Militia pre war- Enlisted –Commanding Officer 2/4 Casualty Clearing Station - Malaya – Fall of Singapore – Burma – Thailand.
Thomas Hamilton was born at Coatbridge,Scotland in 1899. After graduating as a doctor, he joined the Militia. He enlisted into the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.) in 17 October 1940 and went to Malaya in 1941 as the Commanding Officer of the 2/4 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). This unit was in direct support of the allied fighting troops during the fighting withdrawal down the Malayan Peninsular. The unit members became POWs following the capitulation by the Allies in February 1942. During the fighting withdrawal it had not been possible to maintain the unit War Diary and whilst a POW he was directed by the Assistant Director of Medical Services (Colonel Derham) to recreate it before the events were forgotten. This he did with the assistance of Sergeant Reuben Boxhall.
He later wrote his book called “Soldier Surgeon in Malaya” (Published 1957). The book reveals much of the work of his unit members. In many cases, it tells of the work of medical officers of the CCS and other units, which is recorded no where else. It is a shame there has been no reprint of the book as it limits the source material available to people interested in research of Medical personnel.
In May 1942 together with many of his unit he was sent to Burma as a member of “A” Force, the force which ultimately began construction of the Burma Thailand Railway from the Burma end. He did not write about this phase of his military life. The hassles he had in producing his only book discouraged him from a further effort.
He was in the vicinity of Kanchanaburi, in Thailand, when the war ended and was discharged from the Army on 11 February 1946.
I have decided to not attempt to write the Thomas Hamilton story, for the following reasons. Following his death Dr Peter Hendry (a fellow ex POW Medical Officer) delivered “Tom’s” obituary and in 2004 Thomas Hamilton’s daughter Jean Charlton provided me with copy of an Anzac Day address which “Tom” delivered in 1958. Between these two documents Thomas Hamilton’s life is covered much more adequately than I could have achieved.
Read on and appreciate the work of this doctor, soldier and man.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Winstanley (Ret’d).
Dr Peter Hendry AO
Early on the morning of Thursday 5th July 1990 Dr Thomas Hamilton, one of Newcastle's leading citizens and one of its best known medical identities died. Peter Hendry reminisces about the life and times of Tom Hamilton.
Tom Hamilton was born in Scotland in 1899 and came to Australia at the age of 14 years when his father, James who was a Scottish engineer was appointed manager of a Sydney steel company. Tom received his secondary education at Fort Street Boys' High School and commenced studies in medicine at Sydney University.
The year was I918, the last year of the war when the latest news from the front was bad and the University called for service volunteers. Tom and a number of his fellow students joined up. However, news travelled slowly in those days so that by the time they enlisted the war was nearly over, and, in fact, lasted only another 153 days.
As soon as he could Tom resumed his studies, this time as a resident student at St Andrews College where he played an active part in college affairs including intercollegiate rugby.
After graduation, the young Dr Hamilton was posted to Newcastle Hospital as a Resident. Within two years, he was appointed Deputy Medical Superintendent to Dr Addison and succeeded him in 1925. He held this position until 1929 when he himself was succeeded by Dr Ken Starr.
It was while he was Medical Superintendent that he met Dr McEachren, Chief of the Hospital Division of the American College of Surgeons, a meeting which was to greatly affect his future. Dr McEachren invited him to visit Chicago for six months to study hospital administration, an invitation he readily accepted. And what a rewarding visit it was! Not only was he able to study administration but he also studied surgery. Also there was the opportunity to attend numerous meetings and symposia.
Dr Hamilton did not miss the opportunity to travel around the many American state hospitals and it was during one of these visits in Ohio that he met Dr Bernard Kline, the originator of the Kline test for Syphylis. Being quick to see its potential, he asked for and was given permission to bring the test back to Newcastle. Dr Ethel Byrne who was then the Pathologist at Royal Newcastle Hospital was so impressed with its possibility that she was influential in introducing it into many other laboratories in Australia.
Dr Hamilton certainly seemed to impress his American colleagues for he was honoured with an invitation to become a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
He returned to Australia at the beginning of the Great Depression. He had fallen in love with Edmee Goninan and wanted to marry her but on his salary this was
impossible. So he looked to general practice and with the help of that well-known Newcastle identity, the late Archie Rankin, took over a Mayfield practice.
