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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1. After a gruelling night, fleeing from the Japanese, through forest, jungle, and swamp, we were at last told to rest, just as daylight was breaking. The Officers contacted the natives and a meal was organised, mostly rice, but we were so hungry that anything edible was welcome.

Rumours were rife and then we were told that Yong Peng had fallen. Because of our large numbers and the difficulty in feeding us it was suggested that we break into small groups, and make our way where ever possible to Singapore. There we were to regroup and again try to stop the enemy. This announcement shattered us somewhat. Here we were in completely unfamiliar territory, knowing only a few words of the language, being told that we were now on our own. No food, very little money tired and nervous. We had the feeling that we had been abandoned. Such is the fortune of war.

My group consisted of Pte.C.M. (Mac) McKenzie (VX27931), Pte Robert Brace, and Pte 'Doc' Richardson, our first-aid man and myself. After resting for an hour or so we started off and found a native store. The only article of any use that we could see was three bottles of TOOTH'S beer. We bought it and disposed of it. We continued to make our way south, at times diverging to habitation to beg for food. The Chinese and the Indians were for the most part the only people who gave any positive response. Malays either ran away or ran inside their flimsy dwellings and locked all windows and doors.

The next day we were joined by two wounded Jaats, Indian troops who had filtered back to our position after being overrun at Muar. Neither of them could speak English and as they had lost all their white officers who spoke their language fluently, they were in a pretty pickle. One had a bayonet wound right through his chest and out the back. I never did find out whether he was stabbed from front or rear.  The other one had been shot in the shoulder. We didn't have much choice, so took them along with us. Either later that day or next day another 2/29th lad, Pte Ritchie joined us. We were happy to have these extra people at first, but as time passed it became increasingly obvious that we could not get sufficient food for the seven of us.

One day while walking along the side of the road, we heard approaching motor vehicles. We clambered up the bank at the side of the road and hid in the jungle, which came right to the road. Around a bend in the road came a convoy of Jap trucks laden with troops. The first truck passed and the second truck was exactly in front of us when the whole convoy stopped. The Japs were two-three metres away from us. 'My God' I thought, "they must know we are here". But as they sat tight in their trucks, so did we in the jungle. After a short stop they moved ofF again, much to our relief.

We now began to get less and less food. We decided to break up into groups of two. Bob Brace and 'Doc' Richardson went together, the two Jaats and Pte Ritchie, and 'Mac' and myself. We bade our farewells to 'See you in Singapore, or Young and Jacksons', and moved off in different directions.

By this time I had come the conclusion that if we could get to the coast and get a boat we would get to Singapore much quicker, as anything would be quicker than trying to battle with the jungle or alternately the mangrove swamps. Also if we had a boat we could travel by night and rest in the daytime. We were passing through a grassy field one morning when a Jap fighter plane flew overhead. He must have spotted us and turned back. We could see he was coming directly at us, so we bolted towards a banana plantation about 40 or 50 yards on our left. He changed course and just as we entered the plantation began firing. As soon as we were in the shelter of the banana palms one turned right and one turned left. We finished up about 100 yards away from each other and he missed us. But he made another run and sent another burst of bullets into the plantation with the same result. He then gave it away and cleared off.  Those bullets sure made some nasty marks on the palms.

After this we gave our rifles away to the Chinese, as they were a bit of a hindrance, and we were afraid that if and when we were caught, we would probably be shot if we were carrying any arms.

We eventually came to the mangrove swamps again.  We continued along the edge of these until we came to a tidal creek. Some distance along the creek we could see a small hut and (from this point page one was indecipherable)

2.They would only let us have the canoe and one paddle. Then we had to arrive at a mutually agreeable price. After much "Tida Bagoose"(No good) and many "MANA Boleh" (Bulldust), we arrived at $10.  We gingerly boarded the canoe and paddled downstream. As we approached the open sea we could see native fish traps half a mile or so off shore. We waited until dark and then paddled out to the fish trap. These fish traps as we called them, (don't now why we called then fish traps) was a room constructed of bamboo and mounted on stilts. I now believe that they are used by the fishermen to rest during the night. We had sufficient cooked rice to last us a day and a half and decided to spend the time here resting. This rest really was most welcome as we were near exhausted and near starving. As we lounged on the fish trap we could see in the distance four or five miles away an island with a lighthouse on it. We could also see the giant plume of black smoke coming from the burning oil on Singapore Island.  We decided we would try for the island, and after a rest, go on to Singapore.

We left next morning just after sunrise and paddled back to the coast.  Had we taken a direct route to the island we would have been very conspicuous.  We took it in turns to propel the canoe with the single paddle.  Suddenly we came to the mouth of a river which was clogged with Japanese soldiers bodies.  The stench was quite overpowering.  An intermittent hissing, we discovered was gas escaping from bloated corpses. There must have been 4O or 50 bodies there and right in the middle of them was one with a paddle gripped in his hand.  It was a manufactured one and just what we wanted.  We pushed the other bodies aside and gradually made our way to the paddle.  When we got to it we found that the corpse had a tight grip on it.  By this time I could taste the foul smell.  I got the paddle away from it and we beat a hasty retreat.  I could taste that smell for weeks. It was the most abominable and foul smell I have ever experienced.

We now made much better time but it wasn't long before Mac began to show signs of fatigue. Before we were halfway to the island he completely collapsed, losing the native paddle in the process. He slumped down but fortunately, he was still inboard. I spoke to him two or three times but he must have passed out as he never answered me. I could not move around in the canoe otherwise it would tip and take on water. We only had about two inches above the waterline. I kept going but long before we reached the island I too felt I would collapse. But somebody must have been watching and helping because we eventually got there. I literally fell out of the canoe and tried to carry Mac up the beach. I was so weak I fell over in the attempt to lift him.  So I sat and rested for a time and then noticed that the tide was coming in. So bending down put my arms under his arm pits, locked my hands together on his chest and dragged him about a 100 yards up the beach and laid him down in the shade of some native banana palms.

