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.
    free hit counter

ARTHUR GIGGER  Signalman  SX7678 
8 Division Signals Singapore and "C" Force Japan

I was working as a Clerical Assistant in the in the old PMG Department in the Transmission Section. The war broke out on September 3rd 1939 which was a Sunday in Australia and I heard it on the radio about 8 o'clock on the night. I heard Mr. Menzies, who was the Prime Minister at the time; announce that we were now at war with Germany. That's how I found out about the war.

I didn't decide to join up myself, I was under age and not eligible to join at the time. I was just turned 19, but a mate of mine who was a telegraphist in training came to me and said, 'They are forming a new Division, the 8th Division and they want Signalmen, which includes those who knowledge of Morse Code, and I was just learning Morse Code, so he talked me into joining the Army which I did on July 3rd 1940. I was immediately sent to the Signals Depot at Largs Bay, where they were forming a section to be transferred to the 8th Division Headquarters in New South Wales. I was subsequently attached to the Crack Wireless Operating Section, where I was a way behind of my class because I could do about 8 words a minute, and the majority of the chaps were telegraphists, radio operators off ships etc., but that didn't make any difference. We started in Liverpool where we did Infantry Training for about 6 weeks, we subsequently moved to Ingleburn. I was in hospital at the time with German measles; we were at Ingleburn continuing our infantry training for about 2 months; we then moved to Bathurst up in the Blue Mountains. I happened to be in hospital with the measles at the time. When we got to Bathurst we started out technical training, which was about November 1940. We were there until January 1941 when we went on this overseas Leave. We knew we were going overseas, we didn't know where, we suspected we going to the Middle East. When the troops left they were transported on the Queen Mary -- then again I was in hospital with food poisoning so every time the Unit moved I was left behind. I subsequently caught up with the Unit, but I was fortunate in respect I had another 2 or 3 months at home. I subsequently caught up with the Unit, who had been sent to Singapore, and I arrived there in May 1941, and I rejoined my original section which was Ack Section, the wireless section. We were split up into units of 3 members, a Corporal and 2 wireless operators. We were attached to different units and we travelled all over Malaysia or Southern Malaysia; we had quite a good time really. We were entirely independent until war broke out against the Japanese on the 8th December, subsequently wireless silence was introduced and all we did was sit and listen and listen for 24 hours a day -- we did 4 hours on and 8 hours off, the three of us. Nothing happened for about a month and then suddenly the Japanese were advancing down the Malaya Peninsula, and the 8th Division came into action in Southern Johore. We were very close to the front line and on this particular day I can always remember it, it was Australia Day 26th January, I was on the set and I had been trying to get through from 8 o'clock to about 11 o'clock with no success. The atmospherics in Malaysia were pretty bad through the day time. We were retreating down the coast and we stopped overnight in a rubber plantation. We didn't have time to build a trench or anything and we tried to maintain communication through that night. I was on the set from about 8 o'clock to about 11 o'clock when Japanese planes came overhead, and the Corporal said "come and lie down here". Well we didn't have a trench, but someone had dug a pit about a foot deep and 9 feet square and there were grass mats someone obviously had been sleeping there and we laid there: and suddenly there was a mighty bang and everything went dark and red and I thought to myself this is it. I felt a terrible stinging pain all over myself and then I blacked out. I thought this is what it is to be dead, but after a while I realised that I wasn't dead, but everything was very quiet. What had happened, the bomb had landed in the corner of this pit in which we were laying and the blast of the bomb went over our backs. I had second degree burns all over my back and back of my legs (we were only wearing shorts, no shirt). I was suffering ruptured ear drums, that's why I couldn't hear, so I was subsequently moved to hospital on Singapore Island and the place, I'm not sure, it was a big old mansion. It was owned by one of the rubber plantation owners, a British house. I was there for about 10 days I suppose and in their wisdom, the army authorities put an artillery piece right next to the hospital and we were subsequently bombed, shelled by the Japanese who had in that time had landed on Singapore Island. We had to evacuate from this place, and we transferred to Cathay building in Singapore, which was the pride of Singapore at that time. It was a brand new building; it was 11-12 storeys high. The Army took it over as a hospital and headquarters kind of place, and I was there until 15th February. I had lost everything. All I had was an old pair of shorts and a pair of boots and socks; they were my sole possessions. On the 15th February, about 8pm, one of the orderlies came round and said "the war's over, you are all prisoners of war". We found this very hard to take. We were expecting to be evacuated as it happened in Dunkirk, Greece and Crete, but there were no ships; nothing to take us.