The practice flourished as did the doctor's family and he soon had two daughters, Jean and Marjorie and two partners, Drs Deacon and Rose. He was later to sell the practice and move into Newcomen Street where he was able to practice his first love. surgery.
Dr Hamilton's short army experience with the AIF must have been enjoyable for Dr Beeston who was the Cornmander of the Hunter River Lancers Militia Field Ambulance was able to persuade him to enlist. He did and eventually succeeded Dr Beeston as Lieutenant Colonel Commander of the Field Ambulance, a position he held until the outbreak of World War 11. The Colonel enjoyed those days in the militia immensely and was often seen leading the Unit on his horse followed by the horse-drawn ambulances.
Colonel Hamilton's militia training stood him in good stead when, at the outbreak of the 1939-45 war, he was asked to command a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). The unit was sent to Malaya and was captured at the fall of Singapore but not before serving with distinction in a short but intense campaign. Dr Hamilton became a prisoner of war and for 4 long years was a guest of the Japanese. Most of this time was spent in Burma with the POW's who were building the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway. Here again, Dr Hamilton served with distinction this time as a doctor tending the sick and maimed with courage and fortitude under the worst possible conditions. This story has been brilliantly recorded in Dr Hamilton's book Soldier Surgeon in Malaya. This is not only an account of one medical man's experience of war but is a wonderful medical record of those historic years.
Back in Australia he returned to his practice and to a rapidly changing world. For many years he continued to practice surgery being appointed to both Royal Newcastle Hospital and the Mater Hospital as visiting surgeon. However, he did not confine his activities to surgery alone. He played a very important part in the community. To mention just a few of these activities for example he carried out a survey of working conditions for workers for the BHP, a report that, I understand, was later used during an application by the men for better working conditions. He was an active member of the Central Northern Medical Association and played a prominent part in it’s affairs. He was a member of a Council set up to form~ the University College, later to become the University of Newcastle, and was a founding member of the University Union. A letter of appreciation from the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Auchmuty paid tribute to his contribution in glowing terms.
An active member of Newcastle Legacy from the end of the war, he served on the pensions committee until well into his eighties, making a significant contribution to the widows and families of deceased ex-service men.
Dr Hamilton was held in high regard by his medical associates and by members of the hospital staffs to whom he was affectionately known as "Tom". I remember
meeting the doctor again at Royal Newcastle Hospital for the first time after the war and addressing him as Sir. "Don't call me Sir" he said "Call me Tom.
Dr Hamilton retired from surgery in the early 60's but as he enjoyed travel he continued for many years taking trips as Ship's Surgeon often accompanied by his wife. One such trip was as Surgeon to Her Royal Highness Princess Alice on a trip to England.
Sadly he lost his beloved wife during the 60's and lived a bachelor life thereafter. He was strongly independent and resisted any attempt to have help until well into his 80's when he was no longer able to manage on his own. His last few years were spent in his own home where he was lovingly cared for by his devoted family and, especially, his daughter, Jean, the wife of Bill Charlton.
Dr Thomas Hamilton was a great Novocastrian and he will be long remembered by the citizens of this city as well as by his many colleagues and friends.
Pathologist & Ex Prisoner of War Medical Officer on the Burma Thailand Railway
Article collated by Lt Col Peter Winstanley (Ret’d) RFD FAIBF JP.
ANZAC DAY IN POW CAMPS
ANZAC DAY ADDRESS 1958 BY LT COL THOMAS HAMILTON ED
RAAMC (Retired) former Commanding Officer 2/4 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS)
To thousands of Australian ex-servicemen Anzac Day brings back memories of almost forgotten campaigns, memories in which, fortunately, the painful periods are less likely to be remembered than the happy ones.
Figure 1 Roberts Barracks Hospital was roughly 1 mile further east of Selerang and was originally the main military hospital for resident British troops. It was bombed and shelled. Artist RJ (Dick) Cockran 2/12 Fd Coy RAE
As a prisoner-of-war in World War II at Roberts Hospital in the vast Changi encampment at Singapore, I had charge of a Ward of about one hundred wounded men. We had no nurses, and although our nursing orderlies worked splendidly, the dressing of wounds on the makeshift beds (often on the floor) .was a back-breaking job. Many of the wounded were in a bad way, for the hospital had no water supply, clean dressings were scarce, and flies were abundant. The morale of the men was fairly good, but overall lay the depressing fear of the unknown P.O.W. life ahead of them.