We rested here until the sun was low on the horizon. Mac was still breathing and I began to explore the banana palms for fruit. They were heavy in fruit but not a lot were ripe. Sufficient, however to give us a bellyful. They weren't very tasty and it was the first time that I had eaten bananas with seeds in them.

We pulled the canoe well up on the beach and after a short search, found a path which led up to the lighthouse. We arrived at the lighthouse just as dusk was falling. It seemed completely deserted, but we did not venture into it until next morning. The previous occupants had only recently left as evidenced by tins of fish, salmon, sardines, meat and vegetables, bully beef etc. all having been pierced by a sharp instrument like a bayonet or such like.  We found a tin opener and quickly attacked what had been spoiled and discarded.  Mac was horrified (before the war he worked for Heinz baked beans} and warned of the dangers of food poisoning.  I argued that I would sooner die of food poisoning than of slow starvation. When he saw that the food had no ill effects on me, he decided it must be alright and scoffed as much as he could. After the feast and a rest we did a tour of inspection. We found a garden with lots of sweet potatoes and cassava (Ubi Kyui). A form of Pumpkin was also growing and a Durian tree laden with fruit, but very few ripe. A tame water buffalo and three chooks (which we were never able to catch) completed the potential food supply outside.  Inside the dwelling (from this point page 2 was indecipherable)

3.  Next Morning we followed a well worn track down to a small jetty which faced the mainland. Here we found a solid sort of a boat about 3Oft long and 8-10 ft wide named the "Chit Wat". Unfortunately the "Chit Wat" had two holes chopped in one side, 2 grenade holes in the other side and the motor had been savagely attacked either with an axe or a large hammer. She was a bit of a mess.

I think we were on this island about 3-4 weeks. We found from the work books in the lighthouse that it was named 'Palau Pisang' (Banana Island). After a week laying about and eating as much as we could we decided we had better push on to Singapore. We went to the opposite side of the island to load our canoe with some bananas but found that an extra large tide had taken our canoe out and dashed it against some rocks. So-that was the end of our canoe. I elected Mac cook and decided to have a go at repairing the 'Chit Wat'. Fortunately there was an abundance of materials lying about that could be used. Each time the tide came in the poor thing filled with water and lurched back and forth with the waves. It was a great day when it floated as the tide came in. A little more caulking and she was right. Then I took out the useless motor and propeller-shaft, and put in a long mast and made a huge square sail from surplus canvas.

At the end of the second week we reckoned it would be nice to have some meat and began plotting the death of the buffalo. We were still far from being strong, so adopted the following procedure. First we tied a rope around his neck, then wound another rope around his legs. As soon as this was done, we gave him a hefty kick in the stomach. He immediately tried to run away but because of the ropes around his legs tripped and fell. As soon as he was down Mac sat on his head while I sawed away at his neck with two old knives that we had sharpened on a slab of concrete. Sure was a messy job but we eventually slew him. We cooked both hind legs and one front leg before it all "went off".  We felt so much better after a two day gorge on meat.

Before the end of the third week we were all set to launch the 'CHIT WAT'. We had loaded up with plenty of water, coconuts and any bits and pieces we could find. We tried three times to get her out to the open sea but failed each time. Just as our hopes were at a very low ebb, another small boat with seven people aboard arrived. Three from 2/19 Battalion and four white 'planters', who were seconding as guerrillas. They had loads of food and gave us the best balanced meal we had eaten in weeks. The 2/19th boys were all carpenters from the pioneer platoon. The Sgt, examined the boat and declared it fit to put to sea. Two nights later we went out on the tide, helped by a light breeze. About 2 a.m. when Mac and I were on watch, a light storm caught us and gave us a few anxious minutes. After this we were becalmed. We were now trying to make Sumatra as the new arrivals had told us that Singapore had fallen. We sat becalmed for six hours, while Tich who had sailed dinghies around Sydney harbour, whistled up the wind. Whatever the cause, the wind sprang up again about 2p.m.
We were bowling along like a lot of toffs, wishing we could catch and handle several great turtles that swam by. Then another object caught our attention, and we eventually caught up to it. It was a raft about 12ftxl2ft.square, laden with European bodies. We thought at first that perhaps they had been wrecked, and were resting. But as they came closer we could see there was no movement. We shouted and whistled but received no response so assumed they were all dead. A few appeared to have naval clothing on but most only had underclothes and some were completely (naked). They did not drift any closer than 15-20ft, but this incident had a very sobering effect on us. Nobody spoke for four or five minutes. We just sat and watched them drift away.

Night fell before we reached our goal. As we bowled along, we began to hear great explosions to the south east. As night fell we could see the flashes and realised we were hearing a great naval battle. We have been since told that it was the Perth engaged in her last combat with the Jap navy. But my dates do not correspond with this. Perhaps I should do a little more research. We eventually reached land about 2AM, only to find (from this point page 3 was indecipherable)

4..... after an inspection of the boat he agreed. The planters thought he agreed too quickly, so demanded a meal as well. He also agreed to this as well. When he chided them for bartering something they/we didn't own they retorted that as Singapore had fallen and the Govt was now Japanese they had no compunction in disposing of the boat.