We were subsequently transferred to the Selangor Barracks, which was the Army headquarters of the British Army in Changi. The whole of the 8th Division that were still with us, some 20 odd thousand men, were transferred there. It was about 50 miles from the heart of Singapore. Most of the chaps had to march out, I was fortunate I got a ride out in an ambulance, a truck or something. The hard part was we went straight from European food to rice, and it was very hard to accept. A lot of us couldn't take it for a while but we had to get used to eating rice. I was only there 6 weeks and they selected about I don't how many men, must be best part of 1000 I suppose, to build a memorial in Singapore where a lot of heavy fighting had taken place at a place called Buckatima close to the McRitchie Reservoir. I might add that what had brought a sudden end to the hostilities in Singapore, the Japanese captured the Reservoir and cut off the supply of water to the city, which included millions of civilians and army personnel who just didn't have any water, so that was one of the reasons. We marched into Singapore and we were allotted -- there was more like a European settlement there, there were British type houses and we were billeted in these and we were marched out to the golf links which surrounded the Reservoir, and we built a road and destroyed the golf links and eventually put a memorial. I never ever saw the memorial, but it was made of timber and the chaps who were working on it made sure that the white ants were in place.

We'd near run out of a job, we were still with our officers and one of them came in one day and said "we want 400 men for a working party". At that time we had a choice of saying yes or no. It was a hard decision to make not knowing where we were going but, as most of my mates put their names up to go I put my name down not knowing what was ahead of us. We subsequently, those who said yes, were transferred to the wharves in Singapore where we were placed on a ship called the Kamakura Maru. We were herded on the deck as deck cargo as you might call it. It was impossible for us all to lie down at the same time. We used to take in shifts to lie down. The only food we got was twice a day they'd bring out several buckets of what you might call 'slop', more like pig food, it was remnants of stew and rice and what have you that obviously they had just stirred up for us. It was a matter of first in first served. I was on the wrong side of the deck and we weren't very concerned about food at that stage. Incidentally, I lost two stone in that 10 days which it might sound unbelievable, but it was true. We subsequently arrived in Nagasaki. I think it was the 8th December. They put us ashore at about 8 o'clock in the morning on Nagasaki Harbour, it was the middle of Japanese winter, it was freezing cold, there was snow on the mountains. Nagasaki, incidentally, is a little inlet very similar to Sydney Harbour -- a miniature, very miniature Sydney Harbour. They put us on the wharf and about 11 o'clock half of the crowd were ordered up onto the Railway Station and we saw them being issued with greatcoats. We thought we might get them, but we never did. Anyhow, they all got on the train and went. They eventually ended up in a place called Noetsu up near Tokyo. The rest of us 200 odd, I'm not sure 240 something like that, we stayed on the wharf until midnight, it was freezing cold, absolutely freezing,. Worse day I think I spent in my life physically. We had nothing to eat, nothing to drink until about midnight a train called in and they bundled us on this train where they supplied us with a meal. It would be a meal that they would have served to the Japanese travellers on the train, it was quite elaborate. We thought this was all right, but the rice they gave us was frozen cold and the little packet of tit bits I got, pieces of fish and seaweed and vegetable, which we gulped down, and, in my instance, I brought it up within half an hour I think.

We were on the train for 24 hours. We received regular meals on this trip and we arrived at Kobe up in the island of Honshu about 2 o'clock the next morning, we were on the train about 26 hours in other words, and from there we were taken by train to a place called Takatura Michi where a new camp had been built especially for us. We were to work for the Kawasaki Shipyard, which is an off shoot of what we now call Mitsubishi. The camp was brand new. It looked very good, there were five blankets for each person, which sounded very good, but they were synthetic blankets and they had no warmth at all in them, just bulk. We settled down and the next day we were lined up and told we had work and a lot of baloney that we weren't allowed to escape and so on. We subsequently all went to the shipyard and they split us all up, goodness knows how they worked it all out. Incidentally we had a coloured Dutchman with us, today they are known as Indonesians; they spoke Dutch. Some were white, some were native Indonesians. I found myself with a party of ten Australians and ten Indonesians. I didn't know a soul. It was all like joining the army again and not knowing anybody. I was allotted to the pipe section where all shapes and sizes of pipes for ships, war ships I might add, were bent in the furnaces. Our chaps did all sorts of jobs striking, etc and they didn't know what to do with me so they allotted me to a job of taking pipes from the big shed A to the smaller shed B where all pipes were tested by water. I just worked on my own with about three Japanese for the whole of the time I was there, which was newly 2-21/2 years.

