 221 other Ranks
of the A.A.M.C. Lt.-Col. C. H. KAPPE - then administrating
command 27 Aust. Inf. Bde. - was appointed to command the A.I.F.
component of the Force and Major R. H. STEVENS, 2/12 Fd. Amb. was
appointed Senior A.I.F. Medical Officer.
27 Aust. Inf. Bde., which had been kept intact since capitulation, was
to form the basis of the organisation, the quota being made up from
other units and services under the command of their own officers.
In effect, the A.I.F. component was raised on the lines of an Infantry
Brigade Group, a firm organisation that was the main factor in
maintaining the morale and discipline of the Australians at a very high
level in the months which followed.
It soon was clear that there were not 7,000 medically fit men available
in CHANGI and this fact was notified to the I.J.A. After
discussion, Headquarters, Malaya Command was informed that 30% of the
Force could be made up of medically unfit personnel.
Lt.-Col. HARRIS - the Force Commander - was informed, in contradiction
of earlier advices that the Force was not to be employed as a working
party, and the inclusion of a high percentage of unfits would mean that
many men would have a better chance of recovery from ill-health in new
and pleasant surroundings where ample supplies of good food would be
available. A large number of British troops unfit for
marching or for work were included in the British component on this
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
Lt.-Col. Galleghan, C/O A.I.F., specified that only "near fits" should
be selected, Lt.-Col. Kappe pointed out that the original demand was
for 7,000 fit men for a working party, and that it was not in the
interests of the Force as a whole, or of the men as individuals, if
other than reasonably fit men were taken.
An effort was made by Malaya Command to have the strength of the Force
reduced, but this was not successful.
A medical reclassification of the Brigade was commenced
immediately. 1,569 men were found to be physically fit, 316
fit for duties in Changi, and 100 fit only for light duties.
The Brigade's quota was then reduced to 2,060, and the difference was
ordered to be made up by other units.
Definite figures of the medical examination of other units were not
available, but the A.I.F. component probably contained at least 125 men
who were unfit for work, and fit only to travel by train.
Of the British component, nearly 1,000 men were either fit for light
duties only or for travel by train. Many had been, in fact,
discharged from hospital to accompany the Force, a step that had dire
consequence. Man for man, the Australians were always above
the British troops in general physical conditions and stamina.
All ranks were vaccinated and inoculated against cholera and plague,
and tested for dysentery and malaria. The quick preparations
demanded by the Japs precluded personnel from receiving more than their
first cholera and plague inoculations, an incompleteness that became an
important factor later when a cholera outbreak occurred.
Every facility was afforded by Malaya Command to staff and equip the
Force so far as the existing meagre resources would permit. A
strong medical team was selected, which included surgeons, senior
physicians, an E.N.T. specialist, an officer with experience in eye
diseases, dentists and an anti-malariolist, with a special anti-malaria
Three months' medical supplies, based on normal expenditure, were made
available from the small reserves held by the British and Australian
hospitals, and it was assumed that there would be ample to maintain the
Force until Jap. supplies should be forthcoming.
A proportion of the Malaya Command's meagre reserve of clothing was
made available, but it was issued too late for distribution, and never
reached the troops.
Three days' reserve rations were taken, and these were of great value
during the train journey, and for the first few days following.
As it seemed likely that the Force would be concentrated in fixed
camps, preparations were made for entertainment, and the 18 Divn., and
the 27 Inf. Bde. Concert Parties were included in the Force.
The majority of the 18 Div. party died, as did three out of four of the
celebrity artists who accompanied the party.
The first train left Singapore on the 18th April, and the others on
succeeding days, the first six train-loads being composed entirely of
The Force was distributed over 13 trains, each carrying about 500 and
600 men, according to the number of trucks reserved by the Japs. for
stores and baggage.
The trains were made up of steel rice trucks with no ventilation except
the sliding doors in the centre. The trucks were about 20ft.
x 8ft., with an arched roof 8ft. high (maximum), and to each was
allotted 28 men.
As on the majority of trains only one truck had been reserved for
stores, much of the stores had to be put into the men's trucks, which
were already overcrowded - so overcrowded, in fact, that only a few men
could lie down at any one time and none could even sit in comfort.
No halts for sleeping were made throughout the journey, and the men
were confined to their trucks for long periods.
The tropical sun beat continuously down on to the steel roofs of the
trucks, bringing the temperature inside to close to 100 degrees during
the afternoons. During daylight halts the conditions were
At the end of four days the men were utterly exhausted, a condition
made worse by the meagre meals of poor quality, issued at long and
irregular intervals. Very often the men were without food for
24 hours, and on one occasion there was nothing for 40 hours.
In any case, the meals comprised rice and a thin watery stew containing
a few onions only. On occasions a small piece of pork might
be found, but very rarely.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
After crossing the Malaya-Thai border, the I.J.A. Military Police
boarded the trains, and the concession of being allowed to detrain for
the purpose of defecating or for exercise was withheld.
No provision for sanitation had been made, with the result that the men
had either to defecate through the doorways whilst the train was in
motion or risk trouble with unreasonable guards by getting down at
halts without their permission.
At the places where permission was given the latrines were either
non-existent or were already completely fouled and
insanitary. The condition of these so-called latrines after
the passage of the train ahead was disgraceful.
For the whole five days of the journey men were unable to wash except
at Padang Besar, and drinking water was difficult to obtain.
On some trains men risked incurring the displeasure of the I.J.A.
guards by making billies of tea from hot water obtained from the boiler
of the engine.
One A.I.F. train was without any water at all from midday of one day
until nightfall of the next.
The Force detrained at Banpong, where it was quartered for one night in
a staging camp about a mile from the station. No transport
was available at the station and troops were ordered to carry as much
gear as possible with them to the camp. The short march under
heavy loads demonstrated how fatigued the men were by the train
journey. No. 5 train was most unfortunate as it lost nearly
24 hours in running time, and, in consequence, the party had to march
on the night of their arrival.
The day spent by the successive train groups in the staging camp at
Banpong almost beggars description. Conditions were
deplorable, and there was utter confusion.
The I.J.A. guards seemed to go crazy at their first experience of
directly controlling prisoners, and became well-nigh hysterical in
their efforts to deal with even a simple situation.
Everyone gave orders at once, and, as they were generally of a
conflicting nature, confusion increased, tempers were lost, and many
officers and men were struck for no reason other than that they were
doing their jobs and carrying out orders to the best of their ability.
Special cases of brutality will be cited later.
Each train commander on arrival was handed a copy of an instruction
headed "Instructions for Passing Coolies and Prisoners of War", which
was to be promulgated to the troops; this, together with the manner in
which the force was being treated, gave a good indication of what the
future held. It was here that the incoming train parties were
informed that they had to face a long march to the concentration area.
No provision was made for the transport of the medically unfit
personnel, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the Japs
could be persuaded to allow the seriously ill men to remain behind.
The opinion of the Force medical officers was not considered to be
sufficient, and before a man could be admitted to the hastily organised
hospital his case had to be reviewed by Japanese medical officers, or,
in some cases, by Japanese N.C.Os.
Invariably the numbers which our medical officers considered were in
need of treatment and rest were reduced, and many sick men were forced
to commence the march.
The camp comprised four attap huts, built on low-lying ground, in a
very small area. Each hut had to accommodate 300 men,
allowing a space of 6ft. x 3ft. for each officer and man.
The water supply - drawn from a filthy well - was inadequate and
produced only sufficient water for cooking purposes and for one filling
of water bottles.
The meals were even poorer than those supplied en route from Singapore.
The huts and the adjoining area were in a filthy condition, and the
stench from insanitary latrines was overpowering. All train
groups made efforts to improve matters for succeeding parties, but the
indifference of the guards and the refusal to issue tools nullified
attempts to put the camp into a hygienic condition.
As previously mentioned, no transport was made available for the
cartage of heavy personal gear and stores from the railway station to
the camp, and all baggage had to be manhandled by men already exhausted
from lack of food and sleep. The officers' and men's kitbags
from the first two trains were taken to the staging camp where they
were stacked in the open and covered only by a tarpaulin. The
bulk baggage of the later trains was stored in a building in the town.
When it was announced that a long march was imminent and all stores had
to be carried, the men began to jettison surplus items of clothing -
those of poorer quality being thrown away and those of better quality
sold to the Thais, with whom there was a ready market.
A considerable amount of trading went on which was hopeless to check;
in fact, the Japanese guards themselves took a hand and enriched
themselves by acting as middlemen.
Although the selling of clothing generally is a matter to be deplored,
in this case the end justified the means, as thereby men were enabled
to purchase en route items of food to sustain them through a
particularly arduous period. In any case most of the clothing
sold could not have been carried.
So far as officers' gear is concerned, the story is different.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
Acting on advice received from the I.J.A., officers had taken with them
everything which they possessed, including personal effects which could
never be replaced. No guards were placed over the stack of
trunks and valises at the staging camp, and within a few days the whole
Many officers lost all that they possessed, including valuable and
irreplaceable personal effects. The loss of this gear was the
direct responsibility of the I.J.A., and the officers concerned should
The experiences at Banpong were to be only a sample of the
inefficiency, lack of sanitation, and cowardly treatment that the Force
was to experience in the ensuing six months.
There is no doubt that the treatment here - after five days of
exhausting train travel - adversely affected the health of many men to
such a degree that they were never able to recover.
Although conditions varied slightly in the different parties, general
conditions were the same both on the train journey and during the
subsequent 17 days' march.
Reference to the section dealing with the train journey from Singapore
indicates that every man in the force suffered considerably from the
effects of the journey, and could not be classified as fit to undertake
a heavy march.
It must be remembered that it was not merely the case of well-nourished
men suffering from the privations and discomforts of five days on the
train - quite a number of these men (30% amongst the British) had been
classified as "sick" before their departure from Changi, where all men
had been subsisting for 14 months on a basic diet of rice.
The staging camps mentioned below were uniform for all parties, the
time-table varying so slightly as to be immaterial.
After the initial mental shock experienced by each party upon being
informed that they would spend "the next few days" marching, spirits
rose and morale actually was high when the troops made final
adjustments to their gear, and set out from Banpong at 2230 hours.
The major difficulty experienced at the commencement of the march arose
from the necessity to allocate the medical equipment into six or more
panniers, and from the efforts made to see that the carrying of this
equipment would be equitably spread over each party.
A good, flat macadamised road surface and full stomachs from food
purchased from the natives at Banpong resulted in the first few hours
of the march being covered to the accompaniment of old marching
songs. By 0300 hours, however, spirits had fallen
Practically all equipment had had to be improvised to some extent, and
rope or wire substituted for the regulation webbing straps; boots,
after months without repair at Changi were beginning to chafe and cause
blisters; socks already were wearing through; limbs that had to be
cramped for days on the train were becoming stiff at the 10-minute
halts in each hour of marching; and shoulders unaccustomed to carrying
loads, were becoming sore.
Dawn found the men really feeling the effects of the sleepless nights
on the train, and it was not until 0900 hours, in a blazing sun, that
Tamakan (Tarawa) was reached, 17 miles out of Banpong, by the first
Tamakan consisted of a padang, shadeless, except for one roofed but
unwalled cement-floored building about ¼ mile from the river
A lengthy check parade took place on arrival, cooks and latrine digging
parties were detailed, and the men were told the next move would be at
2130 hours that night.
It was at this camp that the men first realised that they had to face a
future of a hard, combative existence, full of doubt, difficulties,
defeats, disappointments, and dangers.
By the starting time the majority of troops, fortified with meals of
eggs and fruit which they purchased locally, had regained some of their
spirits, but it was not to last. By midnight the tribulations
of the previous night had become accentuated, and by dawn it could be
seen that a number of men were in a bad way.
That the troubles were not more serious was due to the fact that for
the last two or three miles ox carts and tricycle-rickshaws were hired
to carry the medical boxes, gear, and many men who had been straggling
at the rear of the column.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
Kanburi (15 miles from Tamakan) was reached at 0800 hours, and a more
uninviting sight was hard to imagine.
One small open-sided shelter was all that was available as cover for
the sick, whose number by this time had increased
considerably. For the remainder, an open space with a few
stunted lantana bushes was allotted.
Inspection of the ground revealed that it had been used recently by
coolie parties which preceded the force, and, as usual, no attempt had
been made to provide latrine accommodation.
The result was that the ground was fouled in all directions, flies
abounded, and the stench was particularly offensive.
After areas had been allocated and latrines dug, the troops were
informed that no march would take place that night. As the
last two stages of the journey had been in heavy dust, many men took
the opportunity of walking another mile to the river to wash their
travel-stained and sweaty clothes.
Perhaps one of the greatest insults to the men was that the only
drinking water available close to the area had to be purchased from the
native keeper of a dirty well, at five cents per bucket, and then
What might be termed a stocktaking then took place. Sick men
were classified, surplus gear jettisoned or sold to eager Thai
purchasers, medical gear distributed to be carried on the person
instead on in panniers, blisters and embryo ulcers were cared for, and,
as far as possible in the face of a heavy attack of mosquitoes, sleep
It is worth noting at this point that throughout the journey repeated
check parades were called for by the Japanese guards. Almost
invariably these checks were ordered at the most inconvenient times.
If camp fatigues such as latrine digging, cutting and carrying of
firewood, drawing water had just been completed and the men dispersed
to their improvised shelters to endeavour to obtain a little rest, a
parade would be called, and the men kept standing about in a blazing
sun while order and counter-order was given by the numerous guards, all
of whom desired to exercise control of the check.
Upon awakening next morning, hopes for a day of rest were dispelled
when it was announced that a medical inspection would take place at
Kanburi Hospital at 1400 hours. One mile each way was marched
to the inspection - a wait of two hours ensued until the arrival of the
Japanese doctors - and then a remarkable speedy glass rod cholera test,
malaria blood test, smallpox vaccination, and two inoculations took
On return to camp a hurried meal was eaten, gear repacked, and the men
were on the road again at 2100 hours.
The contract set for this stage of the journey was 15 miles to
Wampoh. It was on this march, more than later ones, that
officers, medical, and other personnel stationed at the rear of the
columns had their greatest trials. The number of sick and
stragglers was particularly heavy, ox carts and rickshaws no longer
were available, and the number requiring their gear to be carried for
them and physical assistance rendered trebled itself.
Some men were so completely exhausted that they had to be carried mile
after weary mile on stretchers, there being nowhere at all where they
could be left.
The pain and additional fatigue endured by those to whom fell the lot
of rendering this assistance to their comrades was extreme, and
undoubtedly the suffering thus caused reduced their own resistance for
After this halt every effort was made to keep the sick at the front of
Water points had been arranged by the I.J.A. for this march, and at two
places during the night water-bottles were refilled with hot
water. In spite of these marches being made at night, the
humidity was high - within a mile of the commencement of the journey
shirts were always sweat-soiled and drenched by intermittent rain, and
they remained so until morning.
The dust, arising from hundreds of feet tramping along a very dusty
track, settled on wet clothes and bodies, and made conditions still
Wampoh, although nominally a staging camp, consisted of a flat stretch
of ground on the river bank, close to an old Siamese temple.
No buildings whatsoever were available. Two or three trees
provided shade for the sick, but for the rest it meant lying down in a
scorching sun, and being tormented by myriads of flies.
Itinerant food vendors set up their stalls in the area, and the men
were able to supplement the totally inadequate ration of rice and onion
water with food of some-what doubtful quality at times, but,
nevertheless, very acceptable to hungry and weary men.
Some parties succeeded at this camp in hiring a small amount of
transport for the heavy gear, the men subscribing one dollar each to
pay the price demanded by the Thai ox-cart drivers for the hire of
The night's march, commencing at 2000 hours, was a heavy one.
The road surface was fast deteriorating, and hilly country was being
entered. By first light it was again found that many men were
seriously distressed. Diarrhoea had weakened many, and as
each day passed complete exhaustion among the less robust men became
more apparent. At 0830 hours the 15 miles had been completed,
and the objective, Wonyen, reached.
Once again all that the camp consisted of was a cleared patch of ground
with scattered clumps of bamboo, which provided an hour's shade as the
sun moved round. Ants and flies during the day made sleep
well-nigh impossible, but the troops were informed that there would be
no march that night.
A small amount of food was purchasable, but prices were rapidly
sky-rocketing, quality lessening, and the absence of cleanliness in the
vendors becoming very marked.
The night's rest again gave medical officers and orderlies an
opportunity to give more much needed attention to the sick, and when
the columns moved at 1930 hours the following day on a dusty, hilly
road, sprits had revived slightly. It was this night's march,
however, which proved conclusively that some men were unfit to go
The outskirts of the base camp at Tahso (Tarsao) were reached at first
light, and working parties of men from "D" Force, which had left Changi
in March, was one of considerable size, and included a bamboo-hutted
hospital. After lengthy but unnecessary delays, the troops
finally were allotted an area, far from clean, and were issued with a
few tents as shelter from the sun.
Determined efforts were made here for the dropping at the hospital of
the seriously sick.
Lt.-Cols. Harris and Dillon and Major Wild, who were temporarily camped
there, were approached, and these officers made representations to the
I.J.A. for this concession.
A sick parade was held, and a certain number of men were classified as
unfit to continue the march. The Japanese N.C.O. to whom the
report was furnished stated that only a proportion would be allowed to
remain. This N.C.O., incidentally, had driven sick men in the
earlier parties on to the road with a stick.
Major Hunt, senior medical officer of the party, paraded the sick men
to the I.J.A. medical officer, who agreed with the classification.
When the party was being checked for the march before leaving, the
N.C.O. became abusive, and attacked Majs. Hunt and Wild with a heavy
stick, breaking a bone in Maj. Hunt's hand.
Chaplain Ross Dean, who was amongst those who were refused permission
to remain, died later at a staging camp from physical exhaustion.
After much argument only a comparative few of the sick were finally
allowed to remain.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
We ended with the men camped at Tahso where an effort had been made to
induce the Japs to classify the sick men as unfit for marching and to
admit them to hospital. The effort was not a success and only
here and there, where a man could not stand on his feet at all, was
permission given for him to remain. The others had to get
along as best they could.
The departure from Tahso was timed for 1930 hours.
Overhanging trees, pitch darkness, a rough and slushy track following
heavy rains, made the march of slightly under 15 miles a heavy one.
Unselfish help by exhausted men in helping the sick was very marked. On
each night's march from this point onwards it was found that at about
half the total distance to be covered, a Japanese post
existed. Hot water was available, and an hour's rest given to
enable a survey of the sick to be made and all stragglers brought in.
In a few cases, instances were reported of the men in the rear of the
column being struck by Japanese guards but, on the whole, no great
exception can be taken to the treatment of the stragglers.
But, at this stage of the march, the troops were warned of the danger
of Thai bandits attacking men straggling in ones and twos.
In one case a member of a column was attacked, but beat off his
assailant by a heavy blow with a filled water-bottle. In
another, one of the guards, with several of the troops, charged against
the Thais, one Thai being bayoneted and several others severely struck.
Warnings also were issued against tigers.
These two threats appeared to have a far greater effect on the guards
than on the marching troops, and the guards repeatedly showed an
inclination to push themselves into the middle of the column rather
than be left at the rear with stragglers.
Kenyu (Konyu) was reached at about 0800 hours and, in contrast with
other camps, it provided some shade, being in the centre of heavy
Washing facilities here were bad, and consisted only of a small stream,
in which a number of Japanese guards took strong exception to prisoners
washing while they were in the vicinity.
From this stage onwards troops began to suffer seriously from the
shortage of rations. Previously the extremely poor supply had
been augmented by purchases from wayside vendors, but having now
entered continuous jungle, kampongs were not seen, and facilities for
the purchase of food no longer existed.
By this time a further difficulty had arisen through the number of men
who now were barefooted. In addition, many who were still in
possession of boots found that their blistered feet were so badly
infected that the chafing of the leather made the wearing of boots
impossible. The rough gravel of the jungle tracks and fallen bamboo
made every step a painful operation for those in bare feet.
Following previous practice the departure from this camp was made in
broad daylight, and the 12 miles to Kinsayo (Kinsayok) were covered
Although each of these staging camps bore names, all that could be seen
(until Takanun) was a clearing in the jungle with possibly one or two
The exhausted marchers flung themselves on the ground in the dark,
still wearing their saturated clothing, and it was not until the heat
of the day brought out ants and insects that they worried about the
usual meal of rice and onions.
A further night's sleep was allowed at Kinsayo, and the next morning a
check revealed that the rate of casualties was being maintained and
that soon every fit man would be carrying a sick man's gear as well as
Enquiries from the Japanese guards as to the total distance still to be
covered showed that the guards themselves were ignorant of the
The nights had become grim endurance tests, and even the fittest of men
were suffering severely.
The next stage was a 14 mile march to Wopin, and here the troops were
herded into a rough stockyard. Primitive latrines had been
dug by preceding coolie parties and left uncovered, to become prolific
breeding grounds for millions of flies.
On arrival at the next camp, Brangali (13 miles), conditions became
even worse. The Nippon guards in charge of the camp took
control of the troops immediately on their arrival, and the written
instructions headed "Conditions for Passing Coolies and Prisoners of
War" were again read to all troops.
The men were regimented from the moment of arrival until their
departure, and on the slightest breach of instructions they were struck
with heavy sticks.
In one case an officer, not understanding an order given in Nipponese,
was struck with a stick about the face and left standing at "Attention"
in the sun. After about a quarter of an hour he fell forward
in a faint and cut his lip badly, which caused general amusement
amongst the guards.
After departure this camp became known as the "Hitler Camp".
It was now raining almost every night, and to the difficulty of finding
the track in the pitch darkness was added the steepness and slippery
nature of the surface, which caused injuries to limbs.
Men fell from unfenced or undecked bridges and over
embankments. Sometimes the bridges were so rotten that men
fell through them into the streams below.
Another danger was met with here - the risk of losing men at the 10
The moment the order was given for the rest, men would cast off their
packs and, wet or otherwise, fall on the ground completely
exhausted. When the order was given to move again it was
impossible to tell in the darkness whether all the men had heard the
call, and on more than one occasion parties had to return a mile or so
to pick up missing men - a happening that did not tend to improve
relations with the Japanese guards.