After the meal and a few hours rest we were wakened at daylight and boarded a river boat, which went down the coast a short way and then turned into the Siak River. Thick heavy jungle came to the river's edge on both sides. We passed the occasional native in his fragile canoe, either paddling up or down the river. At infrequent intervals we passed native villages, where the natives stood and stared at us. Shades of "Trader Horn" and "Sanders of the River".  We arrived at Pekanbaru late that afternoon. The Dutch put us up at the local Rest House. Good food, showers and soap, and beds to sleep in. Oh how wonderful. Next day we just lounged about waiting for motor transport to take us to Padang. This day I took my beard off. It was the first shave I had since going into battle back at Bakri. Nobody except Mac, knew me and kept asking me when I got in. Next morning at daylight a truck picked us up and away we went to Padang. We stayed over night at another Rest house and late next day we arrived at Padang. We were billeted at a Chinese school.

We were here perhaps 6 or 7 days. Rumours were rife. Ships were due tomorrow or the next day. Ships had been torpedoed. Australian navy were coming to pick us up. All manner of rumours. The night before the Japs came there was a loud rumbling and the whole building shook. We all ducked for cover as we thought we were being bombed, but after a few minutes realised it was only a minor earth tremor. We all laughed at each other, and hearing some subdued shouting went to investigate. In the middle of the courtyard was a well about 12 feet deep. When we all ducked for cover two pommies jumped down the well. Two very embarrassed fellows were hauled out of the well.

On March 17th 1942(St Patrick's Day) the Japanese arrived and took over Padang. The Dutch had declared it an Open City, so thankfully, there was no fighting. A Jap Officer and several troops came to the Chinese school. We all lined up and stood to attention, wondering what would happen. He came into the room strutting like a peacock, until he saw a picture of Chiang Kai Shek hanging on the wall. He swelled up with rage like a big frog, dragged his sword from his scabbard and systematically destroyed every vestige of that photo and frame. When he was at last satisfied, he turned away and one of the private's jumped up and down on the remains for at least two minutes. So began our life as prisoners of war in the Far Eastern Co-Prosperity Sphere.

We were allowed to stay at the Chinese school for two days and then transferred to a native soldier's barracks. This was a very spacious camp with plenty of room to move around. Also interned here were the Dutch. To us they were living like Lords. Pillows, mattresses and deck chairs, and it seemed food galore. Our food was less than enough. Lt Col Coates (A Medical Officer who post war was Knighted) was a prisoner at this camp. A few working parties were organised, but they were more of an outing, as work was light and we were well treated. Our main problem here, was cooking the food given to our cooks. They made a ghastly mess of it, and it wasn't until later when the Dutch either assisted or took over completely that we began to get well cooked Asiatic meals.

Lectures were organised in the camp. The more energetic played soccer and a soccer competition was even organised. Popular rumour had it that we would spend at least one rice crop here, and at worst two rice crops before war was over. What disastrous prophecies! Because we had so little, some decided to explore the outside at night and returned with essentials such as eating utensils, clothing etc.

Here it was we first experienced the Japanese difficulty in counting. They could never get it right first time. We were always counted by two or more Japs two or more times before we were allowed to move on. We were told that for every prisoner that escaped one of those left would be shot! After some weeks in this camp it was announced that 500 would be leaving in 2 days for an unknown destination. The party was thought to be mainly British and Dutch and Lt Col Coates (Australian Medical Officer) was with this group.

5.....more useful in other areas. We found out later that they had travelled north to Belawan, boarded a ship or ships and finished up in Burma.

On the 13th June 1942 the remainder of the camp were loaded into motor trucks and departed for an unknown destination. We travelled north and stopped the first night at Loebock Sekaping?. The next night in a Dutch army barracks at Sibolga. The third night at Larung, and the fourth at Siantar. At Siantar the Jap guards had a great brawl among themselves and one was stabbed with a bayonet. Great chuckling among the Ps.O.W. Next day 17th June we reached Belawan. This was the main seaport for Northern Sumatra. It was only a few kilometres outside Medan, the largest northern town.

We were allotted a coolie wharf labourers billets. As our names were called so we went to our specified area in the camp.  When they came to Pte Chris Wilms (Willms) 2/29th Btn (QX23493), the Dutch said "He's one of us, a Norseman". The Aussies to a man shouted; "NO! He's one of us". The huts were crude and filthy. Mosquitoes so bad that it was impossible to sleep unless one was completely exhausted. The strong rumour at this time was a boat trip. Fortunately we only remained in this camp for a week.

On 20th June we were loaded into railway trucks. We were packed into box cars like sardines, the doors were shut and bolted and if we had failed in our appeals to the Japs, some of us would have surely died there and then. But the doors were flung open and we breathed freely again.  We were moved much closer to Medan, to a native soldiers barracks called Gloegoer. Actually there were two Gloegoer's, Gloegoer 1, which was our barracks and Gloegoer 2 which was a haven for the mentally unstable.

We were crammed into this camp. Each mans bed space allowance was 21 inches. But the grounds were spacious, we were dry, plenty of water for washing, and latrines were flushed with running water. Food was reasonable but sparse. After some weeks a shop was allowed to open inside the camp. This was mostly patronised by the Dutch. Those of us who were allowed on working parties received 10 cents a week, and we would pool our money to buy food.

Daily working parties began. In the beginning the work was light and easy. Young and naive, and not aware of Jap behaviour we finished our given task early and went home. But this only lasted a short time, work loads and quota's soon increased to such an extent that before long we were doing a heavy day's work. The work at this time was at Socony Oil Depot. We only lasted there about 6-8 weeks when they realised we were wasting as much petrol as we were putting in drums. About this time they also began receiving reports that petrol was dirty and full of grit.

