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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Captain PIA Peter Hendry - NX 35147
Medical Officer 2/10 Field Ambulance and “F” Force

Peter Hendry was born in Coonabarabran NSW in 1915. He was educated at the “Scots College” in Sydney and studied for his Medical Degree at Sydney University, graduating in 1939. Pre war he, along with others, had enlisted in the Militia, not surprisingly in the Sydney University Regiment. Peter enlisted in the AIF in 1940 as a Captain in the 2/10 Field Ambulance. The unit sailed to Singapore as part of 27 Brigade. On arrival it was deployed for training on the Malayan mainland at Segamat. Peter made good use of his Sydney University Regiment training, giving demonstrations of stripping and assembling the Vickers Machine Gun blindfolded.

Following the Japanese invasion of northern Malaya in December 1941, the Field Ambulance was deployed in support of the combat troops establishing Advanced Dressings Stations in the rear of the defensive lines. During the withdrawal to Singapore Island the Field Ambulances and the Casualty Clearing Stations were placed under incredible pressure collecting casualties whilst moving the Medical facilities to the south.
Peter Hendry and the other 2/10 Field Ambulance officers operated as mobile sections.
They retired only when the front line troops moved back and were often the last to move, picking up casualties as they went. This article is not able to portray the chaos and confusion which would have prevailed, nor adequately acknowledge the efforts of the Medical personnel and others over the period to capitulation on 15/2/42. Whilst in Changi Peter Hendry, and others (in particular WO1 Ted McGlynn) were involved in “acquisition” of desperately needed drugs and instruments from under the noses of the Japanese.

After about a year in captivity Peter Hendry, as one of 10 medical officers in
F Force, moved to Thailand. F Force was a force of 7,000 Prisoners of War (3,400 British and 3,600 Australians) who were sent to the northern part of the Railway in Thailand. The force, after a horrendous 5 days journey from Singapore in steel railway trucks (30 men in 18ft x 7ft), walked to north western Thailand, a distance of approximately 300km over 18 nights in high temperatures and monsoon rains. A significant number died en route and others never recovered from the ordeal. The force was hit with malaria, beri beri, pellagra, dysentery, cholera and malnutrition. 59% of the British Force and 28% of the Australian force died over a period of 7/8 months.

Peter Hendry was deployed, with some of his 2/10 Field Ambulance Medical Orderlies including Harry Williams, Reg Jarman, John Llewellan and others, to a camp called Songkurai, which was approximately 15km from the Burma border. A bridge (aptly named the Bridge of 1,000 lives) was being constructed here. On his arrival he found the morale of the British to be the extremely low. There was little hygiene being carried out and sickness was rife. He promoted one of his orderlies, private Harry Williams, to Staff Sergeant and placed him in command of the medical personnel in the camp. Then he set his Australian orderlies to cleaning up the camp. Due to the large number of sick Peter Hendry was detailed to establish a hospital facility near the Sang Kalia River and a
separate small unit to house the Cholera cases. An indirect benefit of being near the river was the opportunity to bathe and occasionally to get fish to eat as a result of the Japanese dynamiting the river to stun fish.

Reg Jarman is the sole survivor of 10 2/10 Field Ambulance personnel who were with Peter Hendry at Songkurai. He says, that to a man, they respected Peter for his courageous leadership in the face of seemingly impossible odds. This refers initially to the fighting withdrawal in Malaya and later as a POW. His absolute dedication to the sick was a real encouragement to all in maintaining morale, especially considering the need to treat hundreds of desperately ill men. He also maintained a high sense of humour with patients and staff, no matter how grim the immediate future looked. This together with the disposal of the dead, which averaged 5 per day. (see mention of death rate in para 3).

Captain Roy Mills said that Peter Hendry was wonderful at radiating cheerfulness, just as in action he had the capacity to generate courage in those associated with him.

In Heroes of “F” Force,collated by Don Wall, Lt Bob Kelsey says that early in the 300 km march his kit bag was stolen by Thai bandits and he was left with nothing except a small haversack with Dixie ,toothbrush, spoon etc. Peter Hendry, whom he did not know, when hearing of his predicament tore his own blanket in two and gave half to him together with a pair a socks.

F Force at all times remained under control of Japanese Malaya command, which was a huge disadvantage, and following completion of the Railway at the end of 1943, was returned to Singapore. On their return they felt that Singapore was ”like heaven”.

Peter Hendry was discharged in November 1945. Post war he returned to his position as Pathology Resident at Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney. In 1947 he was appointed the Clinical Pathologist to the Newcastle Hospital. In 1952 he entered private practice with a colleague and in due course provided a pathology service to the medical profession from Gosford in the South to Grafton in the North of NSW. In 1979, at an international congress in Tokyo, he was presented with a gold-headed cane for his work in pathology. He was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in 1985 for his contribution to medicine. He has been President of the World Association of Societies of Pathology and the World Pathology Foundation and has made other contributions to society and the community. Rotary has honoured him with a Paul Harris Fellowship. He retired in 1987 and resides in the Newcastle area with his wife Senta.

(There were 3 camps in the Songkurai area. No. 1 Shimo (lower) Songkurai, Songkurai and Kami (upper) Songkurai. Medical Officers in the other two camps were Capt Colin Juttner at Kami and Capt. Lloyd Cahill at Shimo. Their stories, and others, will appear in due course).


Notes prepared by Lt. Col. Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired) JP- Pres Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association (Inc)- The assistance of Mrs Floss Williams (widow of Harry Williams) and Reg Harman is acknowledged.- E-mail

Amended 25 Feb 2004


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