The site for the bivouac at Takanun was one of the best
visited. A cleared space on the hill, unfouled by previous
parties, with a clear, fast-flowing stream and plenty of shade, gave
an uplift. Also a small issue of tinned vegetables, in
addition to the rice and onion water, improved their morale.
The move from Takanun was made in the late afternoon, along a road
inches deep in powdered dust. The column passed a camp of
British soldiers who had for some time been engaged in bridge
building. Although only ten miles away, Tamarumpat was not
reached until first light.
The men settled down to sleep, but flies, ants and mosquitoes made this
difficult during the day, although this particular resting place was
comparatively well shaded.
From the party, which then comprised part of Train 1 group (half of
this group had been left behind as cooks at staging camps or had become
too ill to march) and Train 2 group, orders were received to organise a
party of 700 to move to Koncoita, where they would be permanently
Departure from Tamarumpat of this party was at 2000 hours, and the
troops were informed that the march was one of seven miles only.
Accustomed by this time to judging distances, the men were naturally
disgruntled when it proved to be about double that distance.
The I.J.A. guard, also under the impression that the march was to be a
comparatively short one, set a very fast pace and allowed no halts
except after an hour's marching. At about 2300 hours the
party arrived, completely exhausted, at a bivouac site which was
thought to be the final destination. It was then ascertained
that an error had been made, and that a further eight miles had to be
covered. This extra stretch was completed by 0800 hours in
the morning, after the troops had rested from 2400 until 0500 hours.
No water was available throughout the march.
The camp - Koncoita - was the first one that could be properly called a
It was at Koncoita that the Commander, A.I.F. Troops, contacted the
Force Commander, Lt.-Col. HARRIS, who was unable to give any
information as to the ultimate organisation and location of the train
groups as they came forward. He and his staff had travelled
forward with the I.J.A. commander by motor transport, but they had been
unable, through lack of prior information, to take any action to
ameliorate the conditions that the troops were to encounter.
Lt-Col. Harris stated that it was evident the arrival of the troops in
the concentration area had been too premature for the local
administration - if any such organisation existed at that stage - and
that conditions would not be very comfortable for the first three or
four weeks. He had been pressing for the establishment of
canteens and other amenities as soon as possible, and realising that
the rations en route had been very poor, he also was urging the
purchase of oxen in order that the men would at least get a meat ration
before work commenced.
The Force Commander continued throughout the ensuing six months to
press for better rations and canteen facilities but, as will be shown
later, his efforts met with very little success.
That the arrival of the Force was premature was amply proved by the
lack of preparation.
No meal was provided until the cooks drawn from the ranks of tired men
had prepared the usual watery onion stew and rice. No cover
was available, and men were compelled to lie out in the open in a
scorching tropical sun until nearly 1100 hours.
After some delay an issue of drinking water was made, but water-bottles
were not filled again until nightfall.
Shortly after arrival the battalion (from now on this party will be
referred to as Pond's Battalion) was informed that cholera had broken
out in the camps in that area, and that swimming in the river and
drinking of unboiled water were forbidden.
It was not until the battalion moved from its exposed bivouac to the
camp area proper that it realised how serious the situation really was
Only a few huts were unroofed, and these were occupied by Ramil and
Burmese coolies. The battalion was first allocated an area
covered with vomitus and excreta, and after partially clearing this
area was ordered to a fresh site which comprised a few unroofed huts.
Everywhere there was evidence of the effects of an epidemic, natives
were lying about in various stages of death, and it was learned that
already there had been many casualties.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
Prior to moving from the bivouac area, the battalion had been addressed
by Col. Asami, the Chief Engineer of the area, who said that the
Australians had a reputation for being good soldiers and workers in
Singapore and he hoped that they would continue to act as such under
In conclusion, he made special reference to the necessity for good
hygiene and of every man looking after his health. He then
introduced Lieut Murayama as the future camp commander.
The I.J.A. administration of the battalion was in charge of a Japanese
sergeant who, it was thought, took his orders direct from Lt.-Col.
Banno, Commander Prisoners of War, Thailand. After some
delay, drinking water was issued, but in such small quantities that the
men remained thirsty until nightfall, by which time the battalion
commander had been able to make his own arrangements.
On the morning of 11th May, Lieut. Murayama ordered that a detachment
of 100 men move to the next camp, about 4 ½ miles further
north where they would work on road reconstruction.
Orders also were given to the effect that all fit men were to commence
work on the road in the vicinity of Koncoita on the following morning.
It was pointed out to the Japanese sergeant in charge of administration
that all the men were in need of rest, and that as many as possible
should be employed in the camp establishing proper sanitary conditions
by digging latrines and cesspits and clearing the area of
excreta. There was need, too, to construct a reasonable
cookhouse and water sterilising points, but protests were of no
avail. The Japanese N.C.O. reiterated the order that all but
the sick must go out to work, as would all officers.
Lt. Cols. Kappe and Pond were to go out on successive days.
There seemed to be no fixed policy as to the inclusion of officers in
working parties. Throughout, Murayama demanded that all
officers, excepting one administrative officer, would accompany working
parties, while in some camps the Engineers permitted one officer for
each 100 men, and yet in another they stated on more than one occasion
that no officers were wanted.
It is not to be thought that the lives of the officers were to be soft
and comfortable. In all A.I.F. camps they were utilized in
sanitary squads, on wood cutting and carrying parties, on ration
parties, and on essential duties within camp hospitals.
During the next five days Pond's battalion was engaged on road building
and bridge construction. It was during this period that the
succeeding train parties began to pass through to the north after
stopping at Koncoita for one night's rest.
Most of the parties had to contend with heavy rain, in addition to the
other trials of the march, and were in very poor condition,
particularly the British troops.
The accommodation became overtaxed to the extent that the on-going
troops were quartered within 100 yards of the huts occupied by the
coolies, who were lying about exhausted by dysentery or some such
disease. Efforts were made to improve the sanitary
conditions, but with the shortage of tools and labour it was impossible
to deal with the fly menace effectively, especially when the main
breeding places were outside our control. Because of the
failure of the I.J.A. to force the natives to clean their area of
excreta and filth generally the Force as a whole was to suffer
unbelievably in the next few weeks.
That the position was precarious was evident to Lt.-Col. Kappe and
Major Stevens, the Senior Medical Officer, A.I.F. The former,
therefore, asked, through the administrative sergeant, for an interview
with Lieut. Murayama, so that the position could be placed before
him. No answer was received to this application or to the
many other requests of a similar nature made later.
Failing to obtain any satisfaction from the Engineer Officer, the two
A.I.F. officers called on the local I.J.A. Medical Officer (Lieut.
Onoguchi) and made requests based on medical grounds for more tents to
protect the men from the weather and for the isolation of dysentery
patients, for medical stores and additional food for the working men,
and for a supply of rice polishings to combat beri beri, which had
begun to make itself manifest.
Lieut. Onoguchi stated that he had no supplies, but would do what he
could to obtain extra tents. The information that the local
authorities had made no provision for medical supplies came as a great
shock. Apparently the prisoners were to be permitted to die
in a similar manner to the natives in this camp.
The general situation was reported to Lt.-Col. Dillon and Major Wild of
Force Headquarters, when they arrived. They promised to
ventilate the whole position to Col. Banno when they reached
Headquarters Camp at Lower Nieke.
On 14th May a request, written this time, was made to Murayama for
consideration of the matter of accommodation, food, including rice
polishings, boots, medical supplies, rest days for the workers, and
canteen supplies. This request met with the same fate as the
Both the Force Commander and the Commander A.I.F. troops continued to
press these matters right up to the time the railways tasks were
completed in October. It was only in that month that five
bags of rice polishings were issued.
The food remained bad, canteens were never established, medical
supplies were received in meagre quantities only, and except for minor
issues of boots and clothing, the bulk of the Force remained bootless
and, in some cases, almost naked.
On 15th May, it was announced that Cholera had broken out amongst the
coolies and, that next day, the battalion would have to move and join
the detachment at Lower Taimonta.
On the 16th May the battalion went out to work as usual, but instead of
returning to Koncoita pushed on to the new camp, which was newly
constructed, although it had previously been occupied. As at
Koncoita, the huts were unroofed and still insufficient tentage was
available to cover more than two-thirds of the battalion.
It was thought that the initial distribution of troops as decided upon
by the I.J.A. was to be spread over four camps, comprising:-
Battalion of 700 A.I.F., located at Upper Koncoita, and subsequently
Northwards on road improvement;
. A main
British camp of 2000;
. A main
A.I.F. camp of 2500; and
. A mixed
Headquarters and Hospital Camp of 1300.
This arrangement was varied to meet the situation which the Force was
competed to face.
THE CHOLERA OUTBREAK
It was on 15th May that the I.J.A. medical authorities diagnosed as
cholera the disease which was causing a high mortality amongst the
coolies at Koncoita. Because of this, Pond's battalion was
hurriedly moved forward to Upper Koncoita.
On the night 14th/15th May, 1,000 A.I.F. from Trains 3 and 4, under
Major Tracey, marched out from Lower Nieke to their permanent camp at
Lower Songkurai, a distance of 7 ½ miles. This
party was to be joined by a further 800 A.I.F. in two days' time.
It was whilst the latter group was being organised that one of the sick
men was diagnosed by Capt. Taylor, A.A.M.C., as a cholera case.
The Force Commander reported the fact at once to Col. Banno, and
recommended to him that all movement of the Force be stopped in order
that those troops which had not yet come into the cholera zone, i.e.
Koncoita-Lower Nieke should be saved from infection.
The request was refused, and the party referred to above, moved out
from Lower Nieke on the night 16th/17th May. Prior to doing
so, volunteers were forthcoming to staff the improvised isolation
hospital, which had been established in a portion of an unroofed hut.
By the evening of 16th May three more cholera cases had been diagnosed,
and it was certain that many other members of the Force had become
Due to the Japanese refusal to permit of any reallotment of key
personnel and the transfer of officers from one train group to another,
only one medical officer was available at Lower Nieke. An
urgent message was sent to the Senior Medical Officer, A.I.F., who
decided to go forward himself and take with him Major Hunt from
Koncoita, and Capt. Hendry, from Upper Koncoita.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
Due to the bogging of the ambulance in which they were travelling, the
two senior officers had to march most of the journey through the mud,
and arrived at Lower Nieke at about midnight on 16th May.
There they were greeted with a rumour that cholera had broken out at
Lower Songkurai and that the only medical officer there (Capt. B.L.
Cahill) was seriously ill.
It was decided that Major Hunt and Capt. Taylor should move on to Lower
Songkurai that night. The medical officers, accompanied by 7
A.A.M.C. personnel and 8 British volunteers, all of whom had been
doubly inoculated against cholera, arrived at 0230 hours on 18th
May. Cholera had actually broken out, two cases having been
diagnosed, but Capt. Cahill, although exhausted, fortunately otherwise
To appreciate the difficulties which medical officers and senior
combatant officers had to face during the ensuing who months the
following factors must be borne in mind:-
1. Officers and Men were almost exhausted
after an arduous train journey, a brutal march
for men who had undergone fourteen
months' imprisonment on poor rations and the
lack of any sustaining food provided at
any of the deplorably filthy staging camps.
2. Many men had become desperately ill on
the march with severe attacks of diarrhoea
and dysentery. Men not so
affected themselves had lowered their resistance to disease
by the physical efforts they made in
assisting their sick comrades along and carrying
3. As soon as parties arrived in their
final camps they were immediately set to work on
road and railway construction.
4. The unfinished condition of the camps
on arrival, and the inhuman attitude of the I.J.A.
LOWER SONGKURAI CAMP - NO. 1
To call this place a camp at the time of arrival of our troops is a
misnomer. Accommodation consisted of two lines of bamboo huts
running parallel to the road at the foot of a steep hill, covered with
bamboo and the debris from the construction of the huts obviously
several months previous.
Except for 8 tents to cover the officers' quarters, no protection
overhead had been provided. The exposure of the unroofed huts
to tropical weather had put them in such a condition that in most cases
they were almost in need of demolition and reconstruction.
Latrines had been dug on the hillside above the huts, and consisted of
only two banks of wide, shallow trenches, obviously a menace to
health. Kitchen accommodation did not exist, and the water
supply was so meagre that ablution was impossible.
No hospital accommodation had been provided for. The huts
comprised either 18 or 20 bays, each measuring 10 feet x 12 feet in
which 10 men had to sleep.
It was obvious that it would be impossible to accommodate the 2500
A.I.F. destined for this camp, and representation to this effect were
made to the I.J.A. Supervising Officer who, apparently, send on only
the balance required to make 2000 and reallotted the remaining 400
A.I.F. in the forward area to No. 3 Camp, about 6 miles further north.
This was almost the sole occasion when this particular Supervising
Officer took heed of any of our requests or recommendations.
The first group of 1000 had arrived on the morning of 15th May, and on
16th May all fit men were sent to work.
The following day the second group, under Major Johnston, marched
in. After a survey of the camp, Major Johnston pressed for
the immediate supply of attap for roofing the huts in view of the
approaching monsoonal season, and stressed the necessity of keeping
sufficient men in camp to construct new latrines, kitchens, water
sterilising points etc., and for the reinforcing of the huts.
The floors of two already had collapsed under the weight of sleeping
men, and same showed signs of complete collapse within a week or two.
It was requested that, as a matter of immediate necessity, every effort
should be made to bring forward more medical officers and sufficient
serum to complete the inoculation of all troops against cholera, many
having been only partly inoculated before leaving Changi.
Lieut. Fukuda displayed some energy in endeavouring to meet these
requests, as he was to do when another cholera epidemic broke out in
one of his camps, but it was apparent that his greatest incentive was
the fear of contracting the disease himself.
He linked the arrival of Major Johnston's party with the outbreak of
cholera, and, despite protests, persisted for several days with the
view that only this party was affected.
This officer was to display the same lack of commonsense during a
second outbreak of cholera, which will be dealt with later.
Early on the morning of the 18th May, Major Hunt, who, with Capt.
Cahill, had arrived during the night, inoculated 1400 men with
½ c.c. of vaccine from limited stock he had been able to
pick up at Koncoita and Lower Neike. This vaccine had been
brought forward from Changi.
Steps were taken to establish an isolation centre and hospital for
general cases. The isolation centre which, at one particular
period was to house 128 patients, consisted of tents and marquees
erected on bamboo stagings.
The construction of this centre was carried on in incessant rain, and
it was only as a result of superhuman effort that the accommodation was
From the beginning, camp workers were hampered by a grave shortage of
tools, which were held by the Engineer Unit in charge of railway
construction, and issued for use only in limited quantities.
The Engineers right throughout were not in the slightest degree
sympathetic to any requests made in connection with camp sanitation and
improvement, and in many instances they deliberately obstructed the
On the 18th May, Col. Banno arrived in the camp, and immediately called
a conference, at which Lieut. Fukuda and Majors Hunt and Johnston were
present. In the course of the discussion, Banno intimated
that the responsibility for checking the spread of cholera and for the
health of the men would have to rest with the Camp Commander and the
Senior Medical Officer.
With attempting to avoid the responsibility for the welfare of the men,
it was claimed that this was most unfair, in view of the condition of
the camp on arrival of the force. At the same time, the Camp
Commander maintained that the well-being and health of the men had
always been his first care.
Majors Hunt and Johnston raised again the question of the supply of
more serum, attap for roofing of huts, boots, medical stores and
cooking facilities. Col. Banno promised a few more tents, but
was completely non-committal on the other things.
That evening the Senior Medical Officer addressed the men on the
precautions that would have to be taken to prevent the spread of
cholera and other diseases. Many of the men hardly listened -
they seemed numbed mentally by the strain of the long march and by the
dread of cholera.
It was a few days before they recovered sufficiently to exert
themselves to meet all the demands made upon them.
There is no doubt that the forceful leadership displayed by Majors
Johnston and Hunt were the cause of the Lower Songkurai Camp eventually
becoming the most hygienic and possessing the highest morale of any "F"
Force Camp. The employment of all spare fit officers on works
and hygiene was a big factor in maintaining a standard of morale that
was to become an important factor in the fight for life in which nearly
every member of the A.I.F. was to become involved during the next few
Within the next few days, 70 tents and loads of attap were delivered
into the camp, and shelter from the rain and heat of the day became
possible. After having spent several miserable nights in the
open, the troops found the cover most welcome.
By the evening of the 19th May, the inoculation of all ranks had been
completed. It was pointed out repeatedly, however, that the
inoculations were insufficient to give complete immunisation.
When the epidemic flared up eight days later, many lives were lost
through the failure of the I.J.A. to produce adequate supplies of serum
for a second inoculation.
The urgent need for a second inoculation was constantly urged --- as
was also the need for supplies of disinfectants, lime, blankets and
mosquito nets, all of which had been promised before the Force left
During these strenuous and worrying days the Camp Commander and his
staff were continually being harassed by the instructions received from
Lieut. Fukuda - instructions that can only be described as "panicky" in
nature. In addition, they were generally futile.
As was customary with this section of the I.J.A. Administration, every
individual member of the Korean Guard believed himself empowered to
give instructions, which he invariably expected to be obeyed instantly.
Men were detailed for some minor duty, notwithstanding that they were
already carrying out a previous Japanese order, or engaged on some
vital camp work. The completion of essential works was
hampered by these extra orders, and bad feeling was engendered.
It was never possible for any Commander under Lieut Fukunda's
supervision to receive orders from a central source; he would never
permit discussion, and he refused to listen to complaints of any sort
made against the attitude of his men.
An example of the stupidity of this officer's decisions was his way of
segregating the two main parties in the camp.
The segregation was effected by the erection of a dividing fence, but
latrine accommodation still had to be shared, despite the fact that
both parties had had cholera cases.
To make matters worse, the creek in the camp was placed out of bounds
for ablution purposes, increasing the difficulty of maintaining a
reasonable standard of cleanliness and hygiene, a standard that was
particularly necessary because of the muddy condition of the camp
caused by the incessant rain.
On 20th May a part of 163 men marched in, bringing the camp strength up
At this stage 600 men were being provided for work on the roads, but
next day the demand jumped to 1300. There were 88 men in
hospital, and of the men in the lines, 327 were unfit for any duty, and
70 were fit only for light duty.
After 260 officers and men had been set aside for camp duties,
including medical staff, only 1218 of the required 1300 could be sent
out to work.
This caused the first of many stormy sessions between the Camp
Commander and the Supervising Officer. At first the latter
threatened to send out men regardless of their physical condition, but
the strong protests made on behalf of the men reduced the demand to
Rain was falling continuously, yet men were called upon to work 12 and
13 hours a day in an attempt to improve a road that had become
practically impassable. The strain of this, together with the
lack of cover at night and the loss of sleep occasioned by late meal
hours, plus the necessity of cleaning off mud and drying clothes in
front of hut fires, quickly impaired the health of the men, and some of
them began to collapse at their work.
Up to the 24th May the cholera outbreak seemed to be reasonably under
control. Only 20 cases, of which five were fatal, had be
diagnosed. On the 24th, however, the secondary wave of
infection, i.e. the infection contracted since arrival at the camp,
began to manifest itself.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
The dreaded cholera was a nightmare to the officers of the camp, and
the medical officers were powerless to check it's oncoming.
The ground between the camp latrines and the nearest huts was
frequently contaminated with faeces and vomitus of men unable to reach
the latrines in time.
The incessant rain swept infected material under the huts and along the
drains which passed through them.
Contact with boots, with patients direct, flies, and the lack of covers
for food, all played a part in spreading the infection despite
desperate efforts to localise it.
Deaths on succeeding days in the second cholera wave were 4, 4, 10, 11,
10, 4, 8. Total 51.
The crisis produced an hysterical reaction on the part of the I.J.A.
Camp Staff and once again the responsibility for arresting the epidemic
and for checking the general increase of dysentery and malaria was
placed upon the Senior Medical Officer. It took these crises
to obtain supplies of serum which had been asked for on so many
The lack of tools, and the men to use them, and the exhaustion of the
men on return from outside work had retarded all latrine and drainage
construction, and the failure to complete the works programme had
prevented the Camp Commander from achieving the standard of hygiene
necessary to limit the spread of cholera and dysentery.
After many protests, Lieut. Fukuda at last acquiesced in permitting 300
fit men to remain in camp for 3 days on necessary works, but conditions
had by then become appalling, and only firm control and the highest
discipline could stem the tide.
It was at this stage that Major Bruce Hunt made an impassioned and
dramatic appeal to the men, which finally dispelled the lethargy that
had been so apparent, and imbued the men with a new spirit of
determination to fight the crises out. It was one of many
such addresses that Major Hunt gave at this and other camps, all of
which had an enormous effect on the morale of the Force.
The Senior Medical Officer, A.I.F. (Major Stevens) had taken seriously
ill at Lower Nieke Camp, and therefore was unable to take over medical
An extract from Major Johnston's report is quoted here to indicate the
manner in which the troops responded to the inspiring leadership and
example of the Senior Medical Officer (Major Hunt) in the camp:-
"It can proudly be said that this most terrible crisis in the
experience of the 8th Division found the high morals of the men of the
A.I.F. a dominant factor. Such crises produce the best and
the worst in men, but it is always the best that will be remembered
when the cholera epidemic at Lower Songkurai is called to mind.
The spirit and self-sacrifice displayed even in the performance of the
most menial tasks was beyond praise, but praise alone cannot replace
the loss of several lives among the volunteer medical and cholera staff
during this period."
On 29th May, the third day of the period Lieut. Fukuda had promised
would be allowed for the completion of hygiene and other camp works,
the assurance was broken, and a demand made for 750 workmen, on the
orders of the Engineers.
All protests were unavailing. With the cholera crisis at its
height, it was decided to frame a strong protest for submission to Col.
The medical situation was grave, cholera was raging, and dysentery and
malaria were on the increase, and it was estimated that within a month
only 250 men out of 2000 would be fit for work.
800 men had become invalids and the number was steadily
increasing. Demands were made that work on the railway should
cease indefinitely. Demands were made also for medical
supplies, blankets for the sick, invalid foods, improvements in
rations, suppressive atebrin, more water containers, waterproof tents
and oil to deal with mosquito breeding areas.