To celebrate their glorious victories they decided to build a Temple and shrine. The prisoners were to supply the man power. The Temple was to be surrounded by a moat. This was a rather tedious task but at times we turned it into a lot of fun. We were supplied with small 4 wheeled metal trucks to move the soil/dirt from one place to another. The soil had to be pushed up hill and then dropped to build up the site for the Temple. Some of us would then ride the trucks down to the bottom of the moat for another load of soil. As the trucks had no brakes or steering it was quite an adventurous task to try to get it to the bottom without it jumping the rails. As this project neared completion we were gradually diverted to the outer suburbs to construct a racecourse.

During this period the Dutch (who had among their numbers, one named Hammerslaag who spoke fluent Japanese) had managed to persuade the Japs to let us have a garden. (Incidentally Hammerslaag, who took some dreadful beatings from the Japs, brought his wife and family to Australia in the 1960's and settled in Croydon, Victoria. I was not aware of this before 1977 and on becoming acquainted with it immediately rang his home. His wife sadly informed me that he had died two years earlier). After due consideration they agreed, much to our delight.  But as the garden became a reality, and the vegetables and fruit paw paws etc. began to ripen the Japs would knock them off, and sell or trade them to the natives. It didn't take us long to wake up, and when they complained they were not getting any produce from the garden we told them it was being stolen by the natives.

Food at this time was adequate to keep us alive and well and if this standard had been maintained until the end of the War we would have been in much better condition to work,.....

6..... operating, and almost everybody was participating. Church services were held each Sunday, and one or two Masonic meetings had been held (thought to have been arranged by George Lewis North (VX30155). Some enterprising souls had even started businesses, such as clog making and cigarette making. The Dutch still seemed to have plenty of money and were the main target of the business men.

One day whilst working on the wharf at Belawan, a Japanese troopship docked. The soldiers thought they were in Australia. When we laughed and pointed out that they'd never (tongue in cheek) get to Australia, one became quite violent and began slapping and kicking everyone near him. On another occasion a Jap produced a picture of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and told us that a Jap submarine had blown out the middle pylon. Several of our boys laughed scornfully at this and were bashed for being insolent.

Towards the end of 1942 the Japanese guards were replaced by the Koreans. They were nervous and timid when they first arrived, but soon learned it was great sport to bash and harass the prisoners.

One Sunday, the nearest to Melbourne Cup Day, the Australians decided to run their own cup. Frogs were the contestants. A West Australian, Bluey Semple (WX7532) appeared in jockey's colours with a riding whip. Nobody knew where they came from. Appropriately his frog won, and he was presented with the cup - half a coconut on a stand.

One afternoon on our return from a working part, the Australians-'Gorshus' were ordered to remain on parade. Lieut Takahashi told the Australians approx 15, that some Japanese Ps,O.W. in Australia had been shot and it was his intention to do the same to us. After some confusion, as there generally was on parade, he advised the shooting had taken place in New Zealand. We were then dismissed.

November 17th 1942-A Red Letter Day! We received on this day a large quantity of supplies from the South African Red Cross. The food was all of Australian origin, the clothes South African. Some of the supplies were sent to the women's camp.

One day while working on the race course, Sid Frewin (2/19th) (NX52142) and myself managed to catch and slaughter a great pig. We told the Japs it was a wild pig, and by hell he was wild after we had clobbered him a few times. They let us keep him and though he had to be shared with another 98 blokes, it was still a choice meal.

Soon after entering this camp we were forced to sign a 'No Escape' document. A token resistance to signing was staged, but they soon starved us into submission. Where could one escape to?

At one period in this camp I had abscesses in both ears at the same time. The pain was so intense and soul destroying, that if I could have laid my hands on a firearm I surely would have committed suicide. After three days of the worst anguish I have ever experienced they both burst within minutes of each other. I have never had an ear abscess before or since. At one time I was covered with ringworm. One great thing as large as a large dinner plate spread over my chest, stomach and side. Smaller ones covered my back and legs. Surprisingly enough they never worried me nor did they give me any discomfort. Everybody had them. As time passed and we became thinner they must have died of starvation, as they went as silently as they came. One worm that did worry me was some beastie that got in under my skin, on the back of my leg, just above the knee. It began to travel up the back of my leg towards my thigh and was very itchy. After consulting the doctors, they decided they would remove it by scraping the skin away. As they had no pain killers I had to suffer it, but it was worth it eventually.

After a few days of rumours we were given definite news. On March 8th 1944 a draft of 500 would depart for parts unknown (to us). It would Include a number of Australians under Lt.R.Tranter(2/29th). On the appointed day, to shouts of "See you in Young and Jacksons" and "See you in Aussie" etc., we moved out.

We boarded trucks outside the camp with the usual pantomime of endless counting, shouts, slaps, kicks, board the trucks, get off and be counted again-what a hassle! We had no knowledge of the area or where we were going but fortunately we had two Dutchmen in our truck who knew the area well and gave us a running commentary. We went north. The first day we travelled 308 kilometres to Kototjane. Next morning much to our disappointment our transport turned round and we went back.  So the rest of the journey was on foot. We had a couple of days rest here and on the  .....

7....... morning of 13th set off on foot for an unknown destination. It was quite a happy start, whistling, singing, and exchanging ribald jokes. This phase soon passed and we settled down to a steady trudge-trudge. One truck was provided for guards equipment and cooking utensils.

After some four hours of steady marching, the weak began to falter. However the strong(?) gave assistance and shared any load the weak were carrying. We marched 30 kilometres that day. We arrived at Goonung Satin (Devil's Mountain) and dropped exhausted. The second day's march was really hell for me. During the morning, I accidentally kicked a rock, hidden in the grass (it was easier walking on the grass when we had no footwear) and fell to the ground. As I fell so I wrenched my knee. If walking before this had been painful it now became excruciating. I limped and hobbled along and whenever possible, tried to get a stout stick to use as a crutch. This was a hellish day's march but after 9 hours arrived at Maloek.

