Research & Articles by Lt. Col. Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired), JP
Research, Interviews and Articles about the Prisoners Of War of the Japanese who built the Burma to Thailand railway during world war two. Focusing on the doctors and medical staff among the prisoners. Also organised trips to Thailand twice a year.
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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.
F and H Force camps - Thailand

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.   PGW.

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.   PGW.

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 - 3.  

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 April, 1943.

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.


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. :-

    1.    The climate at the new location was similar to that of SINGAPORE.  Camps did not
              exist and would have to be constructed on arrival.

    2.    The Force would be distributed over 7 camps, each accommodating 1,000 men, and
        administered by an I.J.A. Commander and Staff directly under command of General
        ARIMURA, Commanding P.O.W. in MALAYA, who was stationed at CHANGI.  
        All camps would be in hilly country in pleasant and healthy surroundings.

    3.    Sufficient Army Medical Corps personnel capable of staffing a 300-bed hospital could
        be included.

    4.    As many blankets and mosquito nets as possible were to be taken by individuals and
        men deficient in these articles and of items of clothing would be issued with them on
        arrival at the new camps.

    5.    A band would accompany each 1,000 men, and gramophones would be issued after

    6.    Canteens would be established in all camps in 3 weeks of the completion of                 concentration.

    7.    No restrictions would be placed on the amount of personal equipment to be taken;  
        Officers could take their trunks, valises, etc., and men, all the clothing and personal
        effects that they could manhandle.

    8.    Tools and cooking gear, sufficient to maintain the Force as an independent group, were to
        be taken and specific approval was given to include a field electric lighting set for the
        lighting of the hospital and Force Hdqrs. Camp.

    9.    Transport would be available for the cartage of heavy personal equipment, camp and
        medical stores, and for men unfit to march.  The latter concession was granted when it
        was pointed out that a percentage of such men would have to be included in the Force.

    10.    There would be no long marches.

    11.    No boot repair material could be issued at once, but a supply of the necessary             materials would be taken forward with the Hdqrs. of the I.J.A. Commander.

        There can be no doubt that the whole project was presented by the I.J.A. authorities in
        the most favourable light, either deliberately or from a failure to ascertain the true
        position in THAILAND, the destination of the Force.

A.I.F. Component

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.

Medical Situation

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 understanding.

. . .  To be continued


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 squad.

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 A.I.F. personnel.

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 almost unbearable.

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


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


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 were looted.

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 be recompensed.

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 considerably.

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 party.

Tamakan consisted of a padang, shadeless, except for one roofed but unwalled cement-floored building about ¼ mile from the river Mai Klong.  

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


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 boiled.

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 was taken.

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 place.

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 later days.

After this halt every effort was made to keep the sick at the front of the column.

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 more unbearable.

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 their vehicles.
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 further.

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


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 bamboo clusters.

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 before daybreak.

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 Japanese tents.

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 his own.

Enquiries from the Japanese guards as to the total distance still to be covered showed that the guards themselves were ignorant of the destination.

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 minute halt.

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 the men
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 established.

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 staging camp.

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 there.

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


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 his command.

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 verbal ones.

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:-

    .    Pond's Battalion of 700 A.I.F., located at Upper Koncoita, and subsequently moving
        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.


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 infected.

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


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 was well.

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
    their gear.

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.


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 completed.

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 work.

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 months.

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 Changi.

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 to 2000.

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 1220.

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 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 previous occasions.

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 control.

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. Banno.

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 Johnston.

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:-

Date Strength I.J.A. Works Camp & Hosp Maint. Sick in Hosp. Sick in Lines
23 May  1996 1267 255 124 350
29 May  1980 620  312 292 756
4 June   1924 319 399 996 210

Deaths to the end of May had totalled 56 (1 British) - mainly from cholera.

Diseases during May were in the following ratios:-

Dysentery 35%;    

Cholera 9%;    

Malaria 46%;    

Tropical Ulcers and Skin 8%;    

Beri Beri 1%;

Miscellaneous 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 transferred elsewhere.

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 completely exhausted.

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 hospital.

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


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 : -

June 7 June 14 June 21 June 30
I.J.A. Work Engineers 230 272 399 275
Camp Duties, including ration carrying party 420 237 220 252
Hospital 1268 1390 1275 1362
Strength 1918 1899 1894 1889

Disease Average for June
Cholera 9%
Dysentery 35%
Malaria 46%
Beri Beri  1%
Ulcers and Skin 4%
Miscellaneous 1%
Deaths since formation of camp   120
Missing 11

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.