A memorandum sent to Col. Banno concluded with the following:-
"As soon as the health of the camp has been improved, which may not be
for several months, the evacuation of the area by the troops and their
subsequent treatment in a manner more befitting the honourable Japanese
nation whose reputation must suffer gravely if the present conditions
continue, is demanded."
The memorandum was translated and forwarded to I.J.A. Headquarters and
to the Force Commander, who endorsed its contents. The
context of the demands were also forwarded by that officer to Lt.-Col.
Kappe, who, despite many requests, was not permitted to leave Pond's
Battalion and go forward to the main portion of the Force. He
was himself in the process of framing a protest on very similar lines
against the conditions at Upper Koncoita, and took the opportunity to
endorse Major Hunt's representations and to protest not only as A.I.F.
Commander, but as the senior representative of the Commonwealth
Government in Thailand.
Lt.-Col. Harris stated later that both protests had a most telling
effect on Col. Banno, who exclaimed upon reading them: "My
God! My God! What can I do?"
The immediate result was the departure of Col. Banno for Burma, and on
his return on 4th June he issued orders that all work was to cease
indefinitely. The rest period lasted only four days.
In the meantime, however, the Camp Commander was to be engaged in more
stormy interviews with the Supervising Officer, who harboured
suspicions that the figures of the sick were being deliberately faked,
but was unwilling to make a direct charge to this effect to Major
After one such scene, Lieut. Fukuda approved the segregation of the
sick in the camp into one area and the establishment of a central camp
hospital for all men classified as "No Duty".
The effect of this was to provide a loophole for the abolishment of
"Light Duty" men, thereby safeguarding "light sick men" from being sent
to work, but this was done only at the expense of throwing additional
work on the already overtaxed medical staff.
157 men were admitted to hospital on this basis, bringing the total,
including staff, to 1000.
It was apparent that a "war" was being waged between the administrative
troops and the Engineers. On 1st June, 300 men were demanded
by the latter, but after an emphatic protest had been made by the
Senior Medical Officer the order was cancelled.
The Engineers retaliated by refusing to supply tools for camp works on
that day and by increasing their demand for 700 men on the following
day, although only 400 men were available. This constant
fight between our officers and the administration continued without
cessation until the completion of the railway.
By 4th June, the Senior Medical Officer reported that the fight against
cholera had been won, but that malaria was beginning to make itself
felt, 40 to 50 new cases being admitted to hospital.
The condition of the men can be gauged from the following figures:-
||Sick in Lines
Deaths to the end of May had totalled 56 (1 British) - mainly from
Diseases during May were in the following ratios:-
Tropical Ulcers and Skin
Beri Beri 1%;
During the next fortnight the position was to deteriorate still
further, the sick figures reaching 1300.
The number of men available for I.J.A. work was further reduced by the
necessity to supply daily 50 of the fittest men and officers to carry
rations from neighbouring camps. A truck had been put in
order to obviate the need of employing men for this purpose, but no
sooner had the necessary repairs been affected than the truck was
Rations were then drawn from No. 2 Camp and occasionally from others,
and were normally carried in man-packs of loads of 60lb.
On one occasion Lieut. Fukuda ordered that the rations be transported
in ox-carts drawn by the men. With the road in a deplorable
condition, these heavy and awkward carts had to be drawn over a
distance of 26 kilometres to and from No. 5 Camp. It is no
wonder that when the party returned two hours after midnight it was
Reversion to man-pack was made after this experiment.
The difficulty in obtaining a steady supply of rations and consequent
reduction in resistance to disease, and the arduousness of the tasks
which the Engineers were calling upon the men to perform was to cause a
further deterioration in health.
The rice ration for fit men was reduced to 500 grams (21 oz.) and that
for the sick men to 200 grams (8 ½ oz.). The
remainder of the day's ration comprised flour 0.08oz; salt 0.66oz;
beans 0.4oz; onions 0.75oz; and meat 2.4oz. Accurate records
were kept of the daily issues, and are available for analysis.
At the same time, relations with Lieut. Fukuda became worse.
On 11th June, in a stormy session, he accused the S.M.O. and Capt.
Howells, who was then in charge of the fit men, of their failure to
co-operate. They had, he said, refused to obey his orders,
and he insinuated that men were feigning disease.
The S.M.O. called upon Fukuda to produce an I.J.A. medical officer to
examine the men independently, but this request was ignored.
Six days later Fukuda discovered that between 30 and 40 officers had
been excluded from the figure of 220 laid down as the maximum number
permitted to remain on camp and hospital duties.
This produced another angry outburst and an order to the effect that
only men on I.J.A. work would be issued with meals in the ensuing 24
hours. This order was obeyed so far as the fit officers were
concerned but the sick were fed surreptitiously.
On the meagre scale of rations it was impossible for the sick to regain
their strength. A man, after being discharged from hospital,
was obliged to go to work on the next day on an inadequate ration, with
the result that many collapsed on the road and had to be re-admitted to
The cruelty of the Engineers aggravated this high re-admission rate.
Many efforts were made to obtain a greater measure of control of the
working parties by our own officers, who had been deliberately ignored
by the Engineers. After negotiation, the Engineers agreed
that a two-day trial should be given to this proposal on the
construction of a section of the road with heavy corduroy.
When stated that the work was first class, it seemed that it was found
necessary to "save face", and orders were issued that no officers at
all would in future be required to accompany working parties.
This order was never completely obeyed, and two or three officers were
sent out daily to watch the interests of the men and to give correct
reports of working conditions and incidents.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
From 21st June working conditions had become worse and can only be
described as barbarous. Men were being driven like cattle and
were not returning to camp until as late as 2330 hours.
The earliest that any party came in during the period 21 - 30th June
was 2015 hours and the average time of return was 2130 hours.
The cholera epidemic can be said to have terminated on 21st June, when
all but one patient were considered as convalescent. A total
of 210 had fallen victim to the scourge, of whom 101 (47%) had
died. Deaths from other diseases had up to this date numbered
only 9, a fine tribute to the work of Major Hunt, his medical officers,
and nursing staff. The admission of all men to hospital who
were not fit for heavy work had been an astute move, and the death rate
in later months no doubt was diminished by this action.
Attempts to gain direct approach to the O.C. Engineers were made, but
Fukuda prevented any such action. As a result the only hope
of amelioration of the situation rested on Lieut-Col. Harris'
representations direct to Col. Banno.
At this stage working parties were compelled to walk 6 ½
kilometres to work, involving the carrying of logs 14ft. long and from
6in. to 8in. in diameter, over muddy and waterlogged ground to corduroy
the surface of the road. At first, 5 men were allotted to
each carry, but this was soon reduced to 3. Men weakened by
recent illness or suffering from malaria and sore feet were collapsing
under the heavy loads, but were compelled by the Engineers to carry on,
at times being struck with tools and sticks.
Men were soaked through with rain, tired, footsore, and
dispirited. After their meal they were often too weary to
stand around the fires to dry their wet clothing, which by now was
rapidly falling to pieces.
Boots which had been in poor state even before leaving Changi were
becoming unserviceable, and a great number of men were forced to go to
work bootless, resulting in numerous cases of trench feet, ulcers and
other skin complaints.
Complaints were made to Lieut. Fukuda citing specific instances of
maltreatment by the Engineers and against the exceptionally long hours
of extremely heavy work. He vaguely promised to approach the
O.C. Engineers on this subject, but it is extremely doubtful if he ever
did so. He was obviously afraid of the status of the
Engineers, and it became apparent that effective action on his part
could not be expected.
On 30th June a memorandum of protest was forwarded to Lt.-Col. Harris
for submission to Col. Banno. A copy of this memorandum is
contained in Appendix 111.
For some time a rumour had been circulating amongst the guards to the
effect that all fit men were to be moved to another working
camp. Fearful that the sick, who now numbered 1307 out of a
strength of 1890, might be left without sufficient fit men to carry
rations or to perform essential camp services, a recommendation was
made by Major Hunt that all the sick be moved to a hospital at or near
a railhead in Burma at the earliest possible moment.
That this proposal bore fruit is evidenced later by the decision of the
I.J.A. to establish a hospital at Tanbaya, 77 kilometres north-west of
Lower Songkurai, and to place Major Hunt in charge.
Unfortunately, its establishment was delayed, and the benefits which
accrued from it were very greatly minimised. Details in
connection with this hospital will be given later.
The whole medical position during June can be gauged from the following
table : -
I.J.A. Work Engineers
Camp Duties, including ration carrying party
||Average for June
|Ulcers and Skin
|Deaths since formation of
The missing are the personnel who made their escape in two parties, the
first on 31st May and the second on 3rd June, largely it is thought,
because of the fear of death from cholera.
It had been laid down by the A.I.F. Commander that no escapes were to
be attempted without permission being granted after plans had been
carefully investigated. Nothing was heard of the escapees
subsequently except that a general intimation was received from Lieut.
Fukuda that the men had been caught and shot. The escape of
other ranks did not seem to concern the administration to any degree.
UPPER SONGKURAI CAMP - NO. 3
This camp was occupied by a party of 393 A.I.F. personnel, under Capt.
G. L. Allan, A.A.S.C., on the evening of 25th May. It
continued as a working camp from that date until the suspension of work
As in the case of Lower Songkurai Camp, the accommodation comprised two
long rows of huts placed close together at the foot of three steep
hills, which formed a rough semi-circle enclosing the camp in
rear. The area between the huts and the river, which flowed
parallel to and about 200 yards from the road at the foot of the other
range of hills forming the valley, was low-lying and swampy.
During the wet season this swamp became a filthy quagmire of green mud,
no attempt having been made to drain the area.
The water supply comprised a well, two springs in the hills, which
later ceased to flow, and a small creek, which became a veritable
trickle of water an inch or so deep in the dry weather. In
wet weather the well became fouled by refuse etc., washed down by the
rain waters, and by the soakage of contaminated water. The
river was too far away for its waters to be drawn for cooking purposes,
and as a place of ablution it was placed out of bounds by the I.J.A.
Only a portion of the camp had had the huts roofed with attap, and the
men in this case were fortunate to have one of such huts allotted to
them. This hut, however, had been previously occupied by
Burmese coolies, amongst whom cholera had broken out.
Some of the sick were still lying about the hut when our men marched
in. Even when the natives were placed in adjoining huts the
distance separating them from our troops was not more than 10
yards. Some of the dying attempted to crawl to the shelter of
the hut which the men had occupied.
Food scraps and refuse were lying everywhere, and flies were breeding
By order of the I.J.A. Engineers the camp water supply had to be drawn
from a creek near a compound in which coolies dying of cholera had been
After only one day's respite, which was spent in organisation and
resting, the whole party, with the exception of the C.O., a medical
sergeant, 11 cooks and 35 sick were sent to work on the road and
The camp was in charge of a soldier of the Korean Guards who was far
too junior to influence the Engineers, who were commanded by an officer
approachable only through a Burmese interpreter.
Later a corporal of the I.J.A. was placed in charge, and in July he was
replaced by an officer. Each of these Japanese was generally
friendly, and did not press unduly.
At the end of the first week the sick figures had risen to 160 and
cholera had broken out.
Attempts to obtain a covered hut for an isolation hospital had failed,
and it was not until after the arrival of Major Hunt on 5th June that
approval was forthcoming for the use of a small hut for this purpose on
the opposite side of the road from the camp.
Immediately upon his arrival on a visit from Lower Songkurai Camp,
Major Hunt inoculated all ranks with their second serum injection, and
addressed the men, whose morale at this stage was quite low.
His talk had an immediate effect, and spirits began to
By 8th June, when Capt. R. Swartz, 2/26 Bn., arrived from Lower
Songkurai to take over command of the camp vice Capt. Allan (sick) the
sick figure had soared to 216, and 7 deaths had occurred.
After deducting the numbers required for hospital and camp maintenance,
and men on light duties only, no more than 80 men were available to the
Engineers for work. Despite the fact that this camp was not
harassed to the extent of Lower Songkurai Camp, the average daily
figure of men fit for work during June and July did not exceed 92.
When Capt. Swartz took over, the situation can only be described as
very bad. Of the 11 cholera cases diagnosed to that date, 7
had died, and the hygiene of the camp and the proximity of numbers of
coolies dying from the disease were factors which may have resulted in
the outbreak reaching uncontrollable proportions.
The new C.O. reorganised the group, and established a hospital in one
end of the huts, complete isolation for malaria and dysentery cases
being impossible on account of the lack of cover. Permanent
hygiene arrangements were instituted, and the kitchen and messing
reorganised, and a definite boundary established between our lines and
Even though water containers were few in number, water points were
established, where all food containers were sterilised and boiled water
supplied to the men for drinking purposes.
The high incidence of sickness had made the men more hygiene-conscious,
and it can be said that in all A.I.F. camps the sterilisation of
messing utensils and the drinking only of water which had been
previously boiled were so strictly observed that disease from infection
from these sources was considered reduced, with a resultant lower death
rate than in British camps.
Medical stores and drugs available were practically nil, and consisted
only of the supplies which the troops had carried from Banpong, and
which had been considerably depleted by the expenditure necessary en
route. After repeated requests, a small quantity of supplies
was obtained from the I.J.A. at about the end of July.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
The main types of illnesses in the P.O.W. Camps, other than cholera,
were dysentery and diarrhoea, malaria, skin complaints, and
debility. Diarrhoea was fairly general and dysentery slowly
increased during the period.
Over 100 men were suffering from malaria, but after the introduction of
suppressive quinine these figures subsided considerably. Skin
complaints increased due principally to the lack of boots and continual
work in muddy conditions; as in the case of the camps further south,
rain had fallen almost continuously since the last days of May.
Working conditions in this camp were fairer than elsewhere; work
commenced at 0845 hours, and the men returned to camp at approximately
1930 hours. No rest days were granted.
The treatment, too, from the Engineers, was generally reasonable in
An incident occurred on 9th June when five men were struck with a
bayonet and injured, two seriously. After a protest had been
made to the Administrative Troops, and the matter had been discussed
with the Engineer Officer, the N.C.O. concerned was punished.
Except for the general conditions to which the men were subjected, no
other charges of brutality can be reported.
The average daily ration during the period was 18oz. rice, 2oz. beans,
1oz. towgay and a small but irregular quantity of vegetables and about
1 ½ oz. fresh meat. No reduction was made in the
case of sick men, with the result that debilitation was not so evident
here as at Lower Songkurai.
No canteen supplies could be obtained to supplement the rations, and
the provision of any special food for the sick, therefore, was
impossible. To offset the shortage of vegetables, edible lily
roots, bamboo shoots, and a type of wild spinach, were
collected. The collection of "greens" was made a daily duty
in all A.I.F. Camps.
The shortage of cooking utensils was always a difficulty.
Apart from supplying six rice boilers and a few buckets, the I.J.A.
failed to supplement the three 6-gallon and three 3-gallon containers
carried to the camp from Banpong by the troops.
After persistent requests, 175 blankets and 23 large mosquito nets,
capable of covering about half the men, were supplied.
By the end of June this camp was the best in the group; relations with
the I.J.A. were reasonable, working conditions and rations fair, and
the men generally contented, whilst the health situation was well under
control by the medical officer, Capt. C. P. Juttner. It
should be mentioned here that this camp was without the services of a
medical officer for about one week after the troops arrived, despite an
assurance given by the I,.J.A. interpreter to Major Hunt as the party
passed through the Lower Songkurai Camp that they were bound for an
occupied camp at which a medical officer was available.
In response to an urgent request made to Force Headquarters, an English
medical officer was sent down from No. 5 Camp, further north, and upon
his becoming ill, Cpt. Juttner was sent up from Lower Songkurai.
For the state of affairs at this camp the greatest credit must be given
to the C.O. Capt. Swartz, whose services were of the highest order.
A detailed analysis of the medical situation at this camp is given
I.J.A. Work - Engineers
|Camp and Hospital
* Included 10 officers engaged on camp work
Deaths during May and June were 18, of whom 15 were from cholera.
Detailed figures up to 11th June are not available.
. . . To be
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
LOWER NIEKE AND NIEKE CAMPS
It will be recalled that after Koncoita, the next staging camps were at
Lower Nieke, where the parties to comprise the main British and
Australian camps were organised, and where Lt.-Cols. Banno and Harris
established their respective headquarters.
Lower Nieke was not used at any time as a working camp, the men there
being either those struck down with cholera, or too ill to march
farther without medical treatment.
As their health improved these men were moved on to the new
headquarters and hospital camp at Nieke, 2 ½ miles to the
The Force Commander and Col. Banno transferred their headquarters on
11th June, but it was some weeks before Lower Nieke Camp was finally
A.I.F. deaths here numbered 11, six of which were from cholera, whilst
there were 60 deaths amongst the British troops, who were in the
Nieke Camp varied considerably from beginning to end in its
composition, numbers, types of work, control and domestic conditions.
Furthermore, the personnel there were frequently changing.
The maximum number in the camp at any one time was 1075, of whom
approximately 450 were A.I.F. and the remainder British. Of
these, a number of A.I.F left for Songkurai Camp at the beginning of
August, and others later were sent to the hospital in Burma.
Even from the commencement, conditions can only be described as
crowded, and after three months, when the Dutch entered the area,
matters became worse.
The site of the camp was a concentration point of the railway system
branch lines, and camouflaged shunting being prepared in great numbers.
Situated in a depression, the site was a bad one from the hygienic
point of view, and heavy rains made the area a quagmire; but viewed as
a whole the camp cannot be said to be one that suffered badly from
sickness. This may have been due to the constant changes of
personnel, although dysentery, malaria, beri beri and severe diarrhoea
all took their toll.
Cholera also broke out, but its incidence was not high.
Rations, by comparison with other camps, were good, perhaps due to the
fact that being a railway centre supplies were plentiful.
Sufficient rice, beans, towgay, onion, potatoes and meat and fish in
sufficient quantities to flavour, were almost constant
issues. Canteen supplies also were plentiful.
Only 150 of the 1000 odd men were being sent to work daily.
Types of work varied as the months progressed, the principal form being
corduroying of the road and clearing jungle for the railway.
Hours were usually daylight to dark, and the striking of men by the
I.J.A. personnel rare and only minor.
The good conditions in this Camp can be said to be due to the fact that
Force Headquarters was established there, and provided direct approach
to Col. Banno, the I.J.A. Commander, plus the untiring leadership of
Lt.-Col. Dillon, the Camp Commander. This Indian Army Officer
was most adept in dealing with Australian and British troops alike
whenever they formed part of mixed camps.
In December, this camp was used as an assembly area for troops moving
back to Kanburi from the north, and the only permanent A.I.F. personnel
there were some 50 or 60 men employed on store-house duties for the
I.J.A., these men having been left under Lieut. Wing (British) as too
ill to move to Burma or Songkuai Camp.
One incident worthy of recording was the death of Lieut. Downes,
R.A.F. This young officer was originally in Lt.-Col. Pond's
party, but was left at Nieke when Lt.-Col Kappe's group moved back from
Takanun on 18th June. Suffering from dysentery and malaria,
he became extremely depressed, and was unfit to undertake the
march. Shortly afterwards, whilst a patient in the Nieke
Hospital, he wandered away from the camp at night while delirious, and
was not seen again.
The I.J.A. reported that his body was seen in the river some miles away
several days later. It would appear that the conditions of
life had so preyed upon his mind that his endurance gave out.
There were several instances of men becoming mentally unbalanced due to
the effects of cerebral malaria, and to the sordid and at times almost
hopeless circumstances. At least two men attempted to commit
suicide, and it is more than surprising that many more did not succumb
to the effects of mental torture.
There is no doubt, however, that many highly-strung individuals are
still suffering from mental and nervous disorders in addition to their
POND'S BATTALION - MAY AND JUNE
The two matters which created the greatest trials of Lt.-Col. Pond's
party were, firstly, the number of times the camp was moved and,
secondly, the control under which the camp was placed, viz., that of
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
In the last chapter it was recorded that the two matters that created
the greatest trials of Lt.-Col. Pond's party were, firstly, the number
of times the camp was moved and, secondly, the control of the camp by
As to the first matter, some twelve different camps were occupied
between May and November. As to the second, this officer was
ruthless, cruel, and dishonest in the issue of rations to the
men. What experience in engineering work he had is not know,
but he was placed in control to direct and supervise 700 prisoners of
war on railway construction.
It is understood that in peace time he was chief physical training
instructor to the Tokyo police, and director of the Anti-Communist
Squad. Thirty-eight years of age, 5ft. 10in. in height, and
of extremely fine physique, he kept himself in perfect condition.
More details of his actions are given elsewhere in this report.
The object of this section is to set out the conditions prevailing in
Pond's Battalion during the months of May and June.
Briefly, the position on 17th May was as follows:-
The monsoon had broken, and rain was practically continuous.
Tentage provided was sufficient only for two-thirds of the party of
700, the balance having to sleep on muddy ground under the huts, or in
shelters made of bamboo, leaves and ground-sheets.
Efforts had been made to isolate the sick who, at this stage, were in
the following categories :-
The ration scale per man per day was Rice 22 ozs., Onions 0.66 ozs.,
Whitebait 0.06 ozs., and Salt 0.16 ozs.
During the next ten days dysentery and diarrhoea went up to 177, but
had returned to 105 by the end of the month. Malaria showed
an alarming rise to 163 and Beri Beri, a slight increase to 25; but the
most disturbing factor was the appearance of the first cholera cases,
and the first deaths from this cause.
All road work ceased immediately this outbreak occurred. The
camp was quarantined, and the Nippon personnel showed distinct signs of
In addition to these troubles the ration position became more serious
than ever - rice dropped to 7.5 ozs. per man per day. This
meant two meals only per day of plain rice, the supply of onions having
Apparently Lieut. Murayama considered that as no work was being
performed the issue of a minimum ration to prevent starvation was
Actually, had some foresight been displayed, and a reasonable ration
provided during this period, more men would be become available by the
time work was resumed.
The future looked hopeless at this stage. Repeated requests
and demands to the I.J.A. only brought a refusal by Murayama to
interview anyone making requests. Lieut. Onuguchi, the I.J.A.
medical officer, showed a certain amount of sympathy, but was powerless
to remedy the position. Perpetual rain had reduced the camp
to a quagmire, and latrines could not be prevented from
flooding. Morale dropped to its lowest ebb.