Two or three times a day the tarmac outside would resound with the slow tramp of marching feet accompanied by a lament played by a piper from the Gordon Highlanders as he accompanied the cortege of some poor chap to the graveyard.
"Wouldn't it tear your heart out?" my senior orderly said as we watched one of the small processions from a top floor window. Three gaunt pipers, neatly dressed, playing the "Flowers of the Forest" led a still shape (muffled in an army blanket) which lay on an improvised bier, carried by six pall-bearers, down the track towards the graveyard. About twenty or thirty thin, bearded men, visibly shrunk by the meagre P.O.W. diet, followed the bier. An air of sadness hung over the scattered bystanders and I had to agree that the sight was enough to tear one’s heart out. Dysentery was starting to take its toll with starvation aiding it.
It angered me. War wounds apart, why should decent men, rot and die for lack of the amenities and medicines allowed by the Geneva Convention. I thought over the problem that night but a solution for raising the hospital morale eluded me until I heard someone remark at breakfast next morning that Anzac Day was only a week off.
"Let's make it a good one" I said. "I want to hear a rousing 'Cock o' the North' played through the camp, instead of those depressing laments. I want to see some healthy men marching again to Martial music".
That day I went into conference with two patients from the Second Battalion of the 92nd Highlanders (The Gordons) who had fought with the Aussies at Ayer Hitam. Later in the day I saw the late Colonel Pigdon, Commander of the Hospital and (with his blessing) Colonel Graeme, the Commanding Officer of the Gordon's. My proposition was a simple one. Would the Gordon's turn out their Regimental Band in all its glory on Anzac Day to lead a march round the hospital, followed by every Allied Serviceman who could walk or hobble? Colonel Graeme not only consented at once but said, "D’you mind if I come too?". Here was a man after my own heart. Over a weak brew of tea he told me something of the history of his Regiment and introduced me to his pipe officer, a tall stripling with a likeable gleam in his eye.
I reminded the Colonel that the Gordon Highlanders had a military affiliation with the Melbourne Scottish Regiment. Would it then be possible for his Pipers to lead the Australians on Anzac Day playing the regimental march of the Gordons, "The Cock of the North"?
And so it came about that on Anzac Day, 1942 in Changi Prison Camp, about five hundred Australian prisoners turned out as spruce and clean as they possibly could and marched through the Robert's Hospital area to the spirited playing of the Pipers.
One could feel their hearts lift as they marched. Out came all the old Jokes about "keep the step mate!" and "look to your dressing Sarge!" One onlooker did an impromptu Highland Fling to the great amusement of the marching men.
Patients crowded the windows of the Hospital Wards in the barrack buildings, hands were waived, and a stimulating wave of cheeriness spread through the whole area. The spirit of Anzac had been recaptured by the magic of the pipes.
The salute was taken by Colonel D.C. Pigdon, a veteran of World War One and Commander of the 13th Australian General Hospital. He died bravely in 1945 in a Prison Camp at Mukden, Manchuria.
When the parade terminated in the front of the (Naffy) N.A.A.F.I. building and the crowds of Australian and British sightseers were assembled around the band of the Gordons, I had a few anxious moments when I saw armed Japanese soldiers moving towards the band. I sighed with relief when found they were not on evil intent but, like everyone else, just curious to see soldiers in kilts. They jabbered away in their own language, but made no attempt to interfere with the Aussies and their Scottish friends.
The day ended happily with a party in the Mess where there was little to drink and still less to eat, but the jovial reminiscences of the older soldiers and the new-found cheeriness of the younger ones made it a night to remember. The best laugh of the day came when a visiting Major from a famous English Regiment handed round his gold cigarette case with a flourish. It contained a half-smoked "bumper” which everyone politely refused, He then lit it and said, "I'm lucky you fellows don’t smoke".
Anzac Day 1943 in a prison camp in Burma was scarcely observed because of the grim conditions, but we did manage to tidy the cemetery and place some frangipanni and hibiscus blooms on the A.I.F. graves. Some six weeks later we were bombed out of the camp by Flying Fortress planes. Although we had some casualties, it was heartening to see that the Japanese were not winning all the time, and our fellows did not forget to remind them.