On 17th March after four day's of marching, covering about 30 kilometres a day, we arrived at Blankerjaran, a former Dutch military barracks.  The halt and the lame were left at this camp to recover. Most of those left behind caught us up again in a few days, but a few of the worst we never saw again until the end of the war. This camp was henceforth known as the hospital camp.

We marched on again next day up a great hill, and then along a plateau through a beautiful Pine plantation, eventually arriving at an area with a small scattering of native huts. The territory we were now in was peopled by a once fierce tribe known as the Atjeh or Achinese. They were a wild and savage people, and inflicted terrible casualties on the Dutch permanent troops. They had never been thoroughly subdued.
We were divided into two camps, British and Australian in one and Dutch in another about 5 kms away. We were housed in rough atap shelters. We slept on the ground and cooked in the open. The toilet facilities were extremely primitive, a great open pit with two poles for the feet and one pole about 2feet high in front to hang onto to avoid overbalancing and falling into the pit. Dysentery became a real problem and other maladies associated with a lack of proper diet, either soon became evident or in other cases worsened. One night, late, we heard for the first time in many months, the sound of planes overhead. The Japs told us next day that they were not Japanese. We found out later they were American.

We were high in the mountains. Nights were cold, days were comfortably warm. We were put to work building a road.  Many beatings and bashings accompanied every yard we made. We built culverts and graded hills, built up one side and chiselled down the other, made small bridges etc. All this with axes, chungkils (hoes) and small baskets. What a boring, gruelling, backbreaking job this was.

On 3rd May we 1944 we moved up a few kilometres (due to progress of road). This new place was named Kenyaren. The shelter was just as crude and we slept on low benches made of split bamboo. During the night when restlessly turning over, the bamboo would pinch our naked or near naked bodies. Here conditions were slightly better than previously. We had a covered cookhouse, and toilet and washing facilities were an improvement. Work loads increased and the quality and quantity of the food decreased. Here, the main diet was soya beans. Stomach complaints, if possible, increased. It was not at all unusual for the men to foul themselves whilst on the way to and from work. Beri-beri and 'Cherry Balls' inflamed scrotum worsened. The latter made life terrible. They itched unceasingly and when scratched, bled and wept continuously. On the way to Kenyaren we passed a native farm, which had a good crop of corn (maize). A few nights later Sid Frewin and myself borrowed two rice bags from the cookhouse and under cover of darkness, sallied forth to raid the corn. As the corn was just about ripe the leaves and the stalk were dry and rustled with every little breeze. Sid was like a draught horse in the field and it wasn't long before we became aware that we were being stalked by the owners of the field. We took off in different directions, and though I managed to evade them they caught Sid. The natives took him to the local Jap guard house, where he was bashed until he was black and blue. The Japs also took his rice bag and corn. Next morning on parade our C.O. said a complaint had been lodged by the natives about corn stealing and if it was anyone in our camp would they please report to him, after parade-if no one owned up the Japs had promised to punish the whole camp. I owned up and expected to be placed in ......

8....... the Jap guard house. But unless I reported they would not give us back our rice bag, and without our rice bag we would be short of rice, as they gave us a full bag for an empty one. They gave me a token belting only-knocked me down twice with the butt of their rifle, gave me a lecture on the evils of taking other people's property, gave me a dollar to buy some food, threw the bag at my head and it was over. Capt Mura, the Jap in charge at that time told our C.O. (Capt Henman R.N.) not to worry about it as "When he was a young man he too played many pranks".

As we were now fairly high in the mountains we were allowed to have fires at night. At this camp I decided to try and supplement my diet with grasses and native herbage. A number of water buffalo grazed nearby. I watched what they ate, shoo'd them away and cut the grass for myself. Cooked up at night on our fires.  I at least was getting some greens.

The first death of one of our Australian group occurred at this camp and we lost two in a short space of time. (We did not know it at the time but the day our first boy died, 13 of those we left behind in Gloegoer also died the same day on a torpedoed ship.)

On 14th August 1944 we received some American Red Cross parcels. We were given one carton to four men. Each carton contained 4 -2 and a half oz packets of soup, packets of soup powder. 9 pkts Chesterfield cigarettes, 3-3 and a half oz tins of butter, 8-10 pkts of ????? powder, 5-3 and a quarter oz tins corned pork loaf, 2-2 oz pkts of soap, half a lb tin Kraft cheese, 12oz tin of cocoa, 1-1 lb tin powdered milk, 4oz tin of coffee,1lb prunes, ?? orange juice, 6oz tin Millplate (Stew), 2-3 and half tins Chopped Ham and Eggs, 50 cubes of sugar. This was so very welcome, but so little.

Fortunately for me, by this time I could converse fairly fluently in Malay. During the day other fellows would bring me whatever they wanted to dispose of e.g. garments, watches, fountain pens etc. After dark I would go out .and bargain with the natives, either for gula (sugar), rice, tobacco or money. One native I became friendly with an Atjehinese, and he would invite me inside his house and give me a bowl of rice and vegetables. I was always suspicious that I would meet a Jap in there or get a knife in the back, but I was lucky. While making a road through the outskirts of a village I became aware of a vile smell. The ground seemed to be a bit spongy and the next shovelful uncovered a human foot. Phew-what a pong! We notified the Jap and he told us to pack up and go home. Next day when we returned we found the natives had taken the body away and reburied someplace else.