In the light of the months to follow, the work and hours at this stage
were not heavy, but the dread of that unseen enemy, disease, could not
but have the effect of reducing the morale of debilitated men doing
labourer's work on a diet of rice and onion water.
It is important to appreciate at this juncture the real meaning of an
attack of dysentery or diarrhoea. Latrines at this camp were
situated approximately 75 yards from the huts. Some
were of the shallow open trench type and some of the 9 feet covered
type. At night rain usually was continual. When
nature called, it involved a hurried disentanglement in pitch darkness
from other bodies lying in close proximity in the hut and then a nerve
wracking journey across uneven, slimy, slippery ground for 75 yards,
feeling for the edges of the latrine with one's feet, squatting on
one's haunches for 5 to 10 minutes with rain beating down relentlessly
and then returning, soaked through, to lie down in a damp blanket under
a dripping tent and endeavour to get off to sleep again. When
this process had been repeated perhaps six or seven times in a night
the effect was, to say the least, weakening.
Furthermore, there was the uncertainty as to whether nature would await
one's arrival at the latrine; frequently it would not and fouling of
the ground in the vicinity resulted, added to which one had the fear
always that maggots or excreta adhering to boots would be carried back
into the tent with consequent risk of spreading infection.
The first ten days of June showed no improvement, malaria soared to
250, causing a heavy drain on the number of men available for work and
resulting in a shortage of quinine.
Capt. Mills and his staff of medical orderlies, many of whom were
untrained and drawn from the different units, worked tirelessly in
Lt.-Col. Pond returned from a journey to Lower Nieke, but could hold
out no hope of better conditions, although every form of protest and
entreaty had been made to the higher authorities there.
On 2nd June, Lieut. Lillie and a party of 20 who had been left at
Koncoita were brought into camp after suffering cruel
privations. Left in the scrub, they had been moved into a
small cookhouse, one of their number suffering from cholera.
All the party were suffering from some form of illness, medical
supplies were nil, and rice the only food ration. Assistant
Surgeon Wolfe, Indian Medical Service, was sent by Force Headquarters
to assist this party. This Warrant Officer performed
excellent service in bringing the party out of Koncoita and later in
helping to fight the cholera epidemic in Pond's Battalion and at Nieke.
A typical instance of Japanese maladministration occurred when after a
medical Major had approved of the removal of this party by truck to
Taimonta, the order was countermanded by an N.C.O.
However, instead of being moved, the party was quartered in an infected
area occupied by Tamils, the evacuation of the Koncoita Camp by the
Japanese having involved the leaving of all sick coolies to die.
Another significant piece of maladministration was that although a
Japanese medical officer had ordered four bags of rice to be supplied
to the Taimonta Camp, a Corporal allowed only three bags to be used,
while on the same day rice could be purchased from Tamils in the area
at the price of $1.00 for 3lbs. Without doubt, somebody
responsible was aware of this dishonesty which was taking place in the
On June 6 the camp strength was 694, four deaths from cholera having
occurred. Of this total, 368 were too ill for work even of
the lightest nature. On 8th June the ration position was so
serious that the I.J.A. decided to send 316 all ranks, including fit
and light duty men, to Nieke.
With the object of establishing contact with Col. Banno through Force
Headquarters which still was at Lower Nieke, Lt.-Col. Kappe accompanied
Some ox carts had been provided for the cartage of tents, heavy cooking
gear and engineer tools, but the party had not traversed more than 400
yards before it was found necessary to allot 20 men to assist the oxen.
This number was found to be insufficient, and at times as many as 50
men could be seen floundering in the mud assisting the beasts to get
the carts through.
At the end of the day the oxen had been dispensed with and the convoy
arrived after a 9 hours' struggle at a small camp only 5 kilometres
from its starting point.
The night was wet and there was insufficient cover for
everyone. Next day about 10 kilometres were covered in the
same number of hours, this time the men carrying the tents and camp
The night was spent at Lower Nieke (Headquarters Camp) and the
opportunity was taken by Lt.-Col. Kappe to discuss the general position
with Lt.-Col. Harris for the first time.
The latter was of the opinion that Pond's battalion would be
concentrated with the rest of the Force in the Nieke area and as
conditions there were known to be better than at Taimonta a general
improvement could be anticipated.
In an interview, Lt.-Col. Kappe gained the impression that Col. Banno
was sincere when he frankly deplored the conditions to which the Force
was being subjected, and when he stated that he was doing all in his
power to meet the various requests which the Force Commander had made
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
After three days of marching through knee-deep mud most of the men were
exhausted and in need of rest, yet work parties for the building of
bridges and reconstruction of the road to the south were called out on
Over one hundred men were found to be unfit for work, and only 170
could be provided.
Next day, the 10th, the battalion moved on to the Nieke Camp, but after
accommodation had been fixed and arrangements made for a permanent
stay, it was informed that its new camp in tents was to be established
on the river bank about 1 kilometre south of the main camp, and that it
would not come under the jurisdiction of Force Headquarters.
A large number of Burmese already were encamped at this location.
Sanitation as usual was non-existent; excreta, both human and ox dung,
lay everywhere and flies were breeding in thousands. It was
obvious, too, that many of the natives were suffering from dysentery
and it was possible that some had contracted cholera.
After an area had been allotted, an attempt was made to have the
coolies removed, without success.
On 11th June, the jungle was cleared and the tents, many of them not
waterproof, were erected. Twelve-men tents had perforce to
shelter 30 men and, in some cases, even more.
The promise of better rations was only partly fulfilled, the daily
scale being: Rice 13oz.; whitebait 1.6oz.; beans 1.5oz.; onions 0.5oz.;
salt 0.2oz. This matter was referred to Lieut. Murayama, who
had come forward with the party, and a comparison made with the Changi
ration for working men.
A little fresh meat was issued from time to time, and this was
increased on occasions by illegal methods which later were to be
On 12th June, Lt.-Col. Harris., Lt.-Col. Banno and about 50 men from
Lower Nieke passed through en route to the new Headquarters camp at
Nieke. The situation regarding tentage, the fact that the
party had no medical officer, and that there was a grave shortage of
quinine for the treatment of malaria were reported to them.
Actually 2000 tablets were received later in the day through the
initiative of Sgt. Bowan, R.A.P. Sgt. 2/29 Bn., who was in charge of
On the following day the rice ration was reduced to 9oz. A
protest against this and requests for medical supplies, tents, and for
arrangements for a medical officer to be attached from Nieke were made
to Lieut. Murayama but, as usual, were ignored.
On 14th June the number of 158 sick was queried by Murayama, and a
medical examination was carried out by a representative of the Japanese
Medical Service. The classifications made by Sgt. Bowan were
To save face, Murayama then ordered all officers, including Lt.-Col.
Kappe, to go out to work daily. The officers, many of whom
were ill, had been performing useful tasks in camp on sanitation, fuel
On 17th June trouble arose over some oxen which the men had found
straying in the bush and killed. All forms of punishment were
threatened if the culprits were not handed over. As everyone
in the camp, including the Commander, had partaken of the meat, the
whole matter deliberately was misrepresented.
There can be no doubt that the health of many men was saved by the
extra food which they had received from this illegal source.
Up to this stage it had been impossible to discover who was the
authority responsible for camp control. A protest against the
conditions at Upper Koncoita and a request for investigation by the
International Red Cross had been submitted to Col. Banno on 28th
May. The only immediate result from this protest was a
promise from Col. Banno that he would personally visit Pond's
battalion, but soon afterwards it was discovered that Lieut. Murayama's
party was outside the I.J.A. Commander's jurisdiction, and the visit
was not forthcoming.
A summary of the protests was as follows :-
1. The food situation was
serious. Men had lived on rice and onion water for 18
days during the long and arduous march
from Banpong through insanitary
staging camps, and were so debilitated
by conditions that they were hardly fit
for work and had little resistance to
disease such as, cholera, dysentery etc.
The rice ration had been reduced from 4
½ bags to 2 bags, which was only
sufficient for two meals per
day. Issues of beans and towgay were negligible.
2. Cover from the weather was inadequate,
the men's boots becoming unserviceable,
and there was a shortage of clothing.
3. The problem of supply in this area was
appreciated, but it was pointed out that
hundreds of lives were being endangered.
4. A request was made for special food
for the sick.
Entry on to the second ten days of June showed that every man was
suffering severely from hunger pains, weakness, and giddiness, although
the rice ration had been increased to 12.5oz. per man per
day. Malaria, proportionately to the number of men left in
camp, remained at the same figure of one in three. Dysentery,
on the other hand, had increased considerably, and of the non-malarials
one in five were suffering.
Diphtheria had been added to the list of other illnesses, and by 20th
June, of the remaining 233 men, only 60 were not classified as sick in
some form or other.
On 12th and 16th June two further parties of 70 and 92 respectively
were moved to Nieke, practically every man being either a 3-day old
malaria case or suffering from diarrhoea.
By road the distance to the new camp was 13 miles, but rain fell
continuously, and distances became considerably increased by the
necessity to zig-zag on hills and make detours round swamps.
The men pitched sodden tents at night and had to content themselves
with 4oz. plain rice.
The third party of 92 were inhumanely burdened with their own gear, wet
tents, heavy coils of engineer wire, I.J.A. Red Cross stores and
rations cased in heavy boxes, bundles of picks and shovels, and even
the sentries' packs and rifles were added to the over-ladened men.
This party - under Capt. Curlewis - after a gruelling trip were told
immediately on arrival at 1700 hours that the whole party of 386 would
return again at 0600 hours the next morning.
Of the grand total, 54 of the sickest men were allowed to remain and
later were moved forward to Nieke Hospital Base Camp.
On 18th June, withdrawal commenced, and from that date until 2nd July
the whole of Pond's battalion (the balance at Taimonta being picked up
en route) was again on the road under appalling conditions.
Hopelessly weighed down with equipment, steps were retraced through mud
From Nieke River to Upper Koncoita, from Upper Koncoita to Koncoita,
from Koncoita to Krion Krai, from Krion Krai to Tamarumpat, from
Tamarumpat to Takanun, a distance of 39 miles, a shuttle system had to
be employed whereby fit and nearly fit (who by now were very few)
marched to the next camp, erected tents, dug latrines, prepared
cookhouses etc., and then returned to the last camp to carry stretcher
cases and sick men and their gear forward.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
At Koncoita, where the party halted for two days, the troops were
billeted in huts evacuated the previous day on account of cholera
The huts were indescribably filthy, and protests only caused the Force
to realise that they were officially placed on the same level as the
An application for tools with which to clean up the filth had brought
the reply that none was available, despite the fact that hundreds of
shovels and chunkels had been brought forward from Upper Koncoita.
Coolies walked through the huts, spat, defecated, vomited, and mixed
everywhere; yak carts and yelling drivers congregated at the entrance;
yaks were taken through the huts and dropped their excreta where rice
bags had to be stored.
It was from this camp that Lt.-Col. Kappe, under pretence to the
Nipponese that he had been ordered back to Nieke by Col. Banno,
undertook to return again to Nieke to voice a protest against the
The ruse was a deliberate lie to the Japanese sergeant, but it
succeeded. Upon arrival at Nieke he reported to the Force
Commander the shocking conditions which Pond's battalion had had to
endure, and in a written report to Col. Banno he outlined the position
as indicated above.
The orders for departure from this camp were, as usual, issued late at
night, which involved all arrangements for packing, detailing of
carrying parties etc., being made in pitch darkness.
With the advent of July the monsoon set in real earnest. The
road, if such a ribbon of mud could be called such, had become almost
impassable, except by a few six-wheeled Japanese lorries which were
transporting rations from Burma to Nieke, which place obviously was
being developed as an advanced base.
In the North, bridges were being repeatedly washed away and convoys to
Nieke were most irregular. When vehicles could get through,
no thought was given to off-loading say, 10 bags of rice and a few
other stores daily for the personnel in Lower Songkurai Camp, who still
had to trudge through the rain and mud to Songkurai Camp to draw
Below Nieke road conditions were even worse, and in the vicinity of
Taimonta the newly-laid out road on which Pond's battalion had worked
was nothing more than a quagmire through which no transport could
move. Troops at Lower Nieke left behind to look after the
very sick had also to man-handle rations from Nieke.
More than half of the Force were without boots by this time, with the
result that many men were suffering from trench feet and poisoned sores
which quickly developed into tropical ulcers of the most acute type.
Bandages and surgical dressings had not been issued in anything but a
small quantity, and dressings for the hundreds of tropical ulcers had
to be improvised from banana leaves, scraps of clothing and any rags
that could be found.
The issue of blankets had not been wide enough to permit of giving
cover and warmth to even the very sick fever cases. No
clothing or boots had yet been issued, and the men were almost
naked. Men were going to work in the scantiest of loin cloths
- pieces of towelling or bits of rag wrapped around their middles.
LOWER SONKURAI CAMP - NO. 1
On 1st July Lt.-Col. Kappe arrived at this camp and took over command
from Major Johnston. His plan for establishing a small A.I.F.
Headquarters where records could be centralised and from where he could
watch the interests of the A.I.F. personnel in the other camps, was
frustrated by the orders of Lieut. Fukuda, who forbade inter-camp
Communications with Force Headquarters, which had now moved to Nieke,
was always a precarious matter. Memoranda were handed
surreptitiously to truck drivers who, on many occasions, were not able
to effect delivery for weeks. Some communications never
reached their intended recipients. There can be no doubt that
the I.J.A. were determined to thwart any form of control by either the
Force Commander, or the Commander, A.I.F. Troops.
Great hopes were entertained from the fact that the initial steps had
been taken by the administration to establish a hospital in
Burma. On 29th July Lieut. Tanio (I.J.A. Medical Officer)
accompanied by Major R. H. Anderson and Capt. J. Taylor (the latter two
officers from Lower Songkurai) left to make preliminary arrangements
for the establishment of a 2000-bed hospital.
The site selected for the hospital was at Tanbaya, the then rail-head
in Burma, 48 miles from Lower Songkurai Camp.
Lieut. Tanio indicated that the evacuation of sick would commence
almost immediately after their return. This news was a great
fillip to the spirits of the sick and to Camp Commanders and Medical
Officers, who now saw a chance of saving many lives.
Unfortunately the subsequent bungling, causing delay, was to result in
many men losing their lives before they could be removed from their
Hardly a day during July was free from incident. The loss of
a pick on the 2nd July resulted in a Fukuda ultimatum to the effect
that the whole camp, including the sick and workers, would not be fed
until the pick was found.
A spirited protest was made against the stoppage of food for the
workers and sick, and Fukuda "graciously" commuted the punishment to
exclude these men. Next day the pick was found, obviously
having been replaced by a man who had mislaid it and was afraid to
report the matter for fear of drastic punishment by the I.J.A.
Fukuda then stated that the camp would continue to starve until the
culprit had been produced. After further protest the sick and
outside workers again were excluded. It was not until 1600
hours that the matter was finalised and the camp fed.
Working conditions deteriorated. Work did not finish until
2100 hours, when the men had to face a two-hour march through the rain
and mud in pitch black darkness.
On 7th July a protest against the maltreatment of the men was forwarded
to Force Headquarters.
The protest pointed out that on 3rd July men marched out the camp at
0900 hours and after ploughing through the mud for 5 kilometres
commenced work at 1030 hours. The task for the day for 135
men was 160 metres of corduroying, which involved the removal of the
mud for a width of 6 feet, laying the logs, draining, and reinforcing
the track with earth and stones. Parties of 10-12 men were
forced to carry in the day seven logs, 15 feet long and 10-12 inches in
diameter a distance of one kilometre through mud and slush.
Four men collapsed.
In one instance only six men were detailed to one log. These
were driven along by an Engineer who struck the men every 10 yards or
so with a bamboo stick. Up to 1345 hours the men had been
given no rest, then after a break of 30 minutes for lunch they had to
work on until 2100 hours with one rest of 15 minutes, returning to camp
at 2230 hours.
The working hours next day were the same, except that there was not
even a break during the afternoon. Instead of 10-12 men being
allotted to each log carrying party, there were only seven.
Eight men collapsed under the heavy loads - one, a Sergeant, fell to
the ground completely exhausted, but was flogged and forced to carry on.
The following figures give an indication of the health position in
Pond's Battalion during May-June :-
AT UPPER KONCOITA
Dysentery and Diarrhoea
Ulcers and Skin
Percentage of sick
*Strength reduced by move of party to Nieke River.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
An escape from the Songkuai Camp of several British officers threw the
whole of the P.O.W. Administration into a frenzy. Picqets
consisting of prisoners of war were posted in passageways and outside
huts, absorbing some 70 light duty men daily.
For the work of guarding the camp these men were not included in the
payroll. The escape of these officers certainly had a
distinct bearing on the attitude of the guards to the force generally.
Previously there had been some freedom of movement in the vicinity of
the camp, but this now was stopped. Nothing could persuade
Col. Banno that both Lieut.-Col. Hingston, commander of Songkurai Camp,
and Lieut.-Col. Harris were not accessories to the escape. To
the latter, Col. Banno would not speak for a month.
As a result, all officers' pay and bulk funds held by the A.I.F.
commander had to be handed in to Lieut. Fukuda, and could only be
obtained from him for specific purchases. This was in no way
inconvenient, since Fukuda had stopped buying parties from going to
Nieke village for the purchase of tobacco and other items of canteen
supplies. It was not until after many requests had been made
that purchases of any nature were permitted, and these through the
I.J.A. guards, who obviously were lining their pockets with commission.
The fight for increased rations went on daily, and it was only after
repeated demands that the rice ration for hospital patients was
increased to 14.3oz. and that approval was obtained to establish a
convalescent section within the hospital, where men would obtain 21oz.
of rice daily.
The ration for men on I.J.A. work remained at 25oz. and it was now
possible to give the heavy workers their full entitlement instead of
deducting a portion to feed the sick who, up to this stage, were almost
An issue of 21oz. to 25oz. may appear an ample ration on the surface,
but it must be remembered that the scale of supplementary rations was
almost negligible. The average daily ration during the month
of July in this camp - apart from the rice mentioned above - was: Beans
1.76oz.; meat 1.2oz.; salt 0.05oz.; towgay 0.5oz.; onions 0.6oz.; six
gallons of oil were issued to the camp of an average strength of over
1880 for the whole month.
With the inability to purchase canteen stocks and the absence of
invalid foods, many of the sick were wasting away through their
inability to eat the unappetising meals, comprised, in the main of rice.
Although some improvement was noticed in the health of the convalescent
men, only 200 men could be provided for the Engineers.
On 15th July, Fukuda intimated that he would issue an additional bag of
rice to permit the convalescent section being increased to 300 men, but
he immediately demanded a further 70 men for road work.
It was pointed out that the discharges from the convalescent section
the previous day were insufficient to meet this new demand.
Fukuda then said that the number required must be made up from men in
the malaria wards, who were coming to the end of their 10-day treatment
In this matter he was quite adamant, and to Major Johnston he made it
quite clear that the camp could expect severe punishment if the numbers
were not forthcoming.
Next morning only 212 men were handed over to the Engineers, a
deficiency of 38. The Senior Medical Officer and his
assistants started work as soon as it was light to reclassify the men
so that only the fittest would be called upon for work.
Actually, the balance of 38 men were standing by throughout the morning
waiting for the Engineers or the Administrative Troops to take them out
At about midday Lieut-Col. Kappe, Majors Hunt and Johnston, were
summoned to I.J.A. Headquarters, where they found Fukuda in a raging
temper because his orders had not been carried out. Owing to
being confined to bed with malaria since his arrival in the camp,
Lieut-Col. Kappe had not had previous dealings with this I.J.A.
officer, but it did not take him long to appreciate the difficulties
which the other two officers had had to encounter.
Fukuda commenced his tirade with the remark that it was Japan's
intention to become friendly with Australia after the war, but the
senior officers were doing all they could to antagonise the Japanese
Army by refusing to carry out orders.
He said that if he ordered that 1000 men would go to work, they would
go, despite any protests which we would make - the Japanese Engineers
were prepared to die, and the prisoners also must be prepared to
sacrifice their lives for the railway.
He went on to threaten that not only would the camp commander and his
staff be punished, but all men in the camp would be made to suffer for
the disobedience of his orders.
Their own particular punishment was to consist of being made to stand
in a fire.
It was explained to Fukuda that it had not been possible to examine the
men the previous night owing to the lack of any lights, and that
medical reclassification had to wait until daylight.
This quietened him to some extent, but he pointed out that the
construction of the railway had to go on without delay, as it was
required for operational purposes, and had to be finished within a
certain time at all costs, irrespective of the loss of lives of British
and Australian prisoners.
He said that it was of no use our quoting the articles of the Geneva
Convention, as our own people had offended against it by the sinking of
hospital ships and anti-Axis forces, and by running down civilian
internees with steam rollers.
If necessary, he concluded, the men would be required to work three to
four days on end without rest.
There can be little doubt that the pressure for more men was being
applied by somebody higher up. The I.J.A. would not, or could
not, see that by forcing men to work before they were completely
recovered, the ultimate effect was to dry up the resources of available
During a fortnight the health situation had improved
somewhat. On 13th July the total of men in hospital,
including 142 in Convalescent Depot, was 1493, made up as follows :-
Cholera 28; Malaria 652;
Dysentery 337; Beri Beri 114;
Skin 176; Miscellaneous 44.
By the 27th (July 43) the Convalescent Depot figure had increased to
300 and the number in hospital proper had been reduced to 1066, an
improvement of 129.
Nevertheless, the number of men being sent to work from the
Convalescent Depot was between 70 and 80 daily, although the I.J.A.
were given to understand that more men were coming from this
source. The reason for this was that the men from the
Convalescent Depot were grouped into a special working party, and given
supposedly lighter work and better treatment. In any event,
they were returned to camp a good deal earlier than working parties
previously. With the increase in the recovery rate of
hospital patients, it was now possible to retain men in the
Convalescent Depot for a few extra days, and to the health of these men
these days were invaluable.
The disbandment of Lower Songkurai Camp and the establishment of the
Burma Hospital were two projects which arose again towards the end of
the month. With regard to the latter, Major Hunt, at twenty
minutes' notice, was ordered on 24th July to accompany Col. Banno to
inspect the new hospital.
