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

CUMMING GORDON DAVID (DON) NX70385 Medical Officer 2/4
Casualty Clearing Station (2/10 Field Ambulance) "A" Force Burma

Gordon David Cumming was born in Strathfield, New South Wales on 12 February 1909.  He had graduated in Medicine (MBBS) at Sydney University, and practiced in Sydney and Newcastle, before joining the A.I.F on 14 October 1940.  He was Medical Officer at a number of Army Camps in Australia before embarking for Singapore on the "Aquitania" in the latter part of 1941.  It seems that he arrived in Singapore of 24 January 1942 as part of the Australian Army Medical Corps reinforcements which were on that ship.
It is said he was attached to 2/10 Field Ambulance.  As a reinforcement, he could have been deployed where the need occurred.  However, in the book “Soldier Surgeon in Malaya” by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hamilton (Commanding Officer of the 2/4 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS)) he says “…. greeted twelve new reinforcements who had arrived, including two doctors, Captain White and Cumming. I was relieved to find they were all good men; we needed their services badly…”  The compiler of this article has had access to Thomas Hamilton’s hand written draft for his book and the arrival of the reinforcements was recorded as after 10 February and only five days before capitulation on 15 February 1942.  In this case, he may not have been posted to the 2/4 CCS, but may have been part of a consolidation of the Medical resources.  In the book “The Survival Factor” by Rowley Richards and Maria McEwen p72 there is mention that Captain Cumming was Medical Officer to the 4 Reserve Motor Transport Company (this seems to relate to Captain Cumming’s role when “A” Force was formed). 

In May 1942, following capitulation a large number of the 2/4 CCS, plus some Unit Medical Officers, formed the bulk of the Medical Support to 3,000 Australian Prisoners of War who went to Burma as part of "A" Force.  These men were initially positioned in battalion groups of around 1,000 men at Victoria Point, Mergui and Tavoy.  Subsequently, they were brought together at Thanbyuzyat where construction of the Burma Thailand Railway commenced in October 1942.  They were the first Australians to work on the Burma Thailand Railway.
Les Hall (author, "Blue Haze") writes,

  • "My first meeting with Capt. Cumming was aboard the "rust bucket", the "Celebes Maru", which left Keppel Harbour on 15/5/42 for Burma.  Diseases were rampant in the fetid crowded conditions, which we were forced to endure.  In Burma conditions worsened considerably.  At all times "Don" exhibited a trait, wherein we came to recognise his dedication.  Day and night he treated the many by voice alone.  That was all he had, (no thanks to the Japs).  His counselling and confidence made the sufferers regain their spirit. They listened so avidly. His approach to "mending" became a by-word. His success was obvious.
  • "At the latter end of our POW life at Tamuan (Siam) he and Major Allan Hobbs laboured hard to overcome an outbreak of blackwater fever, which had all the elements of an epidemic. Both MO's hardly slept, so great was their determination to overwhelm the near fatal malady.  That, they did, is now history.  Out of the 20 odd, showing symptoms, ten recovered due to the endurance displayed by these two men, who, without medication, beat Nature".
  • "He was tireless, compassionate and thought only of what he could do to save lives, mine was one of them. But for the care that he bestowed on the many, the cemeteries would have contained the weary, worn, weakened bodies, which he miraculously brought back from the very edge of passing away."
  • “In the forefront of that dedicated group (Medical personnel) was Captain Cumming, he was tireless, worked very long hours as his compassion for the sick and injured overcame his own personal safety.  How it was possible he survived the many ailments, all potentially dangerous, suffered by so many, is one of those amazing marvels of the Burma-Thai Railway”

It is worth noting that for a short period following graduation from Medical School Captain Cumming had worked at “Broughton Hall” Hospital for nerve and trauma patients.  This experience evidently stood him in good stead under the tragic conditions of the camps.
Rohan Rivett at page 286 of "Behind Bamboo" said,

  • "Except for short periods at the 55 kilo camp, Captain John Higgins, of Sydney, Captain Don Cumming, of Sydney, and Captain Claude Anderson, of Perth, remained with Blackforce, Ramsay Force and Green Force respectively, throughout our servitude in Burma. How much is owed to these three men, and to the orderlies behind them, by these Forces, the men, who have come home, well know. ...Often racked with illness themselves, they insisted on resuming duties at the earliest possible moment, often long before they should have left their beds. ... In many cases the only weapon in the hands of the doctor was his knowledge of human psychology and his ability to build up the patient's faith in eventual recovery."

Don Cumming was discharged from the Army on 12 January 1946.  After about six month’s recuperation, following repatriation, Don proceeded to London to carry out his pre-war intention to commence his course in Ophthalmology at Moorfield Hospital. At the end of two years he received his Diploma of Ophthalmic Medicine & Surgery (DOMS). On his return to Sydney he set up a specialist practice in Parramatta and Macquarie St. in Sydney, where he worked for a number of years. Later he joined Dr, Ross Moxham in a partnership, which lasted for well nigh on forty years. During that time he qualified as a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists (FRACO) as well as a Fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (FRCO).
After the War Don Cumming married.  He passed away on 24 November 1995.
Article put together by Lt Col Peter Winstanley.  Much of the information was kindly provided by Graeme Wilson Webmaster for the 2/30 Battalion Association.  My initial interest resulted from comments from Captain Claude Anderson (98 years and still alive 2008), who knew Don Cumming well, clearly had a great respect for him and was the first person I interviewed back in 2001.  Additionally, Rowley Richards also provided oral comments to me. Additonal comments and the photograph of Don were provided by his cousin Joye Slater.

ezFrog Web Design. Copyright 2004.