Early in October 1944 we were told we were going to move. At exactly 0600hrs we moved out on foot. The truck was supplied for Jap equipment and cooking utensils. They allowed us 5 Minutes rest every hour- a great concession. But then found we had to complete our march in a specified time, which meant march 8 hours, rest 8 hours, until the march was completed. By this time very few had any foot wear left and because of the night marches our feet suffered terribly. Toe nails were torn off, feet were staked and bruised, and by the time the march ended there was not a good pair of feet between the lot of us. This was truly a living hell, and is one of the horrific memories I will carry to my grave.  We were fortunate that the guards could not understand English, because the amount of abuse hurled at the guards, their parents, their ancestors and children, would have made a Wharfie go pale. The dysentery sufferers were in absolute torment and some lost control completely and just kept fouling themselves, and lost all incentive to clean themselves up.

During the match one of the cooks Hilly Stanton (2/29th) stole a   quantity of salt from the guards stores. As soon as the theft was discovered it was likely there would be violent repercussions. But either because they had no accurate assessment of their stores or whether they, like us, were too exhausted to worry, we will never know because the theft was never discovered. The salt was put into the rice that night and no doubt helped us see the march through.

We finished the march at a camp just outside Medan. Here curiously enough we rested for a week. That is exactly what we did -rest, eat (such as it was) and sleep. Miraculously, most people recovered from the march very quickly and by the end of the week, though torn toenails and deep cuts weren't healed we felt reasonably well again.  The Japanese commander Lt Mura, had the cooks paraded to him and thanked them for the good job they did both on the march and at the rest camp. This Jap was nearly human and was never charged with War Crimes. Much to our disappointment, but, not surprisingly we were told to move again. At this time both Mac and myself were in reasonable condition and I was in condition to.................

9......cook and able to have a lay off now and again he would have faded away.

We were formed up, counted umpteen times.  Then marched out of the camp, guessing at our destination. A few natives stood silently by; but during the last twelve months the native's attitude towards us had changed considerably. They no longer laughed at us or made rude gestures. In fact wherever possible they were now more likely to slip us a banana or a cake of gula. They had realised at last that the Jap slogan 'ASIA for the ASIANS', was in fact 'ASIA for the JAPANESE'. After about three miles we came to a railway station. Drawn up waiting for us were a number of passenger carriages. "How posh" we thought, until we moved inside. The seating was of slatted bamboo and we reckoned it couldn't have been used for a long time, as there were literally thousands of lice and bugs, all apparently suffering acute starvation, waiting for humans to supply their daily needs.

It was terribly hot in the train; windows were jammed and could not be opened. The speed of the train when we did get going was not enough to stir the air sufficiently to dry our sweat. Fortunately we only travelled in the train for a short time and then boarded motor trucks (Lorries in those days). From then on for several days we followed south the same route we had followed coming north from Padang. We finished up at Bukit Tinngi (formerly Fort de Kok), the Japanese capital of Sumatra.   
One or two nights prior to arriving at Bukit Tinngi were spent at native civilian camps. They were appallingly primitive and usually fouled up with human excrement. It took us at least an hour to make the place reasonably habitable, and this by our sub standard conditions. At Bukit Tinngi we occupied the old Police Barracks. We had three miserable days there before another train was organised for us

At dawn we were squatting beside the railway waiting for the train. Three hours later we boarded. If we thought the last train was the ultimate in bugs and lice we were mistaken. This one had literally millions of lice - they could be seen crawling on the floor, seats, wall and ceiling. This was the heaviest infestation we had ever experienced and we were never able to get rid of them. They were with us till we were deloused in Singapore at war's end. They were so numerous it was not unusual to see them crawling on the shirt, jacket or even skin of the man in front of you.

"Hilly" is still very sick and getting very low, because of lack of interest in food. However with some encouragement, he managed to get a little down each day, eventually picked up and became as normal as possible under the conditions.

The rail journey was quite a long one and we ended up at a small clearing in the middle of the jungle, with the name Moera. Stacked about the area are huge heaps of sleepers and long stacks of steel rails - it wasn't hard to imagine what our next task was. A road of sorts led away from the station through evil looking, swampy jungle. A number of motor trucks were there to meet us accompanied by the most evil crew of Japs we had yet encountered.

After boarding the trucks we went at breakneck speed, through thick heavy jungle, with pools of water in view most of the way. Ideal mosquito breeding country- and we were right.  We arrived at our destination to be greeted by - electric light!  We were housed in three large huts; Dutch two, British one. They were built of atap and saplings, flattened or split bamboo forming a bench for our beds. A fourth hut was there and this was set aside as a 'hospital'. The word hospital was used rather euphemistically, as very few people who ever went into the hospital ever walked out - they were usually carried out by the burial party.

By daylight we could see that the place had been very quickly prepared with lots more work to be done. We worked for five days on the camp, clearing stumps, an area for a cemetery (which incidentally we could never keep pace with), latrines etc.  Then Lt Mura told us we had the honour of building a railway line for the Emperor. Two lines in fact, a small gauge and a large gauge.  When finished we would all be given a medal for a good job well done!  None of us ever did see the medal.

Then began the worst phase of our internment.  We would troop off each morning, with various tools, parangs, chunkels, baskets, axes etc and build, dig, rake and chop as necessary.  When we had finished the small spur line we moved back to the main line. There we built a bridge entirely with timber hacked out of the jungle.

10.  on this bridge for a long time. The 'Atas' party, was the one that worked at the top of the bridge. Because of the skill needed or the danger involved, extra rations were given to the 'Atas' party. So I thought --be in this. The Jap in charge of the 'Atas' party was very big and strong and also very dark, and was nicknamed the 'Gorilla' the first day. One day through misinterpreting his orders he became mad at me and began throwing metal spikes at me. These were half to three quarters inch, round steel about 8 inches long, with another 3 or 4 inches bent at right angles. They were used to hold the smaller cross timbers in place.  I sure did a bolt for the ground but he insisted that I return. However after that day I always dodged the 'Atas' party by declaring that I had dysentery.