On 26th July orders were given for the move of 300 to Upper Songkurai
Camp. Lt.-Col. Kappe requested that in view of the state of
the roads and the condition of the men who would necessarily have to
carry heavy loads, the move be postponed until the condition of the
road had improved. This request, strange to say, was
approved. It was understood that all the personnel of this
camp, other than those destined for the Burma Hospital, would be
transferred to Upper Songkurai Camp.
The summary of the medical position in this camp during July is given
hereunder. The figures for each period have been averaged.
Throughout this report where such figures as above are quoted it must
be appreciated that they represent only one disease per man.
In actual fact, a very great number of the men were suffering
simultaneously from more than one illness at the same time e.g.
dysentery and malaria, or malaria and ulcers; beri beri in some form
was always present.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
After being guarded by only one or two soldiers since arrival in May, a
distinct change took place as a result of the officers' escape from
Songkurai Camp. An officer and his platoon of 33 men marched
in to guard some 350 prisoners. The Officer-in-Charge in many
ways was the most reasonable Japanese encountered to date, and took a
reasonable view of the health situation.
Although powerless to do anything towards obtaining medical supplies
etc., he apparently had a good working arrangement with the local
engineers, and sick men were not forced out to work. Working
conditions were severe, but there were few incidents, if any, involving
brutal treatment. Rations were better here than in any other
camp, with the result that the general condition of the men was good
and their morale was high.
Why there was a discrepancy between the ration scales in the several
camps is not understood, since all were under the same I.J.A.
Administration, and the men were all doing more or less the same type
About 20th July, the Camp Commander was informed that the hours of work
were to be increased. Breakfast was issued at 0600 hours and
the men were handed over to the Engineers at 0745 hours, a quarter of
an hour before dawn. The average time of return to camp was
1930 hours, or about half an hour before dark.
The work now was pile-driving for the railway bridges, and was
particularly arduous, especially for men suffering from diarrhoea and
other stomach troubles.
Up to the arrival of the first party from Lower Songkurai Camp on the
28th July, there had been no increase in the sick figures since the
beginning of the month. In point of fact there had been a
slight decrease, and the number of dangerously ill and seriously ill in
hospital was very small.
The work party strength remained at a figure between 90 and 100 i.e.
about 27%. The fulfilment of this requirement meant a
reduction of an average of 10 men daily engaged on camp and hospital
Even taking this reduction into account, the percentage of men
available for maintenance works in the camp was 50% higher than that
allowed in Lower Songkurai Camp.
The following average daily figures summarise the medical position in
this camp during the month of July :-
||July 1 -
I.J.A. Work - Engineers
Camp Duties, including Hospital Staff
* Includes officers engaged on camp
On 3rd July the party arrived at Takanun, and preparations were made
for the construction of the camp, which was to be the camp for Lt.-Col.
Pond's party for two months.
For the whole period of the march the rations had been as
An average of 12oz. per man
Four issues, which averaged
2.1oz. per man per day
: One issue on 30th June of 8oz.
One issue on 20th June of
The medical position at the end of the previous month showed that out
of 636 men, 458 were classified as sick, under the following
Ulcers 110; Dysentery and
Diarrhoea 105; Beri
Of the balance there was not one man who was not suffering from
complete exhaustion. They were in a pitiful condition, bodies
like skeletons, and clothed in dirty, torn and ill-fitting shorts and
shirts. One hundred and fifty men were without boots, and few
men had socks. The hats of those who had them were old and
perished, heads were shaved completely but face shaving was a rarity.
In this state, the men reached a site selected by Lieut. Kurayama at
Takanun, on a bamboo-covered hillside sloping to a tributary of the
The total area allotted for sleeping, cookhouses, latrines and hospital
was about 65 x 75 yards, and this included a portion which was too
steep to permit of the erection of tents. Half a day was
allowed for the clearing and preparation of the site, and on the 4th
July the first working party was ordered out to work.
It is from this date onwards that attention must be paid to the full
significance of what constituted a "working day". In no other
country in the world, however low its labour standards, have employers
ever subjected their employees to such treatment. One can
only wonder how the human frame took the punishment and survived.
It is worthy of note that when frantic efforts were being made to
complete the railway in the scheduled time and Japanese soldiers were
impressed to assist in the work, they were incapable, in spite of their
better food and condition, of maintaining the pressure for more than
The bald words "a working day" can now be examined, and the examination
will be deliberately detailed, for it expresses in general terms the
hardships suffered by working parties throughout the Force.
Reveille was invariably at 0700 hours, in pitch darkness and usually in
Mess orderlies would have to attend at the cookhouse and stagger up a
slimy slope carrying heavy mess dixies of rice. The men
meanwhile would be lining up in a queue to take their turn in dipping
their mess tins in boiling water for sterilisation purposes.
They would then move to a second line-up to receive their rice, and
finally had to squat or stand in the rain while they consumed their
Immediately they had had their ration they lined up again to wash their
mess tins and be issued with their luncheon issue of rice, which they
had to carry to work with them.
As the first ray of light appeared the medical officer would commence
his sick parade, and every man who had become ill over-night or
required dressings for injuries, ulcers etc., would attend at the R.A.P.
At 0800 hours the working party would fall in, and efforts would be
made by the officers to obtain extra men to bring up the numbers to the
Japanese requirements, and to replace those marked by the medical
officer as unfit to go out to work.
At 0815 hours the party would move off across a high level bridge, 80
yards long, the track being constructed of slippery logs 6in.
wide. Those men whose nerves were not equal to the task of
negotiating this bridge were compelled to cross a low level bridge two
or three feet under water.
At 0830 hours a second parade of the work party would be held by the
Japanese as a check on numbers and on the tools issued. At
the conclusion of this, the men would be herded off to the job about
two miles away through deep mud or across sharp flint-like stones or
As half of the camp at this stage were without boots, the journey was
always a trial, with the prospect of stragglers being smacked on the
face on arrival for lateness.
Having arrived at the job the men were usually divided into teams of 3
or 4 - one man to pick the cutting face of the rock, one to shovel, and
the other two men to carry away the spoil in bamboo stretcher-like
This last duty usually meant a carrying of shale, rock, or soaking clay
for a distance of 50 to 75 yards through yellow oozing clay on a bed of
gravel which cut the men's feet badly.
Almost without exception the periods of work were 50 minutes' solid
going, with a ten-minute break for smoking.
When the men were on contract labour, which frequently was the case,
the rest period was used by the dysentery and diarrhoea cases to obey
The break for lunch was taken from 1330 hours to 1500 hours, but was
reduced to one hour for the last month's work on the railway.
It was extraordinary during the first six weeks of this camp how
frequently the meal hours and torrential downpours coincided.
The start work signal for the afternoon often heralded speculation as
to what would be the knock-off hour, but few were optimistic.
The last light at this time of the year was round about 2115 hours, and
this was usually the time for knocking off. Then followed the
collection and counting of tools and baskets, the checking of men, with
finally the order to return to camp.
To many men this return journey was one of the greatest trials of the
day. Exhausted from work, feet cut and sore, clothes wet and
cold, they set out to pick or feel their way in the dark through the
two miles of mud, including a balancing task across three bridges.
Arriving in camp at about 2215 hours, again they would line up to
sterilise their mess gear, and then draw their evening meal of rice and
The more fortunate would cluster around a fire and then grope their way
down to the river to wash off the day's mud and sweat.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
The previous instalment dealt with the awful conditions endured by the
men of Pond's battalion at Takanun, describing the long working day,
ending at 2215 hours, after which they had to sterilise their mess
gear, collect their evening meal of rice and jungle-leaf-flavoured
water and then -
Another sick parade and dressing completed, the men were able, usually
by 2300 hours, to don a camp shirt (if such an article was still in
their possession), roll themselves in a blanket, probably damp, and lie
down under a rotted, dripping tent.
How much sleep a man got depended on the state of his bowels and how
many times he was disturbed by his tent mates having to visit the
At 0700 hours another day would commence, with a repetition of the same
No day was set aside for rest, and the only way a man could gain a day
off in camp was to satisfy the medical officer that he was completely
unfit for work. It was no easy task to do this, for the
Japanese indicated the number of men required for the following day,
and this number, without exception, was far in excess of the number
that could be got, so that the medical officer could only excuse a man
at the expense of some other man slightly less ill.
Even then, a day off in camp was not a day of rest. The first
task usually consisted of the scrubbing of clothes. Soap was
non-existent, the river was muddy, and the mud and sweat from a
fortnight's work did not make the task any easier.
There were camp duties such as drain digging, maintenance, and digging
of fresh latrines, the cutting and carrying of bamboo for the
construction of floors for the ever increasing hospital patients,
firewood fatigues, and possibly the most nerve-racking of all,
Seldom a day passed without a death occurring, and sometimes there were
five or six.
Owing to the heavy rain, fires had on some days to be maintained for
six to seven hours before the bodies could be sufficiently disposed of.
Water parties to the river, particularly for the I.J.A. cookhouse, also
Finally, it was the custom for any Japanese private to walk into the
camp and order a party of 10 or 20 men for any particular job that had
been assigned to him by his N.C.O.
The result of all these fatigues having to be done with very limited
labour available, was that the men generally were reluctant, in spite
of sometimes genuine illness, to be excused by the medical officer from
railway construction work.
Furthermore, there was the risk that an I.J.A. medical inspection would
be held, at which Murayama himself would carry out the examination, and
Murayama, in order to bring up the working figures to the required
strength, would drive even the sickest man out of camp.
It is literally true that only men who were close to death were allowed
to remain in camp. It is equally true that deaths of many men
were caused, or at least accelerated, by this callous drive.
So much for the working conditions. There were other factors
that made life still more difficult.
As mentioned above, the men were divided at work into teams of three or
four. These teams were told at the commencement of the day's
work that each team would be responsible for carrying anything up to
700 baskets for the day. Four fit men, if in close proximity
to the dumping pit, might succeed sometimes in fulfilling the task but
when they did, it was only to be told that a fresh contract had been
assigned to them.
On the other hand, it needed only one sick man in the team to retard
operations, and the Nippon guards, with bamboo sticks in their hands,
would stand over the men to strike them as they passed.
Another difficulty the men had to face on these contract jobs was the
poor condition of the tools provided.
Baskets broke hourly involving delay in repairing them, the shovels
were made in many cases of unused petrol drums, and these bent double;
picks were badly blunted and made little impression on stone, while the
tool handles were made of timber cut from the jungle, resulting in
blisters and cut hands.
The next and most serious matter was the number of hours allocated for
work. In such a climate eight to ten hours' manual labour on
a solid diet for seven days a week would test a labourer accustomed to
hard work, but the majority of the men had never done manual work in
their lives; and they were now on a starvation diet. They
were being compelled to work a minimum of 13 hours a day while
suffering from malaria, diarrhoea or ulcers.
On the 27th July they received news that their hours would be
lengthened. The knock-off time was to be 2240
hours. By the 13th August the hours were inhuman.
For four days in succession the hours of work were respectively 0800 to
0240, 1000 to 2200, 0800 to 2300; and on the fourth day 0800 to 0245
With regard to the working of officers, the position in the Pond
battalion differed from the others. From the very
commencement officers were required to accompany their men to work or
give a reason why they should remain in camp. When work
started at Takanun, officers were ordered out to work in special
parties, but on a slightly lighter contract basis.
As time went on, sickness reduced the number of officers sufficiently
to make their proportion of work negligible, and these were utilised
solely for supervising the men or acting as tally clerks for the number
of baskets carried by the men.
Suspicions (perhaps not unjustified) that the tally was too favourable
to the men stopped this practice, although at one stage the Korean
guards, desirous of returning to camp early, frequently connived at
additions to the tally, much to the annoyance of the Japanese Engineers.
About the time that tallying ceased the number of men collapsing at
work increased alarmingly, and the reaction of the Engineers
correspondingly became more dangerous.
A new policy was adopted by certain of the officers who were regularly
out at the work. If a member of one of the men's teams
suffering beyond all reasonable endurance from malaria, diarrhoea,
ulcers, or jungle fever, appealed to the guard to be allowed to rest he
invariably was refused. An officer then would volunteer to
fill the man's place in the team, and a grudging acquiescence would be
granted. As time went on, the guard discovered that these
officers were capable of equalling the men's work, and they became
satisfied that the output of the team was maintained.
At odd periods compulsory officers' working parties were ordered but
these seldom lasted more than a few days.
Returning to the story of the position during the month of July, a
survey of the health situation was as follows :-
Dysentery and Diarrhoea
Fit and sick working
*The drop in figures at this date was
due to the fact that on 26th July the first batch of
70 very sick were despatched by boat
down the river to Kanburi Hospital.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
In July, word was received of a change of camp.
From the scanty information given by the I.J.A. it appears that the
original plan for the re-organisation of the Railway camps was the
closing of Lower Songkurai (A.I.F.) and No. 5 (British) camps and the
concentration of all British personnel at Songkurai, with the A.I.F.
(except Pond's battalion) at Upper Sonkurai Camps.
Nieke Headquarters Camp also was to close down except for a few medical
personnel and a few drivers and mechanics.
At this time two-thirds of the men in all camps were hospital patients,
and many of the men were so ill that they had been classified as unfit
for the journey to Burma Hospital.
Consequently, at Lower Songkurai Camp, requests were made as soon as
the moves were mooted for the provision of motor transport for the
transfer of the very sick.
The requests were not met, neither were those for the use of one or two
lorries for the cartage of heavy camp stores which had to be moved to
the new locations.
This meant that the seriously ill would have to be stretcher-borne and
the camp stores manhandled.
When it is realised that every day a convoy of empty ration lorries
passed the camp on their return journey to Burma it is almost
unbelievable that such a state of affairs could be permitted by
soldiers of a nation which had claimed to be civilised. Even
if there had been no chance of obtaining permission to employ the
ration lorries, there were always at Col. Banno's Headquarters one or
two lorries and an ambulance in commission. These vehicles,
with many others, had been brought from Changi for the use of the force.
The movement commenced on 28th July, the first party from No. 1 Camp
comprising 7 officers and 293 other ranks.
With the exception of a very few fit men, this party was made up of
sick and patients from the Convalescent Depot.
Apart from their loads of personal gear, which admittedly were not as
heavy as when the force left Banpong, the men were obliged to carry a
proportion of camp equipment, including heavy cast-iron rice boilers,
blankets, large mosquito nets, cooking utensils and other minor items.
A distance of 5 miles would not ordinarily present any hardships to fit
men, but the road was a ribbon of mud, and even the strongest of men
were in an exhausted condition when they arrived at No. 3 Camp.
The journey had taken them 5 hours.
The sick and convalescents, many of them in the last stages of
exhaustion, had to be helped in by their comrades.
The result was that 175 men of the 300 had to be admitted to hospital
at once, some never to leave the hospital alive.
As was the case with all other parties to arrive at this camp, the camp
commander had not been informed of the numbers expected or the time and
date of their arrival.
On 1st August a further 500 were ordered to move from No. 1 to No. 3
Camp. This party, according to Lieut. Fukuda, was to include
all the remaining fit men with the exception of about 50, who had been
selected as the maintenance personnel for the Burma Hospital.
This order was subsequently cancelled, and in lieu, 300 were ordered to
move to No. 2 Camp and the remaining 200 to No. 3 Camp. The
reason given for this change was that the I.J.A. had decided to mix the
British troops and the Australians, with the idea of improving the poor
position then existing in British camps, where the death rates were
The higher morale, standard of hygiene, and the physical fitness of the
A.I.F. would, it was thought, act as an encouragement to the personnel
of Nos. 2 and 5 Camps, both of which were in a deplorable condition.
In No. 2 Camp, 8-10 British troops were dying daily, whereas in No. 1
Camp only 8 A.I.F. deaths had occurred in July.
To add to the difficulties, the hospital conditions at No. 2 Camp were
bad, and the accommodation was overtaxed. Major Johnston, who
had been left in charge of No. 1 Camp when Lieut-Col. Kappe left to
command No. 3 Camp, decided to move the seriously ill to No. 3 Camp
instead of to No. 2. The additional stretcher-carry of 3
kilometres, over slippery and hilly country, placed an added strain on
the semi-fit stretcher-bearers, and on the patients of the second
party, which was made up of 7 officers and 209 other ranks.
Of the latter only 100 were fit to carry loads, and these had to be
detailed to carry the 16 stretcher cases and to assist the 94 men who
were just fit to walk (stumble or crawl would better express their
As the party was assembling it was found that three of the stretcher
cases were too ill to make the trip and they had to be readmitted to
One died within a few minutes, and another a day or two
later. One of the men carried to No. 3 Camp died of
exhaustion within a day of his arrival and many of the others who made
the journey died subsequently.
On this journey there was hardly a man, fit or otherwise, who was not
burdened with a load of camp stores. The ordeal would have
tested men in the best physical condition, and it is no wonder,
therefore, that even many of the fit became casualties and subsequently
died through being forced out to work without an opportunity of resting
after their ordeal.
Of this party 109 were admitted to hospital directly on arrival.
This act of barbaric cruelty could have been avoided had the slightest
sympathy been shown by Lieut. Fukuda, or had some degree of liaison
existed between the neighbouring Japanese administrations.
On the same day Major Tracey moved to No. 2 Camp with 7 officers, 143
fit men and 147 hospital patients. This party suffered, but
not quite to the same extent as those who moved further on.
They were joined by a second party of 300 A.I.F. on 4th August and by
several hundred British and Australians from Nieke. On 5th
August, 32 Australians from No. 1 camp marched to No. 3, followed by 82
more on August 7.
All that remained now at No. 1 Camp were the 500 sick, destined for
Burma Hospital, and their maintenance party of 50. Actually,
only 277 of this group were moved to Burma, the balance being
transferred to No. 2 Camp under similar conditions to the other
parties. As this move did not take place until late in
September, No. 1 Camp can be looked upon as a hospital camp from 5th
As the huts were vacated by our troops moving north, they were occupied
by thousands of natives, amongst whom cholera had broken out.
The camp escaped another epidemic only by the prompt action of the camp
and medical staff, but not before a few men had contracted the disease.
Unfortunately, as it will be seen later, one was a member of the party
transferred to No. 3 Camp, whose activities during the months of August
and September will now be narrated.
UPPER SONGKURAI CAMP - AUGUST
In addition to the four parties of Australians from No. 1 Camp,
totalling about 650 all ranks, No. 3 Camp was increased by 310 British
troops from No. 5 Camp and about 360 from Nieke.
By 8th August the strength of the camp was approximately 1,690 all
ranks, of whom 670 were British troops and 1,020 Australians.
The former were in poorer condition than the Australians from No. 1
Camp, and an estimate of their state can readily be formed from what
already has been told. No. 5 Camp had been through a
particularly gruelling time since its establishment in May.
Of the original 600, 200 had died during the cholera epidemic, which
was simultaneous with the other outbreaks mentioned earlier.
The treatment at the hands of the Engineers had been severe, with many
sick being forced to work under terrible conditions for days on
end. The men from Nieke, too, almost without exception, had
been discharged from hospital on the days on which they had been forced
to march the 16 kilometres over appalling roads.
The increase in strength in this camp was attended by considerable
confusion, brought about solely by the customary failure of the I.J.A.
Administration to make the simplest preparation in advance.
What had been needed was a gang of coolies to put the huts in a
habitable condition by roofing and strengthening of the floors, and to
construct extra latrines, and put in drainage.
Instead, only two or three Burmese were employed on roofing with the
result that the demand for accommodation always exceeded the
supply. As was to be expected, Camp Headquarters were not
permitted to withdraw any men from Engineer work to put the huts in a
sanitary condition, let alone do anything to the buildings themselves.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
Last issue the conditions in the Upper Songkurai camp were
described. In this camp were about 1020 Australians and 670
British troops, half of whom had moved in from another camp where
almost every man was ill.
The low morale of the sick men from No. 5 Camp and Nieke Camp received
no stimulant when saw for the first time the dilapidated quarters which
they were compelled to occupy, and when the flooring of bay after bay
collapsed under the weight of sick men who had been crowded into them.
As an indication of the position, the following figures for 7the August
are quoted :-
x Includes 55 officers
This absorbed all the reasonably fit men in the camp, yet soon after
the work party marched out that morning a demand was made for a further
30 men to cut and bring in bamboo for hut construction.
Protests were made on the ground that this would absorb all the
administrative staff and men engaged on vital sanitation works,
draining etc., but the only answer given was a demand for an additional
50 to erect a fence between the camp and coolie lines.
It was pointed out that men would have to be drawn from hospital for
this work, but no alleviation was granted, and men in the final stages
of malaria treatment were put on to constructing a barrier which was a
fence in name only.
The fact that the camp was in a shocking condition did not worry the
I.J.A. one iota. The latrines were still flooded by the
incessant rain; one had broken its banks, and a filthy stream oozed
through the camp area, passing under the floors of the huts occupied by
The outside, and even the inside, of the huts was a quagmire, and the
cookhouse still was inadequate for present needs.
Protests were made by Lieut-Col. Kappe and Major Stevens, Senior
Medical Officer, A.I.F. who, by this time, had arrived to reinforce the
small medical team of only two officers and less than 20 trained
nursing orderlies. The protests were in the strongest
The position in the camp had been further deteriorated by the arrival
of Lieut. Fukuda and his notorious assistant, Toyama.
Mr. Korayasu, the I.J. interpreter, had been left in charge of the
remnants of No. 1 Camp and did not come forward until late in
September, which was most unfortunate, since it placed the control of
the camp literally in the hands of Toyama, who possessed a smattering
of English, a factor that was to prove a danger to the troops rather
than an advantage.
This Gunsoku wielded a considerable influence with Fukuda which could
be explained by the troops only in the grossest terms. From
an experience of his attitude at No. 1 camp, nothing but unjust
treatment was expected.
Lieut. Fukuda's first order was to the effect that no Englishman was to
be employed in the cookhouse or on any other camp duties.
Every available man in the British battalion was to be sent to Engineer
work, despite his age or physical condition.
As there were only 70 fit men in the whole 670 of the British, it
became necessary to protect the weaker men by keeping them in hospital
until they had recovered sufficiently to take on heavy work.
This threw heavy strain upon the others, and was, without doubt, the
cause of the comparative increase in the death rate of the A.I.F. in
late September and October.