In 1944 at Tamarkan Camp in Thailand, Major Cameron, a World War I veteran from Western Australia along with Colonel George Ramsay (now Public Relations Officer with the Snowy River Commission), staged a special Anzac Day Parade through the camp, apparently with Japanese permission. Japanese in their cynical way, were inclined to sneer at the thought of anyone celebrating a Defeat, and by Defeat they seemed to mean Gallipoli.
In conversation, a Japanese Officer told me pompously that Nippon was great because she had never been defeated. I replied quietly that I thought no nation ever became great unless it had learned how to take a beating. He did not seem very happy about this and broke off the conversation.
Major Cameron, ,who cared little about the Japs had managed to pick out the remnants of a Battalion band, which in turn had managed to produce fairly clean shirts and shorts, and polished instruments for the occasion. They played the P.O.W.s round the parade ground to the tune of “Colonel Bogey”, which revived many happy memories for many of the old diggers present. In the afternoon the Americans, mostly from Texas, borrowed the band to lead two baseball teams in fancy dress, round the parade ground prior to an International Test Match. This was done in the style of a Presidential Election March under the leadership of a marine dressed as a Senator. The barracking of the Australians and the “rooting” of the American spectators plus a good deal of raucous betting, produced an exciting match. I think the result was declared a draw, but a good time was had by all, except for the Japanese guards, who looked more sulky than usual.
In the evening a Coldstream Guards Officer, whom the Aussies used to refer to jokingly as the 8th Wonder of the World, that is, a Guardsman east of Suez, gave a cocktail party for the senior Australian officers. Although the cocktails were made of weak rice “coffee” suitably burnt to the appropriate flavour, and the food was thin rice biscuits, everyone enjoyed it as though it was an Anzac night back home.
By 1945 the Japs had tightened precautions in all the camps. P.O.W. officers, except medical officers, had been separated from the men. Excellent Warrant Officers had taken the place of the British officers and, although we doctors were the only Commissioned Officers left with the troops, we made it a point of honour to regard the senior Warrant Officer as the Camp Commandant
.On the eve of Anzac Day I was asked by the senior Australian Warrant Officer to take the Dawn Salute for a quiet commemorative march of the Australian prisoners. In the War Cemetery at Chung-Kai the massive teak cross in the centre was overshadowed by a huge mango tree, some sixty feet high. Under this tree in the grey dawn of April 25th, 1945, without even a drum to disturb the silence, I watched some sixty ranks of thin soldiers step past me with their heads held high, and their eyes facing right to the saluting base at the foot of the cross.
Permission had not been sought from our captors and I thought the Japanese had overlooked the ceremony. There had been no guards in the vicinity of the cemetery at that time in the morning. However, at the small celebration supper in the evening, when reminiscences of previous Anzac Days were flowing freely, I was informed by a Japanese Orderly that I had been degraded from senior medical officer (SMO) and would leave the camp with two hundred men who were also disliked by the Japanese, for a labour camp at Nonpladuc. These two hundred were the gamest men in the camp, adept at Jap-baiting and agile enough to pole-vault over the deep bund at night end reconnoitre the surrounding country.
After one such excursion two Aussies claimed that in a native village they had been entertained at a party in honour of Miss Siam 1944. “A very nice piece of goods!” they said.
At Nonpladuc we spent three weary months in a muddy compound 75 yards wide by 175 yards long. The good humour and commonsense of the adventurous chaps with me kept us alive. We literally ate, slept and worked in our filth, for the latrines were only twenty yards from the well which supplied our water. The Japanese would not even allow us to bury our dead outside the compound and, as no padres were with us, the senior warrant officer and I had to conduct the funerals of those who died.
Perhaps it is significant that the last soldier buried there in August, 1945, just before our rescue, was named Thomas Atkins, of Goolwa in South Australia. He had died of the dreaded Blackwater Fever when efforts to have him transferred to the base hospital at .Nakompathon had not been approved by our captors. Tommy was a gentle lad, reared among fisher-folk at the mouth of the River Murray. As I stood with his mates at the side of his grave, groping for some appropriate expression of our feelings, I remembered the words of John Henry Newman’s lovely prayer:
"O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, Lord, in Thy mercy~ grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last."
The recital of the words brought peace to our hearts. I reflected that from this humble grave in a desolate camp in Siam was reborn not only the spirit of Tommy Atkins, but with it the apotheosis of Kipling's Recessional and the whole British tradition.