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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Pow Recollections
From The Burma Thailand Railway

When D force (2,780 British and 2,220 AIF) went to Thailand to construct the Burma Thailand Railway in March 1943, there were 6 Australian Medical Officers and one Dental Officer. The Dental Officer was Captain James Finimore. Finimore was from 32 Dental Unit and had enlisted in Queensland. Major Alan Hazelton was the Senior Medical Officer and he recalls that Finimore had a foot operated (treadle) dentist’s drill with him. (Source - telephone conversation between Dr Hazelton and the writer 2004).

In 1945 an American was suffering from a brain tumor. He was in the Nakom Pathon medical camp (for 10,000 patients) which was not equipped with intruments for such a delicate operation. However, the camp received some Red Cross supplies which included some Novocain which could be used for an anaesthetic. A circular saw, driven by a treadle machine, was made up for use in cutting the skull. Silver spoons were used to fashion silver clips and dental forceps were used as bone nibblers. Lt Col Albert (Bertie) Coates was the surgeon. The condition was found to be inoperable and all that could be done was remove a portion of the skull to reduce the pressure on the brain. (From Railway of Death by Bon Hall p204.)

Around this time, a member of the 2/3 Machine Gun Battalion, Bob Fox (a South Australian) was at Nakom Pathon. He was a carpenter and is remembered for his ability to manufacture many things for the assistance and comfort of his mates. At the Hospital Camp he was asked to make a head cradle to immobilize the head of a POW undergoing an operation for a brain tumor. The cradle did the job. Encouraged by a British surgeon Capt J S (Monty) McConnachie, Fox also started making artificial legs. (From Snow to Jungle (History 2/3 MG Bn) by Bellair p150.)

Fred Ransome Smith (Lt Fred Ransome Smith 5 Suffolks Ex POW & War Artist, presently of Brighton Beach Vic) recalls an American Officer who was transferred from Nakom Pathon to Kanchanaburi Officers’ Camp. He arrived with his head heavily bandaged. A protusion on his head enlarged, but, somehow he managed to last out to the end of the war. Fred saw him evacuated by air. The air evacuation to America was at low altitude. He was able to be home with his family for a short time before passing away. (The airfield at Kanchanaburi was the spot where Aimee Johnson landed during her world record-breaking flight in the mid 1930s). (Source- Letter & telephone discussion between Mr Ransome Smith and the writer 2004)

Are the above matters related? It is the opinion of Lt Col (Dr) Richard Cook (leading Perth orthodontist) that a dentist’s foot operated drill would be quite suitable for driving a small circular saw for an operation such as described above.


Notes prepared by Lt Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired) JP
President Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association (Inc)

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