We got through the winter fairly luckily I suppose. We had very little sickness. It was freezing cold; the average night temperature was 12 below zero according to one of the Medical Orderlies who kept records. We couldn't get warm with these blankets. We tried sleeping two together, but that didn't work out either. The doctor incidentally was a veterinary surgeon who was a Dutchman, Dr Eykman. He was our only medical officer with us. He did a good job, but he had no medical supplies. We got through winter all right and with the coming of spring, first chaps started going down with pneumonia, and if you got pneumonia chances of survival were about 10% at the most. Most of them died, and dysentery hit the camp -- I got a very bad dose of dysentery -- and the worst cases were transferred to what they called a hospital in Osaka. The hospital was an old baseball stadium and the hospital section was run by American POW's and it was the old grandstand of this old oval. When we got there they said "find a place and doss down". Now we were lying on straw and I saw a little place in the corner which was vacant, I wandered why it was vacant, any how I dossed down there and I found out that night that there was a rats' nest in the corner, and rats used to run out over my body time and time again. It didn't seem to worry the rats, but it worried me a little bit. I was only there for about a fortnight, or maybe three weeks. If you were sick in Japan you were put on half rations, so I don't know how we were supposed to get better. Our ration in camp was about 14 ounces of rice a day, which means we were on about 7 ounces of rice in this hospital. The way they decided that if you were fit to go back to camp was if you could run around the oval you were fit. Well I was so sick of the place, I had lost my dysentery and the first chance I had I ran round the oval and was transported back to Takatori Michi camp in Kobe, and sent back to work. It was like going home again, getting three meals a day. We'd get a weak vegetable stew for breakfast; we'd get a teaspoonful of seaweed or miso paste for lunch. We'd come home and we'd get more rice and watery stew. That's all the food we got. For three years we had no way of getting any extra food from outside.
During the summer the camp was infested with fleas. We learnt to live with fleas and the coming of winter and the cold weather we were infested with lice, body lice and they used to drive us crazy. It was that cold that when you went to bed you wouldn't take your clothes off-- we were freezing cold.

On March 17th, St Patrick's Day, the Japanese knew that the Americans were bombing cities. They'd already bombed Tokyo and Yokohama which were the main cities; they were fire bombing these big cities. They were expecting the raid on the 16th March, but it didn't come, it came on the 17th. About midnight we heard the planes come over, American planes; they were flying quite low. They were dropping incendiary bombs. They bombed for about 6 hours. We were locked in our huts but we were peeping out the window. We could see these planes criss-crossing. Kobe was set alight so was Osaka next door, and probably burnt for 2 or 3 days. We were of course kept in camp and after about three days they decided to take us back to work to clean up. The shipyard was ruined, the city of Kobe was razed to the ground, there was virtually nothing standing.

As we were out of a job the Japanese obviously decided to move us so most of us were put on a train and headed south. We didn't know where we were going....We ended up in a little mining village, I saw the word Usui on the station. It was a small village, just a mining village. They had this camp there; it was quite a good camp. There were about 200 of us transferred down to there. I don't know where the other chaps went. We were only there a day and they took us down the mine to show us what the place was like. It was about 700-800 feet underground according to one of the mathematical blokes in our unit. It took about 20 minutes to walk down and about 40 minutes to come out....They split us into two shifts, we had to work 10 days night shift, 10 days day shift. It was a 12 hour shift but we weren't working for 12 hours we were away from the camp....We just had to dig out the coal, we had to get 2 skips a day, that's a little truck that holds about a ton. It was really hard work and at that time we were in pretty poor condition. We had hardly any clothes, we used to go down with a 'G' string on which we had a battery and they gave us caps on which we had a miner's light...