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 in November.

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 in thousands.

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 segregated.

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 railway.

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 rise.    

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 the natives.

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 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 comparison.

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 hereunder :-

June 11 June 21 June 30
I.J.A. Work - Engineers 93 89 100
Hospital Patients  212 208 178
Camp and Hospital Duties 85* 87 103*
Strength 390 384 381

*  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 continued                



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 north.

The Force Commander and Col. Banno transferred their headquarters on 11th June, but it was some weeks before Lower Nieke Camp was finally closed.

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 majority.

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 physical disabilities.


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 Lieut. Murayama.

. . .  To be continued


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 Lieut. Murayama.

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 :-

Dysentery and Diarrhoea 107
Malaria 10
Ulcers 25
Beri Beri  15
Miscellaneous 12

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 panic.

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 been exhausted.

Apparently Lieut. Murayama considered that as no work was being performed the issue of a minimum ration to prevent starvation was justified.

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 soaking ran.

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 cookhouse.

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 this party.

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 stores.

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 him.

. . .  To be continued


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 12th June.

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 detected.

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 the sick.

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 agreed with.

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 collecting etc.

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 and slime.

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


At Koncoita, where the party halted for two days, the troops were billeted in huts evacuated the previous day on account of cholera deaths.

The huts were indescribably filthy, and protests only caused the Force to realise that they were officially placed on the same level as the Burmese coolies.

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 inhumane conditions.

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 supplies.

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.


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 movement.

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 existing hospitals.

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 :-

May 24 May 31 June 10 June 20

Cholera 3
Malaria 45 163 210 85
Dysentery and Diarrhoea  170 107 68 50
Ulcers and Skin 37 25 15 10
Beri Beri  16 20 21 12
Miscellaneous 13  10  13
Total Sick 281 327 328 173
Strength 698 698 385* 233
Percentage of sick  40% 47% 86% 74%

*Strength reduced by move of party to Nieke River.

. . .  To be continued


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 starving.

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 period.

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 to work.

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 manpower.

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.

Cholera 0.9%
Dysentery 24.0% 
Malaria 38.5%
Beri Beri   7.7%
Ulcers and Skin  11.4%
Miscellaneous 4.5%
Convalescents 13.0%

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


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 of work.

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 duties.

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 - 10 July 11-20 July 21-31
I.J.A. Work - Engineers 98 96 128
Hospital Patients 200 203 229
Camp Duties, including Hospital Staff 81* 78*  73*
Strength 379 377 430

    * Includes officers engaged on camp works.


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 follows  :-

    Rice:        An average of 12oz. per man per day
    Meat:        Four issues, which averaged 2.1oz. per man per day

    Vegetables    :    One issue on 30th June of 8oz.

    Whitebait:        One issue on 20th June of 0.4oz.

The medical position at the end of the previous month showed that out of 636 men, 458 were classified as sick, under the following headings  :-

Cholera   10;   Malaria   135;   Ulcers   110;   Dysentery and Diarrhoea   105;   Beri Beri   35;   Diphtheria   3;   Miscellaneous   60.

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 main river.

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 one day.

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 pouring rain.

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 ration.

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 gravel.

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 baskets.

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 nature's call.

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 jungle-leaf-flavoured water.

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 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 latrines.

At 0700 hours another day would commence, with a repetition of the same programme.

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, cremation parties.

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 were added.

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 hours.

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  :-

10th July 20th July 30th July*
Cholera 15 51 56
Malaria 235 140 90
Ulcers 32 25 20
Dysentery and Diarrhoea 125 186 107
Beri Beri  35 27 22
Miscellaneous 22 23 17
Fit and sick working   211 202 179

   *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


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 alarmingly high.

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 condition).

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 hospital.

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 August onwards.

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.


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


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 :-

Strength Sick Engineer Work Hospital Staff Cooks Other Duties
British 646 492 110 4 -   40x
A.I.F. 937 403 390 51 41 52x
Total 1583 895 500 55 41 92

       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 hospital.

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 possible terms.

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 ensue.

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 Korean guard.

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 remained adamant.

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 struck.

Knowing that the refusal to carry out these orders would result in further reprisals, some steps were taken at night to classify the "not so sick".

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 September progressed.

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


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 experienced.

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, R.A.M.C.

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  :-

Patients Admitted Carriers Admitted Deaths in Isolation Fatality Rate
  Cholera   Other Causes 
British 48 25 37 79.17%
Australian 21 65 1-   57.14%

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.

        For this "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 obedience.

Efforts to explain that his orders had been carried out were of no avail.

