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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War Experiences 1942-1945 Chris Cleef
The War Experiences 1942-1945 of Sub-Lieutenant Christiaan Cleef.

As a cadet-officer with the rank of sub-lieutenant (bomber pilot of the NEIAF) I became a POW at Bandoeng in West Java on March 1942. After internment in a few camps in Batavia (Jakarta) and Tjilatjap(Cilacap), I was taken to Padang on Sumatra’s West Coast on May 14th 1944 and then on to Pakan Baroe as cattle in ships and on trucks.

My memory of that time is pretty vague. We all know we were living on a starvation diet, sleeping on bamboo slats, no mosquito nets etc. Dress was a tjawat{loincloth} covering bot and private parts.

I was put in charge of a working party and copped it all for the “wrongdoings” of the men. The Japs were in charge of the railway work but North-Koreans, bigger b’s than the Japs, were in charge of the prisoners. I remember one occasion, when I asked the Jap in charge if a sick man could go back with the men who brought the lunch. He said OK.

But when we came back to the camp, the men were dismissed and I had to stay. I should have had permission from the guard to send someone home. I was forced to sit on my knees with a triangular cross section of wood in the bend of my knees. After a time I passed out…..

Most men from the colonies would have had office jobs and not be used to any hard labour and they suffered badly. Dysentery, malaria and beriberi were rife, with medicine scarce or non existent.

The railway was built from Moeara going North and from Pakan Baroe going South. The railway was joined between camps 10 and 11 on 15 August 1945, the day of Japan’s

capitulation. We were then issued a short and shirt and rode on open rail trucks to Pakan Baroe. Because no allied Forces actually liberated us and the English would not allow Dutch Forces into Indonesia because of the trouble with Sukarno followers, we had to stay in camps with Jap guards.

I myself did not leave camp life till Jan. 1946, when a B25 Mitchell picked me and some other pilots up. We flew to Batavia, our HQ. We got 3 month recuperation leave and were then flown to Bundaberg, Australia, then an NEI base.

Henk Hovinga wrote a book in Dutch called “Endstation Pakan Baroe 1943-1945. Death Railway through jungle”.

In his introduction he writes: They ate starch and rats, they died from malaria, dysentery, beriberi and tropical ulcers. August 15 : The 220 km. railway built by Dutch, English, Australian POW’s and forced Javanese labour through the marshy jungle of tropical Sumatra had cost nearly 700 whites and Indo-Europians and not less than 80,000 Javanese. (Not counted were 1800 prisoners, who perished in the ships “ Van Waerwijck” and “Junyo Maru” which were torpedoed by the Allies.

No trains have ridden over this railway after September 1945.The line does not exist any more. The bridges have been washed away by floods and kilometers of rails have been stolen or sold as scrap-iron. The above are some lines from Henk Hovinga’s book.

He further gives some literature about Pakan Baroe as follows

Through Hell and Bomb Blast. Hall E.R. and Robinson Frank (National Library of Australia 1982)

Escape to captivity. Hartley Peter ( J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. Aldine House London 1952).

Prelude to the monsoon. Purnell& Sons.( Cape Town 1965 )


Written by Christiaan Cleef September 2006



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