This went on until August and it must have been after the bombing of Hiroshima, our camp Commander who spoke fairly good English, he had been a wool buyer in Australia. He was very quiet sort of man, he was a Lieutenant, which was a pretty high rank, he said to us," to the horror of the world the Americans are dropping fire bombs and if there was an air raid we should go to our shelter with a blanket over us." We ignored this. This must have been after the dropping of Hiroshima, which was the 6th August. I was on night shift that week, and on the morning of the 9th I was trying to get to sleep but I heard the air raid siren and I heard a whopper of a bang in the distance and didn't take much notice, and then someone yelled out 'come and look at this' and we all went outside and here was this great big mushroom cloud in the distance. We later found out that it was the Atom Bomb.

On the 15th August, we finished our shift at two skips per man and the surface we were working on was uphill from the main rail track where the trucks had to be taken away. Yet we had to push them uphill, but to bring them back to the main track we couldn't hold them, they just used to run down. On this particular day we were finishing off and six trucks got away from us and they all came off the rail. We knew that the night shift would have to put them back on if we didn't, but most of the chaps said "Oh bugger the night shift". But I was one of these conscientious bloke I suppose -- or three or four of us were -- we stayed behind with a couple of Japanese miners and we managed to hoist these trucks back onto the line...We got back to the camp and there was a crowd waiting at the gate and they said "the war's over". Well we were in such a mood we said "Oh, don't be so bloody silly", "Yes, the war's over". They stopped the night shift from going down, which was rather ironic.
We didn't know what to think we'd had air raids every night for months I suppose, ever since we'd been down the coal mine. I think the theory was that if there was no air raids siren that night possibly the war could be over, and as it happened there was no air raid siren that night. And on the next day, the 16th, this camp Commander who I previously mentioned, rounded us all up in the dining room and said "the war is over", so that's how we found out, we were, I don't know what you'd call it -- elated, shocked, amazed -- it was pretty hard to believe that after 31/2 years exactly to the day the war had finished. So we just stopped worked, that's all that happened at that time.

We all felt a bit lost, we didn't have to go to work, we were still under Japanese guards, we were still on the same food, three meals of rice a day. This went on for 2 or 3 weeks I suppose, and we woke up one morning and the guards had all disappeared and left their rifles behind, which meant we were free, so the fir st thing we started doing (we were out in the country) we started roaming looking for food. There were sweet potatoes, plenty of those growing around the place in little farms and the chaps used to go rounding up chickens and anything that was edible. We didn't get a lot of food, but the Japanese had left behind a radio and the Americans had taken over broadcasting and we were getting broadcasts from the American Military Services advising us to stay in our camps, they would come and get us, to put the words "PW" on top of our huts, paint it on in white, and they would drop us food and supplies, which eventually they did, it took about a week I suppose. They dropped us food, clothing. It was rather ironic, I received a pair of paratrooper's boots, and all the clothing was far too big. We were so weak and skinny I personally weighed 36kg.  They dropped us Army uniforms and they were far too big for us but that didn't worry us. It was summer time and we didn't worry much about clothes. We stayed there for another 2 or 3 weeks I suppose, and it was about the middle of September and an American, a British and an Australian Sergeant arrived. They had come to release us. They took all our details and we wrote letters that they sent home for us. They next day they organized a train to take us away, and we didn't quite know where we were going, but we ended up back in Nagasaki. Well. Nagasaki was absolutely flat; we were amazed at the damage that had been caused. In the meantime we'd found out that through newspapers that what we'd seen in this big mushroom cloud was an Atom Bomb. Incidentally, I don't think it was an Atom Bomb, it was a Hydrogen Bomb. Anyhow, it was the same effect. We were rather stunned and I think we all felt a bit sad as to what the population had suffered. I remember saying "God, they must had suffered".

We subsequently arrived at Nagasaki Wharf where we had to strip off all the clothes they had given us, we had to have a shower and then they sprayed us all with spray because we were all lousy and then they supplied us with just a pair of shorts and a shirt and I never forget they gave us a ham sandwich and an ice-cream, typical Americans, and they had a Jazz Band playing to welcome us. We boarded this troop ship that day. They sailed that night. We went down to Okinawa where they off loaded us. We had a day and a night in Okinawa. From there they fly us down in Liberator bombers down to Manila where they had set up a big staging camp to receive all POW's from the Far East. It was a massive camp; there were thousands of chaps there. The idea was to build us up. It was all American, American doctors and dentists and what have you and they fed us up -- it was amazing how quickly we put on the weight that we'd lost. We were there for about 2 to 3 weeks, I'm not sure exactly how long, Subsequently, the Australians were put on different ships. I came home on the aircraft carrier, 'Formidable'. The Captain had given orders they we have five meals a day and he said "if you're still hungry, go to the cook house and tell them you're hungry and they will give you more food".