The I.J.A. seemed determined to do all in their power to break the
British troops, and to discriminate between them and the
Australians. At every turn disparaging remarks were made
against the former - about their percentage of sick and their inability
to provide their proportion of workers for road and railway.
By an I.J.A. order, an amalgamation of the men in hospital was
forbidden, resulting in duplication in the handling of cases of a
similar category by an already overworked medical staff. All
attempts to establish a combined organisation were frustrated by the
I.J.A., which refused to allow the Camp Commander to make his own
allotments of accommodation.
It was about this time that the Senior Medical Officer (Major Stevens)
approached Lieut. Fukuda about hygiene and about additional food,
particularly for the sick. Unless something was done to
remedy the situation he was told that a serious loss of life would
The more or less favourable attitude that Lieut. Fukuda had adopted
towards hygiene and health in No. 1 Camp had now disappeared, and his
actions were guided by a spirit of brutal callousness.
The formation of a Convalescent Depot, where men recovering from
illness could be rested for a few days instead of having to be
discharged direct to the lines, where they would be pounced upon by the
guards, served no good purpose. So insistent and unreasonable
were the demands for men to work outside and inside the camp, that only
the very ill were spared.
Accommodation was overtaxed, but the work of improving some of the
existing huts just dragged on. In contrast, all speed was
demanded from the sick men called out to construct new quarters for the
The average number of men accommodated in each 10 feet by 10 feet bay
now was 14, and the same position applied in the hospital, where sick
men were lying shoulder to shoulder.
On the night of 9th August Lieut. Fukuda demanded 500 working men for
the Engineers for the 10th. Figures were produced to show
that there were nearly 1000 sick, and that the British battalion could
provide little more than 100 out of their strength of 650.
The infuriated Fukuda demanded that the British battalion provide 150
men and the Australians 400.
A further examination revealed that by taking every man in camp other
than cooks, and by including 10 officers, 522 was the limit.
This was pointed out to Fukuda in a stormy interview, in which he
The Camp Commander then asked permission to reduce the British quota at
the expense of the A.I.F., who, although ill, were in slightly better
heart than the Englishmen. This also was refused, and Fukuda
reiterated that his orders would stand.
The Camp Commander then asked that his protest against the sending out
to work of seriously ill British troops be forwarded to Col.
Banno. Toyama, who had acted as a most unsatisfactory
interpreter, translated this request, whereupon Lieut.-Col. Kappe was
Knowing that the refusal to carry out these orders would result in
further reprisals, some steps were taken at night to classify the "not
The heart-breaking situation was explained to the men, who received the
information stoically, although many must have known that it would be
only a matter of hours on the morrow before the Engineers would be
compelled to return them to camp in a collapsing state, fit only for
re-admission to hospital.
In the weeks to come dozens of men were to be returned to camp as unfit
for work, yet the demands for the increased numbers persisted.
On 10th August the sorry spectacle of nearly 200 light duty and no duty
men being forced almost to crawl to work in the pouring rain was
witnessed, and yet the same day Fukuda demanded that next day 200
British troops be included in the work party, which was to be further
increased to 600.
There was in instance on 10 August, where a man who had collapsed on
the job was not permitted to return to camp, and was forbidden to take
his mid-day rice because he had not worked.
Instances of this form of brutality by the Engineers on this section of
the railway, fortunately, were rare, although the tasks which the men
were called upon to perform were severe, and became worse as August and
On the same day, the 10th, utter calamity was to befall the
camp. One of the men who had collapsed at work and been
returned to hospital was diagnosed as a cholera case. He was
one of the party which had left No. 1 Camp after the outbreak of the
disease there amongst the coolies. It was not until the
middle of September - after some 150 men had been isolated and nearly
50 had died - that the epidemic was beaten.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF THE F FORCE
An outbreak of cholera occurred in the camp, and an attempt was made to
isolate the patients but the arrangements were most primitive, and the
conditions under which the patients were housed almost endurable.
The area selected for the isolation hospital on this occasion was a
small, cleared space of low-lying ground, on the river bank, where the
mud was ankle deep, and the only fixed accommodation was a small hut
capable of holding no more than 30 patients.
The remainder of the personnel placed in isolation had to be quartered
in tents and under tent-flies, which invariably leaked. No
fit men were freed from Engineer work to assist the sick in providing
stagings to keep them from the muddy ground, and all duties except
nursing were performed by the personnel in isolation.
Requests for more serviceable tents and the release of men from other
work to improve the area, and even for a few additional tools, all met
the same fate, and the sick were left to their miserable plight.
Except for numerous glass rod tests and the supply of vaccine two days
after the first outbreak, there was a heartless indifference on the
part of the I.J.A., to the sufferings of the dying men.
Needless to say, Lieut. Fukuda at no time visited the cholera area to
see conditions for himself. Instead he called Lieut-Col.
Kappe to his quarters and informed him that he was to be held
personally responsible for the outbreak of cholera. With no
competent or reliable interpreter available, it was not possible for
Lieut-Col. Kappe to convey what he thought of the whole proceedings -
that this was the best example of "passing the buck" he had so far
Upon this fresh outbreak of cholera being reported, the I.J.A. medical
personnel arrived at the camp with amazing promptitude and carried out
a glass rod test of all personnel.
Among those classified by the I.J.A. test as cholera carriers was Capt.
Juttner, one of the only three medical officers in the camp, and this
threw an added strain on Major Stevens and his assistant, Capt. Wilson,
Some valuable and much needed help was obtained from the services of
Assistant Surgeon James, of the Indian Medical Service, who had been
sent up from No. 2 Camp.
The following is a summary of this outbreak :-
Mention must be made here of the splendid services rendered by NX17742
Pte. Murray, E.D., A.A.M.C., who was in sole charge of the nursing
during this and the previous outbreak at this camp.
Particular mention of this man's services will be made later.
During August the camp was a living "hell" for all its
occupants. Every small matter was exaggerated and made the
reason for an "incident" by the I.J.A. As an example of this
the following particular instances are given :-
1. Two Englishmen were observed throwing
away some scraps of rice; they stated later that they were too ill to
eat the unappetising food. This was taken by the Korean
quartermaster as indicating that the British troops were getting too
much food, and orders were issued to the effect that the rations for
the British battalion were to be reduced by one-third.
In actual fact this was merely a counter on the part of the I.J.A. to a
protest that the troops were starving on the present ration, which was
of very poor quality. The boxed meat issued at this stage was
alive with maggots, and more often than not 80% of it had to be
buried. At times, and as a matter of necessity, a risk was
taken and the meat was cooked and when brought to the boil the maggots
were skimmed off the top before the meat was served.
By adjustment the working men in the British battalion continued to
receive the same scale of ration as the Australian heavy workers, but
it was some days later, after repeated requests had been made, before a
portion in the reduction in rice issue was restored.
2. On 30th August a British officer was
observed speaking to his Commanding Officer, who was passing the camp
on foot en route to the Burma Hospital.
"crime" (no orders had been issued against speaking to British
personnel on the road), the officer was tied up with ropes to the stump
of a tree outside the I.J.A. Headquarters for some hours in full view
of the troops and of the hundreds of coolies in the vicinity.
3. On the
following day a pick could not be found after the finish of camp
work. It was obvious that it had been removed by another
section of the Japanese quartered in the camp, presumably in error.
When the matter was reported to Toyama,
who was temporarily in charge of the
camp he ordered that unless the pick was found overnight,
rations for the whole camp, including
the sick, would be stopped until the pick was handed in.
At 2330 hours, Lt.-Col. Kappe, the O.C.
British Troops, and Capt. Swartz were taken
to the I.J.A. Headquarters and arraigned before Toyama.
After much discussion and protests against starving the hospital
patients had been lodged, Lt.-Col. Kappe stated that on behalf of the
Australians who had been using that particular tool that day he would
take full responsibility.
On this Toyama reduced the punishment by stopping only the meals of the
officers and personnel on camp duties, a search being ordered to be
carried out at reveille next day.
Next morning this was done by all excepting a few sick officers and the
medical officers. Observing these latter officers, Toyama
screamed in rage, and the three officers referred to were taken to the
Japanese quarters and spoken to at great length on the subject of
Efforts to explain that his orders had been carried out were of no
As the Camp Commander had personally taken the responsibility for the
matter, he had no option but to kneel on the ground when he was so
ordered. This humiliation was shared by the other two
officers, who agreed sotto voce that to refuse would only bring trouble
on the heads of the men who so far had been spared.
The missing pick was found a few minutes later, peculiarly enough in
the area which had been diligently searched throughout the night and
morning. After Toyama had apologised "for all the trouble"
the incident closed.
4. This Gunsoku was himself prominent and
offensive during a search of the camp by Japanese Military Police.
Whereas the search by the
latter was carried out thoroughly and quietly, with the
minimum damage to men's gear, the
gunsoku seemed to delight in throwing
personal effects on to the muddy ground and walking over
men's scanty pieces of bedding in his
muddy boots. His roaring and yelling commenced at dawn and
continued until midnight. It
is no wonder that the nerves of everybody in the camp
were at breaking-point.
Apart from the severity of the demands for road and railway work, Lieut
Fukuda had demanded men for the construction of new huts and kitchen
for the Korean guards and for the construction of a fence which fronted
the camp only.
Threats now began to be made that unless demands for working parties
were met in full the whole camp, including the sick and dying, would
have to camp in the jungle without tents, in order to make way for
thousands of coolies who would have to be called in so that the section
of the railway in this area could be completed in time.
On 16th August, after every demand seemed to have been met, even to the
satisfaction of the Japanese, 50 men were demanded from the
hospital. This was refused.
. . . To be continued
We have dealt with the demands made upon the party for the supply of
men to build huts and kitchens for the Korean guards.
Even men from the hospital were demanded, and a threat was made that if
the demands were not met the whole party, including the sick and dying,
would have to camp in the jungle without tents.
A stormy incident occurred when the guards entered the hospital and
attempted to intimidate the sick by striking the flooring close to the
men's bodies. The Camp Commander ordered the men not to
budge, and he protested on humanitarian grounds. Toyama then
appeared and threatened all forms of punishment, and stated that unless
50 men were out of the hospital within five minutes the whole camp
would be placed on half rations and that the guards would forcibly
eject men picked at random.
In a hurried conference the Senior Medical Officer advised that more
harm would ensue if the present meagre ration was reduced by 50% and if
the guards, and not he, made the selection of the men required for
work: and in these circumstances 50 patients in the final
stages of malaria treatment were selected. Yet another
determined effort to save the sick from unwarranted brutality had
The number of sick, including those "sick in lines", passed the 1,000
mark on 13th August, and steadily grew to a maximum of 1,124 on 17th
Up to 1st September inclusive the daily number of sick averaged 1,050.
The hospital stats for the period 3rd to 31st August follow-
Ulcers and Skin
Ulcers and Skin
* The S.M.O. reported that 100% of the camp was suffering from Beri
Beri to some degree.
Deaths for period - A.I.F., 23; British Troops, 42.
Total number in hospital 31st August, 994.
Sick for whom no accommodation available, 35.
Proportion of camp strength sick, 63.5%
It can be seen from the above that despite the untiring devotion to
duty of the medical officers and hospital staff, the situation was most
The conditions inside the hospital were dreadful, and the stench from
the ulcer and dysentery wards well-nigh unbearable.
Sick men were lying shoulder to shoulder on a rough bamboo staging,
some without a covering other than an old bag which the I.J.A. had
The roof of the dysentery ward leaked badly. Repeated
requests for the replacement of the attap had all met with
indifference, and it was a pitiable sight to see, every time it rained
at all heavily, some 70-odd patients huddled together in the
passageway, their bedding and what little other gear they possessed
having been hurriedly stacked on one side where it was dry.
The threat that the camp would be invaded by natives was borne out on
19th August, when a complete line of huts had to be evacuated to make
room for them. To overcome the great shortage of
accommodation that resulted, some of the huts were double-decked, but
14 - 16 men still had to occupy each bay instead of the eight for which
they had been designed.
Mainly due to the work of one or two hygiene N.C.Os and the spare
officers, some progress was made by the end of the month in the digging
of new latrines, the erection of a new kitchen, and the building of a
few "corduroy" paths through the camp area.
The arrival of thousands of natives presented a fresh danger from
disease. Between their huts and the fence erected to prevent
contact with them the coolies threw scrap rice and defacated and
urinated at will.
Flies began to breed prolifically and the stench was indescribable, as
was the noise which emanated from the huts for the 24 hours of the day,
depriving the sick and working men alike of much-needed sleep.
Requests to Lieut. Fukuda to have the No-Man's Land cleared were only
met with the answer that the coolies came under the control of the
Engineers, and that he could do nothing.
A particularly obnoxious latrine had been dug within 10 yards of the
point from which the camp had to draw water, whilst also above this was
the Japanese guards' washing pit and kitchen.
It almost seemed at times that the I.J.A. would have been pleased to
see the death rate so increase that their worry of guarding the
prisoners would be removed.
Working conditions throughout the month were particularly
arduous. Three-mile walk to the job, first over
rough stones and then through a slippery jungle path, with no boots,
was a heavy enough strain on the unfit men without the task of digging
a deep cutting which required three separate removals of the earth
owing to the depth of the cutting.
Other men were engaged on bridge construction and the handling of heavy
timbers for long hours.
As the days went on, the time that the men returned to camp was getting
later and later, and by 31st August it was 2230 hours before they came
in for their evening meal.
At dark a guard was placed on the section of the creek used for
ablution, and as this guard remained on duty until 0800 hours, by which
time the men had moved out to work again, many personnel went for days
without a wash except that obtained in pools on the side of the road.
The rations for the month were poor and quite inadequate for the
workers and indigestible by the very sick. Oil, towgay etc.,
which would have provided the sick with more appetising food, was not
issued, nor were purchases of these articles from Nieke village
permitted, although supplies were available there.
The average daily ration was: Beans, 2.5
oz.; Salt, 0.0024 oz.; Whitebait, 0.75
oz.; Boxed meat, 2 oz. (less than ½ oz. reached
the men because of its maggoty condition); Rice, 24 oz for
Engineers' workers, 20 oz. for camp workers, and 16 oz. for hospital
An attempt was made to reduce the effects of beri beri by the
collection of green leaves from the area near the camp. These
were boiled into a stew and given to special cases.
The first news of the officers who had escaped from No. 2 Camp was
received on 27th August, when a party under Lieut. Fukuda left to bring
in the four survivors of the original party of nine. Fiendish
delight was displayed by the camp guards when they informed the camp
that the escapees were to be brought to the camp and executed.
Despite the conditions enumerated above the morale of the Australians
still remained high. With a rare exception the men were
determined, if necessary, to fight it out until they collapsed through
the strain of heavy work and insufficient rations.
. . . To be continued
STORY OF THE F FORCE
Last issue's instalment dealt with the long hours worked by the men on
bridge and road building. The day's work would commence in
the early hours of the morning, and end at 11.30 at night.
Sometimes, the return to camp (Upper Songkurai) would be after midnight.
It had been hoped that by the beginning of September the work on the
railway cuttings, embankments, and bridges would have been completed,
but, despite the employment of two or three thousand Burmese natives,
who had arrived in the area, much work yet remained to be done.
It was to be 18th September before the section of the railway in the
vicinity of the camp was ready to take the sleepers and rails which, it
was ascertained, were being laid down from the Burma end by special
gangs drawn from "A" Force (ex Changi in April, 1942).
Nor was there any respite from the monsoonal rains, which had eased for
a few days in the third week of August, but again set in with renewed
intensity, and continued throughout the whole of September.
The first 2 ½ weeks of September was the most severe period
which the men in this camp had to endure.
To provide the numbers demanded each day, sick men had to be included
in the working parties. Many of these were returned to camp
early by the Engineers after being threatened with thrashings if they
appeared at work again. Appeals were made to have the numbers
reduced on the ground that defenceless men were in danger of being
maltreated, but the administration stated that the increased numbers
had been demanded by Engineer Headquarters at Nieke, and that they were
powerless to intervene.
As a result of deaths the camp strength was gradually decreasing, and
the average sick figure was being maintained, yet no relief was granted.
At the beginning of the month the workers were being handed over to the
Engineers at 0730 hours (this meant Reveille at 0630 hours, first light
being at 0745 hours), and were being returned to camp at varying times
between 2000 hours and 2130 hours.
On 11th September Col. Banno arrived at the camp, accompanied by his
medical officer, Lieut. Tanio, who made a cursory inspection of the
camp lasting less than 15 minutes.
The opportunity was taken by the S.M.O. to represent the case for a
reduction in the strength of outside working parties. The
Japanese doctor promised that he would take up this matter with Col.
Banno. The situation regarding the shortage of drugs was
pointed out, and the S.M.O. was asked to submit a list of requirements
for one month. Lieut. Tanio stating that he considered the
move south would have commenced by the end of that period.
Two days later the officers in charge of working parties were informed
that work on the railway earthworks and bridges had to be accelerated,
and accordingly the men would have to remain on the jobs until the work
was completed, a period estimated at between 72 and 96 hours.
On the grounds that this was a certain way of killing many men, a
protest was lodged with the administration by the Camp Commander, who
was informed that superior orders had stipulated that the railway must
pass No. 3 Camp by 15th September at any cost.
Heavy rain fell throughout that day, and in the evening conditions
became so bad that the flares by which the night work was to be
performed were doused by the rain, resulting in the men being returned
to camp at 2130 hours.
Next day - 14th - weather conditions were little better, and working
hours much longer. The men went out to work at 0630 hours,
but did not return until 0250 hours the following morning.
Before turning in they were ordered to parade again at 0630 hours,
which meant at the most, three hours' rest. Sixty workers had
to be replaced by men from hospital, the medical officers being kept
busy throughout the night examining and classifying men with the object
of saving the worst cases from further hardship.
Needless to say, all camp duties, with the exception of cooking and
nursing of the sick, had to cease.
On 15th September the Camp Commander had been promised that work would
cease at 1530 hours that day, but it was 0200 hours on the 16th before
the men staggered back into camp. The strain now, both
physical and mental, was terrific.
Men were too exhausted even to speak, and acted more as automatons than
human beings. It was only the thought that the end was in
sight that sustained them in these days of sheer torture.
Large numbers were being returned throughout the day with reports that
on some of the jobs there were too many men engaged for the work to be
carried out efficiently.
Promises that unfit men would be given lighter work were not always
kept. The statement made by Lieut. Fukuda in July that
prisoners would have to be sacrificed for the railway was proving to be
only too true.
A reduction of 50 was obtained on 17th September, and the men were
returned by 2140 hours after 15 hours of work, with practically no
On the evening of 18th September it was advised that the main work was
finished and that the 19th had been declared as a holiday; this was the
first day's respite since the commencement of the work in May - in fact
since their departure from Changi in April, always excepting, of
course, the days of illness spent in hospital. A number had
worked for an unbroken period of five weeks, and a few had carried on
for over 6 weeks without a break and under conditions almost
As a special gesture an issue of cigarettes was made to the workers; to
those who had worked 40 days on end - 200 cigarettes; 30 days, 150; 20
days, 100; and 15 days, 50.
Earlier in the month Engineer workers had received an issue of 200, the
camp workers 100 and the sick 50 cigarettes per man.
Other special issues made about this time were 1 ½ bags
sugar, 140 tins milk, and 86 tins margarine. The I.J.A.
instructed that the latter two items were to be issued to the
workers. This was disregarded, however, and the bulk was
handed over to the hospital in the hope of saving the lives of some of
the seriously and dangerously ill.
The rest period was short-lived, for from 20th to 26th September 400
men were out again repairing washaways on the embankments.
Starting time had been put back to 0815 hours, and the work, which had
become lighter, was finishing in time for the men to return to camp in
For the remainder of the month only 250 men were asked for, thereby
enabling the unfit to have a chance of rest and treatment.
Unfortunately for many, as the casualty lists for October and November
will show, the relief had come too late.
The relations with the administration had improved since the "pick
incident", and with the arrival of Koyayasu (Official I.J. Interpreter)
many difficulties were avoided. A new Camp Quartermaster
(Tomayama), who also arrived on 25th September, was making genuine
efforts to improve the ration position and was meeting with some
However, the rations were still inadequate. For the month of
September the average daily issue was :-
Rice : 23
oz. - sufficient rice was no issued to place all men on the same scale.
Boxed Meat : 2.7 oz.
(30% had to be
condemned, and in normal times 50% of the remainder
would have been condemned as
unfit for human consumption).
Fresh Meat : 0.02 oz.
Salt : 0.6
Dried Fish :
0.32 oz. (normally 90% would have been condemned.)
3.7 oz. - the bulk of these were issued to outside workers.
Conditions in the hospital were extremely bad. Accommodation
was overtaxed to the limit and after many protests on this score
approval was given on 17th September to double-deck one hospital hut,
and when this was completed it was possible to accommodate some of the
staff and patients in the last stages of malaria treatment on the upper
Nothing was done, however, to repair the roof of the dysentery ward.
. . . To be continued
THE STORY OF F FORCE
Last issue, the conditions at the Upper Songkurai were
described. Accommodation was overtaxed to the limit in what
was called a hospital, but which was a series of huts jammed with
patients, one hut having double decking.
No medical supplies or dressings had been issued by the
I.J.A. Stocks were so limited that M and B tablets had to be
reserved for pneumonia cases, charcoal was the only item given for the
treatment of dysentery, and no sulphur was available for the treatment
of scabies, which were fairly general and in most cases had become
Dressings for the hundreds of ulcers had to be used for weeks on end,
and there were no facilities for proper sterilisation.
The ulcer treatment parades, where the infected areas were scraped by
improvised instruments, were horrible sights. In several
cases amputations were imperative, but could not be performed because
of the shortage of dressings. After a direct request had been
made to I.J.A. Headquarters at Nieke by the Camp Commander two rolls of
lint were handed over.
It is known that Force Headquarters had been constantly asking for
medical stores to be brought forward from the dump at Banpong, but the
answer given always was that the road to the south was
impassable. At the same time, however, war equipment and
merchandise of the Nieke shopkeepers were being brought forward in
quantities by river barges, which were operating as far north as Nieke
village throughout the monsoon period.
The health position throughout the month can be determined by the table
September 14 September
21 September 30
Tropical Ulcers and Skin
Sick in Lines
Remarks: E - English
T - Total
*British Bn. strength increased by two
Officers, 41 O.Rs ex No. 5 Camp.
