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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WX 17588 2/1 Heavy Artillery

2/1 Heavy Battery – Darwin to Timor – POW – to Java and Singapore – Interrogated by Kempei Tai – Trained as Health Inspector in Changi – “D” Force to Thailand – Medical Orderly at Onte POW Camp – to Japan on Teia Maru (Aramus) June 44 – Omuta Camp – Return to Australia.

Thomas Cunnington was born in South Fremantle 3 November 1915. He had joined the Regular Army before the war and had risen to the rank of Sergeant. However in order to join the Australian Imperial Forces he reverted in rank to Private and became a member of the 2/1 Heavy Artillery in Darwin. Early December 1941, as a member of “Sparrow Force” he embarked from Darwin for Timor. The units in Timor were 2/40 Battalion, 2/1 Heavy Battery, 2/2 Independent Company (Commandoes) and a section of 2/12 Field Ambulance

Thomas Cunnington on left with mate Roy Barwick. Both Bombardiers who transferred to 2/1 Heavy Battery.

The Japs attacked initially 19/20 February with overwhelming numbers (about 18,000 to 3,000). On 23 February Colonel Leggett surrendered “Sparrow Force “ to the Japanese.
Subsequently on 26 July many of the POWs were moved to Java. (During the time Tom was in Java he had no contact with the 2/3 Machine Gun Battalion or the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion). Unexpectedly on 14 September he was sent to Singapore with 25 others.
Strangely they were all West Australians. In Singapore they were all interrogated by the Kempei Tei about coastal conditions in Western Australia. Whilst in Singapore Tom attended a Hygiene Officers Course. Following completion of the course he was issued with a Red Cross armband.

In March 1943 Tom was sent to Thailand as a member of “D” Force. On arrival in Thailand he moved from Banpong to Tarsau by truck. He then moved on to Kinsayok and subsequently moved to Onte, passing through Rintin. At some stage Tom was required by the Japs to drive a small herd of Yaks up the line. This ended up being a disaster, as the yaks fled into the jungle and he narrowly escaped severe punishment by the Japs. At Onte Tom and a couple of other POWs became the Doctors for the camp (there was no Medical Officer). They struggled through. When they had a seriously ill POW they managed to take them to the nearby Dutch POW camp Bangan, where there was a Dutch Medical Officer. One experience not appreciated. was being one of a team of 4 stretcher-bearers who carried a very large Dutchman to a northern camp (possibly Takanun or Nikki) where there was a better medical facility.

Following completion of the Railway Tom, in December 1944, Tom was sent to Japan on the Teia Maru . He arrived at Moji in Japan on 15 June 1944. Subsequently he went to Omuta POW Camp. His POW number in this camp was 654. He worked there as a medical orderly. With the many deaths in this camp, he found being a Medic very depressing and asked the American Medical Officer for a change (the American doctor could have been Thomas Hewlett- there were 2 Australian doctors Ian Duncan 508 & Dick Parker 1992). This was refused. Whist working on the medical side of things he had contact with a Japanese doctor, who conversed in German or English. At a later time he actually worked in the mines. Tom’s return to Australia is summarized below.

Following the war Tom became a Health/meat inspector and worked for 7 years in New Guinea.

Below is a copy of Tom’s Travel Itinerary as a POW.

In 2005 Tom lives in Bassendean, Perth, Western Australia.

Dad’s Travel Itinerary compliments of Nippon Travel!!!!

Taken prisoner Timor   23-2-42
Left Timor   26-7-42
Arrive Java   3-8-42
Left Java   14-9-42
Arrive (Changi)   18-9-42
Left Changi   17-3-43
Arrive Kanburi   21-3-43
Arrive Kinsayok   30-3-43
Left Kinsayok   7-5-43
Arrive Onte   9-5-43
To Banggang   21-5-43
To Onte   8-7-43
To Banggang   30-7-43
To Pelang Kasi   26-12-43
To Hindato   13-2-44
Arrive Nonpladuk   11-3-44
Left Nonpladuk   28-5-44
Arrive Singapore   3-6-44
Left Singapore   5-6-44
  (MV Teia Maru (Aramis))  
Arrive Moji   15-6-44
Arrive Omutu   19-6-44
Left Omutu   15-9-45
Left Nagasaki   18-9-45
Arrive Okinawa   21-9-45
Arrive Okinawa   22-9-45
  (Aircraft (RAAF))  
Left Manila   27-9-45
Left Manila   6-10-45
Arrive Morotai   6-10-45
Left Morotai   7-10-45
Arrive Darwin   7-10-45
Left Darwin   7-10-45


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