So by the time we arrived back in Australia -- it had only taken about ten days, we arrived back in Sydney on Saturday 13th October 1945, I think I had doubled my weight by then. We were greeted by the Duke of Gloucester who was the Governor General at the time. We were taken through the streets of Sydney in buses, we had quite a heroes' welcome. We ended up in Ingleburn Camp, in exactly the same huts we were stationed in as 8th Div Signals some five years earlier. We only stayed in Ingleburn, we arrived there Saturday and we left on Sunday night, by train to Melbourne, from Melbourne we came to Adelaide and I arrived back home on the 16th October 1945. I had been overseas about 4¼ years. We arrived at the Goodwood Station, my mother and two sisters were there, but my wife, who I'd hope to see, wasn't there.
Any how, they put us on a truck and took us around to Wayville Showground where we were met by the Army dignitaries and my wife was standing there with my father, and she greeted me like a stranger actually ….. 

The family received very little news while in the camp; it was a long time before we were allowed to write. We were only allowed to write cards -- they were only cards home, and we were told what to put. We had to say that we were fit and well, that we were working, and that we being taken care of. These cards took up to two years to reach home. I suppose there were about six or eight I sent in the whole time I was over there. As for incoming mail, we received mail that had been written to us whilst we were still fighting in Malaya, and I received a bundle of letters from my wife that were eighteen months to two years old. They were written to me before I was a POW. I didn't receive anything from my wife or from my family after I had been taken a POW. Well there was just no communication --we just used to wonder. I think we worried more about them then they worried about us, but obviously it was the other way round, but we were more concerned about, well I know I was, about my wife and family but there was nothing we could do about it, you just couldn't write a letter you could just think and pray, that's all I ever did.

Many people now say that the 'Bomb' should never have been dropped?

Well, I recently was talking to a chap at Rotary about that, he put the same question to me, and he said they could have done it without the 'Bomb' , I said "well look, they burnt out Tokyo, they burnt out Yokohama, they burnt out Kobe, they burnt out Osaka, that didn't stop the war. They were their four main cities. No-one had really heard of Hiroshima, no-one had really heard of Nagasaki. Had they dropped fire bombs on Hiroshima, I'm sure nothing would have happened; it would have been the same result as the fire bombing of the other four big cities and likewise with Nagasaki. It took something enormous like an 'Atom Bomb' to let them see the Americans meant business. The fire bombing didn't stop the war, but the 'Atom Bomb' did." So my answer to the question is "Yes", I do agree that they did the right thing. I do agree now that its a terrible thing and I wouldn't like to see it happen again, but at the time the 'Atom Bomb' ended the war and had they not been dropped and had the Allies had to invade there would have been terrific loss of life. All POW's were to be exterminated as from 1800 hours on the 15th August, which was the day that Hirohito stepped in and said "No, the war will finish". Had they not dropped the bomb the loss of life would have probably been tenfold, twenty fold, to what the loss of the Japanese population was. that was my answer to this fellow, and that is my answer to anybody else, and I think you would find that all POW's who were there would give you much the same answer.
I don't think we particularly wanted to talk about it (war experiences), but our relations had been advised by the Military not to talk about it, make out nothing happened and let them carry on with their lives as though nothing had happened. Well, I felt rather hurt, and I'm sure others did, that nobody seemed very interested in us, and its only in recent years, especially this year, Australia Remembers 50 Years, that so many people, especially schools, have shown so much interest in what happened. We're finding it quite easy to talk about what happened. It was 50 years ago, and I don't think anyone is carrying any grudges or anything now, but it's taken 50 years for people to find out what happened in the war, and I'm sure a lot of people are learning a lot that they never ever dreamed of happened.

 A F Gigger

Arthur Gigger -1941

Article provided to Lt Col Peter Winstanley by Arthur Gigger 2007, with the assistance of his son-in law Ian Millard.   The text was originally produced by a lady librarian from Adelaide.  We should all be grateful to her or Max's story may have never been told..

ezFrog Web Design. Copyright 2004.