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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Remembrance Day Address 2008
by Norman Anderton MBE NX57502 - 8th Division Signals

I feel greatly honoured to have been invited to give this address today.
What better day than today, Remembrance Day, to remember some real heroes, I refer of course to the Doctors who were on the Burma Thailand Railway.  These men, who to paraphrase Winston Churchill "did so much to help so many when they were so few."

There were 43 Australian doctors, even more British doctors, numerous Dutch, two Americans and a Canadian on the Burma Thailand Railway.  I could not mention them all.  I must acknowledge that present here today there are five members of the family of British doctor Major Vincent Bennett and the step-daughter and son-in-law of Australian doctor Captain John Lindsey Taylor MC.

I would like to mention 5 doctors with whom I had some personal involvement.  First and foremost was Dr Roy Mills, the Medical Officer with Pond's Party, part of the larger "F" Force at Taimonta and Konkoita.  Roy was a gentle, mild mannered soul who was unlucky enough to come under the control of one of the most brutal Japanese Camp Commanders on the line, Capt. Muryama, a big brutal, sadistic ex Military Policeman who was later tried as a War Criminal and was. sentenced to death.  The sentence was later commuted.

Captain Mills suffered many bashings at the hands of Muryama and his henchmen in trying to save sick men being forced out to work.  As a large number of my Unit, 8th Division Signals, were with Pond's Party he was later made an Honorary member of our Unit Association.

When I went down with dysentery I was transferred to Nikke Camp where I met Dr Peter Hendry.  In his own words Peter said he tried to accommodate the Japs demands for "workers", as the men would have been forced out to work regardless.  So he had the unenviable task of selecting the fittest of the sick to fill the work quotas.

While at Nikki I was also infected with Malaria and as the line was completed down as far as Nikki from the Burma end I was, along with many others, sent by train to the Tan Baya Sick Camp in Burma.  About 1,900 "F" force men were sent to Tan Baya around August 1943 and by year's end 671 had died.

At Tan Baya Hospital Camp I met Doctors Major Bruce Hunt, Captain Frank Cahill  and an Indian Medical Service doctor, Dr Patrick Wolfe.  Bruce Hunt, who was in charge, was a strict disciplinarian and on our return to Singapore suffered some criticism for his methods.  But he brought "order out of chaos" and did a magnificent job controlling that Camp.

Having recovered from dysentery and malaria I offered my services as a voluntary medical orderly and was "put to work" in the combined Ulcer/Dysentery Ward.  Not the most salubrious of places in which to work.

On some mornings I would have to accompany Dr Wolfe, a small but very happy man, to conduct a "dawn patrol" to see how many patients had died during the night and arrange for the bodies to be taken to the cremation area.  As was traditional at that time all the British and Australian doctors were accorded the rank of at least Captain but Dr Wolfe of the Indian Army Medical Service, despite being a fully qualified doctor, was only accorded the rank of Sergeant Major.

If my memory serves me right, there were some 40 amputations performed at Tan Baya and Dr Frank Cahill, being the only surgeon there, did them all.  Working with only the most basic items of equipment, some scalpels, some forceps and a wood saw that was also used for cutting wood for the kitchen and the funeral pyre and then had to be sterilized in boiling water before being used to saw through the bones.  On one or two occasions I was present with an empty rice sack to collect the amputated limb and take it to the cremation area.  Unfortunately only four amputees survived as most were too debilitated to withstand the shock of the operation

These courageous and dedicated doctors will always hold a place of honour in the memory of all those to whom they ministered during those dark days.  It is fortunate that Don Wall published his book "Heroes of "F" Force".  In conclusion, we should acknowledge the efforts of all the doctors and the others who helped their mates.  They are all truly "unsung heroes". 

Lest we forget.

Signaller Norman Anderton 1941

Signaller Norman Anderton 1941

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