Throughout the month blasting had been carried out in the quarry
adjacent to the camp. This was only 50 yards from one of the
British hospital wards, and every day large fragments of rock fell
through the roofs of all the hospital wards and about the camp.
Many patients were hit, one receiving a fractured arm, and other
narrowly missing being killed.
Many of the sick could be seen sitting up in the bays with their heads
covered and absolutely terrified.
The noise of the blasting and the danger from flying stone racked the
nerves of these poor unfortunates, many of whom were too sick to move
out of range of the falling stones.
Requests were made for a reduction in the blasting charges, but, if
anything, the intensity of the blasting increased.
The only suggestion offered by the administration was to transfer the
sick to another part of the camp.
Morale, which was particularly low amongst the British troops, received
a fillip on 30th September, when it was announced that the move south
was expected to take place in the middle of October, and Camp
Headquarters was asked to furnish a return of lying, sitting, and
walking cases in the camp hospital so that accommodation on the trains
could be arranged.
Upper Songkurai Camp - October
After the shocking conditions that the camp had had to endure during
August and September, October was to be a month of comparative peace
and quiet. Now that the railway was running, pressure was
relaxed to some extent.
Unfortunately for many, relief had come too late. Men who had
been admitted to hospital during the last half of August, and who had
hung on gamely throughout September, now were succumbing to their
diseases and debility brought about by the lack of reasonable food.
One hundred and forty-nine deaths during the month reduced the camp
strength from 1,566 to 1,417.
Up to the end of September the A.I.F. deaths had been only 50% of the
number sustained by the British troops, but the figures for October,
viz., 86 British and 63 A.I.F. brought the proportion on a relative
strength basis up to 75%. The probable cause of this increase
in A.I.F. deaths had been explained previously.
Although there was no great deterioration in the health situation
generally, the number of sick at October 31 was 937, compared with 966
at the end of September, and this despite the heavy death
rate. Had the work conditions of the previous month been
maintained, the loss of life would have been considerably greater.
For the first week only 250 men were demanded by the Engineers, but
this number was increased by 100 when an Engineer Officer observed a
ration party of that strength carrying rations from the abandoned No. 5
Camp. He apparently was determined that the Engineers would
exact the last particle of manpower from the camp, and made
arrangements for the delivery of rations to be made by motor transport.
For a few days 350 were sent out, but, as this figure could not be
maintained without drawing men from the Convalescent Depot,
representations were made, and the numbers were gradually reduced until
during the last four days only 280 outside workers were being supplied.
This was the first occasion on which the I.J.A. Administration had
acceded to our protests against the demands of the Engineers.
Even now, over 80 men from hospital were carrying out essential duties
in caring for their more sick comrades each day.
Through the efforts of Tomayama, the I.J.A. Quartermaster, the quantity
and standard of the rations also improved, the average daily scale
being rice 23 oz., beans 2 oz., boxed meat 1 oz., fresh meat 0.55 oz.,
potatoes 10.75 oz., salt 1.3 oz. In addition, gula malacca,
curry, coffee, and sauce were issued in small quantities from time to
time, and, with the aid of a few canteen supplies which now were coming
to hand, more appetising meals could be provided for the sick.
For a number of reasons, none of which seemed justifiable, it had not
been possible to obtain canteen supplies during the whole of August and
September. It was most heartening, therefore, when at the
beginning of October, Force Headquarters at No. 2 Camp were able to
purchase from Nieke on behalf of the camp, such items as towgay,
peanuts, oil and tinned fish.
The bulk of the vitamin foods were purchased for the hospital from
funds deducted from officers' pay, and it now was possible to provide
250 men with a special diet. It was only lack of supplies
which prevented the increase of this number, for since the inception of
the Force the officers had donated approximately half their pay to
hospital funds, and these by now were considerable. An amount
had been transferred to the Burma Hospital, but ample remained for the
benefit of the sick whenever the I.J.A. authorities thought fit to
provide the necessary facilities for purchase from Nieke.
. . . To be continued
Up to now the article as published in Mufti in 1951-53 had to content
itself with a statement of this history being written by a senior
officer of the "F" Force.
Permission was then extracted from that officer to attach his name, and
accordingly, it is now shown as Brigadier C.H.Kappe OBE ( he must have
been promoted post war, as at the time of being with "F" Force has was
a Lieutenant Colonel. He did not enjoy a good reputation
amongst the survivors of "F" Force).
A note also says, that many requests had been received that the story
be published eventually in book form, but, that no decision had been
reached (a shame).
In October, Force Headquarters at No. 2 Camp found itself able to
purchase supplies from Nieke for the provision of a special diet for
about 250 sick men. The extras were not much by ordinary
standards but they meant a lot to the sick men who received them.
It was unfortunate that after one or two deliveries supplies were
stopped from leaving Nieke. No doubt a "squeeze" had been
introduced, for when deliveries were resumed later in the month all
prices had risen.
The inability to trade through authorised channels had the effect of
driving the men to purchase minor items of tobacco etc.,
surreptitiously from the natives. With cholera and smallpox
prevalent in the coolie camp, this was dangerous, particularly as it
was appreciated that any outbreak of either of these two diseases would
result in movement the south being delayed for weeks.
Reluctantly orders to enforce the I.J.A. ruling that no contact was to
be had with the natives had to be issued, and continuous picquets and
patrols had to be instituted.
The stoppage of canteen supplies provided the guards with an
opportunity to profiteer in the sale of tinned milk, meat, vegetables,
etc., with which they had been issued in fair quantity.
Realising that the troops had been starved for months and were
hungering for anything with a flavour, they demanded and received as
much as 8 dollars a tin for these items. This was more than a
month's pay for a man working on the road every day. By this
means some of the Koreans were in possession of what, to them, must
have been a fortune.
A few clothing items were received from the I.J.A. Boots, all
very old and mainly of small sizes, were issued after the guards had
made their selection; 260 pairs shorts -Dutch pattern and with a waist
measurement of 27 in. - and a similar number of old shirts also were
issued. Small as the quantity was and despite their defects,
they were most welcome.
The constant rumours as to the date the camp would close and the
repeated postponement of the move had, in turn, heartening and
depressing effects on the sick. A number of the more
seriously ill cases had hung on grimly for weeks in the hope that they
would be shifted any day to the south where better hospitals and food,
particularly eggs, would be available.
There is no doubt that the delay was caused by the failure of the
Engineers to link the two ends of the railway, for it was learned later
that a rock cutting south of Nieke had presented a greater task than at
first was estimated, and the north-south railway was not ready for
through traffic until 20th October.
On 16th October a medical classification with the object of selecting
500 fit men was ordered. It appears that there was some
intention of removing the fit men of the Force to some area where again
they would be engaged on constructional works.
Of the 1,500 men in camp, only 490 measured up to the fit category, 87
as fit for light duty only, and the balance of over 900 as unfit for
any duties. It was pointed out that if the fit men were moved
the sick could not be provided for, and that at least 150 men would
have to remain if the hospital patients were to be given a chance of
survival. On 29th October a nominal roll to be completed by
5th November was called for, and Camp Headquarters was informed that
the move would commence soon after that date.
The position regarding essential medical supplies had become most
grave, since none of the requirements submitted to Lieut. Tanio had
been forthcoming. Strong representations were made to the
I.J.A. administration through Korayasu (Interpreter), who suggested
that a memorandum be prepared setting out the minimum requirements, and
in the event of the I.J.A. Headquarters being unable to supply, that
the Camp Commander offer to pay for the purchase of the supplies at
Rangoon or Bangkok. Korayasu indicated that supplies were
available at those places. The officers willingly offered to
subscribe the sum of 1,500 for the purpose, and this amount was
mentioned in the memorandum.
The solitary result of this request was the supply of 138 yards of
muslin butter cloth, for which Lieut. Fukuda charged 100 per yard.
After five months of asking, both by Force Headquarters and individual
Camp Commanders, two bags of rice polishings were delivered on 29th
October, together with two cases of Ebos (Yeast) tablets.
These were of the greatest value in the treatment of beri beri, which
was increasing considerably, and had accounted for over 30 deaths since
the beginning of the month.
The health situation during October is summarised as follows -
|Total in hospital
|Deaths during period
SONGKURAI CAMP (No. 2)
Going back to conditions in No. 2 Songkurai Camp when Major Tracey and
his battalion of 866 A.I.F. (made up on 600 men from No. 1 camp and 266
from Nieke) had concentrated in No. 2 Camp they found conditions worse
there than in any other camp of the Force.
The British troops - originally 1,600, but now reduced by deaths to
just under 1,000 - had suffered severely. Their work task had
been the construction of a large bridge over the river adjacent to the
camp. So severe were the demands on them by the engineer
officer-in-charge, Lieut. Abe, that men unfit to walk had to be carried
on their comrades' backs to parade and thence to work on the bridge,
where they were forced to haul heavy logs and beams from a sitting
Men had been, and continued to be, beaten (until the completion of the
bridge on August 20) with wire whips and bamboo sticks, and unfit men
were punched and kicked, not for disciplinary reasons, but to drive
them to make efforts beyond their strength. Lieut. Abe made
no attempt whatsoever to stop this brutal treatment by his men.
So many officers were in hospital that it was impossible to organise
them into works and hygiene squads, as was done in the A.I.F camps, and
with no men available for essential camp duties sanitation had
collapsed. The whole situation had got out of control and the
morale of the men was extremely low. The proportion of sick
in the camp was extremely high, and the death rate was mounting.
Major Tracey reports that on his arrival "hygiene had been completely
neglected, food containers were covered with flies and not washed
between meals, all food was left uncovered, and the floors of the
kitchen were inches deep in mud and waste food. The
other ranks' huts and hospital (they were all one) beggared
description. Both the inside and outside of the huts were
fouled, and the excreta had not been cleared up for days. No
facilities existed for the sterilisation of cooking and eating utensils
or for washing or bathing those too ill to make their way to the
adjacent creek. The latrines were in close proximity to the
sleeping quarters and were full to the brim, while maggots covered the
Major Tracey and his party put these matters right as quickly as
possible - new cookhouses were built, old latrines filled in and new
ones dug, sterilisation points established, and a large wood supply cut
and stacked. These steps immediately raised the morale of the
camp from the very low ebb to which it had fallen.
In spite of these improvements in hygiene it was not until the movement
of the large party to Burma that conditions in the camp could be said
to be satisfactory. The daily sight of bodies being taken to
the cemetery had had a most distressing effect.
Regarding rations, the scale for August was particularly bad.
Rice was issued in good quantities, but the supplementary ration
consisted of weevil-eaten beans and small quantities of fly-blown boxed
. . . To be continued
The evacuation to Burma Hospital on September 2, of 620 British and
Australians relieved the strain on the administrative and medical
staffs, and another bright spot was the arrival of Lieut. Wakabyashi,
of the Jap P.O.W. administration who reduced the numbers going out to
The result of all the improvements was that by the middle of September
the camp could be said to be in an excellent condition, while
co-operation between British and Australian administrative officers and
all other ranks was all that could be desired.
After the tragedies of the recent months (for instance, 268 deaths
during August alone), such improvements were none too soon.
Additions to the strength of the camp were made on September 24 and
November 7, when 250 British and 107 Australian troops arrived from
Shimo Songkurai and Taimonta respectively.
Ten days after the arrival of the Taimonta group an advance party left
for Kanburi, and by movement at short periods after that date the
complete evacuation of the camp was effected.
TANBAYA HOSPITAL, BURMA
It may be reasonably assumed that the establishment of the Tanbaya
Hospital arose out of the recommendation of Major Bruce Hunt, A.A.M.C.,
on June 26. Major Hunt had said that if the more serious of
the patients were transferred to a hospital at or near a railhead, they
would probably get a more adequate ration, and therefore a better
chance of recovery.
Apparently the Force Commander was given a sympathetic hearing when he
represented Major Hunt's case, for on June 29, Lieut. Tanio, a Japanese
medical officer attached to I.J.A. Hdqrs. at Nieke, accompanied by
Major Phillips, arrived at No. 1 Camp, and informed the camp
authorities there that they were en route to Burma to select the site
for a base hospital, to which 2,000 men of the Force would be
Lieut. Tanio gave instructions immediately for a medical classification
of the men. Those selected for transfer were to be men
suffering from chronic diseases to the extent that they would be unfit
for work for two months. Class II and older men were to be
included in this group.
Patients suffering from infectious diseases (except chronic dysentery)
and those in a dangerously ill condition were, however to be excluded.
After all the preliminary arrangements had been made, and the sick had
been heartened by the hope of gaining a chance of getting back their
health, it was announced on July 9 that the establishment of the
hospital had been postponed indefinitely.
Then, on July 21, came an announcement that the scheme would be put
into effect, but that the number of transfers would be reduced.
Instead of 2,000, there would be 1,250 transferred.
Three days later Major Hunt accompanied Col. Banno to Tanbaya - the
site of the hospital - on the railway about 50 miles north-west from
Lower Songkuai,. Here a conference was held with Lieut.
Saito, an I.J.A. administrative officer, who informed Major Hunt that a
move would take place seven days after his return on July 28.
A move, he said, before that date was out of the question.
In typical Japanese style, a move order did come before the seven days,
for on July 30 Major Hunt received an order to be away in an hour with
an advance party, to move off by the road to Tanbaya.
Well thought-out orders that had been issued by Force Hdqrs. in
consultation with I.J.A. Hdqrs. were dumped, and the movement then
became a sort of catch-as-catch-can.
The organisation of the hospital was to be as follows :
O.C. Hospital :
||Major B. Hunt, A.A.M.C.
Adm. Commandant :
||Lt.-Col. C. T. Hutchinson, M.C. 3xForce H.Q.
Administrative Personnel :
||3 Officers and
50 other ranks.
Medical Staff :
||7 Officers and 130 other ranks.
Actually, the number of patients moved was well over 1,900, mainly as a
result of the sympathetic efforts of Lieut. Wakabyashi, the I.J.A.
Commander of No. 2 Camp.
By September 7 the following transfers had been made :
No. 1 Camp
No. 2 Camp
No. 5 Camp
The No. 2 Camp personnel were originally at Nola and Nieke.
No. 3 Camp was not represented in the transfer. Fifty had
been selected, but the move was cancelled because of the cholera
outbreak at that camp.
By September 29, 282 British and 64 Australians had died at the Tanbaya
Hospital. For them, the transfer had come too late.
Many of the British troops from the No. 2 Camp were desperately ill on
arrival, and about 20 had died en route.
Major Hunt reported that the chief cause of death amongst the British
was starvation, due to the dysentery and malaria cases whether
voluntarily, or on medical advice, refraining from eating anything like
an adequate daily ration. The Australians were better
informed or disciplined in this respect, and the sick were compulsorily
fed when they rejected food.
The rations up to this date had been poor, but the rice ration was now
increased to about 19 oz. per man per day. The meat issue was
about 1.5 oz. per day, and the vegetables, which comprised mainly
egg-fruit, had little vitamin content, with the result that there were
soon 563 cases of beri beri.
A larger supply of beans was asked for, but only one third of a bag was
A number of cases of acute cardiac beri beri occurred mostly amongst
men debilitated from other diseases. In addition there were
512 cases of dysentery, many of them of the amoebic type.
Hygiene control, however, had materially assisted in stopping the
spread of the disease in the camp. There were 436 cases of
malaria. Many of the MT type, but of a very virulent nature,
and there were 219 malaria convalescents.
Ulcer cases numbered 332, and many of these were so serious that
amputations were essential to save the patients' lives.
Sickness amongst the medical staff was another trouble. Only
about 60 of the 157 personnel were fit for duty. 38 faced an illness of
at least six weeks' duration, whilst the remainder expected to be ill
Major Hunt asked for an additional Australian medical officer, and
approval was given by the Commander, A.I.F. troops, for Captain Hendry
from No. 2 Camp to go forward.
By the 10th October the number of deaths had risen to 329 British and
86 Australian, representing 31.3% and 10.1% of the arrivals
Beri beri cases had increased to 600, and many ulcer cases had reached
an appalling state. Had the hospital to be moved at this
stage at least 800 stretcher cases would have had to be moved, and 50%
of these would have been cases near to death.
An evacuation to Kanburi however, was planned but it was decided that
only the fittest of men should undertake the journey south, and that
the remainder should be kept at Tanbaya until they had recovered
sufficiently to make the journey with a fair degree of certainty of
reaching Kanburi alive.
The bean ration, considered by Major Hunt to be so important in
beri-beri cases, was increased from a third of a bag to a whole bag a
day. A visit to a nearby "A" Force Camp elicited the
information that for a similar number of men the daily issue there was
three to four bags, and, this being told to the I.J.A. administrative
office, the bean ration was increased to three bags a day.
Had the camp commandant agreed to provide the ration earlier, most of
the 600 beri-beri victims would never have contracted the condition.
The additional beans, combined with a daily issue of 3 oz. rice
polishings, began to have a striking effect, but only after 100 men had
died of beri beri.
By the first week in November the water supply became a
problem, The cookhouse had to be shifted twice because of the
neighbouring streams drying up and a 750-yard carry of water became
The number of deaths continued to rise, and by November 10, 438 British
troops had died out of 1,061 arrivals, and 161 Australians out of 871
The likelihood of a move south prompted the carrying out of a medical
examination of all personnel. This examination revealed that
only 4 officers and 53 men were fit to march.
Of the others, 66 officers and 955 men were fit to travel sitting, and
2 officers and 139 men were fit to travel lying.
Over 100 were considered too ill to travel at all.
By the time the evacuation of the hospital was commenced on November
21, the number completely unfit to travel had risen to over 300.
Up to November 24 the admissions and deaths at Tanbaya Hospital were as
|No. 1 Camp
|No. 2 Camp
|No. 5 Camp
. . . To be continued
This instalment deals with the experiences of the battalion under the
charge of Lt.-Col. Pond which had been located in a separate camp, in
which there was cholera.
The ration position was stationary, the weather was heavy with rain,
and working hours were still inhuman.
The only matter to be placed on the credit side was the receipt of the
first pay for three and a half months.
Working pay for the men was 20 cents a day, although coolies were
receiving over one dollar for the same work. By deductions
from the officers' pay and contributions from the men it was possible
to allow 2 ½ cents per man per day for the sick.
Still more welcome was the appearance of river barges with canteen
supplies, which included tinned fish, eggs, gula Malacca, bananas,
biscuits, tinned milk, pomeloes, and peanut toffee. The
prices for these were high - too high for purchases to be made except
in small quantities, but by the sale of watches and other valuables to
the Japanese guards and the sale of clothing to the Thais, sufficient
was obtained to finance many purchases that undoubtedly saved many
In spite of spirited protests by Capts. Barnett (adjutant) and Mills
(medical officer) to Lieut Murayama against the starvation of the sick,
no improvement was forthcoming.
So aggressive was Capt. Mills on one occasion that Murayama challenged
him to a fight to the death with Japanese weapons - to show, he said,
how superior the Japanese were to the English.
Cpt. Mills countered with an offer to fight with fists, but this was
On one occasion, at Taimonta, Capt. Mills, through a misunderstanding
over the sending of men to work, was compelled to kneel for a long
period before Murayama's sergeant, and receive repeated blows on the
head with a bamboo stick.
During this period the striking and face-slapping of the men was
frequent although seldom severe.
Four other officers received "bashings" - Capts. Lloyd, Gahan and
Curlewis, for intervening on behalf of the men, and Capt. Kemp for
arguing about rations.
By the 10th August there had been a sharp rise in dysentery and
diarrhoea, but it was followed by an equally sharp fall.
On the 13th August the cholera epidemic reached a peak, and 135
patients were isolated. From that date, however, a steady
decline ensued, and by the end of the month only 48 were still in
The transfer on the 16th August of another batch of 80 of the very sick
to Kanburi Hospital greatly relieved the strain on the medical staff,
and vastly improved the accommodation position.
The continual carrying and soaking of the tentage had resulted in
almost all the tents rotting and tearing.
The consequence was a shortage of tents necessitating men, whatever
their illness, sleeping so close together as to be touching one
another, hardly conducive to reducing the sickness figures.
As mentioned previously, it was at this period that frantic efforts
were made to finish the section of the railway according to schedule,
and for the first time gelignite was used instead of the antiquated
method of removing tons of rock by pick and shovel.
Although the Japanese Engineers' ideas of blasting were primitive in
the extreme, the change greatly lessened the strain on the men.
The hours of work, however, increased, varying from 13 to 18 hours a
day. It was during this period that officers, men, and
coolies were herded together, working literally shoulder to
shoulder. The 10 minute rests for smoking were abolished in
the mornings, and, apart from lunch, there was no rest period until
Rations over the 10 days included a plentiful supply of rice; meat,
although made available in one large and two small issues, averaged 3
oz. per man per day; four gallons of oil and four gallons of curry were
issued for some 300 men; and one issue each of 3 oz. dried vegetables
and 5 oz. of dried fish also were received.
Protests were made against this inadequate diet, but they were of no
For the last period of the month there was little variation.
On the 25th August the return of 34 men, who had been left at
Tamarumpat as too ill to travel, brought the camp total strength up to
429, of whom 209 were sick and not fit for work of any kind.
Conditions in the small camp at Tamarumpat had been particularly
trying, as no fit man had been left for camp duties.
All medical work was attended to by Sgt. Boan, R.A.F. Sgt., 2/29 Bn.,
who deserves the credit for the responsible work he performed at this
During the two months 14 of the party died.
On the 31st August the third and final party of sick was evacuated to
Kanburi. Although of incalculable benefit to the sick
themselves, the evacuation did not relieve, as much as had been hoped,
the plight of the remainder. The sick were still receiving
only two meals a day of rice gruel, as they were not assisting in the
construction of the railway.
For the whole of the month the shortage of wood in close proximity to
the camp had necessitated weary men collecting logs over the last
half-mile of their return journey from work, and carrying them back to
camp for use as fuel in the kitchen.
The wearing out of much-used bandages resulted in old shirts and banana
leaves being substituted for the dressings on ulcers and the continual
flooding of latrines, accentuated by a rise of 30 ft. in the river,
caused grave concern, as the available space for fresh latrines had
At this time several men, whose nerves were not equal to the strain of
crossing the narrow logs on the high-level bridge when returning from
work at night, preferred to swim 80 yards in pitch darkness across a
fast-flowing river, down which trees and logs were floating.