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 proven unsuccessful.

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 August.

Up to 1st September inclusive the daily number of sick averaged 1,050.

The hospital stats for the period 3rd to 31st August follow-

A.I.F.  August
3rd 10th 17th 24th 31st
Dysentery 29 56 53  50 80
Malaria 91 110 122 98 91
Beri Beri* 25 78 103 119 103
Pneumonia -   - -     -   -
Tropical Ulcers and Skin 50 128 134 125 138
Cholera (including carriers) 64 68 75
Miscellaneous 3   18 25 24
Total 196 378 494 485 511
Dysentery 176 125 96 114
Malaria 129 116 88 119
Beri Beri 77 76 64 63
Tropical Ulcers and Skin 115 97 98 98
Cholera (including carriers) - 26 75 64
Miscellaneous 19 18 21 21
Total 516 458 442 479

* 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 serious.

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 issued.

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 patients.

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


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 break.

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 unendurable.

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 daylight.

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 success.

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.

Beans :        1.325 oz.

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 oz.

Dried Fish :        0.32 oz. (normally 90% would have been condemned.)

Potatoes :         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 decking.

Nothing was done, however, to repair the roof of the dysentery ward.

. . .  To be continued


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 infected.

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 following -

            September 7        September 14    September 21    September 30

 A   E  E   A   T   A    T
Cholera 58 76 134 11 20 31 11 21 32 -
Dysentery 105 68 173 104 98 202 95 82 177 76 73 149
Malaria 117 107 224 98 84 182 92 66 158 98 88 177
Beri Beri 66 108  174  100 112 212 107 117 224 79 103 182
Pneumonia -   15 15  30 15 10 25 15 10 25

Tropical Ulcers and Skin
83 143 226 17 17 34 37 25 62 62 43 105
Miscellaneous 16   23 39 6   22 28 7      23 30 6   29 35
Total Hospital  445 529 974 414 504 918 411 475 886 370 467 837
Sick in Lines   -    -   19 97   -     -
Total Sick 445 529 974 414 504 937 411 475 983 370 467 837
Strengths 616 986 1602 608 977 1585 634* 969 1603 609 961 1570
Deaths during
Period ending
10 8   10 80 153 233 84  156 240 105 164 269

Remarks:    E - English        A - Australian        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 -

10th Oct. 20th Oct. 31st Oct.
Cholera   -   -
Malaria 194 152 170
Ulcers 303 333 352
Dysentery and diarrhoea 157 135 104
Beri beri 180 205 167
Miscellaneous 63 74 77
Pneumonia 26  24 18
Total in hospital 923 923 888
Sick in lines 51 57 49
Total sick 974 980 937
Strength 1524 1481 1417
Deaths during period ending 43 43 63



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 position.

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 surrounding earth."

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 yak.
. . .  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 work.

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.


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 transferred.

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 :

Original Camp British   A.I.F.
Nieke  160 138
No. 1 Camp   3 320
No. 2 Camp 752 406
No. 5 Camp  146 -

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 issued daily.  

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 much longer.

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 respectively.

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 necessary.

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 arrivals.

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 follows :

British Australian
Camp of Origin  Arrivals Deaths Percentage Arrivals Deaths Percentage
Nieke 159 69 43% 138 27 19.6%
No. 1 Camp 3 1 33.3% 320 71 22.2%
No. 2 Camp 752 341 44.0% 406 83 20.4%
No. 5 Camp 147 69 47.0% - - -
1061 480 45.2% 864 181 21.0%

. . .  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 lives.

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 not accepted.

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 quarantine.

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 1700 hours.

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 avail.

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 time.

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 been exhausted.

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.

To:    Lt.-Col. Banno,
        I.J.A. Headquarters, Nieke.

I respectfully desire to bring to your notice the conditions of Australian soldiers in this camp and to request that sympathetic consideration be given to improving conditions.

1.    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.

2.    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 helpful.

3.    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.

4.    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.

5.    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.

6.    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.

7.    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 result.

8.    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 exposure.

9.    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.

In conclusion, 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, etc.

(Signed) S. A. F. POND, Lt. Col., Commander A.I.F. Troops.

6th August, 1943.

P.S.:     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.

P.P.S.: In 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.

 . .  To be continued

By 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 under control).

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 miles.

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 half-mile carry.

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 this time.

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 entrain there.

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 carried out.

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 were dying.

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.


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 discomforts.

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.

                       be continued


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 "H" Force.

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.


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 campaign.

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, South Australia.

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 Winstanley                                                                   

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