Then we had a change of guards. The new ones were from the Burma Railway and were very wise in the ways of P.0.Ws. They were proper bash artists and 'Hurry -Hurry' their continual shout. They were committed to build the line to a definite date. This was the reason for the haste. The work loads became heavier, the work hours longer, the food less and less.

While on the 'Atas party' Jack Pearson (Mobile Laundry) had a blackout 50 feet up. He fell backwards onto a crossbar, about one foot thick. We thought for sure his back would be broken, but he continued to fall hitting other objects and landing in a shallow pool of water. Workers at the base pulled him out and though groggy, he soon revived and got up and walked away with only bruises.

On 19/12/44 we had our first fatal accident. Pte Jack Stapleton, 2/19 Bn (NX4521), was falling a tree when the trunk split and speared back pinning him to the ground crushing his chest. Shortly after this, Mac again caught dysentery.  During the last year the three of us, Hilly, Mac and myself, had spasmodic attacks of malaria and dysentery. Dysentery never bothered me very much, but I had so many attacks of malaria that I lost count after 4O. The only remedy we had for malaria was the bark of the quinine tree. It wasn't even crushed up fine.  One had to try and swallow this, and if possible to get it down, it would then upset one's stomach.  I bought different items that were available, at terrible prices, for Mac but all to no avail. On 2.1.45 Mac passed away.  This was a terrible  blow to Hilly and myself - we had thought after coming this far we would surely see it through. He was buried with full Christian ceremony by Padre Eric Jones, (British) a former M.P. His remains are now in a military cemetery in Singapore.

Then for the first time ever some letters from home. They were up to two years old, but those that received them did not worry about the date. By this time our plight was really very serious. Food was the worst we had ever had. Malnutrition was evident among at least a third of our group. Even the ringworms had disappeared through lack of sustenance. Ulcers were more common, malarial attacks were only days apart and morale was at rock bottom. When on working parties we did everything automatically-like a Zombie. As one's illness became progressively worse, one was sent back to the hospital at camp 2.  Rumours began to reach us, warning us not to go back to camp 2 and certain death. The burial party worked full time, but still could not keep up with the demand. It was reported that 2 men whilst at the latrines had suffered blackouts, fallen into the latrines and either drowned or suffocated,

We now met other parties working on the line and learnt of the sinking of the boat carrying the balance of the Gloegeer party. After we left Gloegeer they were put on board the 'Harukiku Maru' (previously S.S.van Waerwijk), a Dutch ship captured in Java. On 26th April it was sunk by torpedoes. Casualties were very heavy, 13 Australians perished, several of them 2/29th boys. We heard the Perth was sunk, and the capture of some of the 7th Division in Java. These were dark days indeed. Every thing seemed to be slipping away.

Food, if possible was worse than ever. A large part of our diet consisted of Ongle Ongle, a dark glutinous muck, which was processed into glue before the war. Work was hard as they were pressing us to finish the line as they were behind schedule. Sometimes we worked right through the night. One day early in our line experience, we decided to slow them up by laying the rails too wide. Along came the train and ran off the line. Guess who spent half the night putting the rotten thing back on the rails. We had no clothes, only pieces of rag or bag as loin cloths, no hats, no footwear.

11. The only consistently pleasant aspect of our whole life whilst captive was the plentiful supply of water. It was in abundance every where we went and even though we could hardly get to the stream through sheer exhaustion, once we had bathed in the beautiful clear water, we always felt better. As far as I know cholera was not at that time present in Sumatra.

Our language had deteriorated to a marked degree. Every second word was a foul oath or curse, and our speech was a mixture of English, Malay, Jap and Dutch. It was totally incompressible to all but the Gloegoerites.

By this time I was eating any fungus growth I could find in the forest. I would chew and swallow any broadleaved plant that did not taste bitter. Occasionally we would pass through a deserted village or an abandoned native garden, and find the odd chilli bush in full fruit. Though the first few were hot, one soon got used to them and would eat them direct from the bush. Our doctors told us to eat them if possible as they were full of vitamins. Young tender leaves from trees were also on my diet. Though it may seem to be a queer diet, it kept me going until disaster struck.

One day I had an itching under my left ankle bone, and on investigation found I had a pimple. Now I had had plenty of pimples before but they had always behaved themselves and healed up in due course. This one didn't. It eventually became a small sore about half an inch wide. Then slowly it spread and I realised I had an ulcer. For some time I was still able to go to work, but as it became progressively worse, the officers took me off the working party. Though I was thankful to be relieved of the toil, once one became bedridden it usually meant the end was not far away.

Once a week we went to see the doctor and have the bandages changed. The doctors had no medication whatsoever. The only thing they could do for ulcers was to scrape them out. To do this they sharpened one side of a teaspoon and used this to scrape out the puss and foreign matter in the ulcer. This sure was bloody murder and one usually finished up with the ulcer bleeding.

In mid 1945 our camp moved to a new location-"Logas".  This appeared to us to be the worst camp of all.  For some reason unknown to us, the sick were no longer sent to camp 2, but left to die in this camp. Percy Haworth (2/29 Bn VX42190), after great suffering died in this camp just before war's end.