Two strong protests were submitted by Lt.-Col. Pond to Lt.-Col. Banno
during this month.
The following is the first of these.
I.J.A. Headquarters, Nieke.
desire to bring to your notice the conditions of Australian soldiers in
this camp and to request that sympathetic consideration be given to
The party under my command, originally 700, now consists of
523, of whom 37 are at Tamarumpat, and
the balance are here. The party at Tamarumpat
consists of men too sick to move and
their number is decreasing by death every
few days. They are without a medical officer and
cannot obtain permission for nearby
English and Australian doctors to visit them.
At Takakun there are 112 fit men, 19 light sick and 356 heavy
sick men. Of the latter, 58
are isolated with cholera. There have been 20 deaths from
cholera in this camp, but the epidemic
now appears to be under control. I should like to
express appreciation of the efforts made
by the Japanese medical authorities to
assist in checking this epidemic - they have been most
We were recently permitted to send 70 men to a hospital down
the river, but there are at least
another 185 men who should be evacuated to hospital as they will be
unable to work for at least two months.
At the present I am required to send 200 men to work every
day and also have to provide 20 cooks
and 24 nursing orderlies. As a result, about 120 heavy sick
men have to go to work on the railway
even though suffering from Beri Beri,
Malaria and Dysentery. The work party leaves camp
about 0815 hours and returns usually
about 2130 hours or later. The work is heavy, particularly in
the almost constant rain, and as a
result sickness is increasing. If men with heavy
malaria and dysentery are to continue
going to work many of them will die.
Of the men in this camp about 150 have no boots at all and
over 150 have boots which are worn out
beyond repair. The number of bootless men increases by
about 30 per week. To provide
boots for working men I took the boots of the men
evacuated down the river to hospital. I have made
several applications for an issue of
boots but without success. Most of the men without boots now
have large septic sores on their feet
through having to work in continual wet and often
on rocky ground and they endure great hardships.
We also have 117
men without a shirt, and 54 men without a pair of shorts, while 256 men
have only one shirt, and 317 have only one pair of shorts,
134 men have no towel, and 181 have no ground sheets.
Thanks to the issue by the I.J.A. all men now have a blanket.
Food has improved somewhat during the past three weeks, but
there is a serious lack of meat and
fish. We have had meat on only five occasions in the last
five weeks, and that at the rate of 40,
55, 70, 80 and 40 grammes per man only.
There has been no fish or meat even for working men in the
past week - vegetables only.
In English camps in the vicinity meat is issued daily at the rate
of 200 grammes per man as well as
vegetables and fish.
We also need tea and sugar.
I have received orders that sick men in this camp are only to
receive two meals a day and this order
has to be obeyed. I feel sure that as a result many of the
sick men will not regain their health
and strength and will not be able to work again.
Some will no doubt die as a
Accommodation has improved a little with the building of
three double-decker stages and the
evacuation of the 60 men to hospital, but nevertheless, most men
become wet at night in bed when it rains
as it does every night. In consequence,
the deaths of a number of men have really been caused by
I repeat that if this force is required to move again, some
transport be provided for its baggage,
tents, cooking utensils and rice, all of which have been required
to be man-handled in the past.
In my opinion, if this is not done, there will not be 100 men
in the force capable of doing any work
after another move. Furthermore, most of the sick men need
transport though some would be able to
march if they carried no baggage.
sir, I trust that something may soon be done to improve the conditions
of my men as I am very concerned at the number of deaths and the amount
of sickness that have occurred.
I have the honour,
(Signed) S. A. F.
POND, Lt. Col., Commander A.I.F. Troops.
6th August, 1943.
Since writing this letter a further
supply of meat at the generous scale has been
received (120 grs.), and we have been given to understand
that this will continue regularly.
reference to para. 4, I should state that during the last two days the
number of working
men has not reached 200, but has been only from 140 to 175.
STORY OF THE
Brigadier C. H. KAPPE, O.B.E.
Last issue, the text was published of a strong note of protest sent by
Lt.-Col. Pond to Lt.-Col. Banno of Japanese headquarters.
Although he does not say so, it is likely that in his mind was the
thought that the letter would have dire consequences for
himself. It was not the kind of communication the Japs liked.
The appalling conditions in the camp had seriously weakened the men,
and the prospects of another move having to be made, requiring sick men
to carry out long marches, was stressed again and again to the Japs,
but to little effect.
On 3rd September the party again was put on the road to march, and in
three days under appalling conditions it covered 33 miles, retracing
the steps north for the second time.
After the evacuation of the sick south, there still were 347 in camp,
but an inspection of these disclosed that the recuperating cholera
cases were as yet unfit to move, and 60 of these were left under an
officer with a Japanese guard, remaining in the camp until they were
moved by barge to Kanburi Hospital on 30th October.
As no work was allotted to this party beyond camp duties, the rations
were satisfactory, and, being no longer under the supervision of
Murayama, the Korean guards were reasonably good and canteen supplies
were plentiful, providing for two months the best conditions enjoyed by
any personnel in Thailand.
The marching party, after all deductions had been made, numbered only
287 of the original 700, death having accounted for 71.
The monsoonal rains had ceased, but were replaced by intense and
stifling heat. Again the two night halts were in disused
coolie lines, totally inadequate tattered and torn tentage being the
only cover, and excreta and vomiting abounding.
On arrival at Taimonta at nightfall a most distressing-looking camp
awaited the troops - hut accommodation was at a premium and space could
be made available only by moving coolies and crowding them up to the
one end of the hut.
Again the coolie filth was everywhere, and on this occasion body lice
made themselves felt in a serious manner (it was not until some months
after the return of the Force to Changi that this pest could be brought
The rains had recommenced, and left the huts in a sea of black slippery
mud. The only latrine was one 20ft. from the hut, which had
to be shared with the coolies. Within two days this trench
was crawling with maggots, was foul smelling. and waterlogged.
Rations had to be served and eaten within a few yards of it.
For three weeks rations were supplied by the I.J.A. from the same
kitchen as used by the coolies, and consisted of rice, a fish flavoured
soup, and chillies.
The effect of these conditions was immediately apparent.
There was a sharp rise in the sickness rate. Skin conditions,
dysentery, and malaria soared, and of the 287 men only slightly over
half were fit for the work at hand, which had commenced in
spite of the arduous journey, on the morning after arrival.
A further protest was forwarded to Col. Banno on the 10th
September. Within a fortnight even Lieut. Murayama realised
that unless an alteration was made there would be no men at all
available for work. To insure against this he selected a new
camp site, and all sick men were turned out to work along with the
coolies in the clearing of the land and the erection of bamboo huts.
From that date, and for the ensuing seven weeks, the camp site occupied
was the best for the whole period. Admittedly the attap roofs
leaked, water had to be drawn from a stream 300 yards away, and
sandflies were particularly bad, but the benefit of being in a camp
that had not been occupied by coolies and was actually out of sight of
coolies was very great.
The work in September and in the first half of October varied
considerably; several late nights would occur (even up to 0230 hours),
and then a series of early nights, when work would finish at 2030 hours.
On the 15th October the rail-laying party from the north passed the
camp, and men were taken off the work in the cuttings and put to
breaking stones in a quarry to provide ballast for the line.
The food problem then became as bad as at any time previously
For three weeks the diet was rice, a square inch of dried fish once a
day, and a very little towgay mixed with leaves plucked from the
jungle. From information furnished by Korean guards it is
certain that Murayama was not distributing rations issued to him for
the prisoners of war.
For the last ten days of October a new form of torture was
instituted. A party of 100 men was called for each day to
carry Japanese railway gear from Nieke to Taimonta, or from Taimonta to
Koncoita. In both cases the return journey amounted to 15
The route was along the line, which meant that the men had to walk on
the irregularly spaced sleepers or on the hard gravel at the
sides. The lightest load was a bundle of five picks, the
heaviest an anvil, and on both journeys empty trains would pass the
struggling men without any effort being made to relieve them.
Without doubt these journeys were the culminating point in cruelty to
the sick. Staggering under their heavy loads, riddled with
malaria, with ulcerated and cut feet, men collapsed over and over
again, and their loads had to be redistributed to other already
overburdened men. On one occasion a warrant officer, a
particularly strong P.T. instructor, previously in the British Regular
Army, had to drag himself back to camp over the last three kilometres
on his hands and knees.
The beginning of November at last brought rest for the men.
The original party of 700, which had been reduced to 289 now, could, at
a pinch, produce only 80 men for a working party.
On the 6th November all men were put to their final test.
Orders were received that the whole camp would move north to Nieke,
carrying all its sick - about 50 - including 26 stretcher cases.
This meant an allocation of eight men to a stretcher. The
stretcher bearers included sick men who had to carry their own gear as
well as part of the sick man's gear. This particular march
will remain indelibly scarred in many men's minds.
Stretchers under normal conditions became heavy even after only a
The carrying of these improvised stretchers, laden with a very sick
patient and his gear, by sick men burdened with their own gear, along
railway sleepers or rough and uneven ground at the side throughout the
hottest hours of a Thailand sun brought about the collapse and
subsequent serious illness of many men who until then had borne the
brunt of the heavy work. Most stretcher parties found that
100 yards was the limit of endurance before the patient had to be
lowered and rest taken.
The first party covered the journey in seven hours, but were told on
arrival that there was not enough accommodation and that 100 men would
have to proceed another nine miles to Songkurai. When Lt.
Col. Pond arrived he ordered that Capt. Curlewis call for volunteers to
form the party to travel the remaining distance.
The call was made, but the men were in such bad shape that the
volunteers were insufficient. To make up the numbers men were
conscripted and told that they would simply have to go on, even though
they had collapsed on the ground exhausted.
The party got away at 2100 hours, and covered the nine miles journey in
six hours, and were finally settled in their new huts at 0430
hours. The following morning these 107 men were absorbed into
Major Tracey's party and became part and parcel of that camp until the
return journey to Kanburi was commenced.
Of the party remaining at Nieke little remains to be said.
The accommodation, as usual, was totally inadequate, a hut being shared
with Dutch P.O.Ws. Lice and vermin of all kinds were
abundant, and practically all men were suffering from
scabies. Forty men were employed in an I.J.A. ration store,
while the remainder were engaged in camp duties.
The average death rate in the Upper Songkurai camp was 6.5 per day with
no likelihood of the position improving except on a move south to
Kanburi, which had been promised for some time.
Knowing that the I.J.A. had failed to fulfil any of its many promises
in the past, the feat was in everyone's mine that the move for him
might come too late.
Two hundred men were still being sent out to work in the quarry and on
the railway, and even this comparatively small number was difficult to
provide. Fit men, however, preferred to go to work rather
than to stay in the depressing and unhealthy atmosphere of the camp.'
Work continued until the 15th of the month (November), and by this date
the camp strength had fallen from 1,732 to 1,313, comprising 454
British troops and 864 Australians, of whom 401 British and 711
Australians were still in hospital.
Some 250 men were then transferred to a group of new huts about half a
mile from the main camp-huts that had been completed for weeks except
for the attap roofing. As soon as the transfer was made,
coolie gangs entered the camp and commenced to demolish portion of the
old camp, thereby nullifying any expected benefit from a reduction in
the overcrowding. On 6th November some surgical dressings and
medical supplies came to hand.
While these were "better late than never," the supply was quite
inadequate, and consisted of creosote pills, quinine, and a quantity of
sulphur. The latter was small, but was sufficient to begin
treatment of scabies, which were not universal. Received,
too, were infinitesimal quantities of Emetine and vitamin B1
ampoules. The Emetine was sufficient only to treat three
dysentery cases for three days, and the ampoules were sufficient only
for two cases of beri beri.
From the manner in which these small supplies "were handed out, one
would have thought that all our requests for medical stores were being
fully and promptly met. In no case at all was this ever so.
Rations began to improve out of all recognition, and canteen supplies
in small quantities commenced to come in by personnel from the No. 2
Camp. Rice polishings and yeast tablets began to arrive at
It seemed that with the transfer of Lieut. Fukuda to Nieki and his
replacement by a probationary officer, the stumbling block to the
dozens of requests for better treatment made from time to time had been
removed. In any case, relations with the I.J.A. became better
than at any time previously, and there were many examples of a genuine
desire to alleviate the conditions of the sick and improve the rations.
Every day conflicting orders were given as to the move, and finality
was not reached until the 16th November, when 500 of the fittest men
were instructed to stand by in readiness to move the following
day. At 1900 hours that day the 500 men were assembled
alongside the railway line ready to entrain. Only two trucks
arrived and a party of 50, including Lieut. Col. Kappe, departed at
about 2100 hours. The remaining 450 returned camp for the
night, stood by the next day, and on the 18th marched to Nieke to
One hundred and fifty fit men were required to care for the sick men
remaining in camp, and that numbers were made up by taking some of the
sick men themselves - to undertake a march of 11 kilometres under
conditions that were almost criminal.
On 24th November the I.J.A. administration issued orders that on the
following day the hospital patients, accompanied by the camp
maintenance group of 150, were to march to Songkurai, en route to
Nieke. This was a perfectly absurd order, which the
I.J.A. camp commander must have been well aware was incapable of being
It had been pointed out by Lieut. Col. Kappe, when the proposition of
moving with the whole of the camp personnel to No. 2 Camp was mooted
some weeks previously, that with 150 to 160 stretcher patients to be
shifted at least four days would be needed to complete the evacuation.
Major Johnston, who had been left in charge of the sick, protested that
the scheme was fantastic, particularly now that it was required that
the move should be completed in one day. After much argument
the Engineers gave in and agreed that the remnants of the camp should
be entrained from outside the camp on 26th November.
The entrainment of the sick was a scene of great confusion.
Every detail for the move had previously been carefully worked out, so
that lying, sitting, and standing cases, with a proportion of fit men
and medical orderlies, should be allocated to trucks to provide a
maximum of attention and a minimum of discomfort.
All this had to go by the board, however, and the sick, regardless of
their category, were literally rushed on to the trains by the
I.J.A. Eventually only a small rear party of 22, in charge of
Lieut. Tweedie, remained to close the camp and to care for five men who
As the time approached for the departure of his rear party, one man was
so low that it was obviously only a matter of an hour or less before he
should die. The I.J.A. sergeant became impatient with Lieut.
Tweedie's desire that the man be allowed to die in peace, and kept
urging that the death in this case be expedited. Needless to
say, the request was ignored.
The improved conditions in the Songkurai Camp brought about by the new
camp administration under Lieut. Wakabayashi and Lieut. Col. Dillon,
continued up to the time of departure for the south.
Similar confusion to that which occurred at No. 3 Camp arose when the
departure was to take place. Parties were drawn up in pouring
rain, made to stand for hours, and then informed that the trains would
pick up only at Nieke.
The evacuation, however, was comparatively simple, as No. 2 Camp had
very few sick on its hands at this stage. Despite this, there
were at least 200 men who were not really fit enough to undertake the
7½ mile march over railway sleepers carrying their own packs.
TRAIN JOURNEY TO KANBURI
No time was allowed for organisation of any sort at Nieke. As
parties arrived they were hurried on to the first empty trucks that
became available. Where possible a meal was provided by a
small party under Capt. Barnett, 8 Aust. Div. Signals, who continued to
do sterling work.
The absence of organisation for the journey to Kanburi was in keeping
with the state of affairs with which the force has had to contend
during the previous six months.
The journey south was uncomfortable in the extreme, but the relief of
the men to feel that at long last they were moving away from the scenes
of so many months' cruelty caused them to make light of their
Open trucks packed to a capacity, derailments, delays of hours in the
blazing tropical sun, hurried transfers from one train to another,
sometimes in the middle of the night, and in the rain, all were endured
cheerfully. Yet these factors, combined with lack of
sufficient drinking water, and periods of between 13 to 24 hours
between meals, all contributed to bringing on illnesses among the
weaker men, and 46 died during the journey.
STORY OF THE
BRIGADIER C.H.KAPPE, O.B.E.
The Kanburi camp was in charge of Lieutenant-Colonel. Dillon, and its
shortcomings must have given that officer many headaches.
Train parties marched into the camp at all hours of the day or night
and there was always a shortage of tents. The kitchen and
latrine accommodation, on account of the shortage of tools, was
insufficient until parties began to move back to Malaya.
Water supplies were inadequate, and the men had to walk a mile to the
river to wash.
The food issued by the I.J.A. was poor. Had it not been for
the fact that the purchases of eggs, dried fish, and fruit in quantity
was now possible, the starvation suffered in the north would have been
repeated. By the time the concentration was completed, 1,000
men had been admitted to the hospital established two months earlier by
Although the accommodation was little better than in the up-country
camps, the sick were to enjoy the advantages of extra diet provided
from funds contributed by the officers. In addition, they
were free from the worry of being ordered out on working parties before
they had recovered reasonable health.
Despite these better conditions, 186 of the Force (details of A.I.F.
not known) died at this hospital within the first 3 weeks.
When it was decided to clear the main body of the Force from Kanburi,
Capt. Barnett was selected by the I.J.A. to remain in command of the
sick. Unfortunately Major B. Hunt was among the A.I.F.
patients in the hospital who had developed acute cardiac beri
beri. A considerable sum, contributed from officers' pay, was
left with the Senior Medical Officer, Lt.-Col. Huston (British), for
the purchase of extra food for the "very ill".
Lieut. Wakabayashi, who, it will be remembered, adopted a humane
attitude to the sick in No. 2 Camp, was left as the I.J.A. Supervising
Officer, and it was felt that he at least would not obstruct any action
taken to restore the men to normal health.
RETURN TO MALAYA
Soon after arrival at Kanburi it was announced that the first to move
out would be 1,000 fit men, of two parties of 500 each - who would be
required to work on arrival at their destination - whether in Sumatra,
Japan or Singapore, as the Japs. would decide.
To obtain 1,000 fit men proved a sheer impossibility, and when the
first party of 500 A.I.F. was formed it was necessary to include
several light sick. The second party originally comprised 380
A.I.F. and 120 British troops, but sickness amongst the latter
necessitated an increase in the number of Australians.
The Commander A.I.F. troops decided to adhere to his policy of
accompanying the fit men. The first party left by train on
the 2nd. December, and arrived next day at Bangkok Docks, where it was
learned that the next stage would be by sea. The troops
remained at Bangkok for a week, quartered in a dock goods shed.
Food there could have been reasonably sufficient had not the I.J.A.
Quartermaster (Toyama) appropriated one-third of the total rations for
his 20 or 30 members of the guard.
Lieut. Iwamota arranged occasional purchases from the Thais and made
efforts to obtain larger and better rations, besides going to some
personal trouble to obtain medical supplies.
After everything had been arranged to obtain the medical stores, it was
discovered that the I.J.A. medical store was observing a holiday in
commemoration of the anniversary of the opening of the Malayan
On the 10th December the party embarked as deck cargo on a 4,000-ton
steamer, arriving at Singapore on the 14th December. The deck
cover was inadequate, but the party were not greatly
inconvenienced. The food was good, and the crew did all in
their power to make conditions comfortable, their courtesy to the
Commander and his Hdqrs. being outstanding - a change from that
displayed by the I.J.A.
When rain set in, permission was given by the Captain to transfer all
malaria cases and other sick to an upper hold. Before the
permission was granted, however, the Captain insisted upon being
assured of there being no British troops in the party. Had
there been any but Australians on board the privilege of getting under
cover would not have been granted.
Apparently the action of the Commonwealth Government in granting a
naval funeral to the crews of the submarines that attacked Sydney
Harbour had created a deep impression on the minds of the Captain and
his officers. On the 10th December the party
arrived at Changi and was followed by other groups on successive days
until the 23rd December.
One small party was diverted to Sime Road, Singapore, with the "H"
Force. With the exception of No. 1 Party, the parties had
travelled from Thailand by train under conditions practically identical
to those which operated on the forward journey to Thailand.
With the return to the familiar surroundings of Changi and the many
happy reunions that took place, the spirits of the men rose remarkably,
although their physical condition was still poor. Bad as it
was, many of the men, with the aid of eggs obtained during the week
spent at Kanburi, had put on up to a stone in weight since leaving the
Thailand Working Camps.
At the conclusion of the move back to Singapore in December, the 3,662
men of the A.I.F. Component of "F" Force had been reduced to 893 deaths
up country, by 12 in Singapore after their return, and 13 declared
missing. 534 had remained at Kanburi, and of these by the
time the party reached Singapore, 122 had died and 1 was missing,
leaving a total of 2,622 survivors of the original Force. The
British Component of the "F" Force lost 2,025 men, making the total
deaths 3,085 out of a grand total of 6,999 or 44 % of the Force.
This concludes the history of an
Australian and British force of 7,000 P.O.Ws
who were sent by the Japs
to work on the Burma railway.
The notes were made on the
spot, hidden from the Japs, and later typed in Changi.
The information on Pond's
force came from Capt. Adrian Curlewis, now Judge Curlewis, of Sydney,
who also vetted Brigadier Kappe's story during the typing in Changi.
For the purposes of the website, the form of this article had been
largely left as it had been published in "Mufti" (the RSL Magazine of
Victoria) over 50 years ago. The article first appeared in
the Victorian R.S.L. Magazine "Mufti" in 1951-53. In 2009 the
R.S.L. Victoria has advised having no objection to the reproduction of
the article. As mentioned above, it should be noted that the
bulk of the material was originally typed in Changi in 1944 when "F"
Force was returned to Singapore after slaving on the Burma Thailand
Railway. It is also noted that of the 7,000 men of "F" Force
who went to Thailand 3,000 died whilst slaving for the Japs.
The late Max Venables also passed a complete copy of the above
serialised articles to me in 2008. Max's contribution to the
telling of the POWs story should never be forgotten. He
produced a great 650 page book titled "From Wayville to Changi and
beyond". The book is a collection of accounts of the POW
experiences of many men and would be a valuable addition to many
libraries. Since Max's death his vast collection of papers
has been passed to the Royal United Services Institute in Adelaide,
I am extremely grateful to Mrs
Marie Wilson for typing the article from copies of the original
material. I am sure readers will appreciate the huge amount
of work involved.
Lt Col Peter