Bill Davies was born in Balmain New South Wales on 29 July 1922. He enlisted into the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 7 August 1940. Bill was posted to the 2/18 Battalion and moved to Malaya in 1941.
Bill was one of the relatively small number of Australian POWs who slaved on the construction of the 230 kilometre railway in Sumatra.
The following is a reproduction of the hand written notes Bill produced about his experiences on this other railway. The notes complement the information provided by Harry Badger and another short account by Christiaan Cleef a POW from the NEIAF.
The first note provided was dated May 2006. He mentions that 99 Australians plus British, NEI, New Zealanders and Indian personnel were handed over to the Japs by the Dutch on 17 March 1942 at Padang in west Sumatra. His group left Padang for Belawan on 17 June 1942. On 26 June they moved to GloeGoer. On 17 July they were forced to sign a “No Escape” paper. The Dutch and British had signed before the Australians and the Australian Officers told them that they must sign or die. It was here that he received the only Red Cross parcel he was to receive in three and one half years. On 8 March 1944 they were moved to work on Railway and Road jobs.
The following notes were subsequently provided in August 2006. To start with like many others the mind is not first class in relation to some details of our past which we try to forget. For example, the spelling of places, names of numbers of people etc, but I will do my best.
I do not remember much about the Scottish Doctor Kirkwood (attached to the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders) or the Dutch doctor’s name, but I do recall Kirkwood getting into trouble with the guards whilst trying to stop them from entering the Hospital hut with their rifles. He tried to explain that it was against the Geneva Convention.
The pulverised bark from the Quinine tree was, as Harry (Badger) said, difficult to swallow because it was like trying to swallow sawdust, it used to take quite a considerable effort and much water to do so. The next thing to get quinine into our system was they decided to boil the pulverised bark with tapioca flour (which was called by the Dutch "ongle ongle") and made up into balls about the size of marbles which we were given. I think we had about nine of these twice a day and they too were hard to swallow.
My escape from Singapore was with 6 others on a sampan aided by locals who covered us with matting and attap to avoid being seen. Moving from island to island we then came in contact with some other escapees in a Chinese junk and joined the journey with them, picking up others from islands on the way. Arriving at Sumatra East Coast we were informed by locals that it was unsafe to travel further south, so it was decided by officers onboard to go across Sumatra to the west. There was information of the possibility of getting a boat ride to India and then return to Australia by Navy boats.
It was at this point where we transferred from the junk to a Dutch barge going up the Indrigeri River to a place called Rengat, a market village. As the barge could not manage, due to river flooding, we were all then put onto whatever vehicles were available and the convoy, with mudded out head and tail lights, travelled overnight across the mountain to a place called Taluk and, I am not sure, whether to the nearby railhead of Sualonto (Sawahlunto). By train we then went to Padang on the west coast and were put into a school house on 7 March and stayed there with no chance of going any further, as the last boat to leave for India had gone the day before our arrival.
On St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1942, we were handed over to the invading Japs. I do not recall any warlike activity during the ten days there.
The Japs then put us into a Netherlands East Indian Army barracks where we were with Dutch, UK personnel, NZ and Australian personnel. The Indians were released from here to be used as security personnel and wore the associate uniform of the Japs. The difference being that the true Japs had a yellow star on their headgear and the Indians had, like the Koreans, a red outline of a star on a white patch on their headgear.
We were later moved to GloeGoer camp and from there we started on heavy duty work parties. Some were taken to build the railway line and then the roadway through Atyeh (true spelling may be different) over a mountain heading north, which we called the Jap escape route in case of retreat. The remainder were taken by ship for work elsewhere. This ship was sunk by torpedo on 27 June 1944, with a loss of 13 Australian dying. Of the 60 who were sent to the railway job and later on the road, 10 Australians lost their lives, 8 on railway, 1 on road, the other died when trapped by a falling tree on another job in Sumatra. One died in Singapore after release. Of the rest, the story is as related in Harry's Badger’s information.
After release, we who were left in Sumatra, were sent to Singapore for RTA (return to Australia). I returned to Australia on 19 September 1945 and was offloaded in Darwin with malaria and spent 3 weeks in hospital before coming home to NSW.
Thanking you for your interest in our Sumatran Railway story of Prisoner of War Days.
William (Bill) Davies August 2006
The following information was received in letter dated 2 Sept 2006
Below is listed the names of the Australian POWs at GloeGoer who did not come home, due to deaths.
Firstly the ones who lost or believed to have lost life on the torpedoed ship on 27-6-1944, secondly deaths rail, road etc.
Hoping this information may assist you, but I don't know the Major Moody, the 4 officers were Lt Charles B Bayertz 2/20 Bn, Lt Andy Nicholls, Lt Arthur E Tranter 2/29 Bn and Lt Gordon D Richardson 2/18 Bn. First 3 have died and the 4th is believed to have gone to live in Scotland.
Information provided to LT COL Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (JP). This article follows the account of the Sumatra Railway by Harry Badger and is complemented by Christiaan Cleef’s account of his experiences as a Dutch POW, also slaving on the Sumatra Railway.