I began to deteriorate rapidly. One morning while gazing blankly at my bandaged foot, I saw the bandage move and out crawled a fat maggot.  This positively repulsed me and if felt terribly unclean. As it was three days before doctors visit I was somewhat nonplussed as to what to do.  Best leave it until doctor sees it-suggested Hilly. When the doctor un-bandaged it six great maggots an inch long fell out. The doctor was quite cheerful about it and said, "This will probably save you some agony" and so it/they did. When completely unwrapped the wound was as clean as a whistle, with nothing but pink flesh showing. The maggots had eaten all the rubbish and there was no need for the spoon.  Not the sort of diet that would appeal to everybody but I sure was pleased the maggots liked it. After this I often shoved my smelly foot out hoping it would attract the flies, but it never happened again.

Not being in working parties or able to move about very much I was not able to scrounge any greens or bargain with the natives. My body became less and less and it wasn't very long before I had trouble even walking. I was just able to hobble about using a home made crutch.

It was one day in August, when some unexplainable actions by the Japanese, gave us some indication that something unusual was afoot. The working party was returned to the camp in the morning. On the way back a native had told them 'Prang Habis'-(War is over). Rumours were more numerous than The mosquitoes. The next day Capt Jimmy Gordon (English) confronted the Japs and asked them point blank if the war was over. They admitted it was. Capt Gordon came running back and jumping on the bed platform in the hut, called for silence and told us the news. There was a loud cheer, then a few moments of silence and somebody, most likely an English lad began singing "God Save The King". Within seconds everyone in the hut, including myself, joined in and I have never sung with such fervour. After the singing was over one was treated to a variety of emotional reactions- some cried, some laughed, some prayed and some began scurrying about to contact the natives for food. It was a glorious moment. Poor exhausted skeletons that we were; we exulted in the fact that    -
We had beaten the Bastards.

12. The Japs told us we were not allowed to leave the camp as they were still responsible for us. Our rations increased and we were issued with white jackets and shorts. We were told to mark the camp so it could be recognised as a POW camp from the air. This was important so that medical supplies could be dropped. But no planes came and our mates still died.

Major Jacobs O.B.E. Royal Marines who took control of Sumatra from the Japs on behalf of the allied forces, describes this camp in his book "Prelude to the Monsoon", and I quote: "Before taking the main road, we made a quick detour to Logas where I had heard there were several hundred Dutch P.O.Ws.  There were also English, Australian, 1 Yank, 2 Canadians and 2 New Zealanders. Remnants of a contingent that had worked on a jungle railway.  These men we found had been completely cut off from the outside world and were not aware the war had ended (we were). Isolated in the jungle, they had lived under conditions of unimaginable primitiveness. Many had learned to eat the bark off trees and the roots of plants to keep alive.  The mere fact that they had survived was elegant proof of the resilience of the human being. To look at these pitiful human wrecks, to hear about the atrocities that had been committed against them and to see the degradation to which they had been subjected was a harrowing experience. It was necessary, however to have a complete record, and I forced myself to go into the huts, to take photographs and make a detailed report of everything. It imposed a severe strain which soon began to take it's toll. I lost my appetite completely and after having taken so such Benzedrine, I could no longer sleep. This lowered my resistance to the horrors around me and so the cycle continued". End of quote.

After 14 days of waiting for something, which never came, we were told that we were to move back by train. By this time I was about 6and a half stone (91 lbs), all 6 foot one inch of me.  At least I could still hobble about, there were others worse than me, they could not move around at all. Hilly was reasonably well and fed me extra food whenever available. I became determined to get home.

It took three dreadful days of train travel to get to Pekanbaroe. It was a terrible ordeal, but as much help as possible was given to the sick by their mates. I think one or two died on the train trip. After three days in this camp, various allied personnel began to appear. Among the earliest was the late Lady Edwina Mountbatten. She came and sat on my bed and talked to me, gave me a packet of cigarettes (50) - she was a real Lady.

Arrangements were made for our evacuation to Singapore. At this stage I lost track of Hilly and we never met again until we were back in Australia.  Somewhere, somehow a few of the fellows had got hold of a car and were running it on kerosene. This was used to take non stretcher cases to the Airfield.  I had an argument with our officer (Lt Nicholls) as to what category I was in and he finished up telling me if I could get out to the car I could go in the next batch. I fell over twice in the first ten feet and finished up crawling out to the car. Away we went to the airport but would you believe it, the car caught fire twice on the way out.  I thought I was to be incinerated, but found that the driver and his mate were equal to the occasion and soon had it out with bags etc.  Apparently it happened each time the car motor became very hot. We eventually boarded an R.A.A.F. plane and all passengers except Sparrow, Mac and myself were Pommies. After take off we found we had an Australian nurse on board.  When she eventually found us she really gave us V.I.P. treatment. Arriving in Singapore we were taken to the military hospital at Katong, deloused, showered, issued with new pyjamas and tucked into bed. After a few days there some of my old mates from the Signal platoon came to see me and greeted me with "G'day ya skinny bastard".

Then I knew I would make it home.

Pte R.F.(Slim)Nelson VX8212
Pte.H.A.(Jonger)Stanton QX23428 Co-Authors.

This account of two Australian POWs experiences on the Sumatra Railway was put together around 1946.  Whilst jointly written, it was based on the experiences of Hilton Stanton.  The Website owner Lt Col Peter Winstanley had been given the story around 2003.  It was clearly a copy of an original carbon copy of the account as put together in 1946. In the original document there were 12 pages and those numbers have been noted. There were several lines missing from the bottom of each page. This was probably the result on copying from an original foolscap manuscript to A4 paper. I have scanned the paper given to me using OCR and laboriously edited it.  In October 2009 I established contact with one of the authors Hilton Stanton and took oral instructions regarding the content of the lines missing from each page. Accordingly, on a number of pages there are comments which have been added in italics based on Hilton Stanton's recollection.  

Lt Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (JP) 
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